Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Poetry Chain Gang (Volume 2) | Sally Ashton

The Black Telephone has five fast questions for poet Sally Ashton.

BT: When I asked poet Kelsea Habecker what book of poetry she was currently reading, she mentioned your book Some Odd Afternoon. How does it feel to know someone is reading your work, your words?

SALLY: It makes me smile. Then it makes me anxious. Then hopeful. In other words, like watching someone open a present you’ve just given them. Will they like it? What if they don’t? And hoping they don’t feel they have to act like they like it. But really wanting them to LOVE it.

BT: There are some poems I wish I had written or I feel I could've written. For instance, I wish I had written the poem "Mood Indigo" by William Matthews. Is there are poem you wish you had written or feel you could've written?

As I consider this rather profound question, four bookshelves of poetry are leaning in to listen. I guess I’d say that the poems found there are what keep me writing. And thanks for mentioning “Mood Indigo.” Wonderful language.

BT: How do you feel about found poems? Do you consider found poems cheating?

SALLY: I love any poem that comes together in an effective manner, and really, what poem isn’t found? The only way we have language is by borrowing sounds from the people around us, right, and what hasn’t been said before? Of course, the goal is to write something that has never been said in just that way. If you mean by “found” that the poem is chiefly comprised of found material, but the writer doesn’t acknowledge it or suggests otherwise, I would call that cheating, but then it’s the poet not the poem cheating.

BT: Did you read a poem today?

SALLY: Actually I did. I was going to an anniversary party and thought I’d bring a couple of poems along just in case. Just in case because quite often at “event” parties, someone will unexpectedly ask me if I have a poem I can read. Since I’m a bit of a failure at memorization, and the only thing worse than a poet who is always trying to foist a poem on someone is a poet without poetry, I try to be prepared. All that to say, I re-read and printed out Matthew Lipman’s raw but relevant “Marriage Pants.” I was going to soften it with a bit of Hafez, but it turned out the party was more about tequila than poetry.

BT: I’m trying to start a chain, a chain of poets, sort of like a chain gang of poets. Can you please suggest one poet I should ask five fast questions to next?

SALLY: Question #2 brought Indigo to mind. Indigo Moor.*

Sally Ashton is Editor in Chief of the DMQ Review. She is the author of These Metallic Days, and two recent collections: Her Name Is Juanita, Kore Press, and Some Odd Afternoon, BlazeVOX. Poems also appear in An Introduction to the Prose Poem and Breathe: 101 Contemporary Odes. She teaches creative writing at San José State University and blogs at What? (

*Since Indigo Moor never got back to me, this concludes volume 2 of the Poetry Chain Gang. Stay tuned for volume 3. Thanks!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Poetry Chain Gang (Volume 2) | Kelsea Habecker

The Black Telephone has five fast questions for poet Kelsea Habecker.

BT: The poem or the title— which came first?

KELSEA: I love titles. I keep running lists of titles that I might want to use someday, for something— a poem or a story or a piece of art. I title emails that I send to friends, I title my to-do lists, I title everything. So, betting that the title generally came before the poem is a safe bet, but not a sure bet. I'm a firm believer in writing poems with a focus on process rather than a focus on product. I don't usually sit down knowing what I want to write about. I don't like to predetermine my poems in that way. So, quite often the title arrives long after I've been working on a poem. It's not an either/or scenario for me but a both/and.

BT: I love writing, but I love baking just as much. To me, there is something poetic about the preparation of food and the heat involved. I say this because I see, on your blog, that you enjoy welding. Is there something you would consider poetic about welding?

KELSEA: I find welding meditative. When I’m welding, wearing the heavy, dark faceplate and mask, the only thing I can see is the tiny puddle of orange, molten metal pooling at the tip of my welding torch. The only thing I can attend to is the exact
now. I can’t see behind to what I’ve done or look ahead to what’s coming, except in the narrowest margins. In welding, as in my writing and in life, I put on my protective mask, stand in utter darkness, pull the trigger, and then find the flame. Also, welding is classified as a hot-work process, a name given to any process that can cause ignition. What is the dream of any poem if not to cause ignition?

I love writing. It's perhaps my strongest instinct— but it's so cerebral. I long for something more visceral. I'm envious of my friends who are painters and sculptors because they get to physically wrestle with their materials— taste them, feel them, smell them. With my materials – words – I just get to think about them. As relief from that, I'm drawn to physical processes – like welding or baking – that allow me to use my whole body. Those, then, become objective correlatives for my writing work.

BT: I consider myself a logophile (which is a lover of words). Do you have a favorite word at the moment?

KELSEA: I'm writing a memoir and a series of prose poems right now about living in an Inupiaq village in the Arctic region of Alaska, so I've got a lot of Inupiaq words in my ether right now. With these words, the draw isn't their meaning. I'm drawn to the sounds of them— very different, sonically, than English words. I feel like a different person when I say them, like I'm putting on a costume. Nibiuktuk, ugruk, and uvlaakunluu are three I like right now. (They mean hope, bearded seal, and good-bye.)

BT: What poetry book are you currently reading?

KELSEA: I'm reading The Poet's Guide to the Birds, edited by Judith Kitchen and Ted Kooser, and Some Odd Afternoon by Sally Ashton.

BT: I'm trying to start a chain, a chain of poets, sort of like a chain gang of poets. Can you please suggest one poet I should ask five fast questions to next?

KELSEA: Sally Ashton*, Betsy Johnson Miller, or Norbert Krapf.

Kelsea Habecker's book of poetry, Hollow Out, was published by New Rivers Press. She received her MFA in poetry from Bennington Writing Seminars and her BA from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. When she's not living elsewhere, she lives in Indianapolis, where she teaches graduate creative writing seminars, undergraduate art courses, and community art workshops.

*Since Kelsea Habecker suggested three poets, I picked one out of the three to interview next.

The Poetry Chain Gang (Volume 2) | Marjorie Manwaring

The Black Telephone has five fast questions for poet Marjorie Manwaring.

BT: On this blog, Contrariwise: Literary Tattoos, tattoos from literature are showcased. Is there a poem or line from a poem that you'd consider getting tattooed on you?

MAJORIE: I can think of a couple that might be fun conversation starters (or enders?):

If you are squeamish
Don't prod the
beach rubble

Little sales ladies little sales ladies little saddles of mutton.
(from Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons)

BT: Do you know a poem (not one of yours) by heart?

MARJORIE: Yes"Pied Beauty" by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Such a celebration of abundance and of "dappled" thingsboth literal and metaphorical. I love saying this poem, reveling in its sounds and delightful invented language. How can one not be drawn into the music of a line like "for skies of couple-color as a brinded cow"? What poet, at some point, hasn't felt "counter, original, spare, strange"?

BT: I love your poem "Letter From Zelda" especially since I love Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald's relationship. What made you want to write this poem?

MARJORIE: I have long been intrigued by the 1920s the age of the "flapper" and the American artists who were expatriates in Paris. I've read biographies of both Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. Their story encompasses so many poignant aspects of the human condition: passion, fame, failure, insecurity, jealousy, alcoholism, mental illness.... In "Letter from Zelda" I picked one aspect of their relationship two artists trying to make their mark, one overshadowed by the other and tried to write about it from Zelda's point of view.

BT: Is there a poet you would consider a poet's poet?

MARJORIE: I'm taking "poet's poet" to mean someone I admire not only for his or her work, but for setting an example of steady persistence, generosity of spiritsomeone who is in love with words and with life. For me, that would be Stanley Kunitz, who died in 2006 at age 100. I feel privileged I got to see him read several times, the last time being in 2002 at the University of Washington in Seattle. As he walked to the stage, I remember the hush of the audience, his physical frailty, our rapt attention. In the introduction to his Collected Poems, he wrote, "Poems would be easy if our heads weren't so full of the day's clatter. The task is to get through to the other side, where we can hear the deep rhythms that connect us with the stars and the tides." At a Stanley Kunitz reading, you were pretty much guaranteed a visit to that other side.

BT: I’m trying to start a chain, a chain of poets, sort of like a chain gang of poets. Can you please suggest one poet I should ask five fast questions to next?

MAJORIE: Kelsea Habecker

Marjorie Manwaring lives in Seattle, where she is a freelance writer/editor and an editor for the online poetry and art journal the DMQ Review. She reads her work frequently in the Seattle area, and her work has been published in 5 AM, Crab Orchard Review, Sentence, and other journals. Her chapbook Magic Word was published in 2007. She is a 2010 Jack Straw Writer and has been awarded writing residencies through the Whiteley Center at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island and Artsmith on Orcas Island (Washington state). You can visit her website at

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Poetry Chain Gang (Volume 2) | Lana Hechtman Ayers

The Black Telephone has five fast questions for poet Lana Hechtman Ayers.

BT: I prefer my poetry in small doses— that's why I love chapbooks so much. How do you prefer your poetry: in small doses (chapbooks, broadsides) or in large doses (full-length poetry books, anthologies)?

LANA: Poetry anywhere, any time, any dosage is my preference. Beautiful broadsides of brilliant poems are on display in my home office. And chapbooks are near and dear to my heart. As a youngster at the local bookstore I discovered stapled paper booklets in the poetry section that appeared very kid friendly and approachable. I bought and devoured them. What I love best about chapbooks is that you can have a complete experience and a wonderful introduction to a new poet in a very short space of time. Chapbooks are like single serving pies. In fact, I love chapbooks so much that I decided to become a chapbook publisher. In 2001, I established Concrete Wolf Poetry Chapbook Press that publishes a title or two a year through a national contest. And later this fall, I am establishing MoonPath Press, a chapbook imprint for Pacific Northwest poets that will have open reading periods though out the year. As for books, I probably own more poetry books and anthologies than most bookstores carry. I just can’t get enough. Poetry saved my life as a child in harrowing circumstances. I found solace and hope in the voices of those poets who reached across distance and time to tell of the sorrows. And in the telling was testimony they had survived. And if those poets could survive and thrive, then so could I. Poetry continues to save and enliven my life each and every day.

BT: I read a poem recently called Birthplace by Michael Cerilli. In it, he has rappers sharing the same space as poets ("...a backpack full of lyrics/Notorious B.I.G., Rakim, Perdomo,/Run DMC, Brooks/wanting to be real cool..."); how do you feel about that— rappers as poets?

LANA: To borrow Whitman’s phrase, I believe poetry is large; it contains multitudes. Rap can be incredibly inventive and use language in provocative, fresh ways. Poetry is large enough to encompass many different forms of expression, from villanelles, sestinas, haiku and sonnets to free verse to rap and song lyrics of all kinds, every form in between, and even those not yet discovered. Invention and surprise are hallmarks of some of the most memorable poems. Cerilli’s narrator is moving out of his comfort zone in the poem, but wishing to embrace the language and expression of his students though he is inexperienced in their diction. Poetry in any form is at its best when it builds a bridge from one person’s experience to another’s, embracing and revealing universal experience, when the poem’s music transmits empathy, when true communication and connection happens.

BT: Did you work on a poem today?

LANA: Last night I had one of those rare experiences where I begin writing a poem in my dream. It’s only happened a handful of times, but I’ve discovered if I don’t get up immediately and start transcribing, the words are gone within minutes. And sometimes, even when I do get up to begin setting down the words, the poem turns out to be way less interesting that it seemed while I was asleep. Last night’s dream was about being lost in a series of corridors, the way I am lost in so many dreams. In this particular dream, I was in a hospital similar to the one my brother passed away in a few months ago, but with one important difference. This hospital was largely deserted. I was trying to get to the parking garage where I had left my car. But even when I found the garage, that too was empty, both of people and vehicles. After wandering three levels of the garage, instead of being frustrated and fearful, I began to make poetry of the situation (albeit Freudian) and speak it aloud to myself. So when I got up this morning, I wrote down what I could remember of the poem and have been working on it. The jury is still out as to whether this will turn out to be a worthwhile poem or not.

BT: Is there a poet you're really diggin' at the moment?

LANA: Many—too many to delineate here, so I’ll only name a few. Nearly thirty years ago I discovered the prolific poet Adrienne Rich and read her voraciously. Now, I am rereading the many volumes, finding the same joy there, but also the greater connection that comes with experience. I am also delving further into Lorine Niedecker who is a much under-appreciated American woman poet, as important and stylistically interesting as contemporaries William Carlos Williams and E. E. Cummings. Also, I discover new poets to fall in love with all the time being poetry editor at Crab Creek Review. Rachel Contreni Flynn was a recent poet whose work I fell in love with after she made a submission. I have been an ardent admirer ever since.

BT: I’m trying to start a chain, a chain of poets, sort of like a chain gang of poets. Can you please suggest a poet I should ask five fast questions to next?

LANA: Marjorie Manwaring*, Elizabeth Austen, and Carol Levin.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, originally from New York, lives in the Pacific Northwest where she works as a manuscript consultant and writing workshop facilitator. She is poetry editor of Crab Creek Review and runs Concrete Wolf Poetry Chapbook Press. Lana earned Bachelors degrees in Mathematics and Psychology and holds a Masters in Counseling Therapy as well as an MFA in Poetry. A Pushcart Prize and National Book Award nominee, she is the author of several collections of poems: A New Red (Pecan Grove Press, 2010), What Big Teeth (Kissena Park Press, 2010), Dance From Inside My Bones (Snake Nation Press, 2007), Chicken Farmer I Still Love You (D-N Publishing, 2007), and Love is a Weed (Finishing Line Press, 2006). Cats, tekka maki, Earl Grey ice cream, jazz and independent film are among Lana’s favorite things. Visit her online at

*Since Lana Hechtman Ayers suggested three poets, I picked one out of the three to interview next.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Poetry Chain Gang (Volume 2) | Jeannine Hall Gailey

The Black Telephone has five fast questions for poet Jeannine Hall Gailey.

BT: It’s 9 p.m., are you…
a.) just putting the finishing touches on a poem?
b.) just beginning a poem?
c.) reading a poem?
d.) not even thinking about poetry?

JEANNINE: It's 9 PM, and I'm...probably reading or doing something business-y, like editing or grading. I don't usually start writing until 10 PM.

BT: As an undergraduate, I didn’t care too much for the poet Sylvia Plath; now, I can’t get enough of her work. Is there a poet that you didn’t like too much before, but enjoy now?

JEANNINE: I feel like I'm continually discovering new writers that I love, and learning more about former writers, like Wallace Stevens, like I liked, but wasn't sure why I liked. When I first read Marianne Moore, I wasn't crazy about her work, but the more I learned about her style and her life, the more I got into her work. I ended up writing a grad school paper on her poem "Marriage." Now I'm a huge fan, and she's inspired me in my research and experimentation with found poetry and syllabic verse.

BT: I love your poem The Taste of Rust in August especially this line: "Our chain-link fence is rusty. I like to taste it –/that metallic clean I imagine to be the flavor/of lightning." How beautiful and so well-written! Did that line come to you all at once or little by little?

JEANNINE: Thanks so much! Gosh, it's been a while since I've written it, but I think that poem happened all at once. I would say my poems are fifty percent poems that happen all at once, and fifty percent poems I nibble on and fuss with for eight years.

BT: A starving artist appears on your doorstep: hungry for inspiration, thirsty for poetry— what do you feed him/her?

JEANNINE: Hmm, I'd probably throw the starving artist a variety: contemporary and ancient, experimental and traditional, all the writers that inspired me when I was first writing. How about Basho, Sappho, a little Louise Gluck or Margaret Atwood, a little E.E. Cummings, maybe T.S. Eliot's "Love Song..." In a practical application of this question, I've been having my students read a bunch of very different contemporary writers like Ilya Kaminsky, Tyehimba Jess, Matthea Harvey, Denise Duhamel, Oliver de la Paz, and Aimee Nezhukumatathil.

BT: I’m trying to start a chain, a chain of poets, sort of like a chain gang of poets. Can you please suggest a poet I should ask five fast questions to next?

JEANNINE: Here are a few: Kelli Russell Agodon, Lana Ayers*, Eduardo Corral.

Jeannine Hall Gailey is the author of Becoming the Villainess, published by Steel Toe Books. Poems from that book were featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac and Verse Daily; two were included in 2007’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. She volunteers as an editorial consultant for Crab Creek Review and currently teaches at the MFA program at National University. Her new book, She Returns to the Floating World, will be published by Kitsune Books in 2011.

*Since Jeannine Hall Gailey suggested three poets, I picked one out of the three to interview next.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Poetry Chain Gang (Volume 2) | Wendy Wisner

The Black Telephone has five fast questions for poet Wendy Wisner.

BT: How do you feel about found poems? Do you consider found poems cheating?

WENDY: Found poems remind me of when I was in graduate school and we were discussing the integrity of “the line” in poetry. My teacher, Donna Masini, was saying that each line in a poem should be taut as a clothesline without any unnecessary words. Each line should be able to be read on its own and feel complete and interesting. I remember walking around the city noticing the way everything – subway ads, billboards, street signs – was broken up by lines, and I would analyze the lines the way Donna described. I “found” many poems that day. It was a very cool exercise.

BT: Being a new mother, I am loving your pregnancy/motherhood related poems ("Letter at Nine Weeks" and "Benjamin Sleeping"). I especially love them because I haven't been able to tackle the topic of pregnancy or motherhood in my poetry. Are these poems easier or harder for you to write?

WENDY: Thank you. The poems were generally easy for me to write. I always tend to write about relationships, and the intimate moments between them, so the pregnancy/motherhood poems came pretty naturally. I can imagine, though, that the newness of the experience and the emotional and physical drain of pregnancy and new motherhood would make it difficult to write poems! I say give it time, and you’ll see how motherhood creeps into your poems. It seems almost impossible that it won’t eventually.

BT: Some songs are like poetry. Is there a poem (by you or another poet) that you think could work as a song?

WENDY: How about the Emily Dickinson poem that begins “I felt a funeral in my brain”? I love that one and it always gets stuck in my head like a song.

BT: Names can be poetic, too. To me, the name Mahalia is a one-word poem. Is there a name you'd consider a one-word poem?

WENDY: I can’t think of a single word I would consider a one-word poem, but the name Mahalia (which is very beautiful) reminds me of my sister’s name, Dahlia, which has appeared in several of my poems. I don’t usually name people in poems, but that name is just too beautiful to exclude from a poem.

BT: I’m trying to start a chain, a chain of poets, sort of like a chain gang of poets. Can you please suggest a poet I should ask five fast questions to next?

WENDY: Jeannine Hall Gailey

Wendy Wisner's first book of poems, Epicenter, was published by CW Books in 2004. Her poems have appeared in The Spoon River Review, Rhino, Natural Bridge, The Bellevue Literary Review, online at Verse Daily, and elsewhere. In 2007, Wendy left her teaching job at Hunter College to be a full-time mom to her son Benjamin, now three years old. Wendy also volunteers as a breast-feeding counselor for La Leche League. Wendy on the web at