An Interview with Poet Robert Krut

An Interview with Poet Robert Krut


Our Issue 28 Poetry Editor, Bree Hoffman, interviewed Robert Krut, a three-time SR contributor, about his new poetry collection Watch Me Trick Ghosts. The interview was conducted via email.

Robert Krut is the author of four books: Watch Me Trick Ghosts (Codhill/SUNY Press, 2021)The Now Dark Sky, Setting Us All on Fire (Codhill/SUNY Press, 2019), This is the Ocean (Bona Fide, 2013), and The Spider Sermons (BlazeVox, 2009). He teaches in the Writing Program and College of Creative Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and lives in Los Angeles.

Bree Hoffman: In a previous interview with Frontier you said that as a writer it is important to be “open to new ideas, new voices, new styles, [and] new suggestions.” What role has teaching poetry professionally played in the conception of your own poems? What have you learned from experiencing writing both inside and outside of the classroom?

Robert Krut: I don’t think I can overstate the importance teaching has played in my own writing, particularly recently.  It has helped with my attempts to stay agile, excited, and engaged over the years.  Working with students means working with numerous types of writers, each an individual requiring different suggestions, both in terms of reading and writing.  There is a responsibility to share the entire scope of literature with them, and present them with the latest and most exciting poetry out in the world right now—this, in turn, helps keep me engaged, as well, and not complacent in my reading and participation. 

During lockdown, in particular, my poetry courses were more than classes I was teaching—they were biweekly opportunities to talk with other writers (over Zoom, of course) who were all fully engaged in their process.  If any of them happen to read this, in fact, I’d like them to know what an impact they had on my energy and enthusiasm toward writing over the past two years—their interest and passion really provided a spark for my own writing.  In Norman Dubie’s great The Clouds of Magellan, he wrote “Work with young writers—never for them,” and it’s a quote I’ve thought about for years and years. It becomes more and more clear to me as a teacher.  Working with poetry students isn’t a top-down operation.  In the best cases, it is truly an interactive community.  

BH: One recurring theme of your poems is the element of grimness that is present in the mundane. In “Walk Don’t Walk Walk Stand Still” we see it in the things people avoid, and in “The Dinner Party” we see it in the wounds people share with one another, sometimes willingly and sometimes not. What were some of your influences when writing these poems?

RK: Grimness in grimness has always been boring—I have always been fascinated by its presence, or at least the implication of its presence, in the mundane, that mysterious element in the everyday, as I’m sure many people are.  

Way back in high school, my part time job was at a video store, which was perfect for a movie-obsessed teenager, but also meant I wound up working just past midnight.  I would drive home through suburban New Jersey, fascinated by what I was seeing at that hour: stopping at my favorite 24-hour place and seeing people arguing in the parking lot, driving past the school and seeing people smoke right in the middle of the football field, passing a stray dog scratching at the church door near our house.  It was all engrossing.  

That job not only afforded me a reasonable excuse to be out so late, but it also led me to watch David Lynch’s Blue Velvet for the first of many times, which solidified this interest, and put it right there on the screen—in those opening moments, when Jeffrey finds the ear in the field, I saw the perfect representation of what I found interesting in the world, and it served as a sort of concrete seed for what would come, years later.  

That was the same year I read “A Supermarket in California,” which shares similar DNA, the other side of a quiet town, slipping into something doomed.  Those are the worlds where this book finds most of its poems; there, or in the flipside, in the mundane of the grim—they go hand in hand.

BH: There is a really interesting relationship that these poems have to other people as well as the world, creating a tone that is isolating and internal. For you, what is the role of these interpersonal connections in “Watch Me Trick Ghosts”?  

RK: I sensed from the earliest stages of writing this book that it was going to be a quieter one, one that is, indeed, internal.  As the themes began to become clear, it seemed to be the introverted sibling to the extroverted previous collection.  This was led by the ideas I wanted to explore, but was surely enhanced by the fact that the vast majority was written during lockdown, where we were all isolated by circumstance.  When you mention interpersonal connections, I flash to the fact that I wasn’t walking outside to talk to neighbors up close; there were simple hand waves from across the street.  I wasn’t meeting strangers in crowded places; I was driving past closed up shops.  This book is not “about” that particular time—that would be too narrow for my taste—but the writing couldn’t help but be influenced by it.  In the end, it is indeed an internal book, centered on solitude in some ways, voices you hear when you are alone, and spirits tethered to your body as you move through the day. The title poem was one of the very first, and it served as a sort of guide.  

BH: What are you currently working on in your writing and various workshops?

RK: In terms of my own writing, I’ve just been trying to write a little each day right now—sometimes that’s a whole draft of a poem, and sometimes it’s just a few lines.  After a book comes out, I typically have an “deep breath” period where I’m writing, little by little, getting back to full momentum for where the poems will go next.  As for my courses, this Winter I’ll be teaching a class specifically designed for third-year students who are beginning the process of creating a manuscript for their upcoming senior projects—I’ve taught this for the past few years, and it’s always an exciting process, and never the same.  I’m looking forward to reading some great new work, and the chance to work closely with the students.  

BH: What advice would you give to fellow writers and readers?

RK: The old standbys still hold.  Write every day.  Try to write every day.  I know that’s an easy thing to say, and it’s hard to truly follow it all the time, but I have found that periods where I really try to write something every day, even something that turns out to be garbage, the momentum leads to truly productive periods. 

And read a lot.  Specifically, read people who are writing differently than you—don’t wind up in a literary echo chamber.  

Finally, writing is such a solitary experience, which is often one of the nicest aspects of it, but it can slow down inspiration and growth.  Reach out to friends, and other writers, while working.  One of the rare benefits of social media is that, even if you don’t have someone in your immediate circle who writes, or reads poetry, there are ways to find a community, even if it is online.  I love the independent nature of writing, alone, in the early morning hours, or late at night, but it’s not until I start sharing, editing, revising, and sharing again, that the poems start to breathe.

Shapeshifting: An Interview with Michelle Ross

Shapeshifting: An Interview with Michelle Ross


We’re so excited to share an interview with past contributor Michelle Ross about her new short story collection, Shapeshifting. The book came out in November from Stillhouse Press. The interview was conducted via email by our blog editor, Sara Walker.


Sara Walker: Just about all the stories center on motherhood, children, and those relationships. What inspired this?

Michelle Ross: My first story collection There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You was less unified in its focus, so for my second collection, I wanted to be more deliberate with theme. As the mother of a young child, I found myself, perhaps inevitably, drawn to writing fiction about motherhood and mothers. Motherhood has been a big part of my lived experience these last eleven years. It’s on my mind. I’ve been mentoring high school writers for several years now via the Adroit Journal’s Summer Mentorship Program, and there’s this passage I quote from Lorrie Moore in my syllabus about the importance of writing about what’s on your mind, what you care about. One of the things she says is “You really have to write from the center.” She talks about how one of the big mistakes her students make is that they write about topics they don’t really think about or care about. I think it’s impossible to write well about a topic you’re not at least a little bit obsessed with. Trying to fake it won’t do. The story will be missing something crucial. I see that in the submission queue for Atticus Review, where I’m fiction editor: some stories are missing that spark of energy that you just can’t fake, and I think that whether or not a story has that spark has a lot to do with whether the writer is writing from the center.   

SW: Why is it important to you to highlight the imperfection of motherhood and feelings of imposter syndrome?

MR: I was grappling with many questions in these stories—the impossible pressures put on mothers, the erasure of motherhood, what mothers owe their children, the tremendous power mothers have over their children, the violence and cruelty of children—but most of all I just wanted to write honestly about motherhood. No sugarcoating. No prettying things up. That’s what I want to do with any topic I write about. And one of the truths of motherhood is that no one is born a mother. There’s so much mythologizing about motherhood—that nurturing comes naturally to mothers, for example; that it comes naturally to women and girls in general. But the truth is more complicated. Nurturing isn’t an inherently female trait. It’s at least partly a learned trait. If you’ve rarely, if ever, been nurtured by someone, how do you learn to nurture another person? It wasn’t until my son was born that I really and fully grasped how incredibly vulnerable children are and how, therefore, incredibly easy it is for parents to harm their children; and, of course, the world is full of adults who were harmed by their parents, and many of those adults have children of their own. 

SW: What is it about “Shapeshifting” that made you choose it as the title story?

MR: While the book’s title did come from the title story, the book was not titled after the title of that story; at the time, “Shapeshifting,” the story, had a different title altogether. It was originally published in The Pinch as “Gestation.” The real inspiration for the book’s title was a metaphor within the story. The pregnant protagonist in the story says that as a kid she liked the idea of being a shapeshifter but that it didn’t occur to her that pregnant women are shapeshifters, too: “Shapeshifting isn’t the way I’d imagined it. I’d always pictured myself behind the wheels of other bodies I assumed. This is the opposite. I’m the wheels, not the driver.” I wasn’t yet finished writing all the stories in this book when I decided that Shapeshifting was the perfect title. All humans are shapeshifters (consider puberty, for example), but I’d say mothers are a particularly interesting kind of shapeshifter. Motherhood is a strange metamorphosis. Mothers might come out of pregnancy looking more or less like they did before, but the world sees them as other than who they were. Whatever kind of mother one is, motherhood changes one in a deep way. There is no going back. 

I’m not much of a fan of books sharing the same title as a story within. I’m wary of giving so much weight to one particular story. But when the editors at Stillhouse Press suggested I retitle this story to match the book’s title, I agreed that it was a better title for the story, too; and I kind of like that the story was titled after the book rather than the other way around.

SW: “The Sand and the Sea” is written in a different format – almost like vignettes, rather than a straightforward narrative. How did you make that choice?

MR: This story originated in a weekend workshop I took with the phenomenal Kathy Fish some years ago. The exercise was to write a braided flash piece. If I remember correctly, I think we started by creating three columns on a piece of paper and each column was dedicated to a different thread. I know that one of the threads was to be composed of lines that began with language such as “I wonder…” or “I wish…” I believe the other threads were supposed to be two different time periods in the character’s life? I played for many, many months after that workshop with the pieces I’d written—rearranging, cutting, adding, trying to get the right pieces in the right order. In a way, I felt like I was going back to my roots in this story. When I first started writing short stories seriously in college, the writer who changed everything for me was Amy Hempel. I had struggled with plot, with how to string sentences and paragraphs together in such a way that they were a story. Long scenes, long exposition felt unwieldy. Then I read Reasons to Live and fell so in love with how Amy Hempel constructs her stories out of these concise little fragments—scenes lasting no more than a paragraph or a page or so. Of course, some of those stories aren’t just pieced together somewhat like a series of flash fictions, but some are flash fictions. I didn’t learn the term “flash fiction” until several years later, and I don’t think I tried writing my own flash fictions until many years after that. However, I did start writing and thinking about writing differently after reading Hempel—thinking about stories in a more modular way, as composed of these tight little units that I could rearrange to different effects. Many years would pass before I would try once again to write stories that weren’t so modular.

SW: Which story was the most challenging to write? Why?

MR: Most stories are challenging for me, honestly. I work on stories, including flash fictions, for many months, often many years, before finishing and submitting them. Maybe I should answer this question backwards. One of the easiest stories for me to write was “A Mouth is a House for Teeth.” The general premise and tone of it came to me quickly. Then, before I’d written much of anything down, I floated in one of those so-called sensory deprivation tanks for the first time. I spent pretty much the whole hour thinking about that story. It was a weird and wonderful experience. I felt like I was alone floating out in the middle of a dark ocean, and this story was building in that darkness. After, I went to a coffee shop and wrote pretty much all day—by hand in a notebook, which I hate to say I rarely do these days, and probably should do more often. Writing by hand has a different kind of energy and rhythm. I can easily remember which stories of mine I first drafted by hand and which I first drafted on the computer. Anyway, after that I spent several weeks typing up the pieces, fitting them together, discovering what was missing, what could be cut, and so on. I think that from start to finish, that story took only a few months to finish, which for me is incredibly fast.

SW: “Keeper Four” approaches motherhood in a way different from the other stories; it’s sci fi-esque. What inspired this story?

MR: One of the primary inspirations was a book I’d read with my son when he was younger: Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories From the Animal Kingdom. The photos and stories in the book are endearing, but at the same time, this book creeped me out. Some of the unlikely friendships involved predators befriending prey. Some of the unlikely “friendships” weren’t friendships at all, but mother-child relationships. For example: a dog mothering a monkey. Of course, a mother-child relationship is quite a different kind of relationship than a friendship. We expect friendships to be reciprocal, not so much mother-child relationships. Sure, young children can be loving and kind, but even many of their more charming behaviors are largely driven by their own needs, their own survival. A very young child clings to their mother more for security and safety than out of “love.” That’s not a judgment; I think it’s only natural for a creature that is vulnerable and helpless to charm larger, more capable creatures into protecting it. Anyway, this book disturbed me. Something about the mislabeling of these relationships. Something about the way humans praise females of a species for being nurturing. Something about the oohing and aahing over predators refraining from doing what it is in their nature to do—to prey. From that disturbance was born the idea of humans experimenting to develop a drug to induce mothering behavior even in the most unlikely of candidates. 

SW: What do you hope readers will keep with them after finishing Shapeshifting?

MR: I hope that readers find Shapeshifting to be greater than the sum of its parts. I see these stories as being in conversation with each other, and I think I’m able to achieve something more in the book as a whole than I could in individual stories. But that said, mostly I just hope readers find something of value in this book, whatever that may be for them as individuals—whether it be that they feel seen, that they feel less lonely, that they’re entertained, that these stories make them think, or that something is illuminated for them. 

SW: You also write collaboratively with Kim Magowan. How did your experience with collaborative writing influence this collection?

MR: It’s when I’m feeling a bit in a slump that I’m mostly likely to nudge Kim into writing something together. Collaboration reminds me that writing is as simple on some level as making choices, and that all choices can be unmade, too. It helps train me to make choices quickly, to keep moving forward, instead of allowing a story to stagnate in indecision. It trains me to keep a story’s momentum going. When we collaborate, we typically pass a story back and forth rapidly, several times in a day sometimes. I write a few paragraphs, she writes a few paragraphs. Even a long story gets drafted within a week or so. That energy carries over into my own writing. Writing with Kim always renews my excitement for my own projects.

SW: What does your writing space look like?

MR: When my partner and I bought our house about fourteen years ago, it was important to me to be able to have a home office of my own. I wanted a room with a door, a room that was all mine, a room meant for nothing other than writing (and reading). This was important even back when we were in an apartment, only then we didn’t have all that much space so I had converted our walk-in closet into my writing space. Since the beginning of the pandemic, my home office is no longer just my writing space; it’s also where I do the job that pays the bills. Most of 2020 was a struggle because I was trying to do both these things at the same desk and on the same computer. When I tried to write fiction, I was distracted by work clutter. Early this year, I brought in a second desk and computer so that I have a writing half of my office and a work half of my office. Everything has gone much more smoothly since.

SW: What does writing mean to you?

MR: Writing is how I discover meaning and how I discover what I think. Writing is how I communicate most effectively. Writing is how I push back against the things that bug me. Writing makes me more present in my life, more observant. Writing is hard work but also immensely pleasurable. There’s no other way I’d rather spend my time.


Shapeshifting won the Stillhouse Press 2020 Short Fiction Prize and is available for purchase from Stillhouse Press. Check out more from Michelle on her website and read her stories in Issue 17 and Issue 20. Thank you so much, Michelle!

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!

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.

Poetry Blog: Jaclyn Youhana Garver

Following is an interview conducted by Superstition Review‘s Poetry Editor, Erin Peters.

Jaclyn Youhana Garver is a freelance writer in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She writes fiction and poetry, and she has been featured in Narrow Road, Poets Reading the News, and Prometheus Dreaming (forthcoming). Her work has also been chosen by the Wick Poetry Center as a Traveling Stanza selection.  


Jaclyn’s Poem:

A COLLEGE GIRL MAKES WARDROBE DECISIONS BASED ON THE POSSIBILITY OF A RANDOM TSA SCREENING

    1964

White kid gloves / cinched waist / her perched hat the 
precise plum match to her two-piece suit / a corsage

    (seriously, a goddamned corsage)

/ a Cherries in the Snow pout / a blushing visage 
coral or rose / a fur, perhaps, in beaver or lamb.

    2004

Pajama pants, peppered in cartoons / flip flops 
with jewels that stud the thongs / pigtails 

    (seriously, goddamn pigtails)

/ a gray T-shirt that boasts, 
“Journalists do it daily.”

Don’t look at me, Terry, standing in line. I know 
you’ve a quota to meet, so many at random

searches to complete to assure you don’t permit on 
the plane any drugs, bombs or hydrogen dioxide. 

    (Water, Terry, I’m talking about water.)

It doesn’t matter, though. You’ll search me nonetheless, 
just like that agent last time and the agent who’ll be next.

And anyways, I’ll stick with PJs and pigtails, my sandwich 
board to shout I’m threatening like sidewalk chalk, an eagle 

scout, freckles, and winks, but apparently, the extra melanin 
in my skin, a gift from my father, means you must pull me

from the line, away from my friends—none of whom you
also select at random, I see, goddamn it, Terry—so you 

run the backs of your Caucasian hands along my Persian arms, 
my cartooned inseam, my Assyrian torso. Then you make me move 

my Iranian pigtails from my Middle Eastern shoulders. 
You look so bored, Terry, and I wonder if you notice: 

We’re quite the chatty portrait of our country tis of thee.

Interview With Jaclyn:

The setting of your poem is very specific and relatable for people who have travelled in American airports. What inspired you to write about the experience of a TSA screening?

This summer, I found a photo of myself at an airport in 2004, with two college friends, on the way to a Society of Professional Journalists conference in NYC. For the three or so years after 9/11, I began to be “randomly” searched on every flight I boarded. Seriously. Every flight. I thought it would help if I dressed in an unintimidating way. I remember I did this each time I flew, but it was wild to see photographic proof, especially compared to two other young adults who were dressed in, you know, normal airplane-appropriate clothing. Finding the photo, seeing how 21-year-old me felt like she had to dress, seriously pissed me off.

You’ve spent an impressive amount of time working for daily newspapers during your professional career. How do you feel this writing experience impacted you creatively? 

I can’t even imagine writing creatively without my journalism experience. Writing for a daily newspaper made me completely deadline-focused. If a journalist doesn’t finish her story on time, there could an actual hole in the newspaper. Plus, the piece needs to be done well and accurately, often in hours or less—journalists don’t have days and days to perfect a piece of writing. 

I adore the saying Done is better than perfect. Writers, especially creative writers, can get stuck in this I can’t show this to anyone because it’s not perfect hole. Then nothing ever gets finished. Writing for a daily newspaper was a wonderful way to keep from being too precious about my words. What I write matters, and it’s important to me, but once I turn in a story, it’s on to the next thing.

Writing for daily publication also gave me tough skin. I adore editor feedback and love seeing how subsequent drafts improve. Similarly, I also trust my gut. Writing is a wonderful mixture of both subjectivity and objectivity, even in poetry. My newspaper experience gave me an almost scientific approach to being creative.

What audience do you hope to reach through your poetry? Why is this audience meaningful to you?

As a reader, the best feeling is “Oh my goodness, you too? I thought I was the only one.” As a writer, then, that’s who I want to reach—anyone who has felt like me, to help them feel less alone. Strangely, the opposite is true, too: It’s such a rush to be told “I never thought of it in that way before.” 

Those audiences are meaningful to me because it means we have a shared experience. Especially in 2020, feeling a connection—to anyone, even some writer you’ve never met—is vital. 

How has the global pandemic impacted your creative process?

The pandemic hasn’t impacted my creative process so much as it’s impacted my creative output. I’ve written poetry since I was about 12 and I had a writing minor in college, so writing creatively has always been a part of my life. However, the pandemic made me itch to do more. I answered that by enrolling in a poetry class. The instructor helped me figure out what was missing from my poetry unlike any writing teacher I’ve had before. After the class, I asked where she was teaching next, and I signed up for that class, too. She helped me see where and how my work could be improved, which simultaneously showed me how to edit my own work.

This year has been hard, and there are a few things I can point to and say “That, specifically, made things a little easier.” Writing poetry is one of those things.

What is the most important piece of advice you have received as a writer?

In college, a journalism professor taught us to let the other person have the last say. When someone reaches out to a reporter to complain about something they wrote, the caller or emailer doesn’t actually care what the writer has to say about it. They just want to be heard (and maybe to be nasty). That knowledge, that someone who has something mean to say isn’t looking for a response, is incredibly freeing.

What are your upcoming projects?

I have a number of manuscripts in the works, but two are currently taking up the most of my time—a poetry book and a women’s fiction novel, which I will be pitching to agents early next year. I also write horror short stories. I love bouncing between genres and working on projects of varying lengths.

Poetry Blog: Paul Chuks

Following is an interview conducted by Superstition Review‘s Poetry Editor, Erin Peters.

Paul Chuks is an emerging Nigerian poet, writer and song writer, studying philosophy at the University of Benin, Edo state, Nigeria. He has appeared or is forthcoming in StreetCake Magazine, Kalahari Review, Neurological Magazine, Afritondo, The Remnant Archive and was recently shortlisted for The 49th Street‘s top ten poets in Nigeria. When Paul is not reading or writing songs, he’s critiquing the hiphop game or mimicking Michael Jackson.


Paul’s Poem:

To the Man Standing at the corner lifting the placard that said “All Lives Matter” as a protest against Black Lives Matter.

Your ancestors have apparelled in seem like bruteness in the past

But in this one, you are standing in a corner watching black lives evanesce like lights beholding a murky sky. 

                 You think about justice, but your soul is

                 a leaky faucet, expelling your empathy 

                 into an abysmal pit.

My ancestors’ tears are the ghosts of this poem/appearing as metaphors/telling you to drop that placard, go home & shut your mouth like Trump’s border[s]/because you are slow-dancing with the injustice of their history. 

                  You are sipping our pain into a black-

                  hole/& our cries go out like a bird’s 

                  tweet against a horrendous wind-

                  storm. 

This poem is a scar tissue/like the body of a slave/telling the world/that blacks wouldn’t clamour for their lives to matter if there was fairness/as the world wouldn’t know dryness if there were no tongues.


Interview with Paul:

What motivated you to write your poem as a direct address? What impact do you hope this form will have on your audience?

I wrote the poem as a direct address, because many have allowed themselves to elude the important message of the movement, that is: take black lives seriously as you take others. When George Floyd’s sad situation happened, & the BLM movement kicked off to an almost untamable situation, many on the internet, sewed threads that ran counter to the BLM movement, with the prevalent theme: ALL LIVES MATTER. It irked me because they have not recognized that ALL LIVES MATTER remains a superstition, if a black boy can be shot at, because he reached into his car for his hair-brush, but the officer mistook it for a gun. And the jury acquits the officer on account that he tried to clamp down a druggie. ALL LIVES MATTER is a remark of the ignorant, or the devil, who enjoys the maltreatment of black people.

What has inspired you to write about the Black Lives Matter movement?

I think my biggest inspiration to write about the BLM movement, is the fact that I’m black. I have an ambition of taking a Masters course in America. The moment I get there, I’ll wear the profile of a black boy. I also write about them, because I can feel & perceive their pain. The Injustice makes all of us bleed from sealed places. 

What audience do you hope to reach through your poetry? Why is this audience meaningful to you?

My poetry is intended to be variegated with everything possible to make a subject of, so i want the whole world to listen to me, while i play the game of painting pictures with words & inkling of my feeling(s). B: the audience is meaningful because without them, my tag as a poet is a facade. My pets can’t read, neither can the birds that perch on the trees behind my house.

How has the global pandemic impacted your creative process?

The pandemic has not affected my creative process, so far. Rather, my academic life. It has cancelled an academic year, pushing my future farther..all in this transient life. 

What is the most important piece of advice you have received as a writer?

My best advice as a writer was gotten from another awesome writer I admire: Nome Patrick. He said: Paul, read more than you write. It was an interesting discussion on the essence of reading and the miracle it does to one’s repertoire. It has worked so far.

What are your upcoming projects?

More & more poetry. In fact, a chapbook is in sight. But for now, more poetry.

Poetry Blog: Usha Kishore

Following is an interview conducted by Superstition Review‘s Poetry Editor, Erin Peters.

Usha Kishore is an Indian born British poet, and translator, resident on the Isle of Man, UK. Usha is currently a Research Scholar in Postcolonial Poetry at Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland. She has been anthologised by Macmillan, Hodder Wayland, Oxford University Press and Harper Collins among others. Her work has appeared in international journals like Asia Literary Review, Index on Censorship, Indian Literature, Pirene’s Fountain, Poetry Salzburg Review, South Asian Ensemble, South Asian Review, The Stinging Fly and The Warwick Review.

Usha’s poetry has won prizes in UK competitions, is part of international projects and features in the British Primary and Secondary syllabi and Indian Middle School and Undergraduate syllabi. Winner of an Isle of Man Arts Council Award and two Culture Vannin Awards, she is the author of three poetry collections and a book of translation from the Sanskrit. Her latest collection, ‘Immigrant’ was published in 2018 by Eyewear Publishing London.


“Drug Mule” by Usha Kishore:

She embroiders time under an alien sky:

chikankari on handkerchiefs, kutchi work

on cushion covers, kashmiri couching

on bedspreads.  Draping a pristine white sari

over her wasted life, she clicks crochet needles

in the hollowed air of betrayal.  Her seventy-five

years, spanning the length and breadth of India,

now cocooned in an English prison. 

Here, she is everybody’s Ma – mother,

the word means the same in any culture. 

She does not want to learn the sahib’s tongue;

she is content to live in the silence

of another language that mutters apologies   

for her predicament.  She has no visitors. 

she is a drug mule, carrying a toxic crime;

a contraband for an air-ticket to see

her beloved grandchild.  She shows me

smudged photographs of her great grandchildren

she has never seen, chanting their names

as if in a litany.  Her frail voice wraps me

in dialect Hindi, as she searches my face

with faded kajal eyes.  It is all His will,

she points to some sovereign of the skies,

summoned in reluctant cloud that peers

through the watery eye of the ceiling.

She does not dream of redemption, she does

not envisage freedom.  She has nowhere to go. 


Every morning, she mumbles a wounded prayer

to the miniature Ganesh, poised on a makeshift altar

in the corner of her cell.  She measures her days

with skeins of crewel threads, snipping them

at pre-destined length, with tiny sewing scissors. 

She sieves afternoon light in grams of flour,

translating it into her recipe of onion bhajis. 

Counting the stars trapped in a weathered rosary

of tulsi beads, she falls back into her reverie:

cross stitch, chain stitch, smyrna, herringbone;                              

each stitch knotting an unheaved sigh. 


Interview With Usha:

In a previous exchange, you had mentioned that this piece is particularly close to your heart. Could you speak more to that statement? 

‘Drug Mule’ is based on drug trafficking and the use of women as drug carriers.  The poem is close to my heart as I am committed to gender equality and I feel that the vulnerability of women is being exploited.  According to BBC statistics (2005), 18% of the UK’s female prison population are foreigners and are imprisoned for drug related offences. It is also a painful fact that older South Asian women are being used as drug mules. It makes you wonder if these women are criminals or victims.  

How do you incorporate social justice in your poetry?

Many of my poems are themed on social justice, especially on race and gender equality.  As a member of an ethnic minority community in the UK, I am very much aware of differences and my poems highlight the need for more integration.    My third collection, Immigrant (Eyewear Publishing, London, 2018) highlights the politics of being an immigrant professional interacting with discrimination and reflects on the binary perspectives of assimilation and marginalisation. 

My second collection, Night Sky Between the Stars (Cyberwit India, 2015) reflects my pre-occupation with Indian womanhood and articulates concerns of a marginalised gendered identity.  The poems in this collection draw heavily from Indian myth, rendering voices to female mythical characters and projects Indian womanhood in a different light.  

You have written three books of poetry as well as a book of translation from Sanskrit. How has your work in translation influenced your more personal writing projects?

My translations from the Sanskrit certainly influence my poetry in the form of thematic concerns and uniquely Sanskrit literary devices such as vyatireka (comparative excellence), dṛṣṭānta (a figurative device that can be described as ‘simile-like’ or parallel) and vakrokti (creative twist). 

How has the global pandemic affected your writing process?  

I am an English teacher in a secondary school on the Isle of Man, where thankfully, the effect of the pandemic has not been that severe.  So, the schools are open and functioning (we were only briefly shut in Spring. We re-opened in Summer).  I usually have to find time to write, amidst a busy schedule.  I am currently a PhD scholar in Postcolonial Poetry with Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland.  So, in the last two years, my writing has been put on the back burner. 

The global pandemic has brought a creative surge, especially in poetry, signifying that the human spirit rises above global challenges.  At this difficult time, a considerable number of poetry anthologies, themed issues of journals and discussions on poetry have all come to the forefront.   Poetry is a healer!  

Some editor friends have been keeping my work alive by soliciting submissions and giving me opportunities to participate in poetry webinars.  Coincidentally, a friend of mine alerted me to your call for submissions on Social Justice.  My writing has certainly picked up again.  

What is the most important piece of advice you have received as a writer?

 It’s not over yet!

It was a real struggle to get my first collection into print, despite being published internationally.  I was about to quit.   The above advice, ‘it’s not over yet,’ was given to me by the founder-member of the Isle of Man Poetry Society, the late Jeff Garland.  Soon after this conversation with Jeff, I received Arts Council and Culture Vannin grants and my first collection, On Manannan’s Isle was published on island in 2014.  I have not looked back hence.  

What are your upcoming projects?

As mentioned earlier, currently my research takes priority.   

However – Translation wise, I have completed the translation of the Sanskrit epyllion, Ṛtusaṃhāram by the legendary Kalidasa.  I am seeking a publisher for this project.  

I am also translating Jaisankar Prasad’s Hindi epic, Kamayani (1936) that falls under the Chhayavaadi school of Hindi Poetry.  Chhayavaad has been interpreted as Neo-Romanticism, I would call it Romantic mysticism.  Kamayani addresses human emotions in pathetic fallacy, personification, and mythological metaphors.  This has been a slow process as I would like to do justice to this epic, amidst time constraints.   I have found this translation extremely challenging, but highly inspiring and enlightening. 

The poetry goes on! I don’t think I am ready for another collection yet. But recently, I have started submitting to journals like Superstition Review!  Thank you very much for accepting my work for your blog on social justice.   

What The Presidential Debate Meant to a 20-Year-Old English Literature Major

I was never very interested in politics. Aside from being taught it was not polite to discuss politics in social settings, the subject never genuinely interested me all that much. I never really saw the point in arguing with someone who was unlikely to change his or her political views anyways. That is, until this year. With everything at stake right now, there isn’t much option for someone as interested in human rights and social justice as me to not be actively engaged in politics. There is simply too much at risk right now to not care about the state of the United States political system. So, in an honest attempt to witness and take place in the election this year, I watched the first 2020 presidential debate. I was hoping to glean something about both candidates by watching the debate, an event that even those least involved in politics can watch to get a sense of the political atmosphere and personal beliefs of the two rival candidates and their parties. Unfortunately for my best friend Hannah, (whose plans for the evening involved spending time with me until I cancelled last minute in order to watch the debate) I think I would have been better off spending the evening with her than watching what I personally believe can only be loosely defined as a debate.

I sat in my mom’s room as we watched the debate unfold before us and witnessed it all in horror and shock. How can anyone in the United States right now expect to have a civil political discussion with his or her peers when the top two 2020 presidential candidates can’t? Many have called this most recent presidential debate one of the most embarrassing they have witnessed in their entire lives and I think it is important we unpack why. 2020 has been, for lack of better term, a total and undeniable dumpster fire. As a nation, we have watched our family members die from a novel deadly disease for which there is no current known cure. We have said our last goodbye to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins over facetime. We have isolated ourselves from the world in order to keep ourselves and others safe. We have seen some of the worst police brutality in 21st century America this year. We have seen our brothers and sisters lose their eyesight from being shot by rubber bullets during Black Lives Matter protests. We have seen local businesses shut down because of the pandemic and we have seen family members succumb to drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and depression because so many of us were forced to stay inside and avoid human contact for months on end. We have all witnessed ugly, demeaning, and hateful speech on the internet because of rising racial and political tensions. It has been an incredibly tumultuous and taxing year for just about everyone. I think that a lot of us, including myself, were looking to Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump to let us know that, however hard it might be for any one of us right now, they would keep the country together for a brighter future. 

However, that is not what the American people got. What we got was a high-school-level battle of insults and interrupting, with President Donald Trump being the executor of several low, personal jabs at Vice President Joe Biden. Though there has been much debate over who “won” the debate, I am inclined to believe that, as upsetting as it was to see Vice President Joe Biden stoop to the level of President Trump on several occasions, President Trump was the initiator of the majority of the bickering that ensued during the debate.  Neither candidate let the other speak for what seemed like any appropriate amount of time on any given topic. Several times, Chris Wallace had to yell in order to announce the end of segments and was forced to assign two minutes of uninterrupted (yes, he did have to emphasize that the two minutes would be uninterrupted) speech to each candidate. Watching this all happen, I felt frustrated and sad. Were these two men engaging in petty arguments and name-calling the best America had to offer during the devastating year that was 2020? Was this debate indicative of what the political future of America would look like? After the debate, I spent the next few days thinking about what the nature of the debate meant to the American people. I eventually came to the bitterly dismal conclusion that it meant absolutely nothing.

When I was asked to formulate my reaction to the debate, I thought “How can I think about the debates from the lens of an English Literature major when absolutely nothing was said? What literature was there to react to?” And then it hit me – the interrupting, the name calling, and overall immature behavior on behalf of both presidential candidates was not all that different than what I have been witnessing from my friends and family since April of this year. They had stooped to our level. They had stopped listening to each other for fear that in a battle of pride versus fact, fact would win. 

What I personally think most of us can take from watching the first presidential debate of 2020 is that we could all be a bit better about listening to one another. During this unprecedented time of fear and uncertainty, we are all scared. We are scared of what the future holds and what that means to us as average American citizens. And what we need most during this hate-filled, angry, defensive time of heightened emotions is to sit down and talk with each other. If you do not feel like your black brothers and sisters have a reason to feel threatened by police, sit down and ask them why they might feel as though they do. If you do not feel the need to wear a mask in public, sit down with someone who thinks you should, and ask them why they feel that way. Remember that there is no “correct” way to respond to the pandemic, police brutality, looting, rioting, and general violence 2020 has been host to. Remember that you do not control the emotions of others, nor do they control yours. All that is left for us to do as a collective people is to respect that 2020 has been a time of exceptional pain for many Americans – and then talk about it. Ask your friends and family how they are doing. Check in on your coworkers. Respect the cultures and wishes of those different from you. Make sure that in the next coming month, as all of us jointly rush to the polls to make our final decision, you understand that no matter who becomes the next president, we are all in this together. 2021 will be the year of fixing. Of building our lives back up to what they once were. Of making amends. And we cannot successfully build any sort of promising future if we act as the two 2020 presidential candidates did, without regard to what the other had to say. Because we must listen to one another if 2021 will see the reconstruction of a changed (if not a little battered) American society.

John Chakravarty: Small Failures

The submission process must be the most impersonal part of a writer’s career. The author has just spent days, weeks, or even years writing, editing, and workshopping the best piece of fiction they can muster. But without an audience, it’s just a piece of journal writing. Professors and other writing professionals will encourage the author to “get your work out there” and “you need a few rejection letters under the belt.” So this piece of written human soul gets crammed into an email and whisked away to a faceless submission editor.

Finding places to submit work to is the first part of this impersonal interaction. The best way to find a literary journal that will like your work is to read journals that have similar work to yours. The problem is, that the pieces that they are publishing may either A. be much stronger and more practiced or B. not anything like what you write, in terms of style. SmokeLong Quarterly is my favorite online journal, but my written work has not measured up to their level so far. I find this uneven balance when I am submitting work where I’ve either spent a lot of time reading a journal and realized that there’s no way my work stacks up. Or I’ve never heard of the journal, and think they must just be publishing anyone, why would I bother. Scanning through lists and call for submissions can feel like job hunting with incredibly vague parameters.

However, the worst part of this process is the rejection email. There’s never a right time or place to receive the email and it’s never quite worded the right way. A rejection email that sticks out in my mind said, “while we loved the absurdist normalcy of the piece, we regret to inform you…” I appreciated the time it took for them to write something personal about my work, but it left me questioning what that meant. I spent the next few days workshopping the email, trying to get a positive deconstruction of the narrative and what the character was trying to say to me. Needless to say, I didn’t get anywhere.

Being on the other side of this as a submission editor had a similar disconnect. We had almost three hundred fiction submissions. Three hundred is a relatively low number for some journals, but it set a record for Superstition Review. I found myself stuck looking at a neverending list of titles from strangers. They show up like an excel database, or some customer list. It’s very different than sitting across from someone in a workshop.

Writing the rejection email I ran into a similar conflict. Based on the rejections I’ve gotten the email should do the following; thank the writer for submitting, tell them no, and ask them to read the journal anyway. Which always feels inauthentic when on the receiving end.

The value in submitting can’t come from personal connection. Instead, it has to come from a place of personal growth. Only by submitting (and being on the other end) can an author learn to make mistakes and to take risks. Keeping a piece of writing private keeps it safe and for some people that’s enough. Exposing a piece of writing forces the author to grow their craft and skill by releasing that inhibition. Social media has exposed the extremes of our society. Most often, we only see something that is of extreme success or extreme failure. Small failures have to happen for any professional to grow. For writers that comes in the form of rejection letters. These are only small failures, and they must be overcome in order to grow. I hope that Superstition Review gets six hundred fiction submissions next semester and that many more small failures get to occur.