Another Autumn

Yvonne Higgins Leach

Was there ever a more dreaded phrase heard in a classroom than “Let’s read a poem,” “Let’s interpret what this poem meant,” or “Let’s write a poem”? One can’t help but wonder how many careers of aspiring young poets were nipped in the bud by teachers who simply went about teaching it in all the wrong ways and made their pupils eschew this form of expression for the rest of their lives! Fortunately, Yvonne Higgins Leach was not one of those students scared off by the depth of what poetry has to say. We’re pleased to put Yvonne in the spotlight to talk about her debut collection, Another Autumn.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and, especially, what fueled your enthusiasm to express your feelings through poetry?

A: I started writing poetry in sixth grade. My sister Michelle was about six years older than me and she was writing poetry. She introduced me to the art form, and more than anything, she instilled in me that I could write and that poetry was a gift to anyone who wanted to give it to the world. I went to a Catholic school and every day we’d say the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer. After starting to write poems, I approached my teacher and asked her if I could read one of my poems instead of having the class say a prayer (that’s asking a lot when you think about it!) and she agreed.

From there, I got involved in my high school literary magazine. I had a teacher – Mark Arnold – who was influential at such a critical time in my life. He did after-school workshops and even a mini-course where we went to the Oregon Coast for a week with about six other students. In college, I got a degree in English, took as many creative writing classes as I could, and met another mentor and talented writer, Alex Kuo. Alex was more than a teacher, and I vouch for all my co-student friends when I say that. He took each of us under his wing, advised us constantly, read our work carefully and gave honest feedback. We’d do things outside of class too. He’d have us over to his house and we’d go camping. Having a sense of community around poetry was phenomenal. Those were great years.

My MFA came later (from Eastern Washington University) after I was in the workforce for several years. You know, you go to graduate school and you get a degree in Creative Writing Poetry and you make these goals for yourself: mine was that I’d have my first collection of poems published by the time I was 30. Well, my reality at 30 was that I was going through a divorce, raising a daughter, and had started working for a Fortune 100 company. A short three years later, I was in a new relationship and raising two daughters. I did well at my job and was recognized for it, so they kept giving me harder, more challenging assignments and more responsibility. I took on each one and just did my best at it and over the years I found myself an executive and leading good-sized teams and handling major PR corporate issues. The job became a 50 – 60 hour week, easy. But regardless of all that was happening in my personal and professional life, I never gave up on poetry.

Q: Many an aspiring writer has lamented, “Oh, but I just don’t have the time to write because I’m too busy raising my family, climbing the corporate ladder, cleaning the house, etc. In your own experience, you had more than a full plate to fill your waking life. What was your secret to making room for the written word?

I remember many a day at work being tired because I started a poem at 10 p.m. at night and wouldn’t finish until the wee hours. And then I would work on refining it throughout the evenings of that week. For me, it was as if I couldn’t help it. Either I had an experience that moved me to the point that my inner voice said: this has to be told, or someone tells me a story and I am so moved I said the same thing: this has to be documented. When that happened, the poem would stir in me until I could carve out time to get it on paper.

Q: Tell us more about your writing process.

A: It usually, but not always, goes like this: something strikes me…an idea, a story, an experience I had directly, and it tells me that it must be written. I then feel it is something that needs to be made separate, in and of itself, and to be shared with others. I’ll sometimes write the idea in a notebook; but often it just hangs around in my head and heart. When I actually get to the point where phrases are being written in my head or I see the structure of the poem taking place then I know it is time to write. From there, I live with the poem for days and sometimes weeks, replaying the lines, the images, in my head and I’ll tweak them, refine the poem over a period of time. I do a fair amount of this in my head.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your works in progress or did you make them wait until you felt you had polished it to perfection?

A: I do allow people to read my work as I create it. I find that having an “early reader”, as I call them, is very helpful. He or she usually can tell me right away if something isn’t working, is a bit clunky, or unclear. Also, just recently I joined a small community of poets and we now post first drafts on a website called Inked Voices that allows us to critique each other’s work. It’s a really useful tool.

Q: What is your favorite style of poetry?

A: I have two favorite styles of poetry: free verse, especially when a poem uses regular patterns of sound and rhythm that are close to how we speak naturally and yet create an emotional experience that blows your socks off. I have always loved the elegy as well. I know it might sound strange to admire the “melancholy poem that laments its subject’s death” but what I appreciate in an elegy is by the end there is some form of consolation.

Q: Who are some of your favorite poets?

A: I’ll put them in two categories – those who have passed and those who are living.

Those who have passed: Theodore Roethke, for his largeness and realness in poetry. Raymond Carver, for his simplicity of language and expression.  The Irish poet Seamus Heaney, for his acute eye and ear and sense of storytelling in poetry.

Those who are living: some of my favorite poets are Tony Curtis, not the singer, but the Irish poet. He really knows how to capture an experience that moves you.  Edward Hirsch…I find his poetry precise, thoughtful, accessible, and his passion for poetry insatiable. He has written several wonderful books about poetry as well. W.S. Merwin, for his love of the world, both physical and spiritual. And last, Ellen Bass, for her gorgeous poetry that has a great balance between intelligence and heart.

Q: If you could sit down for lunch with any of these beloved wordsmiths, which one would it be, where would you go, and what question would you most like to ask?

A: I am of Irish heritage so I would definitely sit down with Seamus Heaney in an Irish pub in County Derry in Northern Ireland where he grew up. I would ask him to describe what he felt was the hardest thing he overcame as a writer in his lifetime.

Q: My favorite part of any interview is shining a spotlight on a book’s debut. Another Autumn is your first published work. Brava! It’s time to brag and tell us what it felt like to hold that first copy in your hands.

A: It felt surreal to be honest. I remember first feeling happy with the cover art because it represented authentically the title and so many of the poems in the book. Then I read it front to back as an actual book in my hand and that was a wonderful experience.

Q: What’s the story behind the title (and is it a teaser to future “seasonal” collections)?

A: The title comes from one of the poems in the book. I picked it because many of my poems are about the passage of time, which the seasons represent so well.

Q:  You are what I would consider a working poet. Most poets are academics and tied to a college or university. Do you have thoughts on the academic versus the working poet?

As with most things, there are advantages and disadvantages. I have two primary thoughts on this: One, I think if one is in the academic environment there is a lot of support for writing, because writing is taught there and “the structure” and peers tend to be very supportive. In the work world, often your work and your writing are very separate so you frequently have a feeling of isolation when it comes to your writing. It is easy to not feel understood. Second, I think it boils down to how a writer manages his/her time to write. I don’t think anyone can deny whether you are tied to academia or the work world, we’re all busy people. It’s a matter of how you carve out the time to write. For me, it was often late at night after all the duties of the day, both professional and personal, were done. That was just my reality.

Q: What about the naysayers who declare, “But there’s no money in writing poetry. Why aren’t you writing novels instead?”

A: For me, it’s a matter of what drives your passion. I have always had a passion for poetry, knowing there was no money in it. I wouldn’t want to change genres just to make money. I would feel like I would be leaving my real self behind.

Q: The resistance that a lot of people put up toward poetry and its interpretation often stems from their exposure to it in elementary school and high school. What do you say to the person who says s/he doesn’t understand it and, accordingly, chooses not to read it?

A: Poetry is an exchange. I believe both parties have some responsibility in that exchange. The poet’s responsibility is to capture the essence of the poem through the use of his/her tools — words, line breaks, rhythm or song, metaphor — in a way that allows the reader to understand and experience it. I don’t believe in poetry that is so complicated or obscure or internal to the poet that the reader never does understand it. On the other hand, I believe the reader does have a responsibility, too, to give the poem a chance. To wrestle with it, talk back to it, read it again and again because by engaging with it he/she will discover more about the poem and I am certain something more about themselves. When we have this exchange, we make meaning together.

Q: On that note, what’s your personal list of “Ten Poems You Need To Read Before You Die”?

A: What a fun question! “Digging” by Seamus Heaney; “Traveling Through Dark” by William Stafford; “Musee des Beaux Arts” by W.H. Auden; “Sonnet Xvii” by Pablo Neruda; “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost; “Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke; “The Lanyard” by Billy Collins; “What the Doctor Said” by Raymond Carver; “Fall” by Edward Hirsch; “Elegy for a Walnut Tree” by W.S. Merwin.

Q: What’s your philosophy on the writer and the reader?

A: Like a painter, s/he starts with a blank canvas and then, with the tools at hand, paints a scene, image, portrait, whatever it might be. Then the painter waits for a viewer. Poetry is similar. I start with a blank white page and my tools are the words, rhythm, images, metaphor, white space that I create into an experience. The relationship between the writer and the reader is by definition removed by being experienced through text, a body of words on the page. It is a particular kind of exchange between two people most often not physically present to each other. If the poem is good, it is often a passionate form of communication between strangers, and often immediate and intense. Reading poetry is a way of connecting – through a medium of language – more deeply with yourself even as you connect more deeply with another. As a result, I believe the poem delivers on our spiritual lives precisely because it gives us the gift of intimacy and privacy and participation that we wouldn’t experience otherwise.

Q: You’re hinting at the spirituality in poetry. Can you tell us more?

A: Oh most definitely. I have two perspectives on this: First, Wallace Stevens said that “poetry is like prayer in that it is most effective in solitude”. Poetry often comes out of silence and it longs to discover the mysteries of life; hence it is kinship to prayer. So when you think about it, poetry is one of the soul’s natural habitats. In that moment when the soul captures what is deep within we attain something spiritual. I look at the poem as the soul in action through words on a page. Second, poet Pablo Neruda said in so many words: to feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. He also said “but to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, that is something greater and more beautiful because it widens our boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.” I believe that is what poetry does. It connects us.

Pablo told a wonderful story related to this. When he was a young boy in his backyard, he looked through a hole in the fence and much to his surprise the hand of another small boy shot through. When Pablo looked through the hole again, there was a marvelous white sheep there the boy had brought him to gaze at. But the boy had disappeared. Pablo then went into his house and brought out his favorite treasure: a pinecone, opened, full of odor and resin, which he adored, and set down in the same hole in the fence. The next day the pinecone was gone. This little story is about how all of humanity is somehow connected. And when the exchange of gifts occurs, whatever they may be, that is indestructible. Poetry, to me, is an exchange of gifts.

Q: Now that you have more time to write, what do you hope for?

A: Because my time was limited for literally decades, and as a result, many of my poems fit just on one page, I hope to explore writing longer poems, and perhaps write about more philosophical topics. Many of my poems are about experiences, and from there, I have an insight. I’d like now to explore other topics for poetry, like maybe take on concepts and see where the poem goes. As an example, recently I went to a reading where a poet read a 10-page poem about particles meshing into the thing they are closest too. It took her a year to write that poem. I am also reading other poets “by the pounds” now and feeling like I am getting a more complete perspective on the contemporary poetry scene in the U.S.

Q: So who is on your current reading list?

A: I have been reading poets I consider on the national scene but also getting to know many of the local poets in the Northwest. On the national scene, poets include: Claudia Rankine, Nicky Finney, Tony Hoagland, Ross Gay, Gregory Pardlo, Jane Hirshfield, Terrance Hayes, Jamaal May, Saeed Jones, Ocean Vuong, Naomi Shihab Nye, Kathleen Jamie, and Wesley McNair. I could go on and on. I am having so much fun consuming poetry!

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: At my website: www.yvonnehigginsleach.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: If you feel you have something to share, a story to tell, a poem to write, then do it. Don’t let that critical voice we often hear inside ourselves shut you down. You have every right to create!

 

 

 

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A Chat with Morrie Warshawski

Morrie Warshawski

When first reviewing Morrie Warshawski’s (www.warshawski.com) online profile and many interviews, I came away wondering, “Who is this man?” Trained as a poet in his earlier years, Morrie has become one of the most sought after fundraising consultants/facilitators in his field. Specializing in working with non-profit organizations, he has managed to stay true to his own core values. His eclectic words of poetry lay on the page, inviting the reader to make of them what they will. This is clearly a thinking, feeling, man who values life and humanity in equal measure, and I’m pleased to introduce him to you. Welcome Morrie.

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Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

Q         The poems you’ve written in your latest book, This Afternoon (http://warshawski.com/index.html), seem strange and meandering, with snippets of words ripe with imagery cobbled together. What is the message or meaning you are hoping to convey to the reader?

A         I’m hoping that readers will not look for meaning! When you stand in front of a painting by Jackson Pollock it doesn’t help to ask “what does this mean?” My poems are a bit like those paintings. I’d love for the reader to approach each poem as if it were its own little universe, to delve into it and experience what delight they can from the involvement with language and images.

Q         What happened in your life that prompted you to write this particular book of poems now?

A         I had not been writing regularly for years. Then my wife got a job in Southern California and I found myself commuting part time between our home in Napa and our temporary apartment in Santa Clarita. I had afternoons with nothing else to do, so I started writing again. I decided I wanted to focus on the moment, and on apprehending raw experiences taken directly from my life in the disjointed way that the mind works.

Q         In a previous interview by our host, Christina Hamlett (https://fromtheauthors.wordpress.com/category/morrie-warshawski/), you mention that you trained     as a poet, but later became the Executive Director for three nonprofit arts organizations. That’s quite a leap. Could you explain exactly how that significant life change came about and why you took such a divergent path from the one you started out on?

A         It’s a crazy story that involves my favorite word – “serendipity”! I was teaching Interdisciplinary Arts at the Univ. of Southern California when I applied to be an intern with the Literature Program of the then new National Endowment for the Arts. It turns out that they already had an intern selected for Literature, but they asked if I would accept an internship with the Dance Program of Artists in the Schools! I said yes, and that summer in Washington, DC changed my life. I had to take dance classes three days a week, and attend dance performances every weekend. That experience made me want to leave the University world and work with non-profit arts organizations. The rest is history!

Q         As a facilitator for non-profit organizations, you are a strategist and planner. Would you say planning and strategizing are part of your natural personality traits, or something you’ve developed over time?

A         I would say that “thoughtfulness” is a part of my natural personality. Planning and strategy are notions that I adopted slowly and at first unwillingly. What I learned is that they work and are powerful tools for moving organizations and individuals forward toward their objectives. The first time I was tasked with creating a strategic plan – when I was Executive Director of Bay Area Video Coalition – I went kicking and screaming into the process thinking it would be a big waste of my time. By the time we were through, I became a born again strategic planning devotee!

Q         You’ve worked with an impressive array of clients over the years; from high to low profile nonprofit and for-profit companies and organizations throughout America. What have you learned about yourself and others along the way?

A         Too much to write about briefly! I’ve learned a lot about patience, about what motivators are effective with what types of personalities, about the limits of being consultative and the benefits of being faciliative – and especially that I can’t solve every problem!

Q         Most people have an innate fear of approaching others for funding for any project, believing they aren’t up to the challenge. Can anyone learn to do it effectively, i.e. by reading a book on the subject, or does it take a certain personality type to successfully achieve the set goals?

A         There are so many different paths to fundraising (grants, houseparties, crowdfunding, individual asks, donation letters) and each one is more appropriate for a different set of talents and skills. Some people (introverts) prefer to write a letter or a grant, and others are more extroverted and have no trouble making a personal ask for support. I know that anyone can learn how to be successful in any of these paths through reading, taking workshops, and role playing I also know that some paths (especially the one-on-one in person ask) are much more difficult to pursue and that overcoming the impediments and fears to that path takes a tremendous amount of will power and the right motivation.

Q         You’ve also written Shaking The Money Tree: The Art of Getting Grants and Donations for Film and Video Productions , The Fundraising Houseparty, and co-wrote A State Arts Strategic Planning Toolkit, (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_17?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=morrie+warshawski&sprefix=morrie+warshawski%2Caps%2C189) with Kelly J. Barsdate and Jonathan Katz. What does writing books about your business do for you personally or in a business sense, and why?

A         Personally, it’s a great learning experience. Doing the research involved forces me to go out into the world and discover new trends, meet new people, and learn new skills. Professionally, the books have been a tremendous calling card for consulting contracts and requests to teach workshops. Published books help give me credibility, as well. And, they are a modest source of income.

Q         You have chosen to self-publish This Afternoon and offer it for individual sale via your website (www.warshawski.com). Can you tell us why you chose this method of publication for this particular project?

A         It often takes years to find a publisher for a book of poems. This particular book is very short, and very quirky. I knew from the start that I wanted the poems to be a very limited edition, and that I wanted it done “old school” – hand set type, letterpress printing, handmade paper covers, hand sewn binding – and I wanted control of the design – all things that are expensive to have and that you can’t get from a publisher. The book is a little work of art in and of itself. I was lucky to work with a great designer and letterpress printer, Lisa Rappoport (http://littoralpress.com).

Q         Who has been your greatest life or career mentor, and why?

A         I stand on the shoulders of many people who have made a significant difference to my life. Like many people, there were two high school teachers to whom I will always be indebted – Bob Richmond and Harry Klutz of Paseo High School in Kansas City, Missouri. They showed me that there was a wider world out there, and that I had special talents I could use to make the world a better place.

Q         You specialize in working with the nonprofit sector. What is it about nonprofits that excites and energizes you?

A         You have to love the non-profit sector! Its values are my values. Nonprofits want to improve the human condition, to make communities better, to serve those in need, and enhance quality of life. I’m especially drawn to working with arts and culture organizations because of my commitment to the role that art plays in our lives.

Q         What has been your greatest personal life-lesson thus far, and why?

A         Identify, clarify, and stay true to your core values. They are inescapable and are the key to your “comportment” – how you travel through life with authenticity, with a sense of mission, and with energy.

Q         What’s next for you, Morrie?

A         More yoga, more reading, more chocolate!

You can learn more about and connect with Morrie here:

Twitter: @morriew

Facebook: www.facebook.com/morrie.warshawski

Website: www.warshawski.com

LinkedIn: Morrie Warshawski

 

She Said No To The Wind

She Said No to the Wind

I was introduced to César Moran-Cahusac through our Christina Hamlett, who designed the cover for his new poetry collection, She Said No to the Wind. As a fellow poet and nature lover, I was enthusiastic to connect with him.

For every book he sells, he donates a dollar “towards the implementation and development of a tree nursery that will be the seed for an urban reforestation project in the city of Cusco, Peru.” As a poet, his works are seeds for other things as well. He inspired me to write again from that playful, dark, inquisitive, wondrous place, to walk barefoot in the sand and just breathe, and to celebrate the little things that piece together all that counts in the end. His book is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. (You can see samples of his poetry and the gorgeous photography with the “Look Inside” feature.)

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Q: In your work as an activist, poet, peace advocate and environmentalist, you share a lot of yourself with others. What are some things that people don’t know about you?

A: I think what I don’t share are my weaknesses and fears; it has been a long process to even start recognizing them. Mostly because one was taught not to be weak and vulnerable.

But, that is not true. On the contrary it is vulnerability that makes you resilient. So, as I have been writing I have been learning to accept my vulnerabilities and fears, understand and then overcome them.

It has been my poetry that has allowed me to expose them to myself; this allowed me to be courageous enough to compile them metaphorically in my first poetry anthology called She Said No to the Wind.

So, it has been a long walk where I was accompanied by my fears, and as we took this stroll we talked a lot and now I feel comfortable with some of them. There is still a lot of talking to do.

Q: That’s awesome—your poetry has a lot of heart and sharing that allows us to open up, too. What first drove you to write?

A: I have always been a sensitive and very passionate individual. By this I want to say that I feel things very intensively and these feelings are just there, lingering around me.

In fact, before waking up in the morning I would find myself with phrases and even complete poems in my head, but at that time I did not pay attention to them. I did not consider them important or even good enough to be saved by writing them on a piece of paper. Then little by little I took the risk to jot them down and play with the words I had written.

That is when the magic and the infatuation with words started, their meaning and sound became intensively beautiful to me. So, poetry in the form of free prose allowed me to get these feelings out, as I wanted to shout, cry, laugh, hug, run, dance, jump, and feel. Poetry became the medium to let it all out.

Q: Thank you for taking that risk of publishing it, letting it all out with us. Your cover captures the spirit of the book, with its message “to inspire”. In what other ways do you hope to connect with your readers?

A: I want them to genuinely feel alive, this is to fuel in them the urge to look around and embrace the beauty that surrounds them and that every one of them has stories that can be portrayed in a wonderful way. Hopefully, as they read this book and its lines they can understand who I am, how I see the world and kindle in the reader the urge to live life as uniquely as possible.

Q: What a beautiful way to see things. The poems in your book celebrate daily events. What do you consider the value and power of the seemingly mundane?

A: The mundane is what builds history; it has all the events that construct our lives and the lives of the people who surround us. We all, within our natural setting, weave a fantastic living textile that drapes over the landscape.

It is then when the mundane expresses colors, textures, aromas, that precipitates the wild array of events that construct our lives and makes us move us forward. By being sensitive to this magic one becomes uniquely compassionate.

Q: Your poetry also celebrates the magic of nature. From your work in the field and your Masters in Environmental Management, you’ve considered our world from multiple perspectives. What are you most passionate about when it comes to nature and conservation?

A: Yes, nature is the mother—it is what feeds us, embraces, and cradles our interwoven diverse civilization. Without her we are absolutely nothing. So by understanding her processes and fully acknowledging the fact that the consumption of natural resources is a blessing; we can see the necessity to tread gently over her, and by this I mean tiptoe.

So interacting with her should not be this greedy destruction. Moreover, we have to boldly declare the paradigm of endless growth as obsolete, not even think of sustainable development.

Q: What do you mean, abandon sustainable development?

A:  I do not believe in sustainable development, in the sense that nothing can grow forever; the concept that makes more sense is resilience.  Sustainable development is trying to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. But, nothing that grows forever is sustainable… it was a great concept presented in the Brundtland report in 1987. That had the idea to inspire people to care for nature.  But this has become a catchphrase, and abused by the interests of advocates of exponential economic growth, undermining environmental reforms. We are defunct as a species if we do not consider the fact that we need to start de-growing to reach an adequate balance and actively reduce our demands on nature.

Q: How it is possible to “de-grow”?

A: De-growth is a new term that expresses “that the only way for humanity to live within its biophysical limits and mitigate the effects of climate change is to reduce economic activity, to downscale consumerist lifestyles, to move beyond conventional energy sources, to give up on the fantasy of ‘decoupling’ economic and population growth from environmental impacts, and to rethink the technologies that have gotten us into our current predicament. There has been no known society that has simultaneously expanded economic activity and reduced absolute energy consumption” taken from   A Call to Look Past An Ecomodernist Manifesto: A Degrowth Critique [http://www.resilience.org/articles/General/2015/05_May/A-Degrowth-Response-to-An-Ecomodernist-Manifesto.pdf].

This should liberate us from thinking naïvely that technology will save us from overriding planet Earth and look into how can we become resilient and design actions towards adaptation.

Q: You are an advocate of environmentalism and peace. How do you consider these to be connected?

A: I think they are connected through compassion—when we have sincere, compassionate feelings for ourselves, these feelings ripple into the environment. In this way, we build care and slowly but surely the way we look at nature changes, perceiving its small marvels as a delicate equilibrium that can’t be disrupted violently. This is when peace sets in as the way to be in harmony with nature and the rest of living and human beings.

Q: What inspires you in your daily life?

A: Well, to be able to take the any opportunity to smile and enjoy life thoroughly by just recognizing its daily events. Just the fact of waking up in the morning makes me smile, inspiration comes by being open-minded, allowing everything to inspire me. Sounds, words people say, the weather, whatever comes my way has a meaning and brings sensations that need to be expressed.

Q: You also express yourself with martial arts. What draws you to practice?

A: I have practiced two martial arts, Kung Fu and Aikido. The latter is called the art of peace or the way of harmony. I try to live in harmony and I recognize that this is very difficult, but as I train all I want is to polish the art, the expression, the connection, the form, the movement, the ability to create kuzushi or to take your opponents’ balance in a subtle way. So, what draws me to practice is the endless opportunity one has   to polish and perfect a technique  Like with words, I go about with my training—I try to use them in the most precise way possible. The arts in general offer you a stream of incredible surprises than can only be found if you practice them committedly. One always has to train with a beginner’s mind, willing to learn something new every day.

Q: In all your activities, as an activist, advocate, poet, and as one who practices peace, is there something that you consider joins them together?

A: I think it’s my heart that joins them, yes, my heart is a wonderful thing because it embraces them all, I learn from every single one of them. They all interact, taking energy and knowledge from each other, and my heart fuels them, making them move forward with passion.

Q: There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a community to raise an author, an idea. Your book is dedicated to several key people (and our ultimate shared mother, nature). In what way have the people in your life been your village?

A: When we interact with people, they leave in us experiences from which we learn. This is in some ways streams of good and the bad, the happy and the sad.  On which we can navigate, I tend to navigate on the positive side of things, when I meet or interact with the negative side I learn from them that I definitely do not want to be there or become that. “Positiveness” is the force that I share and take from people. This I have I learned from my mother and father that taught me to always look forward for a new day, for a new way and to be able to appreciate the opportunity to learn something new.

And in that sense I give thanks to all the above, to be kind and compassionate to everybody and to draw a smile as fast as one can. In fact become the fastest smile out there and with this practice always laugh every single day of my life. So, it’s my responsibility to stir happiness and postiveness in my village. The people I have mentioned in my dedication have sparked in me this way of being, I have become resilient in so many ways thanks to them and furthermore I would have to add more people on to that list. So I can take the opportunity now to thank them all for inspiring and allowing me to be who I am.

Q: When you look at our future, as a humanitarian and nature advocate, what do you see?

A: I see that there is an urge to change people’s attitudes and level of consciousness. It is unbearable to see how opportunism, manipulation, greediness, oblique disdain for equal human rights is still rampant.

If words can trickle down as gentle rain and sensitize people; well let’s write, share the words in all its forms, so that being  said I will continue writing and expressing what I see and feel intensively.

Editorial Note: Over the course of the interview, César revealed he had been inspired to pen a new poem. We are happy and honored to share it here with our readers.

Can You Draw Your Smile?

Can you draw it fast, as fast as you can?

Yes, can you make that sparkling ivory shine like a blaze?

Shattering the ice that has taken the hearts

Breaking the rusty padlocks that incarcerated joy

Invisibly loitering around lips and cheeks,

So heavy that frowns became conspicuous

Making daily strolls gloomy and the inability to open up a constant

So slap everybody with it, back and forth, be mighty

Become merciless with that smile

Release it quick as lightning that hits the ground with a rumble

Cracking elation to extent of anointing the spirit with warmth that leaks pleasure into the cells

Defusing anger, embracing shyness with a welcoming grin

Evicting shallow greetings that kill love

Invigorate with that nimble feat that flashes your dental sculpture

Allowing eyes balls and brows to expand in surprise

Permeating the spreading of fun vibes in a brink like butter on hot bread

Call upon teeth and gums; astonish at dawn, at sunset,

Halt the stiffness that has cramped faces

Bring abundance with no fear of scrutiny

Because your smile is perfect as it opens any cloud or clouted ideas

A perpetual smile cleanses the body, stretches it to enable tolerance

Killing incisive stares that bleed hatred,

It can relieve agnostic perceptions that life is only crappy

So, become a believer ignite a brouhaha that will ransack everybody,

Yes, a squawking commotion like macaws’ flying into the sunset.

Smile as fast as you can, deliver the blow that knocks out animosity

Fill that face with content; yes be quick, as fast as you can.

César Morán – Cahusac

Cusco, June 2015

The Music Girl

Kain Fairbrooks cover

“Music is what feelings sound like,” wrote an unknown author. In Kain B. Fairbrooks’ new release, The Music Girl,” a victimized child kept in isolation by her own parent not only discovers that the timeless power of music holds the key to express her emotions but also to facilitate her freedom. At just 20 years old, Fairbrooks is a newcomer to the writing scene but has made the inventive decision to ignore many of the conventions of fictional storytelling and write The Music Girl as a poem.

Interviewer – Christina Hamlett

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Q: For starters, tell us a bit about your journey as a writer and what (or who) inspired you to pen your first story?

A: Ahhh the one who inspired me was my mom. She used to tell me and my sister stories only using her imagination. And I absolutely loved it to death! She would even encourage us to tell stories back to her and this started my whole “I wanna be a writer” when I was five years old. In first grade, the principal of my elementary school noticed that I wouldn’t go out for recess but I would spend my time writing inside. I showed her a short story I wrote and she loved it and got it published. It sat in the school library for years while I was attending there. After that I played around with my writing, improving it- learning more techniques until the end of high school where I started getting…haha somewhat serious!

Q: Did you read books before bedtime as a child?

A:Yes I did! Just quite a few, though.

Q: What are some of the titles we might have found on that childhood bedside table?

A: The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter was one. The Road To Elyon, Dr. Seuss’s array of stories, a bunch of fairytales, Mother Goose, and newspaper comics!

Q: So what might we find on your bedside table these days?

A: Haha nothing! I know, it’s weird.

Q: One book at a time or multiple books?

A: One book at a time. It tastes better that way.

Q:  Would you describe yourself as an introvert or an extrovert and what influence does that have on your creativity, energy levels and response to feedback about your work?

A: I would think I’m an extrovert. Sometimes my creativity runs really high and boosts up my energy causing me to write multiple stories at once. Especially when I’ve had a social interaction.

Feedback can either make me go “I like your criticism! Let me get started on that right away! Oh! I can even do [insert a bunch of random things]” or “gbvaghvbdhbj why did I even start writing this- I’m a horrible being.”

Q: Tell us what The Music Girl is about.

A: The Music Girl is about a young lady who went through ten years of abuse and neglect from her envious mother who locks her in the attic. In the attic, she realizes that she wasn’t alone. There stood a very old piano that still worked and so she began learning how to play. Crying out her pain through music. One day, she escapes her mother’s wrath by killing her mother and burning down the mansion she was held captive in. She throws away her name and all that she is and begins her musical journey, learning how to play various instruments from people off the streets and professionals.

Q: The choice to craft The Music Girl as a poem story is an interesting one. What governed that decision for you?

A:  There was this story before The Music Girl that I wanted to write in the fashion of a poem but tell a story. Though, my inner thoughts told me that people wouldn’t like it- I shouldn’t try it- what if people don’t get it? So I dropped the idea, now regretting it horribly! But a few months later, I thought of The Music Girl and went…maybe it won’t be so bad? What’s the worst that can happen? A few chapters later and I absolutely loved writing in such a strange way. Also the people on Figment* helped me see that this was a great decision to write it like this, so I kept it!

(*Interviewer Note: http://www.figment.com is an online forum where writers in a multiplicity of genres meet, create, share and connect with one another.)

Q: Did you work from an outline or just allow the scenes to flow spontaneously?

A: I let the scenes flow naturally. Though sometimes I wished I used an outline.

Q: Writers often spend a lot of time editing, editing, editing. Did you do your edits as you were writing or wait until the entire thing was finished?

A: I edited as I was writing it. Because I posted each chapter on Figment every day, I had to make sure that it was on point or else my conscious would get to me. ‘Why did you post that crap?’ it would say.

Q: Was there anything significant you ended up editing our prior to publication?

A: I’m pretty sure I ended up doing the opposite and adding more in than editing out.

Q: Who’s your target readership for The Music Girl and what would you like them to take away from it by the time they reach the end?

A: Probably adults who had a horrible past and couldn’t let it go. I wanted to show people that things happen, horrible things, and it’ll try to pop itself up back in your life and make you afraid of the future. But you can’t let it do that. You can’t let it ruin you. Something like that, I suppose.

Q: The choice to self-publish has become a popular one for today’s writers, especially insofar as the desire to control one’s intellectual property and move it on to the market as quickly as possible. What are some of the things you learned during this process and what are you doing to spread the word that your new book is available?

A: Some of the things I learned are that there are people willing to help you spread the word but also to do your research beforehand. I ran into a lot of free promotional things while trying to spread the word. People do free postings on Facebook, tweets from Twitter, and give your book a read and make a blog post about it. Even book tours. It’s really incredible!

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m in the process of publishing two illustrated children’s books by Light Books and working on a horror novel called Thy Broken Mind which you can vote for online!

Q: What do you do if you come across a dry spot in your writing or hit the all-dreaded writer’s block?

A: I usually walk away and go hang upside down on the couch while looking at Oblique Strategies on my phone. Or play video games! Depends how bad it is.

Q: Ever have a bad day? If so, what gives you strength to get through it?

A: Yes I have! Laughter and music. Sometimes when it rains, it pours hard and you forget to laugh.

Q: Morning person or evening person?

A: Evening!

Q: Cats or dogs?

A: Dogs all the way!!

Q: Boba or Cheesecake?

A: Oooh….cheesecake. I’m sorry my beloved Boba.

Q: Movies that make you laugh or movies that make you cry?

A: Movies that make me laugh.

Q: The most favorite thing you have in your closet?

A: My Alucard cosplay coat that I got autographed by Crispin Freeman, an English dub voice actor!

Q: Pandas, polar bears, koalas or grizzlies?

A: Pandas!!

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: That I enjoy raves!

Q: Where can they learn more about your work?

A: Probably the best place is my Figment page, which has all the rough drafts of a lot of my writings, Basilica Press, and Twitter!

At Gloaming

At_Gloaming_Front_Cover2

“Poetry,” wrote Dylan Thomas, “is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.” In this month’s feature interview, award-winning published poet Larry Schug invites us inside his world and introduces us to the elements that inspire him to be creative.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: Let’s start with a brief overview of your journey as a writer. For instance, did you come from a literary background when you were growing up or did the desire to write not take root until adulthood?

A: My mother and father were both readers. My dad read westerns, Louis L’Amour, etc. and my mother read romance novels; not exactly classic literature, but a story is a story. Though my father only finished eighth grade and my mother just high school, they somehow set me on the reading path. My mom’s sister, who was a school teacher, taught me to read before I started school and I’ve been an avid reader my whole life. I’ve always been fascinated with words, their power to paint pictures in my brain, to make my heart beat fast, to stir emotions inside me, the sounds they make coming out of my mouth. I think I was a decent writer in school, at least academically, if not creatively. It did not cause me pain to write book reports, term papers or essays for class, in fact, I enjoyed doing so. I do remember getting positive feedback from a teacher for a poem I wrote in third grade and, for some reason, that stuck with me as something I could do well. But really, my ambition as a child was to be a baseball player or a cowboy, not a writer. I continued writing poems while growing up, but never showing them to anyone or even keeping any of them. I actually wrote quite a bit while in the army, a way to achieve catharsis, more than anything, but again, not keeping them or sharing them with anyone. After my parents died while I was in my thirties, I wrote poems to express my grief and I finally shared them with other people, some of who told me I had a gift and should try to publish them. I finally listened. To this day, I think my best poems come from dealing with grief, having survived my parents, a brother and good friends who have passed on. I guess you might say I have broadened my horizons to include writing about everything I’ve encountered in life.

Q: What part did/does poetry play in your life and in shaping your particular outlook about the world and about your relationships with others?

A: At this point, I think I see life as a poem constantly being written, the way I imagine a musician sees the world as song or the way a painter perhaps views the world as images to be painted. My wife and I are fortunate to be able to live on a beautiful piece of property we share with deer, coyotes, otters, sand hill cranes and a wide variety of bird life. I am enamored and influenced by the natural world, its beauty, its grace and the way it has shaped us. I’m a dedicated “tree hugger” and very concerned by what seems like our planet’s slow but certain degradation. I sincerely hope I’m wrong about that and I hope that my poetry in some way can influence others to do better by our little planet. Earth is the only place we can live and what makes it such a magnificent place is its beauty and all the other creatures that share our planet with us. A goal for my poetry is to inspire others with the beauty, variety, and magnificence of our world and I do see signs of hope in the upcoming generations.

I feel a need to write my life and my observations down and poetry is the form it most frequently takes. Poetry helps me figure out this state of being we call life in all its twists and turns. Being a fairly shy person, I’ve found poetry is a way for me to communicate. I also like to read poetry. I read poetry every day as a learning tool, but also I love the music inside words. Poetry enlightens me, shows me life in new and unexpected ways and from different viewpoints. Poetry teaches me how to be a human being.

Q: Your biography reflects that you’ve spent a lot of time at physical labor. How does this come out in your poems?

A: Writing is a physical task. I think performing most kinds of physical work is doing “one thing at a time”. I’ve worked as a paperboy, groundskeeper, farm worker, forest firefighter, forestry technician, grave digger, dish washer, factory worker and recycler, all of which are physical and repetitive. I find my make-up is well suited to these kinds of tasks and I see them as Zen-like in their performance in that a person must be aware of what their body is doing in order to work safely and efficiently, focused in the here and now. I’ve also been heating my house with firewood for at least half my life and cutting, splitting, carrying and stacking firewood must be done with this same Zen-like outlook. I would probably make a good ant or honey bee (perhaps I was in a past lifetime!) as that is how it seems they go about their work, picking up pollen at a flower and returning to the hive or gathering leaves and returning to the anthill repeatedly. Writing poetry is no different, especially when it comes to re-writing or finding the right word to accomplish the work of a poem. Poetry requires intense attention to the job at hand, not a multi-tasking approach. I write all my poems with a pen on paper, including all re-writes. I like the physicality of doing it this way; for me, writing is as much physical as mental. Only after a poem is “finished” does it go to the computer.

Q: Which of your poems do you believe best captures who Larry Schug really is? (feel free to insert it in the interview along with your explanation of why you chose it)

A:

Mending Mittens

Mending my leather mittens

for the third time this winter,

I sew them with waxed string

made to repair fishing nets,

hoping they’ll last

until the splitting maul rests

against the shrunken woodpile

and the hoe and spade come out of the shed.

I find myself praying.

Blessed be those who have laced together

the splits at the seams of this world,

repair its threads of twisted waters.

Blessed be those who stitch together

the animals and the land,

repair the rends in the fabric

of wolf and forest,

of whale and ocean,

of condor and sky.

Blessed be those who are forever fixing

the tear between people and the rest of life.

May we all have enough thread,

may our needles be sharp,

may our fingers not throb or go numb.

May each of us find an apprentice,

someone who will take the needle from our hands,

continue all the mending that needs to be done.

 

Mending Mittens is the real Larry Schug. It reflects my relationship with physical work and also brings out my spiritual side. It captures me as a “dreamer”, yet, I think portrays me as being realistic. This poem captures my love of the natural world and all of its inhabitants and my fears and sorrow at the injuries we are inflicting on what gives us our very life.

Q: Has retirement – and the change of lifestyle this has introduced – impacted your writing and creative processes?

A: It has, in that while I was working I had to “schedule” my writing to early morning or evening times. Now I’m free to stop what I’m doing and write if I feel the need. What I may have lost in concentrated discipline, I have gained back in time. Yet, I feel I have maintained the proper discipline needed to be productive. I now spend more time away from people, but when I am with others it is not solely in a work environment, which was rather limiting. I am not a hermit. I volunteer as a writing tutor with college students and also volunteer as a naturalist, both of which provide an avenue of contact with people in a more open way.   I think my creativity has expanded with an increase in time devoted to different pursuits. Another change is that I have more time to read, which is important to writing, opening up new avenues of thinking.

Q: Share with us how a new poem is conceived in your imagination and how long it takes to actually be “born” for a publishable debut.

A: Poems come from paying attention to being alive and all that entails. Again, this a Zen-like outlook and just as meditation requires that a person be mindful of their breathing, poetry requires that I must be aware of what is going inside as well of outside of me. With practice, I’ve been able to develop a sense of poetry in everything. I can’t think of anything not fit for a poem. Along with that, my internal dialogue seems to have a visual component; in that I see things that happen as poetry and I see my thoughts as poems if I pay attention to them with a poetic outlook. A poem often begins with an image in my head. Having said that, I write down my thoughts and observations and then transform them into poems with the use of language, metaphor, sound and all the other tools in a poet’s toolbox. If lucky, the poem may just happen, but most likely, I’ll have to go to work and make these thoughts or images into a poem, shaping them in a poetic form. All this can happen quickly, but more often it’s like trying to put a puzzle together, which takes time. Rewriting is crucial. Each poem has a life of its own and its own time frame. I think I’ve learned to listen to the poem and let it tell me how it needs to be written. Like a lot of endeavors, the journey is as important as the destination. I’ve also learned to let a poem tell me when to stop, when it is done, when enough is enough.

Q: What governs your decision on how to physically format a poem? The New Yorker, for example, has a gimmicky fondness for displaying a lot of poems as inverted pyramids, antlers, skinny columns and PacMan circular motifs – none of which really adds to a greater appreciation of the content. I’d be curious as to how you approach the presentation question.

A: How a poem appears on paper is important. Line breaks are crucial in finding the correct form and so, in that way, the poem forms itself. I write in complete sentences, not fragments, but that does not mean a line of a poem can’t be just one word if that words needs to be emphasized. This can lead to a poem assuming an unconventional shape. I’ve only written one “picture poem” in which the poem formed an image, in this case a stalk of wheat, in the poem “The Roots Know”, published in my first book, Scales Out of Balance.

Q: When and where are you at your most creative?

A: I have always been a “morning person”, probably because I got up with my dad who was an early riser. My first real job was as a paperboy, delivering the morning Minneapolis Tribune. This does not necessarily apply to my writing schedule, though I do feel a certain receptivity early in the day. I try to keep myself open and receptive at all times. I always make sure I have paper and pen with me as I go through the day, so location is not much of a factor either, though I do most of my writing in a notebook on a small wooden typewriter table in “my corner” of the upper floor of our small house.

Q: You devote a section of At Gloaming to New Mexico and Ghost Ranch.  Explain the connection.

A: Ghost Ranch is a retreat/educational/conference center near Abiquiu, New Mexico. It is a place of peace and creativity, perfect for contemplation. I have been going there for the past nineteen years with a group of college students as part of a service program called Alternative Break Experience sponsored by Campus Ministry at the College of St. Benedict. We work for Ghost Ranch, helping them to fulfill their mission and also work in the community doing various kinds of work from cleaning acequias (irrigation ditches), working at a local animal shelter, planting trees with an environmental organization and helping the elderly or working in local schools. Ghost Ranch has a long history, going back to the Spanish incursion into New Mexico and the native cultures that inhabited the area before that and finally to the Anglo-American culture, but the history of the land goes back to the dinosaurs. Georgia O’Keefe had a house at Ghost Ranch and did much of her painting there and, somewhat ironically, the people who developed the atomic bomb at Los Alamos went to Ghost Ranch for R and R. The focus of our experience is environmental justice, but we also learn much about local history, geology and about the mix of Anglo, Hispanic and Native cultures. It is a place of great beauty in the high desert, a land of mesas, buttes, arroyos and mountains. All this, plus the people I’ve met and worked with, is very inspiring to me to me as a poet. The culture and landscape is vastly different than the culture I grew up in here in Minnesota and I have fallen completely in love with it. I think the difference is something I needed to experience and explore and, for me, what better way than poetry? This difference has opened new doors to my way of thinking and seeing things that I need to translate to poetry.

Q: Who are some of the poets whose work you admire and who may have had an influence on your own writing style?

A: Duluth, Minnesota poet Barton Sutter, a former Creative Writing teacher of mine, is a big influence. Lucille Clifton, Ted Kooser, Jimmy Santiago Baca and John Caddy are just a few of many poets who have influenced me and taught me through their poems. John Caddy in particular, showed me that it was ok to write about growing up in an alcoholic family situation and that good poetry can come from that experience. I almost hate to list anyone, because it seems an insult to leave so many great poets off this list. When I speak to students I tell them that it’s imperative to read good poetry in order to write good poetry. All of the poets I’ve mentioned write in a clear and understandable yet lyrical voice. I do like to stretch my brain, but I really don’t like poetry that I can’t understand and leaves me scratching my head in befuddlement.

Q: If you could go to lunch with any of these poets, who would it be, where would you go, and what question would you most like to ask?

A: Tough question. Today I would choose Jimmy Santiago Baca because I’d like to know more about him and also because he lives in New Mexico and we could go to my favorite restaurant, El Farolito, in El Rito, New Mexico and eat the world’s best sopapillas. His background is intriguing and I think he’d be a great person to know. I would love to hear his thoughts on writing poetry, how he goes about it, its purpose, etc. I’d ask him all the questions you’re asking me in this interview.

Q: Your poetry has been recognized with a number of awards. Congratulations! Tell us about them.

A: I have won a number of local grants from the Central Minnesota Arts Board and had a couple poems nominated for the Pushcart Prize, but the award I am most proud of is winning a Loft McKnight Fellowship in 2008. My second book, Caution: Thin Ice was a Minnesota Book Awards finalist and Arrogant Bones was a Midwest Book Award finalist. I certainly don’t think any award means that a person is a “good” writer. Awards are pretty subjective and, really, luck plays a part. I think an award means that something I wrote touched a certain human being or group of them at a certain time. It is a validation of what I do, of course, but my ego is not so big as to put a lot of self-congratulatory stock in any award. They serve as a source of motivation to push myself farther.

Q: Poetry is often labeled as a writing venue that doesn’t pay very well. Sadly – and at least in California – the study of poets and poetry composition in classrooms has been steadily diminishing. What’s your response to this?

A: I suppose I get rather cynical, sometimes, about this, but it is what it is. As Guy Clark once sang, “Ain’t no money in poetry, that’s what sets the poet free”. I certainly don’t write poetry for any monetary reward or compensation, but, I’m afraid the fact that our society doesn’t place much monetary value on poetry somehow reflects its cultural value in America in 2014. I recently had a poem chosen to be the subject of a painting, a poet/artist collaboration, which was a great honor. The painting will sell for $1200.00; the poem will sell for $0.00.

As far as poetry in the classroom, I find that it is valued by many teachers and students, but apparently not by administrators or those who set up curriculums. Again, this reflects an educational system training students to be cogs in our economic machine rather than being fully developed human beings who are thoughtful and in fact, even able to think critically. Our children are being taught to be sheep. I am saddened by this and I think it could have dire consequences for our society in so many ways such as understanding cultural diversity, the environment and how people relate to each other and to themselves. Poetry leads to an open mind, which seems to be the enemy, especially in the world of politics. I apologize for the rant! (Not really.)

Q: Your best advice to an aspiring poet?

A: I would tell them to read good poetry, study it and figure out what makes it appeal to you. This is imperative. I learn more from reading the poems of others critically, than I’ve ever learned in a classroom. I’d also tell them to read more of everything else they can get their hands on—fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, cereal boxes, street signs; anyplace they can find a written word . I would advise them to pay attention to life. Put down the electronic devices and use all your senses—sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch and use your brain. Think your own thoughts. Explore your emotions honestly. Don’t be afraid to go places inside or outside of yourself that may not be pleasant places to visit. Be honest with yourself. And, of course, there is the best advice on how to get better at anything– practice, practice, practice.

Q: If you were asked to write a job description for the occupation of “poet,” what would it say?

A: Pay attention to being alive and pass that on in your writing. A poet must keep in mind that he or she is not writing only for himself or herself, though that may be a part of what we do. Hopefully, other human beings will read our work; therefore it is part of our job to put into words what others may not be able to express. We should be able to enable others to achieve catharsis and healing, help them think and spark their curiosity. We must write as documenters of the past and the present. Particularly we must honor the “now”, for it is the only time we have. We are the story tellers and the “rememberers” of the tribe. We are artists in the same sense as any other artist-painter, sculptor, musician or dancer. We must also be entertainers, not so much as in the Hollywood sense of the word, but in a more thoughtful way.  J. F. Powers, a famous American fiction writer of the last century, once told me a writer is nothing but an entertainer. We all need to be entertained and when we are, it can lead to a more meaningful existence. It is a blessing to entertain and to be entertained. If we are not entertaining, who is going to read or listen to our words?

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I think many people are surprised that I, as a poet, am not an academic, which, I think, is the stereotypical view of a poet. As I’ve stated above, I have made a life of doing menial, physical labor. I worked in the maintenance department at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota for 34 years and when my first book came out, it was greeted somewhat with surprise by the faculty that a person who mows the grass or sorts other people’s garbage (the fancy name for this is Recycling Coordinator) had an interest in or talent for poetry. Having said that, I must say I was very well accepted by the faculty and administration for my literary efforts. I received a lot of support, often being asked to speak in classes and having my books used as texts in various classes as well as official publications of the college.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: Right now, I’m just writing poems with no real goal for them as far as a new book. That will happen when it happens. I do like to explore a subject in detail. I have been writing lately about what goes on in Kay’s Kitchen, a small town café in St. Joseph, Minnesota that I have frequented for 40 years or more. I’m currently working on another poem that takes place there, though it is purely fictional as far as the characters and what they do, but at the same time, realistic.

Q: Where can readers discover more about you and your work?

A: My web site is www.larryschugpoet.com. Readers can also google me and find some poems and newspaper and magazine articles. Send me an e-mail; I love to converse with readers.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I would just like to thank you for this opportunity. I have learned much about myself as I answer the questions and see my writing in a clearer light. I would ask the casual reader to explore poetry. Contrary to popular opinion, poetry is not dead. It’s a vibrant art form that in some way relates to everyone.

 

 

Capsized: A Novel in Verse

Capsized

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

What accounts for our longstanding fascination with the sea, with ships and with the siren call to distant destinations? Anne Tews Schwab applies her own love of all things nautical to Capsized: A Novel In Verse – an imaginative story told in poems about sailing, music, family and swirling teenage emotion.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: Let’s start with telling us how your personal journey as a writer began.

A: My writing journey began at age three. I had recently mastered writing my first name, and was eager to share my writing prowess with my whole neighborhood.  Red crayon clutched in my hand, I hurried outside and proceeded to write on the walls of the house, the door of the garage, the silver trash cans and the slats of our white picket fence. I was proud of my work but my mother seemed to disagree.  Soon after my crayon masterpiece was discovered, I had my first experience in editing as my mother handed me a bucket and a sponge and instructed me to start scrubbing!

Q: Were you a voracious reader growing up?

A: Yes! We weren’t allowed to watch any television except for PBS, so my sisters and I all became voracious readers at very early ages.

Q: What authors and titles especially resonate(d) with you (and why)?

A: I read so many covers off so many books, I wouldn’t have the space to name them all here, but a few that come to mind include: The Anne of Green Gables series by L.M Montgomery (because my mother read a chapter out loud to me every night before bed), Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey (because I dreamed of one day having a family as big as theirs), the Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene and Bobbsey Twin books by Laura Lee Hope and Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (because I had dreams of one day becoming a detective or spy),  A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (because I wanted to be as smart as Meg and wanted to believe it possible to time travel).

Q: What are you reading now?

A: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka, J. K. Rowling)

Q: What is Capsized about and what was your inspiration to write it?

A: Written as a series of poems, Capsized is a fictionalized version of the some of the highs and lows and joys and woes of scow sailing and lake racing combined with a deep love of piano playing and music. Dani’s story began many years ago when I wrote a short story featuring a girl from a sailing-centric family who was deathly afraid of the water. Like Dani, I grew up sailing and playing piano, but unlike Dani, I loved the water, and my sailing and piano stories are quite different from hers!

Q: Who is your target audience and what is the takeaway value you hope to achieve with those readers?

A: I hope that young adult readers will emphasize with the plight of the main character as she struggles to balance the demands of her father, her mother, her brother and the friends that come and go in her life.  In addition to empathizing with the story’s theme, I hope that teens and tweens will come away with a new found love and/or appreciation for power and beauty of poetry.

Q: You describe Capsized as “a novel in verse.” What influenced your decision to go this particular route?

A: As part of my MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hamline University, I had the privilege of penning two theses – one critical, one creative. For my first thesis, I researched extensively in the field of poetry, focusing specifically on the epic poem and how it related to a novel of my own.  As I dove deep into the epics of yore and was immersed in the world of verse, I had the lightbulb idea to rewrite a shelved prose novel entirely in poems.  When the award-winning verse novelist, Ron Koertge, was assigned as my final semester advisor, I knew I had made the right choice.

Q: What were some of the challenges you encountered in developing the story and its themes?

A: The first challenge came when my advisor advised me to put the whole prose novel away, make a bare bones outline of the general story structure from scratch and then begin again, but this time in poetic format … Yikes! The next challenges arrived as I struggled to find the poetic forms that would best represent character, setting, action and emotion.

Q: What part does setting play in the development and progression of the plot?

A: Dani’s home lake — Black Bear Lake — plays a large part in her life and the lives of her friends and family. In addition to being essential to the sailing action that takes place in the story, the lake also sets the tone and pace of the poems and prose throughout the books.  The rhythm of the winds and waves across the lake are reflected in the rhythmic development of the story and the ebb and flow style plot progression.

Q: If you could be any character in the book, which one would it be?

A: Mary — so I could tell her story (there’s so much about her that the reader never gets to see!)

Q: If you were to set sail around the world with only one person for company, who would it be and why?

A: My first choice would be my amazing husband, although it would take some convincing since he has often stated — in no uncertain terms — that he has zero desire to sail anywhere where he can no longer see land 🙂

Q: How long did this book take you to write from start to finish?

A: If we count all of the prose drafts, plus the short story that began it all, the whole process adds up to nearly ten years. If we only count the poetic drafts, it would be closer to two.

Q: Tell us a little about your writing process. For instance, do you do outlines and research in advance or create and research as you go along?

A: I am more of a pantster than an outliner – I tend to write by the seat of my pants, letting the plot develop and the story grow until the first draft is done. After that, I will go back and outline the basic structure to find the holes, pinpoint the flaws and discover what more is needed.

Q: What are some fun or interesting facts about Capsized you’d like readers to know?

A: The sail number and name on the X boat pictured on the cover are the same as my boat’s name and number from back when I was an X-boat racing teenager, but that’s not me or my boat in the picture!

Q: In classrooms across the country, the study of poetry has seriously fallen by the wayside. Further, aspiring writers are often discouraged from writing poetry because there just isn’t any money in it. What’s your reaction to this?

A: It’s true, there is not a lot of money in poetry, but, as I tell teens today, poetry has a power that cannot be denied.  With poetry, deep emotions can be expressed in non threatening ways.  With poetry, teens can speak deep truths. I like to borrow the words of a certain wise doctor when I speak with teachers and teens and tweens of today about poetry, telling them that, with poetry in their pocket, “Oh, the Places You Will Go!” (apologies to Dr. Seuss).

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher for your work?

A: I submitted my book to a wide range of traditional publishers, but as a quiet verse novel, Capsized did not garner a strong interest from agents and/or publishing houses.  After some careful research, I found North Star Press, a local publisher with strong poetry collections. Through their guided self-publishing arm, Polaris Publications, I was able to bring Dani’s story from manuscript form to published fruition.

Q: What kinds of things are you doing to promote the book now that it’s out?

A: Interviews, book signings, mailings, book club appearances, teaching classes about poetry, teaching online workshops, contacting schools and libraries.

Q: For writers that are just starting out, what are your three best tidbits of advice?

A: 1. Write.

2. Write.

3. Write!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: A middle grade fantasy fiction story about pirates and mermaids and destiny and family.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about you or your work?

A: I write a poem a day and I would encourage all of your readers to do so as well —  poetry is perfect for all people, all places, all the time.  Poetry is perfect for you!

 

Readers can learn more about Anne by visiting the following:

Website: http://piratepoems.com/capsized

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/capsized.anovelinverse

Twitter: https://twitter.com/PoetryPlunder

 

 

A Conversation with James Lawless

James_Lawless

I had the opportunity to interview James Lawless, a poet, literary author, teacher and philosopher. It is fascinating to explore other points of view in this vast literary universe and for those readers who enjoy more textured writing than is commercially available, they may find a kindred spirit in Mr. Lawless.

(I would recommend readers check out his ebooks and read the samples; it’s easy to get a sense of the flavor and rhythms of his work from the first few paragraphs.)

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Q: You’ve referred to Finding Penelope as your “wry glance” at the genre of chick lit. Please elaborate.

A: Just as Cervantes’ Don Quixote was a send-up of the proliferation of novels of chivalry of his time, I attempt in Finding Penelope to send up the chick-lit genre and show it for what I believe it is: a fatuous and formulaic comfort read with no claim to art. Part of the development in the character of Penelope is centered on this realisation. She starts off as a romance novelist with her de rigueur happy ending demanded by her readers and her unflappable agent Sheila Flaherty. However, after she endures various vicissitudes, she comes to realise that life is not always happily ever after and she resolves from then on to be true to herself and her writing.

Q: That’s a fascinating approach. As a poet, scholar, short story writer and novelist, you chose to play with form in Finding Penelope, switching tenses frequently. What inspired you to weave your story this way?

A: Virginia Woolf and James Joyce are great influences on me particularly in their steam of consciousness techniques. Nineteenth century narrative styles are no longer adequate to address the multimedia and high-tech world of the twenty first century. The weaving in and out of Penelope’s consciousness of past, present and future hope is in keeping with modern living varying from its frenetic texting and emailing to the deeper revelations of the solitary reverie or epiphany as Joyce called it.

Q: How refreshing that you’re bringing that “flavor” back into our present-day literature. What was your writing process for this project?

A: I tried to be disciplined although it didn’t always work. I showed up like a clerk most mornings in my little office, petit bourgeois as Flaubert would say but dreaming subversively — my dreams are my freedom. I am more productive when I go to my cottage in the mountains of West Cork where I have no Internet to distract me. For Finding Penelope I travelled to Spain to do research on the Costas particularly on the expat way of life and on the drug culture and the criminality associated with it. I also consumed a high octane level of chick-lit.

Q: What a range of research! Share with us your affinity with the Spanish culture. What about it speaks to you?

A: When I was in secondary school, an enlightened Christian Brother introduced some of us to Spanish extracurricular studies and it opened up a new and polysemic universe to me. I delighted in learning of a different culture in an Ireland which at the time was rather insular. Spanish of course stretched beyond Europe to the great South American continent with its powerful potential and also to the huge Hispanic population in the USA. I enjoy the literature not only of Spanish writers like Javier Marías but also Borges, Márquez and Carlos Fuentes. So Spanish has huge significance even from its scale and global representation. Having  a second or a third language equips one with extra keys to unlock different ways of seeing the word. Perhaps what I learned most— and this probably helped my story writing— was to try to see the world from the point of view of the other to get a different angle on things. I think that’s beneficial not only artistically but also for our understanding of world peace.

Q: Thank you; as someone with a multicultural heritage, I agree. In your book Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry as a way of seeing the world, you explore how poetry opens up worlds within our present experiences. How do you consider your background as a poet and an author of short stories (which I count as a poetic form) has shaped your life and your writing?

A: I studied Gaelic in university. As an undergraduate, one of the most impactful compliments I received from a lady lecturer was ‘tuigeann sé cad is filíocht ann’— ‘he understands what poetry is’, based on some creative work I had submitted. This encouragement inspired me to delve deeper into poetry. I read poems from anthologies in Irish and Spanish and English and some of the great Russian poets like Pasternak in translation wherever I got a chance: in between meals, stealing moments to read like Francis Copeland did in The Avenue, on a train or a bus, in a bar, in a dentist’s waiting room; when ill or down, poems could pick you up as they opened windows on the world. This poetic affiliation, I would like to feel, sharpens my prose writing.

Q: It certainly invokes a rhythm in your work, from what I’ve read. What do you love the most about poetry?

A: Matthew Arnold claimed that poetry would replace religion in the world. What I like about poetry is that it has no boundaries and the best of it has no agenda; it involves some of the best minds using the best language to attempt to interpret life in an unfettered way in so far as is humanly possible.

Q: Capturing the inexpressible, as many artists endeavor towards. You’re an arts graduate of the University College Dublin and you received your Masters in Communications from Dublin City University. As an author of accessible literary fiction, how has your education assisted you?

A: Some artists and autodidacts believe the university is anathema to creativity. Perhaps there is some truth in this as I remember when starting my first novel Peeling Oranges soon after I had finished my MA thesis (which later with additions became Clearing The Tangled Wood) and found myself with a mass of research information about the old tenements of Dublin and about the Irish and Spanish civil wars—I had all these footnotes and appendices written in jawbreaking, academic jargon. So I soon realised that in order to write fiction I had to unlearn the methodologies which I had employed in academe—that is not to say an academic or non-fiction text is not also creative; it is just that like Clearing the Tangle Wood it has different parameters to a novel or poem. But notwithstanding, the university did help me in at least two ways: it gave me the bottle to finish a project and it taught me how to research, which hopefully I have learned to do now without getting too bogged down now as I attempt to introduce it as seamlessly as possible into fictional narrative.

Q: You’ve also been on the other side, as a teacher; what did you enjoy most as an educator?

A: The act of teaching itself I enjoyed, sharing with people who were open to learning. However, as an artist I felt  hemmed in by the institution. The souls and the institution don’t blend. Teaching is also a great way of articulating and clarifying what you want to say within boundaries of course. The boundaries are the problem, so teaching is not really a free act.

Q: How valuable do you think a university education would be for writers today?

A: East Anglia and other ‘creative writing’ universities are in danger of churning out homogeneous writers and sometimes give the impression rather arrogantly that they are the only ones, the real McCoys of writers. While there are some of these writers I admire such as Ishiguro and McEwen, art is, like dreams by its nature, anarchic and therefore I would be wary of restricting it with rules and regulations.

Q: You touched on this in your blog entry “Creative Writing Schools”. What is your philosophy as a teacher?

A: Similar to my philosophy of life in general which is that life is not what you make it but what you make of it. Opening minds, including one’s own in a mutual process to learn about the world without dogma.

Q: As a fellow reviewer, how do you find your treatment of other stories influences the way you approach your own writing?

A: I grew up believing in the canon of literature and although we have developed interiorly since the time of Dickens and Hardy, we have not improved on their story telling or plot making skills. Indeed I believe the modernists may have discarded that quality and thrown out part of the baby with the bathwater in their attempt sometimes to be ultra-clever. I think writers of today should return to the methodology of Dickens with the benefit of hindsight of course and repair the tear made by the modernists between popular and highbrow fiction. For me the criterion is just good writing illustrating a style and narrative skill with an insight into the human condition. A writer like the undervalued Richard Yates in Revolutionary Road is an example of a modern artist who was able to span both these bridges.

Ironically, I believe the division has done more harm to good novels than to bad, because with the proliferation of mass market popular fiction, the average person (whose ancestors consumed Dickens classlessly) nowadays tends to frown on anything deeper, deeming it snobby writing. So what I look for when I review a book is something to aspire to, something I would have liked to have written myself and maybe to encourage others to consider also. Like the appreciation of good music, the appreciation of good literature is something cultivated.

Q: As someone who has been taught writing in the age of “make it tight” and “massacre all adverbs where possible” it’s interesting to consider that point of view. What are other experiences, places or people who have influenced your work?

A: I think it was Graham Greene who said nothing much happens after twelve. So like many writers, my childhood was my source: my mother reading to me as a child, my aunt’s visits with comics, a long gap in years between me and my siblings, family banter and tales, my father buying me my first diary— these were seminal experiences and later my travels to Europe and America provided many writerly insights. But I suppose the most important experience is a cultivated solitude, a condition and ability I have trained myself to do over the years while simultaneously not turning my back completely on a social life, to maintain a mental balance if such a thing is possible.

Q: I am amazed you could achieve a mental balance while publishing seven books in the space of approximately five years. How did you organize yourself?

A: With discipline, as I say going to the ‘office’ most mornings and the cultivation of solitude and believing most of all that what you are doing has value.

Q: You’ve also published different ways—as an academic, small press, etc. What has been your favorite method of publication?

A: No one in particular. Each publication is a hurdle and sheer hard work to promote.

Q: Marketing is one of the hardest aspects to being a writer nowadays. Your website [http://jameslawless.net/] is nicely put together and you are widely available through social media. What do you find is the best marketing strategy?

A: I manage my own website. I’m only learning how to blog and would like to generate comments. I send my blogs to Facebook which seems to elicit more responses. As regards marketing, I’m prepared to give any media a try as a means to an artistic end. It’s all about being known and valued. The great thing about the Internet is its global dimension— people from all over the world reading or downloading your work in seconds and then just as easily being able to communicate with the author. We are living in exciting times with great artistic possibilities.

Q: Yes, for every difficulty we seem to have great opportunity. What advice would you give to writers just starting out on the path to publication?

A: Ask yourself are you serious about your work; are you prepared to bleed for it, or are you just a dilettante? Is your work really good and original or merely imitative of a million others? Are you an artist with all of what that entails? Do you believe passionately in your art? If that is the case, you persevere, you take the inevitable rejections on the chin—editors are human; they can’t always get it right. Believe in yourself.

Q: Thank you. Your fictional work seems to carry a theme of cross-culture (particularly between Ireland and Spain), politics and threaded with a romantic/poetic atmosphere. What would you say is at the heart of all that you write?

A: What I write about is not what I know but what I want to find out, things that impacted on me: in my education for example being taught through the medium of Irish, the place (or absence as in the case of Derek Foley in Peeling Oranges) of religion or ideology in our lives such as the civil wars in Spain and Ireland; the all consuming monolith of capitalism obsessed me in For Love of Anna; what suburbia (being a product of it ) was about was my preoccupation in The Avenue; and what true writing strives to be in Finding Penelope and so on. A reviewer said the romance in some of my novels tends to be more than a mere love interest, but that it is sometimes strewn with history or politics such as with the extreme nationalist Sinéad in Peeling Oranges; and even Anna in For Love of Anna ,which is considered the most romantic of my novels, is also an acronym for Anarchist of the New Age. As regards the poetic element, I think I have alluded to that already.

Q: Yes, I like how you define your work as “accessible literary fiction.” By the way, what is the latest on The Avenue becoming adapted to film?

A: Still ongoing, under consideration.

Q: Your latest novel, Knowing Women, just released this month. Please tell us more about this project.

A: Knowing Women is about a vulnerable man, Laurence J Benbo, who is wrongly tainted sexually. With all the paedophile cases going on at the moment— and there is no doubt most of them are justifiable—I wondered what if opinion and the law were to get it wrong. Benbo is perceived as a weak character particularly sexually, but he is no paedophile and when he stands accused, how will society judge him in the hue and cry of vindictiveness?

Wow, that’s quite a challenge to take on, but I’m sure your treatment will make for a fascinating read. I wish you all the best and thank you for this interview.