Interview with John Brantingham, Author of “Dual Impressions: Poetic Conversations about Art and The Green of Sunset”

September 1, 2015
Photo: John Brantingham

Photo: John Brantingham

Brief Biography:

John Brantingham is the author of books such as Dual Impressions: Poetic Conversations about Art and The Green of Sunset. He teaches writing at Mt. San Antonio College and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, and he is the Writer-in-Residence at the dA Center for the Arts in Pomona, California. His blog Thirty Days Until Done give a prompt a day in a unified theme for every month.

Geosi Gyasi: What is it about your new book, “Dual Impressions: Poetic Conversations about Art”?

John Brantingham: Thank you so much for interviewing me. I really appreciate the chance to talk about my work.

This is a book that I wrote with my friend, Jeffrey Graessley, about works of art, especially what we saw in the Norton Simon Museum of Art in Pasadena, California. We tried to use the paintings to prompt ideas about art and humanity, especially those works that were making broader social statements or were created in a particularly wrought moment of history. I have always loved writing about art, but working with Jeffrey was a real experience because he opened my eyes to the way that he saw the world and art which is of course different than the way I do.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you get to hear about your publisher, Silver Birch Press?

John Brantingham: Silver Birch is one of my favorite presses and has been for a while now. I’ve been reading their books because they often publish my favorite poets, people like Gerald Locklin, Joan Jobe Smith, and Fred Voss. I was lucky enough to get some of my poems into a couple of their anthologies, so I thought I’d take a chance.

Geosi Gyasi: How long did it take you to write, “Dual Impressions: Poetic Conversations about Art”?

John Brantingham: It took about six months. It’s hard to be precise here because we came back and revised a couple of times. Some of the sonnets in the series were written a few years before and then revised to fit our vision of the collection.

Geosi Gyasi: What does it take to become a writer?

John Brantingham: There are two ways to think of this question. First, a writer is just someone who writes. I spend four to five hours a day writing at a minimum. I’ve been writing since I was fifteen or sixteen years old, and I’m forty-four today. Also, included with this is reading. I read a minimum of 100 books a year. None of this proves that I’m a hard-working person. This is a lot of fun.

The second way to think about this is what does it take to be a professional writer. What distinguishes the professional from the amateur is promotion. An amateur does not promote and does not try to make money from his or her work. Not promoting your work is unethical if you are a professional because of the investment of time and effort of those who work with you. Because of that, I do readings and have developed blogs. I teach classes and work with people. I try to make appearances. This takes me a couple hours of work every day, and this is work. I enjoy it, but not the way I enjoy writing.

Geosi Gyasi: Is there any personal aim for why you set up the blog, “30 Days until Done”?

John Brantingham: The idea behind the blog is that if you write every day for a month and you follow a unified theme, your writing will be much stronger and you will have a short collection finished every thirty days. More than anything, writing daily will help you to be a good writer.

I set it up for two reasons. The first is to help promote my work. I can keep people informed of what I have out by using this. The second is that I really enjoy teaching, and I wanted to make sure that my former students kept writing. It’s really easy to fall out of the writing life and not do it every day. If you don’t write every day, then it’s nearly impossible to keep going.

Geosi Gyasi: How different is your book, “The Green of Sunset” from “Dual Impressions: Poetic Conversations about Art”?

John Brantingham: “The Green of Sunset” was written at a time when I was deeply depressed and working through the pain of some personal experiences. I was drinking and dealing with feelings of worthlessness. It was largely a book written to myself. The central metaphor of the piece is that there are moments in life, like when the sunset is no longer orange, but turning to green that no one notices but are nonetheless beautiful because of their subtlety. If we can focus on the small beauty that we’re inclined to miss, we can find joy. “Dual Impressions” moved out of myself. I want writing about the world around me rather than about me. It’s not as directly emotional, or rather it’s just not about me in the same way.

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

John Brantingham: No, I move around a lot. I run a group called Shut up and Write at the dA Center for the Arts in Pomona, California. We meet there every day for three hours and do nothing but shut up and write. I like working there because I love the creative energy that surrounds us. Aside from that, I’ll write wherever I am. I’m about half deaf and can’t hear high tones at all, so generally public places and noise don’t bother me. I’m writing this from a Starbucks right now. Later, I’ll be home, and I’ll work for a few hours there.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you know who reads your books?

John Brantingham: I’m most well known in the Los Angeles area, especially in Long Beach and the San Gabriel Valley. I think nearly all of my readers live here although I’m branching out all over California and the rest of the states. I have a few readers in England and Canada where I publish occasionally, and just this year, I did my first literary tour of China, which was amazing.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: Who are your literary forebears?

John Brantingham: Raymond Carver, John Steinbeck, Gerald Locklin, Charles Bukowski, Joan Jobe Smith, Andre Dubus, Sharon Olds, Elmore Leonard, Rex Stout, and Bonnie Hearn Hill. I love them all.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell me about the inspiration behind your book, “Let Us All Pray Now To Our Own Strange Gods”?

John Brantingham: That was a short story collection about the restoring powers of the natural world, especially the forest. I wanted to show how the forest can put any difficulty in life in perspective.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the best time to write?

John Brantingham: For me it’s the morning. That’s when I have the most hope and energy, and hope is really the mood I want when I write. That’s changed over my lifetime. When I was young, I was a late night guy.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that poetry is no longer relevant in the modern world?

John Brantingham: No, absolutely not. Poetry used to be reserved for a small group of wealthy people. The modern world and new technology has opened poetry to humanity in a way it has never been. More people write and read poetry than ever did in the past, and because it’s no longer reserved for the most privileged people, subject matter and form has opened up as well.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about the subject matter of your works?

John Brantingham: Yes. I want all of my work to affirm courage and hope, and show the emptiness of self-doubt and self-hatred.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell me a little about “The Gift of Form”?

John Brantingham: This is a short textbook about writing in poetic forms such as the sonnet. The idea behind it is that people too often approach forms in the same way that they approach free verse, which is to come up with an idea and try to force it into a form. This creates a lot of frustration. The forms, however, were designed to draw poems out of your unconscious. That’s the gift of the form. If you just concentrate on the line and work line by line, the form will give you a poem. It’s a completely different approach to poetry.

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

John Brantingham: When people tell me that they’ve read my work and feel less alone because of them, that I understood what they were going through. I think that’s the highest achievement of art in general.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you see yourself writing more books?

John Brantingham: Absolutely. I’m writing two collections right now. The first is a poetry collection about nature, especially water. The second is a collection of very short stories. Together they tell the entire history of California from the days when mammoths roamed the valleys until now, and I’m trying to include as many voices and perspectives as I can.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have anything to say to end the interview?

John Brantingham: Just to say thank you for asking these thoughtful questions and taking the time to read my work. I truly appreciate what you’ve done for me and other writers.



Interview with Michalle Gould, Author of “Resurrection Party”

August 31, 2015
Photo: Michalle Gould

Photo: Michalle Gould

Brief Biography:

Michalle Gould’s first full-length collection of poetry, Resurrection Party, was published by Silver Birch Press. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Slate, New England Review, American Literary Review, and been adapted into a short film by the Detachment East collective, as well as set to music by the founder of the Washington Women in Jazz Festival.  She currently lives in Hollywood, where she works as a librarian and is writing a novel.

Geosi Gyasi: Let’s begin this way: could you tell me about your past work while you were living in Central Texas?

Michalle Gould:  I moved to Austin in 1998 to enter the MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of Texas-Austin.  When I graduated, in May 2001, I actually moved to Manhattan, but after a fairly unhappy year there, I went to California for the summer to stay with my parents and contemplate where I wanted my life to go next.  My sister had decided to attend a Ph.D program in Austin in the fall and she encouraged me to move back there with her and so ultimately I did, although I think she went out first and then I joined her a week or two later if I remember correctly.  I ended up teaching and tutoring writing for the next decade or so while also working on a novel and a short story collection, neither of which were ever published.  In my first two years back in Austin, I had a lot of success publishing my poetry and I felt pretty sure that my book was about to get published, but then I had some kind of loss of momentum that I still don’t totally understand.  I think writing fiction can be so all-consuming that somehow it really drew me away from poetry, I was writing less and submitting less and having less luck getting published.  Nonetheless, even though I have always had much more success publishing my poetry, there is something about fiction that continues to draw me to write it, and so I don’t regret working on those projects, and I am glad in a way that my poetry book was not published then either, that it had more time to develop and gain (hopefully) maturity as I grew older and had more experiences.

Geosi Gyasi: Why did you decide to move to Hollywood to work as a librarian?

Michalle Gould:  I had been in Austin for a long time and teaching for a long time and I think I was just ready for a change.  My family is in California and I wanted to be closer to them and I was also just interested in living in a new environment.  I spent the summer of 2013 in the Bay Area just applying to jobs mostly in California and I was fortunate enough to get this one.  I also used that time to work a lot on the manuscript that became Resurrection Party, taking old old poems and weaving in new ones, so even though it was a stressful period, of change and the unknown, it turned out to be a good one.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you believe that the best place for the writer to work is the library?

Michalle Gould:  I never really write at a library!  I am too busy being a librarian.  I think every writer has their own best place to write.  I prefer to write at home, although I know other people find that distracting.  I live alone and I like to be able to control the noise level and temperature, in a way that I couldn’t if I was at a cafe or any other public place.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any formal education in librarianship?

Michalle Gould:  Yes, I have a Masters of Science in Information Science from the University of Texas.  I had some interest when I started that program in working in archives because of my interest in rare books and history, but ultimately, because of my experience as a teacher, it made sense for me to work in an academic library.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any formal education in writing?

Michalle Gould:  As mentioned above, I have an MFA in writing.  I know that MFAs are controversial, but they are pretty much what you make of them.  If you go in with a strong vision of who you are as a writer and what you want to accomplish and you choose a program that will be compatible with that mission, I think an MFA program will be beneficial, so long as you aren’t going into debt to pay for it.

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

Michalle Gould:  I have been interested in writing for a long time; I used to write poems in sixth grade and then again in high school.  I actually dropped out of law school in order to pursue my MFA, so it was something I really felt driven to do.  But as far as regarding myself as a writer, I am not really sure when I felt quite ready to do that.  I probably did all along and it was just a question of when I would feel that I had accomplished enough to demand that the outside world felt the same way!

Geosi Gyasi: How would you like to be called – Writer or Poet?

Michalle Gould:  Probably as a writer, if I called myself a poet I would be more likely to mean it a bit ironically.  I love writing poetry obviously, but the word poet sounds a little more pretentious than the word writer to me somehow.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell me a brief synopsis about your book, “Resurrection Party?

Michalle Gould:  Resurrection Party is a poetry collection that concerns itself, almost to the point of obsession, with the question of how the imagination grapples with the fear of death. The collection intertwines religious and mythical subjects and themes with more fleshly concerns about the body and decay, presence and absence. It explores death as a metaphor for change and transformation, as something we fear but also can not avoid.

More About the Book at Siver Birch Press

More About the Book at Silver Birch Press

Geosi Gyasi: How did you arrive at the title of the book?

Michalle Gould:  It has been around for a long time!  The earliest versions of the book date back to 2002 or so and I think it was called Resurrection Party even then.  The cover uses an image called “Dance of Death” from the 1493 medieval book, the Nuremberg Chronicle.  I was exposed to this image in a class in graduate school and I knew right away that if I ever had a book of poetry published, that I wanted that to be on the cover.  It shows skeletons dancing above a grave from which another skeleton seems to be emerging.  I think that the caption may have referred to this as “a resurrection party” or perhaps that is just what it looked like to me, but I liked the juxtaposition between death and joy and it remained a touch-point for the book ever since.

Geosi Gyasi: Was it difficult getting “Resurrection Party” published?

Michalle Gould:  Yes.  It took over ten years and the entry into a lot of contests and ultimately happened in the last way I would have expected, after the publisher contacted me to ask if she could use its opening poem on the press’s blog as their poem of the day for Easter.  I then asked if she was accepting submissions of book manuscripts and she said that she was.  I sent her the manuscript and four days later, she said that she would like to publish it.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a favourite poem from your book, “Resurrection Party”?

Michalle Gould:  The opening poem is probably my most successful poem – it was published in Poetry and chosen to be featured on Verse Daily and Poetry Daily and adapted into a short film.  However, my own favorite poem is the last poem in the book, which is sort of like its overshadowed younger sister.  I love how it deals with feelings of exclusion, very topical in our time where people are always talking about how social media creates a constant “fear of missing out,” and I like how it ends on the imagery of a phantom kiss, albeit not a kiss that would have been a good thing even if it had happened!

Geosi Gyasi: How do you feel when your poem is developed into a short film?

Michalle Gould:  I loved it, I wish all my poems could be made into short films.

Geosi Gyasi: Who are your biggest influences as a writer?

Michalle Gould:  My influences are always changing!  My first favorite poet was T.S. Eliot, then my first favorite more contemporary poets were Zbigniew Herbert and Lucille Clifton.  Right now, I am very drawn to a lesser-known American poet Thomas James.  As far as fiction goes, I love British writers of the 1914-1945 era or so, especially Denton Welch, Henry Green, Virginia Woolf, and others.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific style in which you write?

Michalle Gould:  I like to explore a lot of different styles, but I definitely write in a lyrical way and I like to employ unexpected/striking metaphors wherever I can.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you ever receive rejections of your works from publishers?

Michalle Gould:  Yes, all the time.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you regard as the most difficult aspect of writing?

Michalle Gould:  I find it hard to balance fiction and poetry, which is my own fault, but I just can’t quite stop trying to write both.

Geosi Gyasi: Whom did you intend to write, “Dirge for a Dinosaur by Its Bones” for?

Michalle Gould:  I did write this poem not so much for as about a specific person, but for some reason it surprised me upon seeing this question that that was evident to the reader.  I even went back and looked at the poem and other than the use of the word “longing” at the very beginning I wouldn’t have thought it seemed like the kind of poem that was written for anyone, but the idea came to me when I was on a treadmill and thinking about how if a person that I wanted to see at the time came into the room I would see their shadow on the wall before I actually saw the person themselves!  Some of my poetry has always been fueled probably a bit over-much by romantic fantasy and the sort of exhilaration that a melodramatic sense of supposed unrequited feeling can bring and so when I look at this poem it is part of a little series in my book that would be invisible to anyone but me of three poems, each about a different person, and each representing a different stage of my life.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you gain anything from writing?

Michalle Gould:  I love writing and I feel that I have gained everything from it.  I am a private person and I like to listen to my friends’ problems, but rarely to talk about my own, and so writing has always been the stage on which I worked out my own little temporary dramas and I am sure that it has saved my life here and there, knowing that possibility was available to me.


Interview with Robert Rife

August 27, 2015
Photo: Rob Rife

Photo: Rob Rife

Brief Biography:

Robert grew up in Calgary, Alberta but is presently the Minister of Worship and Music at Yakima Covenant Church in Yakima, Washington. He holds a B.A. in music and an M.A. in Spiritual Formation and Leadership. He is a multi-instrumentalist (including Highland Bagpipes), singer-songwriter-arranger (his CD, Be That As It May, is available on iTunes), studio musician, choral director, and liturgist.

As a writer he maintains two personal blogs, innerwoven on the spiritual life, and Robslitbits on the literary one. He also blogs for Spring Arbor University, Conversations Journal for whom he also writes the print magazine study guide, and at CenterQuest, an ecumenical school for Spiritual Direction. He has been a contributor to Abbey of the Arts, and a host of other blogs. His poetry and music are featured on the new ALTARWORKS website.

Greatest achievement to date: a 27-year marriage to wife, Rae, and their two boys, Calum (24), and Graeme (19).

He loves words.

He loves life.

Especially when they meet.

Geosi Gyasi: Why did you decide to write the poem, “This Holy Skin”?

Robert Rife: Why I decide to write anything is still a mystery to me! Like many of my poems, that particular piece explores the unique relationship enjoyed between we, as seeking humans, and the God who longs to be ever a guiding and benevolent force in that process. I suppose I continue to rethink the shame-guilt motif that for centuries has hounded Christianity in the western world and reframe it a bit. We were first blessed, not cursed.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you religious in your writings?

Robert Rife: That is a difficult question to answer succinctly. I prefer to say that I aim at blurring the line between what might be considered “sacred” and “secular.” I believe to write about a couple making love in the park, or an aging monk at prayer, or a glory days jock trying to find himself are all in some way sacred. We are far too dualistic generally and God, by definition, must be everywhere present. Therefore, God is somehow present in any circumstance in which we find ourselves. So, the short answer? Yes. The long answer? Yes, but…

Geosi Gyasi: What influenced your poem, “The Smile of God”?

Robert Rife: To this very day, there have been those forced to suffer for their beliefs and those who inflicted that suffering. This is always a travesty, especially if one thinks belief and the life lived as a result should in any way be considered unfit to such a degree that some specific group must cease to exist. I think in those circumstances, the sufferers become more than merely martyrs to a cause. Their plight is uniquely painful to God, who is always on the side of the oppressed. Moreover, their courage pictures the God who smiles, not maims or tosses anyone onto a junk heap because their doctrinal resume isn’t up to snuff.

Geosi Gyasi: How often do you feature God in your poems?

Robert Rife: A great deal, primarily because I believe God to be everywhere, actively involved our lives, whether we’re cognizant of it or not. As I’ve already stated, I do not subscribe to easily definable lines of what parts of our lives are “holy/unholy,” “righteous/unrighteous,” the false dualities to which we’re prone.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell me a little bit about your religious background?

Robert Rife: As a boy, my relationship to any formal religion was indirect at best. I participated in various programs at our local Presbyterian church in Calgary where I grew up. But, I wasn’t a regular attender. I consider myself a contemplative or a mystic. Hence, even prior to any kind of personal religious affiliation, I was one who found great delight in the world around me and experienced God everywhere. It wasn’t until I was eighteen years old that a conversion experience while touring as a musician “sealed the deal.”

As is common in cases like mine, I settled into a fairly fundamentalist theology. It was right at the time, I guess. I embrace it as part of my story and it helped provide solid lines outside of which I now draw, dance, and delight regularly! Presently, I live and work in the Evangelical Covenant denomination. But I do so as a more relaxed Jesus follower of progressive leaning, a contemplative-activist at heart. As Anne Lamott would say, not so much Christian in the establishment sense, but more “Jesusy.”

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

Robert Rife: As soon as I could read words I wanted to reproduce and create them. I’m a lifelong lover of story and poetry. Most of my childhood was spent learning musical instruments and stuffing my nose into some book. I always sought to read a little above my pay grade. For example, in grade five I was reading “Mary, Queen of Scots” by Lady Antonia Fraser. It was enormous, but utterly intriguing in the broad, all-encompassing picture it painted. I loved tackling the dusty ones in the library. As a result, I wanted to help others experience the same as a young boy.

I’ve had a lifelong love affair with poetry as well. Many was the time I’d be reading Donne, Wordsworth, Hopkins, Burns, or Frost and tried writing my own poetry in the margins of the book, seeking to emulate their rhythms, mining for lexical treasure. I still do.

Geosi Gyasi: At what period in your life did you write, “Spring On Ash Wednesday”?

Robert Rife: It was a time for me of some confusion and emotional fatigue. Writing this poem helped me explore some of that. Let me try to explain.

I love seeing connectivity everywhere – the ways in which our lives, as vulnerable creatures cupped in the hand of a benevolent God, find meaning. So many great writers and poets over the centuries have seen such things and written about them – Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous lines, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, 

And every common bush afire with God, But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries,”
or G. M. Hopkins’ vision of Christ in the swooping of a morning Windhover, “I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon” among countless others. And, it is of course, a tip of the hat to the timeless poem, Ash Wednesday, by T. S. Eliot.

Liturgically, Ash Wednesday is pictured as a remembrance of our death (memento mori), it’s certainty, it’s immanence. However, it is also the seed of hope; new life out of the ashes of death. It foretells that good news can follow bad, rising can follow dying, hope can follow despair. It has long been one of my favorite times in the Christian liturgical calendar for this and many other reasons. Secondly, since Ash Wednesday is always near the Springtime and is the beginning of Lent, a forty-day penitential introspection that leads toward Easter, it lent itself (thanks, I’m here all week) to such literary treatment.

All that to say, it offered robust fodder for an experiment in such beautiful possibilities.

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

Robert Rife: To be honest, the earliest one I remember was some goofy story I composed in elementary school, something involving dark rooms and creepy monsters. You know, the stuff of young boys! I recall trying my hand at poetry time and again, often because I couldn’t concentrate on the task at hand. As a musician I was composing melodies in my head constantly. The artistic process has long been a gateway out of…of, what was the question? Focus, yeah, that’s it…focus.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you derive from writing?

Robert Rife: Writing, for me, is both stress relief and contemplative space. It is a place to explore my inner life by looking deeply into it and the lives of others. As a musician and writer I am forever looking for ways to self-express. In so doing I trust others feel themselves invited in and may perhaps find a welcome place to sit together in solidarity. More specifically, poetry allows me to seek my existential place in the big picture without the need for rational specificity or the western lust for logic and pragmatism. I can simply write from places within that I don’t even see very well except in my peripheral vision. What comes out is often surprising, even to me. It’s why my poetry can have a random, word-picture feel about it.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the most boring part of writing?

Robert Rife: Ha! Just git’n ‘er done! Ask any writer anywhere and they’ll say much the same thing: if you’re not writing anything it’s because you’re not writing anything. The biggest part of writing is in fact, writing. In other words, the joys of writing only happen insofar as we’re actually doing it.

Like anyone else, I don’t particularly like the editing process. I often do my best writing as stream of consciousness and editing can feel intrusive or counterintuitive. It’s a necessary part of the process however and helps me struggle toward cogency, and a more streamlined sense of meaning.

Oh, and I’m actually a fan of deadlines, believe it or not! For me, they are a help, not a hindrance.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you know who reads your works?

Robert Rife: You mean, other than my wife, my mom, and the sweet old ladies at the home? One attracts folks of similar ilk generally, and yet, oddly diverse. If I go by who is actually signed up for innerwoven posts I’d suggest that they are diverse, thirsty seekers like me. They also tend toward the more random, mystical-thinker types who aren’t scared off by loose ends, non-dualism, mystery, a broad front door, and corny humor. And, I suppose there is a tendency toward more educated folks. My love for language and philosophy unite, ostensibly to illustrate a pretentious lust for the preponderance of overly voluminous verbosity unfit for vernacular habitation…or something like that.

Geosi Gyasi: What is it about your poem, “Loving Judas”?

Robert Rife: If one is familiar with the complicated relationship between Judas and Jesus, it conjures a single word, betrayal. It is an archetypal picture in many ways since everyone experiences it at some point in their lives. And, there are few challenges a person faces that are more shocking and painful. This poem was written from the perspective of a person’s tortured musings on the betrayal of a friend, trying to reach to the other side and find peace. It requires a walk over the hot coals of rage and discouragement. But, if the biblical narratives about Judas tell us anything, it’s that there can be grace and acceptance, even for him. It gives me hope that, under the worst relational circumstances, to understand Judas can lead us to love him. In that way, his failure is everyone’s failure. His forgiveness is everyone’s forgiveness. When we love anyway, we are moving from the kiln of hatred into the harbor of forgiveness. Therein lies our peace.

Geosi Gyasi: Is there any major difference between a songwriter and poet?

Robert Rife: Yes. The process is similar, but the aim is very different. A lyric points the listener toward a particular, or universal, experience in clever, poetic ways with the purpose of singability, a stricter meter in concert with underlying rhythm, and usually in rhyme. Generally speaking, they are easier to memorize and sing together with others. Sometimes, to read a lyric, divorced from the melody underlying it, can feel odd, wooden even. They live together as an indivisible unit, each supporting and completing the other.

By contrast, poetry is its own music. It is an end in itself. The words become a melody, inviting the reader-listener into a syntactical motion in which words are the notes and the poem in its entirety is the song. Throughout music history, we have examples of the most beautiful pairing of poetry and music the world has ever known. Perhaps the quintessential uniting of poetry with music (its character unknown to us) was the Psalms. Many of them were written as prayers, poetry, and songs together in one place.

Geosi Gyasi: Where do you get the inspiration to sing?

Robert Rife: Few activities mine the deep vein of my experience like singing. It has a way of bypassing everything else and slicing to the very core of who I am, whether I like it or not! As a young boy I discovered I had a deep love for music. I had a knack for it. I sang in the children’s choir at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Calgary, near where I grew up and have never looked back. Now, I make my living as a musician and choral director.

I would sit in my room for hours trying to replicate the voices of Burton Cummings, Robert Plant, John Denver, Dan Fogelberg, and Art Garfunkel. They were my earliest mentors in song. Always a lover of melody, I began composing songs around the age of ten. I’ve written dozens, perhaps hundreds, since then.

Many church folks out there are waiting to hear me say that God was my inspiration. That’s too easy. Some of the greatest singers in history were atheists or agnostics. I prefer to say my experience of life and my place in it have provided the impetus to sing about it. Life, whether good or bad, has been its own musical playground ever since I can remember.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you satisfied as a singer-songwriter and a poet?

Robert Rife: That’s a deceptively simple question! At the risk of dodging with a cryptic answer, I would suggest that all singer-songwriter-poets are both satisfied and unsatisfied. The need to create is its own reward. But it is also the law of diminishing returns. The more one writes, the more one needs to write.

The joy for me in writing a new poem or song is found in the doing, but also in the perfecting of that which can never be perfected. It’s a bit of a cat and mouse game. Once I start chasing after whatever creation is churning inside I am at once delighted and tortured. There is delight in the process but torture in the perfection.

To wax even more convoluted, like any artist, I long to share what I do with the broadest audience possible. I want for others to participate with me in the experiences I strive to articulate and elucidate in word and song. C. S. Lewis suggests that our love for a person, thing, or experience grows exponentially in the sharing thereof.

It’s why I write. It’s why I compose. To share my own thoughts and experiences with others brings great satisfaction.

Geosi Gyasi: Why did you decide to go to Spring Arbor University to study Spiritual Formation and Leadership?

Robert Rife: I could (and might) write a book in answer to this question. For our purposes, I will say this – to culminate a lifetime of spiritual seeking and welcome others into that journey. At its most crude, it was to position myself for other career options. At its most elevated, it was a quest toward self-understanding in the context of God’s universe.

Although I am a deeply read individual with a profound love for learning all manner of stuff, I am at heart, a philosopher-poet, an artist. Perhaps that is why I didn’t pursue, at least so far, a Master of Divinity degree that best trains me for licensed ministry in a local church. It can tend toward over-erudition, sometimes obfuscating the soul’s hunger for love and truth with the cold rationalism of systematic theology – the over- simplified answers to questions we don’t even know how to ask. I want to help myself and others ‘become-who-we-are’ rather than merely ‘believe-this-stuff-and-all-shall-be-well.’ Studying the life of the soul was a better route to that end.

Geosi Gyasi: What happens in your poem, “What Happens After”?

Robert Rife: There is so much fun metaphor all around us that makes for a poetic exploration of our lives. The coming of night can mean many things even as the morning that follows says something different. And they say different things to different people and may not harbor the same meaning to us twice in a row. Here I am playing with such images – light, or its “illumination” can seem lazy, unwilling to budge from the encroaching dark of night. So too can be the coming to us of what we most need to overcome, our own darkness. Moreover, since we “see through a glass darkly” – not all at once – the windows of our lives parse out what comes to us in bite-sized pieces, or sometimes in a bombastic “Marco Polo” swagger.

The secrets we hold love to hide from light. At such times light can seem like our enemy and life makes little sense. But, the closer we come to being broken open like alabaster jars of perfume, we can revel in the discovery that good can come from our humiliations and challenges. It is then that light is our friend and we no longer live elsewhere. We live right now.

Geosi Gyasi: Who is your favorite writer?

Robert Rife: Oh no, that’s not fair, and you know it! As a boy I would have said Richard Adams. Watership Down remains for me one of the most perfect novels ever written. In later years, writers such as C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Anne Lamott, Kathleen Norris, Flannery O’Connor, Henri Nouwen, and Thomas Merton. Oh, and I’m unabashedly a fan of J. K. Rowling!

Geosi Gyasi: Which kinds of books do you often read?

Robert Rife: As a boy, it was novels, specifically books in natural settings such as White Fang by Jack London or something by Farley Mowat. In my twenties I read everything Stephen Lawhead ever wrote, along with all things Celtic. These days, I read a great deal of Christian mysticism, both ancient and contemporary. I’ll usually have something like “Interior Castle” by Teresa of Avila, “Dark Night of the Soul” by John of the Cross, or something by Nouwen or Merton.

And poetry. Lots and lots of poetry.

Geosi Gyasi: What are you currently writing?

Robert Rife: I write for a number of blogs and organizations. That always keeps me sharp and focused, perfecting the craft so to speak. I would love to publish as a poet one day. And I’m dabbling in a memoir uniting my Celtic DNA, with my life as an adoptee, an exiled Canadian living in the U.S., a recovering alcoholic, and an artist-mystic. I’m sure there are four or five others who’d totally love that!

Geosi Gyasi: How do you find time to write?

Robert Rife: Ironic isn’t it that I’m writing about finding time to write? And therein, as Uncle Bill said, lies the rub. I don’t write because I have to, I write because I need to. For me, music and writing are a necessary part of my deepening awareness. They link my outside world to whatever’s going on inside. When I haven’t written something in awhile, a song, a poem, a limerick, anything – I get a bit lost. And, truth be told, I probably write when I should be doing other things, things for which I’m paid, or that require my immediate attention!

Geosi Gyasi: Do you want to say something to end the interview?

Robert Rife: Thank you. Thank you for your interest in one man’s personal and literary life. It is always humbling to reveal one’s deepest self to others. Life with our pants down, I like to say. But it’s what art, and life, are all about.


Interview with Writer, Kiley Reid

August 22, 2015
Photo: Kiley Reid

Photo: Kiley Reid

Brief Biography:

Kiley Reid lives and writes in New York City. Her fiction has appeared in Corium, One Throne Magazine, Birds Thumb, Birds Piled Loosely, and others. She works the front desk at a design firm called IDEO. She’s written three novels, two that she’s really proud of. She’s applying for an MFA in Creative Writing for the fall of 2016. See more at Her twitter handle is @kileyreid.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write “How Long My Body Was”?

Kiley Reid: My friend Molly Rosenberger told me that when she was in grade school, she had a seizure in the back of the car on the way to Hebrew School. It struck me as the first line of something. The rest is fiction.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you often start a story?

Kiley Reid: I start a story maybe 3 or 4 times a month. I start prose pieces on my phone in the subway probably every other day.

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

Kiley Reid: I sit at my kitchen table. I bought the table from craigslist when I wasn’t making much money after college. The picture posted of the table looked very normal online, but when I showed up, three of the chairs were painted red and one was left as natural wood. I asked the owner why she left one unpainted and she said she that got bored and forgot about it. She also asked me if I needed a bunch of tissue paper. I said no. I sit in the chair that’s not painted.

Geosi Gyasi: From where do you get the names for your characters?

Kiley Reid: Baby name websites. People I meet at work. I used to work at a craft studio where we did birthday parties for children and I ended up using a lot of the children’s names.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you hear about One Throne Magazine?

Kiley Reid: I heard about One Throne Magazine through Duotrope. I saw that it had a strong following and I think Yukon is fascinating.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the best time to write?

Kiley Reid: Now! Just kidding, that’s really lame. I write in the evening. The goal is from 8-10pm. Friday is my scheduled writing day. No friends or boyfriend or events. I sit at my table and write for a few hours. I type lines or plots into my phone on the subway a lot. Sometimes at work I’ll write a small piece of dialogue and email it to myself so I can work on it later. I’ve always wanted to be one of those writers who rises with the sun to put down ideas while I’m drinking something green and healthy and expensive, but I’m just not. I think the best time to write is the time when you can have a glass of wine at the same time and not feel judged.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell me about the inspiration behind your story, “Apple Care”?

Kiley Reid: Apple Care developed in the same way as How Long My Body Was. A friend of mine went to the Apple store to get a new computer and accidentally left it on the hood of his car. He found it on the street after he got home, completely ruined. He actually took it back to the store and they told him there was nothing they could do. He cried, in the Apple store, and they gave him another one. For free. That’s a pretty solid story in itself but I just used the first part and created a world around it. The computer owner in my story is a fairly selfish person, and quite unlike the person who inspired me to write about it.

Geosi Gyasi: Who is/are your favorite writer(s)?

Kiley Reid: My favorite writer is Curtis Sittenfeld. I love reading and writing about adolescence and I think that she does it best. I also think she has a way of taking everyday occurrences and making them have very high stakes. Another writer I’ve recently become obsessed with is Megan Martin. I love Caketrain and that lead me to her book of prose called Nevers. I think I’ve read each story three times over. They’re unnatural and gritty. It’s also a book that seems super unapologetic while also very conscious of itself.  Megan Martin has the most proprietary voice as a writer that I’ve come across.

Geosi Gyasi: What are your future literary ambitions?

Kiley Reid: I am applying to MFA creative writing programs for the fall of 2016. Hopefully this is my first and only year applying but if it isn’t, I’ll apply again. I’m looking to craft my work, be a part of a writing community, and see what happens when I can focus on just writing. I’ve written two novels that I would love to see published. I’m interested in brand writing. I also just want to be the next Toni Morrison. Also dreadlocks.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you gain from writing?

Kiley Reid: Writing lets me live outside of myself. I think it’s super important that we become obsessed with things that have nothing to do with us. Writing also aids in my intuition. I think that there are often things that happen to us that we don’t care about, but we say to ourselves, “This is something I should care about so now I’m going to care about it.” I think this is a waste of time and effort. Reading and writing has helped me see that some big things are not important, and some small things are critical. And that my body will tell me which is which.

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

Kiley Reid: I write for… like, a 20-30 somethings woman whose parents don’t support her. She buys cheap wine and she always looks like she’s annoyed. She gets excited when she’s asked to be a bridesmaid but then she remembers that she hates everyone. She’s tired. She wants to lose like, seven pounds. She doesn’t realize how smart she is.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell me about the work you do at IDEO?

Kiley Reid: I work the front desk at IDEO New York. I answer the phone, I cater client meetings, I host events and put on baby showers and happy hours. The people at IDEO have been really lovely to me, especially with my writing. I attached my short story “The Things I’d Tell You If This Weren’t A Date” to my resume at my first interview. They shoot writing opportunities my way when they present themselves. Sometimes it’s copy for an upcoming event. Sometimes I get to brainstorm with clients on mission statements or hashtags. I see myself coming back here after grad school (fingers crossed).

Geosi Gyasi: Which books have had great impact on your life as a writer?

Kiley Reid: Nevers, as I mentioned earlier, had a huge impact on my this year. It was a weird “I didn’t know you were allowed to write like this” moment that was really important. Everything Donna Tartt has written has shown me how loud a setting could be, and that it should be treated like another character. The History of Love was another game changer. It’s a book about another book and I think it showed me to only put in the important parts.

Geosi Gyasi: Are there times you feel like not writing?

Kiley Reid: Every day. When I’m tired. When I’m hungry. When I feel like people are watching me. But there are very rarely times where I feel like I want to stop writing and I try to focus on that.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the greatest fan mail you’ve ever received from any reader of your works?

Kiley Reid: Do you mean fan mail as in a physical letter or fan mail as in an email? Either way, I’ve received none. Jk, that’s not exactly true. I’m a very new writer and have yet to receive anything that truly constitutes as fan mail. One of my published pieces received a comment that said, “Reading this was like finding a disgusting hair on the shower wall and then realizing it’s your own.” I liked that one a lot. And there was one time where a friend had seen a published essay I’d written on the 2008 election and read it to her 5th grade class for discussion before she knew it was mine. That was fun, too.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that short stories are difficult to write as compared to novels?

Kiley Reid: Eww, no. Who told you that? They lied. Novels are like… long. I find it much easier to maintain a consistent voice throughout a short story than a novel. I am definitely more excited when I’m writing a novel though.

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

Kiley Reid: Yes. It was a complete copyright violation. I was six and my dad had just gotten a computer. I heard a story about a leprechaun at school and I went home and tried to copy it down word for word. One of my first original pieces was a poem I wrote and read at a talent show in 3rd grade. It was about an ant who shot a bear with a water gun. I remember a line that went, “And the ant shot at the bear so strong // And the bear came down with a clang and a clong.” There were no winners at this talent show but, come on, we all know who won.

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

Kiley Reid: Not really. I know it’s simple. It’s a bit crass. In this process of finding my voice as a writer it’s much more clear to me what my voice is not rather than what it is. I know it hates cliches. It sounds like someone is talking. It sounds young. That’s all I know right now. I do hope that one day my voice is a clear ring that sounds like Curtis Sittenfeld and Toni Morrison’s love child who cusses too much and went to community college in Arizona.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you often do at your spare time?

Kiley Reid: I take trips with my boyfriend and watch horror movies with my best friend. I google MFA acceptance rates a lot and then I get really sad. I go to Soul Cycle and then I check my bank statement and wonder if it’s worth it (it is). I also try to analyze the subtext in my lit mag rejections (there is none). And I watch the Bachelorette and Project Runway. Also lots of tacos.


Interview with Literary Critic & Writer, Robert T. Tally Jr.

August 16, 2015
Photo: Robert T. Tally Jr.

Photo: Robert T. Tally Jr.

Brief Biography:

Robert T. Tally Jr. is an associate professor of English at Texas State University. He is the author of Fredric Jameson: The Project of Dialectical Criticism (2014); Poe and the Subversion of American Literature (2014); Spatiality (2013); Utopia in the Age of Globalization (2013); Kurt Vonnegut and the American Novel (2011); and Melville, Mapping and Globalization (2009). The translator of Bertrand Westphal’s Geocriticism, Tally is the editor of Geocritical Explorations (2011); Kurt Vonnegut: Critical Insights (2013); Literary Cartographies (2014); and The Geocritical Legacies of Edward W. Said (2015). He also serves as the general editor of the Palgrave Macmillan book series Geocriticism and Spatial Literary Studies.

Geosi Gyasi: You studied philosophy and also received your J.D from the Duke Law School. My question is, when did you enter the world of literature?

Robert T. Tally: Even as a child, I was always interested in literature, broadly conceived, and I was especially interested in writers and topics that crossed disciplinary boundaries or blended literature, philosophy, history, politics, the arts and other fields. Hence, Marx (who also studied law), Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Faulkner, Sartre, and Foucault were among my favorite authors. Between college and law school, I received my M.A. in literature and Ph.D. in cultural and critical studies from the University of Pittsburgh, whose English Department supported a range of transdisciplinary fields of research. Technically, I “returned” to literature only in 2007, but I’d never lost interest in these matters. I am grateful to be in a position—i.e., as a literature professor—that allows me to pursue these varied interests in my teaching, research, and professional service.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you think it is difficult to survive financially as a writer?

Robert T. Tally: Yes, well nigh impossible, I would think. I know that there are those who manage, but many need to have multiple jobs or other sources of income. As an academic, I write, but it is only part of my overall duties. Writing is a requirement, as well as a pleasure and sometimes a burden, but it remains part of a larger professional formation that includes teaching, mentoring, advising, organizing, service, and other work. I think it would be difficult for me to survive solely as a writer.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell me more about your work on literary cartography and spatiality studies?

Robert T. Tally: That’s probably a long story, but I’ll try to be brief. I’ve long been interested in the relationship between space or place and literature, again broadly conceived so as to include historical, political, and other kinds of writing. Partly, this was geographical, looking at the connections between narrative and place; but it was also more abstractly spatial, such as looking at the ways in which knowledge or information is organized in terms of proximity, distance, graphs, charts, and so forth. As an undergraduate, I focused my attention on the ways that political and epistemological orders were established in relation to space. (Foucault and Deleuze became especially important influences, in this regard.) But I was also increasingly interested in narrative or storytelling, and intrigued by the ways that writers figuratively “mapped” the worlds depicted in their stories, through both descriptive and narrative means. The work of Fredric Jameson, and particularly his notion of cognitive mapping, helped me to connect up these diverse, sometimes antagonistic, lines of thought. This work ultimately resulted in the formulation of what I call literary cartography, which became the basis for my dissertation (on Herman Melville). Drawing on these theorists, as well as on work by geographers, urbanists, historians, literary critics, and others, I spent more time looking at the interrelations among space, place, mapping, and narrative, which led me to pursue spatiality studies in a somewhat ecumenical way. That is, I was less interested in pinning down the precise method or style that could be called geocriticism, literary geography, the spatial humanities, or something else, and more interested in exploring the various ways that spatially-oriented approaches can make possible innovative criticism and scholarship.

A lot of my efforts recently have been devoted to this overall project. As part of this work, I wrote an introductory study, Spatiality, which appears in Routledge’s “New Critical Idiom” series. Additionally, I translated Bertrand Westphal’s Geocriticism, organized several conference panels on the subject, edited a special issue of Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture on spatial literary studies, as well as four collections of essays (Geocritical Explorations, Literary Cartographies, The Geocritical Legacies of Edward W. Said, and Ecocriticism and Geocriticism [co-edited with Christine M. Battista]), and I founded and edit the Palgrave Macmillan book series, Geocriticism and Spatial Literary Studies. I am presently putting together two other essay-collections, The Routledge Handbook of Space and Literature and Teaching Space, Place, and Literature (part of the MLA’s “Options for Teaching” series), and I am working on a study of the spatial imagination in modern literature.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you get involved as an editor with Spatial Literary Studies?

Robert T. Tally: Do you mean the Reconstruction special issue? Reconstruction is a fascinating and innovative online quarterly journal, and it normally publishes three special issues per year, plus an “open topic” issue. I proposed Spatial Literary Studies as a special topic, and the editors enthusiastically supported my idea. Indeed, the response to my initial call for papers yielded so many excellent proposals and essays that we agreed not only to make a larger than normal single issue (17 articles, instead of 6-to-8), but also to include a section in the following issue devoted to the problem of place, included five more articles. On the whole, this was an amazing project, one that reveals the diversity, energy, and intensity of work being done in spatial literary studies today.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell me about your role at Geocriticism and Spatial Literary Studies?

Robert T. Tally: Following the success of Westphal’s Geocriticism: Real and Fictional Spaces (2011), my collection Geocritical Explorations: Space, Place, and Mapping in Literary and Cultural Studies (2011), and other titles, my editor at Palgrave Macmillan invited me to propose a book series on the subject, for which I would serve as general editor. Although I myself embrace the term “geocriticism” in my own work, I wanted to make sure that the series reflected the diverse variety of current research and writing in these areas, so I opted for this broader title. Working with Palgrave Macmillan, I have tried to promote the series, generally spreading the word, soliciting proposals and manuscripts, then coordinating the review-process, editing, and eventual publication. This started in 2013, and we now have published or forthcoming ten volumes (and counting!) in the series. We regularly receive inquiries, proposals, and manuscripts from scholars all over the world, and I am very excited about the quality and range of work published. I think that the series will continue to get better as more periods, genres, methods, and languages are represented.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: Do you belong to any group of writers?

Robert T. Tally: Well, not exactly, although I benefit from associations with fellow writers, whether in connection with professional service, membership in organizations, or more informally. For instance, I serve on the executive committee of the MLA’s division on literary criticism and on editorial advisory boards of journals, and organizations like the Marxist Literary Group, the Society for Utopian Studies, the Poe Studies Association, and various other groups provide a community of scholars with shared interests. My department and university includes a number of terrific scholars with whom I can discuss matters related to my own work, and the internet makes possible more connections than I would’ve imagined. In this sense, I think a community of writers emerges from these various ensembles, even if a particular “group” is not formally established.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell me a little about your book, “Fredric Jameson: The Project of Dialectical Criticism”?

Robert T. Tally: Fredric Jameson: The Project of Dialectical Criticism was conceived as an introductory study of the work of this important literary critic and theorist. It appears in Pluto Press’s excellent “Marxism and Culture” series, and I’m pleased that my study is the first in the series that was devoted to a single-author, mainly because Jameson’s own cultural criticism is expansive and far-reaching, so it seems appropriate that a “Marxism and Culture” book be devoted to him. Jameson was my own teacher when I was an undergraduate, and his work has been especially helpful to me in my scholarship, so this study was a labor of love, in many ways. However, it was also extremely difficult, since Jameson’s complex, elegant theories are not well suited to summary, and since he has been so prodigiously productive, having published more than 22 books (not to mention hundreds of articles) over some 55 years. I decided to arrange my study chronologically, focusing primarily on Jameson’s books, from Sartre: The Origins of a Style (1961) to Representing Capital (2011); this allowed me to register the subtle transformations in his cultural criticism while underscoring the remarkable continuity of his overall project. For example, I wanted to show how his early investigations of Sartre, Adorno, Lukács, Benjamin and others continued to inform his celebrated theories of the political unconscious, postmodernism, the geopolitical aesthetic, ontologies of the present, archaeologies of the future, and so on. Above all, I wanted to show how this amazing body of work—drawing upon seemingly old-fashioned theories as well as apparently avant-garde criticism—remained not only relevant but crucial for literary and cultural criticism today. Jameson has published two books, with several more forthcoming, since my study appeared, but I hope my book can serve as a helpful introduction and “user’s guide” to Jameson’s own writings.

Geosi Gyasi: What kinds of books do you mostly read?

Robert T. Tally: That’s difficult to say, since my interests remain—as they did when I was younger—all over the place. I have been reading a lot of work related to spatial literary studies; for instance, right now I’m reading through the contributions to Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives, a collection edited by David Bodenhamer, John Corrigan, and Trevor Harris. I’ve been doing more work on questions of fantasy, partly for a book I am writing on Tolkien, so I have been studying research on fantasy as a genre and a discursive mode. As a book reviewer, I have recently read Caren Irr’s The Geopolitical Novel, Phillip E. Wegner’s Shockwaves of Possibility, Alberto Toscano and Jeff Kinkle’s Cartographies of the Absolute, and Susan Naramore Mahar’s Deep Map Country. I’m rereading Foucault in preparation for a course I’m teaching, and I frequently check in on research related to my teaching, especially in nineteenth-century U.S. and European literature. Of course, I read novels most of all, and I have been dividing time between novels related to my courses and novels “for fun.” But then, the blessing (and the curse) of being a literature professor is that any works read “for fun” can easily, perhaps necessarily, become substance for one’s teaching and research. Now that I teach “fantasy,” even that genre offers little escape!

Geosi Gyasi: What is the inspiration behind your book, “Utopia in the Age of Globalization: Space, Representation, and the World-System”?

Robert T. Tally: Utopia in the Age of Globalization represents the crystallization of some of my previously amorphous or scattered thoughts on the question of utopia. It’s a brief book, focusing especially on the utopian theories of Marcuse and Jameson, without attempting to engage a lot of other important utopian thinkers out there. (Bloch, especially, seems to me to be a notably absent figure.) Following from those theorists, I marvel at the persistence of the utopian impulse in an era that seems, at first, so ill-suited for it, the dystopian present. Famously, the two great earlier “moments” of utopia in Western Civilization were responses to radical spatiotemporal upheavals in their societies, from the aftermath of the “discovery” of the New World in Thomas More’s time to the transformative effects of industrialization in Edward Bellamy’s or William Morris’s late nineteenth-century. Utopias went from being places (or non-places) in space to moments in time, or perhaps out of time, the telos of historical development. In the late twentieth-century, in contrast, utopia is not to be found in distant space or time, but experienced as a desire to make sense of the hic et nunc. I argue that utopia in the age of globalization is primarily an attempt to map the world system, which is at once all-too-real and beyond realistic representation, maintain itself as a sort of fantastic or figurative presence. In a sense, the utopian impulse underlies literary cartography. That’s how I came to utopian studies, in fact. I realized that the apparently realistic attempt to map the complex, perhaps unrepresentative spaces of the present world system required fantastic or utopian means. Hence, the work on utopia (and fantasy) comes directly out of the earlier, but ongoing, work on literary cartography.

Geosi Gyasi: As an associate professor of English at Texas State University, how do you find time to write?

Robert T. Tally: That’s a good question! I wish I were able to practice what I preach more consistently, which is to try to write every day. My goal is to produce 500 words a day—word-counts being superior to time since the latter can so easily be wasted—but I rarely make it. I do try, however, and I’ve found that I need to use nights and weekends a good bit. Deadlines are our friends, and I get more work done as a given deadline approaches. In general, though, it’s a matter of chipping away at things. The point is, you’re always going to be busy, so you cannot wait until some time when you’re not busy or when you “have time” to write. That won’t happen. Thus, you make time. But also that means, for me at least, dealing with multiple projects—multiple writing projects, but also teaching, writing, service, and other—concurrently. A little here, a little there; moving things around according to when they’re due. China Miéville has called this “temporal triage”: that’s pretty much the way to do it.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

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

Robert T. Tally: I think it varies, depending on my mood. I certainly like the fact that Spatiality is doing its job, helping students and critics get a sense of spatial literary studies; it seems to be my best-selling book, and I think it works well in fulfilling its intended purpose. The Fredric Jameson book gave me a lot of satisfaction, partly because I was able to read or reread almost all of Jameson’s work as part of the process. I think that the study of Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut and the American Novel, turned out quite well, since I focused on a particular problem (Vonnegut’s untimely modernism) and did not try to cover everything. Poe and the Subversion of American Literature took me the longest and caused me the most consternation, and I probably had more concerns about it than any of the others, but then it received the Choice Outstanding Academic Title designation, so what do I know? The fact is, when I’m writing, I always feel that the work is unsatisfactory, and I usually get in a pretty bad mood about it. Later, when it’s finished—or, especially, when the proofs come or its published—I start to think, “Hey, this isn’t so bad.” But in the moment of composition, I’m normally unhappy with my work.

One of the nice things about all the editing I have been doing is that I can appreciate these collective projects more. I enjoy bringing different authors and essays together, and I especially like seeing new and emerging scholars produce these fascinating articles based on their research. In a sense, then, I think my favorite books might be the edited collections, including Kurt Vonnegut: Critical Insights, in addition to the geocritical ones. It is nice to see the different essays all coming together to form a whole, which then can be used by others students and critics, and so on.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you know who reads your books?

Robert T. Tally: The most wonderful people in the world, of course! Actually, I don’t always know, and academic books sales (generally pretty low) don’t really tell the whole story; the primary market is libraries, after all. My books are generally intended for an audience of fellow literature professors, graduate students, and perhaps advanced undergraduates interested in these matters. I believe the books are making their way into the hands of these readers, and I am encouraged by the feedback I have received from students. Sites like “” keep track of searches, and I seem to be reaching scholars from around the world, which is gratifying. Most gratifying, of course, is when I see my work cited by others in their own writings, since I feel like I helped someone else’s research in some way. A small, but one hopes a meaningful contribution to the infinite conversation.

Geosi Gyasi: Who are your literary forebears?

Robert T. Tally: I think I would only flatter myself to name “literary forebears,” so I’ll just say that I have probably been most influenced by my own professors, many of whom are terrific writers as well. Of the very many I could mention, let me limit myself to Paul Bové, Jonathan Arac, Fredric Jameson, Toril Moi, Valentin Mudimbe, Kenneth Surin, and Rick Roderick. Their examples, as teachers, critics, thinkers, and practitioners in the humanities help to inform everything I do, whether in the classroom, in my writings, or elsewhere.

Geosi Gyasi: As a literary critic yourself, do you read reviews of your books?

Robert T. Tally: Yes, absolutely. I don’t always agree with the reviewer, of course, but I am always grateful that someone took the time to read and comment on my work. Also, I know it’s a valuable service to the profession. Book reviewers are generally underappreciated, and they deserve credit for their efforts.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you currently working on anything new?

Robert T. Tally: Yes, always. There are a lot of projects at various stages of development. I mentioned the edited collections above, and I have book projects on the spatial imagination and on Tolkien in the works. I am also drafting articles and preparing talks on genre, spatial narrative, and modernism.

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

Robert T. Tally: As Melville put it in Moby-Dick, “Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!” Seriously, though, I suspect these are the main requirements, and so their absence represents the supreme challenge to a writer. Certainly, things get easier when these four elements are available in abundance.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have anything else to say to end the interview?

Robert T. Tally: Thank you for your interest in my work.


Interview with Antiguan & Barbudan Writer, Joanne C. Hillhouse

August 15, 2015
Photo: Joanne Hillhouse

Photo Credit: Emile Hill

Brief Biography:

Antiguan and Barbudan writer Joanne C. Hillhouse wrote The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight (since re-issued as Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings), Fish Outta Water, Oh Gad! and Musical Youth, which placed second for the Burt Award for YA Caribbean Literature in 2014. Her writing fiction and/or poetry have appeared in Pepperpot: Best New Writing from the Caribbean, In the Black: New African Canadian Literature, and other journals and/or anthologies. She runs the Wadadli Pen writing programme (  For more: or

Geosi Gyasi: What is the inspiration behind your book, “Musical Youth”?

Joanne Hillhouse: There wasn’t a single inspiration. It was a combination of things that I didn’t even realize I was pulling together, as I blogged about here ( I love music. I played guitar all through my teens. I drew on the reflections of the camaraderie that exists between you and your friends at that time in your life. I run a writing programme for young people, Wadadli Pen ( so obviously I believe in the power of the arts to give young people a voice. That any of this worked its way in to Musical Youth didn’t happen consciously.  One night these kids showed up and I started writing, quickly realizing that if I pushed myself I could make the deadline for the Burt Award for teen/young adult Caribbean literature, which was like two weeks away. It’s a good thing that I was enjoying hanging out with these characters as they discovered music, themselves, each other, the world of musical theatre, and the mysteries linking their families because, impossible as it seemed, I made the deadline and the manuscript I hadn’t even had time to edit placed second for the prize.

Geosi Gyasi: You were born in Ottos, Antigua. Could you tell us a little about your birthplace?

Joanne Hillhouse: Antigua is the most beautiful island that ever islanded. Jokes aside, if you look at the tourist brochures we’re a small island surrounded by some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. No exaggeration. But, my earliest  memories are of the willow tree lined dead end alley I used as the setting for my first book The Boy from Willow Bend. That our population includes a mix of people from different places, including the Dominican Republic is something I touch on in Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, my second book, recently reissued as a 10th anniversary edition with other writings. My paternal family’s involvement in pottery making, an island folk tradition reaching back to the pre-Columbian era and forward to the period of African enslavement to the bursts of independence and the birth of villages worked its way into my novel Oh Gad! That and things like pepperpot, our national dish, a mix of things,  a credit to the Antiguan/Caribbean cut and contrive sensibility of making something, in this case something really tasty, out of nothing. My children’s picture book explores the wonderful marine life, the coral reefs and such from the perspective of a stranded arctic seal. And in Musical Youth the production they’re working on features the West African trickster Anansi, the tales of which we all grew up hearing… I mention all of that to say that we are mix of influences and if you read my books, I kind of shine a light on the corners of my world – from memories of climbing trees and chasing butterflies as a child to the indescribable, though I’m still trying, beauty of our sunsets. There’s sugar cake and pepperpot, and mas, and calypso, the politics and the struggle, and hurricanes and just life as simple and complex as life anywhere …except every day, to reference a local calypso, we wake up to the sun.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write, “The Boy From Willow Bend”?

Joanne Hillhouse: I was at the University of Miami, at my first writers’ workshop, and my manuscript, the same manuscript I’d used to get myself into the workshop had just been ripped to shreds and was still settling like confetti around me when the boy showed up. A product of memory, invention, and the tools I was learning to apply in that very workshop in crafting character, he was there suddenly and I was curious about him. The world he inhabited was just familiar enough – including his tanty being modelled on my late grandmother, my tanty, and the willow trees, and the struggle and uncertainty, and the adventures that children will find no matter their circumstances – that I could imagine it. It started there, with me spending time with the boy in this world that was familiar to us both and at the same time a discovery, and really coming to care for him.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you manage to write for both adults and children?

Joanne Hillhouse: I don’t think about it like that. I just tell the story. Sometimes the protagonist is a child, sometimes a teen, sometimes an adult, sometimes an old person, sometimes a jelly fish named Coral. The writing is always character first, not audience. During the editing process that’s when I’m challenged, often by the assigned editor, to think about things like can the target age group for this picture book understand abstract thinking, do I maybe need to be more literal, more detailed, more specific, provide clearer resolution, like that.

Geosi Gyasi: Is there any major difference between fiction and non-fiction?

Joanne Hillhouse: Fiction is fun. I don’t write – or read – a lot of non-fiction for so. As a trained journalist and a columnist, I got into writing non-fiction, and I do so mostly on my paid assignments – since I freelance these days as a writer and editor working on different types of content for different types of clientele, but fiction is what I love. It’s complete freedom – freedom from self-censorship, from your inhibitions, freedom to be vulnerable and bold, and to unleash the imagination like you would in a dream, freedom to be creative. The beauty about being a fiction writer and poet who also writes non-fiction is when writing the non-fiction the creativity is still there, there’s always that sense of creating, finding a way to make even the driest topic something people want to read about, by first making it something I want to read about.

Geosi Gyasi: You graduated with a degree in Mass Communications from University of the West Indies (Mona). Why did you choose to study at the University of the West Indies?

Joanne Hillhouse: I’d love to be able to say that I chose it. But really I come from a working class background, and didn’t have certain advantages. I’d been out of school/college and working for a year when a scholarship opportunity opened up. That it was specific to UWI was really how I landed there.  I don’t know when I would have been able to do university otherwise. Having said that, it was the best place for me, one of the best experiences of my life, and I don’t regret it for a minute.

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

Joanne Hillhouse: That I would become one? No. I didn’t have context or language for it, models or much to encourage me in that direction. It’s one of the reasons I do Wadadli Pen, to encourage. I knew I loved to read, I knew I had a vivid imagination, and that writing was how I process the world, I knew certainly by my teens that I loved to write but I didn’t know or maybe believe that this was something I could do. It was a slow awakening as a teen and young adult to giving voice to this dream I’d secreted away even from myself because I didn’t know how to believe in it. Through it all though, I never stopped writing. I only wish I had claimed it as a child, maybe everything would have happened earlier, or maybe it is as it was meant to be.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you know when a story you’re writing is not going well?

Joanne Hillhouse: When I feel disconnected from the material, that’s usually a sign. When I find myself leaning on certain crutches or being dishonest on the page, those are signs.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you show your works-in-progress to friends before you send them out to publishers?

Joanne Hillhouse: Well, I wouldn’t be sending works in progress out to publishers, so no. I do have people that I get feedback from, sometimes not every time, when I feel the work is ready to go out. With my first two books, The Boy from Willow Bend and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, my friend, who was also editor at the newspaper I worked at at the time, and who red inks anything I show her, anyway, whether I ask her to or not, thoroughly edited both for me before they went off for publication consideration. With Oh Gad! I had a friend who when my spirits were flagging, somewhere around the second draft, became the book’s cheerleader, I would read bits and pieces to her and her reaction or lack thereof was very helpful. She wasn’t a writer so she wasn’t about telling me what worked and what didn’t, and I only shared bits and pieces anyway, but she believed in the work early and that helped me not give up on it. With Fish Outta Water my first test audience was children, during school visits and at the Cushion Club, the kids reading club I volunteer with. With Musical Youth, the only person who read it, and not in its entirety, before it went off to the contest was my teenage niece because I wanted to get a teenage perspective on it… and I had no time to get it critiqued or edited. My next picture book for which I recently signed a contract, I tested it at the tail end of my Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project, a tween/teen writing workshop I started two summers ago. I didn’t tell them it was mine though; we’d been doing critiques of different works all week and I just snuck it in there for some honest feedback. I wanted to test it with an audience close to the target audience. I have people not a big group, sometimes people I’ve connected with at workshops with whom I sometimes do exchanges…can you look at this for me and vice versa …not to abuse it though…and again not while it’s in progress…pretty much when I think it’s done….and then of course they come back with notes that debunk that whole done theory.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you come from a family of writers?

Joanne Hillhouse: No.

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

Joanne Hillhouse: I want to be true to my characters; I want to tell good stories.

Geosi Gyasi: Where does your love for reading come from?

Joanne Hillhouse: I don’t know. It baffles me that everybody else doesn’t love reading so that might be my question, how can you not? I love stories whether they come to me in song, spoken word, on the screen, on stage, in my head, or in a book. It’s always been that way.

Geosi Gyasi: What books did you read growing up as a child?

Joanne Hillhouse: Oy, too many to mention, I remember a pig called Wilbur, a spider called Charlotte, a dog that could talk, Jo and her sisters, Jane, Noddie, Anansi, Margaret via Blume, Archie – always rooting for Betty, Scout, and the bag of Mills and Boon my mom kept in a plastic bag behind her bed. That was as close as we came to a home library. That and Uncle Arthur Bedtime Stories. Books were a luxury I didn’t have money for; so my reading was often whatever I could get my hands on from the Trixie Belden books and the Sweet Dreams in the dusty stacks in the clustered library space, to the Sweet Valley Highs and romances we traded at school, to whatever books were left behind by the tourists at the hotels my parents worked at. The first book I remember owning was a book I somehow acquired after a hurricane when I was six – it was an activity book  thick with stories and poems from all parts of the world. Just anything. I still pretty much read anything.

Geosi Gyasi: From where do you get the names of your characters?

Joanne Hillhouse: They have their names…and they generally don’t cooperate until I listen good and get it right. Seriously, one of the characters in Oh Gad! – Aeden, couldn’t get him righto save my life but when I figured out I wasn’t calling him by his right name, then I had to research,  based on his ancestry what his name might be (usually it doesn’t take all that research; usually it feels wrong until I get it right), but once I got it, him and me, we clicked.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any secret flaw as a writer?

Joanne Hillhouse: Multiple, no doubt. I remain a work in progress. And that’s no secret.

Geosi Gyasi: What are you currently reading?

Joanne Hillhouse: Finally, an easy question. I’m actively reading  Maeve Binchy’s Evening Class, Mio’s Kingdom by Astrid Lindgren, the Caribbean Writer (a literary journal) Volume 29, Singles Holiday by Elaine Spires, Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer by Ann Morgan, The Art of Mali Olatunji by Mali Olatunji and Paget Henry, the latest edition of the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books, All Over Again by A-dZiko Simba Gegele, and The Book – the Essential Guide to Publishing for Children

Geosi Gyasi: Do you care to ask me any question?

Joanne Hillhouse: I’m curious about your name…

Geosi Gyasi: Great question. I have a wonderful poem published here that tells all about my name, Geosi. Thanks for asking.

Interview with A. Molotkov, Author of “The Invention of Distance”

August 15, 2015
Photo: A. Molotkov

Photo: A. Molotkov

Brief Biography:

Published or accepted by The Kenyon Review, The Iowa Review, The Raleigh Review, The Oregonian, 2River, Identity Theory, Contrary, Pif, and many more, A. Molotkov is winner of New Millennium Writings and Koeppel fiction contests, two poetry chapbook contests, and a 2015 Oregon Literary Fellowship. His full-length poetry collection, The Catalog of Broken Things, is forthcoming from Airlie Press in 2016. He co-edits The Inflectionist Review. Molotkov’s new translation of a Chekhov story was included by Knopf in their Everyman Series. Visit him at

Geosi Gyasi: What is it about your new chapbook, “The Invention of Distance”?

A Molotkov: It’s a series of poems revolving around the topics of solitude, alienation. The chapbook examines the walls and the bridges we build.

Geosi Gyasi: How long did it take you to write, “The Invention of Distance”?

A Molotkov: The poems were selected by the editor, Jerry Brunoe, from my full-length manuscript Instruments of Perspective. Although most of the work in that collection is from the last few years, certain poems date back to mid-90s. Among the selections found here, Correction and Borders are the oldest, the latter written in response to 9/11.

Geosi Gyasi: Did you face any challenges in writing, “The Invention of Distance”?

A Molotkov: Same challenges as usual: the empty page demanding to be filled, the work one has already done one doesn’t want to repeat.

Geosi Gyasi: Why did you choose to become a writer?

A Molotkov: As a teenager, I discovered that nothing impacted me as much as narrative art (literature and film). It made sense to pursue these paths. In the Soviet Russia at the time, arts and literature programs in colleges bore a heavy ideological slant. Therefore, I made a decision to pursue technical education and work on art as a life passion. Although I’ve made some short experimental films in my 20s and 30s, it became obvious that being a writer AND a filmmaker would not work out. I chose to focus on literature, the more independent pursuit.

Geosi Gyasi: Where do you actually belong in-terms of nationality?

A Molotkov: I’m half Russian, one quarter Jewish and one quarter Polish

Geosi Gyasi: You were born in St. Petersburg. Did you grow up there too before coming to the United States of America?

 A Molotkov: Yes. I lived in that city until the age of 22.

Geosi Gyasi: Who is your ideal reader?

A Molotkov: A person whose perception is attuned to the beauty and the drama of life, someone with a sense of reverence and responsibility. Someone who wants to listen to others, to cry with them, to understand what makes them tick. Someone who will laugh at themselves before laughing at others.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you an avid reader?

A Molotkov: Yes. However, with so much to do, I found that I had very little time to read. Fortunately, in the last few years I have compensated by listening to audiobooks whenever I drive, cook, clean the house, or practice my tennis serves.

Geosi Gyasi: What books did you read growing up as a child?

A Molotkov: Only selected literature was available in the U.S.S.R. Several Russian writers remain among my favorites. Fortunately, we also had access to the translations of many classics, and even some 20th century authors like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Remarque. The Catcher in the Rye was published in the late 80s and made a big splash. We had the fortune to read Kafka and Cortázar, both of whom have my unending respect. Great Japanese writers, especially Kobo Abe and Kenzaburo Oe, were available in Russian.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you mind introducing me to some Russian writers and also tell me about what you think of Russian writers?

A Molotkov: Russian literature has offered much to the world. To me, modern novel begins with Mikhail Lermontov’s “The Hero of Our Time”, published around 1840, a work that reads fresher than its contemporaries. Turgenev and Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov, Bunin and Nabokov, and currently Tatyana Tolstaya, are my favorites. Most of these authors were/are inquisitive, worldly people with much concern for humanity. Similarly, Russian poetry is robust and revered by the public. Among the poets, I tend to love “the others” – not the most famous Russian poets who often appear in translation. I don’t care much for Pushkin outside his longer works. I love Lermontov’s poems. I admire Esenin, Gumilev, Evtushenko. I have to confess that I’m not up to date on the most recent developments in the Russian literature.

Geosi Gyasi: Is there any way you could compare American literature to that of Russian?

A Molotkov: I think both cultures share a “big place” mentality – the (usually) open-minded capability to deal with differences and contrasts, with a diverse ethnic mix. There is a certain “bigness of scope” to stories that come from these two places.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you earn a living from writing?

A Molotkov: No, not at all. Maybe in the future. So far, I’ve earned roughly $7,000 for my 30 years as a writer. But this is not at all unusual, as you know. Few people become writers hoping to earn a lot of money.

Geosi Gyasi: When and where do you often write?

A Molotkov: I write most days, at home. I skip the occasional day when my time is spent on quasi-literary activities.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you a happy as a writer?

A Molotkov: This is perhaps your most difficult question. I’m happy when years go by, yet something remains. I’m moderately satisfied with some of my work. I worry about my large backlog: several novels, a collection or two of short stories, a few poetry manuscripts. I feel that my responsibility as a writer is both to create this work, and to find a home for it in the world – and in this way, I have not fulfilled my responsibility yet.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have specific theme(s) you often write on?

A Molotkov: I tend to be interested in interpersonal connections and disconnections – on our capacity and desire to self-define – on obstacles we face in our humanity. I’m moved by attention and empathy.

Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your collaborative chapbook, “The End of Mythology”?

A Molotkov: My friend John Sibley Williams and I have collaborated in various ways since 2009; he is one of my favorite contemporary poets and co-editor at The Inflectionist Review, It was something to try. It didn’t take us long to select a small batch of short poems in a certain shared mood.

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

A Molotkov: A number of favorites – ones that have gone as far as possible (and occasionally farther) down the path I have tried to send them on (or, indeed, a path of their own choice). Many poems are as they are, but for whatever reasons, don’t rise to that top level.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you manage to find time to write?

A Molotkov: I work either on my bill-paying business or on writing 80% of my waking time.

Geosi Gyasi: Is there any difference between writing for film and writing poetry/fiction?

A Molotkov: I’m not really an authority on writing for film. This said, I think writing for film must be more dynamic than fiction due to the famous one page per minute ratio. Poetry is a different mode of thinking. It’s less narrative, more intuitive. Some films employ it well (like that Rilke poem in Synecdoche New York).

Geosi Gyasi: How many languages do you speak? Does language matter to you at all as a writer?

A Molotkov: I’m fluid only in Russian and English. I have been studying Italian for over 10 years, but very slowly. I could probably have a small conversation. Luckily, all high-brow words have Latin roots, same as English. My partner keeps promising to teach me German. One day I will take her up on that. To answer your second question: the language matters a great deal. Before my emigration, I had written in Russian long enough to develop a style and a freedom with the language. Those qualities took a great effort to recover in a second language (and it’s up to others to judge the degree of my success), but I have found the transition to English to be most beneficial. Not only is English the vastest, by far, of all modern languages, but it’s also more laconic than most. I switched to writing in English in 1993, three years after my arrival here – and have found it to be the most delightful tool ever since.

Geosi Gyasi: What are you currently working on?

A Molotkov: I’m looking for an agent for my novel “The Escaping Truth”, an international story dealing with human rights and their violations.  It tackles parental abuse, alcoholism, and in the case of a couple of characters from Senegal, female genital mutilation. In the meantime, I’ve begun work on the next novel, “A Slight Curve”, contrasting the experiences of an East German immigrant with that of a young lady born in the U.S., among other themes and plots. I write poetry on Wednesday nights and every now and then write or revise short stories. If you add three writers’ groups, you can see that my schedule is rather full. But who wants to have a boring life?



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