Category Archives: National Poetry Month

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Charlotte Pence


********—Funeral sacrifice in Sulawesi, Indonesia, June 2011

The blood, too fresh for flies, a newly skinned
Skull left to dry, but otherwise this dulled
Dirt-patch where animals are sacrificed
Is just another piece of empty ground.

I’m ten thousand miles from where I grew up
By S.D. Johnson Elementary.
At recess, we would search for a kidnapped girl,
Also named Charlotte. We each hoped to get

Lucky and be the one to find her skull.
See, Dad would say, We’re all the same. Don’t act
So goody-goody. Who doesn’t wanna see
The fat behind skin? Watch a person die?

In front of me, the coffin shimmers under
The spread of red silk hand-stitched with one-inch
Mirrors. If I approached, I’d see pieces
Of myself. So, I watch a boy and his wiggly

Muscles struggling to lift a pig who’s strapped
To bamboo—its grill and grave. It thrashes out
Of its rope, which sends the men scrambling away.
And right when I cheer this pig’s escape, a warmth

Wets my leg as a machete opens a buffalo’s throat,
Its blood spraying like water from a sprinkler.
Dad loved to tell me what he could do with
A beer bottle’s broken neck. Take the glassed

Peaks to the throat:
********************It gives like a pillow.
I’m not a pillow, I’d say.
********************Not today.
Tell me whose neck you took the bottle to?
********************Homeless guy. By the river after I bought him
********************a beer. And what you need to remember, Miss
********************Goody Goody: No one ever noticed.

Q: What is your writing process?

A: There’s nothing fancy to my writing process: I close the door. And I get to it. Since I revise heavily, a draft is always waiting for me, which makes my office an inviting place.

Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?

A: Joseph Harrington’s Things Come On: An Amneoir (Wesleyan University Press) is an exciting first book of poems. The book combines memoir and amnesia reflecting on the speaker’s mother’s breast cancer and the Watergate scandal. What I love about it is the inclusiveness; we have condolence cards, political transcripts, diary entries, etcetera, that all result in a tightly interwoven whole. I wrote about the book on my blog.

Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?

A: I adore writing residencies and have enjoyed a few month-long visits to residencies in Virginia (VCCA) and Costa Rica (The David and Julia White Artist Colony). If I could choose my dream residency, I would return to this tiny island in Malaysia that my husband and I visited a few years ago. It’s called Pulau Pehentian Besar. When the boat pulled up to our cove of six little thatched huts that didn’t have electricity or plumbing, I remember feeling giddy about the beauty and the isolation. There was nothing there but the sea and the sun and the palms. Our hut’s windows were simply holes. At night, we would swim to cool off, and the cove was full of ocean phosphorescence so that as we moved, our bodies sparked. Yes, that’s where I want to return and write.

Charlotte Pence is the editor of the newly released Poetics of American Song Lyrics (University Press of Mississippi). She also is the winner of the Black River Chapbook competition for The Branches, the Axe, the Missing, which will be released by Black Lawrence Press in May.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Michele Battiste

American Proverb: when a woman reigns, the devil governs.

The hail fell and no one would suggest it landed
randomly.  The father called the insurance man
out to look at the roof.  The cursed know.  Those who don’t

know cackle and fix chips in the paint.  His wife
likes mutton and the butcher looks at him strangely.
I’ll have to special order it.  She liked the red

clay shingles and the insurance man winced without
knowing why.  The small child played in the yard with
broken shards.  No one was worried, and when she cut

her hand the father thought it was bound to happen.
The mother bandaged the hand and kissed her daughter’s
wet cheeks.  No one has seen hail like that in these parts

for threescore and ten.

Q: What is your writing process?

A: These days I write while doing the dishes, dozing next to my going-to-sleep child, riding my bike to work.  Sometimes I’ll bring my notebook to a cafe.  It’s catch-as-catch-can, a phrase that always reminded me of Saskatchewan.  That’s just my life right now.  It’s possible that next month or next year I’ll have more time.  Or more discipline.

Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?

A: Jennifer Denrow’s California delights me.  I’m a sucker for a poem series, but some run out of steam or unravel.  There’s unraveling in Denrow’s book, but the best kind.  The kind that shows you how foolish you are to expect anything different.  I want to use cornball words to describe this series.  Poignant.  Heart-breaking.  Eleni Sikelianos used a much better word in her blurb – “ipseity.”  I had to look it up.

Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?

A: Woods, not ocean.  Warm and a pleasant environment, but not so pleasant that I’d be lured from my desk.  New but familiar for the same reason.  Maybe Saskatchewan.

Michele Battiste is the author of Ink for an Odd Cartography and Uprising (forthcoming, 2013), both from Black Lawrence Press.  You can read her recent poems in American Poetry Review and at SpringGunThe Awl, and Redheaded Stepchild.  For National Poetry Month, she’ll be blogging daily about why the commons matter to poetry at Poetry in the 11111011010.

Photo credit: Tom Sundro Lewis

National Poetry Month Spotlight: B.C. Edwards

662. To prepare and Bleach Skeletons.

I cling to your femur like waking up with our hairs tangled
like waking up with our arms and legs around each other,
I have filled your ribs
peninsulas of whiskey and lubricant.
It would be impossible to extract all this,
but still, make a tin box.
Pack your skull, your knuckles, your floating knee caps,
every single twitching digit and
solder on the cover, leave only a round hole for peering out of
eye socket pressed against the top,
for calling out of in your quiet tongueless voice.
Until the box is filled with every single meal you made for me.
Even the ones that burned in in oven
while I distracted sucking on your feet.
Pack your toes in as well.
Seal it over nicely and leave yourself for three months.
More than that. Until the sun will bleach you white.
Any shorter process
will give you a skeleton that is always nasty.
And after I will pull you out. Hang you up. Presently forget.

Poem from the full-length collection, From the Cyclopedia of Recipes, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press.


Q: What is your writing process?
A: You know that thing about a million monkeys and a million typewriters and Shakespeare and infinite time? It feels like that.
Mostly I’ve been working on a novel for three years and every day I sit down to write I tell myself that I’m going to write that novel and then I end up writing a couple poems and say that I’ll work on the novel tomorrow and it happens all over again. I think maybe that’s why my poetry is steeped in so much guilt.
But the exact process? I sit in a cafe and listen to hypnotic electronic music and write for as long as my paying job will allow me to be out of the office.
Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?
A: Oooh, lets see…
Oddly enough I’d never read Marie Howe before this past year. I saw her at a salon late last year and god damn did she knock me out…
I have no idea how long I’ve been obsessed with Eileen Myles, definitely way more than a year, but it’s the kind of crush that dosen’t go away and every time I see her read, or read something of her’s, it’s pretty much falling in love all over again…
Angela Veronica Wong just got back from her Fulbright last summer and jesus, do I wish she hadn’t left. How To Survive A Hotel Fire is a pretty kick-ass book and watching her perform her work is mesmerizing.
Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?
A: Probably Barcelona. It’s one of my very favorite cities and I’ve done a ton of writing there in the past, so I know it’s doable. The exact right meter of distraction and isolation. Also they make killer coffee.

B.C. EDWARDS is the author of the forthcoming novella knucklebone and is the prose and audio editor at Pax Americana. He received his MFA from The New School. He is a regular contributor to BOMBlog, FAQNP and the Brooklyn Review. His most recent work can be found in Red Line Blues, LyreLyre, The Sink Review, Food-i-corp, as well as Hobart, which nominated him for a 2012 Pushcart. His short story “Illfit,” is being adapted into a piece by the Royal Ballet of Flanders. He is also a Literary Death Match champion and has the medal to prove it. His forthcoming short story collection The Aversive Clause won the 2011 Hudson Prize.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Valerie Bandura

On the Other Hand

In one hand my father holds patience,
in the other, rage.

I wonder which one held the telephone
through which the lieutenant, at four a.m., delivered the news

that he stopped a young woman tonight on the freeway
who thought she’d been released by—and here he paused

to say—aliens. And then, did my father switch hands,
to correct the lieutenant

***************************that aliens appear
********not when she’s on drugs but when she isn’t?

I know with which hand my father slammed the phone, and
with which he woke his wife.

**************************What I’d like to know
is when he goes to wash up, alone,

which hand holds him up on the sink, and which
holds his mouth closed?

Poem first appeared in Third Coast, Fall 2007.

Q: What is your writing process?

A: I look for the first line, and that means not only the image from where the poem will begin but the tone that will move that poem forward. For my first book, my poems were all about heavy private issues: mad sister, immigrant family. After ten years of writing from that place, I’m now obsessed with public events of the absurd: pregant woman becomes pregnant, inappropriate quotes from students I pass on campus. Tone is becoming increasingly relevant in my work. Larry Levis once said that he tried every version of the poem he could think of before finally deciding on the direction. Sometimes it’s like that. Other times, it’s like how Louise Gluck described her process: that she knows what work the poem must do in her head before she starts.  Sometimes there’s a lot of moving the hand across the page stuff, sometimes the poem’s on the computer, typed, each line making the poem as it goes.
Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?
A: I’m a big believer in reading new poets. But as I’ve been generating new material for a second book for a while, I’m in the throws of revisiting books that echo my interests aesthetically: Campbell Mcgrath’s Spring Comes to ChicagoPax Atomica,  American Noise, and Marcia Southwick’s Saturday Night at the Flying Dog have been on my bedside table.
Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?
A: Where I would want to write, and where I would want to travel are, for me, two different questions. In my mind, I’d love to be writing at a cafe in the central square of San Miguel de Allende or Nice. Some nonconsumer focused, history-rich, wine-drinking-in-public place. What would work, though, would be one of those mini houses you pay then thousand dollars for and they send, I imagine, in a big box you with parts construct in the back yard like a bike. And a maid. Writer-Val and Mom-/Wife-Val. Separating the two would be my retreat.
Valerie Bandura’s collection of poems, Freak Show, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press. Her recent poems have appeared and will appear in PloughsharesAlaska Quarterly ReviewCimarron Review, and The Minnesota Review. She teaches writing at Arizona State University.

National Poetry Month: Matthew Gavin Frank

Life Sciences

When the corn is painted with the most
exotic thing we can imagine—
a goat, perhaps, or
the blood of the goat—clench your fists
to your chest, mimic
the chambers of the heart.
In this, you show your fear
at being the object of another’s
initiation into the patch-worthy,
a symbol to carry us
from these copper roofs going green,
all the first edition textbooks stinking
like steampipes.

Your knees, of course, will pull
to your chest—brain, this time.
Anything with a lobe.
Between them, you see all the other girls,
their skinny ribs draped
as if in documentary, all those things
behind glass in Life Sciences
and you realize something about protection,
that you don’t have to be an embryo
to be amphibious, to be young
and crumpled by the side of the train tracks
with the rest of them, found
out past the diner, their bodies covered
in fine moss.

Shame on this earth for being fertile
for giving us food that never rejects
the sun.  The pack animals here
run on diesel, and bring the air
down to our level, where we can breathe it.

If I wasn’t so far away, I would
offer you my hand, call us
what we are:
a species that finds
even our own blood

Q: What is your writing process?

A: These days, my process involves, during the warm weather months, sitting at a fold-out table in my front yard in Marquette, Michigan, combing through my old spiral notebooks, searching for orphaned lines and, longhand, cobbling a poem together around one of them.  I’ll watch my next-door neighbors—a scantily clad elderly couple—gardening in their bathing suits, cinching up their tomato plants.  Then, I’ll revise, and type.  During the winter months, the process is the same, except that I peer into the neighbor’s yard through my living room window, and they’ll be wearing snowsuits, and chasing their obnoxious Pomeranian, Rudy, through the drifts.

Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?

A: Christina Olson’s book, Before I Came Home Naked (Spire Press), blew my doors off.  There’s such a velocity to the book.  Such swagger and fragility.  Reading it is like driving really fast through Death Valley with the windows down, listening to The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, and you feel like a teenager again—all moony and fluttery—until, about ¾ of the way through, adulthood catches up to you (around Barstow), and slaps you across the face, and all of this prior exhilaration has gathered, like static electricity, this emotional weight that’s almost too much to bear.  By the book’s end you realize that you were never really in California at all, but a place more like Minnesota or something.  It’s the funniest, saddest book of poems I’ve read in a long time.

Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?

A: If I hadn’t been traveling so much lately, I’d say Sicily.  I’d love to write some poems while digesting fresh sardines with orange and pistachio and chile flake and olive oil, drinking some Etna Rosso wine, tasting in it the volcanic soil.  But I have been traveling a lot lately, and it’s good to be home now, so I’ll say: upstairs, to my bedroom.  It’s where most of my stuff is.

Matthew Gavin Frank is the author of Pot Farm (The University of Nebraska Press/Bison Books), Barolo (The University of Nebraska Press), Warranty in Zulu (Barrow Street Press), The Morrow Plots (forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press/Dzanc Books), Sagittarius Agitprop (Black Lawrence Press/Dzanc Books), and the chapbooks Four Hours to Mpumalanga (Pudding House Publications), and Aardvark (West Town Press).  Recent work appears in The New Republic, The Huffington Post, Field, Epoch, AGNI, The Iowa Review, Seneca Review, Crazyhorse, Indiana Review, North American Review, Pleiades, Crab Orchard Review, The Best Food Writing, The Best Travel Writing, Creative Nonfiction, Prairie Schooner, Hotel Amerika, Gastronomica, and others. He was born and raised in Illinois, and currently teaches Creative Writing in the MFA Program at Northern Michigan University, where he is the Nonfiction Editor of Passages North.  This winter, he prepared his first batch of whitefish-thimbleberry ice cream.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Sandra Kolankiewicz

The Acrobat

Of course you are terrified,
your breath gone, heart in your ears
like a dull adz thumping the branch
you can’t split, that pins
your joy to the ground,
torn from the tree that you climbed
the day you first learned
you had wings.

Certainly all admired your fix
on the view, the fierce
flesh about to leap at the horizon
as if you were a performer up so high
none of your spangles were scratched,
legs had no dimples,
no skin sagged below the shimmering hide
that was markless and boneless
in its apparent strength.

You see it now, don’t you?
How each soul at the end
of a telephone tether
gasped when you tried to fly?
When you turned into a third person
and sat with them, watching yourself
arch toward the void, missing
your mark, no net but a forest below,
and you, surprised by real trees that met in
true notches that, plunging,
you cracked until you found
the moss-covered floor.

Here you lie,
finally afraid because you survived
and can consider it now
while you wait, first, for the ambulance
and, then, for the ones who forever show up late,
except for the undertaker who always arrives
the moment your heart gives out to metaphorical thrombosis,
or the symbolic blocked carotid artery
bursts up through your ear drum,
or that one little blood clot in your lung
emblematically shakes loose as a result
of the fall and the oomph of the ouch, in spite of the fact
you can still wiggle your toes
and nothing is broken.

Soon you will realize
the most important tissue is connective,
and that, of whatever is left for you,
suppleness will be mandatory,
the ability to stretch, reach,
maintain required even there
on your back in the forest leaves
from last summer, your sinews
holding the disparate parts of the body together,
like the clavicle, for instance,
which, with the small, stacked vertebrae,
is the only support for your neck
besides the damp ground
where you sprawl and
hope while they are not coming
and instead are still looking for you in the sky.

Poem first appeared in the inaugural print edition of Red Ochre Lit, Oct 2011.

Q: What is your writing process?

A: I usually hear a first line of something and scribble it down if I’m not near a computer.  I take it as far as I can and then try to shape it.  At some point I start trying on different forms so that it can grow into what it is supposed to be. If I’m not careful, I’ll edit the first effort so much that I lose whatever spark it had–so I try to save various drafts just in case I go too far and ruin it by thinking too much.

Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?
A: I just love Robin Skelton’s The Shapes of Our Singing.  I am blown away by his scholarship on poetic forms and also by the fact that he composed all of the examples, which is an extraordinary achievement.  In my dreams I do what he does so fluidly that no one notices the form.
Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the  world, where would you travel?
A: A morning when I get up at 5 and write while everyone is asleep, a time when I am so into what I am writing that I forget who and what I am, and all that matters is the energy I feel through creating.   If everyone would just stay asleep an hour longer some Saturday dawn when I’m really grooving on a poem–that would be a writing vacation!
Sandra Kolankiewicz’s stories have been published widely in journals.  Her chapbook Turning Inside Out won the Fall 2007 Black River Chapbook Competition, and her novel Blue Eyes Don’t Cry won the Hackney Award for the Novel in 2008.  She teaches Developmental English at West Virginia University Parkersburg.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Shelley Puhak

On Having Sex, Grief-Stricken

Summer underfoot: toads,
vipers, adders and serpents,
even ambulances, and in
the eaves, chipmunks, and on
our napes, the rubber paw
of the attending.

Driving home, the car clings
to the yellow line and I will it
to cross over. You pull over
for gas, but can only beat
the car with the pump handle,
over and over, metal on metal.

And somehow—a hotel.
Easy-care earth-toned
bedding, claw-foot
in the corner. We can’t
look at one another.
I straddle you, sobbing.
I’m stunned our bodies
can still screw
together, the threads
can catch: what has
steeled in you winding
up into my wooden.

Poem first appeared in The Pinch (Spring 2012): 110.

Q: What is your writing process?
A: Phrases scribbled on the back of receipts, in the margins of grocery lists, or even texted to myself on my phone. Scraps underlined in scientific journals and the odd biography. Negotiations late late at night when the house is quiet until a draft emerges. Revisions early mornings with a cup of tea.  Many, many mornings.
Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?
A: Lately, I’m on a bit of a Sandra Beasely kick. And just this past week, I discovered both CA Conrad and Francesca Bell.
Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?
A: I’ve been lucky enough, over the course of my MFA, to have studied in Prague, Madrid, northern Italy, and, in the past year, participated in writing conferences in San Miguel and Edinburgh. I’d gladly go back to any of these spots (northern Italy would be first on the list).
If anyone wants to invite me along on a retreat, I’m game to go almost anywhere. But when my own budget allows, I want to strike out for an A-frame in the high Tatras, on the border between Slovakia and Poland. My people started just south and north of here, and I’m struck by its constant castle ruins and sudden canyons, its remote fields and forests, its incessant quiet.
Shelley Puhak is the author of Stalin in Aruba, winner of the 2010 Towson Prize for Literature, and the chapbook The Consolation of Fairy Tales, winner of the 2011 Stephen Dunn Prize in Poetry. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Lisa Fay Coutley

Her Father Says She Worries Too Much

but she’s only trying to prepare
*******for the worst in a world of paper
**************lamps and Zippo lighters,

at a breakfast nook with two teen sons
*******whose yolks explode in their mouths
**************and drip on their plates—

one who cuts his meat into man-sized
*******bites with a butter knife and gags
**************at every meal, and another

who eyes how she chews and maneuvers
*******a city of four-way stops, where no-one
**************bothers with turn signals—

so it’s only right to worry: to bite and tear,
******to pluck and push and touch again,
**************again, to vex with her teeth

and shoulder the paper-lamp light
*******alone; because today a man passed
**************as she perched on black

rock, watching him skim the water
*******in a Coast Guard boat—the kind
**************designed to absorb spiller

waves and still remain sturdy—the man
*******who could be her life, who sees her
**************through binoculars,

who would turn starboard and stop
*******if he weren’t rushing to save someone
**************else, while she’s there, flailing

in her mind, where the cat has knocked
*******a pan from the propane stove, in her
**************home that she’s certain is burning.

This poem first appeared in Two Weeks, an e-anthology published by Linebreak

Q: What is your writing process?

A: My writing process is a lot like I am: moving ahead at full speed or sleeping. I write in swells, punching out a bunch of poems in a short time and then not writing at all for a month or more. It’s taken a long time to accept this as my process—to be okay with periods of quiet—(especially when so many writers swear by flexing those muscles regularly), but that seems to be the way I work these days, given my schedule. I write fewer poems, but those poems that I do write come out feeling closer to finished than they once did. I suppose I write fewer shitty poems on the page and instead slog through the muck in my mind. If nothing else, it’s an environmentally sound shift in my process.

Q:  Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?

A: I recently read Jennifer Perrine’s second book, In the Human Zoo, and found myself really excited about her language and metaphors and the brave project the book undertakes. I also really admired Dana Levin’s Sky Burial. And I’ll admit that I have fallen in love with Catullus (damn that man was snarky and dirty and wonderful in so many ways) and finally found a real fondness for Auden.

Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you go?

A: I’d go to the Sporades Islands, where I’m quite certain that I would not write, but where I would hike and swim and cliff jump. I don’t do well under writing-pressure, but I believe that those quiet periods (or crazy-fun periods) are gestational periods during which I’m taking things in. I’d love to experience Greece, to take in the water, the people, the mountains and to funnel all of it through my writing as it occurred later, naturally. I really believe that living my life is more important than writing my life, and if I’m doing the former the latter will come in time.

Lisa Fay Coutley is the author of In the Carnival of Breathing, winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition (Black Lawrence Press, 2011), and Back-Talk, winner of the ROOMS Chapbook Contest (Articles Press, 2010). She is a doctoral fellow and poetry editor for Quarterly West at the University of Utah. Recent work appears or is forthcoming in Seneca Review, Third Coast, The Journal, Drunken Boat, American Literary Review, Best New Poets 2010, and on Verse Daily.  

Photo credit: Miriam Berkley

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Lawrence Matsuda

Woman Who Paints with Fire

                        For Etsuko Ichikawa

Pot of green tea steams
near a porcelain cup,
but no one is there.

Seven year old Etsuko
slides Aida sensei’s studio door.
The room is a hive, a bear’s den,
magician’s lair littered
with worn paint brushes
and rice paper stacked
on dusty shelves.

Etsuko runs her fingers across
brown horse hair brushes.
Dust flies and sparkles in shafts
streaming through windows—
magical sparks, fireflies.

Small spirits shift,
their eyes follow her as she examines
the folding chair, worn table,
wooden floor and paints.
Otosan* hangs a western suit
he crafts from blue gabardine
milled in Kyoto.
Otosan, Etsuko asks, where is Aida sensei?
Her father smiles and says,
sometimes artists become invisible.
He places his index finger to his lips,
points to a small sliding door,
where Aida sensei hides when
he wishes not to be disturbed.
Walking the cobblestones home, Otosan asks,
What did you seeDid you notice the shadows,
patterns on the floor, steam rising from the teapot
and smell freshness flushing out the musty air?

At home in Tokyo,
Etsuko and her family
stand at the upstairs’ window,
stare into the sunset, draw pictures.
They laugh out loud—
Etsuko sketches a cat on a fence,
Otosan the clouds and Okasan** tree shadows.

Etsuko begins her spirit journey
as a young woman.
She dreams of Aida sensei’s
hiding place, her mind wanders
into the  imaginary lair,
where sweet musk inhabits.

Fireflies drive her from hiding,
teach her secrets –-how heat transforms,
how to wield a molten wand like a samurai.

Ten years later and five
thousand miles away,
her arms grow weary
twirling fiery orange globes
in a green Northwest rain forest.
Etsuko’s body remembers
soul patterns Otosan taught—
how light strikes the floor,
fabrics fall—bunch, drape
and rise in glowing bursts.
Like a goddess she
whirls molten rivers in her orbit
and singes wave patterns into glass.
Her fire creations begin
with a prayer, meditation,
and a memory:   of when
she stands with her family
at the window upstairs,
coaxing the sunset onto paper
soaking with carmine and royal blue
impulse to impulse reds and yellows
to help a sunset linger on her page.

* Otosan is father
** Okasan is mother


Q: What is your writing process?

A: I tell stories, like images in a movie.  I begin with the specific ( pyramid shaped) and build out and down.  It is not like a news article where the pyramid is inverted and the main idea is on top with details flowing down.  I try to work on the emotional level so that the poem has universal appeal.

Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?

A: Liliana Ursu’s A Path to the Sea (Pleasure Boat Studio:  A Literary Press, 2011).

Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?

A: I would select Hawaii for a retreat

Lawrence Matsuda was born in the Minidoka, Idaho Concentration Camp during World War II.  That event is something that has influenced his life, art, and career. Matsuda has recently completed an unpublished poetry manuscript related to Minidoka and is also writing a novel.


National Poetry Month Spotlight: James Reidel

The Krewe of Orpheus

Poems that pull his strings instead of him—
Operas in which his head sings on a ruff—
That Dance of Furies more leg than fury—
Painters who must like painting sheets pulled from people—
Fables of being steered by the arm through howling cave winds,
With just this flap, this flutter of ankle wings—
The way everyone makes it look like he cut in—
The way we treat him worse than a voodoo doll—
Making him watch his entrails in a tug-of-war,
Feel his sides stuffed back with hanks his own hair,
Those fingernails turning his quarters to chum,
Those girls racing along the bank by the bleeding glove of his face,
Feeding the scream stretched in it like breadcrumbs.
Not one of us stops ourselves,
We just keep his wreck afloat to whirl over the river’s drain to where it starts again,
Not one of us pulls his feet back over their bones,
Wades with him ashore,
Follows the trampled grass back for the lyre,
Which someone used on his privates for piano wire,
Helps him no closer than the little dog that curls forever carved,
Punished enough, and loyal at the foot of her tomb.


Q: What is your writing process?

A: It is this bolt of mental Christo cloth dropping over some subject. Then I tug it into a shape with little pulls at the end, like you give kite string, the strings of your hood, a ripcord.

I like the results as long as they don’t look too much like their furniture under their sheets. That said, strangely enough, I am very interested in writing into my verse its seizures, where to grasp them even more. The poem I have written for April is mythological kitsch to me from one angle. So, I have included this angle, made this pull to the whole cloth. You can pull this entire poem off the table while seeing it as true.

Q:  Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?

A: Chloë Grace Moretz–to encourage her to write verse.

Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?

A: The Land of Orplid or just a United States again, which may, indeed, be just as mythological.

James Reidel is currently preparing a new manuscript for Black Lawrence Press and his first book of poems in six years. He recently published two novels in translation by Franz Werfel, Pale Blue Ink in a Lady’s Hand (Godine, 2012) and The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (Godine, 2012).