Poet Interview #45: Michael Lee Johnson

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? At what age did you start writing? Have you always written poetry? Who/what first inspired you to start writing. Who are your favorite poets?

I was drawn to poetry by no roots or direction of my own, a drifter, a nowhere to go person. I was a basketball, sports star in high school, and then had an early marriage at 17 with child. That was a short two year marriage, and then I moved back to my hometown, Niles, Michigan. Funds from my mother allowed me to attend university where I fell in love and then lost that love. the poems began in 1968.

My first love was, and still is, Carl Sandburg. I read everything and imitated his voice better than anyone I know to this day.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKS1Xc1cIFQ.

Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Irving Layton, Charles Bukowski, Leonard Cohen, Margaret Atwood. Favorite Books: The Bible, As A Man Thinketh by James Allen, Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Margaret Atwood, Canadian poet (early poems).

How do you first start writing a poem? Does it come to you unexpectedly, or do you have a set time where you meet with your Muse each day and let the words just … come? Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poetry?

 I write poems out of the darkness, in the sun of early morning. I am always equipped and ready: sometimes on a walk while looking at the sky; sometimes on a 3″ x 5″ index card; sometimes on my old fashion mini-cassette recorder. Wherever the poem or phrase, I listen to it. I don’t fix a schedule for writing; if I was that disciplined I would be a deadline man; but then I’ve been in advertising and sales a long time, and was a social worker before that.

Are you on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media? Does that fit into your writing life, and if so, how?  

I am extremely active on all social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Facebook Groups, Pinterest, Stumblers, and LinkedIn. Whenever a poem is accepted or published, I present it to all my social media. I am also extremely active on YouTube with over 94-poetry videos to this date.

You can find me in Google by searching: “Michael Lee Johnson poet, Itasca, IL.  Alternatively:

https://plus.google.com/110550469214063339137/posts

https://www.youtube.com/user/poetrymanusa/videos

https://www.facebook.com/poetrymanusa

https://www.facebook.com/groups/807679459328998/

http://www.stumbleupon.com/stumbler/promomanusa

Do you have a writing group or community of writers you share your work with? Who are they? What are you reading right now?

The main writing group I am involved with for 2 years is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/807679459328998/ which is now approaching 7,000 members.

I have created, published and sold one of the best selling poetry anthologies ever on Amazon.com, Moonlight Dreamers of Yellow Haze: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1530456762
https://www.createspace.com/6126977

I’m presently working on the 2nd poetry anthology called Dandelion In A Vase Of Roses.

What words of encouragement can you offer other poets who are trying to get their work noticed?

First, you need to understand the odds. New poets are lucky if they get published 2-3% of the time. That means 2 or 3 times out of 97 rejections. Never give up hope. I am published at a very high rate of about 10-15% of the time. There are many reasons why one gets rejected: poor timing, the editor has problems or hasn’t had time to look, the editor simply doesn’t like your style, it was a themed submission and your poems didn’t fit, they only publish once a year, you didn’t read the submission guidelines carefully enough, the list goes on and on. Never give up hope.

Advice? I started a poetry site in my home community of Itasca, IL and no one cared. In fact, they tossed the draft issue in my face after 45 years had passed. Then I got the idea to start a group not based on geography but rather on interest. Thus, my poetry site:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/807679459328998/

Contemporary Poets, Their Works, Current Poetry Projects, News, and Links. Since only about 8-12% of the population really loves poetry this brings together a concentrated group that can help, comment, make suggestions, see new poetry sites to submit to and offers a natural audience to find talent for a poetry anthology. On this site, I build confidence in inexperienced poets who only need a little support to move on into the published world of poetry. Poets need to keep a spreadsheet with a list of publishers and add to it. When you go to a Facebook poetry group you will see other related sites to the right side. When you go to an online publisher site you should always look for “Links” or “Other Sites We Love.” Keep records in that spreadsheet of growing publishers: date sent, name of publication, website, what “batch” of poems you sent, the editors name, the results. Then each month make a tally of the number of publishers contacted, percentage of poems accepted, etc.  Create your own Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Facebook Group, Pinterest, Stumblers, and other social media and move forward.

…Beginnings, Endings…

A poem
by Barbara Turney Wieland
 
Pebbles under my tongue
 
Looking for anything
a taste, a meditation, a pose,
any message
out-lined on the shore
naturally realized; to lie
down like a memory
horizon released at dusk like
a darkness which is like
no other
watching stars in the mornings
permanently crumbling
beginnings, endings
always the same
pebbles underfoot slick
immersed in summer
forgetting the sins of winter
winter iced over
fingers twitching
patched and treacherous paths
toes go blue
scars go purple, lips
puckered with things they cannot tell
 
letting go of the tails of stars
complexion relenting
 
lull reactivating fires
after heart-stopping cold
 
a warm place to rest
pebbles under tongue
water’s warm
toes go pink again
plumping up toward the next place
gasping for breath and
finding it
waiting
 
 
—————–
 
Barbara Turney Wieland is an artist/painter who always described herself as “a frustrated writer who paints instead.” She finally found the courage and inspiration to start gathering the words that have been ever-present inside her head and started putting them to paper about a year ago. Satisfied, she can now say that she has begun to be published too. ( Mulberry Fork review / Threelinepoetry / Rat’s Ass Review )

Poet Interview #44 – Barbara Turney Wieland

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? At what age did you start writing? Have you always written poetry? Who/what first inspired you to start writing? Who are your favorite poets?

Was I always a poet? I think so, yes, I just didn’t write down what I was sensing with wonderment, about the world inside and outside of me. I have always been an artist; drawing and painting since forever. The door to expression is an archway to be walked through at will; effortless and sometimes painful as well as beautiful. Two sides of the same coin to spend at will. However, I was a poet, who didn’t write.

I used to write poems and short stories with the angst of young adolescence in junior high school, but I had forgotten that until a friend I hadn’t seen for 30 years reminded me. How could I have forgotten something about myself like that? Life gets all tied up in details and choices, I suppose. But it was a revelatory moment.

Attempting to capture, create, communicate portraits, conversations, dreamscapes inside soap bubbles of inspiration; this moves me and surprises me. I stretch into communion with myself and my place in the universe….and now I write this down, pen to paper. It has been about 2 years now.

I am not a student of poetry and certainly not an intellectual. My first inspiration, all those years ago was Pam Ayres. I adore Roald Dahl and I have read some WB Yeats and, quite horribly, Charles Bukowski. But my favorite poet is Rumi. He takes my breath away.

I want to read poetry that moves me and am bored by what is scholarly generally. I want to feel something.

How do you first start writing a poem? Does it come to you out of the blue, or do you have a set time where you meet with your Muse each day and let the words just…come? Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poetry?

I like to write in cafés and hotel lobbies where I am surrounded by life. But walking to places is important to me. A long walk or bike ride unwinds things.

From the same place from which I paint, now come words. (different doorways, perhaps). An unconscious place of absolute trust and childish playfulness. No planning, mind disconnected, emotions in gear and picking up stray thoughts like wild flowers, and laying them down in some sort of random pattern to see what happens. Everything can hold inspiration.

Are you on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media? Does that fit into your writing life, and if so, how? Do you have a writing group or community of writers you share your work with? Who are they? What are you reading right now?

I have a presence on Facebook, but not really as a writer. I am part of a closed poetry group that I joined after participating in an online poetry course from the University of Iowa last year and that makes me open Facebook regularly. I enjoy the exchanges and encouragement, but rarely post my own poems.

However, I am mistrustful of the seductive power of social media to distract me from being totally present in the real world.

I have a website for my art and I created a blog this year so as to participate in Napowrimo in April (a poem a day for 30 days). It was a nice challenge.

I live in Switzerland and am part of the Geneva Writer’s Group. This group of very talented international writers, who write in English are an inspiration and a source of information and camaraderie…once a month. I am a little in awe of them to tell the truth, but try to disguise it.

At the moment, I am re-reading a little Tim Winton, but have read a couple of great books this summer: ‘The Storied Life of A.J Fikry’ by Gabrielle Zevin, which is on a par with ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce, ‘The Odd Sea’ by Frederick Reiken and  ‘Grand Central,’ a collection of post war short stories

I don’t read poetry on purpose, but it tends to find me.

What words of encouragement can you offer other poets who are trying to get their work noticed?

As a beginner, I hesitate to offer any advice at all. Write and submit. Take a risk. And embrace rejection as a step on your path. A rejection doesn’t mean your work is no good. Just not a good fit in that place. You got an answer. Ask again

I have a rejection jar. At each rejection, I offer the jar 5chf. When I have enough, I will take my husband away for a weekend. It’s all positive that way.

Keep writing. Keep asking. Keep listening.

Clicking, Clicking, Clicking

Two poems
by Caseyrenée Lopez
 
 
my body is a false god
 
a make believe dreamscape
forcing itself into reality
my eyes are vacant canyons
mirrors of the vacuum above us
 
my arms are broken wings
made with solid bone and marrow
i’m a flightless bird
condemned to terrestrial life
 
my legs are muscles and tendons
and bones and veins and blood
supporting my hollow core
 
my feet are ribbons and beads
strung together
ramen noodles
clumped into curly knots
 
i’m dead inside
my body is a false god
soaking up sunlight
vitamins and minerals
strung together forming
the physical parts of me
 
my womb is empty
and crying
hunger pains
mock my uterus
my ovaries swell
and skip rocks across
the pond of
my menstrual blood
 
my body is a false god
i’m still dead inside
my womb is still empty
my arms are still broken wings
 
my feet are still knotted
ribbons crushed under
the weight of my expectations
 
 
 
body garden
 
you try to stop the clicking /
consuming echo that’s firmly
rooted itself / in-between your ears
on that empty plot of land / called
your corpus callosum
 
every time you think you’ve won
the battle / it rears its ugly head
& uproots itself / reminding you
that no matter what happens you’re
always going to be together
 
it’s many things / compressed into a
singularity / resting for an indeterminate
time / right behind the bridge
of your nose / it’s the unnerving
laugher / the clicking / the chipping
away / that forces you
to shed your skin every night /
turning you into a snake
with razor sharp ribs /
inching you closer to the
edge of the world / you
 
try to keep your balance /
try to steady your inept
feet from crumbling beneath you / but
you can’t / the clicking echo / the
root of all your pain is there /
clicking, clicking, clicking /
the sound / approximate
to a playing card in the spokes
of a bicycle tire /
 
you imagine the root
growing inward / forcing
the tree to impale / the soft grey matter
filling your skull cavity / & it hurts
 
you wish the tree would
fill another cavity / you
wish the clicking echo
would root itself in / the lining
of your womb / but it won’t /
your doctor told you
that your uterus is suspended
in air / overhanging
the canyon of your pelvis
it’s a space most people don’t have
 
“only about 15-20% of people
with uteruses have this gully
but it’s very good news for babies”
 
 
—————–
 
Caseyrenée Lopez is a non-binary queerfemme atheist living in the Deep South. They write their pain as poems, & in addition to editing Crab Fat Magazine, run TQ Review & Damaged Goods Press in an effort to platform marginalized writers/artists, particularly queer and trans folks. Their first chapbook of poems, QueerSexWords, was published by Yellow Chair Press in April 2016. Follow them on Twitter @caseyreneelopez.

Poet Interview #43 – Caseyrenee Lopez

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? At what age did you start writing? Have you always written poetry? Who/what first inspired you to start writing? Who are your favorite poets?

I live in west central Georgia, right next to Ft. Benning and the Chattahoochee River. There isn’t really much of a literary scene in my town, so I have sought out the company of others online. Being a queer atheist in the Bible Belt doesn’t make things any easier either. It can be really alienating. I started writing poetry a few years ago, around the summer of 2013, but more regularly in 2014—so admittedly, I haven’t been doing this that long. I was initially a fiction writer, but after many terrible episodes in writing workshops, my confidence was killed and I stopped writing prose. I dabble in non-fiction every here and again, but mostly I focus on poetry. I like being able to write my truth in a way that makes sense and isn’t bound by the rules and structure of prose writing. When I first started writing poetry I did like most people, and wrote because I was emotional and needed an outlet to channel those emotions—and honestly, not much has changed. I write emotional poetry still, but it tends to have more of a purpose. I write for an audience now; I write with the intent to submit my work to various literary venues.

When it comes to inspiration, I take it from everywhere. I can’t tack down just one or two places or ideas that give me the ammo to write. The poetry inside of me comes from my experience, reading, learning, other people, the news, movies, music—literally everywhere is an inspiration in some way. I also read a lot of different poets; some of my favorites are Fatimah Asghar, Lisa Marie Basile, Lora Mathis, Alain Ginsberg, and Stacey Waite.

How do you first start writing a poem? Does it come to you out of the blue, or do you have a set time where you meet with your Muse each day and let the words just…come? Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poetry?

When I write it tends to come in creative bursts. Though recently, I’ve tried to make a habit of writing. I use the “Notes” app on my phone every day to write down poem fragments, ideas, or thoughts, and I’ve started to write my poetry on there as well, almost exclusively. I often get inspiration at the weirdest times, and so rather than wait to get my ass in the chair at my desk, I write on my phone. I’ve noticed that by doing this the quantity of my work has increased. When I wrote my first chapbook, QueerSexWords (Yellow Chair Press, 2016), it took me 2 years to get it down! But this past April, for poetry month, I wrote a complete chapbook, my body is a false god, which then snowballed into a full-length collection titled i was born dead, and was accepted by ELJ Publications this past August (scheduled for release in early 2018). It’s funny how these things work—how fast things can come when you have a habit of writing—this whole writing on the spot thing helped me start and finish my full length collection in only a matter of a couple months.

Are you on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media? Does that fit into your writing life, and if so, how?

Yes! I’m on both Facebook and Twitter regularly. I really love both platforms because they are so different, but offer so much community, exposure, and good reading links. Social media is a big part of my writing life because, like I mentioned before, I don’t have a real literary community in my town, so being able to talk to like-minded people and make connections is huge for me. Over the last year I’ve started building relationships with folks all over the world, and it has helped me become more confident and willing to share my work and life with others.

Do you have a writing group or community of writers you share your work with? Who are they? What are you reading right now?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to engage with writers off-line, but I do have the privilege of having an amazing husband, Paul, and good roommate, Willy; both help me edit Crab Fat Magazine and run Damaged Goods Press, and they also read my work whenever I write something new and offer feedback or insights. I do have hopes of organizing and starting a monthly reading series in my town though. I really have my eyes and heart set on working with the director of the Carson McCullers house because it often houses literary events, like the Columbus leg of the Southern Literary Festival, and also provides space for an annual writing fellowship.

As far as reading goes, I’m in-between books right now, but I plan to read several biographies/memoirs over the next month or so, but I’m most excited to read Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo, and several poetry collections I recently scored at the used book store.

What words of encouragement can you offer other poets who are trying to get their work noticed?

Write and submit. When you get rejected from one place shrug it off and submit to three more places. It’s cliché, I know, but it’s honest. There are thousands of literary venues out there (Duotrope alone lists over 5,400 active journals/presses!), and just because one or even one hundred of those places reject you doesn’t mean your work isn’t valuable. It is. You just have to put in the time and effort to find the venues that are into your aesthetic. Read an editor’s work before submitting, review the mastheads of publications, really try to get a feel for the places you’re submitting to. I know without a doubt that I could be published in more places than I am, but I don’t just submit to any place—I have to be really into the work the journal/press is publishing and know that my work will be appreciated as something more than just content to fill a website. When I’m reading/editing for Crab Fat Magazine I always take into the account the feel of the work before looking at the writer’s name, publication credits, and other information—I can’t count how many times I’ve rejected someone who says they’ve been published 1,500 times and have 8 books, and moments later accept work from someone who’s never been published. So, in the literary landscape, its quality and voice that matter, not literary pedigree.