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.