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 www.wendywisner.com.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Poetry Chain Gang (Volume 2) | Suzanne Frischkorn

The Black Telephone has five fast questions for poet Suzanne Frischkorn.

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?

SUZANNE: The Matthews poems is breathtaking, thank you for sharing it, I hadn't read it before. One of the poems I wish I had written is "A Color of the Sky" by Tony Hoagland. You can read it here.

Hoagland makes it look so easy and it certainly seems like I could have written it, but I did not, and can only wish I had. I love that poem.

BT: I consider myself a logophile (a lover of words). Is there a word you're in love with at the moment?

SUZANNE: I’m in love with plateau and seeing clamor on the side.

BT: Novels get turned into movies; short stories do, too. Is there a poem that you could see as a movie or inspiration for a movie?

SUZANNE: I have always thought that "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" has a cinematic quality. Hasn’t a movie already appeared that was inspired by Prufrock? It seems to me that it has, if not, then someone should really get started on that.

BT: When Sam Rasnake suggested I interview you next, he called you "very gifted" (and I agree!). Is there a poem you've written that you feel represents you best as a "very gifted" writer?

SUZANNE: Sam Rasnake is incredibly generous with his praise, and many thanks to you both. I don’t think artists are the best judge of their own work. It would be quite impossible for me to even consider myself ‘gifted’ let alone select a poem that I wrote that showcases a ‘gift’. The real gift is Rasnake’s reading and responding to my work.

I’m currently working on my third full-length manuscript and the poems from my chapbook American Flamingo (MiPO, 2008) will appear in it – these are the poems that I am excited about right now, isn’t that always the way? Publisher Didi Menendez released an online edition of American Flamingo yesterday and it can be read for free here.

I wish I could pick just one poem from the chapbook, but I am most excited about how they work as a whole, and the way my new poems converse with those poems.

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?

SUZANNE: Wendy Wisner.

Suzanne Frischkorn is the author of Girl on a Bridge (2010) and Lit Windowpane (2008), both from Main Street Rag, and five chapbooks, most recently American Flamingo (MiPO, 2008).

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Poetry Chain Gang (Volume 2) | Sam Rasnake

The Black Telephone has five fast questions for poet Sam Rasnake.

BT: When poet Walter Bjorkman suggested I interview you next, he said your work "has inspired [him] with its art and sensibilites." How would you describe your poetry?

SAM: Imagine a stained glass window in a tall house. A rock is thrown, breaking the window into a thousand pieces which fall into the house covering a stairway. I pick up all the pieces I can find, take them to my desk, and begin piecing portions of the window back together– but not as one window, but as a hundred tiny windows. The whole window is there, but now reassembled into something new.

Actually, what’s new is me. I find myself in these many windows.

I’m sure this sounds a bit odd – and yesterday I wouldn’t have described it this way – but this is what came to mind with your question, Michelle. It’s how I feel about my work– at least the work that’s consumed me for the past several years. Most of what I write is connected to the arts in some manner– literature, music, art, photography, cinema. There’s a great filmmaker, Chris Marker, who has a similar approach in his marvelous film La Jetée– his approach to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. I can connect with that: finding the self in art.

BT: Did you read a poem today? If so, which poem?

SAM: I’ve always enjoyed the poetry of Mary Ruefle, and I revisited her marvelous poem “Storm Window” – short and haunting:

She sat writing little poems of mist.
And he in an armchair, reading
blood-red leather novels.
Their three-legged white cat
wandering between them.
Twenty-four champagne glasses
sparkling on the shelf.
Never a one to be broken.
And two stone dogs on either side
of the driveway.
For these reasons
they have gone on precisely,
undetected, for centuries.

The imagery in this piece is so alive, and the ending makes me feel as though I’d been shot into deep space, and turning my head, could see the Earth growing smaller and smaller, but never being lost in my gaze. I feel a marvelous connection with time and literature at the end of Ruefle’s poem.

BT: One of my favorite poem-beginnings is: "That rusty zipper, the Pawcatuck river/fastens Rhode Island to Connecticut down/to the sea" from Leslie McGrath's poem Renewal. Is there a poem-beginning that you absolutely love?

SAM: Oh yes – As soon as I read your response, the first poem that rose into view was Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Moose” and its amazing opening stanzas that are as clear a visual of landscape as can be written – and she did this as one sentence that spans six stanzas:

From narrow provinces

of fish and bread and tea,

home of the long tides

where the bay leaves the sea

twice a day and takes

the herrings long rides,

where if the river

enters or retreats

in a wall of brown foam

depends on if it meets

the bay coming in,

the bay not at home;

where, silted red,

sometimes the sun sets

facing a red sea,

and others, veins the flats'

lavender, rich mud

in burning rivulets;

on red, gravelly roads,

down rows of sugar maples,

past clapboard farmhouses

and neat, clapboard churches,

bleached, ridged as clamshells,

past twin silver birches,

through late afternoon

a bus journeys west,

the windshield flashing pink,

pink glancing off of metal,

brushing the dented flank

of blue, beat-up enamel;

down hollows, up rises,

and waits, patient, while

a lone traveller gives

kisses and embraces

to seven relatives

and a collie supervises.

I realize this passage is long, and I was going to list the first two stanzas, but I couldn’t stop. Bishop’s pen always created a landscape with language that was more than real.

BT: One of my favorite poems written by you is Strange Fruit. In it, you say: "...until the song is through/until the song does her in./She sounds like scars/that bleed over the moon's face..." What made you compare her voice to scars bleeding over the moon's face?

SAM: I’m pleased that you like the poem, Michelle. I wrote this piece some time ago, and I’m not certain of the writing process– but I do remember listening to Holiday sing that powerful song – which became a signature song for her – playing it over and over on my stereo. In my head, when I close my eyes, her voice is the moon.

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?

SAM: Suzanne Frischkorn is a wonderful writer. Very gifted.

Sam Rasnake’s poetry has appeared recently in RICK MAGAZINE, OCHO, Shampoo, FRiGG, Poets/Artists, and BluePrintReview, as well as the anthologies Best of the Web 2009 (Dzanc Books), Deep River Apartments (The Private Press), and BOXCAR Poetry Review Anthology 2. He is the author of one collection, Necessary Motions (Sow’s Ear Press) and two chapbooks – Religions of the Blood (Pudding House) andLessons in Morphology (GOSS183).

The Poetry Chain Gang (Volume 2) | Walter Bjorkman

The Black Telephone has five fast questions for poet Walter Bjorkman.

BT: What triggered your interest in poetry?

WALTER: I would say at the earliest, it had to be the songs of early childhood that were sung by family, particularly mothers. The lyricism, meter and rhyme were intoned to us before we could understand or speak words. It’s the same thing that later triggered my interest in Rock ‘n Roll, R & B, Blues & Jazz. Most of us were fortunate to have had that upbringing in one form or another, so it is nothing unique, most of us have it. With me now it is a matter of keeping in touch with it. As to expressing myself in poetry, it had to be the first poem I ever wrote, Grave Fears, at age 14, about the death of my father five years earlier. I don’t remember writing the best parts, I was zoned out. It got raves in my soph. English class and stuck into the school literary publication. I put it on the shelf for a few years until I got serious about questioning everything, and a professor, Sally Sears, took interest in my poems as I was in the process of dropping out of science and taking up literature. I later met her on the boardwalk at Coney where she was then in a traveling troupe of the Bread & Puppet Theater, entertaining a July crowd, so I did get to thank her.

BT: Right now, do you have a favorite poem?

WALTER: It changes daily. Today I was taken again by Coleen Shin’s hello grace. It has a humanity to it expressed with images and sounds that stay with me, “gentle bird bon mots” to quote her. As for all time, no, I couldn’t pick one, but Keat’s La Belle Dame Sans Merci would always be in the top five. And Ferlinghetti’s Junkman’s Obbligato from the Oral Message’s section of A Coney Island of the Mind.

BT: You are the Co-founder and Editor of the online literary community Voices. What made you want to start an online literary community?

WALTER: “What” is correct – Michelle Elvy (laughter). It didn’t start out as such, we had started a “dueling poets” thing on Fictionaut and realized it was becoming an in sort of thing, so we decided to start a blog to accomodate it rather than subjecting unsuspecting and unexpecting readers to it. We wanted a place to have more freedom to just throw stuff out there without the scrutiny of a rating system, without the minutiae of a workshop. It was character driven, so we got the idea for the name "VOICES where characters (flawed or not) have their say." So we did it, and soon we got the idea to invite others through our contacts to join in. At around the same time, I was asked to assist at 52|250 A Year of Flash on design and editing, that Michelle had started up with John Wentworth Chapin. So that led to the smallish group we have there on Voices that drop in every now and then with some of their works. We quickly started with interviews, an Artist, a Poet, a mysterious Flasher and most recently a The New Yorker cartoonist.

More changes are soon to come on Voices (or . . maybe a little later). In a few weeks, thirteen, 52|250′s first quarterly will be coming out. It is the editor’s selection of the best of the flashes of the first quarter year, plus a few more treats. Working on both may have taken me away from writing a bit, but it has exposed me to such good work by so many writers, that it will serve my own writing well down the road.

BT: Pick a poet, any poet…

WALTER: Depends on what for. A day in the woods – Keats. A night runnin’ down the town – Ferlinghetti. And so on. Sometimes the experience leads me to the poet, other times the reverse. But most often these days it is what is before my eyes on the sites and blogs that I frequent.

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?

WALTER: Sam Rasnake, whose poetry has inspired me with its art and sensibilities since I first came across him about a year ago.

Walter Bjorkman is a woods walker, watcher and sometimes writer living in Maryland. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, and as such much of his work is rooted there. His work has been published in Poets & Artists, Metazen, BluePrint Review and OCHO.