Interview with Tina Parker, Author of Forthcoming Chapbook, “Another Offering”

June 26, 2015
Photo Credit: Jeanne Nakazawa

Photo Credit: Jeanne Nakazawa

Brief Biography:          

Tina Parker grew up in Bristol, Virginia. She now lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband and two young daughters. Her poetry chapbook Another Offering will be published by Finishing Line Press in July 2015, and her full-length poetry collection Mother May I will be published by Sibling Rivalry Press in 2016. Learn more about Tina at www.tina-parker.com.

Geosi Gyasi: You grew up in Bristol, Virginia. Can you tell us something about growing up?

Tina Parker: I loved sticker books, reading, and writing in my diary from an early age. I was completely happy spending time in my room by myself, or sometimes in the hall closet where I’d write in my diary by flashlight. My family was quite active at sports events and in the church—we were at church every time the doors opened, and the faith of my childhood, which I later questioned as a young adult, figures largely in my poems.

Geosi Gyasi: When did you regard yourself as a writer?

Tina Parker: In college. As an English major, I was introduced to authors from Central Appalachia for the first time. I learned that people from my home place, who sound like people I know, can be writers. At the same time, I took creative writing workshops in both fiction and poetry and fell in love with writing.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you remember your first piece of writing?

Tina Parker: I remember my first diary, a tiny read one with a lock and key that I picked out myself when I was eight years old. It was the first in a series of diaries and notebooks I’ve kept ever since. From that age, I learned to process my world by writing about it.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you aim to achieve with your writing?

Tina Parker: Writing is very much about the process for me. I don’t set out to create a certain type of piece, or achieve a certain goal. I do aim to make space to write, which allows me to pause and interact with what is happening around me.

Geosi Gyasi: Can you tell us about your forthcoming chapbook, “Another Offering”?

Tina Parker: It’s a series of linked poems that tells the story of my growing up in Central Appalachia and in the Southern Baptist church. The poems explore girlhood, coming-of-age, family, faith, and the little mysteries children unravel as they grow into adulthood.

Geosi Gyasi: What sort of preparation goes into the writing of a chapbook?

Tina Parker: For me the preparation is always writing in my journal, messy and nonsensical as it is when the words are fresh on the page. I write my pages and sift through them for poem nuggets. After there are many poems, I look for themes and see how poems might go together in a book and begin to fill in the gaps from there.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you show your manuscripts to friends before you send them out to publishers?

Tina Parker: Yes, absolutely. I begin by showing individual poems to other writers. Then for both my chapbook and full-length collection (Mother May I, which will be published in 2016 by Sibling Rivalry Press), I wanted professional writers to read the entire collection as well. In 2013, I received a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, which included funds for me to work with a mentor. I also used the writing mentor program offered at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, Kentucky.

Geosi Gyasi: What is your greatest moment as a writer?

Tina Parker: The greatest moment is when I’m writing and completely present; time falls away, and it is this delicious bubble of imagination, awareness, and words.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about the “form” in which you write?

Tina Parker: I care most about the sound of what I write. It needs to have a certain feel to my ear; it needs to flow; it needs cadence.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific audience you write for?

Tina Parker: It’s my hope that my poems reach the people who need them most.

Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your poem, “The Midwife”?

Tina Parker: Giving birth to my daughters. I had plenty of writing material but had difficulty shaping my experience into a poem—it was just too overwhelming, until I landed on the idea to write a persona poem in the voice of a midwife.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write, “Pitting Cherries”?

Tina Parker: This one came about, just as the title says, by pitting cherries. Seeing the bright red splatters on the cutting board reminded me of the very scary experience I had while pregnant with our oldest and was sure I was having a miscarriage. Sometimes ordinary routines can be an entry for writing about these highly emotional, overwhelming experiences.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about critics when you write?

Tina Parker: Oh no, not at all.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific place where you often sit down to write?

Tina Parker: I write wherever I can. I don’t have an office, or separate writing room; I don’t even have a desk! I gave up a long time ago on waiting to have the ideal writing space—I just write where I can.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the best time to write?

Tina Parker: There’s no best, or magic, time. It’s when I can. I would love to write all morning, every morning, but I am easy on myself; sometimes I write only a phrase; sometimes I make lists; sometimes I fill my journal with the messiness in my brain!

Geosi Gyasi: Can you define your voice as a writer?

Tina Parker: That is a great question! I have had long-time poet friends define my voice as deceivingly simple, sparse, and surprisingly humorous.

Geosi Gyasi: Who are your favorite writers?

Tina Parker: My favorite poets are Beth Ann Fennelly, Rachel Zucker, Sharon Olds, Denise Duhamel, and Marie Howe.

Geosi Gyasi: What are you currently reading?

Tina Parker: The current issue of The Missouri Review and Lillianne’s Balcony: A novella of Fallingwater.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have formal education in writing?

Tina Parker: I was able to take a couple of advanced level creative writing workshops when pursuing my MA in English, which I completed in 2001. Since that time, I have pursued a less formal education by taking community writing workshops, studying my craft, and being active in writing groups.

END.


Interview with Margo Berdeshevsky, Author of “Between Soul and Stone”

June 22, 2015
Photo: Margo Berdeshevsky

Photo: Margo Berdeshevsky

Brief Biography:

MARGO BERDESHEVSKY’S most recent poetry collection is Between Soul and Stone, (Sheep Meadow Press.) Her But a Passage in Wilderness was also published by Sheep Meadow Press. Beautiful Soon Enough, (University of Alabama Press), her book of stories illustrated with her own photo-montages, received FC2s  Innovative Fiction Award; other honors include the Robert H. Winner Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Chelsea Poetry Award, the & Now Innovative Fiction Award Anthology. Her works have appeared in journals including Kenyon Review, Agni, Pleiades, New Letters, Poetry International, The Collagist, Gulf Coast, Prairie Schooner, Tupelo Quarterly, Cutthroat. Forthcoming, a multi-genre novel, Vagrant. At the gate: a new poetry manuscript titled Blason Pour le Corps. Born in NYC, Berdeshevsky is currently writing in Paris. Her Letters from Paris can be seen here: https://pionline.wordpress.com/2015/02/05/letter-from-paris-in-february-2015/

And For more information, please see http://margoberdeshevsky.blogspot.com/

Geosi Gyasi: You’re often regarded as a Writer, Photographer and Voyager. Is that a true reflection of what you do for a living?

Margo Berdeshevsky: Reflection is a good word to begin on—

I do see myself as all of those, yes. And I know that others may see me that way also. But first, I need to see myself as a human, trying her best to make it through each day in the world, with a little grace. As for what I do for a living . . . when I was a teen and was hell-bent on having a career as an actress, my scientific and business-minded father said I could never make a living as such, and suggested I view my life the way a violinist does . . . that is, to know that one of the strings of her bow will surely break. It was his challenge to me (which I absolutely did not appreciate at the time.) A challenge to have many strings to my bow to keep alive and afloat. Ultimately, I have cultivated my avenues of what I can do for a living. That helps in a world that is rarely supportive enough of any of us who live in the arts.

Geosi Gyasi: In what way do you see yourself as a voyager? 

Margo Berdeshevsky: A voyager to me is one who steps out and crosses bridges and cultures and belief systems. And I have done that quite a lot. Also, I have lived for shorter or longer periods of time in numerous places, by choice. And that path began when I was very young.

And so notions of patriotism and nationalism and where one lives or does not live and such were never what was most worthy to me. Rather, the idea of learning the world as much as possible, has always been important to me.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you engage in the art of poetry too?

Margo Berdeshevsky: Yes. I think of poetry as one of the arts I love most, and engage in it deeply. When I taught poetry in grade schools, I would often say that “poetry is the language of the soul.” And by that, I did not mean a religious thing, but something far beyond any one faith or cult. I meant that I see poetry as a language of its own. And yes, it requires my engagement and respect.

I recently began to add this phrase to the bottom of my e mails, a phrase that I found in an interview with the editor, Michael Wiegers. I love what it says in so many ways . . . “I like W. S. Merwin’s contention that the first poem was the first time a mother screamed at the death of a child. We all need something that says something just beyond what words can say.” — Michael Wiegers

Geosi Gyasi: I’m wondering if one requires a special skill to become a photographer?

Margo Berdeshevsky: Yes. Photography is about the ability to see the light and the dark and shapes and the shadows, and to have a deep sense of composition. It is not about ‘selfies.”And it is not about snapshots of the family cat. It requires an ability to see a particular part of a scene or a face or an object, perhaps, and to concentrate on it, or to eliminate or crop away what does not serve the image being finally selected and offered. At least that is so for the artistic photography that I am most drawn to do. It requires using a rule of thumb that was once given to me, and which I practice: “take a hundred pictures with your eye, and one with your finger. It saves film and time.” Photography is an art of selection from the vast array of images that constitute the world around the photographer. Selection, and the cultivation of a particular esthetic, and a desire to communicate something personal and beautiful, or not beautiful, but essential to the act of being alive. Documentary photography, which includes the more socially conscious acts of image making, and which I also do — requires an instantaneous ability to grasp the moment and to find a way of expressing it so that the viewer will feel that they could have been present at the given moment.

Geosi Gyasi: You were born in New York City. Were you raised there too?

Margo Berdeshevsky: I was raised both in NYC and in parts of western Europe as well, because my family traveled, and we spent quite a good deal of time in France. NYC was my training ground for theatre and the intellect. Europe was my training ground for a drive toward the visual arts and history. And somewhere in between, I was always hungry for what I may call spirit, wherever that is raised.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you give us a brief background of who your parents are?

Margo Berdeshevsky: Both of my parents are no longer living. My father was a Russian immigrant who was politically far to the right of either me or my mother. My mother was an old socialist, NYC born, emotionally uncertain.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you still currently in Paris? Why Paris?

Margo Berdeshevsky: I’m mostly a world citizen, in heart and mind and activity. This morning I woke in Paris, yes. That’s where I’m sitting as I type. But I could be somewhere else in the not too distant future. Why Paris? I spent time here as a child, I learned the language and love the language, I love many things about the culture and the sense of history and challenge to accepted ideas, and the esthetics of this ancient city of light. I am critical of its politics sometimes, as I am deeply critical of the politics of the USA. But as I said earlier, nationalism is not a thing I practice anywhere. I believe it leads to wars.

Geosi Gyasi: Why did you become a writer?

Margo Berdeshevsky: Because I needed to find words for what was knocking at my heart. Because language is one of the tools I sharpened. Because it has been one of my gifts. Because it is my way of trying to comprehend a difficult and often frightening and sometimes gorgeous and fragile world.

Geosi Gyasi: What are your main research areas as a writer?

Margo Berdeshevsky: The human thing we call woman and man and child. The human things we are often afraid to look at.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write, “Between Soul & Stone”?

Margo Berdeshevsky: When asked once, at a reading I gave after the book had come out, where was this place “between” soul & stone . . . I tried then, and I still to, to articulate that my quests to comprehend being human, being a woman in my time, being aware of the fragilities of life . . all lead me to search in the material and the nonmaterial zones. And there—is a place that I can describe as “Between Soul & Stone.” I found my way to that place again and again, in order to write the poems in the book.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell us something about your book of illustrated stories, “Beautiful Soon Enough”?

Margo Berdeshevsky: I think my publisher FC2 said it even better than I can at this point:

“It’s a collection of hypnotic stories that capture the lives—worldly, sexual, obsessive—of twenty-three arresting women. … These are snapshots and collages: stories of women on the outside, looking in; of women content to end their affairs; of young women learning the power of seduction; and of older women reminiscing about past loves. They are women who cannot live without love’s embrace, and women who have found it and feel that it is never enough. They are women of a “certain age,” as the French might say, and women with naked hearts, of any age.”

And I so much appreciate these words that were offered about the book by the wonderful author, Robert Olen Butler:

“Margo Berdeshevsky’s Beautiful Soon Enough is a thrillingly cutting-edge work of photos and short short stories flowing together into an extended erotic dream that limns the inner lives of women deeply yearning for connection and authenticity. This is a splendid book by a fine poet turning into an equally fine fiction writer.”

Geosi Gyasi: Your books have won some important prizes. For instance, “Beautiful Soon Enough” received the American Book Review/Ronald Sukenick Award for Innovative Fiction.  Do prizes matter to you as a writer?

Margo Berdeshevsky: I love this quote by Tennessee Williams:

“Here is the importance of bearing witness. We do not grow alone, talents do not prosper in a hothouse of ambition and neglect and hungry anger; love does not arrive by horseback or prayer or good intentions. We need the eyes, the arms, and the witness of others to grow, to know that we have existed, that we have mattered, that we have made our mark. And each of us has a distinct mark that colors our surroundings, that flavors the recipe of ‘experience’ in which we find ourselves; but we remain blind, without identity, until someone witnesses us.

&

… “No,” he uttered, seemingly defeated, “I’m afraid that we can’t continue to run from each other; I’m afraid that only in the company of these people, all of our witnesses, many of whom frighten us, can we learn who we are and what we’ve done.—Tennessee Williams

I will say that prizes DO (sometimes) help to allow a book more notice in a crowded pond. And as time goes on these days, with all the writing programs and etc., the pond has become quite crowded. I’m appreciative of those awards that have come my way as a way of saying that a particular work of mine has been particularly meaningful to someone who is in a position to call attention to it, individually or via a prize. And in the case of the FC2 innovative fiction award for “Beautiful Soon Enough,” it brought me into contact with a wild tribe of amazing other unusual writers with whom I was so happy to play. But the world of prizes and the “fame game” and the material world of literature and the ambitions of so many younger writers to “succeed” — whatever the hell that may mean—is worrisome. Writing is not a sport to win at. It is an art to be loved and practiced to the best of one’s ability. And if the gods are gracious after that to shed a little fairy dust on it .. that’s lovely! But as in so many areas of our lives, we would do well to love what we do for itself more than for the goal post. I know, how idealistic! And good luck to all of us, if we can do what we love to do as writers in our own time. There are those who may never be recognized in their time. But they have won—by doing it, all the same.

Between Soul and Stone by Margo Berdeshevsky

Between Soul and Stone by Margo Berdeshevsky

Geosi Gyasi: Can you take us through the process of writing, “But a Passage in Wilderness”?

Margo Berdeshevsky: That was my first published poetry book, and I had spent many years polishing and making it. And not finding a publisher for it. I was living far away from any big-time cities or gatherings of other poets, at the time, writing in a bubble, so to speak. But I was very aware of the world and what was happening in it and I had much that I needed and hoped to say about it, about the wilderness of our times, and making it through such metaphorical wilderness. And then, 10 pages of poems received the Robert H Winner Award for poets over the age of 40, thanks to the grand Marie Ponsot’s recognition. One day she told the publisher of Sheep Meadow Press that he should treat me well. That helped! And the book gelled.

Geosi Gyasi: Why would you want your readers to read your forthcoming novel, “Vagrant”?

Margo Berdeshevsky: It is obsessive, dis-illusory, womanly, edgy, modernist, some will say, experimental, some will some say. A memoir poétique, some will say. All these are apt. It is a multi-genre stand out of the box book.  And I’m not shy to say that I like that. And that I hope and believe that yes, my readers will too.

Geosi Gyasi: How long did it take you to write, “Vagrant”?

Margo Berdeshevsky: Ten years. Actually, more. But who’s counting??

Geosi Gyasi: Do you often show your works-in-progress to friends for approval?

Margo Berdeshevsky: A few very close ones. Sometimes. Sometimes, too quickly, and then I have to write again and say, oh no, not that version, this one! I’m not a workshop person, I’m more a lone wolf as a writer. But I do have a very few very trusted fellow writers whose opinions I have treasured, and can trust. And if they tell me that something really does not work yet, I will go back to my cave and struggle with it more, and then more, and then more—until I can breathe easy with it, myself.

Geosi Gyasi: What is your greatest challenge as a writer?

Margo Berdeshevsky: The solitudes. And the hopes for making something that might live up to the talent I think I have been given, and the time on earth that I am given to try.

Geosi Gyasi: What is your favorite book of all time?

Margo Berdeshevsky: One—is not fair! So how about these? : W.S. Merwin’s “The Vixen.” Alice Notley’s “The Descent of Alette.” Theodore Sturgeon’s “More Than Human.” And any of Shakespeare’s oeuvre. All of it.

Geosi Gyasi: Of all the places you’ve travelled to, which of them do you love to be most?

Margo Berdeshevsky: Any place I find peace.

Geosi Gyasi: You have the opportunity to sign off?

Margo Berdeshevsky: These are a few quotes from other writers that I deeply love:

 

TRANS—Rita Dove, 1952

I work a lot and live far less than I could,


but the moon is beautiful and there are


blue stars . . . . I live the chaste song of my heart.

—Garcia Lorca to Emilia Llanos Medinor,
November 25, 1920

 

The moon is in doubt

over whether to be

a man or a woman.

 

There’ve been rumors,

all manner of allegations,

bold claims and public lies:

 

He’s belligerent. She’s in a funk.

When he fades, the world teeters.

When she burgeons, crime blossoms.

 

O how the operatic impulse wavers!

Dip deep, my darling, into the blank pool.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

& this:

All the poems of our lives are not yet made.—Muriel Ruckeyser

Amazon Author page:

http://www.amazon.com/Margo-Berdeshevsky/e/B001JOWB6W

http://margoberdeshevsky.blogspot.com

Poetry International—online—  “Letter From Paris” for winter https://pionline.wordpress.com/2015/02/05/letter-from-paris-in-february-2015/

 END.


Interview with Mike Sauve, Author of “Goodbye Pantopon Rose”

June 20, 2015
Photo: Mike Sauve

Photo: Mike Sauve

Brief Biography:

Mike Sauve has written non-fiction for The National Post, Variety, and HTML Giant.  His online fiction has appeared in Pif Magazine, Monkeybicycle, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, One Throne and university journals of moderate renown.  Stories have appeared in print in M-Brane, Feathertale, Filling Station, and elsewhere.  His novella Goodbye Pantopon Rose is forthcoming from the Chicago Centre for Literature and Publishing.  His novels The Wraith of Skrellman and The Apocalypse of Lloyd are forthcoming from Montag Press.  He lives in Toronto, Ontario.

Geosi Gyasi: Let’s begin with your work as a journalist. Who is a journalist, if I may ask?

Mike Sauve: Not me, that’s for sure. I do think there’s a big difference between the average civilian’s idea of what a journalist is, i.e. a Woodward and Bernstein investigative reporter type, and what the rank and file journalist actually does. Someone regurgitating facts and coming up with a cute lead once or twice a week can call themselves a journalist, so can the tightly-wound individuals working the righteous indignation beat over at Slate. So maybe some higher designation is in order. Because if you’re writing lists of the ‘ten least safe for work nipple slips’ and introducing yourself as a journalist at the dinner party, well what if Richard Preston, fresh from the frontlines of the Ebola crisis, a world-class story-teller, what if he’s at the same dinner party, and he’s asked what he does, and all he can say is, “Also a journalist.”

Geosi Gyasi: How much of your journalistic experience do you bring to your work as a fiction writer?

Mike Sauve: Not much. My early fiction was pretty minimalist. In a previous interview, I said this was a result of all the rigidly-enforced clarity and simplicity that’s expected of low-level journalists.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you end up writing for The National Post?

Mike Sauve: It was an internship during my last year at Ryerson. I wrote for the Arts & Life section. I reviewed Argentine films and interviewed Harvey Pekar. It was a great opportunity. Since then I’ve contributed several freelance pieces, usually weird, quasi-belletristic ‘scenes’ that don’t really belong in a newspaper.

Geosi Gyasi: When did you see yourself as a ‘real writer”?

Mike Sauve: Pretty early. I wrote for the newspaper in my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie when I was sixteen, and that made me a real writer in the eyes of peers. Being a journalism student kept the delusion alive for a few years. After the journalism career fizzled out there was a crisis of confidence. When you come from that background and begin telling colleagues, “I write fiction now,” most are thinking, “Sure you do.” Even after short stories were published I was reticent to identify as a writer. With three books coming out I still feel a little self-conscious about it. Let this be a lesson to all you jerks handing out “Writer” business cards just because you type some words on Tumblr. You are seriously ruining it for the rest of us.

Geosi Gyasi: Writing film and music reviews, which of them do you enjoy doing most?

Mike Sauve: At least half of the music I listen to on a regular basis is stuff I originally discovered through writing reviews, so that’s been rewarding.

Geosi Gyasi: Does your work as a journalist pay the bills?

Mike Sauve: Oh God no. Occasionally I’ll get some lucrative job that pays .25 or .50 cents a word, but I’ve probably made more money gambling on sports (only if you don’t account for the money I’ve lost gambling on sports) in the last few years than I have from journalism. I have a ‘real’ job that’s not too onerous and allows me to focus on writing fiction.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it profitable to be in the business of writing fiction, poetry or non-fiction?

Mike Sauve: Not for me. Not yet anyway. Poetry would be the least lucrative, and outside of grant money it’s strictly a labour of love. God bless those people. Small press fiction isn’t much better. If you get a $1000-$2000 advance for a small press novel you’re like the A-Rod of the alt-lit scene. Given the amount of time and effort it takes…it’s safe to say I’m doing this because of crippling ego dysfunction. A healthy person doesn’t need this crap.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you talk about your novel, The Apocalypse of Lloyd?

Mike Sauve: Here’s the synopsis:

A clever but obnoxious teen (think Youth in Revolt’s Nick Twisp) is stuck in his parents’ basement during a uniquely literary yet crowd-pleasing apocalypse. It involves not zombies but a breakdown in general logic and order. Lloyd’s mother, a William Blake scholar, goes mad in a flurry of Blakean invective. Lloyd’s neighbour clips toenails on her lawn. An acting group believes a tribute to Dennis Hopper might save the world.

Mayhem, murder and forced cuckolding are kept on the periphery while Lloyd’s picayune concerns over allotments of Diana Sauce are rendered in lavish detail. Gradually, the unchecked lust of the adolescent male turns out to be the primary horror. First Lloyd rescues his new girlfriend Monica, causing tension in the household because he’d never brought a girl home prior to the Anger outbreak. Then he rescues the prettiest girl in his class and her sister. Three’s Company-style sex comedy ensues. Later, with his girlfriend in toe, Lloyd flees his childhood home and joins the Lac-Sainte-Catherine Community Theatre Workshop to help stage the Hopper play.

Lloyd narrates from hell, making the novel a morality play in which Lloyd’s selfishness and infidelities ultimately mire him in the pit for eternity. The book is a high-wire act blending ribald farce, horror, and heartfelt elegy, the emotional core of which is Lloyd’s sadness over lost friendships and lost youth, brought into painful focus by the nearing end.

The novel that will come out before Lloyd, also from Montag Press, is set in the same fictional town. It’s called The Wraith of Skrellman. Here’s the synopsis for it.

Set against the pomposity of a small-town theatre community, The Wraith of Skrellman is the story of a nearly-delusional, completely-homeless 46-year-old troubadour’s ill-fated pursuit of a beautiful teenage actress, the resentment this breeds in her precocious classmate Dave String, and the wraith of Skrellman who haunts them all with his “pornographic play-by-play” and frequent acts of occult mischief.

Elegiac at times, downright smutty at others, it’s like The Virgin Suicides if that book were a little less masterpiece and a whole lot more teen sex romp. Beneath the populist slapstick exists a literary ode to lost youth, and a mordant satire of the social conservatism of small towns.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you give us an insight into your forthcoming novella, Goodbye Pantopon Rose?

Mike Sauve:  Sure, it’s the biblical allegory/teen sex comedy I reference later on in this interview. Here’s the Chicago Centre for Literature and Photography’s synopsis of it:

“It’s a dark and surreal slapstick comedy with an urgent message about the evolution of lust in the digital age. Sarah Montgomery is a soup kitchen volunteer of singular altruism and bustiness who decides that having sex with her neck-bearded and virginal high school classmates is the greatest charity she can put forth; the resulting “sexual pay it forward” ring grips the town in an obsession when the increasingly perverse trysts produce medical and religious miracles, and eventually draw the interest of sinister forces. The second coming of Chuck Palahniuk…pun intended.”

Pre-order a paperback copy of Goodbye Pantopon Rose here:  www.cclapcenter.com/rose/

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: Where do you get your ideas when starting a novel?

Mike Sauve: My first novel, The Wraith of Skrellman, just came out of the ether. I started typing and soon I had about 5,000 words and thought, “Okay, it’s time to really write a novel.” Then it got difficult. With the first one you’re thinking, “Is this a real novel?” “Can I show this to people or will I be perceived as another terrible flake?” Apocalypse of Lloyd is based on a short story I wrote called Everything You Can Think of is True. I get a lot of ideas, most of which don’t go anywhere. It’s a real nice feeling when realizing I can make it to the ‘novel finish line’ which I’ve arbitrarily set at about 60,000 words.

Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever experienced a real setback as a writer?

Mike Sauve: After I graduated from journalism school I struggled to get a job in the field. I could have moved to some far-flung region of the country to make $25,000 a year, but I just didn’t care enough to do that. It’s been for the best. I wouldn’t have taken fiction seriously if I was getting my writerly ego massaged with daily bylines. Even if those bylines were attached to stories with headlines like “Day at Beach Enjoyed by All”

Geosi Gyasi: One Throne Magazine recently published your story, “The Careless Fuckery of Tim Ingersson”. How did you come to write this story?

Mike Sauve: I’d planned on using Goodbye Pantopon Rose as the cornerstrone for a collection of short fiction, and most of the stories were about young males, so I wanted to write some female protagonists. This also resulted in a story that’s not yet published called A Real Night in Versailles that I’m quite pleased with. As for Careless Fuckery, it’s like a lot of my early fiction, and a lot of apprentice short fiction, in relying too heavily on a big swerve at the end. This one is a little better off because the swerve itself, the press release for the Teen Abortion show, is more interesting than anything that precedes it. So there’s this kind of whimsical imbalance.

Geosi Gyasi: Where do you often write?

Mike Sauve: I used to live in a one-bedroom apartment and wrote in the main room on a giant Ikea desk found on the side of Carlton Street. I recently moved and now my desk is in the bedroom. I live with my girlfriend, known in legal circles as my common-law wife, but I only write when I’m home alone because the risk is high that she’ll interrupt me to ask some question regarding my preferred doneness of pasta. Revisions, I can do anywhere, on the subway, in the Toronto Reference Library where I have office space in the Writer’s Room, sparring with Lloyd Mayweather, etc.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you keep a dictionary beside you when you write?

Mike Sauve: Until recently I owned both a giant dictionary and thesaurus. But it’s quicker and easier to use online references. Another affectation I had to forego when I moved was a non-functioning typewriter.

Geosi Gyasi: Why did you decide to study at Ryerson University?

Mike Sauve: It has the best journalism program in the country. Plus I wanted to live in Toronto. I’d considered going to Western for English, but journalism seemed more practical. I would learn to write. I would graduate with a marketable skill. The joke was on me. The paid journalism market has shrunk, and when I eventually got serious about fiction, even with all sorts of reputable news credits to my name, I found myself in the awkward position of having to teach myself grammar from scratch.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you write solely in English?

Mike Sauve: Unilinguist here. I have enormous respect for people who can write professionally in second or third languages. Nabokov’s one-two punch of Pnin and Lolita almost hurts my feelings.

Geosi Gyasi: Living in Toronto, could you tell us about the literary culture there?

Mike Sauve: It’s the only literary culture I know. I assume it’s comparable to other big cities. Everyone seems fairly supportive of each other, superficially anyway. You see the same dozen or so literary wonks at most small-scale literary events. I assume you’d see a lot of ‘industry people’ at the large-scale ones. Last year I was doing readings quite frequently and the response was positive. I’ve slowed down a bit, but once my books are released I’ll get back out there.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any favourite writers?

Mike Sauve: Sure, I just finished Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon. In that book Pynchon is the master of rhythmic dialog. My highest aspiration would be some cut-rate forgery of the melancholic repartee between those two fucking astronomers.

I read a lot of non-fiction, some history. A couple favourites are Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song and Shelby Foote’s three volume history of The Civil War. One novel that has influenced my writing is C.D Payne’s Youth in Revolt. I first read it as a teenager and have read it several times since. It’s a teen sex comedy, but with an adult level of erudition and sophistication. All of my books are teen sex comedies that aspire to at least some level of erudition if not necessarily sophistication. Teen sex comedy meets apocalypse; teen sex comedy meets biblical allegory. As I mature I fear it will be “This is a teen sex comedy meets Ulysses/Moby Dick, etc.”

Geosi Gyasi: What do you regard as your biggest achievement as a writer?

Mike Sauve: An early one was getting a story on the McSweeney’s website. That legitimized me among writers and publishers to some extent. Creatively, my biggest achievement is the novel I’m just finishing now, a time travel/teen sex comedy called I Ain’t Got No Home in This World Anymore, which I hope brings my work to a wider audience.

END.


Interview with Sandra Marchetti, Author of “Confluence”

June 19, 2015
Photo: Sandra Marchetti

Photo: Sandra Marchetti

Brief Biography:

Sandra Marchetti is the author of Confluence, a debut full-length collection of poetry from Sundress Publications. Eating Dog Press also published an illustrated edition of her essays and poetry, A Detail in the Landscape, and her first volume, The Canopy, won Midwest Writing Center’s Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest. Sandy won Second Prize in Prick of the Spindle’s 2014 Poetry Open and her work appears in The Hollins CriticSugar House ReviewEcotoneGreen Mountains ReviewBlackbird, Southwest Review, and elsewhere. She lives and teaches outside of her hometown, Chicago, Illinois.

Geosi Gyasi: When did you realize yourself as a writer?

Sandra Marchetti: First of all, thank you so much for having me here. Your site is such a wonderful resource. I entered a story competition in fourth grade (I was maybe 10?) and won second place. I suspect it was earlier than that when I knew, though. My mother helped me to bind the book with this hideous orange yarn she had around the house. My parents have always been my biggest supporters. We used to draw together and they read me endless stories, and made up many for me. I was an imaginative only child. We had an imaginary society of elves living in our house that did amazing things and ate cookies. The elves even had their own jail! So, I always had a love of stories and would hole myself up in my room and read chapter books all night oftentimes. However, Sharon Olds was probably the first poet who made me feel like, “I could do this,” regarding poetry.

Geosi Gyasi: As a writer, do you think it is easy to write?

Sandra Marchetti: Not a whit. David Rakoff, an essayist I love who recently died said something akin to “writing is like pulling your teeth out of your ass.” And it’s true! It is deeply imaginative play. It is encompassing play. I used to make things as a child, dollhouses and beds for my Barbies out of Kleenex boxes and such. It’s like that. It’s engineering. And if you want to engineer an object well, it’s incredibly difficult. You have to know some math. You have to be aware of the angles–where symmetry is called for and where asymmetry is. I am invoking math metaphors here because I write in metrical forms often.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you talk about your forthcoming book, “Confluence”?

Sandra Marchetti: Confluence is now “in the world” as we say. I am really excited about that, as it’s getting into readers hands and they are actually now cracking the spine. It’s nerve-wracking to leave five years of one’s life open to public opinion, but I’m grateful to have the opportunity to offer up the work. The book is really a reunion with the landscape that I love, the American Midwest. I wrote much of it while I was living on the east coast, in Washington DC, and missing my home in Chicago for umpteen reasons. It’s also about the reunion of two people. However, on a more abstract level, the book reads, I hope, like music in some ways. It’s full of beats and repeated sounds, many colors (mostly bright ones, and pastels, my favorite), and can be read on purely a sensual level, I think.

Geosi Gyasi: What sort of preparation went into the writing of “Confluence”?

Sandra Marchetti: Preparation is a funny word for it. In all honesty, I could answer, “none.” In a way, I wrote the poems, and all of the preparation to make it a book happened on the back end. I did not have a project or plot line in mind for this book. I wrote occasional poems, as Alan Cheuse said, about my obsessions: ecology, art, sound, love. I wrote the poems I had to write and then tried to figure out how they would work as a book. I knew they might, because they contained linked subject matter and prosody, but actually placing them in the order that would make a book, and writing enough good poems to make a book took about 5 to 6 years.

Geosi Gyasi: You received your MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) from George Mason University in 2010. Why did you decide to study Creative Writing?

Sandra Marchetti: Honestly, I sat in my undergraduate faculty adviser’s office the year before I was to graduate and couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I was never so great at holding down jobs–I worked in telemarketing and did some nannying. I was fired a couple times. I really wanted to write–I was just getting going with publishing things and the end of my undergrad and felt that I had found my calling. My adviser cautioned me though. She said, “Well, after you complete an MFA, then you can decide if you really want to do this writing thing.” I was shocked. I figured signing up for grad school would indicate that I was “all in.” But Anna Leahy was right. A bunch of folks in my MFA program are no longer writing. It really tests your mettle.

Geosi Gyasi: You were the winner of the 2011 Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest for your volume, The Canopy. Why do you think you won this content?

Sandra Marchetti: Well, the contest was regional, only open to Iowa and Illinois writers, and thank goodness. I met the judge, Erin Bertram, and the reading committee after the fact and it was made up of naturalists like Trisha Georgiou and Sarah Gardner who love ecopoetry about the Midwest. It was definitely a right place, right time situation. When a poet asks me where he/she should send a book, I always say to go for the limited demographic contest or press–it really helps your chances!

Geosi Gyasi: What is your greatest achievement as a writer?

Sandra Marchetti: Probably seeing Confluence through from an ill-formed graduate thesis to a published book in readers’ hands is my greatest achievement. However, having poems accepted into dream journals like Blackbird, Southwest Review, and Ecotone this year comes in a close second!

Geosi Gyasi: Do you regard writing as a profession?

Sandra Marchetti: It is. When I introduce myself, I am prone to saying I am a writer or a poet rather than a teacher right off the bat. It is what I wish to spend my days doing, even if that isn’t always the case. This year there has been some small monetary gain involved, which makes me feel a bit more legitimate.

Geosi Gyasi: You currently teach writing at Aurora University. What are you subject areas or your interests as a teacher?

Sandra Marchetti: I teach English composition and literature, but I also teach writing intensive interdisciplinary studies courses in which I love to expose students to contemporary art, dance, and poetry. These classes are a bit more free form and focused on the humanities, largely, so they are fun to teach.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it difficult to teach students how to write?

Sandra Marchetti: Absolutely, yes! I think many of them haven’t had a teacher that appeals to their common sense. As a creative person, maybe that seems counter intuitive to hear. These students, though, need to know how they will use writing in their every day lives, and poetry is something we can and do use in our every day lies as well! I try to talk to them about practical applications for creative thinking. It’s sneaky but effective. Once they know why they are being taught the curriculum, they seem much more receptive.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: What is the first thing you tell your students in their first class?

Sandra Marchetti: I give them Annie Dillard and we talk about the Steve Jobs/Apple slogan from the early 2000’s: “Think Different.” I tell them this isn’t a writing class per se, it’s a thinking class. Annie Dillard thought different and saw things others didn’t know were there in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Jobs saw things differently and revolutionized how we live, essentially. It’s also important that that phrase, “Think Different” isn’t the more grammatical, “Think Differently.” It has a punch. We remember it, which is what good writing does.

Geosi Gyasi: Which writers have had great impact on your writing?

Sandra Marchetti: The usual suspects and some others. The writer who made me want to write poetry was F. Scott Fitzgerald, curiously, was a prose writer. He had such an aptitude for the lyric. Sharon Olds made me think I could actually pull it off, as I said above. But the folks I return to now are Octavio Paz, Elizabeth Bishop, Annie Dillard, Li-Young Lee, Carl Phillips, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and a few others. I’m not biased to one period or country. I’m looking for beauty, and something like celebration, or dare I say, truth.

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

Sandra Marchetti: I’m coming close when I have the poem memorized, or close to memorized. When it rolls off my tongue like that, I know the words are in the right place. I very rarely abandon poems, and try to see them all to completion.

Geosi Gyasi: how do you often start a poem?

Sandra Marchetti: How often do I start one? Once every few weeks or so. I am not prolific. I wrote 20 last year and that’s quite a few for me! How do I start it? Well, often it begins with a walk. I’m kind of a wannabe transcendentalist in that way. Sometimes I’ll see or hear something that sparks a poem, or more likely in the last couple years, reminds me of a line from someone else’s poem, and then I’ll want to write.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you know the next book you intend to write after “Confluence”?

Sandra Marchetti: Well, this and the last question go together really well. I am currently working on a project that takes lines, the ones that are like song lyrics to me, lines that I can’t get out of my head, from other poets’ poems and puts them into my own work. Sometimes it’s just a line, or a title, or the poet’s name. I’ve snatched bits from Louise Gluck, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and many others. It’s fun, and in some ways a continuation of Confluence, in which I relied on and called upon my influences often. I’m working on another new project which is about my experiences rooting for a baseball team over the years, The Chicago Cubs, and about the sport itself and ballparks. So, I’m excited about that one too.

Geosi Gyasi: I am wondering how you arrived at the title, “Confluence”?

Sandra Marchetti: I went to a conference in Pittsburgh, where there is a true confluence, and that’s where the word was implanted in my head many years ago. The Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers flow together to form the Ohio there. I loved the idea of the landscape and lovers in the book flowing to a confluence. I also think triangles are an important shape in the book, and rivers are crucial to the work too, so the idea confluence seemed to fit.

Geosi Gyasi: When was the last time you received a fan mail from a reader?

Sandra Marchetti: Fan mail? I have, and especially in the form of Facebook friend requests. He he. But seriously, I published a poem in Thrush Poetry Journal in January 2014 and since it is a really popular online journal (due to Helen Vitoria’s genius), with a very dedicated readership, I have connected with many folks through that poem. These people are from various countries and have since written reviews of my work or translated it into other languages. What a blessing.

Geosi Gyasi: In just a sentence, convince any potential reader to pick up your book, “Confluence”?

Sandra Marchetti: Sex! Trees! Surrealism! But seriously, if you like poetry that sings, or books that will provide a momentary stay against the madness of the world, read Confluence. You’ll feel the pleasure. And if you do want a copy, here’s the link to get one:

http://www.amazon.com/Confluence-Sandra-Marchetti/dp/1939675162/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1431013404&sr=1-1

Thank you so much, Geosi!

END.


Interview with Canadian Writer, Emily Ursuliak

June 17, 2015
Photo Credit: Linda Ursuliak

Photo Credit: Linda Ursuliak

Brief Biography:

Emily Ursuliak lives in Calgary and writes both fiction and poetry. She is the host of the CJSW radio show, Writer’s Block, which you can listen to in podcast form here: https://soundcloud.com/cjsw-90-9-fm/sets/writers-block. She has an MA in English from the University of Calgary where she worked on her first novel and collection of poetry. You can find out more about her at www.emilyursuliak.com.

Geosi Gyasi: You’re the host and producer of CJSW’s literary radio show “Writer’s Block”. Could you tell us what this program is all about?

Emily Ursuliak: Writer’s Block celebrates all things literary. The show is mostly interviews with authors, although I also talk to people at independent book stores and play spoken word tracks. The authors we have on the show are primarily Canadian, although we have had a few international authors. I also try to have a balance of fiction, nonfiction and poetry interviews on the show as much as possible.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you get started with the CJSW’s literary radio show “Writer’s Block”?

Emily Ursuliak: I started with Writer’s Block just under two years ago. My friend Paul, who was one of the hosts at the time, was looking for people to help out with interviews. I did an interview with a poet named Vivian Hansen, and Paul taught me how to do the production end of things after and I got hooked. As I was helping them out as an executive producer for the show both Paul and Steph (the other host of the show who was actually responsible for starting it) told me they’d both like to step down as hosts and asked if I would be interested in taking over, so of course I said yes. I’ve always loved listening to spoken word programming, but I never imagined I’d get an opportunity to produce it myself.

Geosi Gyasi: You once held a role with “filling Station” magazine. What work did you do there?

Emily Ursuliak: I was a member of the fiction collective when I first began volunteering with filling Station; the fiction collective is the team that assists the fiction editor. Then, while I was still in the fiction collective, I was the coordinator for a community writing event called Hot Dates with Blank Pages where we met once a month in different locations in Calgary to do writing inspired by our city. Last December I moved from being a fiction collective member, to leading the fiction collective as the fiction editor. I held that position for just over a year, and then had to step down this February when it was becoming too difficult to balance doing both Writer’s Block and filling Station.

Geosi Gyasi: What’s the difference between working for magazine and that of radio?

Emily Ursuliak: Both involve promoting the work of writers, but promoting in different ways and to some extent promoting at different stages of a writer’s career. When I was the fiction editor for filling Station I was choosing which fiction submissions would get accepted for publication for the magazine. Some of the pieces I picked for publications were the first pieces of writing these authors were getting published, so it feels great to be a part of that moment in a writer’s career. For Writer’s Block I’m interviewing writers who are a bit further along in their careers and maybe they’ve just had their first book published, or they might even be award-winning best-sellers who have quite a few books out. filling Station involved helping produce a printed object, while Writer’s Block involves creating and editing sound that I broadcast on radio, and also put up as podcasts. As someone who works a lot with the written word in a lot of different ways, making radio is refreshing because even though I’m still talking about books, I get to do sound editing and production, which I absolutely love. It’s a very meditative process, editing a radio show.

Geosi Gyasi: Why do you think you were awarded the 2013 Volunteer of the Year Award by the Alberta Magazine Publishers Association?

Emily Ursuliak: The main reason was that I worked with an awesome team of people who decided to nominate me and write really amazing letters of support. I didn’t know they were going to nominate me and it meant a lot. I guess the reason they chose to do that was that I took on a lot of stuff outside of the positions I mentioned earlier. I created and ran a fundraising event for two years and I helped out wherever it was needed. I just did what I thought you ought to do when you sign up to volunteer, help out in any way you can.

Geosi Gyasi: You taught creative writing courses through organizations such as the Alexandra Writers’ Centre Society. What experience did you gain teaching creative writing courses?

Emily Ursuliak: Teaching creative writing makes me remember what I was taught by my writing mentors, because some of the exercises I use are ones I really loved doing as a student. But what I’ve really enjoyed is creating new writing exercises and being forced to put my own approach to writing into words. I love teaching students who ask lots of questions and challenge the writing exercises I’ve asked them to do. Sometimes I have to pause to think about how I’ll explain something, and it really pushes my teaching to the next level, and also my understanding of the writing process.

Geosi Gyasi: You hold an MA in English from the University of Calgary. Why did you decide to study at the University of Calgary?

Emily Ursuliak: When I was an undergraduate student my mentor was my first creative writing professor, Rod Schumacher. He was the one who told me I should study creative writing at the graduate level. He gave me really good advice when I was deciding on which programs to apply for. He told me to read the books of the professors in the programs and find someone whose writing I admired, whose skills I felt I was lacking. I read the books of several different professors and then devoured Suzette Mayr’s novel Moon Honey and knew she was who I wanted to work with. Suzette has a way of making you feel like you’re really in the body of the character. The physicality of her characters is so rich. I knew that’s what I was missing. All my previous characters had been floating heads; I didn’t really write about what it was like to be in their bodies. The choice was pretty clear to me. Another important factor is that Calgary is only a couple of hours from where I grew up. I’m pretty close to my family and it would have been hard to be too far away from them.

Geosi Gyasi: Poetry and Fiction – which of them is difficult to write?

Emily Ursuliak: They both are, and they’re both also very enjoyable, both for different reasons. In poetry the challenge is how detailed the work is. Sometimes I can spend an hour agonizing over one line. In fiction, especially in the novel form, the biggest challenge is creating a strong narrative frame, and making sure you stay consistent with the voice of your character. I feel less anxious about fiction though. I can run free in fiction and I don’t feel like I’m quite so hard on myself. It’s hard for me to let go of the idea of narrative, and I used to feel like my poetry was weaker because there was always a story in my poems and I couldn’t write a poem without doing that. I’m starting to accept that that’s just who I am as a writer, but I feel a lot more anxious about the quality of the poems I put out into the world.

Geosi Gyasi: What’s the inspiration behind your short piece, “Planting” as published in Issue 3 of One Throne Magazine?

Emily Ursuliak: “Planting” is a prose poem from my manuscript The Diamond Hitch, which is a collection of poems inspired by the travel diary my grandmother and her friend Anne kept on a trip they took together in 1951. They were living in Victoria, British Columbia and decided to drive the 1927 MG Roadster they owned together to Red Deer, Alberta, where they bought two horses and a pack horse, which they rode back to Victoria on. “Planting” is about Walter, one of the characters they met along the way. Anne and my grandmother wrote about the stories Walter told them and his odd home, and I loved how eccentric he was. One Throne wanted to publish it as a piece of flash fiction, and I was ok with that because prose poems can straddle the boundary between fiction and poetry.

Geosi Gyasi: What sort of preparation do you do before writing a poem?

Emily Ursuliak: It really depends on the poem. For the poems from The Diamond Hitch I would revisit the part of the travel diary I wanted to make into a poem and take down notes about what I wanted the poem to capture. I often do a lot of brainstorming and free writing beforehand and my rough drafts are almost always written out by hand rather than on a computer.

Geosi Gyasi: Where did you get the idea to write, “Bowness”?

Emily Ursuliak: “Bowness” is a poem I wrote in response to volunteering during the cleanup after the 2013 flood that happened in Calgary, and also had a devastating effect on other areas of southern Alberta. The Bow River that runs through the city flooded large parts of it. The downtown core of the city was shut down for about three months in order to repair the damage and a number of neighbourhoods were also heavily affected. The beautiful thing about the flood was that it brought out the best in Calgarians. As soon it was safe a large number of the residents from unaffected areas came out to volunteer with the cleanup. The first volunteer experience I had was helping gut the destroyed basement of the in-laws of a friend-of-a-friend. My friend and I were given the task of ripping up the carpets. We climbed down into this dark basement that still had a foot of water in it and my friend and I took turns holding a flash light while one of us cut the sodden carpet into strips that would be manageable enough to haul out. It was tough work, and it was a very odd experience. I wrote the poem because I wanted to write about what that felt like, to hack into a destroyed piece of someone’s home.

Geosi Gyasi: Who are your favourite writers?

Emily Ursuliak: For fiction: Heather O’Neill, Miriam Toews, Gabrielle Garcia Marquez, Nalo Hopkinson, Sarah Selecky, and Sara Tilley. For poetry: Michael Ondaatje, Nicole Brossard, and Robert Kroetsch.

Geosi Gyasi: As an interviewer yourself, what are some of the challenges you face interviewing writers?

Emily Ursuliak: I want to ask questions that honour the work a writer has put into their book. I want to dig a bit deeper into the work and ask questions that maybe they haven’t been asked before. When I really love and understand a book this isn’t too hard, but sometimes I get books that I don’t have the same connection too and it can be difficult to come up with the quality of questions I want to be asking. Doing a radio interview is also weird because it’s kind of like I’m having a conversation with the writer, but it’s also a partially scripted performance and later on I know I’ll have to go back and listen to the entire thing and edit it.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you know why you write?

Emily Ursuliak: Because I have to. I don’t write as regularly as I’d like to, and when I go too long without doing it it affects me emotionally. I feel depressed, or cranky, or a bit off-balance. And then when I do start writing again I feel restored.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you happy as a writer?

Emily Ursuliak: Yes, definitely. I would say the best word to describe how I feel as a writer right now is grateful. I’ve had a lot of really amazing mentors who have gone out of their way to help me grow as a writer. There are definitely times when I get scared and anxious and I don’t know if I’ll be able to “make it” as a writer, and then I think of my mentors. Thinking of them drives me to put my anxieties behind me and get back to work because I don’t want the time they spent on me to be wasted. I’m also grateful because I’ve found a great community of writers in Calgary. They’re like my second family. They’re supportive friends and their writing inspires me.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you working on any new writing project?

Emily Ursuliak: Yes and no. I’m working on editing the novel I wrote for my masters thesis. I’ve been working on it for a few years though and so I need to take breaks from it sometimes. That’s when I work on new projects. I wrote a new short story this winter to submit to an anthology that one of my friends is putting together. I also have this idea for a new collection of poems about the work of Alexander McQueen. I have a few poems for it already, but there’s a lot left to write.

END.


Interview with American Writer, Ken Meisel

June 15, 2015
Photo: Ken Meisel

Photo: Ken Meisel

Brief Biography:

Ken Meisel is a poet and psychotherapist from the Detroit area. He is a 2012 Kresge Arts Literary Fellow, Pushcart Prize nominee, Swan Duckling chapbook contest winner, and author of six poetry collections: The Drunken Sweetheart at My Door (FutureCycle Press: 2015), Scrap Metal Mantra Poems (Main Street Rag: 2013), Beautiful Rust (Bottom Dog Press: 2009), Just Listening (Pure Heart Press: 2007), Before Exiting (Pure Heart Press: 2006) and Sometimes the Wind (March Street Press: 2002). His work in over 80 national magazines including Cream City Review, Rattle, Ruminate, Midwest Gothic, Concho River Review, San Pedro River Review, Boxcar Review, Birdfeast, Muddy River Poetry Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Lake Effect, Third Wednesday and Bryant Literary Review.

Geosi Gyasi: Let’s begin this way: You’re a poet and psychotherapist from Detroit. Who is a psychotherapist, if I may ask?

Ken Meisel: A psychotherapist is a person licensed to provide psychotherapy services to individuals, group, couples, and families. I am a licensed Social Worker in the State of Michigan . Much of my work involves providing counseling services to individuals and couples.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you reconcile your work as a poet and psychotherapist?

Ken Meisel: The discipline of providing psychotherapy and writing poetry feels very interwoven and connected to me. They are related in so far as I function as witness in both arenas. In other words, I am present as a witness and a co-creator of unfolding experience, both inside my therapeutic work with people, and within the enterprise of my literary creation of art.

Geosi Gyasi: How long have you been living in Detroit?

Ken Meisel: I was born in Detroit and lived within the boundaries the city until 1986. Since then, I have lived just outside the city. Much of my early poetry served to commemorate my experiences of living in Detroit , in the after -math of the 1967 riots.

Geosi Gyasi: Can you tell us about the literary culture in Detroit?

Ken Meisel: The literary culture of Detroit, at this time, is rich and varied. There is an active poetry slam scene here, and the literary written and spoken word scene continues to be a powerful one. Much of the literary figures in Detroit – myself included – have written poetry that laments, memorializes, celebrates and uplifts the city. Much of the literary culture here serves to tell the story of Detroit – of its great musical legacy, its auto industry, its factory life, its racial tension and unrest and its emergent racial harmonization. Detroit ’s literary style can be gritty, incantatory, and lyrical. It pushes, protests, and grieves at once. It’s born of a kind of strained and saturated anguish and pride, woven together.

Geosi Gyasi: Can you tell us about your roots as Irish?

Ken Meisel: I am Irish-American. My mother’s people come from Catholic Northern Ireland. I was raised with an Americanized sense of being Irish, ie, I was raised Irish-Catholic. My sense of being Irish is organized around Irish humor, Irish music, and Irish literature. Beyond that, I don’t tether too much to cultural heritage.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you earn a great deal from writing?

Ken Meisel: God no. My main income comes from my day job as a psychotherapist. I don’t expect to earn much money from the sales of my books. In fact, I’ve primarily donated the proceeds of my book sales to chosen charity organizations.

Geosi Gyasi: Why do you decide to donate proceeds from your book sales to charities?

Ken Meisel: I donate proceeds of book sales to charities because, by doing so, I serve the greater good of using my art to benefit causes outside of myself. After completing each book, I decide which charity the book’s theme seems to be speaking to. For example, in 2010 I donated the proceeds of my book,Beautiful Rust (a book of elegies about Detroit ) to an organization here in Detroit called The Inside/Out Literary Arts Project. This wonderful organization helps inner city children write. The book Beautiful Rust was a collection of poems addressing the anguish of Detroit . So it felt very natural to me to use the proceeds of that book to benefit kids learning to write, inside the city of Detroit . I decided to start donating proceeds of book sales to charities because I felt a greater purity as a literary artist in doing so. This model benefits three entities in one: It benefits me, the artist, it benefits the buyer, and it provides financial resources to the chosen charity. And it keeps me generous of heart, as an artist. I’m donating the proceeds of my new book, The Drunken Sweetheart at My Door, to an organization here in the state of Michigan called First Step. This organization assists women who are breaking free of domestic abuse and violence. With this new book, I wanted to offer resources to women. The influence of women – the unique power and wisdom of their inner voice of conscience – has become a recent passion of mine.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell us how you came to write, “Beautiful Rust”?

Ken Meisel: Beautiful Rust came about because I became obsessed with the notion of Detroit being identified in the popular press as a dying city. I started writing the poems for the book in 2002, and I completed the book just as the stock markets crashed in the USA in 2008, and the auto industry, here in Detroit, tanked. The book celebrates and laments Detroit . It posits the idea that as Detroit dies, ie, as some of its old identity factors give way to their futility and to their timeline limitation, so then will it be reborn different. Said very differently – Detroit ’s overall ethos feels very masculine to me. The city was created as a grand production hub – and in so becoming that, the city poorly identified how to protect itself from emerging obsolescence. The main product it made – automobiles – became the very product that transported people, specifically the wealthy, to leave it; to abandon it. Detroit’s sordid racial history, its internecine turmoil and racial conflict, its failure to develop a competent protection plan for itself and its general ignorance toward protecting its beauty – ie, to develop a counter-balance of feminine preservation of history and harmony – became one of the central themes, or motifs of the book. I titled the book, Beautiful Rust, because, frankly, I’ve also fallen in love with Detroit ’s ruins. They are a true marvel to me. They are a beautiful ruin, and that’s because so much of Detroit ’s identity, following the riots of 1967 and the white flight from the city, is an identity of ruin. Detroit , as an idea, juxtaposes grandeur and ruin. The idea remains compelling to me.

Geosi Gyasi: What influenced your current book, “The Drunken Sweetheart at My Door”?

Ken Meisel: After Beautiful Rust, and after a small chapbook entitled Scrap Metal Mantra Poems (also poems with Detroit as subject matter) were published, I shifted focus entirely toward poems about love.The Drunken Sweetheart at My Door is a book of poems that celebrate the power of mature adult love. I became preoccupied with the way that love, as a movement of attention, shapes, alters and changes the individual forever. Many of the poems in the book articulate this idea, whether they are poems about my own happy marriage, or poems about the various pitfalls and glory of love. Many of the poems in the book articulate the idea that the central movement of love is a rhythm of devotion, and inside that rhythm, the love pilgrim enacts a creative servitude to the greater good, whether that be to art, or to birth, or toward a proper living and dying. The book’s title comes from a Rumi poem that showcases the notion that the Drunken Sweetheart come to visit is both the invitational blessing and the challenging ordeal at once; true love involves both. A visitation from the Drunken Sweetheart is a privilege and a life-changing event, and it’s not for the weak of heart. It’s not a trifling event. The poems in this new book are all testimonials to the challenge and the blessing of love. I’m sure that the conceiving and writing of this book – following my two books about Detroit – came because I, too, needed to harvest what I’d discovered in the prior two books about Detroit, ie, that the devotional current that compels love was a worthy subject matter for me. It required a whole new book: a book of tender poems about the power of love.

Geosi Gyasi: Where do you often sit to write?

Ken Meisel: I write at a computer, in a little office in my home. The office has pictures all of those I love hung on the walls, and three large bookshelves of poetry, resource material, and literary criticism. I rarely attempt to write outside of this domain.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you write on a computer or in a notebook?

Ken Meisel: I used to write in a notebook, but in 1996 I switched entirely to the computer. I find that writing at the computer is more effective for me, because I can hear ideas coming to me and the pace of writing is faster. Sometimes my poems come best when they come fast. And the method of writing on the computer assists quick pace, immediacy of organization, and active revision much more efficiently.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you give us a brief synopsis into your book, “Beautiful Rust”?

Ken Meisel: Beautiful Rust is a book that laments, elegizes and celebrates the city of Detroit . The book’s main theme is that Detroit’s legacy of grandeur and success, and its subsequent decline into ruin and spectacle, functions to promulgate an ongoing, if entertaining narrative about Detroit as a city in extremis: Detroit is a city of extreme pathos, racism and poverty, and it is juxtaposed in the popular (and oh so very true) socio-cultural narrative as a place of world-famous automotive design innovation and artistic beauty.  Its history of music, literature and art are renowned. The book suggests that Detroit – as a living space and as an idea – has been over-masculine in its general ethos and identify, and, as a consequence, it has failed to achieve a civil harmony, a sense of historical preservation of its monuments, a continuity of production success and, above all, it has failed to provide a steady, reliable kindness to its citizenry. The book envisions Detroit as a woman, struggling under the duress of abuse, social unrest, neighborhood neglect, unethical socio-political policies and racial tension. The poems in the book carry the idea that inside Detroit ’s dying embers there are the ready-to-sprout seeds of a new renaissance identity – one that is more balanced and feminine in its cultural ethos. At heart, Beautiful Rust is a hard-hitting valentine to the city that I was born in.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: Whom do you regard as the best living author writing in English today?

Ken Meisel: Wow. Super hard to commit to just one. I’ll confess that I deeply enjoy reading Cormac McCarthy.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you write for a specific audience?

Ken Meisel: My work is written for adults interested in contemplation. My work isn’t entertainment. My work is aimed at those interested in hearing and feeling how we are flooded by beauty, loss, transcendence, love, death, birth and tenderness.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a personal favorite among all the books you’ve written?

Ken Meisel: I can’t really say that I do. Each book is different. Each new book seems inevitable and in the service of the one that follows it.

Geosi Gyasi: What are your main subject areas as a writer?

Ken Meisel: I’m preoccupied with the cycles of apotheosis and ruin. Love – as it expresses itself in devotional attention – is a main subject for me. Loss – as a human experience – is also a compelling idea for me. And lately, I am preoccupied with how – in the face of adversity and/or bewildering experience – we can become filled with awe, purpose and transcendence.

Geosi Gyasi: What are your personal thoughts about the future of poetry?

Ken Meisel: Poetry will always last. And that is because the human voice – which is the instrument by which we convey the universal within the personal and vice versa – is unconquerable. Human beings need to write their passions down on paper. Human beings need to speak inside a verbalized eloquence. So I do believe in the future potency and the tenacious will power of poetry. Poetry is oratory elegance inside the dance of a verbalized, written lyric. Our brains are configured to engage in it. Poetry, by the way, is not entertainment. Poetry is not meant to simply entertain. Poetry is for those interested in contemplation. It reaches those whose hearts and minds are already attuned to listen to it. To that end, I doubt that there will ever be any novelty shows like American Idol that showcase America ’s best new poet. Poetry is dead serious. It’s not for the trite of heart. It’s the heart with the arrow already shot straight through it. Those who write serious poetry already know this fact. I’ll stand on that.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that poets or writers have a defined way of life?

Ken Meisel: Well, no matter what, a poet or writer will define a life that answers the questions why do I write in the first place, and how will I continue to write? I think that the answer to these questions forms the particular style of life for the poet or writer. That life will be defined in terms of a devotional stance toward surrendering to art-for-art’s sake. I’ve never known a writer to avoid the eye of this needle. All writers apprentice to the greater crucible of creation and art. Those who succeed never lose sight of this one necessary truth. The style of life that follows such an act of devotion is one that fulfills this promissory note of dedication. One can fail or thrive on the narrow gymnast beam that this kind of devotional life-choice determines and demands.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you know who reads your works?

Ken Meisel: Folks touched by the tenderness that I seem to convey inside poems about love and/or loss seem to go for my books. My poems, whether they are funny, or tragic, or sad, or incantatory, all unfold from tenderness toward my subject. The people that buy and read my books express an attraction to that quality in my work.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you see yourself writing more books?

Ken Meisel: I’ll write as long as my heart feels. My job is to protect my heart from cynicism, boredom, judgment, and repetition. If I can manage that, I’m quite confident that I’ll produce more books.

Geosi Gyasi: What would you like to be remembered for as a writer?

Ken Meisel: I’d like to be known as a writer that, above all, showed tenderness and respect for everyone or everything that he wrote about. Respect and tenderness lifts us up from the banal and the mediocre, and we are energized into a consciousness of compassion and kindness. Truth, love and confrontational candor work best from this interior core. So I’d like to be known for this quality in my own literary work and inside my legacy as a poet. All of my favorite poems evolve and unfold from this one deep core.

END.


Interview with Poet, Lesley-Anne Evans

June 14, 2015
Photo: Lesley-Anne Evans

Photo: Lesley-Anne Evans

Brief Biography:

Lesley-Anne Evans was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She graduated with a B.L.Arch. from University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, in 1987, and practiced Landscape Architecture and theme park design in Toronto, Ontario, for several years. Lesley-Anne moved west to Kelowna, British Columbia, where she pursues creative contentment with her husband of 27 years, three young adult children, and rehabilitated hound. Lesley-Anne’s poetry has placed in contests, and is published by Leaf Press, and in The Antigonish Review, CV-2, Quills, Ascent, Sage-ing, Pantheos, UBCO’s Lake Journal, and others. Lesley-Anne is drawn to poetic activism and word sharing activities with her street level initiative Pop-Up-Poetry, and facilitates a poetry circle with writers who live on the streets.  She sees artists and poets as culture makers, and art in all its varied forms as witness, influencer, advocate and healer.

Geosi Gyasi: Let’s begin with your poem, “Desert” published in the Issue Two of One Throne Magazine. How did you come to write it?

Lesley-Anne Evans: A theme of interpersonal understanding often finds its way into my work. This particular poem emerged during a challenging time in my marriage, one where we were struggling to communicate and banging up against the same wall repeatedly. My realization through the poem, was that that in the dark, without words, may be a better way. The poem brought perspective to me.

Geosi Gyasi: What inspires you to write?

Lesley-Anne Evans: I am inspired by both concrete and abstract ideas, and the broadening of momentary experiences into a more universal story. I am a lengthy processor, so for me, inspiration usually happens over a series of days, but is happening much faster of late. An idea comes like a flash of light, then I sit down and write.

Geosi Gyasi: When did you actually become a writer?

Lesley-Anne Evans: I have always loved books, and was a voracious reader as a girl, thanks to my dear father, who took me weekly to the public library. I dabbled in writing poetry when young, then wrote what was required throughout schooling, rather than pursuing creative expression in writing. After obtaining my professional degree at University, I pursued a creative career as a Landscape Architect and theme park designer for several years, then gave myself fully to the task of raising a family.

My concentrated journey in writing began in 2006, with a two year commitment to spiritual formation, and a (re)discovery of a way of being and doing with words. I write now because it has become a practice for me, and a daily commitment. Writing helps me live with integrity, emotionally, spiritually, and is a means whereby I can give to others through mentoring, installations, readings, public engagement etc.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell something about your blog, “Buddy Breathing”?

Lesley-Anne Evans: Buddy Breathing is a place where I can give to others, where I can open my life transparently, my struggles and insights, and offer everything with a, “what if?” or “I wonder.” I don’t blog as much as I used to, with my writing work currently focused on poetry and other projects. Perhaps I should return to the blog again?

Geosi Gyasi: When did you start blogging?  

Lesley-Anne Evans: I began with “My Gracenotes” in 2006, then kept two blogs onward from there, with “Sometimes Suicidal Mama,” then launched and facilitated an online community of women writers, called “Pink Ink Workshop.” In 2010 I morphed my blogs into Buddy Breathing.

Geosi Gyasi: You recently began showcasing your photography at See/Saw. Do you mind sharing anything about “See/Saw”?

Lesley-Anne Evans: I believe that all my creative pursuits, whether blogging, writing poetry or taking photographs is about seeing, then sharing what I see. Photography is a dialect of the language of beauty. I find the world to be a profoundly beautiful place, and attempt to capture and share that beauty with others. It is both an artistic and a spiritual expression for me.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the best time to write?

Lesley-Anne Evans: Mornings are always best for me. Weekdays I set aside office hours to work on current projects, write, edit, and market my work.

Geosi Gyasi: What kind of category would you place your poems?

Lesley-Anne Evans: The underlying themes of my poetry are landscapes of the earth and spirit, including interpersonal relationships, experiences and stories, nature, and faith.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific audience you write for?

Lesley-Anne Evans: My work honours what is, and points to the possibility that there is more than meets the eye. I consider my audience to be anyone who senses the same, anyone open to the possibility of there being a grander purpose. I believe God speaks, apart from me. I am not required to be a spokesperson, but I am excited to be allowed to grow as a scribe of truth and beauty, and to write down certain things. Not always, but sometimes, when words come, and the time is right, I get to say certain things. Then someone will tell me what I wrote resonated, touched, or wrenched them, and I will sense a greater purpose in my creative birthing process. I try to write with expectancy of something more than me and my words.

Geosi Gyasi: Is there any relationship between faith and writing?

Lesley-Anne Evans: In my opinion the two cannot be separated. What is in me, in my soul and my spirit, is distilled into my words. How I see the world, how I process my life experience, is intensely spiritual, and to have integrity in my writing, I must include soulful things. I intentionally do not, or at least try not to, use language that is limiting or lingo. I am a pilgrim following the way of Jesus, and what I write is marinated in that particular world view.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you regard as the greatest poem you’ve ever written?

Lesley-Anne Evans: I am not able to answer that question for you, because I don’t see my work as great or laudable. When someone tells me that one of my poems has impacted them, then I sense I have had the opportunity to be a conduit of God’s love to that person. I see my poetry as a tool that I will continue to craft for healing, not greatness. While I do offer my work up in competition and for publication, it is with the intent of developing the gift, not achieving any status. There are many poets better than I.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you happy as a writer?

Lesley-Anne Evans: I am very happy and fulfilled. I find great pleasure birthing poems and sharing them. I feel I’ve discovered my creative language, I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, and I am working hard to be the best poet I can be. At the same time, I am looking for the meaning of it, how this treasure of writing poetry can be leveraged to good purpose in this world.   I never stop looking and surrendering to that.

Geosi Gyasi: Which writer has had the greatest impact on your writing?

Lesley-Anne Evans: I have a special attachment to Mary Oliver, because her work unleashed me to discover more about contemporary poets and their language. I have come to love the masters and the contemporaries. Someone once said to me, read all the poets, keep the contemporaries on your bookshelf, and the masters on your bedside table. I need to revise my current stack of beside books! These are the poets who have made me weep; John Keats, Wendel Berry, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Donne, Madeleine L’Engle, Patrick Lane, Seamus Heaney, Barbara Colebrook Peace, Rilke, Jean Vanier, and many more.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about what critics say when you write?

Lesley-Anne Evans: Yes, I would care. I am a sensitive soul. Very sensitive, but trying to learn to not let the words of people who don’t understand me or know me, hurt me. At this point I have not had critique written, but I have had things said that jar and test my resolve.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you show your manuscripts to friends before they’re sent out to publishers?

Lesley-Anne Evans: I’ve learned to ask certain people to be safe readers of my work. I used to read everything to my family, but that’s not fair is it? What family member would truly say my work isn’t good? I need to have people who aren’t afraid to be honest, aren’t afraid to suggest specific ways to improve my work. I’m currently working with a Booming Ground mentor at University of British Columbia, who is giving me line by line editing of my work. It is a learning curve that is both scary and honing.

Geosi Gyasi: Is there a definite definition for poetry?

Lesley-Anne Evans: I just received a quote last night that says it so well, at least my experience of what poetry is, “I had no one to help me, but [writing] helped me. So when people say that poetry is a luxury… I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language — and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers — a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.” — Jeanette Winterson

Geosi Gyasi: What are you currently working on?

Lesley-Anne Evans: I am completing an opera libretto/script for Opera Kelowna and the Kelowna Art Gallery. “Masika” will be performed in October 2015, at its world premier. I’m very excited about this project.

Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever been rejected for a piece of work?

Lesley-Anne Evans: Absolutely. I have received multiple emails and form letters with written rejections. The best rejection letter I received was from “Rattle” journal, and so kind and encouraging I can hardly wait to send them more work.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you do to relax when not writing?

Lesley-Anne Evans: I like to cook. I like taking photo walks around the city, looking for less obvious, beautiful things, to capture. I like watching Netflix with my husband. I like hanging out with my young adult kids.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you engage in poetry readings?

Lesley-Anne Evans: Yes, I do. I choose this as part of my growth curve, to write and read and test the response, hone that part too. I’ve taken acting to work on the stage presence of readings.

Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your piece, “Migrations” as published in Contemporary Verse 2?

Lesley-Anne Evans: Migrations was a relational experience with my husband and family. It really happened. It’s all there in the poem. Marriages create the very best fodder for poems, I think!

Geosi Gyasi: In just a sentence, why would you like people to read your works?

Lesley-Anne Evans: I hope people will read my poetry works as little worlds held up for them to gaze at and consider. My poetry philosophy is encapsulated in this quote, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”~ Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words. Sorry, that’s more than one sentence. :)

END.


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