Friday, August 18, 2017

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Emily Brandt on No, Dear

No, Dear Mission Statement:
No, Dear aims to bring together the voices of New York City poets who might not otherwise be in dialogue: both emerging and established poets from diverse backgrounds who are living and writing in New York City’s five boroughs. We aspire to disrupt a field that has historically privileged white patriarchal perspectives by building a publication and communal/critical dialogue that strives to be largely representative of women-identified poets, and poets of color and of all gender orientations.

Emily Brandt is a cofounding editor of No, Dear, Web Acquisitions Editor for VIDA, and the author of three chapbooks. Her poems have recently appeared in LitHub, The Recluse, and Washington Square Review.

When did No, Dear first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?
No, Dear started in 2008, and at that time, our goal was just to publish poems coming out of a workshop the original editing team was a part of. That goal quickly evolved to learning about and supporting an ever-expanding circle of poets. Because we have only always published NYC writers, our launch readings have always been and continue to be spaces for poets to get to know and celebrate each other. The poets we publish are our greatest collaborators. We now publish dialogues between issue poets, and host readings co-curated with the poets we publish. We’ve also invited many poets we’ve published to guest edit issues or to submit chapbooks. We are interested in fostering genuine community in a time and place that moves so quickly that community time and space can be a challenge.

What first brought you to publishing?

I wrote and distributed a small newspaper when I was 8, which was significant among my stuffed animal tribe. As an early/mid-adolescent, I was into zine culture, which taught me the art of doing what you need to do and saying what you need to say. As a late-adolescent, I interned for the Favorite Poem Project, which taught me something about the many different roles poetry plays for people. Later, I got into No, Dear.

What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
We can take more risks than big-house publishers, and support more emerging and subversive voices. Small publishing needs to be true to the people who are participating, via writing and reading, in the community. No need to replicate what’s on the shelves at the B&N.

What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
We only publish New York City poets, bringing them together for launch readings, collaboratively curated readings, online dialogues, and more. Focusing on just the local community allows us to build more bridges amongst poets in person.

What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world?

Plan a really good launch and publicize it well. For ND/SA, our runs are small enough that we don’t need to do a ton of work to sell out. We put our efforts to a big launch, some targeted publicity work (reviews/social media), collaborating with the author and their community, and developing and maintaining relationships with our fantastic local bookshops.

How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
It depends! For issues, a light touch, for sure. The editorial team and I will sometimes recommend a tweak, but generally publish poems as they are submitted. For chapbooks, it depends on the manuscript. Sometimes we’ll publish it almost as is, and other times we do several rounds of pretty deep revision suggestions. I prefer to publish work that feels polished but not too sheen, and sometimes an editorial eye is needed to get there. I dislike an overcooked poem, so would sooner overlook a few spots with potential for more than push a writer to go into high-sheen revision. That can fuck up a good poem.

How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
We sell our chapbooks and issues three ways: at launch and other readings, via our website, and at local bookstores, including McNally Jackson, Housing Works, Greenlight, Berl’s, and Quimby’s. We also have subscribers to whom we send issues. At this point, we print 150 copies of each new issue and 100 copies of chapbooks.

How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?
For issues, we usually have at least three editors at the table - Alex Cuff and I have usually been two of those people. We’ve had a wonderful range of founding and guest editors over the years, and are thrilled to now have t’ai freedom ford on board as an editor. For chapbooks, we collaborate with Jen Hyde from Small Anchor. I always learn so much from working with a team of editors -- it’s important to hear other perspectives and have your own perspectives challenged. I’ve definitely become a sharper and more engaged reader over the last decade. The only setback is time -- the editing conversations we have are amazing and for me, the most valuable, fascinating part of the process. However, the more voices at the table, the more time spent discussing the poems. That’s a good thing! But also, time is sometimes hard for humans. As for production, most of layout and production falls on the editorial team, but we collaborate with artists for cover images, and welcome help from production volunteers. (Call me!)

How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?

It’s great reading so much emerging/new work, to balance all the published (new and old) work that I read in books and journals. Seeing everything that comes through makes me even more aware of content and style trends and the ways in which different writers handle those things. I get a clearer sense for myself of what works and doesn’t in a poem, and in what ways what I’m writing may be in conversation with something larger.

How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?
Do what feels right to you. I have poems in early No, Dears, at a time when our goal was just to publish writing from our workshop and surrounding community. That made sense at the time. I haven’t self-published anything in a long time now, and don’t know that I would again. But I don’t think much of that matters.

What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?
We’ve been doing this for ten years, and it still feels exciting! That longevity is something I’m really proud of. We’ve published so many amazing writers over the last decade, and for some were among their first publications. There’s so many different steps to the process and not all of it is fun or easy, so sometimes I get frustrated with how much time and unpaid labor is necessary to make this all happen.

Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
In 2008, I remember looking at Birdsong, edited by a collective including Tommy Pico, and that gave me hope for making a worthwhile DIY print publication. In the early days, some folks at Ugly Ducking Presse gave me invaluable production advice - at a time when I had no idea how to do anything besides make a scissors-and-glue-and-photocopy zine.

Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
We do! And we are really interested in good poems that have something to say. Pretty simple. One tip to writers looking to submit: we publish very slim issues, and as such, only print one or a few long poems in any given issue. So unless a long (more than a page) poem is really a perfect fit for the issue, we’re probably not going to take it. We used to limit submissions to 40 lines each poem, but we do like to print the occasional long piece. That said, 40 lines is a good limit to keep in mind.

Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Our REPUBLIC (#19) issue: our first post-Trump publication.

Our BLACK POETS SPEAK OUT (#18) issue: the brilliant Mahogany L. Browne used this issue to showcase work from #BlackPoetsSpeakOut, even including a few non-NYC writers.

Chia-Lun Chang’s One Day We Become Whites: after a dozen reads, I still can’t keep up with this chapbook.

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Allison LaSorda, STRAY

Shark Year

When I died the first time,
I got a sinking feeling.

It’s easier to think I can’t
than I don’t want to.

With an imposed trajectory,
a valiant obstacle in my course,
I’m off the hook.

Leisure is to labour
as is compromise to fervor.

The second time,
I want to be flesh
chummed by bleachers
of serrated teeth.

Rolled up in a carpet
and plunked into the sea.

I’m intrigued by Toronto poet Allison LaSorda’s debut, STRAY (Fredericton NB: Goose Lane Editions/icehouse poetry, 2017), a collection of tight, predominantly first-person poems. Working through “memories among people and places” (as American poet Heather Christle writes in her blurb), LaSorda composes her short narratives in lyric short form, utilizing a precise language in a collection of pieces most of which are single-page and entirely self-contained, even as the memories explored throughout might begin to bounce around and accumulate. “Without expecting gentleness,” she writes, to open the poem “Reply to the Shepherd,” “I take my moral code in stride.” LaSorda’s lyrics explore how best to navigate people, the world and the self, exploring moral choices and personal history, and suggesting far more than she spells out. “I quit music for Lent,” she writes, to open the poem “Glory Days,” “but sighed / so loud a tune came out.”

I was intrigued by the sequence “The Smallest Island,” a poem that feels, structurally, different than most of the other pieces in the collection for its stretched-out sense. Unfortunately, while the first three sections provide a series of openings, moving forward through the sequence, the fourth and final section felt rushed, somehow a mash of information attempting to wrap the poem up in a single (and longer than the other sections) space. Might another section or two or three instead have kept the right kind of pacing? Compared to the rest of the collection, the first three sections of this poem read as sketches, writing out lines with the lightest touch. As the third in the sequence reads:

You dig a fingernail
into turquoise vinyl.

Your sister turns over
in a lawn chair, her skin
glossy and marked by the straps.

While handstanding, you see
her sandal drift into the deep end.
It settles amid ant clusters
at pool bottom.
You dive to rescue it,
but she throws it back. Fetch.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Alina Stefanescu

Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Alabama with her partner and four small mammals. A Pushcart nominee, she is the author of Objects In Vases (Anchor & Plume, March 2016), Letters to Arthur (Beard of Bees, August 2016), and Ipokimen (Anchor and Plume, November 2016). Her first fiction collection, Every Mask I Tried On, won the 2016 Brighthorse Books Prize. She can't wait for you to read it. More online at

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
In the interim between my first chapbook and the forthcoming poetry and fiction collections, I discovered four writers that rattled my time-space coordinates, and encouraged me to burn down the house. First, Kathy Acker crawled into my head and revived the teenager that wore all black and wanted nothing more than to to burn for words like Joan of Arc. Before I loved boys, I loved this insane French XX that died for an ideal-- a woman swallowed by flames for the words she refused to recant. Reading Kathy re-laid old kindling.

After coming across a short story of mine published in the exquisite Minola ReviewAmanda Mays (my editor at Anchor & Plume) mailed a copy of Elisa Albert's Afterbirth to me. A log to the fire. A self-reckoning with the myths of motherhood and the rituals in which we hope to lose ourselves. In Elisa, I read the woman I hid behind playdates, attachment parenting, and birthday parties.

How to describe the challenge of being forced to confront your own rebellion-- or what once-upon-a-dude called my "ongoing polymorphous perversity"? At the time, I had no idea what snappy. well-read dude meant. In the present, I have no space to greet this creature except on the page where she won't shut up.

As my son turned thirteen and I waded further into that teenage self, offering him an eye for an eye, a tooth for a truth,  I stumbled across Claire Dederer's Love and Trouble. One week later, I discovered Lidia Yuknavitch. The wham and the bam: deafening. Certain writers don't simply liberate you-- they make it impossible to creep back behind the veil. And there you are, naked, middle-aged, the same wild creature whose eyes devoured books over bodies, pages over flesh, the same restless flame-thrower, appended by children, partners, and suffocating material privilege. None of which we deserve or can properly earn. But air does crazy things to fire....

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
In Alabama, poetry was a no-go. Poetry was useless, anti-Puritan, a waste of time and possible money.  I came to poetry in the same way I came to tree-hugging: on my knees, crawling, looking for a way out of boys, curling irons,  and "Saved By the Bell".

In my adolescent years, poetry required patience, an initiation, a relationship forged outside the usual social bonds. Poetry handed me a life outside consumer capitalism, a dark space in which to ask impossible cosmic questions.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
Have you ever noticed how a shadow distorts the shape of the object it reflects? I think sometimes I want to write the shadow while, other times, the shadow is merely a seduction towards writing the object itself.

Writing is measure of how much one is willing to entertain-- the limits and boundaries we set on our thoughts and imagination when presented with a certain subject. Some stories plop onto the page ready to go; others grow from poems, conversations, insomnias, and untamed  ideas.

In cases where I have to overcome interior resistance and intellectual prudishness, the writing takes longer. L'esprit de l'escalier, the span of two extra beats in which resides mentally after a moment of suspense or drama has passed, fascinates me. In those dreaded breaths, I often discover what kept me from riding the escalator; or what keeps us all from getting to a point where we can look down on ourselves as tiny, ferocious ants, building and building, assembling monuments indecipherable by other species.

As for books, there is no set wing-span. Stories to Read Aloud to Your Fetus, a poetry hybrid collection, was mostly written over the course of two months in late 2016, whereas Every Mask I Tried On, a fiction collection, came together piece by piece, two years total.

4 - Where does a poem or work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Rarely do I work on a book from the very beginning-- apart from the novel in progress which was never shy about the length it needed.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Readings are like crack cocaine-- intense, exhilarating, spliced by a taste of death in the margins.

I love doing readings.

I hate doing readings.

I hate myself when I read if I'm in any way conscious of this person named Alina.

I second guess her. For example, is she inflecting a less threatening word to keep from upsetting the audience? Is she doing justice to the piece? Is she being honest? The act of reading poetry and prose aloud forces me to reckon with the distance between myself as a person who writes  (and narrates or feels through various character) and myself as a writer, a human ultimately estranged from what felt so real and intense as it was being written.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I am fascinated by socialization, behavioral economics, epistemology, neuroscience, cultural conventions, religious fundamentalism, and bounded rationality. I cannot muster a solid line between the intimate and the political.

In Osip Mandelstam's "Fourth Prose", published after his death in a Soviet camp, he wrote: "For literature always and everywhere carries out one assignment: it helps superiors keep their soldiers obedient and it helps judges execute reprisals against doomed men. A writer is a mixture of parrot and pope. He's a polly in the very loftiest meaning of that word." The question is who we serve-- and why.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
One of the first things I learned about writers as a child of Romanian defectors was that writers could be propagandists that ruined the world (like Ceausescu's court poets) or dissidents that gave up success in order to bear witness. I don't think a good writer is ever comfortable with the systems of injustice perpetuated by higher mammals. There is nothing more dangerous than safety. Laurels are meant to be burnt in a backyard tire fire.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
There is nothing I appreciate more than a nit-picky, detail-driven editor that tears the meat from the bone and forces me to reconsider it. The difficulty of working with an outside editor can't be an issue, given my craven need for their input and insight. The text is my primary loyalty; the ego is nothing in comparison. Editors who share this view are pure magic. I trust their instincts.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
My son regularly tells me "chill out, Mom," and it drives me crazy. Because he's right. Apart from the page, I have a tendency towards purism that limits my perception. Obsession with moral purity takes many forms, including the self-righteousness of political resistance. We are not immune from the need to assert our cleanliness. Especially when writing against religious fundamentalism, I find myself competing for points of moral purity.

At the end of the day, no story can be carried by hypocrisy. I think my son reads that in me very well, and cautions against it. I will continue to resist the bigotry and social Darwinism of the Trump era while conceding that, perhaps, we are participant-observers in various rituals of indignation. When I write, I need to bring more to the page than wryly-disguised rage. Anger is mere prelude to blood. I have to push the piece through to the insoluble part.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
Moving between genres has been as easy as birthing different children, none of which I could pre-determine or control. Usually the genre determination comes afterwards, more like a justification than an underlying truth. What emerges is uniquely mind-boggling. In a sense, genre is like gender to me in that I don't think about it until someone demands I choose a box and leave a check-mark.

Journals classify submissions on the basis of genre. Is it flash or prose poetry? I don't know. That's generally not how I think about humans or things I've written. I leave that to the editors and professionals.

Given my genre-insecurity, I find myself questioning the social demands of genre as well as its evolving contrivance. For critics, genre is key. For me, in my writing, genre often feels like a means of appeasing the social at the cost of the actual.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
As a woman coming into middle age, you lose your independence while gaining a previously uninhabitable appetite for life. In my case, this comes out as a fear of commitment-- I am committed to a partner, children, a house, a community, an endless series of human needs-- which then leads to a fear of routine or allegiance to form and method.

I don't have a writing routine or method-- only a series of notebooks (some of which get lost) and a promiscuous restlessness that emerges sometimes as a story, or a poem, or a flash, a memoir, a hybrid, and entity.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Romanian superstitions, legends, and folk music, especially the haunting "doinas" of Maria Tanase. My mother. Other women. Female bodies. Blues. Puritanism as it plays out in the present. Ideologies. Angry white men. Oh angry white men, you are my muses. And no list of inspirations would be complete without the man in my bed. When all else fails, the man in my bed, the urgency desire, love, and futility bring to daily life.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Boiled cabbage, a staple of Romanian meals. And Magie Noire, the aroma that enveloped me in my mother's arms.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Hannah Arendt as a thinker and political philosopher. Monks and mystics-- writing that approaches the world with a sense of reverence. Romanian poets. Romanian recipes. My mother's journals, which I am just beginning to touch.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Hike the Appalachian Trail. Take my partner backpacking through Europe. Spend a season in Romania conducting research for a family memoir that brings together the Gancevici and Stefanescu tribes. Record a conceptual music-text variant on the traditional folk form of the Romanian doina. Sail around the world. Hitch-hike across the US. Write a musical. Ultimately, above all, immediately, as soon as money and time permit, spend a year in Romania and Europe with my closest mammals.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
If I hadn't been a writer, I'd be a different person. Blank white paper has been my nun's habit, a space of resilience, since age 7. I can't remember a time before diaries, notebooks, journals.

But let's assume there is a character named Alina who isn't a writer. Maybe Alina would become a political philosopher or intellectual historian. If she didn't have this insatiable desire to write entire worlds. If she could channel her cerebral components into the requisite academic role.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
The inability to resist writing. The inexhaustible appetite to read the unwritten. And reaching a certain point in my life where I found no distractions or alternate satisfactions. In other words, nothing else was enough.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Oh, I can't even begin here. I can't pick favorites. That polymorphous perversity rears her tangled head and vows one single answer can't be in earnest.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I'm knee-deep into my first novel, and it's the strangest water I've ever tried to tread. I need to find an agent but nothing is more terrifying than setting aside all the manuscripts and carving out a large chunk of time for agent research and queries. I can't imagine where to start. So I procrastinate and write and dawdle.

When I'm not working on the novel or a fiction collection manuscript titled Let's Frack Later, I'm planning readings and travels for Stories to Read Aloud to Your Fetus (and you can pre-order a copy from Finishing Line Press at If you'd like to review it or have me come read in your town or on your front porch, find me on Twitter at @aliner. Because I'd love to share this book with others. And I will never be able to express enough gratitude, wonder, and disbelief to those readers, editors, assistant editors, publishers, human beings, and fellow yearning mammals that make this writing thing possible. I am working on the world's most massive thank you.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Monday, August 14, 2017

(another) weekend in old glengarry,

We didn't make it to the Highland Games this year [see last year's post here], but still headed over to the homestead for the sake of my sister's annual bbq, held at her old log house on the hill. Given we rented a car for the sake of transporting my eldest daughter, Kate, and her boyfriend, it just seemed easier to forego the Games this time 'round and head straight for the bbq on the Sunday of the long weekend, where the kids ran around, and the rest of us took as much break as was possible. I was tempted by the Games, and they'd asked me to do an updated version of the talk I gave a few years back [see such here], but I didn't even have the attention span to look at the essay again, let alone poke at it for updating. And, with the car rental requiring pick-up at noon on Saturday, it just seemed easier to wait until next year. There is always next year.

A nice bonus this year was the appearance of Clare Latremouille, as well as poet Kristina Drake and her husband (all for the first time), none of whom live terribly far away. Technically, despite the turns north, Clare now lives on the same road as my sister and father, only a few miles east, having finally moved full-time to the property they purchased a couple of years ago. Drake, who is launching a new chapbook at the above/ground press anniversary event later this month, lives as far from the homestead as we do, but in the opposite direction, towards Hawkesbury.

It was nice to have Kate and her boyfriend Quinn at the bbq this year, the first he's been to as well. He runs a printing business that Kate now runs media and marketing for, so if you have any poster or t-shirt needs (etcetera), you should totally look at what they're up to. En route to collect Kate, I picked up a new life jacket for Rose, as she would spend the entire day in the pool if we allowed her to (and she very nearly did, corralling a series of cousins and others to watch her splash around). Aoife, on her part, spend the day toddling about seeing what everyone else was up to, and repeatedly went over to say hello to my sister's dog, Tank. Or she was climbing. Always climbing. (She repeatedly climbed up the picnic table, including tipping an entire flower vase of water all over her, which she very much did NOT care for.)

Given the farmhouse isn't entirely set up for baby-sleeping, it seemed easier for Christine to head home with the young ladies once evening begun to set in, as I remained to return Kate and Quinn home the following morning, before returning the rental car. We sat by the bonfire and talked about things and stuff, listened to the absence of noise, and, of course, fireworks.

Just before 2am, I walked the short stretch down the road to the unlit homestead (my father had forgotten that I was staying there; fortunately, he hadn't locked the doors). The dog, at least, at the top of the stairs, said hello.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Rachel Thompson

Rachel Thompson’s book of poetry, Galaxy (Anvil Press, 2011), won SFU First Book Competition when contest judge Gregory Scofield said her poems had “Wonderful and clear imagery as well as a ‘real’ and ‘true’ sense of place, love, longing, family, and the constant struggle and re-negotiation of self and experience.” She loves working with writers with her project and as an editor with Room magazine.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

Writing my first book changed my life in that in writing it, I developed many writing friendships, found mentors, and to this day feel the support of an incredible community of writers. My most recent work is creative nonfiction. I don’t know that it’s too different from my poetry in that I still draw from my life, family, and domestic settings. But, I’m different. I’ve lived a lot in the years since the book came out, and my writing likely reflects this.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I’ve had the poetry bug since my sixth grade English teacher Madame McGilvary read my “Ballad of Gentle Words” aloud for our class. I was too shy to read it myself, but in that moment I felt understood by a reader, my teacher.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It takes me a while to warm up to a project. My writing comes very slowly and through much resistance to the process. I procrastinate and avoid. When I finally get down to it, I write copious notes and then I write around the writing, meaning I overwrite. By the time I begin revising, I need a very big knife.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Before my book came out, I stayed more present as I wrote. I took it poem by poem, image by image, line by line. I don’t have a second book-length work ready yet, and one reason for this is I get ahead of myself, thinking of the book and not the page, and then I lose focus.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love doing readings. Madame McGilvary’s English class was not predictive. I find readings are really helpful when I’m working out material to see how the writing lands on the readers’ (listeners’) ear.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
This is such a great question. I don’t approach things explicitly in terms of  theoretical underpinnings, but I do consider if, as James Baldwin said, I “drive to the heart of every answer and expose the question the answer hides.” When writing about difficult times and places I have known, one puzzle I usually am curious about is if and how was I complicit in what went wrong.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I used to live by the maxim that the act of writing and reading creates empathy. The idea was that writers by virtue of being willing to invest in a deep examination of society and individuals made the world more compassionate. But, this year in CanLit was like eye surgery. A few laser zaps corrected my ocular lenses so I could see that empathy is not enough. As Alicia Elliot wrote in her essay On Seeing and Being Seen, we need to write with love.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I think with the right fit, it can be magic. I did find it somewhat difficult when it came to doing the final preparations for my book. So, both! I had worked with a couple of outstanding mentors on my manuscript, so I had to negotiate between their earlier advice and some of my editor’s suggestions. I do think it’s absolutely essential to have someone who can critically evaluate your work. We all need someone to point out that you have a solitary ampersand in the book so you can decide if you truly need it.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Some advice I tend to pass along to other writers about feedback comes from Brené Brown. She says to listen only to critiques from people who, like you, are on the arena floor, face-down in the muck. As she says, it’s essential to ignore the people shouting from the cheap seats.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I have two small children right now and I’ve lost my writing space and with it my routine. So, for me, writing happens in surprise stolen moments. Even now, I’m responding to your questions during an unexpectedly long nap of my smallest one.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I often read the writing of mentors, like Miranda Pearson, or Betsy Warland, depending if I’m generating (Miranda) or revising (Betsy). I can hear their advice as I do it.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The last stanza of my poem, “At My Birth”, goes:
O, how I howl
a wild thing, searching
for the scent of home.
I wrote this because there isn’t a scent that feels like home for me. From my childhood, I remember the smell of a Prairie thunderstorm coming in. I remember the smell of the vinegar I used to wash the mirror in the bathroom. But, there isn’t a food or any strong ol factory experience that impressed upon my memory.  It's more of a lack. I’ve now lived in so many places that I still don’t think one smell defines home for me. I may always wonder what home smells like. And now that you bring my attention to this, I wonder (with some dread) what my kids think home smells like.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
When I write poetry, I’m influenced by music and the musical potential of a line. In truth, I’m influenced by everything—from podcasts to tall grass, but I don’t think about this too much as I’m generating words. Certainly books inspire me, and often books I read early in life make an impression. (Where the Wild Things Are in the stanza referenced above.)

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
As I mentioned Betsy Warland and Miranda Pearson have both personally had a big impact on me as teachers and mentors.

In the past few years, I’ve been reading a lot of submissions to Room magazine, because I’m on the editorial board. I learn so much about the craft of writing by reading submissions. I start to see big patterns in terms of what works and what doesn’t work as I do this reading. And at times I am wholly surprised to see someone doing something totally different and effective. When this happens, it’s the best part of lit mags; the writing can be so fresh and take big chances.

I’m hesitant to give you “the list” of writers and writings, because I read across so many genres—from highbrow to lowbrow, from self-help to sci-fi. Though I will say that I remember talking to friends and finding out we had all read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and at the time I thought that might become a test for whether a person has creative passion and curiosity. It doesn’t work for me now, since I live in a Francophone area, and they have their own books.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Get over my childhood.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
In terms of occupations, recently I thought I would like to try teaching writing, but outside of an institution. So, I created an online course and am doing this now.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

The miles between my rich interior life and my inability to express myself well in most other ways.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I recently re-read Marge Piercy’s Gone to Soldiers and have been thinking about it ever since, wondering how much of the characters’ experiences leading up to WWII are like ours.

I seldom watch movies—with small kids a spare couple hours is a rarity—but I have watched the series Sense8 on Netflix. It’s phenomenal—very cinematic in scope.

19 - What are you currently working on?
I have two focuses at the moment. First, writing weekly letters to writers who subscribe to my emails at Second, editing an upcoming issue of Room on the theme “family secrets.” This summer, I will work on a wfe CNF essays that have been brewing for a while.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Rachel Moritz, Sweet Velocity

Near Future

On the lilac, buds sharpen:
a quotidian green spring.

The sky is traceless,
nothing new

But these windows
with our names,

and patience shining like the glass
cleaned by hand,

vinegar and water.

Something transparent,
we know,

still contains.

Consider the heft of light
which has no face

but one worth dividing.

How its clear halo presses
as it comes,

how a transverse cut
could also be contrails.

Minneapolis poet Rachel Moritz’s second full-length poetry title is Sweet Velocity (Jackson WY: Lost Roads Press, 2017), a collection of short, sharp and exquisite meditations constructed out of direct and indirect statements, heartbreaks and hesitations, observations and queries. Hers is a poetry of inquiry, and her poems are sketched from point to point, thought to thought—akin to the English-language ghazal—creating a poetry of accumulation; less a singular scene or thought than a trajectory. Set in three numbered sections, two of which are made up of shorter lyrics (including three poems titled “Near future” that open and close the collection), and these sections bookend the third section, a sequence of poem-to-footnote poems, composed as a kind of “call and response” sequence. In a 2016 interview posted at Speaking of Marvels, she discusses the work-in-progress that eventually became Sweet Velocity, specifically the chapbook How Absence (MIEL Books, 2015), the poems of which were folded into the current book: “The poems in How Absence are largely concerned with birth and arrival. They were written in the first years of my son’s life. Among the book’s themes are the intense experiences of physical intimacy that accompany motherhood, coupled with the inherent experience of distance/absence that is conception via artificial insemination, as well as a C-Section delivery. Time is also important.” Further in the same interview, she writes:

The poems in this chapbook are part of a longer manuscript titled Sweet Velocity, which marries poems about my son’s birth with poems written in the wake of my father’s death, which occurred almost a year later. I’m largely finished with this project, but still tweaking individual poems, undertaking some final edits.

In Moritz’ poems, the “sweet velocity” of time only increases in speed and intensity, including a series of moments both caught and missed, attempting to pause when she can, and capture when appropriate, all while working to absorb as much as humanly possible. Writing as both parent and child, Moritz adds her voice to a list of contemporary poets exploring parenting, specifically motherhood, from Margaret Christakos to Julie Carr, Pattie McCarthy to Rachel Zucker. As Moritz writes in the poem “Depart”: “do you leave the child / to discover what it will feel like when he leaves [.]”