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Coffee with Frances McColl Stewart




(Coffee with the Poets interviews are conducted by Christina.)




When I moved to the town of West Union, West Virginia, I came to know Fran as the enthusiastic force behind the town’s bustling annual celebration, and as a patron of poetry who has written much of her own: so lush and warm, charmingly formal. She’s extremely intelligent (a member of Mensa) and has a most interesting life that I look forward to sharing with readers alongside her literary achievements.

I’ve had the privilege of having Fran for coffee—actual coffee in my home—and she has a most beautiful way of enjoying it, complete with a lesson. No sugar. Pour the cream slowly and watch it swirl around, enjoy the visual pattern, enjoy the textural uniqueness of those first few sips before the cream is fully incorporated. Let everything be as it will; let the moment create its own beauty especially for you. Furthermore, she dresses for coffee, complete with hats and fur collars, elegant and sparkling with personality! She relocated to be nearer to family, and we retain fond memories.

I’m eager to share your story! Please, start at the beginning: whatever interests you.

Thank you for the honor of this interview, and for your presence in my carefully crafted world. You are beautiful on all levels, Christina. I decided as a child that my life would be full of beauty and truth and fun. That has only altered through the years as my understanding has deepened. I’ve found that Beauty and Truth converge at some remote point, which is exciting and simplifies the search. I’ve found that Fun is not satisfying, maybe it is just too complicated, and sometime in my past, I substituted Joy, which serves me well. I love family, language – Words, God (“…And the Word was made flesh” still gives me goosebumps), beauty, and humor as they show me Truth and bring me Beauty and Joy. As I age, the deliberate construction of my world has gotten easier. Some ugliness is so darkly seductive, but understanding makes it easier to surgically remove it. (Although, I’m still training myself to not laugh at a viciously funny remark, I don’t make them anymore.)

I understand your question about beginnings, but began with a deliberate beginning as it is difficult to pick organic ones out of life-circles. Sometimes I don’t recognize them until I can clearly see the ending.

I was so Blessed to be born in America to the wonderful parents I had. My father taught me to read (using the Bible) and write before I was three. (Well – read; the writing didn’t go so well. I still have a deformed finger from gripping the pencil at that age.) When I started school I found a Truth: We were poor, and I was not like others.

I loved school, I loved learning, I loved the world I was making, and I didn’t care that I was alien. I skipped two grades almost immediately and no longer had even my age in common with classmates. By now I had baby sisters and life was full.

When I was 11, I found that this first Truth was only ½ a Truth, and that the worst lie is a partial truth. It was true that I was like no one else, but I had totally missed the big picture, the grand scheme. I met two people who taught me that each person is unique and glorious. My parents had taught me manners, which made me acceptable, Connie Volpitta (now Roberts) taught me social skills that made me accepted. Connie showed me that interaction with others expanded my world and made it happier. She also showed me the unhappiness of those who preferred interaction to the exclusion of their personal world. I began to notice the cliques in school. (Before, all of the ‘others’ were fairly interchangeable to me.) Tom Murphy was the first person to argue with me, my first love, and the reason I took the test for Mensa. (He was a member.) Sixty-six years later, I measure many milestones by these deep and abiding friendships. Tom married a lovely Swiss lady who became my 4th friend and I am honored to be Godmother to their son.

My third friend was the wonderful man I married. We married when I was 17 and had 47 years before he died. My parents died young, and Bud helped me raise my youngest sister and brother. He was there for each of my ‘re-inventions’.

I had a successful modeling and acting career for 10 years. I reveled in lines such as “She wondered why animals didn’t like her.” where emphasis can be changed to any word to change meaning or nuance. I could ‘feel’ an audience immediately and pivot my character on a dime (thank you, Connie). Oh, those delicious words! Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee… One year, I decided I disliked the playbills that the theater provided. I redesigned them and drove to the printer with many suggestions on my purse notepad. Rather than taking offense, the owner of the printing company offered me a job as art director. I loved it and enjoyed that job for 5 years, until we decided to move. A series of fascinating and different careers later, Bud and I went to a wedding in WV. He was from the Catskills and immediately fell in love with the beauty there. We saw a Christmas card house high on a mountain (I could never call them hills) and drove up for a closer look. She was a grand old lady, but down on her luck and desperate for TLC. She boasted a leaky roof, plaster walls decorating the floor, lathing rippled as though it had been in a train wreck and an incredibly low price. The view of the Town spilling down to the creek was worth the price. Bud figured that if he did the work, the price to make it livable would be twice the purchase price – so, I put it on my charge card. It had never occurred to me that the price was so low because there were no jobs there. It was Appalachia. Every place I’ve lived has been beautiful. From Florida to Washington DC to South Carolina, I’ve found such beauty – but West Virginia is a different kind of beauty. This beauty has grandeur. Each place I’ve lived has had mystery, but the mists on the mountains, which linger in the hollows, conjure such primal enchantments. Like the words ‘on the tip of your tongue’, there is an elusive familiarity to these mists.

I had to find a job that I could take with me, and do it within 2 months. So, for the last great career change, I decided on the Internet. I bought a computer and researched the skills I would need. I called my niece, Tiffany Edmonds, and peppered her with questions. (Tiff was a Microsoft MVP – worldwide at that time, there were only 5 women with that honor. See the charmed life I’ve had?) By the time we moved, I was established in Search Engine Optimization. (I had looked for a fast-moving field where I would not be in competition with 17 year old gurus LOL) It took a few more months before earnings grew enough to live on, but one wonderful side-effect of poverty is that once you have been poor, being broke does not frighten you.

From childhood, and through all this, I’ve written. I’ve always written with feeling, sometimes with humor, sometimes with craftsmanship, and twice with skill.

Life is so fascinating. I just finished a wonderful online course on C.S. Lewis. I’ve a new quilt top almost finished. I’d just narrowed my archaeology interests to Biblical archaeology when exciting new technology advancements led to the discovery of several ancient Incan cities in the Peruvian jungle . Did you know that just in WV there is an ancient petroglyph, carbon-dated to circa 2030 years ago? There is a notch in the rock that allows light to hit the carvings at dawn on the Winter Solstice. Others are documented, but this is one I visited. And, I do not understand strawberries. For thousands of years they have insisted on having their seeds outside on their skin. Each year, when they realize they have no new strawberry children – again – they are forced to send out those inefficient shoots in the hopes they will root and begin new plants.

What a breath of fresh air you are! As long as I’ve known you, on another note, your spiritual perception is illuminating.

‘Sea of humanity’ seemed to be in all that I read at one point. Suddenly, I saw it – we are each an iceberg. We see the 1/10th of each other that is above water and we all are so different, but beneath the water, we are melting and freezing and exchanging the ‘oneness’. Is that why we write? To remember Truth? Do we actually forget truth? Is it absorbed into us? When we hear or read Truth, isn’t it more a recognition than a new thought? Is what we call ‘conscience’ a Truth-ometer?

A feast for thought; thank you so much! Tell us also about your literary background.

I love literature because it has so many words! LOL Early memories were jeweled with my grandfather’s playing the violin (mostly Liszt) or reciting ‘The Song of Hiawatha’ – there is something so drone-y, yet majestic about this poem that it feels ritualistic “By the shores of Gitche Gumee, By the shining Big-Sea-Water, Stood the wigwam of Nokomis, Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis, Dark behind it rose the forest.” That repetitive, unnatural stress on the first syllable evokes drumbeats in my chest. I mourned for the ‘unremembered ages’, too young to realize that they might not have been so romantic and mystical if they had been remembered. He read and saved history books, which I was allowed to read, and read and passed on Mickey Spillanes, which I could sometimes sneak. This was my mother’s father; her raucous Irish-Catholic family did not care for my father but it was not quite as obvious as my father’s blue-blooded, Carolina Bible-belt, Scot family’s dislike for my mother.

Daddy had an incredible memory and a perfect ear for music. He could hear a song he liked in the morning, and play it back that evening on his harmonica. He knew much of Longfellow and all of Service’s poems. This is another great blessing I had – to be born before TV. My parents talked and laughed and argued and performed.

You asked about my spiritual background. It’s just as well, as I can’t separate any part of my journey with precision. I was premature and a ‘failure-to-thrive’ baby. Momma’s family were Roman Catholic and arranged an immediate baptism for me. They got a special dispensation for her youngest brother to be my Godfather as he was only 11 yrs old. Her sister was my Godmother. That was probably the last time I saw a Catholic church until I was 10.

My father was raised Carolina Methodist. We moved to Florida to be away from both families and began an odyssey. Dad taught me to read with the Bible (KJV – such soaring words for lofty thoughts). He could quote extensively from the Bible and made me memorize the book of John. We attended church every Sunday, but not the same one. Afterwards, we would discuss the sermon – questioning its Biblical Truth. If they passed his test, we might go back. His plan was for each of us to be able to choose our church at age 13. Any church except the Catholic church as he scorned the money spent on stained glass and other adornments, and felt that veneration of saints and the statues of them crossed the line into idolatry.

Summers were exciting. There would be a huge tent erected on the Fairgrounds and posters began appearing for the tent revival. I loved the fiery sermons with that strange cadence, loud-and-soft, dip-and-climb, that reminded me of classical music. And, oh, the singing! I know most think of Mahalia Jackson when Gospel music is mentioned, but the only singer who even came close to that musical experience for me was Elvis!

Dad died when I was 10. I ‘inherited’ his books – Plato, Socrates, Cotton Patch Parables, and Chilton’s manuals – and read them voraciously. They gave me comfort as Momma knew they would. I discovered mythology and was overwhelmed with the Truth I found there – especially in Greek and Celtic myths. The truly great ones have that strange herbal taste of buried-memory.

Age 11, someone had a list of books that were banned by the Catholic church; reading them became my next project. Most were lackluster, but The Prince, by Macchiavelli, was an eye-opener and mind-expander. Connie and I had many conversations about individual manipulation. I had seen mob control, but it appeared a different type of rhetoric and manner was necessary here.

The Godfather (my Uncle Charlie) gave me a subscription to Astounding for Christmas. Edited by the wonderful John W. Campbell, who discovered and nurtured so many sci-fi greats, I fell in love with Asimov, Heinlein, Anthony, et al. At 88 now, and finally retired, my engineer Godfather has the largest collection of time-travel books and movies in Christendom. We have been studying, then exploring Civil War sites together for the last 2 years. There is only Shiloh to go!

I am aware of my many faults (but am still finding shortcomings). I began reading theology and researching Christian (yes, I had already decided that Christianity made the most sense to me) religions. I decided on Catholicism – such a tour de force of logic and mysticism – and began studying for Confirmation. I read biographies of saints until I came to St Theresè, the little flower. This was the spiritual mentor I needed. Like a magpie, I flit from one shiny piece of knowledge to another; I had no internal discipline, and no logical goal. I had vague mega-plans to learn every language in the world, and then travel. St Theresè polished each moment in the now as she lived it. One tiny act at a time, created and maintained peace, joy, and beauty.

I sold my first short-story when I was 12, to a children’s magazine. My fervent wish is that there are no copies left in the world. LOL I mention this because it is a strange thing to sell my writing and after all this time, the strangeness remains. I’m never satisfied with the quality, as I am a much better editor than writer. I don’t, as a rule write for others. But if that is true, why do I so cherish that validation?

At 15, I graduated high school (a wonderful school, the best instruction I’ve ever had), and entered the Sisters of St Joseph convent. This was a teaching order. It was an exciting, fulfilling experience. My first book, Golden, was about this year. We attended the U of Florida, and the classes whizzed by with Masses every morning and devotions and study in the evening. After a year, my mother picked me up. She had spoken to Mother Superior and they released my vows. Momma had terminal leukemia and I had four younger siblings that needed someone to care for them.

Classes reminds me, Christina – I told you I just took a great class on C.S. Lewis. Many new things to think about, but did you know that the Psalms were written to be performed? That does explain those awkward lines about zithers and tambourines in the beginning of many that seem to have nothing to do with the rest of the subject matter. They are ‘stage directions’.

Interesting! I had no idea, actually. A final question: If you were given the ultimate platform and a microphone that would broadcast your words around the world (and time is not of concern), what would you like to say?

Christina, I know you said to take my time, but I had no idea that it would really take this long. I feel that this answer may be disappointing, as the question is so lighthearted and I’ve once again made it complicated. Your magical question made me laugh, and I immediately wrote “Hello everyone! I love you.” Then I began to question.

Was this true? (I can’t write it if not.) I would like it to be true. Generically it seems to be true. I strive for it to be true. The Greeks could fine-tune it with their four different words for love, but ‘agape’ is not in common use anymore (and would be less-truth for family or friends anyway); so I am left with loving family, loving friends, loving God, loving words, and loving watermelon. This is not impressive, so I try to not use that word. 🙂

And, I need to speak to an individual – the Divine spark in each is exciting, inspiring, and elevating. It is also more of a challenge than speaking to a large group. Groups are easier to address, and easier to influence, but it is distasteful to turn a group of lovely humans into a herd. The exceptions to this can only be made by the listener. If someone has tickets to a comedy or tragedy, they expect to be manipulated into laughter or tears. If someone attends church, they expect to leave with a reaffirmation of the moral life.

See what your questions do to me? I have the same difficulty with writing! I’ve written many a polemic that was meant to change the world. When my writing gets ‘cold’ to me, I re-read and edit. Most did not survive that process. There was truth, or I would not have written it. But, I’m flawed, and the larger truths are more personal and less universal; it is not my place to impose them on others. Remembering St. Theresé, I re-direct to those small truths that I comprehend and share that understanding with others.

My passion and my problem is language. There is such an exposed, naked feeling when I have written the un-embellished truth, that I wonder about language – I wonder how long mankind existed before we began speaking? If we communicated through telepathy, there would be no secrets. Maybe the actual purpose of language is lying or concealment. I’ve seen twins whose babbling was incomprehensible, but seemed to communicate perfectly with each other. New lovers almost all have ‘code words’ that elicit longing looks or peals of laughter between them that no one else in the room understands. Every career or hobby specialty develops its own vocabulary to such a degree that those who are not well-versed in that field are excluded from even simple shop-talk conversations.

Maybe I could use the magic microphone to play music? I could be a D.J.! Or – I would have a grand time introducing anyone of your choice who would not dither as I’ve done. 🙂

Your expression is endearing. 🙂 I understand and wonder the same about words. But I’ve loved knowing you through your words as much as your smile and the intelligent glint in your eyes. I do want to conclude with some of your poetry from Vignettes (Middle Island Press, 2015).

“Bragging to the Cat”

The Isle of Coll produced us all,
There is no prouder race.
I tell my cat and say it flat —
Straight out to her face.

Hughs and Macs signaled attacks
On Gaels and Galls alike.
Lib’s claws in sheath, her wicked teeth
Rival any pike.

Marking time with petty rhyme
I echo bards long dead.
With lazy grace she cleans her face
And slowly turns her head.

McColl’s my name. With borrowed fame
I do just as I please.
Golden eyes show no surprise;
Pharaohs picked her fleas.

“Modernage Hero”

For those with children in public school
Whose suits are gray and brown,
Where is the life they can pattern on?
All of our Heroes look down.

D’Artagnan, perfect for his age,
Bold and dashing, coped with life
As it was then for the people;
Battled their peculiar strife.

Robin Hood matched his wit
With every evil of his ken;
Left the people ribald laughter,
Trails to follow, made them men!

Paul Bunyon strode across our land,
Resolutions quickly jelled.
Life for pioneers had meaning.
Wagons rolled and trees were felled.

But where is the Hero of PS1
And suits of gray and brown?
Where is the life we can pattern on?
All of our Heroes look down.

(My choosing of the above was somewhat random as all of your poems are of equal excellence.) Vignettes is available at Amazon as well as several other books authored or co-authored by you. I hope that patrons of poetry will avail themselves, and thank you so much, Fran, for your picturesque and full-bodied articulation!

Thank you for the lovely interview, Christina. One thing I love (there is that word again!) is the way conversation swirls like cream in your good coffee. I’d like to thank you also for introducing me to some of your other poets. They may not know it, but I’ve exchanged molecules with their icebergs. (‘We conversed in green verbs because other colors fade’ stayed with me for days after reading Salvatore Buttaci.)

Isn’t poetry the only way we explore? That grand vocabulary closet, sitting there in the dark holds so many hints to truth and bridges to those fantasies that are sometimes more true than reality?

One last ‘word’. Christina – I spoke earlier of mob control. As it is affecting my country now, I would like to point out some words in the public forum. A good public discourse begins at the beginning – the base line where all agree. Then, one point at a time should be discussed until a consensus, or an agreement to disagree but go on, is met. Please be alert to that deliberate word-bias that assumes then skips these points. If this is allowed, then the argument has been won by language-cheating, or mob control skills. (I am not saying that the winner might not have won honestly; I am saying that the winner is not winning honestly if these tactics are employed.) How did a health insurance law become named The Healthcare Law? Have insurance and care become synonymous? We should think to ourselves how differently the gun-control argument might go if it were called the gun-rights argument. The abortion argument consumes us with what the government should or should not do. Shouldn’t we begin at the beginning of that discourse and ask why the government is involved at all? There are valid and important arguments to be had as neither right is absolute, and some (but not too much) government regulation is permissible. So why are we not having a great, logical debate instead of petty sound-bites meant to incite partisanship in a mob? We think in words. The essence of mob control is to destroy the precise nuance of meaning. Once that is lost, our thoughts become fuzzy and imprecise. When we make a decision to consider a problem or to not even consider it, we grow; and isn’t that decision more righteously human than to make a decision as to which pack to join?

Aaah – I wondered how long it would be before I descended to polemics. LOL Now, I shall retreat to my safe-space and read your new books again, Christina. “Then turned around and took a bow and disappeared from sight.”


*****



Frances McColl Stewart is the author of Née McColl, and Mac and the Princess (listed on BarnesandNoble.com and Amazon.com), and Golden, which is out of print – and which she has lost her copy of, so if anyone finds it in a used book store, please sell it to her. 🙂

A background in marketing, freelance writing, and commercial art turned Ms. Stewart’s love of words, and understanding of their power, into a career.

Now retired, she was known as an expert in the field of search engine optimization, with articles published in various newsletters and websites; Frances was co-author with Tiffany Edmonds of the popular Search Engines The Right Way (E-book).

A member of Mensa’s WebHeads, her personal websites have garnered much recognition in different fields: N-etiquette.com is a primer on Internet Etiquette, and McColl-Name.com is a genealogical site.

Frances lives in Courtland, VA with family. Life has not slowed down with retirement. She is currently working on a new quilt and a new book (Seadog: The Story of a Family).



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Posted by on September 10, 2018 in News & Reviews

 

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Why I Write

I’m currently working on a “Coffee with the Poets” interview with a dear friend, Frances McColl Stewart. She asks wonderful questions in return, but with the interview being about her, not the interviewer, I cannot really answer – but they are wonderful questions that get me thinking.

What synchronicity it was when she asked, “Is that why we write?” and “Is what we call ‘conscience’ a Truth-ometer?” (To put it into context, I’ll quote from our forthcoming interview):

“’Sea of humanity’ seemed to be in all that I read at one point. Suddenly, I saw it – we are each an iceberg. We see the 1/10th of each other that is above water and we all are so different, but beneath the water, we are melting and freezing and exchanging the ‘oneness’. Is that why we write? To remember Truth? Do we actually forget truth? Is it absorbed into us? When we hear or read Truth, isn’t it more a recognition than a new thought? Is what we call ‘conscience’ a Truth-ometer?”

I’ve been asking myself in earnest “why I write” for some time now, and have only of recent concluded that I write for myself, except in the case of love poems and other dedications. I write about my world, I write to bury my head in something beautiful about a given moment.

I had to ask myself why I publish my words in books that so few will read. Well, that head-burying: I put it in books because my conscience isn’t happy about my spending valuable time with my head facing a screen and my hands on the keyboard (or a tad more acceptable, sitting with a notebook and pen), so pressing my words in a book says to me, See? Something came of it! But there is little difference between this and going shopping with $50 in hand and insisting on coming home with $50 worth of merchandise to justify the day out. So I’m at a point where I question whether future books are sensible, or hollow justification for time spent (wasted?), or ego (convincing myself that I am worthy of keeping company with my extraordinary and creative peers – “earning my place”).

I’m also guilty of having written at times for an imaginary audience, because I know that I’ll put my words into a book. I see it in my mind and catch myself writing to nobody in particular, like right now, like how so many people mindlessly post “status updates” on Facebook. (They don’t necessarily know who they are talking to; they are simply talking.) Is this just another mechanical habit, compulsive finger-activity that feels good because it validates thoughts? Why don’t I simply journal if I need to, and why does my conscience activate itself when I write? Well, if the conscience is a “Truth-ometer” as Fran suggests (it makes sense to me), then I am supposed to be doing something else with my time. I am supposed to give my time to others. Yet here I am this very minute, writing. It’s not poetry, but I’m pouring mental clutter out of myself. Words are a form of release.

So, writing as escapism and self-therapy, and books as justification…a sad truth to admit, except that I focus on beauty when I write poems, so some of my happiest moments land in books. See? Life isn’t so ugly after all, I say to myself, holding my own books which showcase some of the beautiful moments of my life, the life that slips away while I spend time immortalizing what butterflies I catch.



Christina Finlayson Taylor is the author of three books of poems (available at Amazon).

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2018 in Musings & Other Things

 

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Coffee with Loni Hoots


(“Coffee with the Poets” interviews are conducted by Christina Anne Taylor.)

Loni Hoots is a very sweet, spiritual and active person with a big heart. She’s been published through Middle Island Press since her first poetry book, The Nymph of the Unknown Forest, which was released in 2015. We are currently working on piecing together her first children’s book, Little Bird, Little Bird, which is a charming poem that will be illustrated by one of the most talented illustrators in St. Louis, Melissa Rohr Gindling. We’ll have it listed soon, for a total of five books to Loni’s credit. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her this past few years and hope our readers will enjoy getting to know her just as much.

So glad that you were up for coffee (or is it tea for you)?

It is tea for me, I don’t enjoy coffee.

Not surprising! 🙂 So, how long have you been penning poetry? I’d love to know the history of your writing process, how you feel that your writing has evolved over time.

I have been writing poetry since I was a little kid, since around the age of 10 years old. At first it was just an assignment but I realized that I had really enjoyed it, and saw that it was a great way to create funny little poems. As I got older my poems had gotten more advanced and more abstract, and from there I fell in love with writing poems. It also catapulted me into writing short stories outside of homework assignments.

Over the years I have noticed that my style of writing has changed quite dramatically, because I had always been given this notion of “every poem has to rhyme”, and to me it didn’t seem right. And as I began to take a lot more creative writing courses I had come across the history of poetry not always rhyming and it had the freedom of being free-style, to me that gave me the opportunity to write poems how I wanted. Sometimes my poems do rhyme like the more traditional poems do, but a majority of my poems do not rhyme. This is because I just want to get what is on my mind and in my heart out onto a piece of paper without any restrictions.

Besides having a battle with traditional versus modern approach of how to write a poem, my own writing theme has indeed evolved over time. When I was in middle school I would write about magical beings such as mermaids, unicorns, etc.; and Nymph of the Unknown Forest is a more grownup, polished version of what I would’ve written in middle school. And in high school, I wrote about highly emotional issues that I was dealing with. As an adult I have noticed that I tend to incorporate my abstract way of magic realism mixed with my emotions and real life experiences with either love, depression, heartbreak, death, or even with what I deal with inside my dreams.

It’s good that you express yourself as it feels natural. Do you have a favorite poem of yours that you’d like to share?

I do have a favorite poem, it is called “Take It In”.

Take it in, every inch of it,
and you’ll see what awaits you
when you open the door.
You’ve got to make a change,
the universe can only do so much.
Try not to worry;
that’ll change your perspective if you do.
Instead, just open the door,
and you’ll be greeted by a new life.
This I know.

Take it in,
breathe a little deeper.
It’ll calm your senses,
and open that door to start your new life,
So take it all in,
just breathe.

Tell us, if you would, a little something about it.

At some point in our lives everyone worries. We worry about the outcome that will occur throughout our lives. I know, I worry quite a bit, and that is how the poem came about; it came through every person’s insecurities and impatience. And when I wrote this poem it helped me just sit back and take a breath, because I saw that I was waiting for the Universe to just show up on my door step, to give me everything. Then I realized that, yes, it is great to have the Universe guiding you, helping you move along in life, guiding the people that need to be in your life, but you have your own hand in your life, in your destiny. And “Take It In” encompasses all of that.

Yes; that’s comforting, as a lot of your poems are: a breath of fresh air, healing. You’re a healer by gift and profession, and I understand that much of your writing is part of your own personal healing process.

I have always been around natural healing due to my background, but also just with my view on helping others. Going back to high school I had to take some medicine, but I could never take it due to my body reacting in a bad way, so my mom and I went to the natural herbal store and ended up getting my medicine from there. Once I got into college I knew that I wanted to get into the medical field, just didn’t know what part of the field at the time. After a couple of years I discovered that I wanted to focus on the holistic aspect of healing others. I am still in college, working towards my Master’s (I’m never done learning) for Holistic Science, because I want to write medical journals about different aspects of the holistic field to show others that there are other ways to heal one’s body without prescriptions.

I hope you go far in the field! What else do you do in support of natural living?

Thank you! I am also a certified Stress Management Coach and a certified Mind Body Fitness Coach, and that entails a lot of holistic therapies. In a sense that supports the natural lifestyle.

You also have a blog called The Healing Garden. Would you care to elaborate on this?

I did have a blog that was called The Healing Garden; it was to help heal others using a simplistic lifestyle and showing how to use natural herbs to cure common ailments from the common colds to falling asleep. Unfortunately, I had closed it down during the month of December 2017 to take this year to recover and focus on healing myself and figure things out with how I want to continue with helping others in a creative fashion. It was not an easy decision, because I did have a pretty great following, but there was just something missing, something was not right and I wanted to take time away and see what could be missing from what my mission and goal was.

I definitely understand about simplifying life for the sake of focus. You mentioned worry a few minutes ago, which many of us can relate to, inclusive of many poets, I’m sure: thinking, feeling, the more abstract ways of being. To what extent does this manifest in your poetry?

My goal with my poetry is to help heal others and show them that they are not the only one that is going through whatever situation they are going through at that moment in time. If you were to enter my mind you would see an abstract library that has several inner worlds that are guarded by doors, and most of my poems are inspired by my abstract views on how I see situations.

So you write for the benefit of others at least as much as you write for your own self. That’s beautiful. One of the things I love about your poems is their deep sincerity through which you open doors within doors. Would you mind sharing one of your poems that demonstrates this, and what book can readers find it in?

I would love to share one of my poems. It is called “Lost Character” and can be found in Songs of the Mist.

On this gloomy foggy morning I stand in the pastures,
Breathing in the air and taking in the silence.
‘Tis a fate worse than death to lose my conscience,
For there is never a moment,
Not a second to breathe.
I feel at any second I might lose my footing.
I might lose my mind if I do not escape this life.
This life I live is not mine.
I’m just a character in a book,
In which you must decipher between each line.
Run. Run.
My mind races,
But I can’t start.
Not just yet.
Looking for a sign,
Any sign to help me,
When suddenly, I see a flock of crows flying above me.
They swoop down,
Trying to pick me up,
But alas, I’m too heavy for them.
My mind stops thinking.
My heart finally gives in.
I’m ready to take flight
And leave this story for good.
I run with the crows flying above,
And I take a big jump.
I feel myself flying.
I notice the crows have caught me.
They are taking me away from this story,
To be the character I’m supposed to be in another fairytale ending.

You maintain the imagination that most people lose over time. Your recent book, Hearts of Glass, is selling very well, by the way, which tells me that readers seek the ability to gaze into a mirror of their own Being through your “Poems of the Fragile Heart” (as you aptly subtitled it).

With this book I wanted to bring forth one of the major parts of everyone’s life, love. We all deal with love in some way, shape or form from friendships to something more intimate, and I think that with those who are reading these poems can relate to every single word because at some point in our lives we will fall in love, fall out of love, deal with breakdowns in the kitchen with a significant other wondering if it was going to be the last time we would see them.

Absolutely, and we love to feel. What inspired your forthcoming children’s book, and do you foresee yourself writing more of the same genre?

I love writing poems for children, it allows me to create quirky, cute, fairy-tale like poetry books. Of course, I have a goal to release a series of children’s books based around Little Bird, Little Bird.

That’s great to hear! It’s rare for people at your young age to have done so much with their life. What’s your philosophy on living, and what has inspired you along the way?

In the most cliché way possible, I live life to the fullest. My entire life I’ve always wanted to follow all of my passions and in a way I have accomplished many of them.

The way of the romantic!

I am a hopeless romantic, I love love, never understood why, but it has always been a part of me since I was a kid and was reading “Anne of Green Gables” series. I was swooning over Gilbert Blythe when I was 10 years old, and thought that was the type of love that I wanted. Even as a grown woman I am still like that, I am still attracted to the Gilbert Blythe’s, Colonel Brandon’s (Sense & Sensibility), Thornton’s (North & South), and Rochester’s (Jane Eyre). In a way I guess you can say that romance propels me through life not only personally but as a writer as well.

Very nice. You’re an angel and it’s delightful listening to what you have to say. Thank you. If there is anything else that you’d like to touch upon, the closing words are yours.

That is very kind of you to say, and I would like to take a moment to thank you and everyone at Middle Island Press for publishing my works for the past couple of years. It has been a wonderful and great time working with you, and I look forward to creating more books.

*****


Loni Hoots, born in Joplin, Missouri in 1991, is the poet behind Nymph of the Unknown Forest, Beyond the Pillars, Songs of the Mist, and Hearts of Glass (with Little Bird, Little Bird forthcoming). When Loni is not writing poems, she is constantly writing short stories, and a novel that has been in the making for the past few years.
 
When not writing, Loni is usually found working in the medical field helping others incorporate minimalism, hygge, and stress-free techniques in their lives, as well as helping others introduce a healthier lifestyle by promoting a pescetarian diet and adding more vegetables and fruits.
 
Currently in Alaska, Loni is known for her nomadic lifestyle, moving to different states, traveling to new places, always wanting to learn more and be inspired by everything around her.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2018 in News & Reviews

 

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Coffee with Gene McCormick

Gene McCormick’s writing can be seen regularly in small press journals. He has published more than twenty books of non-fiction, fiction and poetry. He lives in the small village of Wayne, Illinois, forty miles west of Chicago. Middle Island Press has published his two most recent titles, Big City Nighttime Stories and Obsessions.

After you read his narrative poems, you might be looking over your shoulder when out in public, wondering who might be watching and taking notes (ha!) but I’ve gotten to know Gene and he has a heart of gold, is very thoughtful and not without a sense of humor; and as he says in this interview, he is a doer, and to that I add the old proverb: “A man is known by his deeds.”

I asked Gene how he takes his coffee. His response: “I take my coffee in other people’s cups, as I don’t enjoy the flavor of coffee. I much prefer a Diet Pepsi, or, if feeling carefree, a Diet Coke.” Alrighty then! That’ll work.




(“Coffee with the Poets” interviews are conducted by Christina Anne Taylor.)




Glad to have you, Gene. You are prolific, with more than twenty books published and a regular presence in small press publications. Do you have a writing schedule that you adhere to?

No, absolutely not. Unlike almost every other writer quoted on the subject, to me writing is not 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration. To me, it is the opposite and that is what makes it fun, challenging and especially fulfilling. My first book was non-fiction, done for McFarland & Company in North Carolina—a fine publishing house—but that was back in 1980 and I used a typewriter, which was a nightmare. While it was a huge thrill to hold my first book in my hands I don’t think I could now work on any project of length without a word processor. Nowadays, if something is not enjoyable I’m not going to do it.

Understood! Those early typewriters were something…

Also, being non-fiction, that first book had some shackles that no longer apply to what I write: poetry and short, short stories.

That’s good. Are you currently working on any projects?

As long as I can think and reason I should be able to have something happening because writing, the arts, are a compulsion for me. I have to write, or paint, and hopefully that will not change. Specifically, I have a small illustrated book on Hollywood laying around and another book-length narrative poetry/novel soon to be published that will be a companion to my current Obsessions, which was artfully published by Middle Island Press. I have a handful of poems that will be appearing in several literary publications this winter.

Thank you, and that’s wonderful news!

In addition to writing, I paint and have two to four one-person exhibits a year and also illustrate for Misfitmagazine.net. Painting projects are ongoing and fill a gap when inspiration doesn’t feed my writing compulsion adequately.

You’re blessed to have different creative outlets through which to channel your energy. I love the character of your paintings on your book covers and elsewhere. If you wouldn’t mind expounding, I notice your reference to “compulsions” and consider your narrative Obsessions, and many creative people can relate to these tendencies. What tends to jumpstart your creative compulsions?

Beauty. I should also add observation. Sometimes I can sit alone in a parking lot, with a receptive mind, and see something that registers on a level that needs to be pursued. I’m currently writing a piece that originated by the sight of a trench coat in the rain, and a freight elevator at a nearby warehouse. The piece began life as a typical twenty-line narrative poem but keeps morphing into something broader, longer…and maybe not as good as the short version. I live in a small village of several thousand and rarely get involved in group activities so a highly developed sense of observation, by necessity, can make a Walmart parking lot as literarily bountiful as the Pentagon at war time.

Yes! What is beauty, what is beautiful to you?

Anything can be beautiful, but of course isn’t. Beauty is to a small degree a personal choice although there are material selections that transcend, such as a white with red leather 1951 Jaguar convertible with a youthful Angelina Jolie (or 1950s version Gina Lollabrigida) on the passenger seat. A flair for style and panache helps. There is not enough coffee in the pot to discuss inner versus outer beauty.

Is there a general theme to the bulk of your observations that inspire you to write?

If there is, it is coincidental to my writing what is laying in front of me, a vista of everyday people and actions, a—to quote from my most recent book jacket—walk in the park through the feral landscapes of daily life. We all take the trip, walk the walk. I put it to paper and call it literature.

We’re grateful for that! Have you been influenced by other writers?

I am very careful what I read as I don’t want my chameleon-like tendencies to be overtly influenced by the writing of another, just by things: happenings, sites, words, emotions. Having said that, I do have some favorite contemporary writers: Patrick Modiano, Patti Smith, Spencer Reece, the late Thomas Bernhard, Roger Lewinter, Hernan Ronsino, Valeria Luiselli. These are writers whose work I enjoy reading but I can’t say they have influenced me. For sheer influence, to be technical at the risk of sounding snarky, the two major influences for me have been Charles Bukowski and Amy Hempel. After reading their body of work I figured if they can be successful with that sort of stuff, well, then, maybe I can too, although my writing can in no way be stylistically compared with Bukowski’s or Ms. Hempel’s.

I understand the importance of maintaining your own unique signature. Describe for me, if you would, how your signature has been shaped by who you are as a person.

I have been active, a doer. Long before Nike registered its “Just do it” line, I was living life that way although never to the extent of being irresponsible to obligations incurred.

So everywhere you go, if there is any “dead space,” you take notes and fill it with the life of narrative poems. I love it! Do you have a favorite poem of yours? Would you mind sharing it and telling us a little something about it?

My personal favorite poem is “Obsessions,” which happens to be a book-length piece that you published. I have not committed the 107 pages to memory so will decline to read it, and I doubt your local supermarket has enough coffee for me to struggle through. The poem/book started out as a thought process intended to be a routine length narrative poem and just spread like spilled water (or coffee) on a Formica table top. It is a hundred percent reality based, happenings of which I was a witness or conspiring fabricator.

That it’s reality-based is certainly part of what makes it so amusing (the rest being your delivery). I’ll share a snippet from the section called “The Parking Lot”:

A Ford Explorer parks twenty feet away
directly facing the man’s economy car.
It looms ominously.
The driver, a woman, turns off the ignition
and prepares to eat her lunch out of a
red and white striped carry-out bag from a
nearby fast food chain, but not McDonald’s.
She eats one item at a time, rapidly;
finishing the French fries she wipes
her fingers with a paper napkin
then pulls a burger from the bag.
Light from the sunroof highlights
the burger as she peels back waxy wrapper.

Her hair is in a ponytail so as not to fall
on her food, her head tilting toward the
steering wheel as though reading.
She begins to eat furtively as she notices the man,
coleslaw or potato salad with a plastic fork.
She is not drinking coffee.
She is drinking from a plastic cup with a straw.
The man cannot stop watching her eat.

Haha! This is why we try not to watch others eat, lest they watch us eat.

The problem with watching many people eat is that they chew with their mouths open, and try to talk as well.

I recall an area artist/poet posing the question: “Can a writer have friends when every observation becomes inspiration and every soul risks being stripped naked by the pen?” Just for fun, how would you answer this?

As far as stripping naked with the pen, too bad I didn’t have a pen when Angelina Jolie or Gina Lollabrigida were in the Jaguar. As to making friends with my writing, I recommend Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People as opposed to reading Obsessions.

I’m certain that Obsessions is a much more interesting read, just as Big City Nighttime Stories and your numerous other titles (I’ll provide information below). You said to me recently, “I have always said that I never worked a day in my life—it was always an enjoyment. Still is.” On that note, I’ve enjoyed this time we’ve spent chatting.

I’d like to conclude with a contemplative slice of your life selected from Big City Nighttime Stories, and if you have any concluding words, feel free at this time.

Can’t really think of anything to say, so thanks for a job well done.

One Just Knows A Gift Pen
Should Be In Sterling

Shafting through Venetian blinds, mid-day sun
lays alternate dark and light stripes
across the desktop, unveiling corner dust,
shadowing a shiny fountain pen at work.
Sterling silver, a gift, its nib long since molded
to the slanting handwriting of its possessor,
it has recorded reams of letters and stories,
validated stacks of documents and checks,
but never something as this.

Three rooms away the faint sound of a CD,
flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal interpreting Mozart,
entertains the Siamese curled in a sun spot.

Pausing absently to consider the pen…
years ago when such things had consequence
the giver’s choice would have been 14k,
but sterling’s chic elegance had been requested
and, like all else, granted.

Task at hand complete, the note is signed
and folded just as the music ends,
the cat exits, blinds shut.
The postman will be by in an hour or so.



***************
“Self-Portrait,” “Big City Nighttime Stories,” and “Obsessions” art by Gene McCormick.
His titles can be purchased through Amazon, and signed copies are available directly from the author. He donates all money from sales of his books and art to area no-kill animal shelters.
Email: genebiz@att.net
Website: www.donbob.com/GeneBooks/Books.htm
Postal address: Gene McCormick, PO Box 51, Wayne, IL 60184

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2017 in News & Reviews

 

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Coffee with Juleigh Howard-Hobson

(“Coffee with the Poets” interviews are conducted by Christina.)

From her poetic style to her lifestyle, Juleigh Howard-Hobson is a Traditionalist through and through. I firstly became acquainted with her as a poet via Hex Magazine. She called herself “a formalist” and so did I, so I was drawn to her not only for our poetic similitude but also our mutual roots of Traditionalism. With commonality of not-so-common interests, we find ourselves on the fringe of society, where poets usually are for one reason or another: outside of the status quo, setting their own pace in their own way with confidence in each step: “sure-footed,” as her poetry has been assessed; against time, insisting that if no one else will uphold the beauty of centuries-old formality, she certainly will! She’s garnered much respect and I’m honored that she accepted my invitation for coffee.

How do you take your coffee, or do you prefer tea, or…?

I drink plain old ordinary coffee, milk no sugar…think of the stuff you’d get out of a machine, stuck down in the basement of a hospital in 1972, that’s what I drink. To make it sound more interesting, you could call it honest and uncompromising like my outlook on life. Or you could psychoanalyze me and say that I developed a taste for it because I grew into coffee drinking age as café culture hit the west coast and that mass pretension ruined any interest I might have had in ‘gourmet coffees’.

I understand. 🙂 Tell us about your poetic background.

I began writing poetry when I was 16. Right after I discovered John Keats and found my first biography of him (Keats and His Circle, by Timothy Hilton from my high school library). I wasn’t so much reading about Keats as I was discovering things I felt like I’d already known. Everything felt familiar, every portrait, every anecdote, every date—I devoured the book. Within the week I was writing poetry, coming out with formal iambic pieces. Figuring out rhyme schemes. Counting meters. I was a punk rocker at the time, too, so being completely out of step with the current literary world was no problem for me (this was 1979, a bit before punk became another name for selling a music scene to young people). The fact that Shelley and Hunt were socially unacceptable in their time was a relatable revelation to me, and a source of inner strength.

My poetic influences were, and still are, the late Romantic English poets: John Keats was the touch point but it has always been Percy Shelley, Leigh Hunt and Lord Byron who have had the most influence on me (not always merely poetically either). There are others: John Donne, Robert Herrick, A E Houseman, Alfred Tennyson, Edmund Vance Cooke…I could write up a huge list, but 1) it’s pretty boring to read about other people’s preferences, and 2) all my books are packed up, waiting for our house to be hand built so I can’t just run my eyes over the shelves and write down names. I am always leaving someone out these days. We’re traditionally hand building our house and building up a farm around it from scratch, so it will be a while before I am able to put my books back in their bookshelves. I used to not just miss them but actively worry about them sitting in storage in their boxes, with images of mice, damp, mold, fire, you name it and…but now I tell myself that it’s all material and replaceable and I can let it all go. It’s easier now, now that a couple of years have passed, then it was in the beginning. But that’s a different story.

The influences these fellows (they are all fellows; I’d be lying if I tried to squeeze a female poet into that list. It’s not that I’ve rejected any female poets, there aren’t any of them that had any meaningful influence on me. Call it a shame, say I ought to dig deep and find some early nineteenth century female poets…blah blah blah…my influences were set long ago, there is not a thing to be done about it, or that I’d do about it. I like how I turned out with the influences I’ve had. Besides, if this is an age where we disregard gender, turning instead to the person inside the xx or xy straightjacket of biological gender determination, I’ll bloom where I am planted.) anyway, the influences these fellows have had on me is huge. They shaped my poetic roots. From them I learned iambic meter, from them I looked to pagan and mythic sources, from studying them I learned about rhyme schemes and how to write sonnets, and how to not bow to popular pressures and follow my own inner flame, so to speak. Shelley and Hunt were the biggest influences there. Byron was just always a giant shadow, somehow, maybe because his work was more precise and precision is important to formality, and his work was also a little unapproachable because he wrote from a place that I never felt at home in, but he has always influenced me. Shelley and Hunt could have been best friends of mine, and perhaps were (if not in that lifetime, in another).

As for my contemporaries—despite what the modern world says, there are more than a few formalists alive these days: my favorites are Christina Finlayson Taylor, Leo Yankevich, Robert Taylor, Joseph Salemi, Sally Cook, Tomas Axelzon and also Xenia Bakran-Sunic, who doesn’t actually fall into the Formalist School, but I really like her work—she is able to create lovely delicate poetry in the modern free manner, which is something most moderns simply cannot do. She was the only free versifier I would ever call a favorite until recently when I came across another—a poet named Will Southern. He captures raw emotion and holds it in words.

We do recognize some of these names; thank you. 🙂

Bukowski taught me what not to write (when he falls out of fashion for good, there will be no revival, he is far too much a man of one time) while at the same time reading his work taught me to trust in my own language, my own diction. I credit him with my being able to write iambic rhymed poetry in sentences that have the cadence of real spoken words. Which is a big debt to owe; I will always have a soft spot for him, even though he’d have been bound to hate that a Formalist likes him enough to mention him fondly. Oh well.

I have never taken a class in writing poetry. I do have a degree in English Literature, but with the exception of a screenplay writing class (in which I got an A) I avoided classes that could alter where I already was or where I was going, poetically speaking. There were no classes on writing in meter anyway. I never went on to write screenplays, so I was correct in thinking that being taught ‘how’ a writing genre needs to be performed kills any desire to discover how to create original work within it. Sort of like sausage making—you shouldn’t know too much about how other people make them if you want to continue to enjoy them for their flavor. I took the class to prove to myself that I could write anything if I wanted to. It’s the wanting to, of course, that changes everything. I don’t want to write certain ways; I don’t want to write certain things. I am very sure of that.

Your writing is prolific in print and online—both poetry and prose—sometimes witty and often serious, and sometimes an effective mix of both. There is so much passion that drives you to write. Feel free to explain.

I am quietly driven by a distant and cold outside force—you need to work it whispers at me in a recriminating tone, particularly if it thinks I haven’t been. Sometimes it whispers that I am wasting time. Other times it’s that I need to work harder. Or more. There is no pleasing it, there’s no negotiation. If I work hard, it is silent. If I don’t it’s a low but constant hissing loop in the pit of my stomach. So I work hard enough to keep it from ruining my inner life.

This isn’t to say that I don’t love every single facet of writing. I do. It’s my calling, though, I didn’t decide to write, I found out that I was a writer. Which I think might sound a bit arrogant, but I can’t come up with any other truthful way to explain it. Either way, calling or not, my task master is exacting and unyielding.

Yes, one could say that the task master is me. The calling is me. The drive is me. Of course it is. And it isn’t. Honestly, it would be gracefully relaxing to be able to finally say: There, I’m done. I did it. But… I can’t say that. I don’t think I ever will. How can there be an end to what makes me me?

There are times when I feel wretched and obscure, and then I tell myself that because I plan on living to be at least 120, I have plenty of time ahead to fill up with work…and sooner or later, traditional poetry will stop being the deplored great-grandparent of literature again. Rebirth isn’t just for pagans.

And of course, there’s the whole slow organic growth versus sudden pop fame growth aspect. I don’t want what I write to fade away with the turning tides of fashionability (as if you couldn’t tell), I don’t want to be one of the formerly best-selling writers whose books are literally sold by the pound to resale dealers a few years after I’ve peaked. I’d rather just stick around, slowly growing in the world’s regard. And that’s not merely rationalization or some mature-turn-about revisionism. When I was much younger than I am now, I played lead guitar and wrote and sung punk rock songs in a band—we even got written up in Flipside Magazine—but I decided that I hated that world. I hated chasing fame, I hated chasing publicity, I hated that I had to know the right people blah blah blah. It felt wrong to me, unfitting to the poetic ethics I held in my head. So I put the guitar down and never did pick it up again. Never wanted to. I made my choice and I know it isn’t the popular one, but it’s mine.

As for getting my unfashionable work published, that’s also part of the incessant driving: Send it out. Send it out. Nothing ventured nothing gained. Try. Try. Try again. Tastes change. And the thing of it is, tastes do. Ten years ago formal poetry was so rare as to be extinct in most living literary places…these days, it’s not. I’m not the only formalist, so I cannot take the credit, but I can say that my relentless submissions certainly helped open doors once tightly locked against meter.

I once knew a poet who published a hardback book of his own poetry, because, according to him, there was no way to get published otherwise unless you had an in with the journals or the magazines. His poetry was modern, too, so it wasn’t as if it was actually unpublishable like mine was. But, I was younger, so I didn’t argue with him. I’ve since searched for his name online, and it never shows up. Even his book is ungoogleable, though it was published. I actually have a copy. When I think back about him, I think about how I single-mindedly decided not to be like him. I just set my jaw and kept sending work out—I didn’t have an in with the journals, or the poetry departments of universities…but I just kept sending out my work anyway.

I eventually got a piece accepted at a journal. Then another. And so it goes.

As to what I write—that’s harder to explain I think. Sometimes I feel like a painter who repeats the same picture over and over—I’ll find that I use the same words again and again in different pieces. All the pieces will have the same tone. The same point. I have no idea why. It usually happens with sonnets, I can dash off half a dozen Shakespearian sonnets without a lot of self awareness. Most of them will be fine, and will eventually find homes. But I shake this sort of thing off, though, as soon as I notice. It’s not good to write in a comforting blur, so I’ll take myself off and write something difficult and sort of finicky like a Glosa where I have to notice everything I do.

Some forms are purely ornamentals—fancy little poems written just to be written. They are interesting to do, hard to do well, and I find that they don’t serve for deeply meaningful works as much as plain old sonnets or rondeaus serve me. I don’t have to think outside of myself when writing a sonnet—the words fall into line then and there, as I write. Rondeaus are about the same, with them coming to me by virtue of their first four syllables and then falling into being around them. Other forms are more crafted than created—I keep a small blank book on my desk that I’ve copied forms into—like a handwritten cookbook, in all honesty—and I flip through it and see what forms inspire me. Sometimes none. Sometimes they all do.

I write of glory, of hopefulness. I write about nature and what lies behind it. I write about lost causes, and lost loves. Ghosts and echoes. Bright flowers and grey clouds. The old ways. If I had to put a color palette to my work, it would be shadowy, with pastels. Mostly. There are brighter and darker bits. Some are downright brash. But mostly, I think my works are numinously hued.

Would you mind sharing some of your personal favorites and providing back-stories?

Φαυνος*

Nature clutches at shanks, rips tender skin,
Pulls and swipes and trips up the unwary
Who wander too deeply to find ways in
To places undiscovered. Thick burry
Weeds, brambled vines, branches hung with poison
Thorns, leaves that sting and stalks that cut across
Like whips all lie in patient wait for them
Who would explore the pathless woods because
Nature does not like to share its world, does
Not care for trampling feet and pushing hands,
That thrust themselves into the wild. There was
Never any agreement made with plants
To abide with man. Nature knows too well:
Humanity will always find and tell.

* PHAUNOS—god of the forests

This sonnet was written in my head before I wrote it down. We had just bought the land that we are homesteading now, and the 5 acre forested hill that lies in the back of it was formidable: thick with underbrush and thorn…and shadowy feral spirits that weren’t too approachable. It’s still not the most friendly woods in the world, but lately the thorns and whips have not been quite so defensive about our few-and-far-between forays into their heartland.

*

Invocation to the Dawn

Come more than merely morning, more than light—
Come fog that glows in misty swirls as sun
And dew combine. Come pink come blue come white
Dawn coloured clouds. Come sparrows who take flight
In shafts of gold. Come azure streaked with one
Bright blush of red. Come. Come, replace the night.

For we have had too much of night, tonight
Too much of darkness pierced with far off light
Of stars that are too numerous. Come one
Bright star, come brilliant orb, come yellow sun
While all the stars and planets take dark flight,
Come and bring your glory. Come tendrils white

That furl, unfurl, and make the black sky white
Where they touch distant edges of the night.
Come stretching rays that throw upwards in flight
Thick golden beams, each spanning out to light
The dawn pathway of the approaching sun.
Come, greet the morning. Come. Come see the one

Lone object of the night: the moon, last one
Of the celestials fading to white
With the gold dawning of the day. Come sun,
Come now! We’ve said good evening to the night,
Said welcome to white waxing of the light.
Our lips send forth our invocations. Flight–

Take our words! Like eagles, words take flight!
Like swifts, each bird wheeling upwards, each one
Drawing toward the fierce dawning of the light,
Wings spread and open to the morning’s white
Brilliance. Come daylight, come sunshine, for night
Retreats against the rising of the Sun!

These are our invocations to the Sun,
Our words—here said aloud and given flight
To stave away the dark excess of night.
To celebrate the coming dawn each one
Word is said. Come dawn, bring forth day, bring white
Gold rays and brightened bands of falling light.

Come sun! Come bring your brilliance. All as one
These flights of words come forth. Come day! Come white
Sun, new light, bring the dawn to end the night.

This sestina wrote itself out as I sat back and listened to it go. At least that’s how I remember it. I wrote it as one of the nine ‘cycle’ poems for my book The Cycle of Nine, each of these poems begins with the last line of the cycle poem ahead of it—this one takes its first line from “It Will Come” and gives its last line to a sonnet titled “Ur es af illu jarni”, which is a line from the Old Norse Rune Poem. (Interesting dogleg: “Ur es af illu jarni” has since gone on to be included in ‘Hailig Runa’ a series of 24 sonnets I’ve been working on for my next collection, many of these have been published in Heathen Call Magazine….now back to “Invocation to the Dawn”). I have always imagined that the speaker of this sestina has long blonde hair and holds her arms up to the sun she addresses…perhaps she really does.

*

Maledictus Requiescat

Oh may your casket smother you because
You won’t be buried dead. And may you wake
In ground-chill dark, 6 feet below, mistake
Your ability to free yourself, sores
Sprouting from your fingertips as you try
To pry, to claw, to push your panicked way
Out of your prescribed resting place. I pray
And will that you won’t drop dead too fast. I
Will that you suffer. I will your breath to
Come in hard-laboured oxygen-starved waves:
Short and incomplete. I want all the graves
Around to shudder as you suck the few
Final molecules of breathable air
Into your lungs, alone, alone, down there.

Sometimes you either have to commit murder or write poetry like this. I chose the latter because if I must go to jail, I’m absolutely only going for higher principles and lofty purposes…never just for merely personal disdain. I’ve gotten very good at curses…

*

Garden

There is an artistry to jumbled leaves,
A subtlety no one may create: wild
Spread masses of greens grown blossom rich, piled
And beguiling in form, and in hue. Wreaths
Of petals wrapped around their stalks, all hung
From languid vines, serpentine and vivid–
Or blooms standing pale and sweet, beauty half hid
In the emerald shadowiness that’s flung
Down from protective trees. With a sudden
Gust the garden is motion and color—
Dotted with nodding heads, moving over
Their swaying stems—one is all, all is one.
Unformed, unbridled nature has an art
All her own, verdant, expansive, apart.

This is one of my charming ones, a pretty sonnet made up from the eternal cottage garden that lies in the depths of my soul. I love English cottage gardens, the impossible sturdiness of the fragile flowers, the white pink lavender green of them, the bees, the lovely trees that form a back drop, the green stems that flout the fences, the winds that make them come alive. Our homestead is too raw and uncivilized as of yet, though I have carved out a passably artistic potager for the more practical vegetable beds …and a real cottage garden will manifest again soon enough. Meanwhile, I hold its image inside.

*

Barrow Tree

A trunk so deeply broad and wide that it
Swallows other grown trees around that strew
Long swathes of darkness out across the bit
Of grounds that lies beneath. A massive yew,
Which guardians here both grave and spirit
Long forgotten. Yet still a billet-doux
Of tiny fallen needles here is made
Each evening as the wind comes through the shade.

The tree that this was inspired by was not a Yew, but a huge and ancient plum tree that grew in a corner of our old garden. It had a twisted trunk and a sorrowful personality…it was the last of an old orchard, planted a century before the post-war suburbs we lived in claimed its fellows. The kids would dig all sorts of strange things up from around its roots, including a top to an old iron wood stove that they thought was a coffin lid when they first struck it. In the spring the tree would send down drifts of white petals as breezes moved through it, they would cover the ground in swirly heaps every evening. It was an imposing tree, impossible to ignore, and it had a majestic dignity to it. I think it wanted to be a Yew. Sadly it finally succumbed to an internal rot, and we had to let it go before it fell on neighbors (it was in a corner, a terrible place of ‘what if it falls this way?’)…I did keep a seedling though, which is still growing. It will one day make its own billet doux of petals. On a side note, I have a sapling Yew Tree now here on this new land. It has a bit of old plum spirit to it, somehow. Ha, my explanation is so much longer than the poem…I sound like a folk singer.

I love these! Thank you. I love The Cycle of Nine and will look forward to your sonnet sequence, “Hailig Runa,” and I’m glad we’re friends as I’d hate to be the subject of the power of your word curses such as “Maledictus Requiescat.” Wow! Beautiful work by you, as always, and I’d like to conclude with one final question. What do you ultimately hope to achieve in the literary sense?

What is my ultimate goal? Selfish poet’s answer: I’d like to be remembered as a real poet. I want to meet up with the poets whose works and lives have colored mine for so long and be able to look them in the eye and say “Here I am.” Of course, since that will have to take place mostly in the Otherworld, it won’t be any time soon.

Expansive poet’s answer: I hope people find something to take away for themselves in my work. I hope that the inspiration which sometimes feels as if it beams down to me (as opposed to my own doing) finds the readers it is supposed to. Inspiration is a gift from the Gods, and in many ways I feel as though I am the one who, while being given the gift, is trusted to give the gift away. Which is a quiet joy. Truly and ever.


*****

Juleigh Howard-Hobson’s poetry has appeared in The Lyric, Antiphon, VerseWisconsin, The Alabama Literary Review, Hex Magazine, Caduceus, Heathen Call, Mandragora (Scarlet Imprint); Poem, Revised: 54 Poems, Re-visions, Discussions (Marion Street Press) and many other places. Her work has been nominated for both “The Best of the Net” and The Pushcart Prize. She has four poetry collections out, including The Cycle of Nine (Ravenshalla Arts) and Remind Me (Ancient Cypress Press). She lives in a radical traditionalist manner, on a farm, nestled beside a dark forest, in Deep Cascadia.







(2018 Update: between the time of this interview and now, Juleigh has published a new book through The Red Salon titled Our Otherworld. It’s a superlative formal “tour” of the mysteries of the European folk in which the poet is a “tour-guide” of a sort, explaining what is seen and unseen as she takes the reader deeper and deeper into our “Otherworlds.”)

*****

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2017 in News & Reviews

 

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Coffee With Barbara Wirkus

Barbara Wirkus is a Jill of all trades and mistress of none. In her lifetime she has been a wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, Emergency Medical Technician, Medical Technologist, poet, tap dancer, gardener, photographer, writer, political activist, birder, and art gallery curator. She loves baking cookies, movies, books, Broadway shows and The Rolling Stones. She resides in “The Little House That Could” in a small New Jersey town. Now 83, she is coasting toward the finish line…

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[Barbara Wirkus has become a dear friend of mine. She’s intelligent and wise. She lets her heart lead the way as she analyzes its silent language. She’s earth, fire, air, and water in harmonious cohesion with consciousness along for the ride…but it’s that heart of hers that overflows onto the paper, finds its voice in metaphor and translates into lush and poignant narrative poetry. I’ve studied Barbara’s poems closely for two primary reasons: their intense emotive power (she seems to mirror my own self—perhaps everyone’s true self); and they are so poetic that they inspired me in a voiceless time to simply “be real” from both the heart and the gut, and then to infuse that “realness” with poetry.

Barbara had published a chapbook, Echoes From the Bell Jar, through Middle Island Press in 2014. This collection is a deep chamber of memories of the different types of love. It reflects a struggle against time, a longing in which she relives moments and crystallizes them in poetry, immortalizing everything within those moments in true form of the magic of poetry.

That said, she takes her coffee—usually decaf—with a tiny splash of low-fat milk and no sugar. “When I can,” she says, “I opt for a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee but that brings me in close proximity to their donuts which I have a hard time resisting!” Ah, yes. Everyone loves a good donut…]

Hi, Barbara. 🙂 Many of your poems are dedicated to particular individuals. Would you mind choosing a few of your favorites and sharing some background on them?

This will require a look back over ever so many years. Let me start with “Reflections”, “Requiem” and “The Departure” which were written for my (ex) husband after his death. Ours was an uncommon relationship, beginning when I was 12. We wound our way through the teen years and finally married in our early twenties. We moved from our home state of Connecticut to Texas, where I gave birth to 2 of our 4 sons. At some point, he began drinking heavily and I realized we had grown apart in every way possible. We eventually moved to New Jersey, and I began preparing myself to live on my own, finally divorcing him after 21 years of marriage. Soon after that, he somehow gave up both drinking and smoking and although we never really reconciled, we became heartfelt friends until his passing at age 62. I shed sincere tears of grief and “…still hear the measured beats of your absent heart”.

I’d like to share “The Departure” if you wouldn’t mind:

You left.
Unwillingly perhaps,
but now
great gusts of time
echo relentlessly.
Reminders I am
unable to escape
keep tears flowing.
Surely the sad songs
will cease and
silence will prevail.
But in the quiet times,
I will still hear
the measured beats
of your absent heart.

“Almost” is a poem dedicated to a man, a writer, who became the clichéd “love-of-my-life”. He never returned my feelings, in spite of my best efforts to convince him we belonged together. (“Your soul declined to mate with mine”). Instead, he held out false hope over a period of three years causing me the loss of my self-respect, self-esteem and self-confidence which I have slowly been reclaiming. And yes, I still “weep for what might have been”.

…and a section from “Almost”:

Shadows of
unfulfilled dreams
move in, occupy areas
in my shuttered heart,
while this wasteland
of wanting reigns unopposed.

I could have gently
lead you to warm places
on sandy, sun-filled beaches.
Lifted you on soft waves
that rolled us back to shore.

But your soul declined
to mate with mine,
choosing instead
to remain
in safe spaces,
reluctant to explore
uncharted waters.

Then there was Randy and Nathan and others whose presence in my life I did not document poetically. They were all the same, however, and “Terminal Fishing” sums it up with “I am too small to keep” which is as good an explanation as any as to why I never loved a man who loved me back.

I’d also like to share “Terminal Fishing” (winner of the New Jersey Wordsmith Competition)…

Turning into you
I meet myself
in the mirror of your eyes.

We do not touch,
deliver only glancing blows
to each other’s hearts.

Swimming through tears
of past years
I surface,
gasp,
twist and tunnel
like some flat-backed fish
you’ve reeled in
on your line of love.

Expectedly
you throw me back.

I am too small to keep.

The poems I feel are my best work are those I wrote for my grandson Christopher: “Winter Walk”, “Beba and Beyond”, “The Visit” and “Grandmother’s Reverie”. I called him “Beba”; he called me “Macca” and “we rode on rainbows…” Experience had taught me however that our bond would be short-lived and so it was. He has since taken “manly strides…away from us” and I rarely hear from him. Because I had anticipated it, the pain is not as great as it could have been.

“Beba and Beyond” makes the eyes mist even now.

You shine with the glow
of a thousand candles,
sparkle like moonlight on wave peaks
illuminating my opaque heart.

You are generous enough
to kiss my dry and straight-lined mouth,
gentle enough to curl against me
when I read to you.

You are a miracle in the making,
an icon for life’s renewal,
an arrow pointing the way to courage.

As my years wind down, I find
all the lost loves of my life
distilled in the purity
of your dark eyes.

You protect me from fear
with the lilting cadence
of your laughter
as we kneel in the street
to find trees mirrored
in the puddles left over
from yesterday’s rain.

You bring tears to my aging eyes
as we explore, hand in hand,
the jungle at the end of the block.

I yearn to transfix you in time
as the sunlight filters
through high trees,
gilding your golden hair.

But you forge forward,
the joy of discovery
urging you on,
leaving me to follow slowly
burdened with memories
until you disappear
into future days
without me.

“On the Death of My Son” and “June 15th, 2004” were written out of untold agony that is still with me some 12 years later. Billy was my first-born and left life after a short 47 years. A series of medical mistakes led to his death and caused me to have a deep-seated distrust of doctors. Every year, on the anniversary of his death, I procure a helium balloon, write “I love you” on it and release it at dusk. This is small comfort, however, to the “hard black knot” that “slowly replaced my heart”. I have not been, nor ever will be, the person I was before I lost him.

Your method of dealing with pain is so romantic. It comes through in your poetry which has such clarity of wisdom. How has your life shaped your poetry?

Interestingly, I wrote my first poem for a class assignment when I was 12. It was included in an Anthology of High School Poetry. Reading poetry and writing my own quickly became my primary procedure for dealing with emotions that often threatened to overwhelm me. My first efforts were predictably awkward but as years passed, I took classes and slowly learned to express my feelings in a more disciplined way. Still, my work has always been dark and frequently focused on death which I came to see as both my enemy and the answer to my pain.
I took refuge in my own words and was thus able to navigate life successfully these past 83 years. Somehow, the work of choosing words, similes and metaphors forced me to focus on the situations I encountered along the way. Writing the hard truths as I saw them, without trying to mitigate them, gave me the strength to endure and move forward.

Yes; things are what they are, and pain is like childbirth: “The only way out is through,” so it’s a valuable insight that your own words have been the “refiner’s fire” that has kept you strong. What else keeps you strong, what takes you away from the pangs of life?

The earth in my yard and gardens. The smell and feel of it in my hands and under my feet. I plant and weed and water till my back aches but the sense of peacefulness I experience gives me respite from my demons. Then, when I’ve coaxed buds into blooms, I take my beloved Nikon film camera to record them in all their colorful glory. In February, when I think I can no longer endure the dark days of winter, I select flower images from the previous summer and display them on a poster board. A feast for my eyes and soul till spring actually arrives. Lastly, but by no means least, is my devotion to dance. I have been tap dancing for well over 20 years and the sound of my tap shoes coupled with the music never fails to lift my spirits. Miss Kara, my wonderful friend and teacher, “tweaks” the steps so they are doable for my arthritis-ridden back. Tap class is arguably the best half hour of my week. My original goal was to tap till I turned 80 but I’m still at it!

I love it!!! I understand that you are grounding yourself, so to speak, from the deep sky of thought and the deep water of emotion. Terra firma lends its own solidity to “Here Now” and has its beauty that pulls one out of the pain, and your tap dancing is like drumming with the feet. I love it! I’d like to go back up to where you said “I took refuge in my own words.” Would you care to shed some light on how you (or anyone, for that matter) can “take refuge” in words, and what value or praise would you give to words in the sense of emotional healing?

I read somewhere that “Everything worth saying has already been said in the Bible or by Shakespeare”. The poems I wrote over the years in times of great stress were comforting to me but broke no new ground in the world of poetry. I still reread my poems because they refer uniquely to myself and say exactly what I was feeling at the moment. The words I chose were a snapshot in time much like the images I make with my Nikon. This affirmation of emotion wraps itself around me, saying “Yes, yes, you were here and there and you are still standing.” I tell my writing students that writing is simply talking on paper. Words give voice to the emotions that so shape our lives. Although when I wrote my poems, they were inspired by specific events in my life, I have discovered that by keeping the words simple and straightforward, other folks have been able to relate them to their own life. These “shared experiences” can bring comfort and healing when one realizes they are not alone.

So true! Your subject is LOVE, plain and simple, and you’ve learned a lot through it and touched the hearts of many with your words. I’d love for you to express what you’ve come to understand about how the power of words and the power of love fuse together.

Love is a kaleidoscopic word! It means so very many different things depending upon who is loved and who is doing the loving. I have experienced many different forms, if you will, of love. And yes, there is power in saying “I love you” or hearing it. Writing poems that define that love can distill it into a pure form that affects deeply both the writer and the person written about. Alas, most of the subjects of my poems will never read them, although I did experience the joy of having my grandson read aloud one of the poems I had written about him! (“Winter Walk”). Love is a primal emotion and as necessary, I believe, as air or water is to life. Being able to “talk” about it through my poetry satisfies a very basic need and although I have ceased writing, I still cherish the words I have written as well as those of others whom have trod the same path. I want to add here, that love does not always need to be expressed in precious words. Giving a gentle massage, preparing tomato basil soup for the loved one, lending them a sympathetic ear can also convey your love rendering the actual words unnecessary.

How beautiful. Thank you so much, and I wish you endless joy and peace. If there is anything else that we haven’t yet touched upon that you would like to share, please do so.

Bringing this wonderfully pleasant interlude to a close, let me thank you dear Christina for the opportunity to clarify my thoughts and feelings about my writing. As I mentioned, I no longer write simply because after a certain age, life is all deja vu. The names, faces and places change, but the emotional reaction remains essentially the same. Therefore, writing something fresh and new becomes exceedingly difficult. Having said that, let me assure you that my creativity has not dissipated, only transformed. I still make good use of my camera, recording images of things, people and places that speak to me. I frequently post them on Social Media and have the pleasure of people’s responses in real time. It is both uplifting and satisfying. I also have joined an online organization of photographers from all over the world who have banded together to promote the use of film rather than digital cameras. They, like you, have become my virtual friends although not quite in the same way you and I have connected.

I must add that I never expected, when I sent my poems to you to be published by Middle Island Press, that we would establish such a close relationship. We are indeed kindred spirits. I knew that the moment I received my copy of Echoes from the Bell Jar. You had executed my vision perfectly and for that I am grateful. The friendship that ensued was a bonus.

In closing, I wish I could say that after eighty-three years of living, I had some great insights to pass along. Unfortunately, all I can offer is that time does heal, and the sharp edges of life soften as we age. Compassion and empathy are easier to come by and one no longer judges oneself or others harshly. Life is, and always will be, difficult. There are no shortcuts or loopholes. My mantra has become “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” The rest is in the hands of the powers that be, whomever they are. One can only hope they will be merciful…

*************

Barbara’s poetry collection, Echoes from the Bell Jar, was originally printed as a saddle-stitched chapbook, which she prefers for its hand-made charm; however, it is now an Expanded Edition (inclusive of this interview) in paperback form via Amazon.com.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2017 in News & Reviews

 

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Coffee with Jack Phillips Lowe

Jack Phillips Lowe is a native Chicagoan. His poems and short stories have appeared in Barbaric Yawp, Clark Street Review, Nerve Cowboy and Open Wide Magazine (UK). His chapbooks include So Much for Paradise, Pariah Tales, Revolt at the Internet Café, and Cold Case Cowboys. Lowe currently resides in Addison, Illinois, an enchanted land of foreclosed houses and fast food restaurants. In his spare time, Lowe serves as chairman for the Abe Gibron Appreciation Society.

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Coffee with the Poets

[Despite Jack’s edgy sense of humor, I (Christina) have found him to be one of the most amiable poets, and he takes his humor and wit quite seriously! I appreciate how his uniquely casual style has evolved my own perception of poetry, so here he is…]

Greetings, Jack. Coffee?

I’m sorry, but I don’t drink coffee. The bitterness and the caffeine don’t agree with me. And since it’s too early in the day for a beer, I humbly request a cup of decaffeinated black tea, please.

Fine enough. Black tea it is…

I returned to and very much enjoy your reading of “The Satisfaction, ” one of your most popular poems, via YouTube:

You admit that you don’t like doing poetry readings, that you prefer the written word as opposed to the spoken word. Why?

The short answer is that I just don’t do spoken word well. No matter how I try, I always end up (to my ears, anyway) sounding like a train conductor reading off a list of stops.

I think I did okay in the YouTube video—with plenty of help from my computer genius nephew, Joe, who skillfully assembled the whole project for me. But that was after much rehearsal, with Joe and his laptop as the only spectators. Put me before a live audience and I start stumbling over my own tongue like Ralph Kramden—“hummina, hummina, hummina. . .”

Still, I respect any poet who can do justice to oral reading. My friend in England, the poet Salena Godden, is a prime example of that. Her written work is lively and studiously crafted. When Salena reads her words aloud, though, her warm and personable voice just takes them to a higher level. It’s like she’s talking directly to you.

As for me and my thick Chicago accent? I think it’s best that I stick to the written word.

You did great; don’t sell yourself short. That poem is one of my favorites in your poetry chapbook, Cold Case Cowboys, which is very natural and “readable” as your poems are basically narrative. What’s your opinion on narrative poetry as poetry?

My opinion is that narrative poetry is poetry. I’ll never understand why some people insist on treating narrative poetry as the red-headed stepchild of verse. The ancient Greeks and Romans had no problem with this genre, which is at least as old as they are. Who would argue that Lord Byron’s Don Juan, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” Carl Sandburg’s The People, Yes or Gwendolyn Brooks’ In the Mecca aren’t poetry? All of them are narrative poems. What about Charles Bukowski, who revived the free verse narrative poem back in the 1960s? Not poetry? No way.

On this subject, I take my cue from Ray Foreman, himself a terrific narrative poet and the editor of Clark Street Review, which specializes in such writing. By limiting oneself to an insular, navel-gazing format, it’s easy to get bogged down by the Overwhelming I—“I feel, I think, I want.” It’s just you yammering on about you all the time, which can get damned tedious, for both writer and reader. I’m not saying that this type of poem isn’t valid or necessary for some topics. But it’s like painting exclusively in one color. Eventually, you paint yourself into a corner.

About five years ago, I was feeling similarly cornered myself. I didn’t know where else to go with the Overwhelming “I” and feared I was washed up. Sure, I wrote narrative poems before, but like Dr. Frankenstein, unleashing some jerry-rigged monster on unsuspecting readers. Through Clark Street Review, I learned that narrative poetry wasn’t just a natural and time-honored form. It was also liberating and energizing to me as a writer. I wasn’t stuck in my own voice and viewpoint. I could create countless characters, with as many viewpoints to go with them. I could converse in their voices in addition to mine. I didn’t have to just say what I felt—I could illustrate it. Imagine going from using just one crayon to coloring with the whole 64-count Crayola Big Box. That’s how it felt.

I don’t mean to imply that writing narrative poems is easier. Quite the contrary. You don’t have the novelist’s or short story writer’s luxury of leisurely developing plots, characters and themes. You have lines in which to do these things, as opposed to pages. So you’d better have your flight plan filed, Sonny Jim, well before taking the runway.

In fact, that’s a good analogy for writing narrative poetry. The novelist builds a B-52 bomber. The short story writer, an F-15 fighter plane. The narrative poet, though, constructs a hang glider—canvas sailcloth stretched over an aluminum bird-skeleton. It’s you versus the wind and the raw elements. For this reason, with the poem, you have to reduce the narrative to its essentials. The language is concentrated; you’ve no room for extras. What you leave out is as important as what you leave in. But when it’s built right the narrative poem, like the other two aircraft, can soar high and far.

So, coming to the narrative poem was like rediscovering myself as a writer. It’s the genre that I (primarily) want to continue working in, because I get such a kick out of it. For this rejuvenation, I thank Ray Foreman and the poets of Clark Street Review, who continue to inspire me.

Great! Something else I really love about your poems is the nature of the “flourishes” that conclude most of them.

Ah, yes. Thank you. I’m glad you enjoy them. Others I’ve heard from don’t share your enthusiasm. To each his or her own.

This, though, also pertains to the narrative poem. With a narrative, you can’t just stop. A story requires a proper ending. To simply slam the door shut, a la The Sopranos, smacks of English 101-style showboating and results in nothing more than a pissed-off, unsatisfied audience. I happen to respect whatever readers I have too much to be rude to them for the sake of a literary cliché.

Beyond that, a poem’s ending is the natural place to make your point. It’s like a cymbal-crash at the end of a song. It’s underscoring the main idea of the piece. For those who don’t agree with this practice? It’s my party and I’ll “flourish” if I want to.

Good for you. Yet another standout feature of your poems is the prevalence of popular culture (movies, television, books, etc.). What value do you see in Richard Brautigan, for example, or why do you place so much emphasis on media and entertainment?

Books, music, films and TV are the things I use to feed my creativity. I don’t see them as objects fixed in time. These works are part of an ongoing dialogue called our culture. They’re as alive now as the moment they were first released, in that they continue to help push that dialogue forward.

Example? I once saw a silent movie called Mickey. The movie was made in 1918 and it starred Mabel Normand, a then-famous comedienne. So taken was I by Mabel’s humor and personality, I sought out her other films and read her biography. This led to my writing my poem about Mabel, “WTF?” Maybe one person will read my poem, be moved to seek out Mabel Normand’s films and be enriched by the experience, as I was. So the dialogue continues, unlimited by time or place.

Here I’ll share “WTF?”

Laura and David Clawson spend the night
in adjoining rooms a world apart.
She’s in the living room, Facebooking on her first iPhone
which she bought after saving six months for it.
He’s in the kitchen reading a biography
of Mabel Normand, the silent film funnygirl.

David isn’t a fast reader,
but he burns like a fuse through this book.
To him, Mabel seems like a lost friend found.
David learns that the comely Ms. Normand
was a sharp feminist battling in a man’s business—
armed with a tongue that was even sharper.
Mabel ate ice cream for breakfast,
made and spent money by the truckload
and used men like sticks of Doublemint gum.
Rock & Roll before rock was invented,
Mabel even managed to check out by age 40,
just a heartbeat before soundies arrived.

For half a minute, David wants to go in
and tell Laura all he’d read.
Learning was a joy they once shared.
Then David recalls the monster mask
Laura made of her face
whenever he interrupted her surfing.
Without lifting her eyes from the screen,
Laura would grunt, “WTF?”
cutting her man off at the knees.
David neither understood nor responded;
Web was a language he never could speak.

Instead, David decides to say nothing.
He goes to the fridge and scoops himself
a dish of chocolate ice cream.
He takes it to the kitchen table
and pretends he’s sharing it with Mabel.
There, they sit and David tells Mabel
everything he read about her that night.
The flickering black & white beauty listens closely,
smiling through a free-and-easy expression.
Mabel doesn’t say “WTF?”
In fact, she says nothing at all.

As for Richard Brautigan? He’s one of my favorite poets and a major influence of mine.  Brautigan made poetry out of everything.  The first moon landing, the Andy Warhol starlet Ultra Violet, a moth in a room in Tucson, Arizona.  And he manages to say something memorable, if not poignant, about them all. His poem “What Happened?” tells the story of an old woman, who went from being the darling of the Class of 1927 to a blue-haired pariah, abandoned by everyone, including her kids, because she “make[s] them nervous.” Immediately, you picture this lady in your mind and start speculating about her backstory. And Brautigan’s poem is only eight lines long!

I eat that kind of stuff up with a spoon. It’s what I aspire to do with my own work: find memorable subjects in everyday places, unusual analogies, surrealism and a sense of fun. Referring back to the aforementioned cultural dialogue, I recently wrote a poem based on one of Brautigan’s. His 1970 poem, “The Amelia Earhart Pancake,” is about him abandoning the “Earhart” title after trying, and failing, to

Like I said, it’s an ongoing conversation. Read Richard Brautigan’s poetry—it’s a mind-blowing ride, for all the right reasons.

“The Amelia Earhart Pancake”

I have been unable to find a poem
for this title. I’ve spent years looking
for one and now I’m giving
up.

Richard Brautigan November 3, 1970

“AMELIA EARHART PANCAKE ’14”

Richard Brautigan spent years
searching for a poem
to match up with a title:
“The Amelia Earhart Pancake.”
He quit on November 3, 1970.

On April 24, 2014, I revived the cause.
Dig this, Rich:
it’s a pancake so light,
it disappears somewhere
between the pan and the plate.

Jack Phillips Lowe

Thank you for bringing this issue to closure! Much appreciated. I did read a Brautigan paperback recently, Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt, and found it to be an entertaining read.

Okay, delving into poetry and “society,” you and I have discussed the mutual disappointment that poets, particularly in America, seldom support each other by purchasing books or penning reviews; we have to work so hard to sell our words if we want them heard. Feel free to expound however you choose.

Wow, where do I start? Sometimes, it seems like certain members of the literary community prefer to exploit that neighborhood for their own benefit, like the Once-ler in Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, instead of living in and contributing to the community in order to help it survive and grow.

For instance, it boggles my mind that a poet like Fred Voss—who’s so utterly American—has a larger following in the UK than he has in his own home country. Voss’s latest chapbook, Tooth and Fang and Machine Handle (Liquid Paper Press, 2013), totally rocks. It deserves to be on the New York Times Bestseller List. Yet, Voss’s very worthy effort receives only a fraction of the readership of the often dubious titles which occupy that list. And that’s truly unfair, because Voss’s work speaks to the masses.

The poet Gene McCormick is another case in point. Gene’s poems are approachable, insightful and vividly descriptive, to the point of being “mind-movies.” His chapbook, La Vie en Rose: Paris Today (Chicago City Press, 2014), is all these things. Reading Gene’s work in a small chapbook is like finding Billy Joel working the piano bar at the local Holiday Inn. After a while, you wonder why people can’t hear what’s so plainly there. Unless, of course, it’s because they’re not listening.

I believe in a writer actively promoting his or her work. I’ve no time for that Emily Dickinson/J.D. Salinger “reticent artist” crap. If the writing’s worth doing, it’s worth sharing and, gentle snowflakes, the world ain’t going to come to you. When Cold Case Cowboys was published, I spent as much time banging the drum for the book as I did writing the poems that are in it. I believed in my words and in your artful chapbook design and obviously, felt they deserved to be seen. So I tried everything my budget would allow—YouTube, Craigslist, Goodreads, Amazon.com, e-mail chains, flyers sent via snail-mail and lots of Old School networking. Got some nice reviews and sold a couple copies, I did. But at the end of the day, I finished up feeling like a hot dog vendor at a vegetarians’ convention.

Of course, I can’t tell anyone what to do with their time and money. Lord knows, everybody’s budget is stretched to the limit these days and I’m no different. So, I’ll just tell you what I do. If a magazine publishes my work, I subscribe to it. When a writer I like publishes a chapbook, if I can afford it, I buy a copy. If there’s a writer or editor whose work I enjoy, I drop that person a brief note saying so. I feel less like the Once-ler this way.

I understand. Thank You for your compliments and for setting a fine literary example for our fellow Americans. You have persevered with your efforts as only a small percentage do. What keeps you motivated in this regard?

First, I’m a stubborn bastard. I, for real, actually know how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. But because I’m also a smartass, I will keep that number to myself.

Outside of that, I just truly enjoy writing. I’ve been playing this game for nearly thirty years. I long ago abandoned any notions of “fame and fortune.” These days, it’s all about arranging words on paper in a meaningful way and then getting those words into outlets where a like-minded audience, however small, might read them.

Nothing else I do in life brings me as much fun and satisfaction as writing does. As I get older, it keeps my mind from atrophying by making me wrestle with ideas and concepts. Gray matter exercise, if you will. I feel most alive when I’m writing. That’s why I keep at it.

Excellent. I hope you keep at it for decades yet! Thank you for your time and a most enjoyable conversation.

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(For an example of Jack’s most recent work, read “Where the Wheels Fell Off” at The Bitchin’ Kitsch, a literary ‘zine in which Jack features his favorite British comedian/explorer, Karl Pilkington. “I’m kinda proud of it,” says Jack.)

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2014 in News & Reviews

 

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