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Interview with Wendy Wax, Author of Ocean Beach

Wendy Wax is one of my new favorite authors, and I loved her book, Ten Beach Road, so much that I recommended it for the Mother’s Day issue of Women’s World Magazine.

In Ocean Beach, readers will be reunited with the heroines of Ten Beach Road — Madeline, Avery, and Nicole — as they come to South Beach in Miami to renovate yet another historic house for the television show Do-Over.  While the women have no qualms about working together again and having it televised, they are less interested in having their personal lives shown to the world on television.

Today, I’ve got an interview with Wendy Wax.  I hope you give her a warm welcome.

The characters from Ten Beach Road return in Ocean Beach. When did you know you were not done with these characters and their story and how soon did you begin writing it?

When I finished writing and revising Ten Beach Road I said goodbye to the lovely ladies of Bella Flora thinking that I had given them enough closure to send them off to live the rest of their lives and either find their happy endings or not in the imagination of my readers. But doing a series was something I had always thought about and for some reason as the launch of Ten Beach Road approached and as I talked to bloggers, bookstore owners, friends and fans about the book, ideas for a sequel began to take shape. This was new territory for me and it was very exciting. Over the years as I visited with book clubs and readers to talk about my books I was often asked if there would be more on some of those characters or stories and while I so appreciated the connection readers were making with my characters, for me they were complete and I had no desire to go back. But Maddie, Nicole, and Avery were different – and the idea of tackling another renovation with them for another sweat-soaked summer, seeing where there lives were headed and giving them new challenges was just too hard to resist. Shortly after the tour for Ten Beach Road ended, the writing of Ocean Beach began and now as Ocean Beach is about to hit shelves, I already find myself thinking about new renovation projects and new sunset toasts for my gals, so be sure to stay tuned!

Ten Beach Road was a hit with a number of women and made my recommendation list for Women’s World Magazine in May. How many readers have said they share their books with their mothers, sisters, and friends? And have any readers said they’ve shared your books with the men in their lives?

When I discover a new author or come across a book that I love, it’s automatic for me to share that information with the women in my life, so I love hearing from my readers that they “introduced” me and my work to their mothers, sisters, daughters and friends. Especially since I write about the bonds between women and I feel those relationships are so important in life. Probably the most fun is when readers say “I told my mom/sister/friend all about your books but I made her get her own copy because I don’t want to let mine go!” What author doesn’t love to hear that?

I do hear from some readers that they’ve tried to get their husbands to read my books, because they’d like them to a) understand what women are thinking, b) understand why we need our women friends, c) act (and look) like Joe Giraldi from Ten Beach Road and Ocean Beach or d) all of the above.

When writing your novels, do you start with an event in the news or a character? Please explain.

For me every book is different. In one case it may be an idea for plot that gets me started, in another case it might be a character that begins to take shape first or a news story that gets me thinking. In Ocean Beach it was a combination of things… our country’s obsession with misbehaving and self-obsessed celebrities was something that I touched on in Ten Beach Road and wanted to explore further. Then the idea of contrasting that with an “old school” celebrity who was a true gentleman and class act from the Vaudeville days began to take shape. Also, because Ten Beach Road was very current event based (the women are strangers who come together when they lose everything in a Madoff-style Ponzi scheme), I wanted Ocean Beach to be driven much more by their personal struggles.

Book bloggers have become very influential in the publishing world. Have you enjoyed your interactions with them on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook? And what advice would you give to other authors?

It’s a very different world now than it was when I first started writing. I love that the Internet has made connecting with fans so direct and so easy. In many ways, book bloggers are like independent booksellers in that they make a personal connection with readers, and love to share and recommend books and authors that they discover. Interacting with people like that, who are passionate about books and about reading, is something I will never get tired of, no matter what the medium.

Please recommend a favorite poet or poem and why.

I wish I had more time to read and enjoy poetry than I do. In fact with two teenage sons, a husband and some tight deadlines from my publisher, I wish I had more time to read in general! That said, I love how some of the modern poets like Lee Rossi (Wheelchair Samurai) and Laura Kasischke (Space, In Chains) incorporate modern imagery from our everyday lives into such an old art form. I have to also admit that I’ve always loved the poem Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou mostly because I think it would be lovely to feel that way about one’s self every day.

Thanks, Wendy, for answering my questions.

Author Wendy Wax

About the Author:

Award-winning author Wendy Wax has written eight novels, including Ocean Beach, Ten Beach Road, Magnolia Wednesdays, the Romance Writers of America RITA Award finalist The Accidental Bestseller, Leave It to Cleavage, Single in Suburbia and 7 Days and 7 Nights, which was honored with the Virginia Romance Writers Holt Medallion Award. Her work has sold to publishers in ten countries and to the Rhapsody Book Club, and her novel, Hostile Makeover, was excerpted in Cosmopolitan magazine.

A St. Pete Beach, Florida native, Wendy has lived in Atlanta for fifteen years. A voracious reader, her enjoyment of language and storytelling led her to study journalism at the University of Georgia. She also studied in Italy through Florida State University, is a graduate of the University of South Florida, and worked at WEDU-TV and WDAE-Radio in Tampa.

Interview with Author Carolina De Robertis

If you missed my review of the latest stunning novel from Carolina De Robertis, Perla, you must read it now and buy the book or vice versa.  The novel is set in Argentina and blends reality with the surreal as a young woman finds her place in the world and learns that politically motivated actions can have very personal consequences.  If you haven’t heard of the Disappeared, you must pick up this book and learn more.

Today, I’ve got an interview with Carolina De Robertis about her book and The Disappeared.  Without further ado, please give her a warm welcome.

Writing about the disappeared of Argentina must be quite a balancing act even after many decades. What inspired you to take on the subject and why choose to tell the story in a way that is at times surreal and very focused through the eyes of Perla?

My interest in the subject first arose from the extensive research I did for my first novel, The Invisible Mountain, which traverses ninety years of Uruguayan history, among them the revolutionary 60s and the dictatorship of the 70s and 80s. Inevitably, in studying those times, I also encountered the realities that unfolded on the other side of the river, in Argentina. It was more than could possibly fit in one novel, and inspired me to “cross the river” for my second novel, to Argentina, where I also have roots and relatives.

The surreal premise of Perla originally came as a vivid image I couldn’t get out of my head, of the disappeared who were thrown into in the river from airplanes, rising back up to visit the living. It wasn’t an intellectual decision. However, looking back, I think I was drawn to this choice because it allowed me to do something I haven’t seen anywhere else in the literature and filmography of the disappeared, which is to give the disappeared a voice of their own, to explore their side of the story in an immediate way. And telling the story through Perla, a military man’s daughter, allowed me to do something else that I hadn’t seen elsewhere, and that seemed urgent to me: to attempt to portray the full humanity of perpetrators of these crimes, without excusing them. Who would more honestly grapple with that difficult humanity than a perpetrator’s beloved daughter?

How much has the political landscape changed between when the disappeared were taken and today? Did that play a role in how you tackled the subject in fiction and were there any lingering concerns about how you portrayed the past in your fiction?

When the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo first started organizing, in the late 70s, to defend the rights of their disappeared adult children, they were putting their lives at risk (and some of them in fact lost their lives as a result). Today, the Mothers have been honored in the Presidential Palace and are widely celebrated as heroines. Argentinean public opinion has come to decry the human rights abuses of the regime. Nevertheless, the wounds of those times are still viscerally alive in Argentinean society, in many ways. So I knew that I’d be touching on a national wound. I could only hope that the potential of art to create beauty and healing out of horror would outstrip the pain of having brought it to the surface.

The character of Perla is very complex in that she has a certain identity that is challenged from an early age given who her father was in the 70s and 80s. Did you have an outline of her character before you began writing her? Were there things about her character that surprised you? How so?

There were many things I knew about Perla when I began to write her into being, including the various layers of secrets that lie in her and in her family. However, I learned a great deal more about her as I wrote. In some ways, she is more vulnerable than I initially thought her to be. In other ways, she’s a great deal stronger than I first painted her. She has a wild streak. She also has a sense of humor that I didn’t see coming, which really emerges in her love affair with Gabriel, and which gives her another level of resilience.

Are there particular books you’d recommend to readers who want to learn more about the disappeared? Which ones and what makes them a must read?

There are many important books, but one of the most eloquent and devastating is Prisoner Without a Name and Cell Without a Number by Jacobo Timerman. Timerman was a respected journalist who was “disappeared” under the dictatorship, and only survived because international pressure forced his release. On his release he wrote this slim, amazing memoir that propels you right into the experience. I’d also recommend the Oscar-winning film The Official Story, which unfolds the world of a mother who begins to suspect her adopted daughter may be a child of the disappeared.

In the acknowledgements, you mention receiving Nunca Más. Upon reading the book, how has your world view changed and do you see your fiction writing as way to reveal to the world the deeper questions that events like the disappearance of Argentinians raise?

A book like Nunca Más, which gathers the testimonies of survivors of atrocity, is bound to shake you and your sense of the world. It forces you to look in the eye some of the tremendous cruelties we human beings are collectively capable of. How can such things happen? And why do they keep happening in so many places across the world? Most importantly, how does a society begin to truly move beyond such a tragedy and affirm the beauty and powerful forms of love that are also part of human experience? I do think that fiction plays a particular role in exploring such questions. Fiction can delve into the long-term, intimate effects of violence, and the complex and often astounding ways that people rebuild their lives. Fiction can open doors to healing, to awakening, and to fresh explorations of the truth. This may sound a bit hyperbolic, but I really do believe this, perhaps because, as a reader, novels have done all these things for me.

Finally, who are some of your favorite authors and poets? Or what are you reading now that you enjoy?

There are so many! Just a few of the authors I constantly turn and return to: Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, Gabriel García Márquez, Italo Calvino, Clarice Lispector, Walt Whitman, William Faulkner, Herman Melville, Dostoevsky. As for recent reading, I just finished The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff. It’s a portrait of Einar Wegener, the first person to successfully undergo male-to-female sex change surgery—and a stunning novel, told in the most vibrant, nuanced, and utterly unforgettable voice.

Thanks, Carolina, for answering my questions.

Interview with Poet and Author Molly Peacock

My review of The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock posted last week. The cover and the illustrations of Delany’s work is stunning, and like the multilayered mosaicks, Peacock has created an equally beautiful biographical collage that layers the works of Delany over the events in her life and sneaks in tidbits from the author’s own past.

I hope you have a chance to read the review and to read this interview with the author about writing, Mary Delany, and the Virtual Poetry Circle.

Without further ado, here’s the interview with Molly Peacock:

The Paper Garden is a biography of an older woman, Mary Delany, embarking on an artistic journey late in her life.  What about her story grabbed your attention and how has it inspired you or helped you to re-examine your own life?

Mrs. Delany’s work inspired me since I first saw it in 1986; the cut paper flowers are so magnificent!  But it was really that she invented an art form at the age of 72 that got to me.  I was 39 and establishing myself as an artist.  Later, in 2003, I discovered more about Mrs. Delany’s life that inspired me.  She had a marvelous mid-life marriage where she found herself branching out into many arts;  it helped me understand how much my own marriage has influenced my own branching out from poetry to prose.

Could you explain a little bit about the differences between writing poetry, memoir, biography, and prose?  How are they the same?

A lyric poem funnels down to an instant of revelation; it is almost as if the poem stops time, that the only dimension in a lyric poem is space.  In that way, it’s like a painting.  But prose unfolds in time; and time contains both obstacles and revelations.  Prose develops, the way characters and situations do.  It requires a flow.  A poem is an instant, lightning across the sky.  Prose is before the storm, the storm, after the storm.

I first read your book How to Read a Poem  in 2009, and it inspired me (ever since) to begin the Virtual Poetry Circle in which I post a poem each Saturday of the week for readers to read, enjoy, and offer up their impressions.  Have you engaged in poetry circles on a consistent basis and/or have you had any feedback from others who have taken up with a poetry circle?  Any further advice for Virtual Poetry Circle participants about reading and discussing poems?

Thank you for creating The Virtual Poetry Circle!  My advice is to incorporate a mix of poems, some golden oldies like “Ozymandias” by Shelley; some translations, like “The Word Exchange” edited by Michael Matto and Greg Delanty, with Anglo Saxon poems;  some forms of poetry, like “Villanelles,” a new anthology edited by Annie Finch; some ancient poems like “Greek Lyric Poetry” translated by Sherod Santos;  and some younger poets like Beth Ann Fennelly and A.E. Stallings.

I think it’s always great when participants focus on specific language, rather than generalizing.  When a poem gives you a certain feeling, you can try to locate the exact words, or sounds, or rhythm, or syntax that prompted it.  Looking for the specific moment in the poem that prompted your feeling often leads to further revelation.

If you were expected to describe yourself and your work in 10 words or less, what would you say?

How about 11 words?  A woman writer fascinated by inner life and the real world.

Finally, as a poet and a writer, do you feel that despite The Paper Garden‘s deeply personal connections that it should reach a wider audience?  Do you think writing in general should bring about social activism, like the poets of the Split This Rock Poetry Festival?

I am so gratified that The Paper Garden has reached a large audience!  Gardeners, artists, people facing late-life challenges, people who’ve always felt they had a special imaginative spurt inside them, history buffs, romantics of all ages, young and old creative people have all been drawn to the story of Mrs. Delany.  She’s a force!

I think writing unexpectedly brings about social activism.  Writing has to be internal first.  But bringing the inner life to the greater public can spark oceanic changes.

Thanks, Molly, for answering my questions.

Interview with Gaithersburg Book Festival Chair Jud Ashman

As many of you know, I love a good literary and book festival, and living in the Washington, D.C., area has given me a great number of opportunities to meet some great local and best-selling authors.  I’ve only attended the Gaithersburg Book Festival once, last year, and it is now in its third year, which is promising to be bigger and even better than last year’s festival.

This year, there are some great literary and local powerhouse authors and poets, as well as musicians, including beloved Sarah Pekkanen and Sarah McCoy.  As a D.C. Literature Examiner, I’ve been posting reviews, interviewing authors, and generally talking about all the goodies that will be present at the festival this year — including an interview with Stuart O’Nan by Ron Charles (Also check out my review of The Odds).

Today, I want to share with you my interview with Gaithersburg Book Festival Chair and City Council member Jud Ashman.  Please give him a warm welcome.

1. The Washington, D.C./Baltimore area has a multitude of literary festivals from the National Book Festival and Baltimore Book Festival to the lesser know literary festival in Bethesda and the City Lit festival. What makes the Gaithersburg Book Festival a must for all readers and what about it is unique compared to the other events in the area?

I like to think that we combine the best of all of these events into one spectacular day of literary awesomeness! We have the high-caliber authors of the National Book Festival, the up-and-comers you might find at City Lit or Baltimore, and the more local authors you might find at some of the Bethesda venues. It’s a place where you can see and meet your favorite authors and discover some fabulous new ones.

Our Festival is a big scale event, but it feels intimate and the fans tend to get excellent face time with the authors. We try to include a wide array of genres, from literary fiction to history, humor to cooking, current affairs to mystery, sports to children’s books, young adult to women’s lit – there’s something for everyone.

Our other programming sets us apart as well. For aspiring and hobby writers, we have writing workshops. We host what’s called a “Children’s Village” which is full of literary-themed activities for the kids. And you can sit back and relax at our Coffee House while you enjoy a day’s worth of poetry readings and music.

Oh, and by the way, parking and admission are free!

2a. You were one of the primary forces behind creating the festival. What was your motivation?

Two things you need to know about me… 1) I love great books; and 2) I tend to share my passions with everyone within earshot!

Since I’ve always been a big reader, when Laura Bush and the Library of Congress founded the National Book Festival back in 2001, it immediately became my favorite area event. Every year, I’d go and just lose myself in the rapture and inspiration of great stories, great storytellers, and the wit, wisdom, and joy that pervades the atmosphere there.

Flash forward to 2008 when we all knew that this would be the last year of the Bush Administration (including festival co-founder Laura Bush), but we didn’t know who would be taking their place, nor whether the new folks would opt to continue the National Book Festival. I distinctly remember Dr. James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, coming to the stage and urging the attendees to contact the new administration and ask that they continue this wonderful event.

I was in that audience that day. At the time, I’d been in office (Gaithersburg City Council) for about a year, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘Why leave it up to chance? We can do our own book event. I’m in this public position, maybe I can help make it happen.’ An idea began to gestate, and it made sense on a number of levels:

– There are a ton of nationally known authors and journalists in the DC area. Most are within an hour’s drive of Gaithersburg.

– There are a ton of readers in the DC area. In fact, it’s the most literate metro area in the country, as measured in an annual study.

– The City of Gaithersburg has long supported the arts and produced and hosted some outstanding performances and events. But it could still benefit from an enhanced cultural identity.

So, I pitched it, informally, to the Mayor and my colleagues on the City Council. They probably didn’t fully understand the scale of what I was proposing, but they all liked the idea and encouraged me to run with it.

2b. How did you get started wooing authors and publishers to the event?

It started with ‘friends of friends.’ One of the advantages of being in a public position is that I come into contact with a lot of people – and those people come into contact with a lot of people, and so on.

When I started asking around, it turned out that a good friend of mine works with Alice McDermott’s husband, who was willing to pass along an invite to his great author/wife, which she (thank goodness!) accepted. Likewise, another friend knew sportswriter and best-selling author John Feinstein and was able to help get him on board. We worked our contacts very hard in that first year, and were able to put together an excellent lineup that included 56 authors, a Pulitzer winner, a National Book Award winner, a Newbery Medal winner, and about a dozen best-sellers. Last year, we had more of everything.

Over time, we’ve developed effective working relationships with a number of publicists at some of the big publishing houses, who assist us with all sorts of high-profile authors. This year, for example, we have authors coming in from San Francisco, El Paso, Martha’s Vineyard, San Diego, New York City and all sorts of other places.

3. In 2011, there were a great many fiction and nonfiction authors present, but not too many, if any poets. How will the festival be improved or expanded in 2012? Will poetry be included in this year’s festival? If so, how?

Actually, we had some terrific poets! They included current Maryland Poet Laureate Stanley Plumly, former laureate Linda Pastan, Richard Peabody, Michele Wolf, and a few others who are of more local renown.

We dedicate about half of our programming at the Coffee House to poetry readings and it’s an aspect of the Festival we’re really proud of. Any interested poets should fill out and submit and application to present, which can be found on our Website.

4. One of the most eye-catching moments of the 2011 festival was the activities for children, including magicians, a unicyclist, and Dr. Seuss reading tent. What are some of the activities parents can look forward to this year? Will there be some specific children’s authors that parents should consider seeing?

We put all of our children’s programming into an area we call the “Children’s Village.” There will be authors and readings and arts & crafts activities, writing workshops, musical performances, and, I should mention, that one of our authors, Leah Taylor, will be bringing a pony!

We will have some fantastic authors this year – and we’re still recruiting others. The ones we have so far include:

Picture Book Authors – Kate Feiffer, Katy Kelly, Leah Taylor

Chapter Book Authors – Andrew Clements, Fred Bowen (from Kid’s Post), Sheela Chari (Edgar Award finalist), Michael Buckley (The Sisters Grimm)

We also have a couple superb authors in the Teen/Young Adult category: Laura McNeal (finalist for the National Book Award), and Matthew Quick, whose book “Boy21” to be released this Spring, is going to be big!

5. The festival hosts a short story contest for high school students. Are there plans in the works to expand the contest to other genres, such as poetry and essay? And to include an adult category?

Thanks for bringing up our High School Short Story Contest. This is just our second year doing it, and we’ve been blown away by the results, both in the number of participants and in the quality of the work.

We’d certainly like to expand the contest and hope to see it blossom into a multi-category, multi-genre endeavor, but the challenge, for now, is manpower, including people qualified to read and judge the entries. Much of the current contest is run by volunteers. They promote it, administer it, they help find sponsorships for the winners, read the initial entries and narrow down to finalists, and plan the awards ceremony. It’s a big undertaking.

So, our capacity to expand the contest will depend on the manpower we’re able to drum up.

6. Also, are there future plans to include additional publishing industry topics among the panels, such as the influence of book bloggers and other online reviewers outside of the mainstream media?

Absolutely. Last year, we had a “State of the Book” panel, which featured a publisher, an editor, an agent, and a bookseller. It was a terrific conversation about the evolution of the industry. Actually, you can still see the video on C-SPAN online here.

Thanks, Jud, for answering my questions.  If you haven’t come to the DC area yet, here’s just another incentive.

If you haven’t checked out my latest articles on D.C. Literature Examiner, you’ll want to check out my interview with Sarah Pekkanen, Eric Goodman, and my reviews of their books, plus a review of Richard Peabody’s poetry book and more information about the upcoming panelists, workshops, and activities at the festival on Saturday, May 19.

Interview With Poet Arisa White

As National Poetry Month winds down with the month of April, I hope the tour was able to inspire you to read different poetry books and poets.  Today, I’ve got a special edition to the blog tour, an interview with poet Arisa White, author of Hurrah’s Nest, which I reviewed earlier last week.

I really enjoyed the variation in this collection, the imagery, and the personal story.  If you’re looking for poetry that makes you think, but is entertaining at the same time, White’s work is for you.

Without further ado, please welcome Arisa White:

1. What are your poetic roots? When did you begin reading and writing poetry and who has influenced you?

My family is an artistic bunch. There are poets, rappers, and writers, and dancers, and shit-talkers, which takes skill and craft as well! It’s in the blood and some of us have been fortunate to have the opportunity to pursue those dreams.

When my aunt, the oldest of seven, found out that I was writing and publishing poetry, she would call me on the phone and read me her poems and tell me her ideas for writing a memoir. It’s beautiful to be a source of inspiration for a woman I admire.  My paternal uncle Aubrey has a book of poetry published called Implantation. It’s funny how you look back on your life and can see that this has always been your path.

I began writing poetry in elementary school, really took a liking to limericks in junior high, and in high school I won a city-wide contest for a poem I wrote about women’s history month and I just kept going from there. I frequented the Brooklyn spoken word scene and was influenced by Jessica Care Moore, Mahogany, Saul Williams, Carl Hancock Rux, even the movie Love Jones had a positive impact.

My first book of poetry was an anthology of women poets, given to me by my global studies teacher. From that book, I memorized “Nikki Rosa” by Nikki Giovanni. Even at one point, I interned and was mentored by a local Brooklyn poet, India DuBois (I wonder how she’s doing?) who wrote Jazz and the Evening Sun. It is when I went off to Sarah Lawrence, I feel like the reading and delving into the craft of poetry began.

2. Hurrah’s Nest is a lot about the scars that shape us. How much of your poems are autobiographical?

Hurrah’s Nest is an autobiographical collection, rendered poetically. Mostly and lately, I have been writing from personal experiences–through the lens of self.  I’m making sense of what’s going around me, as well as to investigate what is going inside of me. Who am I? I feel that urgency to know, even more so, having relocated to the West six years ago and removed from the people, places, and things that I have defined myself with and by. The poems I’m writing now are an expression of my heroic journey.

3. As an MFA graduate, how do you feel the degree has helped you and/or hurt you? And what made you decide to obtain your MFA from UMass Amherst?

The MFA degree was what I wanted to get–I wanted to be skilled in my art. To be seen as an artist. I wasn’t really thinking about how I could use it. I don’t think I have consciously used my degree to get a job or a teaching gig–it’s been my writing and experiences I have relied so much on to open doors for me. In the end, it all works together.

I loved my MFA program at UMass, Amherst. It’s a three-year program and it’s a perfect amount of time. I received a three-year fellowship that covered my tuition, health care, and I gained valuable teaching experience. Also, the time to write was priceless. When deciding on MFA programs, this was my criterion, in order of importance: region, financial support, and faculty. At the time, I was living in NYC and I wanted to be somewhat close to my hometown. Also, I didn’t want to add to my debt. I really wanted to be financially supported so that I could concentrate on writing. UMass, Amherst, has a great faculty (Peter Gizzi, James Tate, Dara Wier) and is a part of the five-college system (Amherst College, Smith College, Hampshire, and Holyoke). In addition to my graduate course work, I took poetry and dance classes at Smith–I had a wonderful time during my graduate years. Because I did not have the distraction of NYC, I really focused in on my writing and point of view. Hurrah’s Nest is essentially my thesis (thank you, Dara!).

4. Poetry is often solitary, more so than other art forms on occasion, because it is deeply personal, but there are efforts like the Split This Rock Poetry Festival and others that attempt to bring poetry to the masses and to bring about a social connection and call attention to a particular cause. Do you feel the need to do the same in your work? If so, why or why not? What do you think of these poetic movements?

I totally feel the need to call attention to particular causes in my writing. As a poet, it is how I engage–by interrogating how we relate or are not relating to each other and the social, economic, and political ramifications that has on certain groups within our culture. Poetry can be humanizing and restorative and believing that gives my poetry purpose, gives me purpose.

In thinking about the work I’ve created and want to create, I’m moving from the personal and to a social “I”. Hurrah’s Nest looks closely at the family unit, where it all starts, where we form a sense of self and how that self relates to others and the world. Then we step outside of the home and often time are in the habit of repeating what we have been told about who we are and what we can do.

I think we have to know our particular stories, so we can take responsibility for how they shape and recreate experiences. My second collection, A Penny Saved, which will be published by Willow Books in 2013, is about a woman who was held captive in her home for 11 years. I loosely based the collection on Polly Mitchell, a Nebraskan woman who finally escaped from her home and husband, with her four kids, in 2003. It’s mind blowing what we do to each other!

I’m in the process of adapting Post Pardon, a chapbook length long poem that explores the post-partum experience, into a libretto. My composer friend Jessica Jones is writing the music. And then, I’m applying for grants and residencies to write a series of eclogues that depict the lives of four sexually-exploited minors and their pimp, in an urban setting. For me, I’m very much focused on writing about women in extreme situations, calling attention to those realities.

5. What are you reading now in poetry and what poetry would you recommend others read and why? Also feel free to share anything about your upcoming poetry collections and projects?

Right now, I’m reading me and Nina by Monica Hand and Ardency by Kevin Young.

I would recommend others read Bitters by Rebecca Seiferle, Cranial Guitar by Bob Kaufman, Sleeping with the Dictionary by Harryette Mullen, leadbelly by Tyehimba Jess, Brutal Imagination by Cornelius Eady, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine, and anything by Medbh McGuckian, because these poets have these fresh ways of saying/seeing things, a charge that makes you love and appreciate poetry, and an intelligence that makes me jealous! There are so many more poets whom I’m discovering too–so I recommend: never stop reading.

Thanks Arisa for answering my questions. I look forward to reading A Penny Saved and your eclogues.

***For Today’s National Poetry Month Blog Tour stop, visit Reading Rendezvous.

Interview With 2011 Indie Lit Awards Poetry Runner-Up Edward Nudelman

What Looks Like an Elephant by Edward Nudelman, published by Lummox Press, was the runner-up in the 2011 Indie Lit Awards Poetry category.  I reviewed the collection yesterday as part of the National Poetry Month Blog Tour, and today, I’ve got a special treat — an interview with the poet himself.

Please give Edward Nudelman a warm welcome.

1. Could you explain the process of selecting the poems for your collection and how it felt to be nominated and then to be the runner-up for the 2011 Indie Lit Award?

Selecting poems for a collection is an important process, dictated not only by the quality of the poem, but also its cohesiveness with respect to the book’s theme and tone. I started with about 100 poems and then tried to select those that fell into one of several criteria I had predetermined to be important. In What Looks Like an Elephant, I was interested in comparing elements of experience dealing with certainty and doubt, the often contradictory and counterintuitive process of both finding comfort in what we know (or feel) to be true versus the angst of coping with the fear (or dread) of what we don’t know. Also, for me, not only is the selection process important, but also the ordering and presentation of the poems so that a story is told with the unfolding of the poems.

It feels great to be nominated and then be runner-up for The Indie Lit Award. To be more specific, the feeling falls somewhere between having a root canal without Novocain and winning the Lotto for 250 million dollars.

2. What events, books, or teachers turned you on to writing and/or inspired your writing? Would you count Robert Frost as an influence (particularly given your poem “Something There Is That Doesn’t Love a Garage”)?

Although I read a good deal of Frost in my younger years, and one teacher said I was a “Frost-incarnate,” I can’t say that he has been a major influence on my development, though probably to some degree. The poem you cite does riff off of one of Frost’s great poems, but that’s about all it does in association with Frost. Of course, like everyone else, I love Frost’s storytelling and his deeply committed allegiance to locality; I suppose I draw on that by default.

3. Tell us a little about your career as a scientist and how it finds your way into your poetry?

I have been a scientist in the field of cancer biology for over 30 years. It’s been a wild and fun ride, both immensely rewarding as well as frustrating and often demoralizing. I have had the fortune of being mentored by a twice Nobel nominee and have been able to publish over 60 papers in top-tier cancer journals. I only mention this because it’s important for those reading my work to know that I’ve been immersed in the field, and, as a poet, I’m often trying to bring to the reader certain elements of this world (i.e. the scientific community, scientific method, etc.) in an accessible and hopefully alluring fashion. I’m interested in exploring topics of fear, separation, temporality, loneliness as well as triumph and exhilaration. I find fascinating parallels in what I do as a scientist, and what I struggle with experientially.

4. Poetry is often considered elitist or inaccessible by mainstream readers. Do poets have an obligation to dispel that myth and how do you think it could be accomplished?

Well, I come from the land of elitism (the science world), so I’m well versed in its rules and regulations. However, I think if you look for it, you can find examples of elitism in practically every vocation. In poetry, you can find enclaves of elitism, but I don’t think it’s as big problem as sometimes reported. How does one define elitism? Making oneself inaccessible? Do poets really do that intentionally? I doubt it, and if they did, they wouldn’t write very good poetry.

Interpreting or even enjoying poetry often takes considerable effort, and perhaps this is interpreted by some as being elitist (why don’t they just come out and say it!). But, I think the issue and the resolution more relates to education. And we’re getting better at explaining what poetry is, what it aims to do, and what it never purports to do (i.e. be self-defining). So, in short, I’m not too worried about whether a particular poem or poet is considered elitist. Actually, I’m more worried about the opposite: the dumbing-down of poetry and the resultant acceptance of mediocrity.

5. Poetry is often solitary, more so than other art forms on occasion, because it is deeply personal, but there are efforts like the Split This Rock Poetry Festival and others that attempt to bring poetry to the masses and to bring about a social connection and call attention to a particular cause. Do you feel the need to do the same in your work? If so, why or why not? What do you think of these poetic movements?

Poetry movements are fine and serve a purpose I suppose, to punctuate any particular time or place something that needs to be brought into focus, into awareness. Poetry can do this, I think, in a way in which no other written medium can accomplish. Poetry has had a long rich history in the halls of social referendum and the people’s cry for change either from the street, the pulpit or in the workplace.

However, poetry should never be railroaded into a certain raison d’etre. If you do that, you begin to etch away at its power, which is the explosiveness of a single voice. [see the latest uproar over Gunter Grass’ critique of Israel in poetic form]

For me, it is that personal expression that pleases, that keeps me going back through my mind and emotion to form words in a language I’m just beginning to understand.

6. What are you reading now in poetry and what poetry would you recommend others read and why?

Lately, I’ve been reading a good deal of Denise Levertov, a poet who interestingly (as per above), wrote poems early on in her career addressing political problems (Vietnam, women’s rights, etc.), calling forth public action over individual apathy. In her later years, however, her poetry evolved into a much calmer voice that I really love, dealing with more fundamental and universal issues in a refreshing way. I’m also reading Simic, Bishop, W.C. Williams, Wallace Stevens.  These are contemporary poets I read and like on a day to day basis and most are fairly well known:  David Yezzi, A.E. Stllings, Stephen Edgar, Jane Hirshfield, W.S. Di Piero, Daisy Fried, Ange Mlinko, D.A. Powell and Sasha Dugdale as well as a host of modern poets whose names you might not readily recognize.

Thanks, Edward, for answering these “probing” questions.

About the Poet:

Edward Nudelman is a poet, scientist and literary critic from Seattle.  He has two poetry books and his latest collection was runner-up for book of the year.  Check out his Website.

***Today’s NPM blog tour stop is at Bookalicious.***

Guest Interview: Emma Eden Ramos Interviews Poet Lisa Maria Basile

You may remember Emma Eden Ramos from my earlier review of her poetry collection and Indie Lit Award short-listed title, Three Women.  Today, she’s come to celebrate National Poetry Month with an interview of a poet she adores, Lisa Marie Basile.

First, we wanted to share with you a poem from Basile’s latest collection Andalucia:

I Wear Short Dresses When I Visit Alejandro

I wear short dresses when I visit Alejandro. You
have legs for many miles, he says. So I show them.
If I take my legs away, would he still see me? Linger on his skin. I am the
mosquito, but he—he drinks
my blood. He sleeps on the floor, on his back. He
is covered in flies. I step over Alejandro, and his
fingers linger on my toes. He is wet from seas.
I step again over him, teasing, teasing. I cannot
seem to feed all the flowers. The red ones, the hard
ones. The fat ones. They grow. I cannot tame
them. I cannot groom them. I cannot control them.
I say hola and they grow and grow. The more we
talk the more they grow, and, oh, we talk, and we talk.
We talk about beauty and the way a body is
supposed to look. We talk about the way a woman
should be shaped and we talk about my hips, my
lips. Too round, too powerful, too godlike. You
cannot trust a woman who looks like a woman, he
says. She might destroy you. Look, I am
unribboning! My bones are peeling as petals. I am
hungry. I say I cannot seem to stop stepping over
and over him. You know that I look up your dress
every time, he tells me. I know that. I know that is
how I can keep him there, buzzing.

And now onto the interview; please give Emma and Lisa a warm welcome:

It was around this time last year that I discovered poet Lisa Marie Basile. I’d had a poem accepted for publication by one of my favorite online literary blogs, Calliope Nerve (the editor of which tragically passed away last August), and was excited for the piece to go live. Excited, that is, until I read the three poems that came out the day before. “SAILOR (BRIAN), 63,” “NEVADA, YOUNG,” and “LIPRARI (45) DIED IN ITALIAN,” all by Lisa Marie Basile, were three poems from a collection of obituaries. As I read Basile’s work in Calliope Nerve, I couldn’t help but feel that my piece would be a bit of a let-down.

It’s been a year since I first read Lisa Marie Basile’s work. So I thought, this year, it would make sense to interview and get to know one of the poets whose writing I have had the pleasure of exploring. Here is an interview with poet Lisa Marie Basile, followed by a poem from her most recent collection, Andalucia.

1. As a fiction writer who has also written poetry, I am very aware of the differences between the two mediums. You are a published short story writer and award winning poet. How would you compare writing poetry to writing fiction? Which comes more naturally to you?

Writing poetry certainly is the medium I tend to write in most often, because for me beauty is usually in snapshots in my mind. However, when the idea strikes, you go with what you think addresses the idea the best. The words are like their own entities; they need a space to live. We just give them that how we can. For more, poetry is more the default, because allows me to provide words with a place outside of the confines of structure and grammatical correctness. I love poetry’s natural fluidity. The more fiction I write, the more I realize how poetic it is for me; then, the more poetry I write lately, the more it is driven by prose I’ve written. I love prose-poetry, it’s something I’m gravitating toward.

2. How do you prepare yourself to write a poem? Do you have a ritual you do beforehand or are you more spontaneous?

I don’t have a ritual. Usually I’m intensely upset. Maybe a little drunk? I have to be honest. My latest collection —for my thesis—was written during times when my eye condition (Uveitis) flared up. Because of it, I had to be secluded in total dark, with no stimulation. No television. No music. My head was spinning in pain. I’d think and think and think, because there was nothing else to do. In these days, we need constant stimulation. In these situations, I just wrote, pieces of words, phrases, thoughts. Over time, I compiled these pieces. So there aren’t any real rituals. I don’t believe in ritual, because mostly if you force it, it won’t come.

3. How do you feel about spoken word poetry? Do you think it is more or less powerful than written poetry?

When spoken word is good, I really respect it. Other times, like any performative poetry, if the poet doesn’t understand how to trim, cut and emphasize the important parts of piece, it can really take away from the power of the performance. I think each poem has to be presented in the way it needs to be presented. Some poems are better as whispers; others as screams. If you do it well, you do it well, and I think the power is found in both the content of the poem and the treatment of it by the poet — no matter the form: spoken word or not. It has to be sincere.

Presenting your poetry doesn’t, for me, mean tacking on some theatrical spectacle if the poem doesn’t require that.

4. You have authored one full-length poetry book and three chapbooks. Along with being the Founding Editor of Patasola Press, you have edited for a number of renowned publications. Would you say that working as an editor has strengthened your own work?

My full-length, A Decent Voodoo, will be out with Cervena Barva Press this year. The editor, Gloria Mindock, is incredible. I’m so lucky. Also another chapbook, Triste, will be released by the badass Dancing Girl Press, this summer. Andalucia came out in December 2011 (Brothel Books) and it’s just my life; I love that I have that book. It really marked a time in my life. Working as an editor is important to me because as much as I love to write, I love to read and I love to help other people get their work out there. It’s super beautiful to hold your thoughts and dreams in your hand. Being an editor has made me more attentive to poetry’s power, for sure. I learn about the ebb and flow of a good or bad poem, and in turn, I learn from everything. There’s nothing I dislike more than a lazy poem, so I strive to keep away from that.

Later this year, some really inspiring poets will be released by Patasola Press. I’m happy to bring Kristina Marie Darling and Kiely Sweatt work to the world. Their books, Palimpsest and Origin Of, respectively, are the most beautiful works I’ve read in a long time. And this follows gorgeous work by J. A. Tyler and Rae Bryant—I’m lucky to work all these super talented and driven poets.

These are the people who will be canonized within our generation.

5. What is The Poetry Brothel and who is Luna Liprari?

The Poetry Brothel is a unique and immersive poetry experience that takes poetry outside classrooms and lecture halls and brings poetry to people in a lush and beautiful atmosphere. You spend so much time writing this beautiful work; it can be really disheartening to have to present your blood and work under a loud, flourescent light. Why not make the poetic experience gorgeous and welcoming. The Poetry Brothel presents poets as high courtesans who impart their work in public readings, spontaneous eruptions of poetry, and most distinctly, as purveyors of private poetry readings on couches, chaise lounges and in private rooms. Central to this experience is the creation of character —mine is Luna Liprari— which for poet and audience functions as disguise and as a freeing device, enabling The Poetry Brothel to be a place of uninhibited creative expression in which the poets and clients can be themselves in private. For a small fee, all of the resident poets are available for these sequestered readings at any time during the event. Of course, any true brothel need a good cover; The Poetry Brothel’s is part saloon and part salon, offering a full bar, musicians, painters, and fortune-tellers, with newly integrated themes, performances and installations at each event.

We’ve done events in New York (our home), Chicago, New Orleans, Barcelona, California, D.C., Massachusetts (actually I’m sitting at the Massachusetts Brothel right now). I’ve read in a lush speakeasy decorated with teacup globes and red lounges, an erotic soiree in a Catalonian side street and in a treehouse-like fort. I’ve read at private parties and in public events. We’ve presented as part of The Annual New York City Poetry Festival, which we present as The Poetry Society of New York.

Luna Liprari is my character. She presents poetry and interacts with people at The Poetry Brothel. The poetry is my own, and Luna Liprari is a part of me, whether she reads poetry or does burlesque.

Luna Liprari came from a Sicilian father and French mother, from whom she ran away when she turned 15 in 1925. She was to become the secret love of Hemingway and Anais Nin, living in a tiny room above a butcher shoppe in Paris. They helped her publish a book of her poems. When she grew up, she moved to Argentina and was said to be seen in Mexico, teaching poor women to dance for their husbands. She was a clairvoyant they said, always dreaming of explosions, always making men explode from the inside. Her lips brought rainfall to its knees, her hips were said to have been the inspiration for the holy design of Vesuvius. Years later, she was the first Pinup painted on the side of a World War II bomber plane, her black hair and long legs dropping like webbed-spiders into sleepy French streets and Japanese cities. She had predicted weapons, slapped Oppenheimer in the face, seduced (and poisoned) two-dozen Nazis, and finally became a Pinup girl and burlesque dancer, touring the world with the Poetry Brothel.

6. If you don’t mind talking about it, what is your latest project?

My latest project is my thesis work. I’m writing about the intersection between body and mind, how the body reveals our pains and feelings and desires through sickness. Someone recently said to me, “the most poetic thing is not being sick.” I wonder, though, because being sick forces you to really confront who you are and your limitations. So the project is a collection of work written during times of physical pain.

Thanks to both Emma and Lisa for sharing their thoughts about poetry with us.

Poet Lisa Marie Basile

About the Poet:

Lisa Marie Basile is an award winning poet from New York City. She is currently pursuing her M.F.A. at The New School and is a member of The Poetry Society of New York. Basile is the founding editor of Patasola Press, the company that published Rae Bryant’s The Indefinite State of Imaginary Morals: Stories by Rae Bryant and Comatose by J.A. Tyler.

***Also please visit Bermudaonion for today’s National Poetry Month Tour stop***

Guest Interview, Part 2: Edward Nudelman and Aaron Belz Talk Inspiration and Creative Process

Indie Lit Award Nominated and Runner-Up Poet Edward Nudelman, author of What Looks Like an Elephant, offered to help celebrate National Poetry Month with an interview of poet Aaron Belz.

What follows is part two of Nudelman’s discussion with Belz.  If you missed part one on April 2, 2012, please check it out.  Today’s discussion is about Aaron’s influences and his creative process.

Please give both poets a warm welcome.

Please tell us how you got into poetry and what were some of your early influences. What kind of poetry do you read nowadays, and how does your reading affect your writing?

I think I backed into poetry as a medium. In grade school I was interested mostly in visual art. I loved to draw, to make things, and listen to music. I loved to read, too, mostly fantasy and sci-fi, plus Agatha Christie and WWII comic books. I was the photographer for the school newspaper. I also drew comics. I had pencils of every lead, many kinds of erasers, non-photo blue graph paper, and for Christmas one year my parents gave me an expensive set of Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph pens. I built different pen-holding accessories on my dad’s tool bench in the basement. Poetry came later, perhaps as a result of laziness—it’s so much tidier and less expensive, requires work that is purely mental plus some finger movements. In eleventh grade my French teacher told me I was one of the most verbally adept students he’d ever taught, and I didn’t forget that. I think we move forward partly based on what people tell us we’re good at doing. So in college I wrote more, editorials for the student paper, little jokey poems, etc. Then I decided to go to grad school for poetry. Then I just kept going with it, because it was the only thing I was reasonably good at—otherwise I was a jack-of-all-trades, truly master of none. Shiftless and lazy and horribly selfish, I now come to see. Prone to fantasy and wild thoughts. I really don’t even recognize, now, the person I was back then. I’m glad to be beyond him. These days I do spend a lot of time with poetry, but not always for delight. I write reviews, teach people how to read poetry, evangelize for art and music frequently, and make very little money doing all that. Hard to call it a “career” in the way I think the baby boomers envisioned career. I’m not exactly a man of letters. Or a man of leisure. Not sure what I am. When in doubt, start working on a new writing assignment.

It would be interesting to hear a little about your creative process. You have spent a good deal of time on the comedy circuit, and am I not correct in assuming you could call yourself a ‘standup comic’ at least once or twice in your past. How different is writing a poem for you from writing comic material which has as its sole aim to make somebody laugh (correct me if I’m wrong here)?

Correction, for the sake of reality—not a “good deal of time.” I’ve been in a dozen or so comedy shows, and always as a poet, never as a stand-up comic or improv performer. I have a huge amount of respect for the real comedians and comic actors, the skills they’ve honed, the risks they take, the hard ground they till, and I can say without a doubt that although I sympathize with them I am not one of them. Comedy works from prepared material, generally, which is then performed live. My set—my “show,” if you want to call it that—is simply to stand up in front of a crowd who has paid to see comedy and read my poetry, straight up. It gets a good response not just because it’s good “material” (as one of Will Ferrell’s agents once told me!) but because it’s a change of pace for the audience. Part of my act is that I’m a poet, just a poet, reading aloud. I once asked advice from Orson Bean, legendary comic actor, on how to improve my set. His response was telling: “You’ve got to edit, select poems which make sense in following the previous one and tell some kind of a story overall. Then you’ve got to memorize them and practice performing them at first in front of a mirror and in front of audiences. Then you’ll see if you have something which could be called entertainment. A lot of work! Good luck.”

Poet Aaron Belz

You have said that writing a poem for you is a very pleasurable experience, and, unlike some poets, you don’t much anguish over the functional side of actually creating your poems. Why is this? A genetic proclivity, or have you discovered some tricks you’d care to share with us plodders and scrappers?

Maybe not tricks but a difference in philosophy, at least between the way I write and some others with whom I’ve discussed writing. I remember in grad school Galway Kinnell talking about his own revision process, which could span decades. He said (in 1995) that he’d recently revised a poem he’d published in the late 1960s. I didn’t like that idea at all, that he’d written and published a poem so long ago and yet it still felt unfinished to him. I began to think, and this was supported by another grad school class, with Allen Ginsberg, that there was some holiness to the process, that it was time-locked, for one time, not transcendent or part of some “great poem” reality that could continually be discovered. A poem is today’s exercise; instead of making one poem or certain poems great, I’d rather focus on making new poems. Another poet, Jason Sommer, in St. Louis, held more with Kinnell’s view. He wrote and labored and revised quite a bit, which I admired, because I felt like I was incapable of staying with one poem. I needed to keep moving. Finally I told him that writing poetry is, for me, analogous to playing baseball. You stand up to the plate, have that defined opportunity to get a hit, and if you do, you’re on base; if you don’t, you sit back down on the bench and wait for another at-bat. But no batter would continually revisit a particular at-bat. The goal is to become a more skilled batter, not to sweat one plate appearance. So that’s the philosophy I’ve settled on, largely. I do revise, but I don’t revise much past the week or two during which something is composed. Most of my most successful poems (“successful” meaning, I see them shared and reprinted or notice them being enjoyed more than others that I’ve written) were composed completely in a matter of minutes—five minutes, ten minutes. It’s more a matter of being the right frame of mind when writing. “Revise yourself,” Ginsberg said. That’s baseball.

Along these same lines, you have said that John Ashbery is your ‘main dawg.’ Is that because his work seems so rooted in the process itself, not self-absorbed, but the poem itself becomes the living entity, jam-packed with the culture of the day, hidden jabs and allusion. What do you like about Ashbery and how does your poetry aim to mirror these aspects?

The thing that initially appealed to me about Ashbery was that he moved so easily in and out of image and conventional expression, shifted tone suddenly and frequently, and yet his texts seemed to have an undeniable unity—a unity I don’t think I’d ever encountered in poetry. You read Hotel Lautréamont and come away thinking, a tank just ran over my head. A single, solitary, perfect machine of words. A monolith! What I love about Ashbery is that his work is so collage-like and yet so unified. I think he admires Braque and other modernists. I know he admires Wallace Stevens and William Wordsworth, high-philosophy poets for whom unity was everything. Maybe the antithesis to Ashbery is Charles Olson, whose poetry feels like tree bark crumbling in my hands. I can’t hold it. It almost feels like there’s nothing there, after reading it. But Ashbery feels sleek, perfect, smooth, funny, wrong in so many ways, yet completely accessible. That might be the first time Ashbery has been referred to as completely accessible. To me, he’s more accessible than any poet of his generation. I also love O’Hara. As to emulating what he does, I once sent a cover letter along with a submission in which I said that I was like Ashbery but better. This was probably fifteen years ago.

I never heard back.

I notice you have received your PhD in literature from St. Louis University, though you don’t seem to publicize this much (as per my request for your bio, you were as terse as a Haiku, omitting your letters in a most unprofessorial sort of way? Could you speak to this apparent panning of formal education? Currently there is a debate as per MFA programs churning automaton ‘poets,’ all speaking in the same voice, and all being published in the same journals? What can you tell us about what makes a good poet?

In his poem “What Is Poetry,” Ashbery says, “In school / All the thought got combed out.” This is consistent with an American Romantic way of thinking, and I believe Ashbery is basically a Romantic Transcendentalist, so it makes sense that he would write this. When I’ve asked him questions about his work he’s responded sometimes with lines like “Leave that to the critics to figure out” and “I don’t know, I don’t think about it that way.” He resists the academic side a lot, but you know he also loves the attention he gets from the academy in the form of Harold Bloom and being asked to give the Norton lectures at Harvard, which eventually became a book called Other Traditions. Personally, I don’t reject the academic life. I also don’t live and die by it. To me it’s the same thing as Wal Mart, overseas travel, eating dinner at your great-uncle’s house on Sunday afternoon. School is just school, and it’s important as what it is. It’s important to an extent. Poetry workshops can be helpful, no doubt. If you eat them like brownies they can kill your poetry, though. Just try to hold other people’s opinions at arm’s length a bit. Art is great because it represents some sense of total freedom. You do what you want. Make your vision real in your medium. But that doesn’t mean you’re not a human being, and as we say: All things in moderation.

What’s next on the list for Aaron Belz? Do you have a book in press? Could you give us a sneak preview?

I do have one, and it has a title, and I will not share the title. I’m afraid someone might steal it.

About Interviewer and Poet Edward Nudelman:

Edward Nudelman is a poet, scientist and literary critic from Seattle.  He has two poetry books and his latest collection was runner-up for book of the year.  Check out his Website.

About Poet Aaron Belz:

Aaron Belz has a Master’s in Creative Writing from New York University (1995), a Ph.D. in English from Saint Louis University, and has taught English and Creative Writing at several Universities.  His books include: The Bird Hoverer (BlazeVOX, 2007) and Lovely, Raspberry (Persea, 2010). A third is due out from Persea very soon.  Check out his Website or follow him on Twitter.

***For Today’s National Poetry Month Blog Tour post, hop over to Rhapsody in Books***

***Also, I’ve been interviewed at Curiosity Quills***

Guest Interview: Indie Lit Award Nominated Poet Edward Nudelman Interviews Poet Aaron Belz

Indie Lit Award Nominated and Runner-Up Poet Edward Nudelman, author of What Looks Like an Elephant, offered to help celebrate National Poetry Month with an interview of poet Aaron Belz.

What follows is part one of Nudelman’s discussion with Belz about his two books of poetry, The Bird Hoverer (BlazeVOX, 2007) and Lovely, Raspberry (Persea, 2010).

Please give both poets a warm welcome and stay tuned for part two of the interview tomorrow, April 3, 2012.

Aaron Belz is a poet who has forged a considerable niche in the American poetry scene. Where similarities and knock-offs are the rule of the day, Belz’s poetry is a recognizable entity highlighted by layers of irony and contemporary idiom, always punctuated with some deeper purpose lurking below the upbeat flow. His poetry has been likened to Ashbery and Brautigan, but really stands alone in authenticity.

I first read an Aaron Belz poem while staying at my niece’s in Brooklyn, in their somewhat dank basement with low ceilings and low light. There, neatly placed by my bed stand, was a well-used copy of The Bird Hoverer (BlazeVOX, 2007), no doubt placed there to appease my celebrated tendencies toward insomnia. I read it straight through, quite taken in by its accessibility and metaphor, how he used humor as an instrument for relief and also a device to uncover a weightier mood.

From “Canaries:”

The jackknife you filched
with etchings of boxing gloves on it
reminded me of the metal fruit
in the center of the table at Canaries Street,

for both were perfectly round
and gave off an inaudible hum
like that of a remote dishwasher.
When Susan came bounding down the stairs

with her arms full of teen magazines
and hollered something to Rudy
about your new jackknife,
I came in from the field where

I had been sitting in a lather
about my cracked telescope case.
I said, Rudy’s not in earshot, sister,
he ran out for decorative pomegranates;

Aaron was kind enough to answer in detail several questions I posed which provide a little more background and understanding into this poet’s wonderful world of poetry.

After reading through your first book, The Bird Hoverer, then scanning and reading selected poems from Lovely, Raspberry, I’m struck by the similarity of tone in both books, but what appears to me a departure in the second book to broader themes and perhaps a more contemplative mood behind the counterpoint of humor. Can you walk us through your evolution of thought as your poetry develops through these two books? In Lovely, Raspberry, have you found a place you want to be, or are there new and wild transitions to come?

Thanks for reading the books. I’m not aware of a change in the humor, but I can tell you that much of Lovely, Raspberry was written earlier in time than most of The Bird Hoverer, which was my second manuscript. So to answer your question, maybe the humor is brightening up a bit, at least chronologically? My newer poems (of the past three years) are less intent on whipping the reader with wit. I’m finding myself enjoying the language more now, letting it roll beneath my boat and steady as she goes. The third book’s manuscript has been accepted by Persea and its title has been decided—it’s taken a lot of conversation to finalize—but I’m afraid I can’t share it for fear someone else will use it! It’s a great title! The next collection will feature some shorter poems, one and two liners. I always hate finding those in other poets’ collections, because I feel like I wasted energy turning the page. But they’re in mine, I guess.

What I like about your poetry is how naturally your humor flows from experience. However, with all the wild and wooly situations and outcomes we find ourselves led into, it begs the question how much of this stuff is honestly from your experience, and to what extent to allow yourself license to depart from what really has occurred?

All of my poetry comes from my own experience. I have a hard time imagining it coming from someone else’s and then ending up on my page. Whether it comes from my experience honestly is another question—perhaps it comes from it artfully. Psychologically and emotionally. Writing poetry, for me, feels like spitting back stuff I’ve been chewing on for a long time. Finally, it’s out, and it feels so good to have done with it. What sticks most in my craw is certain manners of speaking. “In a manner of speaking” is a common disclaimer. I’ve gotten to the point where each word seems like a wheel rut in a long road toward meaning. I feel like meaning will never be reached, but we keep driving whatever car God’s given us down the road toward meaning. There, a second transportation analogy. I hope you’re happy.

In the opening poem to Lovely, Raspberry entitled “direction,” you spend three stanzas (out of five) equivocating what the you in the poem should or should not do with respect to communicating feelings, ending with this superb mini-conclusion:

In this way perhaps we can accurately triangulate

brief but nearly photographic images of each other’s

Mothers when they were first married, in veils,

and of their driving down the street with tin-can trails. . .

and then a remarkable personal reference, deftly rendered:

You expect me to tell you about the spite in my loin
Which is the sad hail of commas in the professor’s paragraph

is followed by a very self-effacing remark which seems to further separate you from the central character in the poem. I want to ask you if this poem is about the speaker’s inadequacy to articulate, or more broadly, a commentary on the difficulties and pitfalls of dealing with extraneous baggage in a relationship. The sardonic tone only adds to the poem’s success in conveying a kind of futility in resolving conflict. Would you agree? Has this been your experience?

I don’t think of “Direction” as being about interpersonal conflict as much as it’s about the way readers expect a poem to be framed. Like, I’m supposed to architect something, and the reader is supposed to inhabit it. That’s what I learned in school, basically. But in my poems I like to unpack those assumptions and assemble them into something new, like Ikea furniture for the literary home in which we live. The goal of any text is to create a sympathetic connection between writer and reader, but the means by which that goal is achieved vary widely. Like my favorite recent poets (Ashbery, O’Hara, et al) I enjoy discussing the framing method somewhat lightheartedly, following the logic where it happens to go. I feel my way toward the end. In “Direction” I felt like I was really trying to explain the relationship between writer and reader. It seemed funny to me to attempt to reinvent the reader’s way of interpreting.

I love the poem, “my best wand”, because it does what so many of your poems do, yet so seamlessly, in one small burst. And that is convey a paradox or a twist in a culminating line. Whereas one often finds too big a buildup, (the reader is often numbed as a result), in so many of your poems, the setup is masterful and succinct:

my best wand

Of all the magic wands

I’ve bought over the years,

only the steel one with the sharp tip

really works- you point it

into someone and say

ABRACADABRA

and the person magically

becomes wounded.

Humorists often come from anguished pasts, dropped when they were infants, had bamboo pressed into nails, etc. Do you have marks from your childhood or something dark and sinister tailing you? If so (or if not), how have you handled adversity? Does this poem speak to a method you’ve dabbled in? Can you tell us ways you’ve adapted, how you’ve learned to put down your magic wands?

That’s a good question. I think that’s exactly what I described near the middle of the first answer above: I’ve become less intent on whipping the reader with wit. Wit is fun, at first, but then can lead to bad places, such as resentment. It can be a show of power. Rather than my poems be barbed and have readers lose sympathy, I’d rather they be little verbal masseuses, working their readers’ backs and necks. There can be a kind of deliriousness or spectacle that achieves that effect. In future poems I want my phrases and lines, transitions and images, to be a little bit more swimmy, delicious, and ongoingly re-readable. Oh, and yes, I do have a lot of sinister stuff tailing me, from childhood till the present. And I’ve handled adversity poorly. I can’t imagine having written the things I’ve written without being so troubled. I do try to hide the fact that I’m troubled, but it doesn’t always work. There’s a powerful darkness at work in my poems that I think a lot of readers—maybe they think, I’ll just pop this poem in the microwave and eat it—miss on first reading. But not everybody misses it. But then again, I’m a Christian, which means I believe that there’s eternal hope in Christ’s love for me. I suppose poetry, like all of my other work, has to span competing senses of failure and hope.

Thanks, Ed and Aaron. Please come back tomorrow for part two of the interview.

About Interviewer and Poet Edward Nudelman:

Edward Nudelman is a poet, scientist and literary critic from Seattle.  He has two poetry books and his latest collection was runner-up for book of the year.  Check out his Website.

About Poet Aaron Belz:

Aaron Belz has a Master’s in Creative Writing from New York University (1995), a Ph.D. in English from Saint Louis University, and has taught English and Creative Writing at several Universities.  His books include: The Bird Hoverer (BlazeVOX, 2007) and Lovely, Raspberry (Persea, 2010). A third is due out from Persea very soon.  Check out his Website or follow him on Twitter.

***For today’s National Poetry Month Blog Tour stop head over to Wordy Evidence of the Fact.***

***Also, I’ve been interviewed at Curiosity Quills***

Interview with Sarah McCoy, Author of The Baker’s Daughter

If you haven’t seen reviews for The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy yet, you must have been living in a cave.  I reviewed this phenomenal historical fiction novel told from the perspectives of two equally strong, but scarred women. 

From my review:  “The recipe for a successful novel is two parts dynamic characters, one part intriguing plot and story lines, and one part clever writing style, and The Baker’s Daughter provides all the nourishment you’ll need.”

I’m particularly confident that this will make this year’s best of list for 2012.

And after meeting Sarah in person, I can honestly say she’s a writer I’ll be adding to that coveted list, whose books I read simply because of who wrote them.  Her personality infuses her stories and her writing, and even in dark tales, her positive attitude and joy for life shine through.

Today, I have a treat for my readers; Sarah agreed to answer a few questions even after traveling the country, attending a book festival, battling the flu, and conducting an online book tour.  I applaud her dedication and want you to give her a warm welcome.

Q: How much does your own life influence your writing? Like are there elements of family and friends in your characters?

A: As an author, you are the conduit through which the story is filtered so, of course, elements of your life (fragments of people, events, places, etc.) are incorporated but never replicated. I gave the analogy of a honeybee in this article on Beyond The Margins and I stand by it. I’m just a story bee buzzing from stem to stem collecting as much as I can to make into honey. Each season is different from the next depending on what’s in bloom along the roadside of my journey.

Q: In The Baker’s Daughter there are some chapters that are from male perspectives. When writing from male and female perspectives, which do you find harder to write and what are some of the main differences between them?

A: This was my first time writing from the male POV and I LOVED it! So much, in fact, that half of the novel I’m currently working on (my third)is from a male protagonist’s perspective. Gender doesn’t factor into the difficulty of writing so much as the character’s inner conflicts and moral complications. For instance, in THE BAKER’S DAUGHTER, one of the male perspectives is Josef, a Nazi officer. It took some work to separate my personal author judgements from my writing. In order to be genuine to Josef’s story line, I had to turn off present-day Sarah McCoy and fully embody what it might’ve been like for a German officer: what moral conflicts did he face; what emotional battles waged within; what governing pressures did he withstand; what cultural forces were at play? I had to do similarly for Elsie and the Schmidts. It’s the human spirit that often flummoxes me most–male and female!

Q: Was The Baker’s Daughter the original title of the book? What other titles were considered and how did you ultimately end up with the current title?

A: In my journal entries for the story, I called it the “Lebkuchen Tale”and the “Garmisch Story” as reference guides, but from the time the first word was typed, THE BAKER’S DAUGHTER has been its title. I was fortunate that my Crown editors and marketing team loved it too.

Q: What are some of your writing habits/obsessions that readers may be surprised to learn about (other than your love of history and tea)?

A: I have so many hidden quirks. I could probably fill ten pages with crazy-writer-lady idiosyncrasies. So for the sake of time, I’ll name one: I sit at my same writing desk without any sound during my writing days. No TV or radio. The phone ringer is turned off. Windows are closed, etc. I’m sealed up in a vacuum. That’s how I write best–in a kind of reality black hole where my imagination fills in all the senses: sound, sight, smell, taste, touch. Some people find this absolutely bizarre. Family members, included. But by the time I sit down to write the story on my laptop, I’ve dreamed on it for months. I’ve journaled. I’ve plotted. I’ve filled up my reservoirs with the pollinated story. I need the silent solitude so my characters can speak clearly, so I can feel the fictional landscape through their senses. Again, as I mentioned in the earlier, I consider myself (Sarah McCoy the author) merely the channel through which the story is processed.

Q: Since Savvy Verse & Wit has a focus on poetry a lot of the time, I like to ask authors about their poetry reading habits. If you read poetry, do you prefer contemporary or classic poetry? Form or free verse? And who are some of your favorite poets or poetry collections? (As a side note, have you checked out the Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry edited by Rita Dove?) Or why don’t you read poetry?

A: I hate to admit it, but I don’t read hardly enough poetry. I enjoy it, but I’m much more of a narrative reader. I need big, fat paragraphs of description and plot. However, some of my dearest friends are poets. When they read their work aloud, I am mesmerized. It’s as if they’ve cast a spell and I hang on every breath and syllable. If I had to pick my favorite, it’d be Maya Angelou. She is more than a poet. She’s a force of nature.

 

Thanks, Sarah, for sharing your thoughts with us about writing, your novel, and poetry.

About the Author:

SARAH McCOY is author of the novel, The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. The daughter of an Army officer, her family was stationed in Germany during her childhood. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband and dog, Gilbert, in El Paso, Texas. The Baker’s Daughter is her second novel. She is currently working on her next.

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Interview with Eric D. Goodman, Author of Tracks

Tracks by Eric D. Goodman (my review) is one of the best novel in stories I’ve read in a long time, and it will likely end up on my best of the year list. It not only reads like separate short stories, if you just want to read something satisfying in a short slot of time, but also is a connected story by the train, the conductor, and the mystery/action storyline.  In many ways, I’ve thought about how it reminds me of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, but the reader is the detective.  However, there also are deeper themes at work of feeling stuck and unable to move on or wanting to change, but unable to accomplish that goal because of an inability to take a risk or the inability to let go of the past.  I digress, just go read the review, you’ll see what I mean.

I’ve got a great treat for my readers today, as Eric agreed to an interview about his book and his writing experiences. Please give him a warm welcome.

1. Since Tracks takes place on a train traveling between Baltimore
and Chicago, it is clear that trains are important to you. When did
you first realize that you loved trains and what do they mean to you?

As a child, I think I had a love of trains that many children share:
toy train sets, a need to watch trains as they passed by, an urge to
place coins along the tracks to be warped and smashed by the
locomotives. And there was always a spirit of adventure involved with
coming across a line of tracks and walking along it.

I was probably about six when I took my first trip on Amtrak. It was
exciting, an adventure, and much more fun than the usual cross-country
driving trips my family took. But then there was a long period of no
trains. Unfortunately, trains seem to be underfunded in our country
and, therefore, are sometimes more expensive than planes and certainly
cars and busses.

It was when I was a college student traveling in Russia that I
rekindled my interest in trains. Trains were a popular and
inexpensive way to get around. I took sleeper cars on overnight trips
often while in Russia. Sometimes, that was the most fun part of a
trip.

2. Baltimore is almost like its own character in the book, looming
ominously over some of the characters while anchoring others to a
sense of home. Was it hard to show both the darker and lighter sides
of Baltimore given its reputation as a high-crime city? And how do
you view Baltimore, as a resident and a writer?

Baltimore is a wonderful place to live if you’re a writer or an
artist. The literary community is tight knit and most of the writers
I know are very supportive of their fellow authors. As far as the
crime goes, I think Baltimore is a lot like any other large city:
there are areas with high crime, areas with virtually no crime, and
much of the violent crime exists in its own little sub-culture. I’ve
lived in Ohio, California, Rhode Island and lots of places in between.
I won’t pretend they’re the same, but I will say that I’ve personally
encountered no more crime here than in the other places I’ve lived. In
other words, it exists, but it’s easy to avoid.

Baltimore has a lot of character; it was easy to set certain scenes
from Tracks in rich locations with exciting backdrops.

3. When writing Tracks did you find that one scene or character
surprised you? If so, which one and how so?

My writing tends to be inspired by an idea or theme or some nugget of
conversation that I found interesting. It doesn’t begin with plot;
the idea comes first, then the character, then the plot. So my
characters surprise me often. I know what I want the theme or idea to
be, when I begin writing, but not always exactly what they’re going to
do.

The Conductor, Franklin, sort of surprised me. His two stories were
actually the last two I wrote. In the original manuscript, he didn’t
even have his own stories. He appears in everyone else’s story and
always seems like such a nice, chipper, friendly guy. And he is. But
when I began to dig deeper and write about him in his own stories, I
discovered that he had another side.

4. The conductor and the Amtrak train tie the stories together, but
the stories also could stand on their own. Was there any point in the
process where you thought that 
Tracks should just be a short story
collection and not be a novel in stories? What convinced you to stay
with the novel in stories format?

I had written three stories individually before I decided that I
should make this a collection. Then, as I continued to weave the
stories closer together, I thought it would be nice to create a sort
of hybrid—to write a novel and a set of stories at once. Part of it
was with the goal of both working on a novel and having stories to
submit to journals at the same time. But part of it was just out of
curiosity—could I pull off a “novel in stories?”

Coincidentally, by the time this went to print, there seemed to be a
revival in the format: A Visit from the Goon Squad, Olive Kitteridge,
Later at the Bar, The Civilized World. But I wasn’t riding a wave; I
was doing my first draft before it started!

5. From first draft to publication, how long did it take to complete
Tracksand find it a home on bookstore shelves? Have you had any
champions behind the book that spurred you to get it published and who
have helped hand-sell (I use this term lightly — noting that social
media and the Internet could help spread the word) copies?

It’s been a long line of track. I think it was back in 2006 when I
wrote the first draft. I tend to write a manuscript, then put it away
for a year or longer, then rewrite it. So although I didn’t spend
time each year working on the manuscript, about five years passed from
first draft to bookshelf. During that time I wrote a couple other
book drafts (one of which is with my agent now) and did a lot of
tinkering and polishing. I had it ready to submit to agents in 2009,
got an agent in 2010, and secured a publisher later that same year.
Then it was released in 2011.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the kind reception Tracks has received from
other writers. Some of the biggest include Madison Smartt Bell,
Thomas Steinbeck, Bathsheba Monk, Jessica Anya Blau, Rebecca Barry,
and Victoria Patterson. I even got notes of congratulations (but not
official blurbs) from Jonathan Franzen, Jennifer Egan, T.C. Boyle, and
Junot Diaz! It’s felt good to be noticed, even if sometimes only as
an insect.

Thanks, Eric for answering my questions. If you are in the Washington, D.C., area and interested in reading Goodman’s book, he’ll be reading at the Open Door Series at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Md., on Feb. 12 at 2 p.m. Register for the event.

 

Additionally, this is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since Eric is a local author in Baltimore, Md.

Interview with Allison Markin Powell, Translator of Schoolgirl by Dazai Osamu

I recently read and reviewed Schoolgirl by Dazai Osamu, which was translated by Allison Markin Powell from the Japanese this month and enjoyed its look at a teenage girl in post-WWII Japan.  Check out my review here.

One of my personal goals this year is to read more works that are translated from their original language into English, and as part of that, I hope to learn and share with you what I learn about the translation process and what translators find so attractive about their work.  To that end, I’m happy to share with you my recent interview with the translator of Schoolgirl, Allison Markin Powell.

Please give Allison a warm welcome.

1. Schoolgirl was originally written in Japanese by Osamu Dazai; Is Japanese your first language? If not, what prompted you to learn the language and start translating Japanese books into English? Also, I’ve noticed the use of “obsequious” several times in the book, does this have a literal translation into the Japanese?

English is my first language; I didn’t start studying Japanese until I got to college. I had studied French since middle school, and liked learning a new language, so I wanted to try one that was quite different. Japanese was a rather arbitrary choice, and little did I know how challenging it would be. But I was fascinated–in particular with the beauty of the written language–and eventually learned enough to start practicing with translation.

The word ‘obsequious’ in the text is a translation of hikutsu (卑屈) in Japanese.

2. Do you translate books from other languages? If so, which of those books would you recommend to my readers?

I only translate books from Japanese. Next month a novel that I translated, The Briefcase by Hiromi Kawakami, will be published by Counterpoint Press. Kawakami is immensely popular in Japan, and The Briefcase was a huge bestseller. It’s a wonderful book.

3. Could you describe a little bit about the translation process and what surprised you most about translating Dazai’s work?

I imagine every translator has their own idiosyncratic process. I try to read the work at least a couple of times before I start translating it, and hope that I begin to hear the author’s voice in English develop in my mind. I think it’s very important for the translator to feel comfortable with the author’s style. There have certainly been writers with whose style I’ve been incompatible.

Dazai is one of Japan’s most beloved writers and his work is extremely challenging to translate, although I can’t say that was surprising. He expresses himself so clearly in Japanese, yet his syntax is incredibly complex when you break down his sentences, as a translator must do. Last year I also had the opportunity to translate a modern adaptation in manga form of Dazai’s most famous novel, No Longer Human. That book is supposedly somewhat autobiographical (and terribly dark) and it presents an interesting contrast to Schoolgirl.

If I had to name something surprising about this book, though, I suppose it’s the tender quality of the vein of sadness that permeates the girl’s story. The scene she recalls in her sister’s kitchen makes me catch my breath every time.

4. How did you get into the business of translating? Did you just pick up a book and start translating it into English and shop your translation around or was it through other means?

Many translators would probably laugh at the phrase, ‘the business of translating.’ I’ve been interested in literary translation ever since reading The Little Prince in French class, and so I worked in the publishing industry for years, in order to understand how it works and who makes decisions about what gets translated and published. I had translated some fiction when I was in graduate school (as yet unpublished), but my first paid translation project was a manga series, which is a great gig for a freelancer because it’s steady work. Now I translate all kinds of books from Japanese–fiction, of course, but I’ve also translated biography, art & architecture books, craft books, and so on–and I edit Japanese translations as well.

5. Have you ever thought of writing your own novel in English or another language? Why or why not?

I have no interest in writing my own novel. I find that the art of translation suits my creative impulses quite aptly.

6. Please tell us a little bit about your work with Words Without Borders?

Words Without Borders is such a vital organization. These days there are more and more people and publications paying attention to and promoting international literature and works in translation–especially online–but that wasn’t the case when WWB started. I went to college with Samantha Schnee, one of the founding editors, and I was immediately interested when I heard about their mission. I jumped at the chance to guest edit an issue focused on new writing from Japan, which came out in May 2009. Translating can be such solitary work, and that was an incredible opportunity to reach out to other translators–to solicit ideas, to hear what they were working on, and to see what their process was like. I still submit translations to WWB whenever I can, and I’m tremendously grateful to be a part of the community they support.

7. Are there specific steps that you could suggest for someone interested in translating works into English or particular degrees/career paths that they should consider as a stepping stone?

I wouldn’t say there are specific steps along this career path, although in literary translation, it seems the vast majority of translators are in academia, a setting that provides ample opportunity to read and learn about writing in other languages. However, since I am not in that world, I can’t really speak to whether or not that facilitates one’s career as a translator.

My best advice is to do everything possible to hone one’s translation skills, which not only involves practicing translation but also reading widely–both in English and the language to be translated. Research who publishes the kind of work you wish to translate, both in print and online, and reach out to them. A (savvy) idea might be to start reviewing books in translation for any of the sites that promote international literature.

Thanks, Allison, for sharing your work with us and for providing us some insight into the translation process.