Leah Huizar

“There are so many mythic versions of California that I couldn’t help but work out my own Latinx, women-led one.”

Inland Empire (Noemi Press, 2019)

Could you tell us a bit about your growing up and your path to becoming a writer?

I took my first poetry course in my last year of college.

I’ve always felt compelled to make things. Even now I devote a lot of my time outside of poetry to bookmaking, printing, and binding. As a teenager, I spent most of my creative energy painting, though without real skill. It taught me to love working out ideas in images. In college, I experienced the possibilities of prose writing and of its space for complexity and reflective thinking. Once I finally arrived in a poetry class, I felt that I’d found my form—one that allowed me to connect image and idea, to build expression and experience.

I’m glad to have discovered poetry so near the end of my undergraduate education since the timing forced me to learn to write and build a portfolio outside of a school setting. Much of my commitments to a writing life were built up over a couple years of working desk jobs. I only applied to grad school for my MFA after learning to write in my everyday life.

How do you decorate or arrange your writing space?

 My cat rotates through a series of napping spots in the house where for a few weeks she’s on the window at the radiator, then in the blue armchair, then the lounge, and so on. I do about the same thing but with an office chair and a folding table. I set up these temporary writing spaces for a while and then move somewhere new. I almost never use my real desk. I always have coffee or tea.

What obsessions led you to write your book?

These poems came into sharpest focus once I started writing about Calafia and the colonizing tales around California. Myths are ways of telling the story of who we are through the pall of the past; they are explanatory and yet can change to fit current needs.

My obsession with these concepts heightened as I realized how much there is to turn over in that place of allure and contradiction. It is a place where immigrant labor is ubiquitous and evanescent. A land of fire and on water. A geography covered in religious iconography and so often thought of as godless. How does one hold all these layers together at once? I began to see, too, how much of my own configurations of self, a hyphenated person of color at home and not at ease, also sat at the center of these tensions. There are so many mythic versions of California that I couldn’t help but work out my own Latinx, women-led one.

Which poem in your book has the most meaningful back story? What’s the back story?

So many! The many poems reflecting on family are particularly meaningful to me. I expect that readers will immediately recognize the ways that the encounters with mothers and grandmothers are transformative to the speaker of the poems.

Alternately, “Open Armed,” is a solitary experience I often reflect on. This poem was built out of the indignities of air travel. It occurred to me during my routine secondary screening that spreading one’s arms is a gesture both of openness and powerlessness. I am interested in these moments where we experience the possibilities of all the roles we play at once. As I was being searched, I felt acutely how easily I could from one point to the other in an instant.

What was the final poem you wrote or revised for the book, and how did that affect your sense that the book was complete?

The poem, “Santa Ana,” stayed relatively stable throughout the editorial process until the final months before publication. The poem offers a panorama of colonialism moving through that tract of land. However, it was only at the very end of revisions that I understood its importance to the whole collection and to showing how chronicling the past matters now. I then reworked certain sections during final manuscript revisions.

Describe your writing practice or process for your book. Do you have a favorite revision strategy? What is it? 

I’ve revised individual poems and the collection as a whole over several years. As I revise, I keep records of every draft iteration of every poem. Keeping this kind of record of a poem has meant that I can more easily make necessary but hard changes and cuts because the previous version is always still there if I change my mind a week or a month later.

This system also brings unintended and useful insights for my future writing. At the end of writing poems for this book, I am able to sit down and trace the progression of ideas, obsessions, structures, linguistic features and tics in my poem over years. These drafts offer patterns and insight into the development of poems that I might not have been able to see otherwise.

What are some of your favorite books or chapbooks?

Overall, I feel like this is an amazing moment in poetry. There are so many new poets and powerful voices on the scene. I’ve been especially excited for all the great established and emerging Latinx poets putting books out now. Noemi’s Akrilica series is a great place to start for those interested.

There are so many transformative works of the past few years but two recent books that I’ve loved enough to read with my undergraduate students are Vicki Véritz’s Palm Frond with Its Throat Cut and Terrance Hayes’ American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin. These are quite different books but each in their particular way does brilliant and surprising things with perspective and form. Buy these books if you haven’t had a chance to read them already!

Finally, my longtime favorite poet is Li-Young Lee. I admire his poetry’s restraint, vividness, and generosity of feeling. I return to his books often and continually find more there.

What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?

Be curious and a reader.

Take your work as seriously as you want your reader to take it.

Give yourself time.

Your voice matters; be honest.

What do you wish you had been told as a writer? What wisdom have you arrived at?

The process of writing is powerful and it is easy to get lost in its virtues. It took me longer than I care to admit to see certain gaps at the center of some poems. So, yes, it makes sense to attend to the language and structures of poetry, but craft can sometimes obscure the very obvious idea that one should have something to say.

What question would you like to ask future writers featured at Speaking of Marvels?

To the poets, what does poetry allow for that other forms you might write in don’t? That’s a long way of asking, why write poetry?

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Leah Huizar is a Mexican-American writer and poet originally from Southern California. She holds an MFA from The Pennsylvania State University and is an assistant professor of English at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Inland Empire is her first book of poetry.

www.leahhuizar.com

Kyla Houbolt

“My writing comes from that place of honest communion, or as close to it as I can anchor my language.”

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Dawn’s Fool (IceFloe Press2019)

 Tell us a bit about your growing up and your path to becoming a writer. 

I was surrounded with books and music as a child. My parents were both musicians; my mother read poetry to us and we all sang together. I learned to love the music of language in that way. I read widely and voraciously, often attempting to take in material beyond my understanding — I remember in particular trying to grasp Kafka, and at another time, the Bhagavad Gita. An artistic impulse was fostered in me and encouraged, and I began attempting poetry as soon as I could write words.

I did not take an academic route; instead I chose – felt impelled – to just throw myself into the world and life and learn in that way what it was, what is going on here. At various times during my explorations, I focused intently on poetry, trying to learn to write better – trying to learn what that actually meant, to write well. I took a few free workshops, participated in ad hoc writing groups, read at open mics, continued to absorb the writing of others.

Publication has only come since I began interacting online, and previous to becoming involved with the internet I didn’t seek publication except sporadically (and unsuccessfully for the most part.) That I have a chapbook on the verge of being born is a real thrill! A (not so) secret: I have another manuscript, a longer chap, making the rounds, and I have plans for a third I hope to focus on next year. But Dawn’s Fool is special to me in several ways and I hope it does well and is read widely.

What obsessions led you to write Dawn’s Fool? What is this chapbook about?

All of the pieces in Dawn’s Fool speak of my sense of our relationship with the rest of the natural world (from which we are inseparable). Over the years it has become ever clearer to me that if we as a species are to become able to live harmoniously with all the other life that’s here and to successfully address the various environmental crises we face now, we will need to find a degree of what I might call communion with other species, other forms of matter, and even with ourselves. My writing comes from that place of honest communion, or as close to it as I can anchor my language. At times I feel tremendous grief in that place; at other times an exaltation, a joyous ebullience. I hope that range of feeling is conveyed by these poems.

What’s the oldest piece in Dawn’s Fool? Can you say something about how you came to write it?

The oldest piece is the title piece, also called “Dawn’s Fool.” This poem was written in the mid 1990s and as it describes, I was looking out my window as the day brightened, and saw a dove. I had read that doves are not very good at nest building. I wonder about how the mythic significance of certain creatures is not very well aligned with the way they’re understood by science, and it was from that question that the poem arose. (This piece, by the way, was read and recorded on YouTube by Heather Derr-Smith, for the Cuvaj Se Border Poetry Project, and initially was the only previously published piece in the collection. We’ve since added three poems, one of which was published by Mojave He[art] Journal, the poem titled “[getting around].”)

“Dawn’s Fool” became the title poem because of the resonance expressed in the poem; that I see myself in a similar role and position, holding a hope and being not quite able to anchor it, or feeling unable to.  So all the poems speak to that place, of reaching toward peace and a better world we’ve not found our way to yet.

What was the final poem you wrote or revised for this chapbook? What is your revision strategy?

The most recently written poem in Dawn’s Fool is one called “Turtle Law.” It was a difficult poem to write and went through a number of revisions; writing it was like gathering a handful of odd sticks and vines and attempting to weave them into a basket that could hold something. It was challenging to settle the poem into a harmonious flow; it goes from an almost jocular feeling to something deeper and also harder to convey. It seemed a good place to begin this grouping as it echoes in tone all the disparate elements of the chapbook.

My revision strategy, or method, is largely intuitive and voice-based. If a poem does not feel right, I let it sit and come back to it. I tinker with words, cut lines and replace them — all that — but the fundamental and key component of the process is whether something I call the “poet voice” is satisfied.  I read the poem out loud to myself usually many times in order to get to that place where it feels like it all aligns and does what I want it to.

Which poem in Dawn’s Fool has the most meaningful back story to you? What can you tell us about that back story?

Well, I might have a different answer at another time, but today the poem with the most meaningful back story is titled “What Only the Earth Remembers.” I have had several experiences of “hearing” rocks, feeling I am sharing communication with them. The strongest such might be a time I was on the shore of the Ho River in Washington State. The shore there is comprised of vast stretches of river rocks – stones that have been smoothed by tumbling in the water over probably eons of time. They vary in size, tiny to bigger than my head, some striped or solid grays, some with inclusions of other minerals…. As I was walking along and gazing at them the phrase came into my mind “all the stories are in the stones” and I took that to mean that stones keep the record of everything that has happened on the planet. This experience continues to resonate within me. What layers of untold history are trapped in rocks?

What has the editorial and production experience with your press been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of Dawn’s Fool?

As you know, this is pre-production, this interview; the chapbook is to be printed in mid-December 2019. IceFloe Press is based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and I am in North Carolina, in the U.S.A., so I’m not able to have any hands-on participation. However, Robert Kenter, editor and publisher, is wonderful to work with. He did the cover painting — the actual cover design is not yet finalized — and basically showed it to me and asked “do you like this?” which I very much do! I have worked with Robert on a couple of other smaller projects and know his standards for visual expression are high; he is careful to run any decisions by me of course, but I trust him to continue in a direction that will result in a beautiful product. He will be doing some illustrations for the interior of the book as well.

Robert also did some editing of the poems — we had a little back and forth with that which was quite harmonious and productive. I appreciated his fine-tuning and was able to do even more fine-tuning in response.

What are you working on now?

I have some new work that is less Earth focused — some of it is scheduled to appear next year, probably in January, and some more recent pieces are in consideration by a few journals, but the ongoing project at this time is my Greenway Poet project. I have taken to sticking poems up on trees in a local walking park, signing them as Greenway Poet. I’ve also written some poems from that place, as it were, inspired by the Greenway directly. (Two of those pieces are included in Dawn’s Fool.) Next year I expect to put together a collection of my Greenway Poems, but it is still formative. I’m tickled to say that my anonymity has been busted by some interested neighbors who also frequent the park and I have been assured that many people do read and enjoy my poems there. Guerilla poetry for the win!

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Kyla Houbolt has only been seeking publication since March 2019, and has been published in numerous online journals. You can find most of her published work in her Linktree, here: linktr.ee/luaz_poet She is a Best of the Net nominee for 2019 and you can find her on Twitter @luaz_poet. The pre-order link for Dawn’s Fool as well as an image of the cover painting can be found here:

https://icefloepress.net/kyla-houbolts-dawns-fool-a-microchap/

 

Eve F. W. Linn

“I write what I would describe as narrative lyrics. I truly believe in the power of storytelling, especially personal history, as redemptive.”

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Model Home (River Glass Books, New Orleans, LA, 2019

Could you tell us a bit about your growing up and your path to becoming a writer?

I was definitely an obsessive reader long before considering myself a writer. Oddly, I don’t recall reading or learning any poems. I was much more aware of fiction writers and biographers. The first book that had the first major impact on my life was D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths which was when I was about six years old or around the third grade. The second influential book was The Diary of Anne Frank, which I also read in elementary school. I had a very advanced vocabulary for a young reader, I read fast, and could remember complex plots with little trouble. English was a subject I excelled in, unlike math, so I felt empowered by my success, even though I was teased by other students. I was also mocked for being a poor speller (still true) and terrible at math. I also enjoyed learning to write cursive script and adored pens, paper, all things stationery, except for pencils, which I disliked because they were large and thick and left smudges of graphite on my hands. My mother read aloud to me almost every day, mostly children’s classics, like Little Women, the Five Little Peppers,and many biographies.  There was an orange cloth-bound series of girls’ lives in different periods of American history which were favorites. In my twenties, I discovered the Diary and Letters of Virginia Woolf, then her novels, essays and book reviews after I had immersed myself in her personal history. I was and remain compelled by the lives of women. I published my first poem in the school newspaper in sixth grade. I still remember my excitement at seeing my words in print and, of course, my name. That feeling has never diminished.

I grew up in a Manhattan apartment, the oldest of three sisters. I was very independent and traveled alone around the city. I especially loved the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was a huge influence on subjects I later wrote about. I always loved painting and art making, and majored in Studio Art in college. I also studied Art History and took many English courses.

How do you decorate your writing space?

My writing space or spaces must have windows. I like to be able to get up and walk around my space.  There are towering piles of printouts, drafts, and unshelved books. I prefer to write in silence, usually in mid-morning or late at night. I don’t have a particular writing routine, and have been struggling with a difficult period of writing very little. I sometimes wonder if having an organized space might contribute to greater productivity.

What is the relationship between your ethics and your aesthetics? How does your form, content, and style as a writer reflect how you are and are trying to be as a person?

This is a very complex and fascinating question. My ethics are pretty simple. Be kind, tell the truth, do not gossip, support causes you believe in, avoid too-quick judgments, listen intently, and work for compromise. I often write about artists and art, in a form called ekphrasis, which became the basis for my graduate seminar, a requirement in my MFA program. I also write about complex family dynamics, mental health, nature, sorrow, the aging process, and death. I write what I would describe as narrative lyrics. I truly believe in the power of storytelling, especially personal history, as redemptive. My poetic aesthetics tend to focus on extreme experiences, i.e. matricide, violent accidents, which may either be totally invented or fact-based.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

The primary obsession that led me to write Model Home was the impact that my childhood of secrets had on me. Not every poem enacts that obsession, but I think that was a primary motivation. I also believe I have a unique way of seeing the world: I dwell in details. Time and time again, people have commented on my powers of observation, and it is something I don’t even think about, it just is part of my brain and my artistic training. By focusing on the very small, I then tend to build the poem outward to include a larger circumference. (See re: what is your chapbook about.)

What’s your chapbook about?

My chapbook also deals with the aspect of powerlessness inherent in childhood.  This may not be overt, but it is a definite undercurrent. As children, it is very difficult to question decisions, especially of our parents and teachers or other authority figures.

 What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

The oldest poems in the chapbook are heavily revised from my MFA thesis written in 2012. They include “Ashfield, Massachusetts, 1890,”  “When I was Pregnant and Sucked Lemons,” and “Before You Leave.” The first one is spoken by a dead child, the others are in the voice of a mother. They are all related to the female experience of pregnancy, childbirth, connection and disjunction.

How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?

The chapbook had various titles before it was accepted with the current one, Model Home. This title seemed to encompass most of the major themes, as well as having several possible interpretations: Model as in the best, something to aspire to, Model as in a small version of a larger object, Model as in something impossible or difficult to obtain, such as the latest car or designer clothing. My long time poetry mentor helped with the arrangement of poems.

Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?

I would say that “Ballastis” is unlike most of the other poems. I wouldn’t say it’s a misfit, but it is an outlier in terms of syntax and voice. I would call it an entangled Ars Poetica, as is “I Hang My Dress From A Hole in the Sky.”

What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?

The final poem I wrote was the title poem. It was not included in the original submission to the press, but they felt it was a good fit. The first version was more conventional in form, but I decided the fragments were a better fit for the emotional context.

Do you have a favorite revision strategy? What is it?  

I don’t have a favorite revision strategy. Often if I am stuck, I will look at art and photography books, or go back and reread the original text that inspired the poem, or look at previous revisions and see if there is something in a prior draft that I can use to reenergize the poem, or draft it in another form.  I try removing all the articles and adjectives to tighten up the lines, or type the text in a block and re-lineate it without looking at the original. Or circle the strongest lines and copy and paste those in another document and revise. Or if I’m completely frustrated, I will put it aside and come back to it in a couple of weeks.

What has the editorial and production experience with your press been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

I had the most positive and collaborative experience with my press. I took the cover image for the book. That wasn’t planned, but I was very happy to be able to do it. I was less familiar with the demands of print and layout, so I was happy with the press taking charge of that aspect, but every decision was made as a team and via email which I think is amazing! It was a fantastic first experience, and I recommend going with a small press as long as you can get information about their prior books, either online or through a personal connection. Do not sign any legal document without getting either a lawyer or someone with publishing experience to review it. Make sure you understand the financials and copyright issues prior to signing.

What are you working on now?

Currently, I am trying to find a new project that may result in another chapbook, I have a full length collection that needs substantial revision, but I am concerned that the material may be too old. There may be some poems that can be incorporated into another project. Working to promote and design a book was much more demanding than I anticipated. It was difficult to write new work or think about what I would do after Model Home because I was completely invested in getting it out in the world as the best work I could do.

What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?

My advice to students interested in creative writing is to find a writing group. If you can’t find one, start one. Find a mentor, develop relationships with your faculty, attend readings when you can, read as much as possible.  Think about other ways you can use your writing skills. I found book reviewing was very rewarding. Study the writers of the past, poetry has a long history. Find a period or a poet that fascinates you and immerse yourself. Don’t forget about context. Poetry, like all other art forms, reflects cultural concerns.

What question would you like to ask future writers featured at Speaking of Marvels?

I read chapbooks from friends and press mates. As I have been thinking about chapbooks, I realized that the form’s readership is severely undermined by lack of accessibility. Chapbooks are rarely available in bookstores, even independent ones. A small run book that doesn’t provide much profit isn’t going to be stocked in large retailers. I think this is a real problem as the possibilities offered to both the reader and writer of chapbooks are so various. As you continue your study of chapbooks and the writing of poetry, maybe you could think about establishing an online Chapbook Clearing House, where people could have the opportunity to see what’s being written. I think this would be a great class project.

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Eve F.W. Linn received her B.A. cum laude from Smith College in Fine Art and her M.F.A. in Poetry from the Low Residency Program at Lesley University. She has attended the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, the Frost Place Conference on Poetry, and the Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference.  She is a published poet and book reviewer.  Her first chapbook is Model Home, published by River Glass Books, July 2019. Her favorite color is blue. She collects antique baby shoes, vintage textiles, and art pottery. She lives west of Boston with her family and one demanding feline.

https://riverglassbooks.com/product/model-home/

 

Anita Felicelli

“Perhaps the biggest challenge to continuing to write is realizing you are the only person who deeply cares if you keep writing.”

Love Songs

Love Songs for a Lost Continent (Stillhouse Press, 2018)

Of the stories in this book, do you have a favorite? 

I’m not someone who claims not to have favorites – of course I have them. I have three favorites: the title story, “Once Upon a Great Red Island,” and “Rampion.” The first because it allowed me to write about language and identity, which are an endless source of interest to me. I love “Once Upon a Great Red Island” because I’m interested in the rifts between people, people from the same and people from different cultural backgrounds, and all we’re unable to adequately communicate with each other (and more idiosyncratically, this story distills certain plot points of an earlier failed novel, and it allowed me to salvage what I found beautiful from that failure). “Rampion” I love because it’s absolutely, purely my own aesthetic that I didn’t need to change at all in order to publish – surrealism and my favorite childhood fairytale and deep tragedy all rolled together.  

In your interview with Sarah Luria for Medium, you explain that some of your stories “grew out of an autobiographical seed.” Could you say more about this? 

I pay close attention — often painfully close attention — to what’s around me. I’m often inspired by something I’ve witnessed, even if that’s only a sensory impression. Nothing I’ve put into the world as fiction so far could be fairly construed as autobiography, but at least one aspect of every short story grew out of something I’ve experienced, but imaginatively transformed. For example, I did visit Madagascar like my protagonist does in “Once Upon a Great Red Island,” and I’ve worked with finance guys. However, my travels weren’t linked to a vanilla farm, nor have I dated a hedge fund manager like Leon, as my character Tarini does in that story. 

Your characters are fascinating and dynamic, and their pursuits of what they desire can twist your stories in interesting ways. Do you have a favorite character in Love Songs for a Lost Continent? Which characters are most like you personally? Are there any characters you particularly dislike or struggled to write?

I most love Hema in “Hema and Kathy.” She’s vibrant and spirited, and when she makes a decision that might be a mistake, that everyone around her recognizes as a terrible mistake, she still goes full-force into that decision. She follows her heart even when her heart makes her an idiot. There’s something tragic and vulnerable in that, and yet also honorable. How many people truly follow their hearts? The older I get, the more I understand how rare that is, how often we contort what we truly want in order to better fit with what we think we want, or even more often, what society thinks we should want. I love Hema’s chutzpah, her unwillingness to let herself be defined by her upbringing, or the worldview her parents want her to have. 

I share certain, strangely opposite personality traits with both Komakal in the title story and Leda in “Swans and Other Lies.” Komakal’s an artist; she’s passionate to such an extreme degree, it’s hard for her to be among other people who care less. Leda in “Swans and Other Lies” is a shapeshifter without a sturdy identity. She’s able to mold herself to what a situation requires, and inclined to keep her feelings to herself. 

I had a little bit of discomfort with the character Devi in the story “Snow” and the character Maisie in “The Art of Losing,” but I’ve spent so much time with them, dislike doesn’t enter the equation. It did feel unfamiliar and challenging to put myself inside worldviews so different from my own, and to depict them in a way that I think is honest, rather than either sensationalistic or falsely conciliatory.

I imagine that a book like yours required grit and vulnerability, that you poured yourself into these stories. At what point did you know that you wanted to be a writer? Were you challenged in your pursuit of that dream and desire? 

Thank you for saying so. I did pour myself into these stories. I knew I wanted to be a writer at age five. I wasn’t as challenged as some writers in pursuing that dream because I developed a writing habit so young it wouldn’t occur to me not to write. I assume it’s more challenging to come to writing in middle age and develop a habit. I’ve never stopped writing, even when I had a day job that drained me emotionally and made my writing stiff and ugly, and I’m fairly certain that’s because I see writing as part of my identity, a bigger part of who I am than my cultural background or my gender. Perhaps the biggest challenge to continuing to write is realizing you are the only person who deeply cares if you keep writing. 

Are there any short story authors that have impacted your writing, or any you enjoy and would recommend? 

Early on in my writing life, I read Isaac Bashevis Singer, Flannery O’Connor, Franz Kafka, and Nikolai Gogol, and these authors almost certainly impacted how I write. Short story writers I love and recommend: Joy Williams, Robert Coover, Ben Marcus, Charles Yu, James Baldwin, Kelly Link, Denis Johnson, Laura van den Berg, Kelly Luce, Rajesh Parameswaran, Nina McConigley, Jamel Brinkley, Kali Fajardo-Anstine, and Rita Bullwinkel. 

How long did it take you to write Love Songs for a Lost Continent? Could you describe your writing process with this book? 

I wrote one of the stories in the collection, “Wild Things,” back in 1998 in a writing workshop. The others were written in the interim. In 2014, I noticed there were certain recurring themes in my stories — memory, identity, and reinvention. I started looking at how the stories with these themes might fit together, even if some had a surrealist bent, while others were odd in their observations, but could still fit within the realm of realism.

In your interview with Drunk on Ink’s Soniah Kamal, you mentioned the pain of rejection in the writing and publishing process. How did you push through to get your stories published? What advice would you give to fellow writers who are stuck on their third or fourth rejection letter?

Rejection is a constant of writing (and other arts) in a way that it is not in other vocations. Paraphrasing and interpreting Toni Morrison, you have to treat rejection with dispassion, as information about a particular reader’s affinity for your material, and tolerate the ambiguity of that. Unlike a law firm or corporate job, rejection in the arts might mean you’re doing something relatively new, or something editors don’t know how to read yet. Our lives are set up to favor those things that are clear, easily classified, and that conform to the existing structures and thinkers of the society in which we live. But brilliant writing may not conform the way other endeavors do. The only good reason to write is because it gives you something other endeavors don’t, and so you learn to keep going simply through the act of keeping on keeping on. 

In your experience, what is the role of emotion in writing? How do you see emotions at work in your own fiction?

The role of emotion in fiction varies depending on the story being told. Some stories mandate a hotter emotional temperature than others. As a reader, I privately note when a story makes me feel I’m being manipulated with a false or unearned sense of tragedy, and I hold that author’s work at arm’s length ever after, even if I like the style and subject. Being hit over the head with emotionality in writing tells me an author doesn’t trust me, and therefore might not be entirely trustworthy either. With every piece of fiction I write, I’m conscious of tailoring the degree of emotion revealed based on the personality of the main character. I read to be inside someone else, not necessarily or always to feel all the feels, so I want to transport the reader into a particular protagonist’s headspace, particularly when I’m writing in first person or close third. Sometimes restraint and allowing a reader to come to the emotions or even work towards emotions, rather than dragging him or her there, is a more inviting approach.

I used a cooler approach in “Love Songs” because of its first person narrator’s personality. The story centers a man caught between different worlds — the two different worlds of his parents’ different caste identities and the different worlds of South India and America. He has a hard time feeling anything, and part of that is his personality — cerebral, intellectual, analytical — but the other part is that he has to code-switch and recalibrate all the time due to traveling in between worlds, and that consumes so much mental space, he doesn’t have time to pay close attention to his emotions. The unnamed narrator in “Rampion” is much more attentive to her emotions, and her grief and anger drive her to do a terrible thing. In my novel, Chimerica, the narrator, Maya, is a trial attorney who mostly suppresses her emotions in all her interactions. Trials are battles, are violence, and attorneys absorb the violence for their clients, and so Maya, like other attorneys, usually doesn’t make herself vulnerable by showing her real feelings to the other characters — everything needs to be about performance, rather than authenticity. 

In the beginning of “Elephants in the Pink City,” Kai and his father bicker over anything and everything. However, by the end of the story, their relationship changes. Could you talk a bit about your interest in changing relationships? 

I’m fascinated by the moments that transform people. But, unlike some other writers, perhaps, I don’t see any individual as operating in a vacuum. We are made out of our relationships to other people, of how other people see us and treat us, our collective memories, our personal and cultural histories. Kai has a fraught relationship with his parents, especially his father. They don’t understand and support his decisions, not only because he’s gay and they’re socially conservative immigrants, but also because he’s American. His father is simply unable to make the imaginative leap necessary to understand him. Sometimes what feels uncanniest in the Freudian sense is someone or something that looks similar to something you can identify, and yet is somehow slightly different. It’s unnerving when a similarity or resemblance is clear, and yet there’s a difference. Kai is making decisions his parents can’t identify with even though he looks like a Tamil person, like them. So, it’s Kai who needs to undergo an experience and through that experience, understand this gap between himself and his father. He needs to reconcile himself to a basic irreconcilability in the relationship, to the possibility love might transcend the distance in experiences, the blindness we have to each other’s experiences. 

I’m fascinated by how the most transformative moments of our lives are often the ones that involve how we see another person or how they see us. Playing with the opening and narrowing of the many gaps and fissures between people is so interesting. How do we stand in right relationship to one another when change is constant? I’ll likely be wondering and writing about this for the rest of my life. 

Anita Felicelli is the author of Chimerica (WTAW Press) and Love Songs for a Lost Continent (Stillhouse Press). Her essays and criticism have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Review of Books, Slate, Salon, the New York Times (Modern Love) and elsewhere.

www.anitafelicelli.com

Susan Haldane

“We convince ourselves that all these other things are important–money, politics, our phones, the new TV series. But when birth and death come–when we face important milestones or crises–it’s not these things that we turn to for solace. It’s the natural world, the little things, the people around us.”

Susan pictures

Picking Stones (Gaspereau Press, 2018)

Emma Chase and Kendyl Wadley: I noticed in your blog piece for “My (small press) writing day” that you have “sheep, cattle and in summer a few pigs” on your farm. I did not, however, see any reference to cattle or pigs in Picking Stones, despite the frequent references to sheep. Is there a reason that you wrote as often as you did about sheep? Is there something about them that draws you to them more than the other animals?

I think there’s a practical answer to this question–we have raised sheep on our farm for longer than either cattle or pigs, so I’ve simply had more experience with sheep. But beyond that, the sheep require more hands-on management. We spend more time with the sheep than with the other animals, and we’re more likely to be with them at key moments. I wonder if what draws me is simply the sense of being needed.

Several of your poems (such as “Spring and Everything Turns,” “Instructions for Lambing,” and even “Farm Hands”) explore the idea of new life and new beginnings, while others (namely “Balm of Gilead,” “At the Stockyard,” and “Instructions for Lambing” again) consider the idea of death. How has your proximity to your animals’ seemingly brief cycles of life affected the way you view life and death? 

Many of us in North America today are quite isolated from the experience of birth and death. Livestock farming brings those realities into your daily life. You’re forced to find some balance between being overwhelmed and becoming hardened. I think you develop resilience, find ways to take births and deaths in stride, but they still affect you. We still celebrate every birth–albeit in a low-key way–and mourn each death. It would be impossible not to transpose that experience into my personal life. I admit I’m a little obsessed with death, but maybe all poets are. Or all humans?

Jonah’s encounters with the Ninevites, David’s life as a shepherd, and creation are probably the three most prominent biblical references in Picking Stones, and each one casts a fascinating light on their surrounding texts. What inspired you to include these references in your poems?

I grew up in a church-going family. I attended Sunday school and a couple of worship services every Sunday as a kid. I taught Sunday school myself. So these characters and stories are part of my DNA. For me as a writer, and I hope for a reader, these references provide a rich layering like an impasto of colour. I think there’s also maybe some questioning or challenging reflected in some of the mild sarcasm or irony in these poems–I think part of our job as poets is to challenge truths and traditions.

There seems to be a strong tension between the advancement of progress described in some of your poems and the almost stuck-in-time nature of rural life described in others. For example, the description of the rural landscape “[g]one / to concrete, gone to steel, gone / for streets, strip malls and houses, / houses, houses” in “Aerial Photographs” contrasts with the description of how a farmer’s life is unchanging––“We have been here forever; we will be here / forever waiting on the land / while the sun shines”––in “Making Hay” and other poems. How would you describe the way you feel this tension as a farmer and writer?

All the farmers I know are very much interested in new approaches, new technology, best practices. In contrast to that, though, we are working with (or against) elemental forces, and the work of raising food is so fundamental that it carries a huge weight of tradition. I think farming honours the generations of labourers who’ve come before, and I hope to do the same through my poems. But let’s face it, farming is under-appreciated in our urban society. People believe their food comes from Walmart, and land is valued much more as real estate than as garden and food source. When I have to go to the city, I find the urban sprawl thoroughly disheartening. We just can’t seem to stop ourselves. Does this sound like a rant?

One aspect of your poetry that I found highly moving was its descriptions of nature, especially those parts which so often go unnoticed. The chapbook’s evaluation of stones as pieces of pieces of “Creation” with unknowable histories (“Picking Stones”) and its vivid details in “Spring and Everything Turns” are two of my favorite examples of these descriptions. The poem “Starling Ballet” gives some insight into how to go about appreciating  nature with its declarations of “to hell / with science! And the damned inquiring mind” and “For once can we just / look.” Could you comment on your process for writing these descriptions and examining the world around you?

It’s another paradox of farm life that you’re surrounded by nature, but so often nature just looks like more work! Still, I feel incredibly fortunate and blessed to live in a place and in a way that’s so close to the pulse of the seasons, to the flora and fauna. I make a point of stopping to notice which wildflowers are in bloom, which birds have come back to the pasture, the way the snow drifts have scrolled around the fence posts. I think the reference to the “inquiring mind” in Starling Ballet is a note-to-self to remember to stop, observe, appreciate, breathe. It’s a reminder that I don’t always have to name, understand, and explain things.

Two of your poems, “Instructions for Lambing” and “How to Shear Sheep,” are written in the second person and resemble how-to instructions in a way that causes the reader to insert him- or herself into the drama of the poem. What was the motivation behind choosing this mode of writing?

Especially with “Instructions,” the how-to approach was a way for me to gain some distance from an emotional event. A writer named Nicole Breit talks about finding a “side door” into difficult material. The how-to was my side door.

In “Current,” you write about a group of boys who link hands and touch an electric fence. What inspired this poem? Is there some kind of story behind the boy named Charlie (perhaps a regretted personal experience or something you witnessed)?

Everyone on a livestock farm has accidentally touched an electric fence–not a pleasant experience. Charlie is a real kid, a friend of my son, and the poem came from a real event, when a bunch of the boys did exactly this. The kid touching the fence then doesn’t receive the shock, but the last one in the line gets a reduced jolt. I don’t know why they decided to do this–must be a boy thing…

I noticed that three different poems, “Balm of Gilead,” “Starling Ballet,” and “Villanella Borealis,” contain references to stars.  Are you partial to the night sky or astronomy? What do you think it is that draws your attention to it?

We can see the stars here. We’re so lucky! It’s hard for me to conceive that there are people who rarely get to see the constellations. I am in love with the night sky for all the clichéd reasons – so vast, so distant, so eternal… Again, my natural inclination is to name and understand and explain. My grasp of astrophysics is pretty rudimentary, but I do find it fascinating. I think it’s an area where science and religion don’t need to be mutually exclusive. The more we learn about cosmology, the more it suggests, to me, a brilliant creative force behind it all.

In “Spring and Everything Turns,” you vividly describe the change of the seasons from winter to spring. Which season would you say is your favorite to behold? Which season is your favorite to write about?

Spring is hard to resist–there’s nothing sweeter than baby animals and few things more rewarding than helping a newborn lamb or calf find its first sip of milk. But fall is likely my favourite season. I really appreciate the slowing pace of things after the hustle and heat of summer. I find myself writing often about November, which is probably the least obvious month if you were looking for poetic inspiration!

“Picking Stones” for a farmer refers to his/her responsibility of removing stones in order for new crops to come to life. It is the tedious and necessary task that no one is ever eager to do, but if it’s avoided, growth is stunted. In what ways does your title and this reference relate to what is required of life?

It’s true; there are many tasks in farming that are tedious and necessary! It’s a pretty boring philosophy of life, but I do believe in the value of showing up every day, doing the hard stuff. I don’t necessarily expect that hard work will be rewarded in any tangible way, but there are intrinsic rewards. “We choose to do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard.”

Throughout your chapbook, there is an emphasis on creation and the importance of acknowledging the world around us. For example, you open the chapbook with “we stub our toes on creation.” In “El Camino Trail,” you say, “It’s important to notice the little things.” Why is it important for you and your readers to be grounded in creation? How has raising sheep allowed you to do this, and in what ways does creation validate your faith? 

And really, what else is there, but creation and the world around us? We convince ourselves that all these other things are important–money, politics, our phones, the new TV series. But when birth and death come–when we face important milestones or crises–it’s not these things that we turn to for solace. It’s the natural world, the little things, the people around us. My faith is pretty simple, too–it’s very much based on caring for creation and caring for one another. On our farm we do our best to mimic the patterns and preferences that our animals have naturally. So raising sheep has allowed me to fulfill a call to stewardship.

I love the language in all of these poems, especially in “At the Stockyards”: “To the air: Always this gift—from sawdust hushing under the lambs’ hooves on the ramps and away down the alleys, the scent of beginnings until just now forgotten.” I found it the most challenging piece to read. The chapbook seems to focus on creation, life, and hardship. How does “At the Stockyards” fit in with these overall themes? 

You asked earlier about a favourite poem or one that was difficult to write. It’s interesting that you found this one challenging to read, because it was likely the most challenging to write. I’m committed to livestock agriculture, our role in caring for creation, and the part livestock farming plays in mitigating climate change. But when the time comes to say goodbye to our animals, I’m always torn. I’d been wanting to write about this for a long time but couldn’t find a way in. Finally I realized I needed to just capture some of the physical surroundings and write the experience in a minimalist way.

The last poem, “Current,” says, “The pacemaker in the barn ticks and the charge circulates, travelling its marathon patrol over the esker, through the creek’s floodplain, along the forest hem and finally home.” I appreciated that there was a resolution to the journey that this chapbook follows. What does returning home and this finality signify?

I’m not sure it’s resolution so much as resumption. Farming, of course, is a cycle as is the electricity that flows through the fence. For me the idea of home is at the centre of those cycles.

You’ve written, “Most of my writing happens in my head… I repeat and repeat a line or phrase in my head until I have a chance to write it down… I trust that it will still make sense when I come back to it later.”  Other than this, how do you approach the writing process?

I try to take time to write every day, but I miss a lot of days! When I do have time, it may be 15 or 30 minutes. I usually read a bit of poetry to focus and quiet my brain, then write. I do a lot of revision. My first couple of drafts are handwritten–that feels more creative for me than drafting on screen. I’ll write and rewrite, then eventually type it up and leave the poem to ripen for a few days or weeks (or months) before I come back to it to try to read it with fresh eyes.

Do you have any advice for emerging writers who are also trying to write or publish a chapbook? What advantages or disadvantages do you find in putting together a chapbook versus other types of publication? 

A chapbook is a lovely compromise–long enough to allow you to develop a focused theme but short enough to be within reach. I don’t feel qualified to offer advice, but things I’ve learned as I go would be to prune aggressively, revise repeatedly, proofread diligently, and detach from the brilliance of your first inspiration. And then at some point, you just have to decide it’s done and send it out there and try to get on with the rest of your life.

*

Susan Haldane is a poet and works for a social services charity. She farms with her husband on the edge of Northern Ontario, Canada. Her work has been published in a number of literary journals in Canada, and in the anthology “Desperately Seeking Susans” from Oolichan books. In 2019 she won the Magpie Poetry Prize from Pulp Literature. Her chapbook “Picking Stones” is published by Gaspereau Press in Nova Scotia, Canada.  

 

 

Jen Stewart Fueston

“I think book or poem titles provide an opportunity to contemplate a word in all its possible dimensions, its richness, and how the same word can hold conflicting emotions in tension. Something that is ‘latched on’ is secure, but it is also something that can’t be escaped.”

jen and latch

Latch (River Glass Books, 2019)

Valeria Ramirez and Matthew Taylor: Your website mentions that you hold degrees in rhetoric, composition, and literature. How do rhetoric and poetry interplay in your work? 

Probably the most significant thing that my rhetoric training has brought to my poetry has been an awareness of writing to and for an audience. I don’t mean in a sense that poetry must always be performing to expectations, but understanding that what is happening on the page can be purposeful and aimed at connecting with a reader. Contemporary poetry can have a reputation for being opaque or impenetrable to readers outside of small academic circles. Rhetoric provides many tools for writers to make an impact on listeners/audiences, and I’ve found I’m much more conscious of using those tools for emotional connection in poetry than I once was.

VR and MT: You note that one of the poems in Latch, “To the Women Marching, from a Mother at Home,” was very timely, that you didn’t know if you had “ever felt the urgency of a poem at that level before.” How did you channel that sense of urgency into your work, and where else does it appear in Latch?

“To the Women…” is an occasional poem — one written intentionally to mark an occasion or date in time. It was an unusual activity for me to write that kind of poem, and even more unusual to share it as widely on social media as I immediately did (that kind of “unpublished” sharing of work being perceived as being slightly unprofessional). I have found myself writing more of these kinds of politically and socially charged poems in recent years, however, mainly because it feels like it would be shameful and oblivious to be living at this moment in time and not meaningfully engaging with it. My recently published poem, “Revised Common Liturgy,” was a direct response to the National Day of Prayer in 2018, and other poems in Latch, like “Common Loon” (a response to a news story about declining bird populations) and “Pablo C. Tiersten, 38, Kansas City” (an elegy for a man who took his life during an altercation with police), are tied directly to actual events.

I think poets have a unique and much-needed ability to speak about current events in language that goes beyond the factual, but which engages imaginatively and empathetically with those around us. Writing “Pablo C. Tiersten,” enabled me to enter, briefly, into imagining another person’s final moments and what grief and terror must have driven him to, an experience I found incredibly moving. Writing that poem became a sacred act of honoring someone I might never otherwise cross paths with. It can be overwhelming to try to process all the distressing news of each day, and the temptation to simply let it wash over me without feeling or grieving it is great. Writing these kinds of poems is a way in which I let my heart participate in the world’s sorrows, and that keeps me awake to life rather than numb to it.

VR and MT: “Desert Parable,” another poem in Latch, seems to lack an obvious connection to the chapbook’s central theme of motherhood. Could you talk about why you decided to include this poem?

I included “Desert Parable” because the early childhood years are, for many if not most mothers, a time of scarcity — scarcity of physical and mental energy, personal time, personal space, adequate rest, etc. etc. etc. The first months and years with a baby, it can feel (it felt for me) like a very solitary and precarious time when I was making due with very little relational or physical input. It was a desert, but one in which I had to “do much with little” as the poem says. There’s a child to feed and grow. There’s creative work asking to be given attention. There’s the tiniest glimmer of life in a given day which needs to be nurtured and attended to. The desert plants that grow slowly, in dry spaces, storing up whatever little water they get in order to survive until the next rain — they were a good parable for me at that time of my life with very young children.

VR and MT: The poems in Latch, from what I can tell, are selected from your output during the last few years. Do you write poems with a finished collection in mind, or do you piece together poems you’ve written in the past when assembling a collection?

Latch was different than my first chapbook, Visitations, because I did write the individual poems with a finished collection in mind. I intentionally wrote many of the Latch poems while I was still nursing my second son because I wanted to live deeply into that bodily experience and simultaneously connect it to creative work. There are poems in Latch that I wrote while lying on the floor of my son’s nursery in the middle of a night feed, and there are also some that were written before he was conceived while I was on medication for infertility. I suspect going forward in my writing, I will usually write with a collection or theme in mind, though there is always the individual poem that pops up and asks to be written. Knowing how to navigate between those two impulses is something I’m still learning how to do.

VR and MT: Your poem “Taking the Baby to See Rothko at the National Gallery” seems to be extremely specific. Did you actually take your baby to the national gallery? What sparked the idea for writing a poem about it?

“Taking the Baby to See Rothko” is a good example of a poem I wrote intentionally with the broader project of Latch in mind. During the time I was generating poems for the book, I took my 9-month-old on a short trip to Washington DC during the annual AWP conference, toting him around in Ubers with his car seat and strolling him through the giant book fair on the open-to-the-public Saturday. The rest of our time there, I took him to a few of the Smithsonian museums, but we liked the National Gallery best. The Rothko poem came out of that time with him there, as did the ekphrastic poem “Interior of Oude Kerk, Amsterdam,” which caught my attention because of the prominence of a nursing mother in the painting. Looking at art with a baby in tow caused me to filter my viewing through his reactions, and also to look at the images for women who reflected myself back to me — women who were doing the essential but unglamorous work of feeding, clothing and caring for children.

VR and MT: In many of the poems in Latch, you allude to Mother Mary in expected situations such as a church, but also in unexpected places, such as the mall. Why is Mary such a big theme in your chapbook and what do you hope readers take away when they run into her in the more unexpected places?

Though I am not Catholic, growing up in the Evangelical church the figure of Mary provided a model — often the only female model — of how to be a vessel available for God’s purposes. For many years and through many poems, I’ve held as a touchstone the moment that Mary responds to the angel saying, “Let it be to me as you have said. It’s an essential moment in the life of a disciple, a woman, and an artist. Mary’s yes is a moment of opening, of allowing her very body to become a co-creator with God and a conduit for the coming of grace into the world. Mary shows up in my poems and in unusual places because I think it’s worth considering how her example of receptivity to the Holy Spirit might play out in lives all around us, every day. My hope is that her presence in the book helps illustrate the complexities of the messages we receive about what it means to say yes to God, or to something larger than ourselves that demands our attention and energy, whether it’s bearing a child or participating in a political protest.

VR and MT: In the beginning of your chapbook, you include a page with all the different definitions of the word “latch.” How did you come up with the idea to do this, and which definition do you believe represents the chapbook as a whole the most?

The most obvious meaning of the word Latch for this book is the meaning used in breastfeeding when the infant has successfully latched on to the mother. That very intimate and vital connection was a fruitful image to contemplate as a central metaphor for the book. There are a lot of other resonances, however, when you think about a latch as something that opens or closes or fastens. Having a child closes certain doors, and opens new ones. I also really liked the specific linguistic use of the term “latching” as a communicative act in which one speaker begins an utterance and another speaker continues it. That struck me as a lovely parenting metaphor as well. I think book or poem titles provide an opportunity to contemplate a word in all its possible dimensions, its richness, and how the same word can hold conflicting emotions in tension. Something that is “latched on” is secure, but it is also something that can’t be escaped.

VR and MT: What other subject matters or themes do you wish to tackle in your future poems?

I’ve noticed that many of my poems over the past year have been wrestling with some of the short-sighted or misguided theologies I grew up with inside 20th century American Evangelicalism. I have been unpacking the repercussions of some of these teachings (e.g. so-called “purity culture,” Christian attitudes toward environmental issues, etc.) both for my own life and for broader society. I believe that theology manifests in behavior, so sometimes we can trace negative or harmful outcomes to flawed theologies. Likewise, beautiful and right beliefs flower into beautiful realities. This sounds a little esoteric, but hopefully my poems can pin down more concretely the ways our ideas about God, nature, and human relationships bear fruit for good or for ill.

Jen Stewart Fueston lives in Longmont, Colorado. Her poems have recently appeared in The Christian Century, Mom Egg Review, and Harpur Palate. Her first chapbook, Visitations, was published in 2015, and her second chapbook Latch was just released by River Glass Books. She has taught writing at the University of Colorado, Boulder, as well as internationally in Hungary, Turkey, and Lithuania.

Find more at jenstewartfueston.com

Amy Wright

“My mission began with the desire to change my own mind, and when that worked, I immediately wanted to change others’ minds too.”

amy wright

Think I’ll Go Eat a Worm (Iris Books, 2019)

Savannah Chorn and Georganna Jeter: Your essays explore entomophagy, or eating insects, through different lenses – from childhood memories, anecdotes, spiritual connections to nature, factual benefits of adding insects to the human diet, and so on. Is there a lens that you particularly enjoy?

I love writing about my family and growing up on a farm. I’m fortunate to have fond childhood memories of being surrounded by cow pastures, shoestring branches, and the Blue Ridge Mountains. I love to bring onto the page my experiences bottle-feeding calves and fishing for crawdads with my brother to forge connections with readers and the natural world.

Is there a particular approach you find most effective in erasing the stigma that Western culture has placed on eating insects?

Coming to entomophagy with a lot of reluctance and trepidation makes my perspective relatable, according to audiences I’ve spoken with. Like many westerners, I never intentionally ate insects until I learned that crickets, grasshoppers, honeypot ants, and other edible insects could be cultivated as an ecologically sustainable protein. Even then, fear nearly prevented me from taking my first bite. But I knew that fear was learned and cultural rather than beneficial. If I could unlearn my fear, I think anyone can.

The joy you receive from the adventures of eating insects is quite apparent and compelling. What is your favorite insect to eat, based solely on taste?

Although the name sounds unappetizing, wax moth larvae are quite delicious. They feast on raw honey with the sole goal of fattening up for the metamorphosis to come, so their popcorn-shrimp-sized bodies are sweet and creamy as a soft cheese. My partner and I like to sauté them with a dollop of maple syrup and add them to wild greens.

Your essays are simultaneously academically inclined, filled with data and interesting definitions throughout, and at the same time beautifully and poetically written. They ground the unknown of the experience of eating insects in the known and the recognizable. For example, I especially enjoyed your description of eating a cricket: “It conjures a flake of rainbow trout or butter bean that melts like an ice sliver away from its skin, disappearing faster than a crystal on a sorbet spoon.” In what ways has your experience in writing poetry influenced your essays?

Thank you so much. Your compliments make me think of something my Dad would say after I left home for college, which is that “You can take a girl out of the country, but you can’t the country out of the girl.” Beneath my Dad’s assurance, though, trembles an urgency of that country to be described by those who left it, like me, for jobs in cities. I’m always seeking to return to that landscape, in my mind, and words have become a route quicker than the six-hour drive to my parents’ farm. I’m grateful you find poetry in the descriptions, since they’re rooted in images of the fish, birds, trees, mountains, and waterways I long to preserve, from necessity as well as adoration.

How has your family encouraged you in starting your own mini-farm of mealys? Do you feel a connection with the generations of farmers in your family because of it?

Growing up on a farm, I witnessed the crucial relationship between the land, its stewards, animals, and their caretakers. That inheritance of respect and responsibility directly inspired me to start a mealy farm and to provide my own food sources as had generations of farmers in my family, but my family was pretty shocked by my choice of livestock! Of course, I couldn’t raise apples, beeves, or chickens in my one-bedroom apartment. My farming choices were limited by circumstance, but bugs were pests to be outwitted when my great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents came of age, not delicacies to be sautéed with garlic and onions. I can only imagine what my grandmother would say if she knew that I am rearing insects she would have thrown out if they got into a bag of her flour.

But, just in the time since my mother was a girl to now, the world population has more than tripled. Agriculture changed significantly, too, including the incorporation of more mechanized equipment and nitrogen fertilizers. I see insect cultivation as one more means of making food production more efficient and increasingly environmentally sustainable. In theory, my family supports this initiative, but they are much slower to welcome insects as a food source, except for fish and chickens. But, that’s how every generation builds on the one before.

You seem to have become part of a community that celebrates and practices entomophagy. Dr. Marcel Dicke influenced your essays and insect endeavors. And your mutual interest in entomophagy created a new bond between you and your partner Don that is enjoyable to watch deepen throughout your chapbook. Does it help to have such a vibrant community to work and collaborate with? Do you have any comments on this community in general and its impact on your writing?

I’m glad you recognize the need for community. I try to illustrate for my students the importance of conversing in real-time as well as on the page with like and unlike minds. Particularly with a counter-culture movement, like eating insects in the West, it helps to have a support network, but all writers need allies, guides, and cohorts. That a romance was born with my partner Don, who is an entomologist, by my joining the edible-insect food revolution has made it all the more rewarding. Romance may even be inherent in the belief that any risk or attempt to triumph over fear will pay off.

In an interview with Daniel Cross Turner, you say: “To write with intimacy requires knowing and—importantly, discovering qualities about contexts and cultures that you may not want to know.” Would you say that this applies to Think I’ll Go Eat a Worm as well? In your essays you encounter many other cultures, such as your first encounter with silkworm pupae from Southeast Asia in “Beondegi, canned” you access Dutch culture through Dr. Marcel Dicke. Would you say that knowing these cultures where consuming insects is already a norm, or is becoming one, helps you write about entomophagy with intimacy?

Definitely. Intimacy requires curiosity or appreciation for another’s context and culture, but with Think I’ll Go Eat a Worm it was knowledge that I sought with a great deal of eagerness. I was encouraged to try insects after learning that many other cultures had been eating insects for thousands of years and in fact that eating insects was likely foundational for our early human ancestors. (It’s even been said that our appetites for crunchy foods were inspired by insects!)

I might also note that although intimate cultural experiences often come with travel, increasingly in a world where flights yield high carbon emissions, it’s important to recognize that we can commune with other cultures locally by sharing food and other rituals. For instance, in one of the essays in this collection, I imagine a dinner table as a kind of secular temple, where we gather to share peace and gratitude, and to gain a new perspective on our differences.

Your reference to Thoreau’s Walden near the end of “Mǣl” particularly caught my attention, as I’m a literature major. Just out of curiosity, who are some of the authors that have most influenced Think I’ll Go Eat a Worm or your writing as a whole? 

Broadly, contemporary writers like Dorothy Allison, Eric LeMay, Joni Tevis, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Dinty W. Moore influence my writing. But Thoreau was one revolutionary that I resonated with while writing this book. I also find his example problematic, since social change is necessarily collective rather than isolationist, but to stand alone can be a useful metaphor for beginning to upset any cultural paradigm.

Do you have a dream publication you’d like to have your poetry or essays appear in? What publications do you most closely follow?

I got to fulfill several dreams by getting an essay published in Georgia Review this summer and having another forthcoming in Fourth Genre this fall. These followed the dream of appearing in Kenyon Review with “Mēl,” the first essay in Think I’ll Go Eat a Worm. I read all of these publications regularly and listen to the Kenyon Review podcast. I’m glad you understand the need to regularly read the journals you hope to contribute to because it means everything to value and understand the community conversation you are entering.

Your website says that you are the author of “two poetry books, one collaboration, and six chapbooks.” What made you choose to address the subject matter of Think I’ll Go Eat a Worm in prose rather than verse? Which form do you usually gravitate to when beginning a new piece?

When I was in college and graduate school, poetry seemed the most flexible genre for exploring new territory, but lately, essays have become the more expansive form for my work. I continue to read and write in both genres, but the books that have excited me the most in the last several years have been by essayists. I’m thinking of the wild possibilities evidenced by Amy Fusselman’s Idiophone, T Clutch Fleischmann’s Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through, and Wendy S. Walters’ Multiply/Divide.

Think I’ll Go Eat a Worm is a truly effective force in convincing Americans of the benefits (and even beauty) of consuming insects; I started looking up where to buy cricket protein bars after reading just the first essay. How long after you started incorporating insects into your diet did you begin to see the potential for your writing? Was it initially more of an artistic impulse or did you begin with a mission to affect change?

Thank you. I hope so. I know I attended some early meetings with other proponents of the edible-insect movement to discuss USDA food regulations for insects, consumer biases, marketing strategies, etc., so I got to see that growth and initiative first-hand. But I’m not sure I can separate my social motives from my artistic ones, since they rose together in concert, organically. I know there was really no time lag between eating bugs and writing about it, since the first dish I made was cricket mushroom risotto on what Don and I would later think of as our first date—after I reached out to interview him. My mission began with the desire to change my own mind, and when that worked, I immediately wanted to change others’ minds too.

You quote David Hinton in your essay “THIHACOIAAGT” as saying “until [people] come to understand [the connection between one’s mind, body, and nature] as a continuum—they’re not going to care” (26). What does this continuum mean to you? Outside of what you’ve written in this chapbook, how would you explain this continuum to someone who doesn’t care yet?

That continuum always meets us in the present moment, in our bodies, where we live. For those who do not recognize the connection between our minds, bodies, and nature, I hope that those who do can call attention to it. In the classroom, I often see a student’s eyes brighten during discussion when another student gives an example of being in nature. It is as if we wake each other with reminders of something we all know but forget. If nothing else is democratic, the body is, for inherent in our bodies is a system of checks and balances that binds us to the natural world.

As for those who do not care, I would call on Dr. Marcel Dicke, who believes that “it is just a matter of time” before we care, as food scarcity and the repercussions of traditional agriculture become untenable.

Finally, do you have any new favorite insect-centric recipes you’ve discovered since publishing Think I’ll Go Eat a Worm? Where can curious readers access safe mealys/crickets to begin their culinary adventures?

I began by modifying favorite family recipes to include insects, and these dishes remain some of mine and Don’s favorites. The key to trying most new things is to pair something familiar with the unfamiliar—whether it be sushi or chocolate-covered ants. I’m glad many restaurants and grocery stores in the U.S. have begun to make more edible-insect products available. I’ve been thrilled by the speed of the industry rising to meet consumer demands. There are now dozens of convenient, easy products for curious folks to try, such as Exo Bars, Chirps Chips, Chapul protein powder, Cricket Pasta from Bugsolutely. I would recommend that anyone interested in sampling insects start by ordering some of these products online if they are not available at a store near you.

But it’s important to know that not all insects are edible, and even those that are can prove problematic for folks who are allergic to shellfish–since insects are closely related species. But insects also provide a welcome alternative to common allergens like milk, soy, nuts, and gluten, so folks with those allergies can find their options expanding. We’re at the beginning of the cultivation of insects as a food source, and with almost one thousand edible species to choose from, there are some very exciting culinary prospects.

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Amy Wright is the author of two poetry books, one poetry collaboration, and six chapbooks, including the nonfiction collection, Think I’ll Go Eat a Worm. Most recently, her essays won first place in two contests, sponsored by London Magazine and Quarterly West. Her essays and poetry appear in Brevity, Fourth Genre, Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. She is also is the Nonfiction Editor of Zone 3 journal and Zone 3 Press.

http://www.awrightawright.com