Poet Interview #11- James Diaz

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Q: 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?

A: I’m still trying to figure that one out, who I am. I know the places that I’ve come from and the experiences that I’ve accumulated throughout the years, most of them have not been very pleasant, but I think that who I am, whatever that is or isn’t, is in constant movement, poetry has been one way that I’ve tried to work that question out for myself. I started to write around age 13, so in a way I have always been writing poetry. As to what inspired me to start writing, I would say desperation. I was desperate and in a lot of pain, and I didn’t know what else to do with it except to try and write my way out of what felt like an impossible situation. I guess most people could say that they felt the same way as a teen, but this was a little more complicated for me, I came from a very abusive family life which included drug addiction, coupled with severe poverty. Sadly, I started to actually believe that the world didn’t expect great things from families like mine or from people like me. Yet there were indestructible things inside of me then, feelings lacking the right words, that I had to try and find a way to transcribe, this still holds true for me today. This is why I consider poetry to be a healing art of sorts. And also a political act, since we all live in time and place, there has to be a politics attached to all of our environments, locally and globally, writing is just as much a reflection of that.

My favorite poets are Jorie Graham, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Fanny Howe and Alice Notley. And also more experimental poets like Leslie Scalapino. Helene Cixous is also another one of my favorites, while not technically a poet, almost all of her books read like beautiful poems to the mystery of existence. I also like the outlaw poets like Jack Micheline and Gregory Corso, both of whom had a rough life as well, so maybe that’s why.

Q: 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?

A: Usually it feels like a dam is about to burst inside of me, that’s when I know a poem is yearning to come out. If I don’t feel like that and I try to write anyway, well, the results have usually been pretty disappointing. Except for editing, when quite a lot about the poem will change, but the beating pulse of it, of what felt so urgent that it had to be written in that moment, that remains. I trim or add what feels awkward or simply doesn’t work, but that comes later. The desperation, the thrashing around internally of some story that needs to be told, that comes first.

My idea of poetry has had to change a lot since I started writing because I started so young, I had a lot to learn, there were many growing pains, and they were painful. I think that all writers get awfully attached to their writing anyway, but, since for me, writing felt like such an act of survival, I think I was that much more attached to what I was writing. That can make a person very defensive, and it can make it difficult to grow as a writer. At a certain point I had to give up the over protectiveness, to let criticism in, and challenge myself to evolve overall. Since I’ve always learned best by reading other writers, I had to practice reading everything, including poets I didn’t like very much, what are considered “the classics”, and a lot of poetry from the fringe, experimental, romantic, introspective, street, beat, bar room, reading from across the spectrum pushed me out of my comfort zone immensely.

Also something important I’ve learned is that often the idea of “I have a certain style and I’m not going to change that just to fit whatever mold or expectation is out there” masks a lot of insecurity. Listen to what other people think, they are the audience after all. It may not always be useful, but ask yourself what is to be gained from just rejecting what they have to say outright. My writing used to be so experimental you needed to be a philosophy major just to read it, I wasn’t letting other people in, there was nothing solid for them to attach to or feel connected with. Poetry is most profound when it makes these attachments or connections. So I’ve learned a great deal of what not to do just by sharing poems with other people and paying attention to what they think and feel about it.

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

A: I am on both. I think twitter is probably more useful as a promotional tool for publications. Facebook’s algorithms are so messed up, there is almost no guarantee it will be seen. I do belong to a group on Facebook called “I just published something”. It’s made up of other writers and we all share our publications in one feed, I’ve found it pretty beneficial, I’ve also gained quite a lot of new readers that way.

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

A: I belong to a poetry group which meets once a month at my local library. It’s run by a woman named Pam Pooley, and it’s a great group of people, all extremely talented writers in their own right, and all very supportive and also very critical. Reading my work at this group has helped me to change the way that I write for the better, that’s where I first started to learn to pay attention to how other people were responding to what I was doing. It forced me to take the audience into consideration. Listening to what other writers have to say is a good way to combat your own creative narcissism. Expand your world, don’t shrink it, that’s where the promise of growth lies, this is true for all things, not just writing. Listen to others, take them in, it can be transformative.

Right now I’m reading a book by Alan Duff called “Once Were Warriors” which was also turned into a movie. Its about the indigenous Maori in New Zealand and it centers around the struggle of Beth Heke and her family as they navigate life in the midst of brutal violence and poverty in New Zealand’s housing projects. Duff has such tremendous empathy for the people he is writing about, and although it is a work of fiction, the reality that he is describing could be every Maori’s story. I highly recommend it, the movie version is just as powerful.

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

A: Just keep on writing and creating no matter what the terms are. You are worth it. And if you happen to be writing for some of the same reasons I started to write, then don’t worry about who is or isn’t noticing. Keep writing as if your life depended on it, because it probably does. And, as Kris Kristofferson says, “don’t let the bastards get you down”. That’s the best advice I can give.

Truths Vs. Lies- Lana Bella

I pore over him. Sloshing up our history and
diving through the polished lies. The fear is,
his large empire and my pursuit for it might
just leave me stark and cold. But how many
truths will have to dissolve like footprints in
a downpour, and fall through the many cracks
of his ingress before I am left to flounder in
time-dependent details, where the flecked
melodies sound familiar, and scalloped molds
make home upon my skin. Then again, the
other kind, the ones which I imagine that lay
beneath the crisp, sharp blades of truth, as
the ground just freezes over–there below the
molten white, wisps of wingless wasp tremble
inside the half-light and half-dark, and breaths
sway in contemplation. How easy it is to devour
up the lie vaulting across the air, betraying its
body from fear of being caught, still, I seek short
comfort it provides, growing desperate all the
while to ease myself the burden of sinking stone.

 

Lana Bella has a diverse work of poetry and fiction anthologized, published and forthcoming with over one hundred journals, including a chapbook with Crisis Chronicles Press (Spring 2016), Aurorean Poetry, Chiron Review, QLRS (Singapore), Poetry Salzburg Review, elsewhere, and Featured Artist with Quail Bell Magazine, among others. She divides her time between the US and the coastal town of Nha Trang, Vietnam, where she is a wife of a novelist, and a mom of two frolicsome imps.
https://www.facebook.com/niaallanpoe

Poet Interview #10- Lana Bella

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1) 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?

As long as I can remember, I have always known that I love to write, or rather, I spent inundating amount of times tinkering with words, reshaping them inside my head, considering their weight as they churned this way and that on my tongue, lost in an impractical universe of a child who constructed her impoverished living in the slum of District 5 of Saigon into a wonderland of treasure trove, where small fingers throbbed with wealth of vision, learning to deconstruct and modify language from sounds, sights, smells, tastes into this thing called writing. Thus, I destructively read, and wrote, then prowled beneath, inside, along the liquid landscapes, savage harvests, arrogant sunrises, barren streets, clove-scented kitchens, they all became my reality and fantasy. So, cheers to mediocrity for having the insight to flee.

My storyteller of choice is Haruki Murakami. He writes simply, provokes provocation in the course of rational reasoning while confessing to the necessity of change. He envisions the world as a floating logic burgeoning from an atom, with an understanding of how life should be lived, though along the way, it struggles with insatiable urges of the loins, and straying will, so it scrubs at the pitiful cries and ubiquitous chains of surrealistic temperament born through self-evolving, but evolves it does. I think this is the essence of his writing, equally so with poetry in motion, for you must be able to enter a place where you cannot turn away from your maimed beauty, your inarticulate truth, and your blank contention of ego.

2) 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 am my muse. It is a highest praise from the self, then again, it is the ugliest load of crap I can think of. But, I am always able to find me here, there, and everywhere, like when I am alone in a darkened room, a speck of light that filters through the window slats could stir a line such as this “I remember remembering, I remember the way you croon and moon-dance beneath the street lamp…”, and, “beneath the table she works the tip of her needle through the jacket’s hole and into her flesh, stretching the split deeper each time until it tears down the stairs of her form”, or “she is ready to tear into scales, radiating staccatos to the wind…” these were two instants among many when I was driven nearly mad with the stress of my daily grind. I conceive I am walking in then retracing over the tracks of my own life, whose whispers I catch with ease, whose sleep thins then wake rises to the right chords of refrains. Even when I speak in a foreign tongue, intruding in someone else’s memory, I still understand the shifting thoughts just the same.

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

I am on Facebook, though I have taken to adopt Lana Bella as my nom de plume, so if you were to search for the real me, you might not be able to. Because I elect to protect these meager bits of anonymity I have left in this technological era, though more poignantly, I like to think of myself as a literary tree, splintering two ways, one stretching toward the sky, its parallel twin burrowing earthward into the darker plane, both form a mirrored sequence of time, logic and capacity.

4) 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 choose not to involve in any writing group or community of writers, for a simple reason that my work is and will always be subjectively portrayed, thereby, subjectively conceived. Furthermore, people by nature are a cheering lot, considerate to others’ feelings by ceding to tact and subtlety rather than absolute truth in critiques. So I humbly entrust my writing in the hands of editors and publishers, whose opinions and consideration I defer to most.

At the moment, I am moseying through my third volume of Murakami, titled “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki”, interesting title, more intriguing when I tunnel into the belly of his bizarre, possessive, color-coded ambiance on a transcendental sphere of reality, of unresolved issues in youth, of entombed memories, of a stagnant living death, all at once strange yet familiar to my own identity. Especially when it accompanies the melancholy notes of Franz Liszt’s Le Mal Du Pays, roughly translated “Homesickness”. Colors and music are the central elements in this small novel, he plucks my heart’s strings while he paints them in colored noises and reverberating nostalgia.

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

Ideally, to be a respectable writer, you must be accommodating to your innate needs for success, thereby equally accommodating to your eventual consequences of failure. Success and failure go hand in hand, as the saying goes, and the irony is, the beauty that you once thought you held could also become the object of your repulsion. So be honest, be contemplative, be merciless with who you are and what kind of writer you want to be.

In short, I write to dispense into the world all that I am, well, all that I allow myself to be seen with and thought of and summarized through the whimsical lenses of the world at large. It remains hauntingly a balancing, tugging and repelling tour de force. As the words of Ernest Hemingway ring ever so true: There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

 

A History of Zero- Steve Klepetar

A History of Zero- Steve Klepetar

“When I’m gone,” he said,

“my stories will remain.”

“When I’m gone they will

flit in late evening dark,

chitter in the oak trees, flutter

through summer leaves.

You will hear them scratching

in your walls, feel them as a pressure

behind your eyes.  In unexpected

places you will catch a glimpse

of me telling and  telling, reflected

in the windows of a chocolate shop

in Paris or curled up in the margin

of some page in the middle of the book

you keep trying to read, a history

of zero, that startled, open mouth,

that rabbit hole to stories whispered

in the dark you no longer want to hear.”

Poet Interview #9: Steve Klepetar

SteveLadysmithCan 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?

Your readers might find it interesting that I was born in Shanghai, China in 1949. My parents were refugees and Holocaust survivors. They took me to the U.S., where they both had relatives, when I was only two months old, so this fact has been, let us say, an inconvenient oddity in my life. I started writing poetry seriously in college, where I received enough praise from professors and fellow students to encourage me to continue. When I was a child, I wanted very much to be able to draw, but I was (and still am) pathetic at that (my eight year old granddaughter draws much better than I do). But I soon discovered that I could do something with words. I’m not very good at choosing favorites because I love so much poetry, past and present. Here I must confess that I am a recently retired English professor, so of courseI love Shakespeare, Donne, Blake, Wordsworth, Dickinson, Yeats (and that’s leaving out too much) but also Audre Lorde, Rita Dove, Seamus Heaney, my good friend Joseph Lisowski. There is so much great stuff out there.

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 have a very pleasant writing space, a room with windows to the east and south, and I like to write in the mornings after I come back from a four mile walk. I shower, dress and sit down to read, reflect, and write. Sometimes, pretty rarely, I have something particular in mind, but usually I read to write. Mostly I read a particular poet (at the moment it’s Rita Dove’s Grace Notes). I start out by reading one poem, and I try to respond to that in some way. I might try to work with that poem’s form, say, but once I get started, my own poem grows its own form. Or I might find a line or two that sends me off into an idea or into the mind of a character who suddenly appears on the page to speak the poem. Once I get into rhythm, I can actually feel a calm and pleasant physical sensation. Could that be alpha waves or something? I don’t know, but I love the feeling and it is addictive. I write without worry, taking chances, getting words on the page. I leave editing and revising later. When I was younger, I thought I had to have a plan and I was much quicker to edit as I went, tearing up pages (and sometimes heaving them in frustration). My work has become more surreal, at least some of the time; I also write poems grounded in experience or imagined experience, anyway. I like to try different things – ekphrastic poems, myth poems, character poems, surrealist poems, haiku, tanka, prose poems. I am prone to series. If I write something that I like, I may work with that theme, character, or idea over a long period of time. At the moment I have about 20 Li Bo poems, in which that great Tang dynasty poet shows up in contemporary America as my odd poetry friend and alter ego.

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

I am on Facebook, not Twitter, and it has become an important part of my writing life. I post online publications and am thrilled to get responses and to make new FB friends, often with other writers whose work I can then follow as well.

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 am a staff writer for Verse-Virtual, edited by the wonderful Firestone Feinstein. V-V is more than a journal; it’s a community of some 70 poets, whose work I read and respond to. I also have fashioned connections with a number of poets, fiction writers, and editors who support and encourage one another.

I do a lot of reading – fiction (Dominion, by C. J. Sansom at the moment – recently read two Thomas Hardy novels, Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery, two novels by Marion Vargas Llosa); non-fiction (fascinating biographies of Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth; books on math, quantum mechanics, and most recently Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens and Michael Shermer’s The Moral Arc); and lots of poetry (many online journals, Best of the Net poems, books by many poets, including Audre Lorde’s The Black Unicorn, Seamus Heaney’s The Haw Lantern and Rita Dove’s Grace Notes).

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

In the immortal words of Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t Worry, be happy.” Seriously, writing poetry is a joyous activity, even if the occasion that prompts the writing is painful, even tragic. I writing doesn’t give you joy, find something else. Then send out your work, having steeled yourself for rejection. It isn’t personal; don’t rage against the editors, even to your friends; don’t get upset; and most importantly, don’t give up. Read a lot and write often, if you can’t write everyday. Try different things. You’ll get better, more in command, more confident in your voice. Soon you’ll have a group of editors who know you and your work and that helps a lot.