Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Michael H. Brownstein

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Michael H. Brownstein

has had his work appear in The Café Review, American Letters and Commentary, Skidrow Penthouse, Xavier Review, Hotel Amerika, Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, The Pacific Review, Poetrysuperhighway.com and others. In addition, he has nine poetry chapbooks including A Period of Trees (Snark Press, 2004), Firestorm: A Rendering of Torah (Camel Saloon Press, 2012), The Possibility of Sky and Hell: From My Suicide Book (White Knuckle Press, 2013) and The Katy Trail, Mid-Missouri, 100 Degrees Outside and Other Poems (Kind of Hurricane Press, 2013). He is the editor of First Poems from Viet Nam (2011). His book, A Slipknot Into Somewhere Else: A Poet’s Journey To The Borderlands Of Dementia, is published by Cholla Needles Press (2018). He presently resides in Jefferson City, Missouri where he lives with enough animals to open a shelter.

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

In elementary school, I began writing silly rhymes for no reason at all—mostly around the holidays, but in high school a Ms. Perkins—my history teacher—encouraged me to write because she liked the way I experimented with the essay form. At one point every sentence in any essay I handed in could not be more than five words. She thought it would be interesting to see if I could write poetry. I did, thought my stuff was OK—it really wasn’t—but I found I actually liked writing—so I kept on and on and now it’s many years later and I’m still writing.

  1. Who introduced you to poetry?

I don’t remember, but I do remember Ms. Perkins and Archie Lieberman who thought I was creative enough with my short stories—in retrospect were not very creative or very good—to write poetry—and he liked my work enough to take them around with him when he was doing high profile photojournalism stories for magazines such as Look, Life, and Playboy. Of course, those editors knew my work was not that good, but I kept on writing mostly for myself until I fell playing hockey in my thirties, found myself in traction and then in bed rest bored out of my mind. That’s when I became serious, started writing better and began sending stuff out. FactSheet 5, (a magazine that listed hundreds and hundreds of zines, journals, and books with simple one to two paragraph reviews) was around back then and I used it as my go to reference to submit work.

  1. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I always liked Mary Oliver. Read everything she wrote. Rita Dove is another poet I admire very much. Carolyn Forche because, well, because she’s Carolyn Forche. I always admired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Robert Louis Stevenson.

  1. What is your daily writing routine?

I write every day for about an hour, usually in the morning, and then come back to poems I wrote earlier in the day, months, even years, and make revisions in the evening.

  1. What motivates you to write?

I feel I have something to offer. Sometimes I write just to write, other times I have a particular audience in mind, other times I feel I have something important to say and so I say it with poetry. I have a series coming out, for example, on the blog of Moristotle (https://moristotle.blogspot.com/), for example on reparations. I wrote it for African-American history month. Here’s a sample stanza:

If we go another thirty miles over, we arrive in Columbia,
a lynching–there were more in Missouri, many more–
and this one was no different–James Scott was lynched
as more than a thousand white bystanders looked on–
and he was innocent–the real rapist discovered after the fact–
too late again–and no whites paid for the crime–
Do we not owe Scott’s family reparations? A sincere apology?

  1. What is your work ethic?

I submit to a publication every other day throughout the year. I never miss a day. I go to two poetry programs to workshop my poetry—and I am the co-host of the local library’s poetry program.

I spend every day with some writing exercise. No exceptions. I also carry around a notebook if an image hits my fancy.

Here’s an image that came to me when I saw the sunlight come out behind gray clouds and light up a field along the highway:
We knew each other by the spotlight on wild flowers,

the bath of prairie sage and the colors blue and green,

Later, I turned it into a longer poem utilizing the first line at the beginning of each stanza.

  1. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I don’t rhyme too often, but when I do I look back to the work of Longfellow. He is still stuck in my mind. I even have one of his volumes in one of my boxes in the attic to this day—along with more than a hundred other poets—but he’s the one I remember.

  1. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Safia Elhillo. She writes with a power that is incredible. Her poem “Girls That Never Die” is so brilliant, when I reread it—and I do reread it—I have to take deep breaths because this poem, for example, is that deep.

Martin Espada is another contemporary poet. When he wrote about the hurricane that took out Puerto Rico, you were there. You felt the pain of the people. You became one of them. He has a way with line and image that is just magnificent.

Then there’s June Jordan whose political poetry is made of magic.

Then there’s Carolyn Forche who’s book, Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness, inspired me to write an e-book, Firestorm: A Rendering of Torah (http://booksonblog35.blogspot.com/).

And, of course, Mary Oliver who recently passed away and Rita Dove.

  1. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

I write because it makes me happy; it’s the most satisfying thing I do now. I used to teach in the inner city of Chicago. That was the most satisfying thing I did. I’m retired now. Writing has taken its place as most satisfying.

  1. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Write. Write what you know. Write what you want to know. Just write.

Put it in a drawer. Take it out days, weeks, even months later and read it again.

Revise. Revise. Revise.

I tell individuals who want to become writers to worry about audience and publication after you have what you feel is a completed work. Even then I invite them to workshop it with one of the groups I am in.

I also tell them it doesn’t hurt to read a lot of poetry.

  1. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I’m working on a book of prose poems and poems, The Tattoo Garden of Capella. So far I’ve revised it twenty times or more, but I keep coming back to it. It’s about a place that is magical and safe, a place full of color and love. At one point, dangerous people enter the garden only to have poetry destroy their weapons.

I’m also hard at work on a prose poem that’s rather long. In it, a poet with writer’s block gets help from a very eccentric man who sounds more like as tuba than a human being:

The odd looking man looked at him as if he had never seen him before—and perhaps he had not—and answered with soft moans, climatic yelps, silence, the sound of a tuba, and then an oomph. Ahh, he said, and then ohh. He paused. The rent is paid up, you know, but a long time ago I lost my way in…

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Cat Woodbury

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Blessed be the butterfly knives

Catrice Reverie

Cat Woodbury

is a poet living in Charlotte, NC. She is 26 years old. She released her debut spoken word album, “The Patron Saint of Eating in Bed”, in 2018 on Bandcamp. When she’s not writing and performing, she can be found avidly reading young adult fantasy novels, listening to pop-punk, or crying about raccoons and how cute they are. She tweets from @quokka_flocka

SITES:

Facebook page where I promote my work/performances:

More formal site (I use this less): https://reveriethepoet.wixsite.com/reverie
Latest released publications:

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I am inspired by things and experiences in life that are often overlooked at best, and silenced and hidden at worst. This includes mental health related issues, trauma, abuse, injustices, and pain that people feel like they can’t talk about. I believe that it is important to bring these things to light. Letting them remain in the dark can give them further power, which can be very dangerous.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

In my sophomore year of high school, my student teacher for my English class ran our poetry unit where we started to learn about poetry more in depth than I had in previous years and had opportunities to write poems of our own. She was both enthusiastic and encouraging to the class. While I had great teachers before and after that class, I consider her to be the one who introduced me to poetry.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I wouldn’t say this is something I give much thought, aside from the fact that more prestigious poetry circles seem to choose to have older poets who are no longer alive be a dominating presence. While I respect many writers who have passed on, I am excited when I see any press, but especially small presses, champion the many diverse voices that exist among living poets today and look forward to seeing how things develop to be even more inclusive.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I try not to force myself to write, unless I’m doing a National Poetry Writing Month challenge. When I feel inspired, I write. When I don’t feel inspired, but crave creative works, I read poems through online journals or my favorite books. I also follow many poets on social media so I can easily see what they’re working on. Sometimes I write several poems a day, many days I write one or even none. I go easy on myself no matter what because I would never want to resent the writing process.

5. What motivates you to write?

I live with chronic mental illness and often have a hard time verbally expressing how I feel. Writing is very cathartic for me. I hope to help inspire others to feel a similar release and ease, even if it’s just for a minute of their day. When I read other people’s poems, it’s a magical moment to feel seen and understood by them through their words.

6. What is your work ethic?

I try to be my authentic self as best I can, even if it means writing about something that I’m scared to share.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

My writing tends to lean toward the melancholier side of things, and one of the first poems I really loved was the one called “Absolutely Nothing”, popularized by the book “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”. It was dark, especially reading it as a young teenager. However, I was in a dark place at the time, so it helped me feel less alone.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Neil Hilborn is one of my favorite writers today. Any time I read or hear one of his poems, I feel like his words touch a part of my soul that I often try to keep hidden, and the words help remind me that I don’t have to hide any part of myself. I can be me.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

I often feel overwhelmed and need to get that feeling out to get through the day.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

You decide to show up authentically through written and/or spoken word, whatever that looks like for you as an individual. You allow yourself to feel, whether it be joy, pain, or somewhere in-between. You don’t have to write every day. You don’t have to do anything in particular at all, aside from write SOMETHING.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I was blessed to be put in the running of the longlist for Nightingale & Sparrow’s 2020 Microchapbook longlist, so I’m waiting to see if I make the shortlist with “My Friend, Grief”.

I recently finished a werewolf inspired chapbook that has to do with traumatic and abusive relationships.
Additionally, I’m currently working on a sapphic love poem collection.

The Argument of Trees and Living with Ghosts Two Works by K Eltinaé

Another excellent post.

IceFloe Press

Living with Ghosts

I wanted to name you Aya. Both the poets and the prophets would have protected your every step had we stayed behind. But I, your mother, met a fate far worse than your drunkard father who they found foaming at the mouth near the barracks. I am writing to tell you, I am sorry I brought us here to live forever between worlds. The first song, the only one I ever sang to you, Aikedollie, was a song schoolgirls sang about love. I could only remember parts of it, so I clung to the chorus, and named your heartbeat after it. Aya.

Abdel-Rasul, the eldest fisherman told us to pack our belongings and meet him behind the abandoned pier, to trust him to take us somewhere we could seek refuge in after part of our city sank underwater. Yet, he did not step onto the boat that…

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Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Beth O’Brien

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

LP cover

Beth O’Brien

is an English Literature student at the University of Birmingham. Her debut poetry pamphlet, Light Perception, was published by Wild Pressed Books in November 2019. She is the Editor of Mad Hatter Reviews, a site that reviews books, e-books, theatre, music, and even the odd podcast. Having been born visually impaired, Beth grew up on audiobooks and audio-described theatre, and these loves are still going strong.

She is also a reviewer for Riggwelter Press, and has quite happily picked up a range of jobs that require her to write, whether that be travel articles, student blogs, or website content. She has had her poetry (and the odd short story) published in Foxglove Journal, Nine Muses Poetry, Dear Reader Poetry, BellaOnline Literary Review, Eunoia, Pulp Poets Press, Peculiars Press, Picaroon Press, and Bonnie’s Crew.

When not reading, writing, or listening to an audiobook at double speed, she will most likely be found snacking, drinking tea, and/or planning a trip to somewhere or other.

Light Perception can be purchased from Wild Pressed Books for £3: www.wildpressedbooks.com/light-perception.html

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I think reading inspired me to write. But, also, the fact that I have always enjoyed doing it. I’ve written poetry since I was a child – although, I cannot say whether anything I wrote deserves to be called poetry! Poetry can be so beautiful and have such a powerful impact, and I think reading it was what let me realise that it was something to appreciate.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I don’t remember having a moment of being introduced to poetry. I know I studied it in school. I enjoyed looking at how poets could use beautiful metaphors to discuss something completely separate, and yet make their meaning clear. I have a clear memory of studying Maya Angelou’s poetry in school – I must have been 15. Her work is so striking, emotional and beautiful, and I remember having to stop, just to have a moment to take everything in properly. This wasn’t an introduction to poetry, but it was definitely a moment of realising that I loved it.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

It’s not something I think about while I’m writing, really. I’ve found the writing community to extremely supportive and kind. Although it always nerve-wracking thinking that better writers than yourself have read your work!

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Terribly, I don’t exactly have one. Poem ideas can come at really inconvenient times. I find it easier to write when I’m feeling any strong emotion – whether I’m happy, sad, angry, or whatever. But my routine is pretty chaotic. The notes section of my phone is full of poems. Sometimes just a line or two, sometimes half a poem, sometimes the whole thing tumbles out in one go. I’m definitely not advocating this as a productive way of working, but in many ways, it means I can write anywhere, which is handy!

5. What motivates you to write?

I love it! I know that’s a cheesy answer, but it’s also true. It’s also amazing when someone responds positively to something you’ve written. Even if you make someone cry – which, I know, sounds mean – knowing words that you’ve put in a specific order has prompted such emotion in someone else is beautiful (and a bit scary!). I find poetry a really good way of saying things I might otherwise struggle to say in day-to-day conversation. It helps me in lots of ways, which is also great motivation.

6. What is your work ethic?

I just try hard, really. It doesn’t always work out, but I like feeling like I’ve done as well as I could have at that moment.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I loved reading as a child, and I still do now. I grew on up on reading Roald Dahl, Michael Morpurgo, J K Rowling, Philip Pullman, among others. I read a lot less poetry when I was younger, but an overall love of reading and writing is definitely down to the books I loved as a child.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I have huge admiration for Margaret Atwood. If I’m 79 and doing a tenth of the things she is, then I’ll be proud. I read Alias Grace when I was 17 and I thought it was so cleverly written, and since have read a lot of her other novels and poetry since. Aside from writing, I admire Atwood for her work for women’s rights and her environmental activism.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

I think I write as opposed to doing something else because writing helps me. I find it really good way of understanding and clarifying my own thoughts and ideas. I feel better after writing, whether I share it with anyone or not. This reward makes it worthwhile, I think.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

I’d say write a lot, read a lot, practise a lot. It’s okay to write terrible things and not everything anyone writes is good, but you always make it better. And, I’d say that even though it is scary, sharing your working and getting feedback and advice is really important too.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I’ve been working on lots of poems on the theme of mental health, food and body image. But I’m also trying to make myself write more prose! I’ve been writing a short story sequence in which one character from each short story is in the following story, and I’m really enjoying writing this!

12. What made you use plain language in your poetry, as opposed to elaborate metaphor or rhyme?

I wanted the poems to be accessible. I think there’s not enough talk around disabilities as it is, and it’s something that people can often talk about indirectly. I don’t believe poetry has to be allusive and confusing to be poetic. So, in writing Light Perception, I wanted to talk about experiences, spotlight moments or memories that have stuck with me – some of them for years – and frankness seemed the most effective way of communicating this.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Alana Saltz

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Alana Saltz

Alana Saltz

Alana Saltz is the author of the poetry chapbook, The Uncertainty of Light (February 2020). She’s the editor-in-chief of Blanket Sea, an arts and literary magazine showcasing work by chronically ill, mentally ill, and disabled creators. Her essays and articles have been published in The LA Times, The Washington Post, Huff Post, Bustle, and HelloGiggles. Her poems have appeared in Occulum, Five:2:One, YesPoetry, LadyLibertyLit, and more. You can visit her website at alanasaltz.com and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alanasaltz.

here’s the best link for purchasing the book:

http://blanketsea.com/uncertaintyoflight

 

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

Honestly, my love of poetry was probably sparked by my elementary school English class’s creative writing exercises. I remember learning about the form at a young age and feeling drawn to it. I wrote a lot of poetry as a way of venting and healing through my teen years and got more serious about it in college, workshopping pieces in my college writing critique group. I took some time away to write prose, but I came back to it a couple years ago when I got burnt out on longform writing and wanted to get back into a form I’d really enjoyed in the past.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My parents read some poetry books at bedtime, authors like Shel Silverstein and Edward Gorey.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

If you mean the abundance of poets from previous centuries being taught in school, I didn’t think much about it until recently. I noticed at the time that it was always refreshing and enjoyable when a contemporary poet, especially a female or diverse contemporary poet, was included in my college English classes. I related to the work so much more and found it more engaging and accessible.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t really have one, and I don’t write every day. I don’t think that’s necessary, and it’s certainly not always possible. My illnesses can get in the way of having the time or energy to write, so I write when I have inspiration and/or the time and energy to focus on it. But I tend to work on writing-related things almost every day. If I’m not writing, I’ll submit work to journals, brainstorm, and/or work on promotion and marketing for upcoming projects.

5. What motivates you to write?

Being someone with multiple marginalized identities and undiagnosed/misdiagnosed illnesses most of my life, I think I’m driven by the desire to be heard and understood and to connect with others in a meaningful way. I also really enjoy when people tell me they got something from my work or related to what I was expressing. That’s a wonderful feeling.

6. What is your work ethic?

I’m very driven when it comes to writing, unless I’m in a slump or feeling too sick to work. I don’t know where it comes from. It’s something I’ve always had with writing.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I read a lot of genre work when I was young in addition to contemporary work. I also read across genres. I think that’s helped me stay flexible and creative even if I start getting stuck on a particular project or writing a particular genre. I don’t feel like I have to be one thing. I can explore and go where my inspiration takes me. I also think that I write what I most enjoyed reading as a teen. As fun as fantasy books could be, I resonated the most with realistic and true stories, and that’s what I ended up writing.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

There’s so much great work going on in contemporary poetry. Most of the books I read and buy are from small press authors because I want to support those presses and my talented poet friends. Small presses take risks and seem to care more about diversity and representation. I really admire poets like Nadia Gerassimenko, Chiwan Choi, Hannah Cohen, Wanda Delgane, Orooj-e-Zafar, Avery M. Guess, and many more I don’t have enough space to mention. They’re conveying important experiences and experimenting with form in unique and compelling ways.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

Writing is my obsession. I can’t quite say why. I like to think I have things to share, experiences that could bring new awareness to issues many of us face, and I put a lot of thought and care into my work.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Read and write. Then read and write more. Keep doing that until you feel good about your work and start sending it out. Don’t get fixated on the end game of a published book or big deal by-line. Start with smaller magazines. Establish credits and a voice. Hone your craft. Get a lot of feedback. Then go where the work takes you.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

My debut poetry chapbook, The Uncertainty of Light has just been published. I have another chapbook that’s currently on submission, which is a compilation of erasure poems from the classic horror novel, Flowers in the Attic. I’m also working on a new mico-chapbook.

(I am asking Alana more specific questions about her book. I will add her answers and my replies as I receive them)

12. What inspired the writing of The Uncertainty of Light?

I’ve had chronic pain and illness since childhood, but until a few years ago, doctors had mostly dismissed my pain or blamed my physical symptoms on mental health issues. When I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I learned the term “chronic illness” and found an online community that helped me learn more about what I was experiencing and how I could find better doctors and treatments for my conditions. Around that time, I decided to start writing poetry again after focusing on essay and memoir for several years. I was spending a lot of time thinking about chronic illness, and it was informing my life in dramatic ways. I knew I wanted to eventually put together a collection of poems that addressed chronic pain and illness, and one that also explored other aspects of my life and how the illnesses affected those things. After a couple years of writing and seeing what work resonated with others, I finally felt ready to put the strongest poems together and create a chapbook.

 

 

Two Poems by Mbizo Chirasha. . . and your next Wednesday Writing Prompt

Powerful prompt.

THE POET BY DAY

Sandstone rock formations typical of Mapungubwe National Park courtesy of Laura SA under CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

The Kingdom of Mapungubwe (or Maphungubgwe) (c.1075–1220) was a medieval state in Southern Africa, the first stage in a development that would culminate in the creation of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe in the 13th century.



This week’s prompt is graciously hosted by Zimbabwean poet, Mbizo Chirasha. 

MAPUNGUBWE

Land of baobab, land of eagles
Mapungubwe,sagging with ambition of nujoma, madikizela and sobukwe
Land of crocodiles and spiritual eagles- Mapungubwe
Rivers groaning with sweet tongues and sacred laughters
Mapungubwe – dream of stones
Bones and spirits quietly sleeping under the burden of peaceful rocks
Your songs , mapungubwe rhythm to bones of dead heroes and sleeping heroines
Mapungubwe ,crying tears of laughter, struggle and freedom ,
Mapungubwe!

Editor’s Note: nujoma is Sam Nujoma, a Namibian revolutionary, anti-apartheid activist and politician; Madikizela is Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, a South-African…

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.recovery.

Tribulations of a mouse

sonja benskin mesher

good news indeed
hopes that you improve
steadily

with good things to eat
with plenty of drinks for

we must not get dehydrated
time off work is good for they

will find how good you are
and how it is without you

maybe
maybe

i will go to the orchard
and maybe not for the
stress factor
may be high

too much for a mouse like me
do you think it will be heavy
work

too much for a mouse
like me

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