David James headshot

Why Poetry Matters, a Guest Post by David James

Book with scenes sprouting from it

Many would argue that poems do not matter in today’s world. Very few people read poems voluntarily, and even fewer buy books of poems. Probably 99.9% of poets can’t exist on writing poems; they must work at something or leech off others–parents, spouses, social services. Most people see no practical value in these short, broken lines on the page.

Yet it’s interesting to me that we turn to poetry at crucial times. For example, when we’re in love, suddenly the words, sentiments, emotions found in love poems matter to us. After 9-11, people wrote and read poems because poems often capture what we can’t express. At a recent funeral, three of the five people giving testimonies read poems. In these moments of deep feeling, we often turn to poetry, trying to capture some human essence in words and images.

I am a believer in poetry. Not just because I write poetry but because I read it. Through poems, I have been awakened, I have experienced, and I have imagined worlds that would never have been within my scope of knowledge. I am caught up in the idea that by putting little ink marks on paper, a writer can move a reader to tears, to joy, to feeling, to understanding, all by cobbling together words and images in a particular order. 

Poetry matters because poems focus our attention. This modern life is busy and complex. We run and hurry from one obligation to another, often confused by the idea that the busier we are, the more we live. The opposite is probably true. As we rush from project to person to responsibility, we ignore the here and now, the clouds forming in the sky, the heron flying overhead, the kids jumping in leaf piles. Sometimes we ignore the fact that the world is falling apart around us—climate change, world hunger, ethnic cleansing—to name just a few, and poems can urge us to take action. Poems can focus our attention on what we need to do to survive in this world.

Poems require us to stop, slow down, narrow our view on the particular, the specific. Poems may even require multiple readings. This focus hones our ability to perceive and pay attention in our own lives. James Tate, Pulitzer prize winner in poetry, touches on this ability of poetry to capture life’s essence: “While most prose is a kind of continuous chatter, describing, naming, explaining, poetry speaks against an essential backdrop of silence. It is almost reluctant to speak at all…there is a prayerful haunted silence between words, between phrases, between images, ideas, and lines. The reader, perhaps without knowing it, instinctively desires to peer between the cracks into the other world.” Tate implies a sacredness, a holiness, here. There is more to the poem than the words.  Something exists between the words and phrases, inside the body of writing, that we sense when we read a good poem. Another modern poet, E.A. Robinson, said, “Poetry tells us, through more or less an emotional reaction, something that cannot be said,” highlighting that impossible nature of true art.  

Since experience matters, poems matter. In poems (as in stories, novels, and plays), we imaginatively experience the lives of other people. We see the world from different perspectives and  viewpoints. We get a chance to live out experiences we might never have in our own lives. Billy Collins, a former poet laureate of the United States, says, “When we read a poem, we enter the consciousness of another. It requires that we loosen some of our fixed notions in order to accommodate another point of view.” In this manner, we broaden our understanding of the world.

Poems inform us that there are other perspectives, viewpoints, emotions. They enlighten us with other people’s take on life, most likely different from ours. These “voices” coming in affect us, expand us, strengthen and weaken us. Most importantly, they force us to re-think our own narrow perspective and re-examine our ideas.

Poems touch each reader uniquely; they make us feel reassured about our humanity and remind us that we are part of the human family. Readers bring their own experiences, past, emotions, even dreams into the understanding of poems. In his Nobel prize speech, Pablo Neruda puts it so eloquently: “All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are.” Every poem is an attempt to translate human experience, to explain the unexplainable. We all want to connect with others, and poems are exercises in sharing–an image, a thought or idea, a loss, a hope, a memory.  The more we share, the more we grow, understand, and are understood. And the more we share, as readers or writers, the larger we become, more compassionate, more humane, more real.  

If the imagination matters, then poems matter. Poems stretch our minds beyond their normal limits, and that, of course, builds and strengthens our imaginations. We all know that original inventions and solutions to problems come from people who think creatively, who can imagine worlds beyond the one we live in. Novelist Tom Robbins puts our goal as writers so clearly: “To achieve the marvelous, it is precisely the unthinkable that must be thought.” Writing involves risk-taking. Writing demands the lowering or eliminating of censors inside, and it allows the imagination to play wherever it wants to.

When we read imaginative poems, we exercise our mental muscles; we picture images unknown to us, therefore allowing us to make new and innovative connections that we might not have made previously. Absurd, silly, humorous and surreal poems not only bring pleasure and delight, even confusion at times, but they force us to see and imagine impossible worlds. Combining the impossible with the real nurtures original thought.   

Finally, poetry matters because life matters. Gwendolyn Brooks says, “Poetry is life distilled.”  All art, in one way or another, shines a spotlight on the here and now, the routine, the miraculous, the mundane, pleading with us to see, to hear, to smell, to feel, to taste the world at our fingertips. Each day is a miracle, and that’s what poems say in that “prayerful haunted silence between words,” as James Tate writes. Every poem I’ve read or written has focused my imagination deeper into life. Each poem adds to the warehouse of my experience.  

This is all we have in the end: this precious moment alive. We can plod blindly through each minute and hour and day, living a life of worry and dread and busyness, or we can realize, like poems do, that every experience and feeling, every event and moment, good or bad, conveys the seed of joy and wonder and the miraculous.  

Those who live the best are alive the most. And poems help us to live, calling to us like mythical sirens on the ocean of life: Stay awake. Look around. Take the world in. Be alive!

Heart Radical cover

An Interview With Anne Liu Kellor

Heart Radical by Anne Liu Kellor (She Writes Press 2021)

We are thrilled that we recently had the chance to interview Anne Liu Kellor about her first book, Heart Radical: A Search for Language, Love, and Belonging. Heart Radical is a memoir about Anne’s experiences navigating her ethnicity, heritage, and place in this world. The interview was conducted via email by our blog editor, Sara Walker.


Sara Walker: Could you describe the inspiration for this memoir?

Anne Liu Kellor: Between 1996 and 2001, I traveled back and forth between the Pacific Northwest and China, my mother’s homeland, as well as to Tibet. Growing up bilingual, I set off as a young, twentysomething mixed-race Chinese American woman searching for my connection to my linguistic roots, as well as to my greater path in life. Underneath this, what I discovered was my desire to speak truth, to break silence, and to follow my intuition. To give voice to all the moments where I knew something in my body, but could not find the right words to own what I knew. And to give voice to how I come from a lineage of silence—of stories not told, trauma not named, feelings not expressed.

SW: Much of the book is written in present tense, but you’re recalling your past. What precipitated that choice?

ALK: Originally, I wrote a lot of the chapters as stand-alone pieces, experimenting with voice and form. Eventually it became clear that my writing in present tense felt more charged, whereas past tense got too bogged down in reflection—reflection that in some cases had not had enough time to gestate, so it could not say all that I wanted it to. As I revised the memoir over many years, my perspective on this period also kept deepening, and thus there was the temptation to keep revising, adding layers to what the story was “about.” Finally, by changing it all to present tense (and interspersing chapters that were purely backstory or more lyrical), I tried to create both a traditional arc-driven narrative of my outer journey, and hint at all of the deeper layers of spiritual questioning. All of this was a challenge because my story ultimately resisted one tidy arc and redemptive ending. It was hard for me to explain my spiritual unfolding at the time, because some of those lessons I’m still living out to this day. So while I wanted to keep the narrative focused on a certain time period, there were deeper layers I just couldn’t get to yet. The point of view choices were in part a response to this tension.

SW: I’m sure some of your past was challenging to write about. How did you navigate that? How did you get into the headspace to write in depth about your past?

ALK: Since I worked on the book on and off over twenty years (!), when I wrote a lot of the early drafts, the events I was describing were only a couple years in the past—still relatively fresh. Plus, I had a ton of journals to mine for details. Often I would first spend time reading my old journals and free-writing, and then I would find an image or scene or line that carried energy, and use that as a point of departure to begin a more crafted piece. Sometimes I played music that evoked the emotion of that period for me, and I also had the gift of long consecutive days to settle into writing. I find I need that extended silent, alone time to get a discovery draft out. Later, with all the stages of editing, I can dip in and out more easily.

SW: As we all know, the Covid-19 pandemic brought forth intensely anti-Asian-American sentiments. What was it like to work on and release this book in a year when Asian-American violence was so high?

ALK: I don’t tend to watch a lot of news or let myself get swept up in Facebook scrolling if I can help it, so while I stay abreast with headlines, I also often feel insulated from the sudden impact of the rise and fall of violence. I choose when to let it in. I don’t need to read the details to know how it impacts me; I feel the swell of pain continually, the pain of being alive in this ignorant, racist world. The ways in which all of our pain is connected. I have, however, continued to deepen my relationship to other Asian American and mixed-race writers over the last several years. I’ve offered more classes for our communities, as a way for us to share hard stories, interrogate complicated relationships, own our voices, and join the crucial conversations around race that our world is having more of these days. What does it mean to be Asian American—to be so often erased from the conversation or seen as a model minority monolith, and how can we own our inherited biases, privileges, and participation in white supremacy culture?

In implicit bias tests, Asian American women are the group that is viewed as the least capable of leadership. How have we been conditioned to see ourselves as silent or weak too? The outer violence against Asian Americans—or any racial group for that matter— starts with these kinds of fucked up biases and dehumanizing beliefs. Becoming a more visible, public writer and more fully owning the political identifier as Asian American, raises the stakes for me and my writing. I am increasingly aware of how I am a part of a lineage, and how sharing my story creates more space for other people to believe that their story matters too.

SW: In Heart Radical, you’ve captured countless experiences from your life and share them in a remarkably lyrical and straightforward way. Which memoirs and memoir authors inspire you?

ALK: A lot of my early writing was influenced by my mentor from grad school, Brenda Miller. I learned a lot from her about how to trust that images can carry deep metaphorical resonance, or that one can convey so much through juxtaposition and white space. Poets are often my favorite memoirists. So much can be encapsulated in one line—so much of what is not being said, for the reader to fill in. Recently, I’ve been super inspired by memoirs like Tastes Like War by Grace M. Cho, The Magical Language of Others by E.J. Koh, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T. Kira Madden, and Made in China by Anna Qu. Old favorite non-linear collage memoirs include The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn, and Safekeeping by Abigail Thomas.

SW: You’re a teacher in addition to a writer. How has your role as an educator shaped you and your writing?

ALK: So much so. In all of my courses, my students and I spend time writing together from prompts. I always participate to make sure that I stay engaged with the vulnerability and presence it takes to show up in the moment and write, then share. Teaching also keeps me actively exploring new voices and forms. Whatever I’m reading then bleeds into my own work. Writing never gets old; even if some of my thematic material can feel well-tread, there’s always a new angle or way to approach it—if I can keep experimenting and staying receptive. Also, being a teacher connects me to so many amazing writers. The work of a writer can be very isolating, so nurturing community has become increasingly important to me. It helps me remember who I am writing for and why I am doing this. Why words matter. What kind of healing and connection can be forged through the often long, slow, plodding process of shaping a piece on the page.

SW: Heart Radical is your first book. What does that mean to you?

ALK: It means it’s about f’ing time! It means hallelujah, it is finally out of my meddling hands, fears, and perfectionism, and into the world of my readers, completing the cycle from fruition to full completion. 😊 It means that I learned SO much through writing this book and revising it over the years, especially about not giving up. It means I have a really strong sense now of who I am as a writer, and I’ve also written so many essays along the way that I also have a full collection that I’m ready to publish, called Uncertainty, Trust, and the Present Moment: Essays from In Between. And I have another memoir, Artifacts of Longing, that I’ve been working on for over a decade. I suppose I now can say that I’m a writer who works on books in cycles—write, let it rest and work on something else when it is driving you crazy or being rejected, but always return, return, return. Return to that seed of trust that a story or book needs to be written. Return to what calls you back, won’t let go. Book-length memoirs especially demand their own timeline for the lessons of a longer period of life to metabolize. We may think we are “ready” or “done,” but so much of the writing—and publishing—process is also not in our control.

SW: What does your writing space look like?

ALK: I write at one end of a big room with an A-frame roof and warm cedar walls. It’s a cabin in residential Seattle, a special place, a home I inherited from my old neighbor (a part of my second memoir’s story). I look out on cedar branches, salal, Indian plum, and moss—a classic Pacific Northwest landscape. Otherwise you can find me at the window seat journaling, or propped up on my bed with my journal or looking through binders of work, music playing, incense lit. I find that when I’m not at the desk I often sink into the more emotional or poetic aspects of my work… mining for new insight or lines, connections. Whereas when I’m at my desk I’m editing on the computer and in productivity mode.

SW: What does writing mean to you?

ALK: Writing is my meditation, my daily practice. It’s work too, yes, but primarily it’s a way of being in the world—a way of paying attention, honoring small details, honoring the wide span of history and time, timelessness. Writing is a way to capture all that is hard to express, a way to revisit old wounds and heal, a way to make amends, a way to see clearly, and sometimes, to forgive. Writing can do so much. It’s a way of connecting, a way of witnessing, a way of praising and mourning, and a way of being.

SW: What advice would you give to up-and-coming Asian-American writers? 

ALK: Do not be afraid to put anything down on the page in early drafts. To write what you can’t imagine yourself publishing or sharing. To write it all. To trust, that in time, with practice and community and mentorship, you will be able to name and share more. But this is a lifelong practice—you don’t have to say it all at once. You don’t have to share it with your parents. Your writing has important value, even if it just lives in your notebooks or is entrusted to a few readers. Your writing can help you grow as a human being. And yes, if you want it to, when you are ready, your writing can also challenge long-held familial silences or legacies or beliefs. Make sure you find community to share this journey with. Seek out classes and teachers who are supportive. Create writing groups with fellow students you admire. Trust that if writing truly calls to you, you won’t regret following this path. There is nothing more exhilarating than finally giving yourself permission to do what you love.


To learn more about Anne, visit her website or Twitter. Heart Radical is published by She Writes Press and available for purchase from Bookshop. Our heartfelt thanks to Anne for agreeing to the interview and sharing so eloquently!

Delight is Such a Human Madness

Delight is Such a Human Madness, a Guest Post by Gabriela Denise Frank

Girl running through sunlit field with balloons

I wasn’t ready for delight when Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights came out in February 2019. It may seem surprising then (if unpopular) that on the anniversary of the end of life as we knew it—March 2021—I felt mostly gratitude. And delight.

When Delights was published, I was descending into burnout, though I didn’t know it. My symptoms—anxiety, irritability, migraines, insomnia, memory loss, exhaustion, inability to focus, hopelessness, crying randomly—didn’t seem indicative of anything beyond aging or my own bodily weakness. Wasn’t everyone stressed out, overworked, and glued to their phones? Didn’t everyone feel looming dread on Sunday afternoons?

One morning on the train to work, an ache spread across my chest. It was like someone tightened a belt around my lungs—I couldn’t breathe. My heart pounded like I was running though I was just sitting there, cringing at the day ahead. After a few hours, the feeling subsided into tingly coolness. My doctor ran a bunch of tests, but she couldn’t find anything wrong. I believed the problem was me—my inability to handle the grind. My husband, Michael, urged me to take a break from what had always been a stressful job. He had a heart attack at my age and didn’t want the same to happen to me.

“I don’t know if I can afford to leave,” I said.

“I don’t know if you can’t.”

That winter, I was forced to agree when the panic attacks and tachycardia recurred with increasing frequency. Nearly a year to the day after Delights was published, I quit my job with nothing lined up—I simply couldn’t work anymore. I told colleagues that 2020 was my gap year. I’d rest and reconnect with Michael, then I’d edit my novel and rethink my relationship to work. Some congratulated me for prioritizing my mental and physical health and my marriage. Others cocked their heads. I was giving up a well-paying job with benefits and a lofty title at a prestigious firm others would “kill” to work for. Quitting indicated I was weak. I’d lost my edge. My career, meaning my life, was over at forty-five.

Secretly, I feared they were right.

What if I was washed up? Had I made a huge mistake?

Of course, I couldn’t imagine we were headed for a global pandemic. Nor could I foresee that, two days before my last at work, we would discover Michael needed a five-way bypass and a new aortic valve. For us, quarantine began on March 1, 2020, to keep Michael healthy for open-heart surgery, scheduled for March 12—the day the hospital closed to visitors.

That afternoon, while Michael recovered in ICU, his surgeon noted copious fluids draining from his chest. It seemed Michael was bleeding internally. They’d have to open him up again. That evening, I spent five awful hours reckoning with the possibility of his death just when life was supposed to get better. When the call came after nine p.m.—Michael survived—I couldn’t believe the news. For me, March 12, 2021, wasn’t the anniversary of losing everything.

It was the anniversary of keeping it.

When Michael went back to work from home last May, I dared to relax. Strangely, quarantine felt like the safest place to be. I wasn’t ready to edit my novel yet, so I asked poet Arianne True for reading recommendations.

“When anyone asks, I always say, Ross Gay,” she said. “No matter what. If you’re happy, read Ross Gay; if you’re sad, same thing.”

I ordered The Book of Delights hoping it wasn’t Pollyanna philosophy or “magical” thinking. It was, in fact, the opposite. In one hundred and two essays, Gay expanded the notion of delight by layering observations of nature, music, and people with reflections on racism, death, and loss. In Gay’s hands, delight wasn’t the opposite of pain: it was inherently interwoven with it. His gaze deepened my understanding of delight as “a human madness,” echoing Zadie Smith’s essay on Joy.

Amidst the gloom of 2020, Ross (note: Gay becomes Ross here) led me to unexpected light-filled places. His delectable asides, his poetic language—Assonance! Consonance! Alliteration!—his sprinkling of profanity, flirtatiousness, frankness—Ross the Boss the King of Applesauce—oh, his tender heart! His emotional intelligence! His ability to write urine and hand job and not be gross! Hey look—Ross and I are the same age! (I’m a month older.) I peered shyly into his eyes via Zoom during a Vermont Studio Center reading of his new book-length poem, Be Holding, feeling faint with fandom.

His observations also helped me examine my own stalled writing.

After finishing Delights, I reread the essays I wrote in 2019 to discover they were miserable. Naturally, they had all been rejected. I started new work, this time scribbling Where’s the delight? on drafts until I found it: often, a single golden thread buried deep. I found that even small glimmers of delight leant range to my work. Acceptances began to arrive. This practice and application of delight—both observing and reflecting on it—was life-changing.

Then came my “brilliant” idea: I’d turn Ross’s process of observing a delight a day into a guide for rediscovering delight in one’s writing. I proposed a generative course with his book as a companion text to Hugo House, a creative writing center in Seattle where I live.

My grand aspirations were dashed in the first fifteen minutes of class.

 I was expecting to attract writers closer to my skill level looking for inspiration. One was writing-curious; three journaled a little; two said they wrote stories; one wrote poems. None self-identified as writers. Uh-oh. They signed up because they were sad, they said; they hoped my class might make them feel happier.

My guts made a squelch I hoped wasn’t audible on Zoom.

This wasn’t going to be a crackling discussion where I could rely on my students to dog-pile insights. These people were looking to me—a person clawing out of her own black hole—to help them find actual delight.

I shifted my lesson plans and looked for ways to meet my students where they were. We listened to podcasts of Ross (delight) and I compiled a delight mixtape of their favorite songs. The problem was, I wasn’t prepared to lead a class of students who didn’t want to talk. They were too shy to share more than a few words, even in the chat. The only time my students spoke in sentences was when we took turns reading sections of the book aloud. Everyone agreed Ross’s voice was medicine. He buoyed us. His words were the sun, and we followed them.

I kept asking my students to share their work, but they stonewalled me. I tried to be patient, knowing we were approaching the one-year anniversary of lockdown. The few observations they did share were touching and insightful; I wanted them to take a risk and find something good from it. That was a lot to ask.

The week I said we’d start class by everyone reading a paragraph of their writing, two students dropped out and never returned. Only one dared to share because I asked her to. (She sent me a draft over the weekend. It was fantastic.) The rest were silent.

Why did I think I could teach this class?

What did I know about delight, anyway?

In the ensuing weeks, a familiar sense of dread arose, this time on Saturday mornings before class. I wallowed in glumness until the camera light turned green, then I slapped on a smile. I stopped asking my students to share their work. Instead, we did “delight swaps” in the chat. There was always a stand-out beyond the regular appearances of birds, cats, and flowers, like the mail carrier singing a cappella as she walked down the empty street. Mainly, we read Ross’s essays and we wrote and wrote and wrote.

“I’m a bad teacher,” I sighed after class, face in hands.

“You must be giving them something,” Michael said. “Five keep showing up.”

It felt brutal, though, to pose questions and sit in silence. Sometimes, it was a struggle to get them to read. I gritted my teeth during the long pauses, having learned that if I held back, someone would eventually speak. Along the way I received a couple of notes—Thanks for the inspiring class!—but it didn’t feel inspiring to me. My delight experiment was a failure. Not only the class, but what it represented: my new life, a thing I could point to when former colleagues asked what I was doing with my “free” time.

We began the last session by looking back at the first during which we had drafted a collective definition of delight. My students had been nervous about being pinned down to words, but I assured them our definition could change and grow. After we made a starting list, I pasted Merriam-Webster’s version into the chat. Everyone agreed it was flat in comparison. Ours was messy, but it had depth.

That moment was the glimmering thread I had clung to for six weeks.

At the end of the final class, I asked my students to write—one last time—their personal definitions of delight. I asked them to paste a sentence or two in the chat, and I waited until each had a turn. It took less than five minutes and more than two of silence for them to share what they wrote. After the Zoom boxes went dark, I sat alone in cyberspace rereading their lines.

Tears sprung to my eyes. In our six weeks together, something in them had changed.

My students hadn’t only redefined delight, they had made a collaborative poem, line by line. I thought I’d failed them and myself, but their definitions were alive with vulnerability and nuance. Hope. Fear. Risk. Delight.

As it happened, choreographing twelve hours of prompts also forced me to probe how delight lived (or didn’t) in my life. The class was over; my practice had only begun.

Delight is not “nice to have” nor is it a luxury. It’s not all sunshine and unicorns. It’s a portal into the gloriously labyrinthine human experience that’s right in front of us, inside us, every day—one we turn away from because delight isn’t easy. Instead, we swipe, we like, we click purchase, we dumb things down into zeroes and ones until we, ourselves, become algorithms that other algorithms measure. A practice of delight requires attention that we’re breeding out of ourselves, and I don’t want to go back inside the Matrix.

On this anniversary of the time everything changed, I, too, recommend reading Ross Gay whether you’re happy or sad. His work can help you grapple with the incongruity: joy, happiness, pleasure—yes, and—heartbreak, pain, suffering. Sadness is not a sign you’ve failed, nor is happiness its opposite or even the point. You’ll learn how pain holds hands with delight, how they enrich each other. You’ll learn that practicing delight doesn’t mean shutting your eyes to darkness but opening them to unavoidable loss.

Delight is the confounding truth that humans become more complete by asking questions, by pondering. Delight is having nowhere to go except inside existential discomfort; it’s curiosity of the unpleasant and the unknown. As Mary Ruefle says in her essay On Fear, I’d rather wonder than know, and I do keep wondering: about fear, about death, about the marvelous intricacies of nature whose designs we grapple to understand and whose complexity we mimic bluntly—or destroy, despite what we know.

Delight isn’t binaries or absolutes; it’s depth, scale, range.

A year after quitting my job, my life isn’t free from worry or suffering, nor was quitting an end: it was a volta. If we’re counting, I spend as many hours writing, editing, and teaching as I did at my corporate job, but I feel different. My panic attacks have subsided, though my heart feels permanently changed. I mostly sleep through the night. I can remember things again. The mental fog is lifting. My sense of delight doesn’t arise from not working, but from working with meaningful questions and helping others explore theirs. What does it mean to be human? To be embodied and part of this earth in an inequitable society that prizes individualism, detachment, and distraction? How dare we love anything in a world where everything dies? How do we contemplate mortality beyond misery? Ross taught me it’s never delight or pain, but both, a negative capability—a human madness. For what could be more infuriating than our capacity to be grateful and desirous of more, always more?

Since my mother’s death in my teens, I’ve run from delight. Better to deny myself even small joys than face their inevitable loss. Better to lean in, to achieve, to climb—meet goals, make to-do lists, buy things. I was afraid to feel pleasure, thinking happiness was a lightning rod for catastrophe. Better to keep my eyes down, work hard, earn money; I believed my job would somehow save me. That’s how my capitalist burnout took hold, strangling me as it used my body to propagate itself, like the face-hugger xenomorph in Aliens, a movie I find unsettlingly delightful. Which is to say, The Book of Delights showed me how delight is a technology of rebellion against despair and denial. Sitting, if uncomfortably, in silence asking seemingly unanswerable questions does indeed yield insights. Asking doesn’t solve, it illuminates.

From Ross I learned to turn and face delight. Nothing can prevent Michael’s death or my own, but I can pour my attention into the imperfect time we share—a window of highs and lows whose duration is uncertain, whose quality carries no assurances—before it’s gone.

A study of mortality can be a study of aliveness, if you let it.

That, I realize, is my life’s work.

Dinosaur

How Jurassic Park Taught Me the Magic of Monster Stories, a Guest Post by Amy E. Casey

Dinosaur

At seven years old, I was dinosaur-obsessed. I watched educational dinosaur specials on VHS, and I knew all their names. I visited their bones and models at the Milwaukee Public Museum. I loved their gruesome display of a T-Rex eating a ceratopsian, guts and all. 

But I had never actually seen a dinosaur, you know, eat a person.

Not until one glorious summer night in 1993 when, in his infinite wisdom, my father decided to bring pint-sized, pigtailed me to see one of the first theatrical showings of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. The film was based on Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name.

The lights went down, and thrilling carnage ensued. I was transfixed, terrified, and fascinated. When we stopped at the gas station to fill up on our way home after the show, I was still shaking. I also begged to see the movie again as soon as possible. 

That summer, I wanted to be Dr. Ellie Sattler more than anything in life. Like my idol, I had an intense curiosity about the world around me. I wanted to touch it. I wanted to study it. But I also feared it and knew it could hurt me. Not only were my beloved cinematic velociraptors unbelievably awesome, they were also hideous and deadly. They were the manifestation of the unique awe that comes from an acknowledgement of human frailty. A shrieking animatronic memento mori, if you will. 

After Jurassic Park broke my brain, I developed an all-consuming love for creatures that I feared. In literature and film, I looked for them wherever I could. The monster could assume so many different forms, from killer sharks to city-smashing gorillas, to the mutants and aliens of science fiction. Monsters could even be humans who had become monstrous through their curiosity (like Dr. Jekyll or The Hulk) or through no fault of their own  (like Frankenstein’s monster or Grendel). Speaking skeletons and murderous squids danced in my daydreams. They still do. In my fiction, they always find their way forward. And I’m not alone. It delights me how every year I inevitably get a new infusion of monster-centric fiction to read and films to see. These genre titles are often billed as less serious literature, but I couldn’t disagree more.

When I think about monsters, I think about the magic of fear. As we learn to navigate the world, most of us stop looking for fairies beneath toadstools and give up on the hope that we might stumble into a portal to a fantasy realm. But fear is something that we all believe in.  It comes from outside of us and inside of us, no matter how old we get. That’s part of the human condition, and it’s an invisible wraith that haunts our worries. But when we can entertain fear in the form of a monster, it’s a terror laden with relief. 

The monster allows human imagination to give fear a shape. It’s a way to see threat in detail, with its teeth and beauty and power and scales. It demands a certain kind of reverence and reminds us that, yes, sometimes we have to reach our hands out to touch our fears on their terrible snouts. And while that can be frightening, it can also be life-affirming. Strangeness, self-discovery, transformation: these things require facing the demons that we all have. The only difference in a monster story is that they are actual demons. 

Not all monsters are bad, and that’s one of my favorite things about them. At the end of the story, as much as we cheer for the efforts to fire arrows at the monster or evade their snapping teeth, we really don’t want to see the monster die, because we know that the monster is a part of us, too. By othering it we deny that truth. 

We see the monster as the threat of the possible, the danger of the unknown. Sometimes monsters are monstrous merely because they are strange: bizarre, unnatural, unholy. Monster stories have the courage to ask, What happens when we meet our fears? Where does the real danger lie? What’s the real difference between the monster and ourselves? Whether organic, robotic, or supernatural, all monsters are interlopers, crossing into the field of human interaction without permission or sometimes even definition. 

To be human is to fear. To be a monster is to be the thing that is feared. At our most powerful and pure, we can recognize our own monstrosity and allow it to companion with virtue. The Romantics knew this well. For them, the most divine of emotions was sublimity–witnessing something peerless in beauty and unbounded force. It’s the reverence that compelled Shelley to write Frankenstein and play her part in the invention of science fiction.

That’s why, in one of the final frames of Jurassic Park, the scene that still pricks me with chills is this: as the humans get helicoptered to safety, the massive T-Rex raises her jaw and lets out a bone-rattling roar. With the manmade remnants of the Visitor’s Center crushed to smithereens around her, she emanates sheer joy in her power, and something strange happens. After hoping so fervently that the characters escape her deadly mouth for the majority of the film, we smile at her triumph. Yes, we think. Because somewhere deep down, we know that monsters deserve to be free.

As a writer, I’ve found a calling in my fascination with fear. I owe much of it to 1993, dinosaurs made of metal and rubber, and the vision of genre writers everywhere who know how much we will always need their monsters.

Knausgaard books

Reading Knausgaard: The Face and Its Inscription, a Guest Post by Derek JG Williams

Knausgaard books

Then, I wanted to know what it was like to be nowhere. I had always lived somewhere before, rooted to cities by work, school, friends, family, and relationships. I wanted to be adrift. 

I moved to Ohio to begin a doctoral program in English. I wanted to lose myself in the unfamiliar familiarity of books and find freedom in whatever that could mean. That fall in Ohio found me jumping through countless bureaucratic and administrative hoops, which would be a key component of my time there. I resisted and resented the impositions. My non-obedience opened up a class-shaped hole in my schedule; it was too late for me to fill it with another course. I resolved to cram it with books. On a whim, I began Book One of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s series, My Struggle, which had only recently been translated into English. 

In the first pages of that first book, read during my first semester of study, young Karl, age eight, watches the news on TV. He watches a segment about a fishing boat that has sunk: I stare at the surface of the sea…and suddenly the outline of a face emerges. I don’t know how long it stays there…The moment the face disappears I get up to find someone I can tell. The boy seeks verification of his experience: proof, and the communion that’ll follow. His family refuses to satisfy his need; they don’t entertain his vision, which is akin to seeing a face in the clouds or the man on the moon. 

But of course the face existed. He saw it. I just wanted to find out if they could see what I had seen. To write is to confirm our sight, while forcing others to look to us—at us—even as we stay hidden beneath the water. As I sit at my desk writing, the waves swallow what once formed on the surface; the afterimage remains, along with the impression it made. Knausgaard wrote five more books to go along with the first. All of them are of a piece. They are, according to him, one novel. Following their publication, everyone looked at him, to him.

I moved to a rural university town in Ohio without ever seeing it. When I arrived, it certainly felt like nowhere, but I felt compelled, drawn to the place by that exact quality. Was it an act of faith, or the result of a lack for it? I didn’t need to tour rentals to figure out which to choose—I didn’t care about any of that. I didn’t need to see the place I would live. I wanted to not want anything. I didn’t succeed.

Almost four years have passed since then. I finished reading Book Six of My Struggle on the balcony of my apartment overseas, thousands of miles from where I began the first. It took me these years to read all 3,600 pages of the novel. 

When I was sixteen, I thought life was without end, the number of people in it inexhaustible…The people who had been there then would become even more important, infinitely significant in as much as they had not only been shaping my perception of who I was, had not only been the people through which my own face emerged and became visible, but embodied the very understanding of how this particular life turned out the way it did.

This is from early in Book Six, in which the author tries to close the loop around the years of his life depicted in the pages of the novel. In the last book, he writes about the wild success of the first in the series. The response of readers, of the public, feeds into his writing. 

Youth hides the lines that are manifest in the face, revealing the life that’s been lived: success, failure, and criticism are all parts of it. People intimately and vaguely involved in that life are part of it too. Perhaps the slow revelation of the face, its emergence, is more acute for the writer. I see what Knausgaard saw: the face and its lines. The other result is the novel, and words, which unlock time, heaving us outside it. That’s why we read, and why I write. 

Abrade—yes. That’s the word. That’s what time does. We try to tie a bow and close the loop around time, our lives, but the text frays and unwinds it.

I recently began to experience tinnitus. For me, it’s a distant high-pitched ringing in my ears. For others, the sound is different, like a roar or drone. My experience is the literal effect of time; the aftermath of the life I’ve lived. I only notice it in the morning or evening, when it’s most quiet. I can hear it now, and I can pinpoint some of the concerts that damaged my hearing, all those years ago. The noise from then is still with me. No one else can hear it.


A note from SR: before you go, check out Derek’s contribution to Issue 22.

Please Hold cover

Guest Post: Martha Zweig Reviews “Please Hold” by Muriel Nelson

Please Hold by Muriel Nelson, Encircle Publications, 2021

Praise be to Encircle Publications for selecting my friend Muriel Nelson’s Please Hold as the winner of their 11th annual chapbook competition. Any and all lovers of poetry currently suffering frustration, blahs, even despair, over lineated topical prosaics may take heart. These twenty-five poems bind together actual poetry: musical-magic words. Deployed from within the courteous, indefatigably sunny suburban disposition I remember from my own childhood, they flick quirts & quips of vocabulary at the thorniest issues in Christianity’s crown: the suffering and death of innocents, ripping as usual through the here and now, while a good-enough god’s vital creation flourishes, for instance, its novel & ingeniously variable virus. Nelson (sometimes assisted by a stone-faced sidekick gargoyle) rubs dry sticks together, flint-striking among them worrisome sparks of prayer over nature, beloveds and the commons, such as they (and we) may seem-or-not to get along these days. Or ever? Organ of vox humana, ”That ultra-low purr,/ is it your scary business? Your pleasure?” (God Deafness).

Nelson’s work, full of noises and mouth feel, craves and rewards reading aloud: “words like worms wriggle out” (A Few Words from a Haystack with Facehole); “gold leaf down brown water, brown spot down gold leaf” (Up to You) as “radios amplify hubbubs” (Nap). “Rather than dazzle, please mail juncos”, a speaker requests. (You There). “Sanctus,” via violin, “rises/ over orange machines and trills through diesel” (Hold Sway). Wanton, irresistible frolicking language made of everyday diction we already know by heart.

Anxieties addressed in addition to pandemic include other illnesses and infirmities, clear air turbulence in aviation (Nelson’s own son the pilot at risk); hair overgrowing unruly in lockdown, nearby Mt. St. Helens’ volcanic eruption and forest fires, plus whatever else may fill in any of our blanks. Why is our local nit picked of the universe such a mess-in-plain-sight? Because this world of oops is God’s mirror-image shattered in a truck mishap. (Nap) Image-recognitions like this, more persuasive and quicker-to-the-pinch than rational proofs, are why/how we get to make sense of things, even as sense may go on to make and unmake the best efforts of artists, fans and rationalists. Because seeing is believing, the gardener –reluctantly conceding that god obviously prefers weeds– can’t really mind. Don’t look there. Look over here instead.

More ‘Notes’ than just one on hummingbird arithmetic would be nice:  Vox humana, gargoyle, worm moon, clear air turbulence, retrograde, ankyloglossia,  A440. I do like reading notes before I begin a book, getting that initial feel for what’s in store. And, what with everything zapping all around the world’s diverisities all the time, a particular writer’s cultural tropes are not so much common knowledge as used to be.  

The sheer antic fun of Nelson’s wordplay, nimble, precise and outlandish enough never to get caught out in bourgeois complacency, wins us over and wins. Goofy poem “Hug,” for instance, declares its own title a word too ugly to be tolerated, and so (um, ‘embrace’?) substitutes (why not?) “waffle,” enumerating the latter’s superior fluff and sugary qualities and ending up (neverminding stiffly-posed ancestor portraits) in the very waffle that created us descendants.  Or, “A woman with a hole in her brain the size of a lemon says”/ I find repetition soothing. Really?” The poem’s skeptical speaker attempts a few irritatant repetitions in rebuttal, but soon concedes the issue utterly. 

Atheist Zweig engages these glories in awe for quite a while, as the music tickles and soothes. Gradually, though, an inner Richard Wilbur begins to notice the gigantic absence here of any human (and systemic) depravity in the world. If we can’t blame God (busy puttering light and music among the weeds), who gets held to account, and how? One poem, after ee cummings, seems to indict Mister Death, but this, sez I, is mere Manichaean heresy: did superpower Death create Itself? “Second Story Window” acknowledges a “God, who contours love with dark // who forsakes even Christ,” yet ends beguiled hearing bells and a shadow singing. In these poems music and wit (soothing, satisfying) never accuse. “Nap” comes closest: “God of great pain, lone, // self-bombing, bloody-crossed God… whom no one hugs, you untouchable, sharp, broken One.” Christianity, though, is obliged to address deliberate human sin— which the crucified god, (as we’re told by numerous authorities), forgives in advance and for all time. Wow! Thanks a bunch! Let’s sin again, maybe more so this time! Did I miss the parts where the moneybaggers get bounced out of the temple and barred from the heavenly kingdom even as some lumpy beast slicks through the needle’s eye?

Approaching the end, Please Hold arrives at “doting,” three times: a word I resist because doting is foolish. Am I supposed to be foolish for having indulged in delight among these poems? Must I, must other readers and Nelson herself, commit to holy foolery for Jesus and Saint Paul? After some research I reread “A woman with a hole in her brain the size of a lemon says” –increasingly my favorite. We cultured folk know perfectly well that art and all its witness entail willing suspension of disbelief; likely you and I can entertain Holy Foolishness without becoming wholly foolish. My atheistic smarts briefly snooze right over there, safe-&-sound.

Revisit the commodious mischief of this robocroon title, perpetrated, surely, by the gargoyle sidekick: Your prayer is very important to us. Our only-one god is busy hearing other supplicants and will respond to you in the order of your prayer received. You are currently number four trillion and eighty-two, please hold, or pray again later. (music) Organ, please hold that vox humana note. Dike against the sea, please hold; my place in the soup line; wall against the dark hordes, shutters against the storm, please hold. Hug me a little longer, (urgently/politely) don’t let go. Endure, don’t disintegrate, don’t die. And so on, let me count the ways. Please Hold your horses, your fire, your tongue, that thought, this book.


Please Hold, poems by Muriel Nelson, Encircle Publications, 2021, 28 pp.

EJ Levy author photo

Keeping Alive a Feminist and Transgender Icon


Congratulations are in order for past contributor E.J. Levy, whose newest book, The Cape Doctor, was released this summer. E.J. was kind enough to send us her own description of the book, found below.


I’m delighted to have had my debut novel, The Cape Doctor, out from Little Brown on June 15th, after nearly a decade of work. The book is inspired by the life of Dr. James Miranda Barry–born Margaret Ann Bulkley circa 1795 in Cork, Ireland–a brilliant, irascible, dandified, army surgeon who advocated for the rights of the marginalized and was the first person known to perform a successful caesarian in Africa; Barry was caught in a sodomy scandal with the aristocratic governor of Cape Town (then the Cape Colony) in 1824, and eventually rose to the level of Inspector General, only to be discovered after death to have been “a perfect female” and to have carried a pregnancy late to term.

In the 150 years since Barry died, the doctor has been celebrated as both a feminist icon (as the first female-born person to receive a medical degree in the UK, 50 years before Elizabeth Garrett Anderson would, and 35 years before Elizabeth Blackwell would earn her degree in the US) and more recently as a trans icon. Both are valid interpretations in my view. I agree with biographer Jeremy Dronfield (author of Dr. James Barry: A Woman Ahead of Her Time) who has said that he sees validity in both a feminist and a trans reading of Barry’s life, but he rejects any effort to impose one interpretation to the exclusion of the other or to present one as definitive. Mine is one reading of a richly ambiguous historical record of the fascinating and courageous life of Margaret Bulkley and James Barry. In writing the book, I was aiming for something like Virginia Woolf’s Orlando–in which the protagonist changes sex over centuries–but I think I’ve ended up with something closer to Charles Dicken’s David Copperfield.

I have changed Barry’s name to be clear that mine is a work of fiction. But it has felt at times more like a seance. I first learned of Barry on a trip to Cape Town; as we traveled around the city and into the countryside, I felt a little possessed by that spirit, as if Dr. Barry was whispering in my ear; I’m delighted that others have a chance to hear that same voice now. 

I’m gratified that Booklist has given The Cape Doctor a Starred Review, calling it “Remarkable…Absolutely superb… beautifully written…In sum, an unforgettable work of art that deserves raves.” The book was also named among Barnes & Noble’s “Best 100 Books of Summer” and was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.

I hope The Cape Doctor helps bring wider attention to and awareness of the remarkable life of both Margaret and James.


The Cape Doctor is published by Little Brown and available for purchase from Bookshop, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Google Play, and Amazon.

E.J. was interviewed by SR about her story collection Love, In Theory in Issue 16. Keep up with what else E.J. is up to on her website and Twitter.

Poetry Blog: Jane Zwart

Jane Zwart teaches at Calvin University, where she also co-directs the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing. Her poems have appeared in PoetryPloughsharesThreepenny ReviewThe Poetry Review (UK), and TriQuarterly, as well as other journals and magazines.

Jane’s Poem, “Still Life With”, originally published in Basalt:

Still Life With
There is nothing with which
you can still life.
Even so, the painter strives
in his atelier to ransom hams
from perishability
and greater his art
who can garnish the dish
gone off
with a blood-sozzled fly.
Less stunning are the lobsters
and fish in sequin sheaths
and mundane
is the unplucked duck
that dangles on the wall.
…
There is nothing with which
you can still life.
Even the veriest vase
in trompe-l’oeil
is subject to cracks
under lacquer
as sure as silver ewers cloud
and handmade goblets drip
because sand-made
glass is viscous,
a deserter
who waits and waits.
…
There is nothing with which
you can still life.
Even the twin halves
of fruits ferment
and peaches’ cheeks
go weak
as the jowls of a gran
who takes her dentures out.
Art cannot halt
this lavish thing
that pockmarks
lemon peels.
With life still so unsated
and so corruptible,
nothing, nothing
can still it,
shifty iridescent life.

Jane’s Poem, “Rarity”, originally published in The Shore:

Rarity
My sons, given crayon bins, mine for the rarities: cadmium
red and razzmatazz. Given a baseball diamond, they kneel
in a kibble of limestone, each sifting for chipped jewels,
each sure to come home with his fist of small stones, asking
to be told they are gems. Already they have learned to want
what is scarce.
              Blame me.
                       I want to draw such afternoons
a corral of colored wax. I want to rake a moat around them,
to defend as an island this trove of gravel, this now.

Jane’s Poem, “I read that the moon is rusting”, originally published in Wilderness:

I read that the moon is rusting
My son defines time--its river, not its measure--
as the way one event changes into another.
I am letting what my son knows of time
climb and turn a laddered wheel in my mind.
I am letting the river run the mill that changes
one kind of unknowing into another.
. . .
Once a student told me that her mother kept
vases of flowers long past their prime.
She thought them still beautiful, wizened tulips,
their petals knuckling into pecans.
. . .
I read that the moon is rusting. Here on earth
a breeze kicked up by passing cars
fans a dead katydid. Invisible thumbs shuffle
her wings’ gauzy underthings.
. . .
One event is turning into another. My son grows
tall but is still young enough to trail
a hand, offhandedly, in the current that carries him.
There is so little we can demand from time
but I would ask to be like a tulip, like a katydid,
like the henna-chinned moon:
one of those who, done or undone, changes next
into another kind of wonder.

The following is an interview conducted by Superstition Review‘s Poetry Editor, Carolina Quintero, on April 27, 2021. It regards Jane’s poetry, looking specifically at both her process and inspirations.

Carolina Quintero: Hi, Jane! Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview with me. It was such a joy reading your poetry. You have such grace with your word choice and craft… Motherhood is a frequent theme in your work. How has your writing evolved through motherhood?

Jane Zwart: Early on, having kids meant I wrote fewer poems, but that was a matter of time and mental space, not any shortage of material. On the contrary, the raw material I found for poetry multiplied wildly when my boys were born. Of course it did. Babies are fragile enough that you can see the miracles pulsing under their skin and gripped in their tiny irrational hands. As for toddlers, they tutor you in the ways language works and breaks, its patterns and exceptions; in picking up syntax, they are full of defiance and delight, and that’s a good thing for a writer to steep in. So I did, when my boys were little, rake in so many gems. But most of them I had to store for those years, that season. Which is why I labeled a folder “poem crumbs” and stuffed it with notes, giving myself something to mine when they got bigger, more independent. I’ll add this: as Wendell (11) and Ambrose (7) grow older, I find whole lines of poetry in things they say. I borrow their wonder. And their tenderness toward the world heightens my tenderness toward the world.

CQ: Your poetry is dense with imagery and concise with word choice. What is your process like to achieve these traits in your work? 

JZ: Well, thank you. The images come to me first, almost always, and I suppose that’s why the poems are, as you say, “dense with imagery.” Sometimes that density occurs collage-wise, through a bunch of images testing their angles and echoes against each other. But sometimes in a poem, a single image grows dense; the poem stuffs and coats the picture or object with so many hints and arguments. And this will sound foolish, but for me the process behind wielding imagery is looking and thinking. I owe my art history professors, Henry Luttikhuizen and Charles Young, a huge debt of gratitude for training me to do just that: to look and to think. I’m also indebted when it comes to word choice. To my parents, who filled our house with shelves and shelves of words. To other poets, who have sent me to the dictionary but who have also let me fall in love with perfectly ordinary words transfigured by their neighbors on the page. And to Roget.

CQ: What inspired you to write about time and its unpredictability?

JZ: The easiest way to answer this question would be to name writers I love who capture the way time snags, how the past and future breathe down the neck of the present, how history loops. I think of novelists first: Toni Morrison, W.G. Sebald, William Faulkner, Gabriel García Márquez, Virginia Woolf, David Mitchell. But of course the answer is also subjective, and for me it has to do with the awful mortality of all these people I love, the shortness of a life–which I hold in tension with the belief that our souls are not mortal but, rather, each breathed by God into the little husk of a self. I use poetry, then, to adjust my grasp on time. A poem slows time, a little, but it is also a way of loosening my grasp on the perishable world of people and things that I tend to hold too tightly. After all, to write something is to relinquish it as well as to preserve it.

CQ: What are your poetic influences as of late?

JZ: Amit Majmudar. All of his books–What He Did in Solitary is the most recent–have influenced me. Or at least I hope they have. Amit balances wit and weight so deftly; with him, “the work is play for mortal stakes,” as Frost put it. Amit, though, has also influenced me more directly–an immense kindness on his part. Over the past couple years, he and I have “mirror-written” a great deal, taking turns conjuring titles for which we both then improvise a poem, swapping them when time’s up. Put simply, Amit has taught me to write to fill in a given shape. Before, I always waited on the poem to sprout on its own. But there are many others, too. For instance, I love Catherine Pierce’s work so much that it borders on covetise. And her new book, Danger Days, has more or less converted my husband into reading contemporary poets to whom he is not married–no small feat. Who else? Well, Danusha Laméris’s Bonfire Opera is vivid and heartbreaking and heartmending, and having finished it, I still keep it in my bag for good company in long lines. And I return to Christian Wiman and Naomi Shihab Nye and Wisława Szymborska’s poems (Szymborksa’s in translation) again and again. Finally, I cannot wait to be further influenced by Kasey Jueds’s new book (I loved Keeper), Kaveh Akbar’s Pilgrim Bell, and W.S. Herbert’s Dear Specimen.

CQ: What advice would you give to young writers? 

JZ: Read. Read the dead and the living. Read in translation. Read the work of writers who make you feel less lonely and of writers who feel like absolute strangers. Pay the world around you the sweetest, fiercest attention that you can, and take notes. Write. Write hoping that you outgrow your art again and again. Write as if you were unafraid. Write as if you were patient. Find your kin. Review books. Send fan mail. Register for the workshop. Attend the reading. 

CQ: What are you currently working on in your writing?

JZ: I keep writing poems, and I keep writing book reviews. I keep trying to figure out where to prune for clarity’s sake and where to embellish for beauty’s. I’m also trying to find a publisher for my full-length manuscript. The odds are always so slender, of course, but perhaps this latest incarnation of the thing–which the brilliant poet W.S. Herbert reordered for me, schooling me in manuscript construction along the way–will be lucky. I do think a little luck is a must. 

Be sure to check out both Jane’s website and Twitter.

Poetry Blog: Brittney Corrigan

Brittney Corrigan is the author of the poetry collections Navigation40 Weeks, and most recently, Breaking, a chapbook responding to events in the news over the past several years. Daughters, a series of persona poems in the voices of daughters of various characters from folklore, mythology, and popular culture, is forthcoming from Airlie Press in September, 2021. Corrigan was raised in Colorado and has lived in Portland, Oregon for the past three decades, where she is an alumna and employee of Reed College. She is currently at work on her first short story collection and on a collection of poems about climate change and the Anthropocene age.

Brittney’s poem, “Whale Fall”, originally published in Thalia:

The ocean’s innumerable tiny mouths
 await the muffled impact like baby birds.
 Sediment clouds up at the deadened

settling, and the flesh is set upon. How
 the weight of loss can be beautiful
in its opening. Luminous worms undulate

like party streamers as isopods
and lobsters arrive to feast. This body
 holds an ecosystem unto itself: species

found nowhere else but here, cleaved
to the sunken remains. Sleeper sharks
 move in slow and gentle, ease

the messy carcass to gleaming bones.
 And then, how the skeletal rafters
of grief fuzz and bloom. How sometimes

the coldest depths allow for such measured
 undoing. All the while hungry lives
swarm and spread, come to stay.

Limpets attach to the unhidden core. Sorrow
 in its abundance crushes, cycles, feeds.
How the body rests, rich in what sustains.

Brittney’s poem, “Iteration”, originally published in Feral:

after the Aldabra rail
One flightless bird evolves twice, before and after extinction.
Collective bodies remember what it is to feel safe.

You remember this, too. Before the world came lapping.

A coral atoll—lagoon brimming with black-tipped sharks,
no people—flourishes. Giant tortoises wander between

turquoise worlds of sea and sky. The birds have no
reason to fly away. A body with no enemies simplifies.

There was a time when you didn’t need wings.

Nothing is wasted. The birds push their long, ruddy necks
through the coastal grass. Nothing chases them down.

There was a time when you never looked behind you.

The first time the ocean takes the island, every species on it
goes extinct. A mass drowning. Thousands of years later,

the water recedes. Fossils and sand surface; flora blooms.
The bird’s white-throated cousins land on the shores.

There was a time when your throat was open to the sky.

The bird evolves again. Again relinquishes its wings.
Again has no enemies. Again is a singular kind of being.

You can do this, too. Sharks circle but can’t cross land.

Bodies remold. Bodies wingless. Bones tell stories. Versions
of stories. You recolonize your body. What it is to survive.

Brittney’s poem, “Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit”, originally published in The Wild Word:

The night a neighbor girl knocks on our door,
baby rabbit in the bowl of her hands, I place

it in a darkened box of straw, know it won’t
make it to morning. My grandmother’s tradition

for the first day of each month: stand at the edge
of the bed upon waking, make a wish, yell

Rabbit! Rabbit! Rabbit! and jump. Tiny rabbit
body in my palm, soft and cold and still.

Rabbit sitting on the moon, pestling herbs
for the gods. A chant of white or grey rabbits

to ward off smoke. The Black Rabbit of Inlé:
his taking of this small life, his taking of my

grandmother when I was still small. I must
give this little un-rabbit back to the ground.

Oh, to be so frightened that your heart cannot
go on. But first, I must wake my young child.

On this first of the month, I ease tangles
separate through my hands. Sense something

quivering just beneath what’s real as I leave
the room. From down the hall, I hear

the bedframe sigh. Little undone heart cupped
in my hands. Little voice shouting a herd

of rabbits onto the floorboards. I hop
from foot to foot as they run past.

The following is an interview conducted on April 28, 2021, by Superstition Review‘s Poetry Editor, Carolina Quintero. It is in regards to Brittney’s works, writing process, and inspirations.

Carolina Quintero: Hello, Brittney! Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview with me. I really enjoyed reading your poetry. You have such a passion for animals and our environment and you put their importance into beautiful words. I also thought it was really striking and genius how you connect animal life to human life…Your writing frequently involves animals and the environment. What experiences or special interests have driven you to center your writing around this topic?

Brittney Corrigan: I’ve been drawn to animals and the natural world since I was a small child. I grew up in the gorgeous landscape of Colorado where my family spent a lot of time in the mountains and generally outdoors. And when I wasn’t playing outside or surrounded by a zoo’s worth of pets, I was watching episodes of Wild Kingdom. For years I wanted to become a marine biologist, drawn to the ocean and its creatures from my land-locked home. Though I’ve always felt connected with and protective of the environment, living in Oregon for the past three decades—with its wild coasts, wild animals, and wildfires—has strengthened that affinity and resolve. As the realities of climate change have made their way into my consciousness over the years—from my founding of an “environmental action club” in high school in the 1980s, to my love for the flora and fauna of the place where I live, to raising up my children in a world fraught with natural disasters and extinctions—I wanted to move toward action to preserve this planet and the life forms with which we share it, beginning with bringing awareness to these issues through my writing.

CQ: Your poems carry thorough knowledge about animals and ecosystems. What inspires you to learn about this? 

BC: Voracious curiosity! I subscribe to countless email newsletters that showcase all things weird, wild, and wonderful (such as Atlas Obscura and National Geographic), and I love listening to podcasts of that ilk, as well (such as RadioLab and Ologies). I keep a running document of links to articles and oddities I find particularly fascinating that I come back to time and again to mine ideas for my work. In both my science-oriented poetry and my short fiction, the research is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. I love diving headlong into educating myself about a place or a species that I haven’t encountered before or that I just want to learn more about. In a high school English class, my teacher once presented me with a quote by Henry James: “Be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!” I carry that desire to notice, explore, and elucidate the world around me into my writing life.

CQ: What advocacy do you hope your poems will achieve? What audience do you hope your poems will reach? 

BC: By bringing the plight of various ecosystems and species into my work, I hope to make what can seem like an overwhelming problem to tackle both particular and personal. I think if folks feel connected to the natural world and its creatures in specific, tangible ways, they will want to help and make change in small, meaningful ways. I hope that my poems reach folks of many interests, backgrounds, and generations and move them to learn more, and to do more, to combat climate change, extinction, and the effects of our current Anthropocene age.

CQ: What are your poetic influences as of late?

BC: My current favorite poets are Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Ada Limón, Ross Gay, Natalie Diaz, and Camille Dungy. I’m also enjoying reading essays on topics of extinction and the natural world by writers such as Michelle Nijhuis, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Elena Passarello, Linda Hogan, and Alexis Pauline Gumbs.

CQ: What advice would you give to young writers? 

BC: I would say start with what you know and move outward toward your passions and ideas or topics you want to find out more about. First write for yourself, and then, when you are ready to share your writing with others, find your people. Seek out your fellow writers and readers with whom to share your work. Find a group of folks you trust and can share your roughest drafts with, and also find the mentors whose feedback will help your writing become stronger. And don’t be afraid to write outside of the boundaries you’ve been taught or the parameters you’ve been given. Break the rules and bust the genres open. 

CQ: What are you currently working on in your writing? 

BC: I recently completed a manuscript of poems about climate change, extinction, and the Anthropocene age. I’m now exploring those same topics in my first collection of short stories. As to poetry, I think science, ecology, and the natural world will always find their way into my work. I’m not sure exactly what’s next, but I’ve no doubt it will reveal itself to me, like bright animal eyes blinking out of the dark.

Be sure to check out both Brittney’s website and Twitter.

Guest Post, Beckett’s Babies Podcast’s interview with Daniel Olivas

On March 15, past contributor, author of nine books (poetry, fiction, and nonfiction), Daniel Olivas, was invited on to the Beckett’s Babies podcast. Within the podcast, the group discussed topics such as Daniel’s play, Waiting for Godínez, being selected for the Playwrights’ Arena 2020 Summer Reading Series, Daniel’s first memory, how he has been selected for Circle X Theatre Co.’s inaugural Evolving Playwrights Group where he is adapting his 2011 novel, The Book of Want, with a planned Zoom reading in 2021, among a variety of other matters.

Be sure to also check out Daniel’s website and Twitter as well as his past work in Issue 13.