Poet Interview #62: Chani Zwibel

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? At what age did you start writing? Who/what first inspired you to begin? Who are some your favorite writers and artists (past and/or contemporary)?

From the time I could talk, maybe as young as three, I remember putting my toys in little “scenes” and then telling a story. My parents and grandparents read to me often, and so even those earliest years were informed by story-telling. Even before I learned to write, I would get lost for hours imagining adventures. When asked as a child “what I wanted to be when I grew up”, the answer was always “a writer”.

I grew up in rural area, and I think that landscape of forest, creek and field, spending time alone in nature, coupled with fairy tales and Bible stories, impressed me with an inner map of mythology I was constantly exploring.

Favorite writers and artists are so hard for me to pin down, because every book or every painting or every song I’ve ever heard that moved me has influenced me, whether I stopped to add a name to the footnotes of my life or not…I’ll stick with writers for the sake of simplicity.

Grew up on Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, those earliest poets being read to me by parents, grandparents, and babysitters informed a large portion of fantasy, rhymes, nonsense poetry. L.M. Montgomery, I must have read the Anne series a hundred times over. I was totally obsessed and had to act out that scene where she’s floating down the creek in the boat. There was a creek by my house and I literally got in a little boat with flowers on my chest and floated down. My imagination and love of history was lit ablaze by reading Laura Ingalls Wilder. Those descriptions of food in The Little House series were visceral, and I could smell the wood smoke. I read the covers off Catherine, Called Birdy and The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman.

When I turned thirteen, my aunt gave me two books by authors who would become imbedded in my personal mythology. She gave me Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier.

The Jane Eyre would lead to a lifelong obsession with the Brontes, Charlotte, Emily, Anne, not only their novels and poetry, but their lives. I was fascinated by how their childhood play informed their work, as my sister and I did that, too.  Rebecca left me feeling haunted, and always does. I think I’ve read that book more times than any other piece of writing I own. I read all the Daphne DuMaurier the local library had, but always came back to that masterpiece.

I was also really into Langston Hughes during that same time, which were roughly my middle to high school years.

In high school, and early college, I went through the punk phase, the “tough guy” phase and I got into Stephen King, Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Bukowski. The other side of that coin was fantasy: J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

Then in later college years, it was all about Gertrude Stein, Adrienne Rich, Joy Harjo, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker. I’m into Nikki Giovanni and Warshan Shire.

I’m always changing and my “tastes” are too. I like a new story, a fresh perspective, work that lifts me to transcendent heights, sometimes (often) by way of hard roads.

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 … flow?

Most of the time, poems drop out of the universe and into my thoughts. It may be an image or phrase and then INSTANTLY I’m there, pen in hand and it’s on the page. I get great ideas when I’m about to go to sleep, and often in dreams, so I keep a notebook in my bedside table at all times. Often, it’s when I’m doing something else, like working at my day job or washing dishes. It’s like a lightning bolt; it’s an act of nature. Every now and then I’ll sit down to talk to the Muse about something specific. I’ll focus, then un-focus. It’s meditative. It’s exploring the visions of the inner eye. If it just isn’t happening, I’ll flip through a dictionary, and words will start jumping out and dragging me along. I’d like to have a schedule, I might get more work done, but the truth is, it’s very much an ebb and flow. I don’t force it if it’s not happening, and I don’t dare dam the river in high flood.

What does poetry mean to you, and has your idea of what it represents changed over the course of time? Where do you see it going in the future?

I could probably write you a whole essay on what poetry means to me, because like anyone deeply in love with their craft or their field, it’s everything. Poetry isn’t separate from life, it is life. It’s in the housewife’s cupboards, in the salesman’s tie pin, in the cashier’s apron, in the interminable creep of traffic, in the mirror-world shining in the orb of a dew drop on a fiddlehead fern.

Poets are truth-tellers, and ours are truths you may have forgotten or overlooked. Does a culture become dead and stale when it trades its magicians for preachers? Who steps into that knowing-unknowing place? Poets.

Poetry for me means being the glowing embers on the cold hearth.

Poetry is the light in the darkness of ignorance.

That’s what I want to bring to the world, with room at the table for everyone.

What has being the poetry editor at The Blue Mountain Review taught you about the craft? What type of work are you looking for there, and what advice would you give to those who are submitting their words?

I love my poetry editor gig at The Blue Mountain Review! It’s truly a joy to wake up, have some coffee, and read poetry from people all over the world. I’m fascinated by the different voices coming to me from all kinds of cultures. It heals my soul to know people still care about poetry, still actively engage in creating it, and it’s not just old, dead white dudes. I’ve looked at work from poets from Iraq, India, Ireland, Africa, Mauritius, Canada, as well as England and the USA. I’m very open in what I’m looking for. I welcome all voices. I’d like to see even more diversity going forward. Much like writing, my editor’s style is intuitive. If it moves me, it’s in. If it leaves me cold, bored, or if it’s ugly hate speech, No. I’d say a guiding principle is: Don’t be a pretentious asshole. I want to see the dirt under your fingernails, not the sun-glints off the marble window sill of your ivory tower.

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

I’m on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. As of right now, these are my personal social media and reflect me as private citizen more than Writer or Poetry Editor. I guess at some point I’ll have to make a professional Facebook, so everyone won’t have to see how messy I am. (laughs) Everything informs my writing life. In many ways, Facebook is a form of journaling. I get to practice thoughts and phrases. And share memes. What a time to be alive!

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 belong to an artist collective called The Southern Collective Experience. They are my writing community and family. I also still go down to the Clarkston campus for GA State, which used to be Georgia Perimeter College, for Writer’s Forum meetings with the English teachers there who encouraged me in all endeavors poetic, back as a college freshman.

As 2017 begins rolling along, what are your expectations for the year ahead? Do you have any new projects in the works that you’re particularly excited about?

I’ve been published online every year since graduating college in 2011. My goal is to continue with that, and I’d really love to get a chapbook published this year. I’ll be continuing my work at The Blue Mountain Review, and I hope to elevate it to further heights as well. I’m also working with The Good Acting Studio and The Southern Collective Experience to bring a monthly open mic poetry night to Marietta. Make poetry readings more than just a bunch of stuffed shirts in a claustrophobic, humid library room.

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

Do it because you love it, and don’t ever give up. Find publications that match your style, and continue to work with those that publish you. If you find a like-minded group of people to work with, stay. Treat them like gold. Share. Write. Love.


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Scott Thomas Outlar hosts the site 17Numa.wordpress.com where links to his published poetry, fiction, essays, interviews, reviews, and books can be found. He is a Best of the Net and three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Scott's poetry books include: Songs of a Dissident (Transcendent Zero Press, 2015), Chaos Songs (Weasel Press, 2016), Happy Hour Hallelujah (CTU Publishing, 2016), and Poison in Paradise (Alien Buddha Press, 2017). Scott is a member of The Southern Collective Experience; he also serves as an editor for Walking Is Still Honest Press, The Blue Mountain Review, The Peregrine Muse, and Novelmasters.

One thought on “Poet Interview #62: Chani Zwibel”

  1. What a fabulous interview. I’ve had the honor to be published by Chani and eagerly read what she had to say. Now I know why Anne of Green Gables kindred spirits resonates with her (and me!). I went straight to Chani’s FaceBook Page and sent a Friend request, I want to see what’s she doing in her own writing and imagine she’s a new train picking up speed and what a journey ahead of her! I loved this interview. Thanks!

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