Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Amanda Stovicek D’Alessandro

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 three options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger, or an interview about their latest book, or a combination of these.
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.

Amanda Stovicek spacespectacular

Amanda Stovicek D’Alessandro

is a poet and teaching artist from Cleveland, Ohio.

Her recent poems have appeared in Barnhouse Journal, Nice Cage, Noble/Gas Qtrly, and others. Her debut micro-chapbook, SPACE SPECTACULAR, was published by Ghost City Press in their 2018 Summer Micro-Chapbook Series.

D’Alessandro has taught for seven years, leading creative writing workshops in the community, and teaching college English at various academic institutions. She holds an MFA in Poetry and Creative Writing from the Northeast Ohio MFA Program, and an MA in English Language and Literature from Kent State.

D’Alessandro’s poem “Last Note Slipped Under the Mattress” in Gordon Square Review (published as Amanda Stovicek) was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2018. Her poem “Blueshift” was selected as the winner of the 2017 Academy of American Poets University Prize. She was named the Graduate Fellow for the Wick Poetry Center for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 academic years.

Twitter: @poet_amsd

The Interview

  1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

 I started writing poetry in my undergraduate Intro to Creative Writing class at Heidelberg University. I’d probably written something similar to poetry before this, but my focus was mainly on fiction writing and comic books. I thought serious poetry was for elitists because my main exposure to it was the works of Robert Frost and Shakespeare (nothing against them, as I appreciate their works now, but at the time, this was not what I wanted to read). The only kind of poetry I liked prior to this was narrative poetry like “The Highwayman” and the works of Edgar Allen Poe.

  1. Who introduced you to poetry?

 I guess two people. My dad used to read me limericks and narrative poems when I was young. I liked the way he intoned the meter of the poems, especially when he read me “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes. But my awakening to poetry happened my sophomore year of college when my Intro to Creative Writing professor, Bob Reyer, introduced me to poets like Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and Wendy Cope. We read a lot of different poems in that class, and emulated the work of the poets, but these three in particular still stick in my memory. Wendy Cope’s poem “The Orange” was the one that made me realize that poetry doesn’t have to be lofty or use flowery language. Sometimes a poem can just speak about sharing an orange.

  1. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

The canon of poetry really affected my perception of what poetry was and who it was for. I never thought of myself as a poet, even after I started writing poetry, until I was able to break free of the “purple prose “of a lot of canon poetry. I am grateful for contemporary writers because they’ve helped me discover new ways of rending language and image in poetry–something that has helped me grow as a writer on my own. Some contemporary poets might be criticised for being too gimmicky, but I find that each new way of looking at writing poetry can be valuable to someone, even if it’s not me. The popularity of poetry on Instagram is also something that I am aware of– poets who write a few lines and put a line-drawn image next to it. I am grateful to these poets too, because they open the world of poetry up for people who might otherwise not consider reading it.

  1. What is your daily writing routine?

 I don’t have a routine. I wish I wrote daily, but I find my writing comes like a growth spurt–sometimes an idea enters my mind and it’s incredibly ferocious and I must write it down. Usually this comes before I am meeting with my small poetry group, or after I’ve spent the day grading papers and I need a creative outlet. I know some writers argue you cannot be successful if you don’t write every day. But I disagree. I think everyone’s approach to creative work is different, and if the act of creating is what one values, then there is no wrong way to write.

  1. What subjects motivate you to write?

 Space! It’s vast, dark, empty, unknown. I love casually reading wikipedia pages about astrophysics and stories behind star names and stellar phenomena. I’m also inspired by womanhood. It’s hard to separate my gender from my writing; there’s a sense of urgency in the expression of my experiences. I don’t ever set out to write about being a woman, but it creeps its way in. I am in love with gothic imagery and decay, and the way the natural world takes over after we’ve gone.

  1. What is your work ethic?

 I don’t really know how to answer this question! I definitely procrastinate, even though I tell my students not to–it’s some psychological flaw, perhaps. But I always work with a sense of urgency. I find when writing poetry that my best approach is to write as much as I can, then read it out loud. If I’m working on a manuscript, it has to be printed so I can physically arrange the pieces and understand how they work together.

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

 I am constantly influenced by Anne Sexton. Her poem “The Starry Night” is what started me on this journey to explore space in my writing. I love the trudge of her language and the way she rendered feeling so deeply with just a few words. I cannot help but go back to reading her work when I have writer’s block, because I’ll inevitably find a poem that sparks something in me.

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

 So many! But I can name a couple whose recent books have given me much inspiration. Emily Skaja and her text Brute is incredible. I love the way she tells a story across the collection, but each poem too can stand on its own. The vulnerability and simultaneous armor of the poems within the collection are incredible. I also admire Terrance Hayes, who I was fortunate enough to meet when he visited Kent State University in Ohio back in 2016. His recent book of American Sonnets is striking and magical. The dives that his writing takes in each piece inspires me to leap in my own poetry.

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

 I want to create. Though I don’t write everyday, there is this urgency inside of me to create. And words have always been a vehicle for me to express myself. I want to make beautiful and strange language with my work. I want to use nouns as verbs and write into being images of humanity. I cannot imagine being anything other than a poet. And though I’ve dabbled in other creative pursuits and enjoyed them, I always come back to the poem as a form. I think the restriction of saying something in the white space of a page is what drives me towards creation. And for me, that something must have music and sound that rises off the page. A poem must be spoken.

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

I had something I wanted to say and I wrote it down. I was inspired by a friend to tell a story, and that story led to another, and another. It helped that I loved reading and immersed myself in a variety of narratives since I could read on my own.  

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

I’m dabbling in a lot of prompt work; I especially like taking a list of five random words and making a poem using them. These poems are adding up, but they’re also an incredible exercise for writer’s block. There’s also a digital project in the pipeline that brings together contemporary and classic poetry with works inspired by them– I’m working on that with a small group of poets and we will hopefully have information coming out about that by the end of the year. I am also polishing and submitting my first full-length manuscript, which features poems about space and human connection. I hope it finds a home soon!

Wombwell Rainbow Book Interviews: “Making Tracks” by Katy Wareham Morris

Wombwell Rainbow Book Interviews

Making Tracks Front cover

Katy Wareham Morris

is a lecturer in Media & Culture and Creative Writing at the University of Worcester, UK. She has a particular interest in gender and queer studies, identity politics and digital humanities. She is currently working on her critical / creative hybrid PhD research in literary gaming, play and post-queer politics. Part of this involves developing methods of collaborative digital writing practice. She often gives papers and workshops at prestigious academic and writing conferences including NAWE, as well as performing her poetry at local and national literary festivals and spoken word events. 

Katy’s debut poetry collection, Cutting the Green Ribbon was published by Bristol-based, experimental publisher Hesterglock in May 2018. The collection is a collage of womxn’s voices. Katy’s poetry duet with Ruth Stacey entitled, Inheritance was published by Mother’s Milk Books.  The pamphlet was launched at Ledbury Poetry Festival 2017 and won a Saboteur Award in 2018 for the Best Collaborative Work. Katy’s most recent publication, Making Tracks was published in September by V. Press and interrogates the connections between local and social history, memoir and family.  

‘Making Tracks’ has been endorsed by Helen Ivory and Andrew McMillan. You can read other reviews and order the pamphlet directly from the V. Press website: https://vpresspoetry.blogspot.com/p/from-very-first-page-of-this-pamphlet.html?m=1

You can connect with Katy on Facebook or Twitter: @Katy_wm. Her website is: katywarehammorris.com

The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

I first started writing poetry as a child from about age 7. I even started entering adult competitions from this age and had a poem published in an anthology. My parents were so proud that they told the local news and I was in the paper.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My father gave me my first collection of poetry, Wordsworth’s Collected Poems. My father had no formal qualifications and started working at the car factor in Longbridge as an apprentice aged 15. In his late teens / early twenties he decided he wanted to be a writer and went on a few courses although promotions kept him working at the factory. He worked there for 36 years until it closed in 2005. My latest pamphlet covers this personal history, whilst also working with the social history associated with the factory community and integrating our shared love of poetry. It is because of my father that I am who I am.

3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

I became more aware of different types of poetry through my education, at school and studying English Literature both at A Level and for my undergraduate degree. I do respect formal poetry and the poetry of the canon; I feel as writers we need to understand our history, those tropes and traditions that underpin definitions of ‘poetry’ so that we can work with them and be brave enough to bend those ‘rules’, to challenge them and to experiment with them.

My Masters introduced me to many more women writers and writers of colour. I fell in love with the writing of the female Beat poets and their work allowed me to believe that it was ok to use experimental and hybrid techniques, and that this was poetry. I find the work of Diane di Prima inspiring.

I don’t think experimental hybrid writing has hit the ‘mainstream’ yet but it is gaining much more respect and prolife because there are now indie presses willing to publish and promote this work.

As a writer from a working-class background, I am acutely aware of those writers who have been to the ‘right’ kind of Unis, studied the ‘right’ kind of creative writing courses and have mentors and through them develop relationships with big presses. These writers seem to have ‘profile’ right from their first publication – winning awards, being interviewed by the national press etc. It is sometimes demoralising to think of this as it can make the poetry world seem very competitive and closed off.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

It is very hard to maintain a daily writing routine with full time work commitments and a young family.

I often have a lot of ideas percolating in my head. I will write notes; I will write things down in prose. When I come to type this onto my laptop, I can then begin to think about a poetic line and the shape on the page. I like to write listening to music – music that I feel matches the style / tone / mood of the poem; I find this really helps to inspire me.

I found lockdown very difficult – managing work and home-schooling two small children. However, I also realised that I have to write, I need to write to feel like me – to be who I am. Forcing myself to find time for writing really helped to survive the stress, pressure and anxiety of this time.

5. What subjects motivate you to write?

I am motivated most to write about my own identities and experiences. It is important for me to challenge perceptions and stereotypes associated with being female, disabled and working class. In the last 18 months I have been diagnosed with severe Crohn’s Disease which is a debilitating, incurable bowel disease; it is also a registered disability. I have struggled to come to terms with the unpredictable and vulnerability of my physical body particularly as I am a very able and capable person, and also a control freak. I hate that my body lets me down and makes it impossible to things when I want to do them sometimes. I lot of my writing recently has been about coming to terms with this.

I was committed to becoming an academic alongside writing since I completed my undergrad degree, because of financial circumstance I had to get a full-time job and complete post-grad study part-time. It took me 12 years to secure the full-time permanent contract of my dreams at the University of Worcester. However, I struggle with imposter syndrome daily and am still figuring out what it means to be a ‘working class academic’. This is also a key theme of my writing at the moment. Working class experience and identity is a key theme of my latest pamphlet.

I am also inspired by social and political issues: I was a founding member of the Women’s Equality Party and being a feminist is an integral part of who I am. I continue to support their campaigns and activities and find that this and my research in gender studies and identity politics often infiltrates my writing. This was especially the case for my collection, Cutting the Green Ribbon with Hesterglock Press. Being committed and inspired by social, cultural, political issues, a lot of my very recent work is inspired by the precarious condition of our natural world and all that jeopardises it – the climate crisis, nuclear armament, the proliferation of smart technologies. I am exploring these issues in the creative writing element of my PhD research.

6. What is your work ethic?

I am self-confessed workaholic! I work 40-50 hours per week in my day job at the University of Worcester as a lecturer in Media and Culture. I teach and have research goals. I make time for my own writing around these commitments, an average minimum 10 hours a week. I would like to have more time for writing and reading!

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

I think I write about nature and the natural world because of my very early love for the Romantics which also includes Blake who also write about controversial social / political / cultural issues. This may also be why I am interested in human capabilities, identity and potential.

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

I am a big fan of so many poets, it is hard to say! I enjoy the work of Andrew McMillan because of the way he uses space on the page to create rhythm and pace, but also because he writes frankly about his own experiences and identity.

Most recently I have really enjoyed the writing of Sean Hewitt, as I love his use of nature imagery and metaphor and its connection to the body. I find the poems in Tongues of Fire like mesmerising incantations; I got lost in the magic of the poem.

I love John McCullough’s Reckless Paper Birds. Again I like his use of form and the way he uses form to develop a sense of his own distinct voice. I also appreciate his allusions to traditional high culture juxtaposed with contemporary popular culture – I find this brave and refreshing. He is highly skilled at making something unusual or mundane, even gross sometimes, appear beautiful and magical.

When looking for inspiration for writing about nature and animals, I always turn to the work of Pascale Petit. Her most recent collection, Tiger Girl is so emotionally stirring, bringing the connection between humanity and the natural world alive, forcing us to examine that connection and relationship.

I am of course a huge fan of female writers: Helen Ivory, Helen Mort and Liz Berry. All inspiring writers when thinking about the writing of our own experiences as women in contemporary society – our childhoods, our relationships, our bodies, our roles. I also loved the recent collections from Ella Frears and Rachel Long.

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

I think writing is a cathartic experience for me, but I also find it exciting to play with language and imagery to create something different out of the familiar; something that perhaps lures people in but then cause them to (re)think or question. I think a good poem is one which covers an experience or setting you know yourself, that you recognise and can. make recognisable to the reader, yet the way it’s described or interrogated reveals something wholly new, surprising – that is the magic of poetry. Just when you think you know what you’re getting, something else entirely reveals itself.

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

You read and then you write…and write… and read and write…. When you feel like you have something ‘finished’, get someone else to read your writing; use their feedback to write some more; do some more reading. Look at the writing prompts set by the poets you admire. Join a writing group, go to workshops. When you’ve built up handful of edited poems, start sending them out to magazines, journals or ezines. It is important to make sure you have read those magazines, journals or websites first, so you know if your style ‘fits’ there. Being a writer also means you have to learn to quieten the self-doubt… and just get on with writing! If I’m having a ‘negative’ day, I distract myself by reading poetry and then I go back to writing later. Building a community of fellow writers who you trust and admire is important too – you can ask them for feedback and learn from their work too.

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

I have just had a pamphlet with V Press published, Making Tracks so I am busy promoting that. It is an experimental hybrid of my dad’s car factory memoirs, found elements and my own thoughts and feelings on childhood, family and duty.

During lockdown, I completed another pamphlet of poetry which explores the fragilities and vulnerabilities of humanity in light of the climate crisis, but also in light of the gross subjugation of marginalised identities in our society – women, working class, disabled – subjugations that most people perceived as ‘over’, battles that had already been fought and won. I was also heavily influenced by how I responded to Lockdown and that extraordinary context, especially as someone in the shielding category.

I also began a novel during lockdown – something I never thought I’d write! In fact, I need to make time to get back to writing that! It’s influenced greatly by modernist writers such as Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf – it is a story of people and relationships.

I am also working on the creative writing part of my PhD research which involves writing and building a digital literary game dispersed across many internet networks and platforms.

12. How did you decide on the arrangement of the poems?

As this was a collection of poems about specific moments in my dad’s and our family history, I wanted to capture a sense of memory: memories do not reveal themselves to us in chronological order, so I wanted to try and recreate that in the arrangement of the poems and their placement. I wanted the reader to feel like they were going backwards and forwards in time, as dad and I were during those early interviews. In terms of spatial arrangements, I experimented withh different formats and layouts including tables and diagrams because this is how some of their generation promo material I used as found source material was presented so wanted to mirror that. Also working in a factory, documents would often be written as manuals and instruction guides / programmes are often written in diagrammatic format where the reader moved between portrait and landscape, hence why I tried to recreate this in the pamphlet.

13. How important is the visual look of the poem on the page for you?

The visual look is very important because I feel space on the page is just as important to the poem as the words and punctuation. I am inspired by writers who use the space on the page to create a sense of rhythm and pace and I am trying to do this in my own work – using space to give the poem shape, which may help to enhance a certain mood and / or to mirror the way I speak naturally.

14. “You say you could never live in automatic, but you had already written your programme” (Pressure) “the people who are made of trees” (Landscaping) In one poem folk are described as if becoming machine=like, in the other they are described as trees.

There is a purposeful use of contrast in the pamphlet between the man-made / manufactured and nature, this is because the poems examine the theme of nature versus nurture – are you born / programmed a certain way, or do you grow and adapt to your surroundings, can you change your programme? I thought this was interesting: was dad born to work in factory? If so, why the love of poetry? Did he work in a factory just because his dad and brother did? Was I born to be a writer, or did I love poetry and writing because I felt it was integral to developing a relationship with dad? What other traits or characteristics did I inherit from Dad? And how have the affected my perceptions of my own marriage and family? These are questions I don’t have the answer to, but that I hope the poems explore – do we manufacture who we are? Or are we already manufactured – born that way, a product of nature? This contrast between manufacturing and nature also allowed me the opportunity to explore the allusions to Wordsworth – instead of wandering in the natural world, characters in the pamphlet are wandering through a factory. It then raises questions about the potential beauty of a factory environment.

15. What made you decide to use different typographical devices like bold, strike-through, faded words?

Again this was a way of recreating memory and it fallible nature. I also wanted to give a sense of voices and how the stories were relayed to me, and how these compared to the voices / experiences of others. These devices can also be an effective way of communicating different emotions – horror, sadness as compared to excitement and passion.

16. Once they have read the pamphlet what do you want the reader to leave with?

I would like readers to firstly appreciate how big an impact that factory had on the lives of so many families and generations of families, the community of Longbridge – to appreciate its nearly 100 year history that has almost been completely physically erased. I hope the collection goes some way to memorialising the factory and the many many workers and their families who were so proud to be connected to it. I couldn’t build a museum, but I could write poems! I want people to start paying attention to working class experience because it is ‘culture’ and those experiences are valid and should be shared and heard. I also want readers to question the concept of ‘duty’ – what is it? Who do we have a duty to and why? How does this effect our identity and relationships? I also want people to think about the concept of nature and nurture and of ‘family – we have our biological family and then a ‘family’ we choose. I think in their form and layout and also because of the use of working class idiolect, this pamphlet also challenges what ‘poetry’ is and can / should be / look like. I was honoured to get such fantastic endorsements from Helen Ivory and Andrew McMillan because I struggled at time to believe this was indeed ‘poetry’ and these endorsements really validated what I’d created and what I was trying to achieve.

Book launches in the time of COVID-19

Thom Sullivan

It’s been a difficult year for launching books. And it was an enormous relief, especially in hindsight, that Aidan Coleman and I managed to jointly-launch our books of poems a few short weeks before the COVID-19 restrictions clamped down in South Australia.

It was very welcome, then, to be able to attend the launch of Juan Garrido-Salgado’s Hope Blossoming in Their Ink in Adelaide last week, the first launch I’ve attended in person in many months. It was the sort of lively event we’ve felt the lack of amid our ‘Covid-winter’, even in a city and state that’s weathered the pandemic better than most. Touch wood.

It’s also been very welcome, and a small compensation of the pandemic, to be able to attend events and launches interstate, albeit as an online ‘attendance’. It’s a regrettable compromise for the poets and publishers concerned – a writer sending a book into the…

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Old Poetry Magazines

Angela Topping

Recently I have been involved in attempts to de-clutter the loft, and have been bringing down boxes of books to look through. It was a rather sobering experience to discover a box of old poetry magazines, some of which have ceased publication or are under newer editors, others have ceased altogether. These were magazines I used to avidly study in the hope of being admitted through their hallowed portals into the world of publication. Now they are covered with a faint grit of plaster dust. Some I got into, some I never did, but I am only keeping the ones which have meaning for me. Or to put it another way, issues I got my poems into.

Looking through them, several things struck me. One was the quality of the publications, which has improved massively since the days when magazines had to be typed up rather than word processed, and…

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How to deal with rejections

Angela Topping

Carol Ann Duffy allegedly used them to paper her smallest room. But that’s not so easy these days when so many of them come by email.
I used to save all my handwritten ones, together with the poems I’d sent out, but life’s too short to do that. In the past, editors like Peter Mortimer, of the long defunct Iron magazine, used to type feedback letters and tell the poet what he liked and didn’t like about the poems. Very few editors these days have the time and energy for that, because so many more people are submitting poetry. Bless the ones who do!

Many rejections take the form of a standard letter, offering generic advice. Sometimes they can come across as patronising, especially to people who have been submitting poetry, with both positive and negative results for many years. One size never fits all, and I would urge editors…

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How to Publish your work – for Young Poets

Angela Topping

ange2_n

I originally wrote this resource for some A level students I was delivering workshops for in Lancashire, but I decided to give it a wider readership. When I was a teacher, I encouraged my students to submit their work to magazines and competitions, and relished seeing their confidence improve. But although there are many oportunities for poets, not all young people are aware of them. The advice below will apply to older poets as well, but I have focused it towards youth. At a later stage I will collate similar information for other groups.

All magazines and journals have websites, so it is easy to glean information about them. If possible read them. If you can’t afford to subscribe, source them at the library.
Postal submission: send no more than 6 poems, with your name and address on every page and an SAE big enough to hold all the poems…

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On Rejection

Angela Topping

No writer or poet, no matter how well known, is free from the blow of having work rejected. No matter how carefully the poems have been selected, the magazine studied and read carefully, all submission rules followed, the rejections will still come. It is just as likely to be rejected from a small publication as a big one.

The old advice – and I’ve been submitting poems for over 40 years – was to have another look at your poem, polish further and send out somewhere else. This still holds good but there might be nothing wrong with the poems at all. Maybe the magazine was full, perhaps your work was long-listed but didn’t make the final cut for all sorts of reasons nothing to do with the poem, such as it didn’t fit in with the other poems chosen, or there was another one on a similar theme. So…

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Poem Doctor: 10 things to try

Angela Topping

If your poem is struggling and refusing to breathe, here are some things you might try, to revive it and massage its heart:

1) Change the tense. Quite often present tense can make it more immediate.

2) Lose the first stanza: sometimes that’s just gearing up.

3) Look at your ending. Are you trying too hard to point up a moral? Chop it.

4) Look at your order and structure. Sometimes the ending needs to be the start.

5) Check out individual words. Is the one you have used the very, best most accurate word?

6) Consider changing the form. A free verse poem sometimes wants to be a formal poem. I speak from experience. I once had a poorly draft. Then I noticed there were two or three lines of iambic pentameter. The poem was telling me it was a sonnet. And when I listened to it, it wrote…

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Line Breaks in Free Verse, a Handy Guide

Angela Topping

I’ve recently been asked how to do line breaks in free verse, so I thought I would share it with my readers. As T.S. Eliot said: ‘No verse is libre for the man who wants to do a good job.’ (Though of course he meant women too!)

In formal verse (written with a set rhyme and metre) the convention allows the sense to run on from line to line and stanza to stanza; the flexibility of this is vital to prevent the pattern becoming a straightjacket. These enjambed lines are read over the line break, because the form is dictating where the line break is made, not the sense or the voice.

Free verse deals very differently with line breaks. The poet has an opportunity to manipulate them and use them purposefully. Free verse has a subtler rhythm than formal verse, and though is does include rhymes, they are not…

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The Poetry Police

Angela Topping

There has been something of a controversy recently in the poetry goldfish bowl. I don’t want to get into the McNish versus Watts debate, because I can see both sides, but from a range of comments on the offending article in P.N.Review, an interesting discussion has been going on about what the ‘rules’ or conventions of poetry are. There are people who feel only poems which rhyme can be called poems. Others extol the virtues of punctuation, learning about scansion and metre, and being well versed in the reading of poetry by other people. This is the debate that constantly rumbles on. What IS poetry?

A poem is not defined by the toolbox it uses. A different poem by the same poet might be conventional, with rhyming, scanning quatrains, or it might be loose, open field, intertexual, or anything at all. For my money, I let the poem get involved…

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