Thursday, March 26, 2015

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Yvonne Blomer

Yvonne Blomer’s most recent collection of poems is As if a Raven (Palimpsest Press, 2014). Her first book, a broken mirror, fallen leaf was short listed for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Since 2009, Yvonne has been the Artistic Director of Planet Earth Poetry, a weekly reading series in Victoria, BC. In 2014 she became Victoria’s fourth Poet Laureate.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book came out in 2006, titled a broken mirror, fallen leaf. I got the first copies the day before my son was born, so my life changed with that book but in ways beyond the book.

a broken mirror, fallen leaf was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert and I was utterly surprised by that, so in that way I think I gained something, perhaps encouragement or courage, because of that unexpected recognition.

Anyway, the book was my first, and one needs a first in order to get to the second and third which were piling up behind me.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Through an interest in the play of language over narrative or story. Narrative and story can also be in poetry, but language and line, metaphor, image and play are what drew and still draw me to poetry.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
My first and most recent books are contained either by place or theme, so they each provided a space within which I was writing. With my first book, I began writing as I was experiencing life in Japan through journaling. As if a Raven, my most recent book, started as my dissertation thesis, so I had to have a project, and I wanted a series of poems that were linked, but I didn’t know how they would be linked when I started.

As far as drafts of poems, anything is possible and they begin in a myriad of ways.  Sometimes a poem in a first draft with few edits, sometimes notes, or the first few lines are on paper and I carry them around and build, sometimes the first few lines and I stall and return.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
My second book was made of poems that built over time and then I looked at them together and drew on common themes. As if a Raven was built over time as a book and I’m beginning a new project which is the same…it is a question or a series of questions so the writing that comes out will likely be linked. That said, there are always those free poems that just appear and they build into their own something.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I enjoy doing public readings and enjoy attending readings and lectures by writers. Readings provide food for thought, or fertilizer for future poems.  Touring a book of poems and working on new writing at the same time is tricky to juggle. Even a five minute appearance at a festival takes a lot of energy to prepare for. I take it seriously, it is a performance, and part of the job so it takes focus, time and energy.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Yes, I do. I’m not sure what the current questions are but as a newly appointed Poet Laureate I’m concerned with how politics and poetry can merge and work for real change. Naively I want to use poetry to protect the Pacific Ocean. I think poetry is not simply image but image married to idea. The poet is concerned with/obsessed with/ has a question about something that leads to the images. Those images lead back to the concern or question and hopefully to some thought, an opening of thought and understanding in the writer and reader.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
This question carries on from the previous a little. I think a writer should draw attention to – a thought, idea, concern. A writer can open a door for readers. They also entertain, bring beauty, and bring attention to the moments of life.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Both. That engagement and back-and-forth on the poems or the order of the poems is vital to the end product and is part of the process. Engaging with an editor is another step in the process of making it as close to finished. It is often a deeper engagement because it is the last step in the process so there is more or a different kind of pressure on the writer, me, and the poems, to be their best.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Mark what you love in a poem with a highlighter and see what you have. I tend to mark what I don’t like. Focusing on what is working allows you to highlight the positive parts of the poem, even if it is just one line, and build from there. Also at Whistler Writers Festival last fall, Sue Goyette mentioned that she was allowing herself to take a break. It was superb to hear that. I was touring a lot and trying to write and feeling pretty worn out.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to creative non-fiction to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I think it is not that easy. I feel like I bring poetry with me into nonfiction, which is fine, except sometimes I want to write a “true” essay, or in my mind I think I do, and then I begin writing and it leans toward the lyric.  For many many years I’ve been working on a travel memoir, but not consistently until the last year and a half. I was letting myself get pulled to poetry projects and in order to finish this memoir, I needed to allow myself to refuse poetry for a while. Now as I’m getting closer to being finished, and beginning to write more poetry, I’m finding my lines are long and narrative so am trying to pull myself back toward the poetry. One way of helping to do this was I took a one day workshop on form poetry with Kate Braid offered through Wordstorm in Nanaimo. Just spending a day working on forms helped remind me of what I know, and push that different way of organizing my thoughts  and words back to the foreground. 

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

Well I have an 8 year old son. Once he’s at school, on an ideal day, I take a brisk walk around Cedar Hill Golf Course then head home to gather papers from the cluttered kitchen table and go out the back door to my studio. I stay there as long as I can, usually until 2 when I come back in to get ready to pick my son up. At some point between 10-2 I nip in for tea and a bowl of random snacks to crunch on. Crunchy food is good for writing (so says fiction writer Julie Paul).

On a more typical day, with Planet Earth Poetry and Poet Laureate duties there is a fair amount of emailing between gathering papers and laptop and getting out to the studio (where the wifi is weak).

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

A walk helps. Jumping around on-line further stalls me and shuts down the thinking self. Reading poems by Steven Price, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Meira Cook, Cornelia Hoogland, Iliya Kaminsky etc…helps too. Picking up a magazine like The Malahat, Arc, TNQ is always great to inspire.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Rain, earth, light fragrance of cherry blossoms/magnolia (spring in Victoria) The damp air.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Everything influences my work. A question.  Students’ work. Prompts I give to students and their responses sometimes open a response in me. Books I’m reading. A passage or an entire book, for its tone or how the author approaches the subject. I feel like I’m a composting worm...I take anything and everything. Who knows where it might reappear years or days or minutes from now. I think that is part of the process. Art, science, a word, a walk, an animal (my dog), a scent.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I love reading fiction, mysteries, really good fiction, anything (even vampire stories) before bed. During the day I read nonfiction and poetry. I sometimes read poetry before bed, but it often over-stimulates me. A powerful nonfiction novel can be just as good as a book of fiction, but I love sinking into a novel. Right now I’m reading Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay, which is set in the Northwest Territories. I started it in the Yukon (when I was up there reading), so I have partly stayed north due to reading it. It is a wonderful story with sublime descriptions and a creepy/unsettled feeling throughout.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Work in translation. French and Japanese. Have my poems translated. Finish my travel memoir.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Spy. Well, I doubt I would have been a great spy. Maybe a bicycle tour operator. When I first moved home from Japan I was beginning to start a cycling company called Pacific Pedals. My sister reminded me and encouraged me to keep at the writing, so I did. 

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
That is a tough one to answer. I’ve always loved writing, communicating with myself in the written word. I think that love lead to a desire to communicate in a larger way. I started with journalism courses at College and then took poetry with Patrick Lane at the University of Victoria a fair while ago. He scared me. Fear and passion are cousins to nerves and excitement.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Boundless by Kathleen Winter, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and Wild by Cheryl Strayed.

I loved the film version of Wild, as well as The Lunch Box. I also loved Paddington my son’s new favourite.

20 - What are you currently working on?
Did I mention a memoir?

I am beginning a new project and ending (hopefully) an old one. I have been (re)reading Virginia Woolf and Gwendolyn MacEwen and reading about Janis Joplin. I watched part of the Downton Abbey series and began to wonder how we went from Pre-WWI and how women’s lives looked to creating Virginia Woolf and how we got to Joplin in the 1960s and where MacEwen and her genius came from and how it fits in. So I’m exploring female artists and how one led to the next and whether society can or does support genius in women. I’m doing this in poetry or lyric prose. I kind of hate to say I’m doing it as I’m so so so at the beginning. Truthfully, I’m reading a lot.

And I’m finishing a memoir set in Southeast Asia where my husband and I cycled for three months from Vietnam through Laos, Thailand and on to Malaysia.

And I’m a new Poet Laureate with Poetry Month fast approaching so feel more like an arts organizer (plus PEP) than a writer many days. I think that balance between writing time and planning events will get easier (I hope).

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Jordan Abel, Un/inhabited


Changing horses frequently, one day out I had left Red River in my rear, but before me lay an          country, unless I veered from my course and went through the Chickasaw Nation. Out toward Bear Canyon, where the land to the north rose brokenly to the mountains, Luck found the bleak stretches of which he had dreamed that night on the observation platform of a train speeding through the night in North Dakota,—a great white wilderness unsheltered by friendly forests,          save by wild things that moved stealthily across the windswept ridges. This done, they would lead the ship to an           part of the shore, beach her, and scatter over the mainland, each with his share of the booty. How lonely I felt, in that vast          bush! Except for a very few places on the Ouleout, and the Iroquois towns, the region was          . This was no country for people to livein, and so far as she could see it was indeed          . But for the lazy columns of blue smoke curling up from the pinyons the place would have seemed          . It appeared to be a dry,           forest. In the vivid sunlight and perfect silence, it had a new,          look, s if the carpenters and painters had just left it. it was in vain that those on board made remonstrances and entreaties, and represented the horrors of abandoning men upon a sterile and          island; the sturdy captain was inflexible. The herbage is parched and withered; the brooks and streams are dried up; the buffalo, the elk and the deer have wandered to distant parts, keeping within the verge of expiring verdure, and leaving behind them a vast          solitude, seemed by ravines, the beds of former torrents, but now serving only to tantalize and increase the thirst of the traveller. It kept on its course through a vast wilderness of silent and apparently          mountains, without a savage wigwam upon its banks, or bark upon its waters. They were at a loss what route to take, and how far they were from the ultimate place of their destination, nor could they meet in these          wilds with any human being to give them information. They forded Butte Creek, and, crossing the well-travelled trail which follows down to Drybone, turned their faces toward the          country that began immediately, as the ocean begins off a sandy shore.

Jordan Abel’s Un/inhabited (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks/Project Space Press, 2014) continues the reclamation project begun through his first book, The Place of Scraps (Talonbooks, 2013). Whereas The Place of Scraps was constructed as a collection of fragments, erasures, scraps, texts, visuals and concrete poems constructed out of Canadian ethnographer and folklorist Marius Barbeau’s (1883-1969) canonical text, Totem Poles, Un/inhabited is constructed out of the texts of mass market works of “frontier” fiction. As Kathleen Ritter writes in her essay “Ctrl-F: Reterritorializing the Canon,” included at the back of the book: “A browse through the collection shows that most of these novels were written around the turn of the last century and, with titles like The Lonesome Trail and Other Stories, Gunman’s Reckoning, The Last of the Plainsmen, Way of the Lawless and The Untamed, they are stereotypical of the romanticism of the frontier, the height of North American colonialism and a time when the indigenous population was being dispossessed of their lands and driven down to their lowest numbers in history as a direct result of European conflict, warfare and settlement.”  The back cover describes the project:

Abel constructed the book’s source text by compiling ninety-one complete western novels found on the website Project Gutenberg, an online archive of public domain works. Using his word processor’s Ctrl-F function, he searched the document in its totality for words that relate to the political and social aspects of land, territory and ownership. Each search query represents a study in context (How was this word deployed? What surrounded it? What is left over once that word is removed?) that accumulates toward a representation of the public domain as a discoverable and inhabitable body of land.

There is something quite remarkable in the way that Abel, a Nisga’a writer from Vancouver, utilizes work that now exists in the public domain to reclaim and critique a representative and cultural space, using “conceptual writing [that] engages with the representation of Indigenous peoples in Anthropology through the technique of erasure.”  Un/inhabited opens with erasure of specific words (uninhabited, settler, extracted, territory, indianized, pioneer, treaty, frontier, inhabited) before shifting to an erasure that shows the text almost as a cartographic map, before stripping the erasure down entirely, comparable to a depleting printer ink or photocopy toner cartridge. The only way these texts hold together is in the ways in which Abel allows them to degrade, before collapsing completely in on themselves. In an interview forthcoming at Touch the Donkey, he talks a bit about the compositional process of Un/inhabited:

After I finished writing Un/inhabited, there was a lot of material that essentially fell to the cutting room floor. I had been writing excessively, and knew that there would have to be substantial cuts for the project to be thematically coherent. As a result, there were many threads that had to be removed entirely. Some of those threads (minority, oil, afeared, etc.) were closely related to main conceptual project, but, for one reason or another, didn’t fit perfectly. Those threads were probably the most difficult to cut. Other threads (maps, speakers, urgency, etc.) were interesting explorations and worked individually, but were easy to separate from the main project. However, as the project continued, there were several threads that emerged that had coherent and discrete themes that weren’t dependent on the pieces in Un/inhabited. One of those threads explored the deployment of literary terms, and, surprisingly, seemed to be supported by the source text. That thread included many pieces: allegory, allusion, connotation, denouement, dialogue, flash back, hyperbole, identity, metaphor, motif, narrative, personification, simile, symbol, and theme.

To be honest, after I cut those pieces, I wasn’t really sure what to do with them. The pieces in Un/inhabited (settler, territory, frontier, etc.) worked partially because they explored themes of indigeneity, land use and ownership. Those pieces were actively working towards the destabilization of the colonial architecture of the western genre. But what were these other pieces doing? What did an exploration of the context surrounding the deployment of the word “allusion” accomplish?

I think, if I were to guess at an answer to my own question, that the thread of literary terms engages with an aspect of the western genre that is, at the very least, unusual. You don’t often think about the western genre being rich with metaphors or allusions or symbols, and, perhaps, it isn’t. But those words are there. Those words are doing something that we don’t normally associate with the traditional foundations of literary studies. There is an exploration here that, I think, subverts the tendencies of literary analysis by compressing and recontextualizing common analytic diction.

Right now, these pieces are not part of a separate project. But they easily could be. I think there’s more there to dig through. Other approaches that could be taken.

Monday, March 23, 2015

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Shannon Webb-Campbell

Shannon Webb-Campbell [photo credit: Meghan Tansey Whitton] is an award-winning poet, writer, and journalist of mixed Aboriginal ancestry. She is the inaugural winner of Egale Canada’s Out in Print Award and was the Canadian Women in Literary Arts 2014 critic-in-residence. Still No Word (Breakwater Books) is her first collection of poems. She lives in Halifax.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Still No Word just came out yesterday, so it’s hard to say how it’s changed my life. It feels like encountering something extraordinary and peculiar, like swimming backwards inside of a whale.

These past few weeks leading up to the release, I was met with an unexpected storm of anxiety. I oscillated from wanting to throw up, to collecting rocks to fill my pockets for my farewell walk into the cold sea. I searched for escape routes, faraway places where I could reinvent, change name, become another. I wanted to crawl out of my skin, drink myself blind.

Apparently, this is all normal behavior of first timers, typical of vulnerability even. The book has been unleashed into the world, and I am still here. Now I’m more worried about the whale.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I began as a poet. I’ll die as a poet.

Though, I’ve previously published several creative non-fiction pieces, letters, poems and fictions in anthologies, including:  Where The Nights Are Twice As Long: Love Letters of Canadian Poets (Goose Lane 2015), Out Proud: Stories of Courage, Pride, and Social Justice (Breakwater Books 2014), MESS: The Hospital Anthology (Tightrope Books 2014), She’s Shameless Women Write About Growing Up, Rocking Out and Fighting Back (Tightrope Books 2009) and GULCH: An Assemblage of Poetry and Prose (Tightrope Books 2009). 

My next piece is a non-fiction story of rape and isolation set in Malta published in This Place A Stranger: Canadian Women Travelling Alone (Caitlin Press 2015).

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

I start by circling myself. I stare out the window. I question my fate. I discourage myself before I even begin. And these are good days.

Often words and lines come when I’m not thinking about writing. This morning, shuffling around like an out of shape ballerina on Halifax’s iced-laced sidewalks, a stanza came. I can be at yoga, making lunch, or driving down the highway. Poetry has its own time clock; it never punches in or out.

Many lines come after crawling into bed, the time we’re most adrift, somewhere between worlds. Rarely do I cough up a poem. They all start unexpectedly. Most go through several drafts, weather systems, moods, and typically begin or end around the first libation of the day.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Poems happen. My job is to keep the channel open, to listen, witness, and document. I didn’t know the poems in Still No Word would ever become a book; they were orphans who needed a home.

I’m thankful Breakwater Books gave my poems a roof over their heads, and food in their bellies. These poems belong to Newfoundland. I suspect the next book will be written with a different intention, from another vantage point.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Astrologically, I embody Gemini, so duplicity is a constant state. I crave solitude and wildness. Poetry befits this calling. I enjoy the tucked-in nature of my work, spending hours, days, seasons playing with words, but I struggle with the solitary aspect. Many days, it goes against my nature.

Readings are a wonderful excuse for poets to gather, honour craft and community. We need to hear one another’s voices in order to find our own. We need an excuse to get outside ourselves, and witness one another’s tragedies and belly laughs. We need our tribe.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I live my life close to the bone, sucking on its marrow. Sometimes I’m on the brink, other times looking over. All I know, I’m a seeker. Poetry is both call and answer. It saves my life over and over.

Many of my questions reel around identity, ancestry, belonging, that constant nagging notion of home, rivers of grief, fragments of abuse, sexuality, and longing. I think we’re all poems.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

Writers offer cardinal direction, we are the compass of a culture. Some of us are mythmakers, mapmakers, others schemers. Call us documentarians, or even translators, but we’re all witnesses here in the universe’s grand symphony.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I love the editorial process. Susan Musgrave catcalled me, created a safe space both dangerous enough for poetry and an incubator for a closeted poet. My editor James Langer at Breakwater was rough, yet insightful. He wanted more of a fight, but we both got our way in the end.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it,” Martha Graham to Agnes De Mille.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
All forms inform another.

Last year, as Canadian Women In Literary Arts critic-in-residence 2014, I was given a platform to examine how poetry informs criticism, and how criticism informs poetry.

I wrote several book reviews, examining works from Amber Dawn’s How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir (Arsenal Pulp) to Sylvia D. Hamilton’s I Alone Escaped To Tell You (Gaspereau Press). I labored over critical essays, which led to attending the Scotiabank Giller Prize Gala in Toronto, and published An Incomplete Manifesto for CWILA. Criticism relies on analysis, close reading, and creative nerve. So does poetry.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I wish there were hours allotted, strict routines, and diligent follow through. But I’m more of a wildcard. Mostly, I write when I force myself to. Most days begin with coffee, a notebook, and eventually, I open my computer. 

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I let go, and stop forcing myself. In stepping away from the words, I return to the living. Eventually, I exhaust myself with life’s carousel, and wash ashore, find myself back on land, looking out to sea, ready to write.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Cigarette smoke on fresh laundry (the smell of my grandmother).

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Atlantic Canada is instrumental in my work, whether it’s the harsh, rugged coastlines, or the vast, merciless ocean. Everything is hardship and endurance, the essentials. It’s my ancestral lands. I often threaten to move away due to weather extremes, yet never stray long enough to lose my place.

Though, to keep with McFadden’s insight, several poems in my book have kinfolk poems, including “Last View of Bell Island,” a sister to a suite of poems by Sue Sinclair and her various views of Bell Island. “Wintering,” gives nod to Rainer Maria Rilke, and my poem “Doubles,” is a sibling poem to a stanza in Sue Goyette’s “Psychic,” from her stunning book, Undone (Brick Books).

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Sylvia Plath’s work, especially her poems and journals, though The Bell Jar has a forever place in my being. Winter after winter, I return to Mary Oliver, especially when the living doesn’t go so easy. Writers like Simone de Beauvoir, Leonard Cohen, Zoe Whittall, Brian Brett, Lisa Moore, all the Susan’s (Musgrave, Goyette, Sinclair), Elizabeth Bishop, Shalan Joudry, Joseph Boyden, Anne Carson, Ivan Coyote, Anna Camilleri, Amber Dawn and Jeanette Winterson all call out.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I’d like to go for a hot air balloon ride. Visit Greece. Learn another language, especially Mi’kmaq. Live in a foreign country. Write a novel. Swim with mermaids. Sing a duet. Sail around the world. Maybe visit the moon.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I’ve worn many hats. I’ve been a photographer, a bookseller, shopkeeper, camera sales person, barista, art teacher, and nanny. Some days, I think I’d like to be a synchronized swimmer, own a dress shop, become a chef, or a milliner. My deepest aspirations are to teach creative writing at a college or university, so perhaps, in my own way, I can become all these things.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
The writing made me write. I blame the words.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I’ve just finished reading Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water: A Memoir (Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts), where she writes, “ In water, like in books – you can leave your life.” Words to live by.

Sarah Mian’s debut novel, When The Saints (Harper Collins), could be my favourite book out of Atlantic Canada this year.

As for the last great film, I’m still basking in the glow of Bruno Barreto’s Reaching For The Moon, the love story of Elizabeth Bishop and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares. I can’t even admit here how many times I’ve re-watched it.

20 - What are you currently working on?
Currently, I am working on a collection of linked stories, and attempting to write my first play for Queer Acts Theatre Festival. The odd poem, letter or fragment seems to intervene.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Sunday, March 22, 2015

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Nicci Mechler on Porkbelly Press

Porkbelly Press is an independent (small) chapbook press based in Porkopolis (Cincinnati, Ohio), where pigs fly. We’re a queer-friendly, feminist press open to work by all, and encourage works from authors all along the identity spectrum.

We print in limited & open editions and handbind everything we make. We consider works ranging from literary to genre work, with a preference for speculative fiction and fabulism. Fairy tales make our little gold hearts go pitty-pat.

If you’re into things with attitude, with beauty and a sense or humor, you’ve definitely come to the right place. Welcome home.

Nicci Mechler splits her time between exploring, telling tales, and painting girls with inky tattoos. Her most recent work appears in Lines+Stars, Arroyo Literary Review, Room, and is forthcoming in Still and Yew. Deep in Flesh, her chapbook, and in these cups, a collaborative chap (both poetry), are forthcoming (Dancing Girl Press, 2015). She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with a pack of roomies & rescue animals specializing in troublemaking and joy. Nicci blogs at, runs Porkbelly Press, and edits the lit mag Sugared Water.

1 – When did Porkbelly Press first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?
Porkbelly Press was established in January 2014, officially, but our first title is actually a literary magazine (Sugared Water) that was bound and released the September before. The launch of the mag was proof a press would work (nothing caught on fire, and it was well received by contributors and locals alike). Feedback on the magazine, from both prose and poetry writers, affirmed that the aesthetic (handbound, illustrated and screened covers/handcrafted books) is one that appeals to writers, even in a world of glossy, perfect bound books and increasingly neat online journals.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
Poetry, art, and zines. A defunct high school lit mag became a major project for me, and it was under-funded in the extreme. We somehow achieved permission and enough funds to buy paper, and then had to pull an actual mimeograph machine out of some cobwebby storage basement to produce our pages—did you know that those things still work after decades of sitting abandoned? At least that’s how I remember it, the turn-crank, the endless sheets of poems and short fiction. I do know we were granted the absolute luxury of having our books folded and stapled by a copy center, but that was only after we hand-collated, and collated, and collated stacks and more stacks of papers we’d just cranked through the old beast.

When the boxes returned to us, we pulled out a freshly stapled copy with an actual photocopied cover on cardstock, tipped open the cover, and found that the entire text block was upside down. Upside down. (The rest were fine, though!)

That moment of panic prepared me well for the more respectable, serious work of a college lit mag. with a stream of funds entirely dependent on a student board, one always trying to talk us into bake sales to raise printing funds. (That’s a-frakkin’-lot of chocolate chip cookies, and we never actually had to do it.)

Happily, a wonderful campus print shop provided enough of a discount to us to allow production of many years worth of magazines, and we enjoyed an international submission pool. Given enough time and horrors, a person can become pretty adept at navigating cover letters scribbled with arcane symbols, typewriter copies with coffee stains, and the occasional handwritten, earnest letter from a high school poet.
3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?

That question has so many answers, but it’s really simple: have the balls to print what you believe in, and never lie to your writers. Respect your own press & publications. I also think everyone involved in small press should support other small presses. It’s a conversation that thrives only when we’re reading and learning from each other.

I actively seek out first manuscripts to compliment established writers & poets. I’ve been lucky enough to print at least one first chapbook each season.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
We make books by hand, in special, limited, and open editions (depending on the title). We often screen print our covers (or solicit art, or handpaint images), then add little press nameplates so each is similar, but no two are exactly alike. We hand-design, mix inks, pull multiple designs, sometimes spray paint stencils, pull thread by hand through the text block, and stitch stacks of beautiful words. We hand number.

We publish a blend of lyric and narrative, love genre and nerdy science things, passionate letters, art, and the crafted truths of creative nonfiction. We publish many emerging voices as well as established folks—some of our writers are all over the small press world, and some have just begun to send out work. We like weird stories, strange stories, quiet and loud stories. We love nothing more than learning we’ve accepted a piece that makes our breath hitch, only to learn it was the first chapbook or poem or story acceptance from a fresh voice, be the writer 16 or 81 or beyond.

Are other presses doing each of these things? Sure, almost definitely. Do other presses do all of these things at once? Maybe. There are hundreds of magazines/presses/zines out there. We have the collection to prove it. Need more bookshelves.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?
I’m not qualified to talk about the most effective—there are many approaches and presses out there working and producing sweet stuff. (What determines effectiveness in this case? Reach? Financial success? Streamlined production? Stress levels? Keeping the number of daily chai lattes low enough to prevent cerebral oscillation of some kind?)

When I’m looking for a home for a chapbook of my own, I look first for a press with a mission I respect, and then I go right to their gallery of chapbooks to check out their designs. If I like both, I do a thorough read of the guidelines. (I’m always on the lookout for markets my friends might enjoy and be suited to, so even if it’s not the right press for my lyric-leaning poetry, I might read up a bit more to share with my horror-loving short fiction friends.)

I do know that it always shows when an editor is excited about a new chapbook, so it’s important for that to come through. Why do you love this? Why did you choose to put your time and energy into supporting this poet/writer?

As an editor and artist, I spent a lot of time crafting designs, producing art (be it photo, digital, or screen printed), collating and hand-assembling books that are then bound by hand. It’s a lot of labor, and that’s why we print a maximum of 6-10 chapbooks, 2 issues of Sugared Water, and maybe a zine or a handfuk of micro-chaps in any given year. We have to be in love with something before we accept it.

That was a really long answer that can probably be boiled down to: print what you love, and do it the best way you can, be that hand-cranked letterpress or a blog on wordpress.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
Each piece is different. We’ve asked for one word edits, free verse to be turned into a prose poem, and have even asked prose writers to cut as much as 1,000 words. Sometimes folks will send a story that’s captivating in places, but just gets a bit flowery in the middle, and sometimes we think it’d fit really well, but it’s 4,500 words and we just don’t have the pages in a particular issue, but we never ask for more than we believe a piece can bear. Sometimes we ask for 4-10 poems to be cut, and sometimes none at all. It’s a conversation that always begins with “What if…” and we listen to the answer.

7 – How do your books and broadsides get distributed? What are your usual print runs?

Porkbelly prints between 55-100 for special edition releases for chapbooks, or an open edition (often an entirely different cover image, usually a friend of the press, but something that captures the aesthetic of the book) which is open-ended. We hand assemble each one, mail out as ordered, then replenish the small stock kept on hand for in-person tabling & shows.

Our zines are open editions, and Sugared Water is limited to between 100 to 200 an issue.

We currently distribute via zine distros and Etsy (, table at street fairs and do as many conferences as we can. We’ve been contacted by a couple of brick and mortar locations, and we’re working on that now that our first line of chapbooks is about 2/3 complete for the year.

Some of our catalog can be found at Nearsighted Narwhal in Tacoma, Washington. (

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?
Sugared Water is staffed between 4-10 people for each issue, but the chapbook line is read by 2, and all of the original art is either mine, or a collaboration with my friend Jonathan. We’ve chosen a few pieces of art by some really fantastic artists to serve as digital open edition covers for our first year chaps. Most of the editing/reading is done by a core group of editorial assistants and editors, but the largest part of production is in my hands.

It’s always helpful to have other eyeballs on the slush pile when editing. It keeps a bad day or mood from letting me say no to a beautiful poem or essay. The other voices broaden the spectrum of work accepted by the magazines. I talk them into things sometimes and they talk me into things sometimes. The conversation is vital.

It’s a reality check and a way to say, hey, stupid, this lemon tree fable-thing is ridiculously neat, let’s put it in a special issue and do a call for similar works. Or, hey, you missed how cool this story is because that interlude in the middle dragged on a bit, and you had too many chai lattes that day, then hit the eject button too fast. Go back and finish it, ask for some revisions. Maybe the writer needed to hear that, knew something was slightly wonky, and now we can make sweet, sweet lit. mag. together. You know, like that.

Benefits to fellow editors: many.

Taking on so much production (layout, printing, sewing, sewing, sewing, sewing, printmaking, sewing) means my desk lives with stacks of things waiting to be finished. I just have to keep my cat from artfully re-arranging things to a mixed up pile on the floor.

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
My mind’s opened a little bit more each time I read something as an editor. It teaches me new and interesting ways to end a line or arrange elements in a story, reminds me that sometimes rough syntax is beautiful, and generally makes me a better poet and writer, just as listening to new music, walking through a gallery, or jumping into the ocean will.

10– How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?
Each project is different. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to add your own voice to a collection of works if it enriches the whole. I find that every time I try to make a hard and fast rule, an exception comes along (in very short order) to make me look like a silly person. 

I prefer to collaborate in the process by sending my work to other magazines, presses, and publishers, because I want to see where it might be placed or where I might find a partner for my stories.

I’ve been thinking about publishing a collaborative collection of work of which I’m a part, but not the central voice, for example, but I’m sending it out to a few other places before I ask my fellow poets if they might like to step into the line up of Porkbelly Press chapbooks. (Particularly since I’ve accepted  5 more titles that I originally planned, and our queue is quite full of wonderful things already.)

11– How do you see Porkbelly Press evolving?
We just did our first year of micro chapbooks (chaps of 8-10 pages of poetry, fiction, or CNF)—sort of a taste of voices, a sampler to lead new readers to the other works of small press enthusiasts.

I’m flexible and open to new things as they come along (or old, but new-to-me things). We might do a line of broadsides or postcards of micro prose or some guerilla art of some kind. We might venture into the world of e-chaps to accompany the open editions of our chapbooks. I imagine we’ll get into some letterpress work at some point, since I happen to know the owner of an amazing little shop in Over the Rhine (Cincinnati), but all of these things need proper funding and time.

Our first year run of chapbooks all feature an original piece of art designed for that chapbook, hand printed in limited special edition. We release 55-100, and then do the open edition. For our second year, we have chosen to do open edition covers, handsewn, printed on lush Epson premium paper. That’s the beauty of doing all production in house—the combinations and possibilities are vast. That’s also one of the hardest bits, because we have to reign in possibility just a little bit by the schedule, however loose, that we’ve promised our writers. We will always strive for our best possible work. We agonize quite a lot over making sure our people are happy with their works all dressed up for the world.

12– What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?

I’m most proud of helping new voices out into the world, or boosting the signal, as it were. It’s passion and excitement and love of words. Publishing is kind of a grand scale of finding something you love, then going, holy socks, this is fantastic. Friend, read this! Except, here, the friend is everyone you know, plus anyone you meet at a fair, conference, on twitter or FB, anyone who might google you, stumble over you on Duotrope, and get just as excited as you are by the things you say and what you show them. You also get to know your poets and writers, and their friends, other presses, and they tell you about fantastic stuff for you to read right now. Or later. When you’re finished bandaging yourself after that last sewing incident.

My biggest frustration is funding. Porkbelly Press operates on a tiny budget, and because so many things are handmade, we can do that. I would love to hire staff, provide more compensation to my writers, poets, essayists, and artists, and have the funds to travel to amazing literary events, zine fairs, small press fests, and book parties all over, but, really, who wouldn’t?

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
I read and submitted work, worked for magazines, grabbed a BA, BFA, and MA before I launched a press. I’ve seen and heard so many things about publishing (from the hung over, the jaded, the over-the-moon excited, and the mellow editors alike), from other writers, veteran novelists, and that creepy dude who stares long at hard at you whilst reciting 7 minute poems from memory, but if I had to choose a few literary lurves to which I could go and always walk away with a new book, they’d be:

BOA Editions, Dancing Girl Press, and Sarabande Books. I’ve recently developed a crush on Hyacinth Girl Press. (And am flirting with several others. Shhh.)

Barring that, I will always look first to zinesters all over the world, or follow amazing poets to the magazines that they choose as homes for work. All poems and stories being equal, however, I’ll usually go for the handbound book with original artwork over a glossy perfect binding. That said, if a writer is fantastic, I can be persuaded to purchase machined, boring design. (Not all machined designs are boring, by the way, but I do have a few books full of astounding poems… with horrifyingly bad covers. Though that makes me sad, I just do my best to never look at them closed.)

14– How does Porkbelly Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Porkbelly Press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
Locally, we attend events hosted by folks associated with local universities—undergrads, grad students, professors and professionals. We’ve been known to crash art fairs and writing conferences, handing out cards, tabling, carrying around chapbooks, talking about some essay we read last week.

We find that often our communication is through poets we admire. My staffers are constantly sending me things with a ‘hey, have you seen this?’ note attached. I’m in some FB groups with pretty good taste and a minimum of drama.

I find myself purchasing books by poets and writers submitting to Porkbelly Press and other places. (We share a few poets with Dancing Girl Press, Black Lawrence Press, ELJ, Sundress, and loads of lit mags, for example. I specifically went to Hyacinth Girl Press’ site to pick up a couple of chapbooks by poets who’d submitted to us.)

When I find a poet I love, I go to their CV or cover letter to find out where they’ve been published before, and then I might go wander around that website for a while, mention it on Twitter, and before you know it, we’re tweeting back and forth or ordering books from each other—it’s like a really odd mixer, but if we didn’t have each other, we’d just be talking to ourselves. That’s only fun for a little while.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?

We’ve so far released seven chapbook titles and a few micros. Our book launches are primarily online, though we do our best to attend local events and as many festivals and conferences as we can. We use social media to get the word out about our writers, do interviews, blog posts, photo posts and tweets to support them and their work (that with our press and others), and encourage our authors to arrange local readings, which we announce. Our submissions come from all over the US as well as many countries abroad, so it’s difficult to get a lot of our people together in a physical location. We enjoy linking youtube videos of readings poets do, but most of our poets are abroad or a few states away (at minimum.)

Most of my staff regularly attend readings, workshops, lectures, and retreats. Readings and book fairs are incredibly important, and they’re another way to meet some really great poets. The trick is getting them together in one place. It’ll happen at AWP in a couple of years, I’m sure. It’s just a matter of schedules and funding (mostly funding).

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
The internet allows us to connect with artists and writers from all over the world. That’s pretty amazing, and we use it to spread the word, share things across oceans, solicit readers and all of our submissions are digital. Without the internet, Porkbelly Press wouldn’t exist. We use Facebook (calls, interview links, etc), Twitter (announcements, events), and Tumblr (press and magazine photos), as well as our blog& site on Wordpress.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
We read for chapbooks once a year. Sugared Water reads at least twice a year, sometimes more for special editions, and we’ll occasionally read for special projects. Love Me, Love My Belly (body image zine) reads once or twice a year for a yearly issue.

Things we find a bit difficult to like include rhyming poetry, two word, choppy lines, stories without characterization, or long-winded narratives, stalker poetry, poems or stories that include sex acts or colorful language purely for shock value. We don’t usually accept poems with the word soul or angel in them.

We don’t publish hate speech or body shaming. We’re glad to turn away work from people who think that feminist is a dirty word.

We adore: personal narratives, poems about the many layered, complicated elements of identity and experience, lyric language, narrative poems that run away with us, fabulist works, speculative things, image-heavy, beauty laden poems equally in love with deep green seas and moldy rib bones. We’re feminist & queer friendly.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
I find that it’s often best to let the book speak for itself, so I’ve selected a three of our 2015 chapbooks, and have pasted in an excerpt of each. You be the judge! If you’d like to see more, you can do so at, where we give each book a description that will tell you why we chose to print it.

l’appel du vide (Christina Cooke) – an excerpt:

“her, me”

her hair
falls against my chest
cowlicks curling up

reaching along her cheek, her neck
catching loose strands
as she cupsflattenscradles
palming my breasts.

fingers to warm skin
with both hands i hold her
just hold
swells of skin curving
not pale, flat

she exhales
makes space between her knees.

Vein of Stone (Sarah McCartt Jackson) – an excerpt:

“Kentucky Rose”

Five days and a riverside away from his wife Ora, Eli knows the rain
by whether or not his ankles slap through coalwater,
whether the sludgy drip of soil-seep oils his palm.

And when the earthhush of that shaft struggles to slip from the blue
shale stitched above the carbon, the sound becomes the rasp
of a carpenter bee’s mandibles boring tunnels
into the porchwood to remove its yellow poplar
grain by grain, gram by spittled gram.

Skeleton Keys (Laura Garrison) — an excerpt:

“The Night My Grandmother Almost Ran Off to Join the Circus"

Music and dancing lights
draw her through the darkness
over bare boards to the attic window.
Strange chords thrum,
humming dissonant parodies
of Sunday's dreary organ hymns,
and colored lanterns bob,
bright as anglerfishes' lures.
Her fingers grip the windowsill
as she leans precariously
into the night,

Friday, March 20, 2015

Heather Christle, Heliopause

  I did not know
when I began I’d fill these poems
with so much information
                                          which saturates
my life
            Some people see information
As that which cannot be predicted
                                                        the break
in the pattern
                        It is still snowing
I’d like to know how this year
will break me (“Dear Seth”)

American poet Heather Christle’s fourth collection of poetry, Heliopause (Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2015), concerns itself with a curious amount of exploration on the ideas of the confessional. She utilizes “so much information / which saturates / my life,” as in the section “Dear Seth,” a suite of poems for the poet Seth Landman. With poem-sections such as “Elegy for Neil Armstrong,” “Dear Seth” and “Poem for Bill Cassidy,” Christle utilizes the personal as a way to enter into an exploration of light, and how contemporary humans manage to exist, relate and interrelate amid the incredible noise of distractions and the approaching dark. As the poem “Disintegration Loop 1.1” opens: “In seeking to resolve a conflict / between two parties / one can assume / each believes it is acting / in good faith / just as the hopeful / gravel waits for your rough step [.]” Christle’s poems are expansive and massive, and deeply intimate, managing to hold themselves together against the impossibilities of being so very large, and so deeply personal.

Realistic Flowers

At the dollar store I bought
a bouquet of fake flowers
and what could have been
but somehow (incredibly) wasn’t
It only cost $2 but still
that did not help
                            I planted
the flowers among actual flowers
b/c what else can you do
I was so happy I could have
torn your head apart

Her poem “Annual,” for example, closes with: “Our lives are I think / coming apart / There were clouds / we could see but not say [.]” The poem “Elegy for Neil Armstrong” is especially striking for its use of white text, composed as a narrative sequence of hesitations, on black pages. Speaking directly to Armstrong, Christle composes spare words against a dark page, with words like stars, scattered. And how easily one could simply lose oneself, there.