Tag Archives: Coffee with the Poets

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 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.
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?


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…



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.

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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…


[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,
twist and tunnel
like some flat-backed fish
you’ve reeled in
on your line of love.

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

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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.


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

Richard Brautigan November 3, 1970


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,, 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.


(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.)


Posted by on December 23, 2014 in News & Reviews


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Coffee with Joseph Smith


My name is Joseph T. Smith. I have been writing in some form or another for two decades now. I feel like a sweetened old soul. Experience has shaped me like a circle. Poetry is my verbal salvation. Words have seemed to pour out of me like water molecules since my educative years. I learned how economics can be applied to any length of poetry. You don’t have to exude extreme style, only more substance to create.

Anyhow, thank you for perusing this interview with Christina & myself. I appreciate any miscellaneous feedback.


Coffee with the Poets[Joseph Smith is from New York’s Lower Hudson Valley, and he’s a fascinating individual who prefers cappuccino over standard coffee and mystery over the spotlight. I firstly became acquainted with his poetry via Compass Rose, a Raven Publishing anthology edited by R.L. Jones and Gloria J. Wimberley. A portion of Smith’s “Road to Somewhere” landed as a quote on the back cover, and an Amazon review references “surrealistic vistas” within his poetry, so I had to read more…]

Welcome, Joseph! I was just enjoying your “Pish Posh & Blue” from page twelve of Compass Rose:

Whenever the song vibrates into
an ear of her choice
there is a tiny voice that freshens the memory
it cuts through the darkness and the high
drama that persists there
it unleashes a cruel spell which the
afternoon has been afflicted with
spoiled by the pleasure of everything else
fertile records strewn over the cold, baseless floor
a second before the needle is inserted
the sound of a brief sigh by the sensitive artist
too much heaviness of words, not enough soul to taste
this elegant apartment used to be loved somewhere
a strand of yellow hair on the gray border
a patch of green outside the garden
there used to be an embrace of two
now there are none to add
brown memories worn like old leather
the scent of a faint cologne in the closet
where the emptiness resides like our dreams
the sight of invisible furniture
marks on the surface, a position of nobility
close the door that creaks
a reminder of how the newness fades
like a kiss on antique paper

I find myself wanting more of what is between the lines or behind the scenes (yet we know that the blank spaces are intriguing). If you were to pen a preamble for this poem or your poetry in general, what would it say?

I believe that there are things which are intangible like dreams & thoughts. It is a surreal place indeed. Sometimes the ideas flow like a controlled river. Inspiration can be daunting. The unconsciousness is not regulated by what is created by words. I don’t consider myself a modern writer. I’ve always been entranced by traditional, classic authors. Robert Frost was the first poet I connected with as an impressionable high school English Lit student. “Mending Wall” shaped my future. I often wonder about how unique or special as a human race we really are.

It’s unfortunate that good fences often really do make good neighbors and it’s fitting that “The Mending Wall” speaks deeply to societal outsiders. Poets who write objectively benefit from the outside view, and their subjective work seems almost always to be a longing of some sort. How does where you stand manifest in your poetry?

Well, I do think that certain boundaries need to be explored further. Social commentary speaks to the common people, the ones who feel disenfranchised or segregated somehow. The idea of a wall that separates is acceptable to certain thinkers. If you inquired to me decades ago, I would be more inclined to feel as a social idealist might. Now, the state of international affairs is quite disturbing. I just comment on what is meaningful for me. I am not the authoritarian police, only an acute observer. I don’t try to enforce opinions on others.

Understood. You openly discuss your diagnosis of schizophrenia and how it impacts your poetry: “Would I have been a writer if not for my disease?” Would you say that it inspires you to write, or do you feel that your poetry is an innate skill beyond schizophrenia which is then shaped by it?

Hmmm. That’s a fascinating analogy. I do believe my disease has enhanced certain neurological receptors. I’ve always been creative whether it was drawing, writing stories, music reviews, or poems as a child to adulthood. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed after college that there was a name for my condition. I’d like to believe that my poetry skill is innate. Schizophrenia only magnified what was wrong with my brain. It also accelerated my creativity as well. So Yeah, it’s interchangeable.

That’s interesting; thank you. What is the primary message about schizophrenia within the mind of a poet that you would like readers to understand?

I would like readers to understand that a disease does not define you no matter what you are afflicted with. You are not a label for science to identify us. You can attain your dreams. It might take years of sacrifice, diligence, & goodness. It is possible. Strive to achieve. Believe.

Very nice. Having read your “story,” you describe yourself as a romantic. You also say, “I debate with myself how my words affect people. I question how it makes me feel.” What is it that you hope to accomplish by sharing your words?

I hope that other readers won’t feel excluded by their romantic notions. Being a romantic in a modern society seems like a lifetime of aloneness. There are times when you wonder about personal happiness & self-worth. Love is the reward. Romantics tend to be more introverted, introspective, & attached to Experience.

It’s difficult for romantics to not attach. Do you feel that your poetry is a form of release of the Self from attachments, or is it an attempt to immortally marry the two?

I definitely haven’t succeeded in detaching myself emotionally. I have been told to leave my worries on a shelf. I wish it was that simple. Wishful thinking I suppose.

Poets often spend a lot of time in the future tense and consequently fill the present tense with worry, but we also proffer possibilities that cannot be seen by most others.

Somehow I feel as though poetry marries the Self as well as the attachments. The idea of deconstruction seems primitive yet rewarding. Poetry offers us a bond, a union of the abstract/spiritual with the physical plane.

Would you give us an example from one of your poems?

“Hot Stars in Distress”

when the night is all you have left to cherish

may celestial stars guide you home

when the soul’s heart is vacant

fill it up with love and sympathy

The whole idea of how spiritual objects can be personified is not a modern concept. I do believe that a marriage of the Self & its attachments can be attained. I hope this example is not too vague.

No, it’s beautiful and wonderfully positive. I’m a fan of personification which too many people water down or simplify as “I am this and I am that…” Anyway, also from your story, “…writing poetry has opened new doors of perception. It has invited me to think deeper, below the consciousness.” As well you mention your love of astronomy and physics. What do you see up there that you are inspired to pen from the depths?

The whole Universe appears whenever the Muse is signaled. I feel stronger, able to be honest with my thoughts. I notice how stars experience their own life/death cycles. It is a human quality. The unknown is a mystery. I think we undervalue what is above us. There are other civilizations besides us. We must not be narrow-minded. We should apply our senses. It is divine.

You are in tune with the divine process, its manifestation, its wisdom all around us. What is the poetry of the cosmos from your perspective?

I am far from perfect though. I think as flawed humans it adds character & depth to our souls. I’d like to be more optimistic about the spiraling Universe. I dunno. I just try to grow a visual picture from my perspective.

…and in doing so, you are creating!

The cosmos is quite old yet charming too. We can learn a lot from the Universe. We also can contribute enough wisdom for the future generations in order to thrive.

Would you like to conclude with some wisdom of your own words or some that contributed to your own managing to get by in this world?

As for a parting word or two, I’d fancy to interject a philosophical quote to you.

“I know nothing, therefore I am.”

No one is perfect. Those who claim to know everything should be ignored. Focus on knowledge instead. Be modest, don’t take yourself seriously. *Giggles.* Above all, create.


(Compass Rose contains several of Smith’s poems. Copies can be obtained through

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Posted by on September 18, 2013 in News & Reviews


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Coffee with Mohineet Kaur Boparai

Mohineet Kaur Boparai, Poet & ScholarMohineet Kaur Boparai is a research scholar at the Department of English, Punjabi University, Patiala in India. Her research is concerned with subalternity, agency and subjectivity in the selected novels of Toni Morrison, Amy Tan and Abdulrazak Gurnah. Her first book of poems, Poems That Never Were was published in 2007 by Writers Workshop, Kolkata. She has two subsequent poetry collections, Windows to the Ocean and Lives of My Love, published in 2012 by Middle Island Press. She is 26 and lives at Moga. She is teaching English at the Panjab University Constituent College, Nihalsinghwala.


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

Hi, Mohineet! Congratulations again on your relatively recent marriage. It was evident to me in publishing two poetry collections for you in quick succession that your life currently is full of love and poetry.

MKB: Thank you Christina. I published two books last year with you and it was the first year after marriage so it was full of discovery and loads of newness and freshness. My book Windows to the Ocean is dedicated to my husband Guramrit and my brother Fateh, because I felt they were most important to me at that juncture. After marriage one begins a whole new life; the past suddenly becomes more clear and important because it is something we’ve been somewhat misplaced from. At that point, my husband was the discovery and my brother was the nostalgia; I had always felt that Amrit and Fateh shared something but I couldn’t pin point it, maybe it was how they lived their lives and hence, my dedication “Who carry a tune in their hearts when they walk”. The second book Lives of My Love is about how I experienced my love life with Amrit and is dedicated to my niece Abeer. Her name means “fragrance” in Arabic and “festival color” in Hindi. My dedication reads, “When you blink your eyes, a solitary leaf dances in the wind”. On the surface, it is about her eyes, but the impetus behind it is more than description. Her eyes are natural, they are innocent and the movement in them is patient, almost like the effortlessness of the seasons.

Thank you for sharing that heart-warming personal insight. I have been intrigued by India for a few decades now as it seems like a place of such creativity, color, beauty, vitality… What is it about your culture that sparks such fine creative expression?

MKB: I believe that living in India has given me an experience of living in diversity. The number of languages spoken in India is 438; there are several religious beliefs, and cultures living under a homogeneous governing system. There is so much to learn and observe, not only in people but also in the geography. There are the Himalayas, Ganga-Brahmaputra plains, the vast Deccan plateau that covers most of southern India and the Thar desert; Tropical, alpine vegetation and xerophytes; maritime climate as well as the severe seasons of north India; metropolitan malls and slums; local artisans and foreign brands. Living in such a space, there are so many different things to experience. I am particularly drawn to the landscapes and the colorful tribal people. The diverse cultural intermingling motivates creative expression because there are so many different cues to catch when one goes about perceiving the land.

You are India’s gazing bright star. How do you define poetry, and who or what inspired you to understand what poetry is, what makes it poetry?

MKB: Poetry is an overflow, and hence it begins from some kind of containment of what is within. And because it is within and accumulating, it has a certain impetus to come out. At the same time it is fluid, liquefied and must be solidified. I believe, in this process something is always lost, something is gained and something is revealed. So poetry is in many ways is a discovery of the self, society and the universe. A discovery also of a certain type of emotion that I think poets only experience when they are writing. I believe that it is an emotion that feels like some form of saturation and then slowly it begins to disappear and when it is finally lost, there is nothing more to write. It is like playing hide-and-seek. First you face the wall and count (one faces the commonplace); then you begin your search (which is the challenge, the looking about and looking for) and the search involves some chemical secretions in the body, maybe a little bit of adrenaline too (and you are enjoying the whole process). It is a process that involves the head and the heart that ultimately lead to some hidden acumen and acuteness. And the whole time that you are writing, you are also being insightful and imaginative, and the hidden is being revealed one by one, coming out of the hiding place it inhabits, into the scorching heat of the summer holidays that are past with childhood.

To the second part of the question, I think I’ve been writing poetry since a very long time, since I was a teenager, but in the beginning it was not even perception, it was merely a rhyming of lines and a collection of images. But I store my poetry in diaries and on the computer and therefore I remember the poems I wrote as a twelve year old. One was about birds, another one was written after I saw the movie Titanic, and another one was about a scary night in a palace. So as a child, what inspired me to write poetry were my childhood whims, all the things that somehow caught my imagination and loaded me with their immensity. The inspirations have been the same ever since- things that are massive and mysterious, things that I must understand. The inner inspirations, however are never all intrinsic, there is always another side to them- the overt, the things we catch from the outside like birds who later want to break open their cages. The external inspirations are events and people. There must be a long list of people who inspired me. My parents firstly, because they were always the first ones I took my poems to and the fact that they were excited and overwhelmed by my obscure, childish attempts at poetry, they encouraged me to write on. Then, when I met my husband he and our family became the driving force. His patience motivates my pen and my second collection is about what I feel about him and what turns my life took after meeting him…he dives into my work, he takes it on his tongue and plays with the sweet sour lollipop that my poems are. Metaphorically, it’s as if we plant seeds together, not in the soil but grafting them in the roots themselves. Inspiration comes from observing the spontaneity in people, their venerations for different things and an acceptance of their idiosyncrasies. Then there are so many friends and mentors who’ve motivated me. That is all how I get spontaneous, involuntary inspiration. But poetry is also a conscious process and hence I must look for inspiration. This I find in the environment and other poets. I search for it, by being open to observation and discovering new poetries. I have been inspired by the unfussy depth of Wislawa Szymborska, Sylvia Plath’s immense heart and the metaphoric life of her poetry related to painful realities, poems by Siegfried Sassoon, A.K. Ramanujan, R. M. Rilke, Pablo Neruda, and most recently I am discovering the German expressionistic poets like Gottfried Benn and Else Lasker-Schuler. These poetries are like riding a giant wheel, like going up and coming down in a circle, dangling your feet that won’t touch the ground and being awed by the enthusiasm of these poets.

I must say I find your poetry awe-inspiring! When do you feel that you write your best poetry?

MKB: My most satisfying poems come from phases when I’m vexed. I think it is because we usually indulge in masking our emotions. When I experience strong emotions that have not had an outlet, I sometimes write poetry. My most cherished poems ironically belong to such phases. It might be because at that time I’m true to myself, or maybe because my brain is working in a different way. But emotions alone cannot generate poetry. There has to be something in store in ones perceptual space and philosophical core for the poem to shape up. When I write a poem under the influence of emotions, I usually don’t know what I’m writing about. The first few lines are spontaneous jottings and then the poem automatically begins to shape up into a more or less coherent whole. Then, I come to understand what is within me and after the initial spurting beginning, I get a middle and end that I can use to shape my poem. It is here that I understand what is most prior in my thinking. Talking of a poem, we usually don’t divide it into a beginning, middle and end. These categories have been traditionally reserved for drama and sometimes prose too. Poetry is a breaking of barriers. It is free and hence it should not have structural constraints. The beginning, middle and end in a poem for me, does not mean a sort of structural division, but a division in the change of mindset when one is writing. The workings of one’s psyche shift and reshape as one writes a poem. This reshaping has a flow and hence the allusion to Aristotle’s dramatic beginning, middle and end.

Excellent. We could go in a hundred directions with that. Would you care to share one of your own favorite poems?

Lives of My LoveAlone

A door in a frame lies by the roadside,
Twisted at an angle, like a convex glass,
Only, it is too full for the sun rays to pass
But somehow the air focuses its lens on it
And burns it from the inside
People see and think that it is termites eating wood
This door is sans house, or hands to open
It, or footsteps to walk through it
Now and then some wind comes
And opens a crack between the door
A smile twisted into smoke
Comes out and the wind mourns
Dust collects on it, it endures rains and
No one comes to fix it back
Because it is skin shed from
Muscles and bones
But there is always something left behind
Here is a door with its eyes waiting to
Thread dreams walking through itself

Very nice selection from Lives of My Love. Something unique about this particular collection is that you included a few of your own bright symbolic watercolor paintings to accompany some of your poems. Do you find it more likely that your poetry inspires you to create visual art, or is it more likely that your art inspires a poem as you paint it, and why do you think that is?

"Deprivation" by Mohineet Kaur Boparai

“Deprivation” by Mohineet Kaur Boparai

MKB: I think in my case my poetry usually inspires art, rather than the other way round. I paint the image in the environment that triggered the poem and at the same time try to bring in the thrust of the poem into it. When I paint an image after writing a poem, I have dwelt on it, given it a linguistic form and solidified it; then only the space and colors need to be consciously thought of.

Your poetry is alive and blossoming with imagery. What do you consider most inspiring visually or otherwise, what sprouts your imagination?

MKB: In writing my poems I lay a lot of emphases on figures of speech. It’s probably to do with my painting; because when one paints one begins to observe. Somehow I think we derive pleasure from beauty. In the case of poetry this pleasure is extended to the not so apparently beautiful. One begins to see beauty in many ordinary things. I incidentally find some works of literature very inspiring simply because of the beauty they infuse into the images. To name a few that come to the mind: Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Toni Morrison’s novels- especially Tar Baby and Sula, T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “The Wasteland”, Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, the expressionistic poets etc. Images whether in literature, movies, paintings and most commonly in day to day life, are very inspiring for me; they somehow infuse me with imagination because as a poet suddenly I’m reading new meanings into things that were not even in my creative radar.

What I respect about your poetry, even beyond your fine natural balance of heart, mind and soul, is that it contains genuine depth – it rings true to your truth with nothing hollow. (I trust that you can elaborate on this; choose your angle.)

MKB: Poetry cannot be shallow, because then it will lose its strength. It is jam packed and heavy but has lightness enclosed in its heaviness as its other Janus face. I think the natural balance we are talking about in my poetry comes from spontaneity, from scribbling the first draft completely from within, without much second thought; and yet it’s not like free association. Then, when I read what I have written, I understand it from several perspectives- from the original perspective, but also from several other viewpoints that have unconsciously propped themselves in the poem. This makes up for one truth leading to another. And because the truths are mine, they are interrelated. The truth, and the voice in poetry go together. And since the truth is so difficult to comprehend, since it is always transforming, evasive, its immensity engrained in minuteness, it is deep. When I tap immensity or the minuteness that carries it, the poetry automatically gets its depth.

You’re right, and your response brings a few thoughts to mind: Firstly, some of your poetry sounds dream-inspired. Do you pen your dreams into poetry? If yes, then how important do you feel this is, and why?

MKB: I feel poetry is inter-textual and like other literature, it is connected to other disciplines, because it is related holistically to our experience. Your question reminds me of psychoanalysis, especially Freud’s dream interpretation. There have been several studies I believe on the coexistence and relation of art to dreams. I do pen my dreams into poetry, parts of them, if not the complete dream. In my poem, “The Years without You”, from the book Lives of My Love, I remember a dream from early childhood that I could not forget because it was almost like living paradise:

There is a fairyland, in a dream I have not forgotten
Flowing slow fountains on its body
Where flowers suspend from the sky in a rain
The grass is blue and there is a tinge of pink in the sky
Every monsoon I relived the dream
Until your eyes blinked open in its sky
And the colours came back to their place

I feel myself lucky if I remember my dreams and if they are emotionally intense; but that is occasional. My poetry is dream-like because maybe it has a lot of symbolization and that makes it like a collection of anecdotes which is also true for dreams. Also, my poems are somewhat less than natural. They aren’t what reality is to our usually busy senses. Windows to the OceanRather, they are like an unconscious delving into the superficiality of what we take to be reality. Beneath the superficial, reality has another life. It is almost like delving into the unconscious that is deep-seated and like an iceberg, is beneath the surface and only a tip of it is available to sight. What lies beneath the ocean is massive and that is what poetry should fathom. This reminds me of my first collection with Middle Island Press, Windows to the Ocean; maybe that is where my poetry follows dream and trance.

Responding to the second part of your question, I think all poetry essentially requires mazes and incompleteness, a middle of the road termination too, so that we are almost always ready to relive it. Like dreams, our poetry is spontaneous and effortless. It just comes to us, sometimes, we feel, from nowhere. This birth from nowhere is like a seed hibernating in the soil. We don’t see it unless it props up like a shoot. Also, if a poem speaks too directly, either without symbolism, imagery, metaphors or such devices, it loses an essential part of its suggestiveness. Thus dreaming literally or metaphorically is at the core of good poetry.

Exquisite, Mohineet! Thank you. Secondly (back up a few paragraphs), I am drawn to your statement “…because the truths are mine, they are interrelated.” My mind sees a web with you at the center, reminding me of the creative arachnid symbol, and I feel that you have justified yourself as a poet in the most beautiful subjective way in what you so naturally stated. Your poetry is a solidified matrix of you. Would you mind sharing another poem?

MKB: Thank you for the wonderful observation Christina. That’s true I believe. The self, establishes my poems on a plinth of the external. Thus what is within and what is without come together when a poem is being written. The ‘I’ can never really exit completely in a poem, and some amount of deep role playing while writing a poem happens. It is like drama; you play a role but every actor would play the same role with idiosyncratic stamps. Coming to truths, I believe that there is no single truth over time and space that is true for all human race. The truths of a poet while writing are much different from the truths we carry with us in routine lives. This is because, as I have mentioned earlier, the truth of poetry is very intrinsic and deep-seated. I would love to share a poem with you:

A Love Story

You birthed me an organ from your arms
You endured the pain of the sky pushing its way out
-The infinite- that once hibernated under my tongue
Now wishfully enfolds me into a fire ball
You carried the heat on your back
To rejuvenate the dying winter
Its juices seeped into your spine and
Collected into an ocean
From where a story may emerge
Suddenly, in a whirlwind
And sweep the city clean
But we’ll always be in its single monster eye,
Rooted; while the city floats, cracks like a dream
In its gorilla embrace
All stories come glowing out of your sun
With you, my shadow widens into a shade
Then into a dream with no ends

The dream of sunburnt soil begins from the feet
And now we realize, only to forget again,
“The garden is never grown from above,
It is always waiting below with closed eyes”

Your imagination is like a child who knows no boundaries, sees only possibility. It’s so very inspiring. You have a list of honors and awards to your credit that is no less than astounding. What do you feel has been your greatest academic or literary achievement?

MKB: Thank you Christina for the wonderful applauds for my literary achievements. I believe there is still a long way to go and my achievements are merely a brushing of some archaeological pits in me. The big achievements are still to come as (I hope) my poetic side is slowly and continuously revealed to me. I am always extremely happy on publishing a book. I published my first when I was 21; and though it was highly experimental, I was so enthused by it that I slept with a copy under my pillow for several days.

What are your long-term literary aspirations?

MKB: In the coming years, I plan to publish more books of poetry and get some more strength and sound into my poems. I want my poems to be enthused in a reflexive, relaxed way. At present I feel my poetry has more pace than I love. I also plan to complete my PhD in the next four years; it would make me more critical and give me a wider evaluative space to understand poetry.

Certainly, and I wish you the strongest wings for your developments. Your ambition is incredible and I am certain that you will arrive where you wish to be, that you will continue to dream your dreams into reality.

MKB: Thank you Christina, it was such an insightful talk.


[Christina raises her mug to Mohineet who takes her cappuccino “…with extra chocolate powder on top.”]

The poetry of Mohineet Kaur Boparai is available through and the Middle Island Press website. Her first collection is, unfortunately, unavailable.


Posted by on April 24, 2013 in News & Reviews


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Coffee With Gloria (McGowan) Wimberley

Wimberley PhotoHaving lived in Miami, Washington, DC, and other cosmopolitan locales for decades, Gloria (McGowan) Wimberley, M.A., a Pushcart Prize nominee (2013), now lives in the woodsy warmth of her West Virginia hometown in serene Appalachia. Published in BlazeVOX of New York and Red Fez magazine of Los Angeles, Gloria’s poetry also appears in various other print and online publications in the U.S. as well as abroad in England, New Zealand, Scotland, and Canada. A college professor for many years, she is also a freelance book-editor, and contributor to several works including the Amazon BestSeller, In The Company of Women: An Anthology of Sass & Class, Wit & Wisdom (Edgar & Lenore’s Publishing House, Los Angeles), Mistletoe Madness anthology (Kind of a Hurricane Press), and Potters Wheel Anthology–Vol.1. Her forthcoming publications include The Digital Dulcimer anthology (Raven Publishing) , Potters Wheel Anthology–Vol. 2 (J. Benson Publishing, Canada), Mapping Me: A Landscape of Women’s Stories (New Zealand), Poems From The Panty Drawer (Edgar & Lenore’s Publishing House), and Return to Rural America: A West Virginia Anthology (S. Ferrell Productions). An unabashed chocoholic and passionate fan of David Lynch movies, she is the author of the Amazon BestSeller, Dialect of Dahlias, a darkly delicious 102-page poetry collection published by Edgar & Lenore’s Publishing House of California.


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

Greetings, Gloria! I am gratified to enter spring of 2013 in the company of one of West Virginia’s brightest poetic gems. You know I like to begin by asking, “How do you take your coffee?”

Christina, thank you for having me; it’s a genuine thrill to be here… I take my coffee with organic half & half and TruVia. When at Starbuck’s, I’m a sucker for Caramel Macchiato or Mocha Cappuccino, being that I’m an unapologetic chocoholic with Godiva, Lindt, or Andes Candies chocolate brands on the brain…during the merrymaking holidays–or any time of year, really.

[smiling broadly, understandingly…] Christina is going to assume that you’ve plopped a Lindor truffle or two into your coffee! Truffle?

Yum! You know me too well. 🙂

…Now there is poetry that falls flat to the ear, and there is poetry that is music to the ear, and I hear the music of words when I read your poetry. Do you have experience rhapsodizing, and have you considered audio recordings?

I’m glad that you hear musicality in my verse; I strive to eschew tin-ear clunkiness in my writing as much as possible. Being an uber-nerd, I often will rhapsodize in the [college] classroom during the Poetry component of the English courses I teach. My students seem to enjoy the passion and soul-bearing sincerity that goes into rhapsodizing for an audience, and then to feel more comfortable to openly rhapsodize their own poetic creations during PeerShare…Hearing my students’ confidence when rhapsodizing their own poetry is truly gratifying for me as an educator.

How wonderful.

Positive exposure via audio recordings is a brilliant idea; thank you for suggesting it a while ago to me…In the interest of sharing my poetry with a vast global audience, I now have poetry readings on YouTube…hopefully my accent, (which has been pegged by others as originating from Georgia or Tennessee, is actually an accent rooted in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia and nearby Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), isn’t distracting or (eek!) irritating to viewers/listeners.

“Sequoias” (dedicated to my friend Sheenagh) is my first YT video, in fact. All Likes and Comments by viewers are sincerely appreciated. 🙂 Make sure to press “Show More” to read all of the pertinent information listed there.

I didn’t notice your accent (I wonder why that is?) 😉 but what I did notice alongside the gorgeous setting is how pleasant your voice is for reading. Very nice, both video readings!

My YouTube poetry readings are pure Nature–in all seasons, even the dead of winter. In fact, I do much of my writing while sitting in my “woodland office” in the woods. As my rustic “desk” and “chair” are fashioned from sturdy Maple logs, and a herd of deer is literally 20 feet away from me in a spacious meadow, I’m thankful to be able to pen poetry, musings, etc. in my humble cornflower-blue leather-bound journal, all in the midst of this peaceful sylvan setting.

It does sound like a blissful melange of creature comforts: decadent chocolates, woody surrounds, deer-watching…let’s daydream for a minute. Tell us what your ideal vacation setting would be if you were to go with the expectation of feeling inspired to write. What one poetry book would you take along?

My ideal vacation setting would be the sublimely ethereal Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall. …Two poetry books are better than one, so…I’d bring along Georg Trakl’s Autumn Sonata poetry collection and the collected poems of Emily Dickinson for inspiration.

Many poets and readers – women in particular – can relate to Emily Dickinson, but I am assuming that most people are unfamiliar with Georg Trakl. What is it about him and/or his work that you find so engaging?

Trakl’s use of vibrant visuals, surrealist imagery, and brooding tone as a poet resonate with me…also, his keen introspection and most-commonly explored themes seem very contemporary. Secondly, Trakl in his personal life is believed to have suffered from schizophrenia, and a cherished life-long friend of mine, now-deceased, suffered from the inexpressible horrors of schizophrenia. Some of Trakl’s most disconcerting, eerie, and haunting imagery remind me of my friend’s daily trials of the mind, that she courageously shared with me.

That’s a beautiful testament of how personal each reader’s preferences can be, how poetry isn’t about what’s fashionable. Just curious, so back to your poetry, I witness careful crafting beyond rules but with alliteration, assonance, all major qualities applied. Share with us your thoughts/feelings on the importance of expressing yourself freely without restrictions of formal structure.

I genuinely love this question because conscious wordplay is one my strengths as a writer. For me, looking through a narrative or surrealistic lens, is a challenge that compels me to respect the unfettered brain-space afforded by Free Verse, as well as the reverberating and resonant power of literary devices. Creating neo-logisms like “wordwhip”, “greenswanic”, wombwalls”, “slugslump”, “roseruddy”, “rootright”, “pearlsticky” et al. is my favorite because they marry two worlds of disparate associations for different readers with equally-different filtering processes.

I see your analytical process at play here!

Engaging readers in the satiating act of multiplicitous interpretation is the hope and goal of my poetic efforts. And careful crafting through important writerly tools such as assonance, alliteration, neo-logism, metaphor, enjambment, slant rhyme, pregnant pauses via ellipses, etc. is a huge part of my creative process. If a poem I’ve written doesn’t contain at least one literary device, then I’ve not succeeded as a capable wordsmith.

It’s good that you realize your responsibility in what you do – and that you take it to a professional level!

As a poet, I feel that it’s my responsibility to infuse my content with a vibrant soi-disant style marked by what my editor Apryl Skies of Edgar & Lenore’s Publishing House of Los Angeles, and I refer to as “intentional idiosyncratic sway.” It’s my job to be as fresh and electrifyingly original as I can be in the ever-widening sea of poetic voices extant in the world today.

Good! Some time back, I read a review of your Dialect of Dahlias. I found the “sure-footed” description to be most fitting (no pun intended). How did such a level of confidence come about in your poetry?

Truth be told, I am surefooted in writing poetry because I am so woefully untalented at everything else. I discovered and accepted early on in life when I was diagnosed with learning disabilities (dyscalculia and dysgraphia) that due to these limitations, I probably would not be suited to most professions. So I focused/focus my energy and dedication onto two things that I’d been told by others that I do well–write poetry and teach English.

Excellent! The mind finds ways to express its brilliance.

Also, I am forever inspired by the long-held idea that who I am as an artist is my truest self; Who-I-Am on paper via my distinctly different love & light “Lily” poems and dark & gritty “Leper” poems is really Who I Am. As an albeit-proud eccentric who is decidedly more interesting on paper than in person, I figuratively open a proverbial vein and bleed my best onto the page and hope that my Personal will be someone else’s universal…universal life-experiences that readers can identify with and make their own, hearts-&-minds-wise. My poetry must be of some value to readers or it does not succeed, in my opinion.

You do set high standards, and I love that you can admit to both light and dark aspects of yourself. Which (“Lily” or “Leper”) do you find your readership most drawn to, most responsive to, and why do you think that is?

Readers who are drawn to the figuratively-termed “lilies” seek cut & dried, love & light, life-affirming, family-themed poems with a narrative hook. Due to these aspects, fans of the lilies have told me that these poems are quite accessible. Many non-artists favor the lily poems. In contrast, readers–artists, especially—seek ambiguity, ambivalence, and explorations of dark, gritty life-experiences written in a surrealistic poetic style typified by enigma and intensity; they are the biggest fans of my Leper poems. Lily poems have the effect of lighting a candle of hope in the face of Chaos, whereas Leper poems have the effect of snuffing out that metaphorical candle with one monstrous exhalation.

Would you care to share one of each from your book?

Wimberley - Dialect of Dahlias Cover

“Sepia & Song” (Lily poem)

Sepia seeping
into the Perfect Picture
but there’s no camera around
to capture
our gentle swaying
in the kitchen
or her baby head lying
warmly on my shoulder
or my arms enveloping her lovingly
as I mint
in my weary mind
this mother-daughter moment
(Plaintive Scottish fiddle-song on the radio)
hugs us parenthetically
as we continue swaying
silently as one
her tears long since dried,
her eyes long since closed;
her long, dark eyelashes are doll perfection…
as the song lilts to an end,
my own eyes are moist;
I’m wishing
with a mother’s wistfulness
that the permanence of sepia
could seep in…
seal us
bond us
in wordless bliss
for a lifetime
of refrains,
not bridges

“Cotillion Eye Glinting Down” (Leper poem)

The scythe of earth
hangs like a hammock
between cenicitas (“little ashes”)
to shimmy like a shark
lithe phallic symbol: Breathing
inside the tapestry-rose
lining of the executioner’s mask
he filled the guillotine
with bloodblisters of stars
until a Spanish galleon
of “Blue Gato Delong”
ghostly lit
the spectral trail
of Packard-Mustang-Chevy

Singing trees
like rain
dredge the air
with leaf-lyrics
and unchidden children
like parrots:
Where are their piratical parents
to Jolly Roger
them into a sirensong
of silence?
To chatter, nay,
like a Fauvist parrot,
but to float sirenly and serenely
on a patina-pond
as a Monet waterlily
sprouting from Gala’s
unsevered, unbloodied
eye socket
of Emporda

Remarkable contrast with equally exquisite signature craftsmanship! Who or what inspired you to achieve the level of accomplishment that you have arrived at?

It would be remiss of me not to credit an early influence in my life, an inspirational middle school teacher in West Virginia, James Brandolino, for believing in my writing abilities and encouraging me to pursue Writing as a life-goal. His generosity of spirit and keen guidance helped me to believe that I could actually succeed at writing, and his steadfast support helped me to overcome debilitating shyness at that angsty adolescent time of life.

How fortunate you are that you accepted Mr. Brandolino’s influence. A little side-step here: Because of your shyness (I can relate to that), did you find yourself realizing that a pen can impart a certain social grace and give you an advantage in the world?

Yes…Writing always has helped me to spiritually soar above an earth-bound reality painfully punctuated by shyness and social awkwardness…People in general, are friendlier and kinder to me in various social situations when they learn that I’m a writer; it’s a boon, definitely. 🙂

Everyone loves artists, literary and otherwise! Back to your influences…

…Among other influences, the work of the Modernists, Symbolists, Imagists, the Beats to an extent, and Confessional poets galvanize me to create. Specifically, I am inspired by eminent Georg Trakl, Emily Dickinson, Pete Winslow, Sylvia Plath, Rita Dove, Gertrude Stein, Cathy Song, e.e. cummings, Judith Ortiz-Cofer, Joy Harjo, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Taylor Mali, and talented poet-contemporaries Apryl Skies, R. L. Jones, Juliet Wilson, D. M. Aderibigbe, Aliciia Winski, Alice Shapiro, Gillian Prew, and Petra Whitely, etc. Like all scribes, an eclectic collection of artists and ideas have shaped my worldview. The following spring to mind: The Plathian “private blitzkrieg”, Lynn Truss–with respect to respecting the 21st century relevance and sublimity of punctuation in prose–and poetry. “Poetry is language at its most distilled and powerful”–Rita Dove; “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash”–Leonard Cohen; “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant”–Emily Dickinson; and most viscerally for daily inspiration: “Get black on white” –Guy de Maupassant.

That’s a great note to conclude on, an illustrious flash of your learning that has earned you the title of professor in this literary realm, and of course your full-length book, Dialect of Dahlias, is the icing, the cream of your experience and influence. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to get to know you, and I look forward to reading more of your poetry.

~~Happy Spring to you, Christina!

Likewise, Gloria.

Visit Gloria’s Edgar Allen Poet page.
Check out Dialect of Dahlias at


Posted by on March 29, 2013 in News & Reviews


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