Interview: An Interview with Poet Megan O’Keeffe

Book Name and Description: Where I Ache

Where I Ache Cover

This collection is broken up into six chapters ranging from themes such as depression, jealousy, grief, and strength. These delicate subjects can be difficult to talk about and most people avoid them because of the uncomfortable vulnerability. This collection features content that can be triggering for some. I’ve always written and shared my poetry with the hope that readers would relate and feel less alone. I hope you feel a sense of community to all of those connected throughout this collection.

This book is available on Amazon: Click Here

 

Love Song
By Megan O’Keeffe

When times get hard and I’m losing myself
you sing the song my heart needs to remember itself.
I hope you’ll always be here
because through the chaos you’re all I hear
even when the darkness scared my love away
you gave me yours and promised it will always stay.

 

What gave you the idea for Where I Ache? Or what inspired you to write it?

Where I Ache focuses on various aspects of mental health, such as depression and self esteem, which are definitely important to me and my writing. Mental health can be such a delicate topic and often gets avoided because of that. In fact, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to publish this book because I didn’t know if I could put that vulnerability out there. But then I reflected that because of the silence, people with mental illness feel even more alone, so then I knew I wanted to publish this collection, so that the readers could be their own little community of support and unity.


Tell us about your past books and stories?

My first book focused on a journey of love lost, then found. Not all poems are happy, as not all of love is. But the poetry is vulnerable, real, and honest. And in that honesty, I hope each reader can find comfort, community, and strength to continue on your own journey of love.


What is the writing process like for you? What is your writing day like? What have been the biggest influences on your writing?

There’s definitely an ebb and flow to my writing process – weeks without writing and then days with 4-5 poems in one sitting. I tend to think of poem lines while driving or they’ll just randomly come to me during the day, in class, in conversation, etc. The first 6 years of my writing were heavily influenced by love and now I have some more influences: like nature, mental health, and grief are also present.


How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I definitely think I’ve branched out my topics for my poetry more. I’m also playing with the real estate of the page a lot more and emphasizing words more for impact. Lastly, I’m working hard on getting rid of cliches in my poems, trying to be original and as creative as possible.


How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?

I do most of my marketing through social media, mainly Twitter (@Ddateable) and Instagram (@megokeeffewriting). I’ve started working on email newsletters as another marketing tool. My best avenue is probably my blog, Debatably Dateable. I can really connect with my readers there, and have been growing that connection for the longest.


What piece of your own work are you most proud of?

I really do love my piece, ‘War Cry.’ It’s in the form of a pantoum, which is hard to explain, and makes more sense when you see an example, but it repeats two lines from each previous stanza so you have to take the readers on a journey with not much material to do so. I think the creativity needed for the form could go unnoticed if you haven’t tried it before. I also love the world news topic I wrote on for that piece.


For those who haven’t read any of your poems, what book of yours do you think best represents your work and why?

I think Cracked Open represents the poet I started out as, which is very much the foundation of my work. But I think Where I Ache shows where I’ll be going as an artist, so I would recommend Where I Ache to new readers.


What are you doing next?

Obviously, I’ll be marketing Where I Ache for the rest of the year. But I’ve also been organizing my next collection, which I hope to publish in 2020 – but one thing at a time, haha.

 

Bio:

Up and coming Poet, Megan O’Keeffe has been writing poetry for the past decade and published her first collection, Cracked Open, in 2018. The love and support Meg received from her blog, Debatably Dateable, encouraged her to make to make this leap yet again for Where I Ache. When she’s not writing, Meg is bingeing “Brooklyn 99” or walking her dog, Maverick. You may spot her touring the newest spot on Long Island, NY with her sisters and boyfriends…

 

Links:

Where I Ache on Amazon

Megan’s Instagram

Megan’s Twitter

Debatably Dateable (Megan’s Blog)

Megan’s Amazon Author Page

Megan’s Goodreads

 

© The Literary Librarian 2019

Interview: An Interview with Lucie Guerre

Book Name and Description: Land of Memories Forgotten, Shattered Memories, A Day for the Living, and Soulstice.

4 Covers

Land of Memories Forgotten: In the American Southwest is an antique and souvenir shop owned by the elderly Muriel Adams. When a stranger breaks into her store, Muriel is confronted with a decision from her youth. As she struggles with the important choice of her past, it is her present-day and future that hang in the balance. Lucie Guerre’s debut short story will leave you wanting more.

Shattered Memories: Vanessa and her father live in the heart of the desert, the perfect place to sell repurposed goods and forget about her mother. As Vanessa digs through other people’s memories, she never imagines her own would come back to haunt her.

A Day for the Living: Though they may look alike, twin sisters Maria and Isabel could not be any more different than one another. Maria is still mourning her mother’s death and trying to make sense of inhabiting a world without her whereas Isabel would steamroll over her if at all possible. She destroys Maria’s every attempt at keeping her mother’s legacy alive, but when the two are forced to be around each other for just one day, their emotions collide and together, they learn what it truly means to be alive.

Soulstice: A collection of poetry moving through the seasons of life, accompanied by full-color photography.

Please Visit the Links Section Below to Access Her Books.

 

What gave you the idea for Land of Memories Forgotten, Shattered Memories, and A Day for the Living? Or what inspired you to write them?

Honestly, my husband and I took our honeymoon out in the Southwest – Arizona, to be exact – and while he was driving, I snapped a bunch of pictures of certain scenes that inspired me: a dilapidated jewelry stand, a souvenir store, and nature. Oh my gosh, the nature out there was so unusual to me, a girl from the Midwest. Suddenly, as he was driving, I yanked out my tablet and began writing stories. Stories that just spilled out of me.

 

What got you into writing in this genre?

I struggled for a long time in identifying my genre. I hated calling it “Fantasy” because that didn’t seem accurate. I called it “Slipstream” for a while because that seemed to work. “Weird Fiction” also seemed to work, but it was never a perfect fit. Finally, upon re-reading some “Magical Realism,” I realized that’s what I wrote. I just like the idea of magic in everyday life. I like the idea of it running through the normal events of the day. I don’t always write magical realism. I don’t choose the genre. It chooses me.

 

How long have you been writing?

I began writing when I was seven years old. I was struggling to differentiate between the letter g and the letter j (actually, believe it or not, this is something I still struggle with from time to time; the word, “jig,” is a trick for me, haha), and I was practicing writing my letters. I got so comfortable writing my g‘s that I wrote an entire short story and illustrated it. It was called, “Gum Drops, Gum Drops Make me Hungry.” So, I’ve been writing for around twenty-five years, now.

 

Tell us about your past books and stories?

I have published a volume of poetry, called Soulstice. It explores the seasons of my life in a metaphorical sense. Each season represents a different phase of my life, but hopefully, the poems are ones that most people can relate to: love, heartbreak, loss, passion, friendship, memories. Since then, I have published my three short stories: Land of Memories Forgotten, Shattered Memories, and A Day for the Living – as described above.

 

What is the writing process like for you? What is your writing day like? What have been the biggest influences on your writing?

I wish I had more of a process. However, right now, I am in college, so I squeeze writing in where I can. I enjoy fitting it in early – if I can – before classes, but my most productive creative hours are later in the evening. In the early mornings, I’ll drink a cup of coffee and my dog will rest her head on my leg, and I’ll write. In the evening, I usually just fall into the story. The biggest influences on my writing are my life, itself, but various authors have also inspired my style. My life has inspired my writing in the sense that my poetry tends to be semi-autobiographical, whereas my fiction utilizes metaphors and similes. I would not use as many metaphors if it weren’t for my background. I was taught to hide my stories and my feelings, so I think part of me still hides behind metaphors like they’re security blankets, shielding me from the fire of truth.

 

What is your favorite book, as a reader, and why? What book has disappointed you and why? Has any author(s) influenced and inspired your work?

Absolute favorite? That’s tough. I really like Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, White Oleander by Janet Fitch, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon van Booy, and the short stories of Jeanette Winterson. I don’t like to speak poorly of other authors, but I am sometimes shocked at what becomes “popular” in fiction, whether it’s the Twilight series or 50 Shades of Gray. I just don’t understand commercial literature. Jeanette Winterson influenced my work, years ago. I had never heard of her, and a friend handed me her book of short stories, and I was enthralled. My friend compared my writing to hers – and of course, the compliment went to my head – so I read everything she had ever written and scoured her website. Similarly, I read White Oleander years ago, and I constantly re-read it. The language in it feels familiar, yet it pivots the reader into a new way of thinking. I had the pleasure of having an email exchange with the author, and she is kind and wonderful. Another influence is Laurie Halse Anderson, the author of Speak and Shout, in addition to other pieces. I was so excited this past March, when I met her and got her autograph. I listened to her speak, and she just inspires me as a human being and an author. She does so much good, and someday, I want to write, instead of from my imagination, something that comes from the heart. I want to write something to change people’s lives.

 

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

My style has improved so much, over the years. I have tightened it and honed it. When you write poetically, as I do, sometimes, it comes across as purple prose, and I wanted to avoid that. So, to make my writing more succinct, I had to practice. It’s still not perfect, but there are certain pieces that I look at objectively and am proud of. Also, my basic mechanics of novel-writing have greatly improved. I am in a few writing groups on Facebook, and their tips challenge me to be a better writer. I am still learning to incorporate more of the senses, but I think my writing has a lot of great creativity.

 

What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?

  • Access to a good dictionary
  • An open mind that’s always willing to learn
  • A story to tell
  • The Emotion Thesaurus
  • A good support system that believes in them
  • Also, a good group of critics that teaches them how they can improve

 

What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?

“The thing is, the average reader doesn’t care about how a book is written, only that the story is good.  If you do both, you’re in great shape.  They won’t know why they love it so much, only that the story is so compelling.” That’s advice on balancing lyricism and telling a good story, directly from Janet Fitch. Although I’m sure I have other gems saved on my phone, that’s the first one that popped into my head.

 

How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?

I’m not the greatest at self-promotion (raised not to brag, and promoting myself feels a lot like bragging), but I do post excerpts and graphics relating to my content on a lot of social media. I usually use Twitter and Facebook, but sometimes, I use Instagram, as well.

 

What piece of your own work are you most proud of?

I’d have to say, I am really proud of my volume of poetry, Soulstice. A lot of heart and soul went into writing those poems. I cried over some of them, and it is amazing to me to see how strongly others react to the poems. My favorite is the first poem in the whole collection. It’s called, “Arson.”

 

For those who haven’t read any of your stories, what story/book of yours do you think best represents your work and why?

A Day for the Living, my most recent work, best represents my work. It has compelling characters, a good balance of plot and lyricism, and an interesting story … in my opinion.

 

What are you doing next?

I am working on finishing my novel. It’s with my editor right now, and then it’s up to me to fix what needs revising. While I am sending that off to publishers, I plan on working on a second volume of poetry. I already have part of it started. I’m organizing it, as we speak.

 

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Read, read, read. Don’t take rejection personally. If the story is important for you to tell, for God’s sake, find a way of telling it. Don’t give up. Never give up. It might feel like Hell, but finishing it is so rewarding.

 

Bio: Lucie Guerre is a pseudonym. Lucie is derived from a Latin word meaning “light”, and St. Lucy lost her eyes either through her own volition, through torture, or due to an admirer’s liking of her eyes. I personally love the idea of my writing providing vision to the blind.  Guerre stems from the phrase “nom de guerre”, which essentially means a name of war. Generally, it comes from names chosen in times of combat. Idiomatically, it is another word for a pseudonym. My pseudonym is used mostly with pieces I’m too ashamed (or too afraid) to write under my real name, but I feel like I am stepping into war with a pen as my weapon when I write.

This is where my pen rests as a sword. This is where I do my best to snuff out the shadows and make darkness light.

 

OR (“If you prefer a more traditional bio,” she says, chuckling):

Lucie Guerre Author PictureLucie Guerre (born in 1987) was raised in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri. She began writing at the age of seven, starting with her original work, “Gum Drops, Gum Drops Make Me Hungry and Other Stories.” She has been married to her wonderful husband since September of 2017. They enjoy hiking and cooking together. Lucie enjoys discovering new music and creating collage art and pen-and-ink art, in addition to reading and writing. Since 2017, she has published a volume of poetry and three short stories. She hopes to release her novels, soon.

 

Links:

Lucie’s Facebook Author Page

Lucie’s Twitter

Lucie’s Website

Lucie’s Instagram

Land of Memories Forgotten on Books 2 Read

Shattered Memories on Books 2 Read

A Day for the Living on Books 2 Read

 

© The Literary Librarian 2019

Interview: An Interview with JP Meador (Author and Poet)

Books List:

JP Meador has written over twenty books. A small portion of them are listed here: The Wagon Wheel, Strada Almaden, 32 Ounces of Wisdom, A Place I Call Home, Are You Supposed to be Taken Seriously?, Love Unfolding, Observing What is Not Seen, The Atrium, Off the Top of My Head, Subterfuge, No Need to Bleed, The Light Stream, and more.

See the Links section at the bottom of this interview for links to these works, a link to JP Meador’s listings on Amazon, and the link to his Facebook author page.

 

What made you decide on Strada Almaden as an author name?

I don’t want people to be confused. I am Jon Meador, JP Meador and love every aspect of Almaden so my author page is Strada Almaden. Strada Almaden means in Spanish, the road to Almaden. JP sounds much better than Jon when you publish books so I use JP. How can I explain this, Strada Almaden is similar to a metaphor, my poems and stories open the door to the memories I carried while I lived in Almaden. I still live there, even though I live in Fresno. Most of my family live there still, I go back whenever I can. I have walked on the roads and cleared many trails in the foothills that many people have hiked in Almaden. I may be absent from Almaden but I still call it home.

What made you want to write?

What gave me the inspiration to write comes from singers and songwriters. I am a poet first and foremost. The ideas that I get for my books comes from my personal experience.  

What got you into writing in this genre?

I have always enjoyed listening to songwriters and I wanted to write just like them. Poetry just arrived naturally. Poetry came to me like Pablo Neruda wrote in his poem, “Poetry.” I believe poetry is born within a person rather than practiced. It takes a while for that part of a person to be known. It may sound strange but I’m still developing as a poet.

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing for the past twenty years. I wrote my first poetry book in sixth grade because it was an assignment and I didn’t know anything about the subject. I didn’t pick up a pen and write another line of poetry for eight years.

Tell us about your past books and stories?

The first book I ever wrote was called, The Darklight Café. I spent a lot of time writing about girls and my experience with relationships. Then I grew out of that and wrote about other subjects that mattered to me at the time. I feel that the world wants you to be something other than what you were meant to be. I don’t like being under a label and I find myself misunderstood by other people. I am poetry but don’t know any other way to explain it.

What is the writing process like for you? What is your writing day like? What have been the biggest influences on your writing?

The process of writing can’t be forced. It will arrive when you least expect it. I’ve learned you need to have a pen and paper with you at all times. I used to walk to work with a small notebook because you never know when true inspiration will strike. It begins with a funny line or a thought than you put the time into it and it will transform to something you can use in a poem or it may stand alone as a storyline for a short story or a novel.

As I said, my influences are not from literary figures but songwriters. I just think they are more interesting and real.

What is your favorite book (other than your own book, of course) and why? What book disappointed you and why?

I have always been interested in autobiographies because people interest me. The book that caught my attention and couldn’t put down was a book written about Jim Morrison by Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugarman called No One Here Gets Out Alive. I read a lot of books about famous celebrities like Elvis but I also like reading books from Lee Child and his character Jack Reacher. Those types of characters interest me.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I no longer think about what may or may not be interesting to the reader. I just write what interests me the most.

What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?     

Stephen King covered what tools you need to be a successful writer was a vocabulary and good sense of grammar. I would add to the list that a writer must have a great imagination as well.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?

I learned from David Whyte that you need to feed your longings and desires.

How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?

I market my work on my author’s page on Facebook.  The best way to advertise is the traditional way, doing readings and word of mouth.

What piece of your own work are you most proud of?

I feel I’m still growing as a poet and a writer. If there was a work I’m most proud of, it would be the book, Observing What Is Not Seen.

For those who haven’t read any of your stories, what story/book of yours do you think best represents your work and why?

Observing What Is Not Seen is a book of poetry and I feel it reveals more than what was written. It was dedicated to my late brother Gregg who taught me the importance of observing the world around you and to appreciate music.

What are you doing next?

I have published two books in July. I wrote a book on understanding poetry called Poetry Abounds and another book called Creative Joys that talks about writing and the need to keep at it. My next book I’ll publish will be three short stories called, Bound to Nowhere.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

The advice I would give aspiring writers would be keep writing. Don’t ever give up. Listen to your instincts and be careful who you ask to look at your writing.

Favorite Quote:

“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Bio:

JP Meador has worked as park aide, security guard, computer technician and federal contractor. He was born and raised in Almaden, located in south San Jose, CA where he developed and indulged his interests in poetry and American History.

His first poetry book was called Forgotten Sentinels published in 2012 (now titled, A Place I Call Home) poems about abandoned military installations along the West Coast, which he visited throughout the decade of the nineties.

Since 2012, he has written over twenty books of poetry, novellas and a memoir called, “Are You Supposed to Be Taken Seriously?

He’s been married twelve years to his wife Debbie. They live in Fresno, CA with their grandson Matthew and a German Shepard pup named, Sasha.

Links:

The Wagon Wheel

Strada Almaden

32 Ounces of Wisdom

A Place I Call Home

Are You Supposed to be taken Seriously? 

Love Unfolding

Observing What Is Not Seen

The Atrium

Off the Top of My Head

Subterfuge

No Need to Bleed

The Light Stream

Complete Amazon Books Listings for JP Meador 

JP’s Amazon Central

JP Meador’s Facebook Page

 

© The Literary Librarian 2017

 

Interview: An Interview with Poet, Trish Hopkinson

Book Name and Description:

Footnote (a chapbook of response poems) –

Footnote is a collection of response poems by Trish Hopkinson written as an homage to some of her favorite artists.

 

Praise for Footnote:

“She holds a handful of earth— / she must say it to understand it.” This scene, from a poem that engages Rainer Maria Rilke as well as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, is a gorgeously emblematic and enigmatic moment in Trish Hopkinson’s Footnote. This collection is obsessed with the miracle of words and the mouths that say them, the bodies that carry them out and back in, deliciously, deliriously. From Emily Dickinson to Amiri Baraka to David Lynch to Sylvia Plath to Pablo Neruda to Janis Joplin, these poems perform erasures, palimpsests, collages, ventriloquisms, haunted monologues, dreams in which the physical dances with the metaphysical so that the stormy dream of language can enter us. And then we see how “we are driven by our own ceremonies, / by whirling words.” Hopkinson understands that the best conversation is a transformation, in which the words one has inherited are reinvented. Footnote reminds us that the act of saying is something we may never fully understand—and that is cause for whirling joy. 

–Chen Chen, author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities

Footnote can be purchased here: Lithic Press: Footnote

 

Waiting Around

by Trish Hopkinson, after “Walking Around” by Pablo Neruda

It so happens, I am tired of being a woman.
And it happens while I wait for my children to grow
into the burning licks of adulthood. The streaks
of summer sun have gone,

drained between gaps into gutters,
and the ink-smell of report cards and recipe boxes
cringes me into corners. Still I would be satisfied
if I could draw from language
the banquet of poets.

If I could salvage the space in time
for thought and collect it
like a souvenir. I can no longer
be timid and quiet, breathless

and withdrawn.
I can’t salve the silence.
I can’t be this vineyard
to be bottled, corked,
cellared, and shelved.

That’s why the year-end gapes with pointed teeth,
growls at my crow’s feet, and gravels into my throat.
It claws its way through the edges of an age
I never planned to reach

and diffuses my life into dullness—
workout rooms and nail salons,
bleach-white sheets on clotheslines,
and treacherous photographs of younger me
at barbecues and birthday parties.

I wait. I hold still in my form-fitting camouflage.
I put on my strong suit and war paint lipstick
and I gamble on what’s expected.
And what to become. And how
to behave: mother, wife, brave.

–original published by Wicked Banshee Press

 

What gave you the idea for Footnote?

In 2015, after teaching a community poetry writing workshop on response poetry, I realized I had quite a few response poems of my own. So in this case, the collection was a surprise waiting for me in already completed work.

 

What got you into writing in this genre?

I’ve always loved poetry. My mother read me nursery rhymes when I was very young and gave me my appreciation for verse. I wrote my first poem when I was 5 or 6 and haven’t really stopped since. I set it aside for a while when my children and work and such took over my life in my early 30s, and quickly realized I am not content without writing poetry. When people ask me why I call myself a Selfish Poet, that’s exactly why—I write for me, the rest is just a bonus.

 

Tell us about your past books and stories?

The topics and forms of my poems vary, but most seem to have a feminist tilt. Several of my poems have been published in literary magazines, journals, and anthologies. My first two chapbooks were early projects and I share those on my web site. The first is a self-published collection entitled Emissions. It received an honorable mention award in the Poetry Anthology category in the League of Utah Writers annual writing contest. The original art included was created mostly by my son, with one by my daughter. The second is entitled Pieced into Treetops, finished summer of 2013 for a local 30 Poems in 30 Days contest. These 30 poems were based on daily prompts and placed second in the competition. The cover art is a photograph taken by my daughter. I hope to collaborate more with my son and daughter in the future; both are exceptional artists.

 

What is the writing process like for you? What is your writing day like? What have been the biggest influences on your writing?

I seem to be most productive in the evening, but I usually write my blog posts in the morning. I probably spend equal time running my blog, submitting poems, and writing poems. The writing process is typically to get the initial draft into a document—then I look for ways to revise and finish the poem. Often revision means trying new forms, adding in another metaphor, researching details for a metaphor, workshopping with my local poetry group, or just letting the poem sit and simmer for a while. Some poems pour out nearly complete with the first draft, while others take several revisions and sometimes months to become finished. I say finished lightly, because finished may never really be finished.

 

What is your favorite book (other than your own book, of course) and why? What book disappointed you and why?

I’m a Sylvia Plath fan. Ariel was life changing for me when I discovered it in my early teens. I still have “Daddy” memorized. Ginsberg’s Howl is another favorite.

 

What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?

I think the most important tool is community—at least that’s the case for me. I think it’s difficult to improve as a writer without feedback, encouragement, and learning from the experiences of others. Sure, you can probably get all that from reading books on your own, but it’s not nearly as rewarding and I think it’s a lot harder to be a writer alone. I love the local and online communities I’m a part of and I’ve made some incredible connections and some even better friends.

 

What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?

Read. Reading will make you a better writer. See what’s out there; see how you measure up; see if you can create something new. I get the most of my inspiration to write from reading other poets.

 

How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?

Aha! Now we’re getting into my specialty. I run a poetry blog where I share information on how to write, publish, and participate in the greater poetry community. I post almost daily and share no fee submission calls for literary magazines, journals, and other markets, as well as free poetry contests. I started my blog as a way to keep track of the places I wanted to submit to and other writing tips and resources. What I found is, a lot of other writers are looking for those same things, so when I started sharing my blog posts on social media, I got a lot of positive feedback and I’ve been blogging almost daily ever since.

Marketing my new chapbook Footnote has been a bit different. It definitely helps to have a blog with followers to sell/promote new work, but I’ve also done a couple of readings and have another scheduled in November. My plan now is to get a press kit together so I can approach the local indie bookstores in Utah and try to do readings there as well. Since I sometimes travel for my day job, I may check into readings in those areas as well in the future. I also set up a little online store and have promoted the book by offering other perks, such as signed copies and poetry critiques. So far it’s going well!

I always jump at the chance to be interviewed or to exchange guest blog posts with other writers and honestly, some of those experiences have been the best part of this whole poetry adventure.

 

What piece of your own work are you most proud of?

I’m really proud of my poem “Waiting Around” which I wrote in response to a Neruda poem entitled “Walking Around.” It’s been published several times—more than any of my other poems, and won awards as well. It’s also included in Footnote.

 

What are you doing next?

I’ve been working on poems about my childhood as well as poems about my son and his recovery from an accident that nearly took his life. I’m also working on the materials and lesson plan for my next free community poetry workshop. Utah Humanities makes it possible for me to teach these once a year as part of their book festival and part of the workshop includes publishing a collection of poems written by the participants. I’m also working on the third annual issue of Orogeny, which is a collection of poems written by the members of my regional poetry group, the Rock Canyon Poets.

I’ve always got a lot going on and wouldn’t have it any other way. Poetry nourishes me.

 

Bio:

Trish Hopkinson has always loved words—in fact, her mother tells everyone she was born with a pen in her hand. A Pushcart nominated poet, she has been published in several anthologies and journals, including Stirring, Pretty Owl Poetry, and The Penn Review; and her third chapbook Footnote was published by Lithic Press in 2017. Hopkinson is co-founder of a regional poetry group, Rock Canyon Poets, and Editor-in-Chief of the group’s annual poetry anthology entitled Orogeny. She is a product director by profession and resides in Utah with her handsome husband and their two outstanding children. You can follow Hopkinson on her blog where she shares information on how to write, publish, and participate in the greater poetry community at http://trishhopkinson.com/.

 

Links:

To buy the book: Lithic Press: Footnote

Poetry blog

Trish’s Facebook Page

Trish’s Twitter: @trishhopkinson

Trish’s Tumblr 

Trish’s LinkedIn

Trish’s Google+

Trish’s Amazon Author Central (for other books listings)

 

© The Literary Librarian 2017

Interview: An Interview with Daniella Levy

Book Names and Descriptions:

By Light of Hidden Candles

(Kasva Press, coming October 2017; historical romance/new adult): In 16th-century Fez, a dying woman hands her granddaughter a heavy gold ring—and an even heavier secret. Five hundred years later, Alma Ben-Ami journeys to Madrid to fulfill her ancestor’s final wish. She has recruited an unlikely research partner: Manuel Aguilar, a young Catholic Spaniard whose beloved priest always warned him about getting too friendly with Jews. As their quest takes them from Greenwich Village to the windswept mountain fortresses of southern Spain, their friendship deepens and threatens to cross boundaries sacred to them both; and what they finally discover in the Spanish archives will force them to confront the truth about who they are and what their faiths mean to them.

By Light of Hidden Candles:
Available for Pre-order for print and Kindle on Amazon: Click Here.
Available for Pre-order for print on Kasva Press: Click Here.

Previous book: Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Judaism (Guiding Light Press, 2016; nonfiction/Judaism): It began as an extraordinary correspondence across the Mediterranean. Josep, a secular Catholic from Barcelona, wanted to learn about Daniella’s life as an American-Israeli Orthodox Jew. Her enthusiastic response to his curiosity resulted in this collection of entertaining and enlightening letters. With nuance, candor, and warmth—and a liberal dash of humor—Daniella paints a vivid picture of observant Jewish life. She explains complex concepts in a manner so unassuming and accessible that even the most uninitiated can relate—but with enough depth that the knowledgeable will find new insight, too. Whether you’re a curious non-Jew or a Jew hoping to expand your knowledge, Letters to Josep will charm, inform, and inspire you.

Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Judaism:
Available for print and Kindle on Amazon: Click Here.

 

What gave you the idea for By Light of Hidden Candles?

Like many of the wonderful things in life, it began with another book.

Well, sort of. I think, as with any creative work, it’s impossible to pinpoint every factor that contributed to it, but if I had to point to one of them, it would be The Spanish Jews by Felipe Torroba Bernaldo de Quirós. I received the English translation as a gift from my then-new friend Josep (of Letters to Josep), who knew about my long-standing obsession with the Jews of Spain and the Spanish Inquisition. It was the first real history book I had consulted on the topic, and I read it with great interest. (Now that I’ve read a lot more, I would not recommend it as a resource for several reasons, but that’s for another time.) As I read about the “reconquest” of Iberia by the Christians and the subsequent migration of Jews toward ever-shrinking Muslim areas, an image formed in my mind of a Jewish family fleeing the advancing Christians and eventually ending up in Morocco. I wondered about relations between Christians and Jews during that period, and imagined a Christian family helping the Jewish family, much like “righteous gentiles” during the Holocaust.

The idea further developed inspired by a particular Judeo-Spanish folk song, “Hija Mia,” about a daughter who wants to throw herself into the sea “to save her from love,” and her mother who is trying to convince her not to. Like many Ladino songs, it’s kind of melodramatic and dark, but it got me thinking about the overwhelming power of love that sometimes forces us to make very difficult choices. The lyrics to the song are featured in the book’s epigraph, and appear at key points in the story.

I’ll elaborate more on how the book came to be, below.

 

What got you into writing in this genre?

Simply put, I’m a history nerd—particularly Jewish history, and particularly Spanish Jewish history. This was my first time writing historical fiction, but it seems to me now that it was rather inevitable that I’d end up in this genre. The worlds recreated in historical fiction are not only completely different from the one I know, but they actually existed—and left evidence you can read, touch, and smell. Of course, this also means it requires a ton of research, and that’s very daunting; but when it’s a period that fascinates me, I’m going to be reading about it anyway!

 

How long have you been writing?

Since I was four. Literally. That’s when I taught myself to read and write, and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer.

 

Tell us about your past books and stories.

So, I wrote my first “chapter book” in a school notebook when I was in fourth or fifth grade. It was called To Keep the Peace and it was a ridiculous and adorable tale starring myself and my British friend who travel the world to stop a war (by visiting world leaders and asking them nicely, of course). This was a short time after my family immigrated from the USA to Israel, and writing was a powerful coping mechanism for me.

When I turned twelve, I used my bat mitzvah money to buy my first desktop computer, and the first thing I wanted to do with it was write a full-length novel. So I did! I completed my first novel at age 14, and my second (which I had started in the meantime) a few months after that. I averaged a novel a year throughout my teens.

I sent my first query letter at age 15, and spent a large portion of the next five years trying to find an agent. I did better than you’d expect for a teenage wannabe, but nothing ended in a contract. By the time I was 20 I was burnt out and discouraged; it was around that time that I first had the idea for By Light of Hidden Candles, but I felt unequipped to write it at the time. I took a long break from writing fiction that lasted about six years, during which I started and quit college, got married, and had three kids! In the course of that dry spell, I hardly even thought of myself as a writer. I considered writing novels a sort of teenage hobby, not necessarily something I’d do as an adult.

Then, in August of 2013, I was putting my youngest son down for a nap when the idea I’d had for By Light of Hidden Candles just… hit me like a freight train. I have no other way to describe it. I was sucked into the world I hadn’t yet created, drawn deeply into the emotional lives of the characters in a way I hadn’t been in years. I dug up the beginnings of a draft I’d written years ago, and added some touches here and there, but I didn’t really think I’d get back to it. After all, I was an adult now; I had commitments and responsibilities and three little kids running around… I couldn’t write a novel! But then a series of other strange coincidences led to a conversation with a dear friend of mine, where I confessed that I’d been thinking about this idea for a book, and she told me in no uncertain terms that I had to write it. So I did! In a little over three months from that point, the first draft was done.

It took a very, very long time to find a publisher, and in the meantime, I started pursuing other projects, one of which was my blog, Letters to Josep, which eventually turned into my first published book. I self-published Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Judaism as a sort of experiment; for the longest time I’d been so stuck on the idea that I needed to have an agent or at least the approval of an editor for my work to be proclaimed worthy of publication. Self-publishing was a sort of declaration that I no longer needed that approval. Paradoxically, it was only once I shed the need for external validation that publications began accepting my work. First, my short story Immersion was published by the Jewish Literary Journal; then, The Olive Harvest by Reckoning Magazine; then, Shattered Glass by Newfound Journal; then, The Wedding Dress by Rathalla Review. (My short story Scarf Sisters is going to be published by arc-25, the literary magazine of the Israel Association of Writers in English, but they’re running behind schedule and I have no idea when it’ll come out.)

My short stories tend to explore closer to home: contemporary life in Israel and the Middle East conflict. For some reason, I find it easier to write about those topics in short fiction.

 

What is the writing process like for you? What is your writing day like?

I’m a bit of a rebel. I’m aware of the common wisdom that we need to be structured and disciplined about writing, not only writing when we’re inspired, but I just can’t work like that. I write when I’m inspired, and given the fact that I’ve already written six novels, a novella, a nonfiction book, more than a dozen short stories, and countless poems, and that I’m still regularly maintaining two different blogs, I think it’s fair to say that it works for me!

My writing process involves a lot of daydreaming. And talking to myself. Preferably in the shower. Much of the work is done away from the computer, when I’m doing dishes or driving or otherwise spacing out. That’s convenient, because I’m a work-from-home mom, and I don’t have unlimited, uninterrupted time to just sit and write at the computer!

 

What have been the biggest influences on your writing?

I think in terms of life experience, making aliyah (moving to Israel) with my family as a child had a very deep impact on my inner life. I explore grief and loss a lot in my writing, and I used to think that was strange, since I didn’t experience the actual death of a loved one until relatively late in life. But the truth is that I’ve experienced a great deal of loss, not least of which was the loss of the first home I remember, my friends, my community, the relative proximity to my extended family, and the identity I had and left behind when we moved here. I noticed recently that many of the main characters in the stories and novels I’ve written are immigrants or children of immigrants. In By Light of Hidden Candles, Manuel Aguilar—the modern Christian character—is a Spanish immigrant to the US, and the main character of the historical narrative, Míriam de Carmona, is forced to leave her home not once, but twice. Their characters and experiences were certainly influenced by my own immigrant experience.

In terms of writing style, I was completely obsessed with the Harry Potter series as a teenager, and I’d like to think that my writing was influenced by J. K. Rowling’s style—particularly the subtle humor of her dialogue. I am also inspired by the work of writers like Amy Tan, who submerge their readers in their culture in a very engaging and relatable way, and particularly Jewish authors who do that effectively. I like to say that I want to be Dara Horn when I grow up.

 

What is your favorite book (other than your own book, of course) and why?

This is like asking me which of my kids is my favorite. I love them all uniquely and for different reasons, and I can’t possibly compare! If I had to choose one of the books I’ve read in recent years, I’d pick The World to Come by Dara Horn. I think her later books were “better” artistically, more compelling, etc., but it’s The World to Come that I find myself coming back to and rereading passages from again and again. I think it’s because of the deep way the book explores that topic I am so drawn to—grief and loss—as well as the relationships between parents and children, and what death and immortality mean, what love and trust are made of… all from a very Jewish perspective.

 

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I think I’m only just beginning to discover myself as an adult writer. Even By Light of Hidden Candles was first conceived when I was still barely out of my teens. I’m finding myself torn between the teenager who loved lighthearted, humorous banter and the adult who is drawn to a more serious, “literary” tone. My hope and prayer is that I’ll be able to synthesize them. I think I bring those two tones together to some degree in By Light of Hidden Candles, but they still remain mostly distinct, the former dominating the contemporary narrative and the latter, the historical narrative. I hope to make it more seamless.

 

What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?

Something to write on. That’s about it. A laptop, a notebook, a granite slab, whatever you’ve got! Nothing else is really necessary.

That said, I personally cannot live without a thesaurus (and I use it all the time. For everything. Even, like, Facebook comments); I’m perfectly happy to use Thesaurus.com for this purpose, with occasional forays into Dictionary.com. I have done an unbelievable amount of research using Google and YouTube. The Internet is an amazing thing.

 

What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?

When I completed the manuscript of By Light of Hidden Candles, I wrote to author Naomi Ragen to ask for advice about submitting it to agents, since her book, The Ghost of Hannah Mendes, is in the same genre and explores similar topics. She wrote back very promptly and started with: “Congratulations! Writing a book is a tremendous accomplishment.” She reminded me that no matter what happens, whether I end up publishing it or not, the fact that I completed a manuscript is something to celebrate and be proud of.

 

How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?

I’m still blundering through this, so I wouldn’t claim to know what works at all, let alone best! This is an area that is particularly challenging for me. So far, people have found me primarily through my blogs or through social media (mostly Facebook; I hate Twitter, and I’m only just getting the hang of Instagram). Occasionally I write articles for popular Jewish platforms like Kveller or The Forward and those get shared around. I just try to be myself and put out compelling content that people enjoy reading and that helps them get to know me.

 

What piece of your own work are you most proud of?

This is also like asking me which of my kids I’m most proud of!

My passion has always been fiction, but I think I’ll take this opportunity to mention my second blog, The Rejection Survival Guide. I started writing it after publishing Letters to Josep and while I was still trying (and abjectly failing) to get my fiction published. The Rejection Survival Guide is the fruit of a very deep and important process I went through in learning how to be truly resilient in the face of years and years of rejection. Many writers are told they have to have thick skins and that they shouldn’t get their hopes up about their chances of having their work accepted. This didn’t work for me, and frankly, I don’t think it really works for anyone. You can’t selectively numb your feelings, and when we suppress hope, we can’t use it to inspire us. Numbing ourselves to rejection isn’t resilience, it’s denial and emotional suppression.

The Rejection Survival Guide takes a radically different approach to coping with rejection. I advocate facing the tough stuff head-on, cultivating hope, redefining what success means to you, and recognizing and rewarding yourself for your acts of courage even when they don’t bear the fruit you would have liked. Most of all, I try to help writers and artists find and nourish the little voice deep inside them that whispers, “I believe in my work.”

I’m proud of the blog because it’s bold, and unique, and an expression of a personal revolution. I think it would have helped me tremendously if I’d read something like it several years ago.

Since this question is about a particular piece, I will point to this post, which is an elaboration on what I call the “Creative Resilience Manifesto,” a set of affirmations that express the core philosophy of the blog: The Creative Resilience Manifesto: How to Stay Strong in the Face of Rejection and Criticism.

 

For those who haven’t read any of your stories, what story/book of yours do you think best represents your work and why?

This is tough because I feel that my work is still evolving. If I had to choose one short story that represents my work well, I think The Wedding Dress is it. It’s got some humor, some whimsy, some heavy stuff, a main character who’s a child of immigrants and struggles with grief and loss, and a sort of indirect exploration of issues of race, prejudice, and politics in Israel.

 

What are you doing next?

I’m working on something a little unique: a collection of short stories revolving around the evacuation of a fictional Jewish settlement in Gaza during the disengagement in 2005. Each story is told from a completely different perspective: from a left-wing journalist who reluctantly covers the evacuation, to a Holocaust survivor settler haunted by memories of his past; from an ex-religious soldier who must evacuate his long-lost love, to a mother of four who must accompany the body of her murdered husband to a new grave. The result I’m aiming for is a kind of sweeping panorama of many different, and sometimes conflicting, perspectives on this wrenching historical event that seems to have been forgotten by most of the world. I have seven stories written at the moment.

 

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

I’m going to quote from a post on The Rejection Survival Guide called Someday Your ‘Yes’ Will Come, which I wrote when I finally found a publisher for my novel:

“Keep going. Keep doing what you love. Keep listening to yourself. Keep creating when that is right for you. Keep engaging with your work and embracing constructive criticism and opportunities for growth. Keep taking breaks when you need to. Keep your mind open to other possibilities and solutions—and be humble enough to try ‘lower-prestige’ opportunities. You gotta start somewhere. Keep trying new things. Keep putting yourself out there. When you do this, when you are persistent and flexible and in love with what you’re doing, eventually, magic will happen.”

 

bio:

Daniella Levy is a mother of three, rabbi’s wife, writer, translator, self-defense instructor, bridal counselor, black belt in karate, and certified medical clown—and she still can’t decide what to be when she grows up. Her short fiction, poetry, and articles have appeared in popular and literary magazines such as Writer’s Digest, Reckoning Magazine, Newfound Journal, the Jewish Literary Journal, Rathalla Review, and Pnima Magazine, as well as online platforms such as The Forward, Kveller, Aish.com, Ynet News, J-Wire, and Hevria, and in the international poetry collection Veils, Halos & Shackles. She was born in the USA and immigrated to Israel with her family as a child, and currently lives at the edge of the Judean Desert.

 

Links:

Author website

By Light of Hidden Candles (Kasva Press)

By Light of Hidden Candles (Amazon)

Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Judaism

Letters to Josep (the blog)

The Rejection Survival Guide (blog)

 

© The Literary Librarian 2017

Interview: An Interview with Poet, Elaine Reardon

Book Name and Description:  

The Heart is a Nursery for Hope – a chapbook of poetry

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The overarching theme of Elaine Reardon’s poetry chapbook, The Heart is a Nursery for Hope, is life’s transmutations, life in all its quirkiness, from small moments in the day to life- changing events. Whatever the heart holds can nourish and transform. 

This book is available on Amazon: Click Here.
This book is also available on Flutterpress: Click Here.

 

Canning Jars
By Elaine Reardon   

I had need of the old jars this morning
went to the cellar to retrieve them
from the bottom shelf
the empty jars still had bits
of your faded handwriting

Twenty two years ago you sat with me
writing lavender, thyme, anise hyssop
on stickers with neat calligraphy
a row of garden for the herb shelf

It was difficult to loosen faded labels
to fill the jars with something new
they now sparkle in the dish drainer
aside from rust on the hinges

Like what changes the heart
what charges iron to rust
can’t be removed easily

 

What gave you the idea for The Heart is a Nursery for Hope?

At the center of things, for me as well as for so many other folks, is hope.  We have difficult situations in our lives, and we need to cope, to get through the difficulties. Kind of like after a big snowfall, one shovel-full at a time – soon you can get down the stairs and out the door.

And somewhere in that process, you may notice how beautiful the snow is, how the flakes stick, and how the moon-shine lights the landscape.  I’m a practical optimist!  Also, I’ve noticed that perspective can change how we feel about things.  Many people have told me they feel spiritually inspired by the poetry.  That both pleases and inspired me, because that feedback has come from folks of many differing religions.

 

What got you into writing in this genre?

My Dad is from the old country (Ireland).  I grew up in the oral tradition of story and song… Every day was a wonderful story.  Even his WW2 stories about getting ready for D-Day on the moors of England, were fashioned for a child’s hearing.  I remember one story of how he saved a chocolate bar from his rations, but the mice got to it before he did.  He could bring a sense of wonder to the mundane. And I don’t think I’ve ever lost that sense of wonder.  If I could carry a tune, I might be singing!

How long have you been writing? I began when I was four, but I couldn’t actually write, yet.  I then took it up again in the second grade.  Again, my teacher dashed my hopes, as she wanted me to do math instead.

 

Tell us about your past books and stories? 

I’ve been published in Three Drops from a Cauldron Anthology, and in their journal. They have an interesting website to explore.  Also, I’ve been “Poet of the Week” on PoetrySuperHighway.com, and featured on masspoetry.org,  Halcyon Days Journal, and Poppy Review.  I’ve directed the work for and edited a Vernal Pool Poster, published by Vernal Pool Association. As an educator, I’ve been published by University of Massachusetts Press, as part of a book about global education.  Finally, I have a picture-book that I’ve recently submitted to several places, and this is another first, for me.  I’ve had support from my local Society of Picture Book Writers and Illustrators as I’ve worked and revised.

 

What is the writing process like for you? What is your writing day like? What have been the biggest influences on your writing?

My family started off my life with song, story, and nursery rhymes, and these have been a large influence. My mom and her sisters loved to croon along with old jazz tunes and big band favorites.  My critique group meets monthly, and that kind of support is wonderful, so I’m always learning to refine.  My writing day is a bit like riding on a see-saw!  I usually begin trying to get email submissions and glancing over journals and online communications early in the day. But then, other days I dash off to yoga first. At some point, I need to go outdoors and be in nature. To listen, walk, or work.  My days are not as organized as I’d like.

 

What is your favorite book (other than your own book, of course) and why? What book disappointed you and why?

Poetry books: Night Walker by by Thurston. Her poetry is just gorgeous. Very simple, very deep. Every line is in place, both technically and emotionally. Billy Collins, for his searing commentary, observations, and humor. I’m enjoying Horoscopes for the Dead right now.  Also, A Moment in the Field, by Margaret Lloyd.   Books are sacred things to me, and reading is a sacrament.  In writing this, I realize I have the first book my grandmother gave me, of fairy tales, before I was old enough to read it, and the second and third books given to me, when I turned eight years old.  One is poetry, and one is about Paul Revere.  It’s interesting that history and poetry have journeyed through my years with me.

 

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I take chances, and listen to wise insight from my poetry elders.  I think it’s a responsibility to birth what you can into the world.  You do what you can to better the world.  I’m new at painting, and have been in some local shows. I dash around taking photos when I write my blog, to pair pictures with words. Twelve years ago, I wasn’t doing any of this! I also became a solar coach for my town, and learned a lot about solar /alternative energy. Every day brings new possibilities.

 

What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers? 

For me, a laptop.  I’m a messy writer – I need a dictionary and quiet. Also, books to read, writer friends, and a sangha to meet with.

 

What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author? 

The idea that we are always evolve, it’s through all the experiences of writing that we see how we can refine our work. Writing is like learning a language, or math, or riding a bike.  You have to do it for yourself.

 

How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?

elainereardon.wordpress.com is my blog, I have a Facebook page for the book, and an author page on Goodreads.  Marketing is tricky when you are published by small presses. I’ve done readings at libraries, bookstores, poetry venues, and literary festivals like the Brattleboro Literary Festival, and the Orange Garlic and Arts Festival.

 

What piece of your own work are you most proud of? 

Ha! Perhaps my unpublished children’s story, The Star Keepers.  Two of my poems were finalists in contests, Memories of Vietnam, and Thanksgiving.

 

What are you doing next?

My neighbor recently found some primary documents, letters from the man who lived where I live, on this land, before we were a country, in the late 1700s.  Reading them makes history come alive for me, from a serious hailstorm, to the Boston Tea Party.  I’ve downloaded some historical documents and want to begin to research and write about James Ball, and that time-frame in my town. I can almost feel him here, and can almost see him looking into the stream.

 

What advice would you give aspiring writers? 

Write, read, don’t self-judge – not everything will be wonderful. Put writing away, and look at it in a couple weeks. You’ll see what to tweak.  Find a sangha of writers be connect with.

 

Bio:

Elaine is a poet, herbalist, educator, and member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Her chapbook, The Heart is a Nursery For Hope, won first honors from Flutter Press. Most recently, Elaine’s poetry has been published by Three Drops from a Cauldron Journal, MA Poet of the Moment, Nature Writing, and poetrysuperhighway.com.  Elaine lives tucked into the forest in Central Massachusetts and maintains a blog at elainereardon.wordpress.com.

 

Links:

The Heart is a Nursery for HopeAmazon

The Heart is a Nursery for HopeFlutterpress

Elaine’s WordPress

Elaine’s Twitter

Poetry Host: Mass Poetry Poem of the Moment

Poetry Host: Nature Writing

 

© The Literary Librarian 2017

Interview: An Interview with Poet Kai Coggin

Poem Name and Description: “hoUSton” 


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“hoUSton” is a poem that I wrote as the horrors of Hurricane Harvey were unfolding in my hometown.

hoUSton
by Kai Coggin

In the middle of Houston, there is US.

My city became an ocean overnight,
floodwaters drowned thousands of homes,
swallowed whole neighborhoods with one rising gulp,
brackish brown bayous
and rain,
so much rain,
a trillion gallons
pouring from the broken open sky,
this is what unfathomable looks like,
6.5 million people wondering if they can float,
people swept out of their lives
in the currents of swirling water,
where do you go when your whole world sinks
to the bottom of a hurricane’s slow dance of doom?

In the middle of Houston, there is US.

I watched for days
from too far away
to do anything but pray
as the water rose over the places of my youth,
I put a golden dome of light around my mother’s home,
texted her through tornadoes overhead
as she hid in the closet,
visualized her safe and dry,
safe and dry,
safe and dry,
and she is…
but how do I not cry
for the 32,000 Houstonians sleeping in shelters tonight?

In the middle of Houston, there is US.

This indiscriminate life breaker of a storm
ravaged the poor, the rich, the middle class
with no thought of separation,
hispanics, asians, whites, and blacks,
christians, muslims, republicans, democrats,
these false lines we use to divide ourselves break down
until all we can see is human.
How can I help another human being survive?
Where can I take my boat, my canoe, my kayak and float
to a family with water rising to their necks,
arms flailing from water level rooftops,
street rivers, trapped cars,
and the mental emotional scars
that have not yet come our from under the rubble
of this unprecedented disaster.

In the middle of Houston, there is US.

A friend of mine lost 99% of her possessions
in a house she moved into two days before the storm.
She posts her gratitude on facebook for
the man she loves saving her and her three dogs.
Another friend’s little boy is always a little chatterbox,
she worries because he is so quiet since they were evacuated,
his eyes looking at the passing water.
Another friend walks five miles with her little girl in a floaty,
hitchhikes on the back of a truck,
jumps on a boat to get to a shelter accepting survivors, she praises dry socks.
Another friend, former student, is now a police officer,
teenage boy turned gladiator diving into harm to truly protect and serve.
Another friend and another friend and another friend
millions of stories because Houston
is a city of stories,
Houstonians helping Houstonians
now more than ever before,
a Navy of Neighbors knocking on every flooded door,
finding their own humanity on the other side.

In the middle of Houston, there is US.

There is a reflection of all of US in this tragedy,
it unfolds on this national scale
in the fourth largest city in the country
to remind us that we are stronger in our togetherness,
we are better when we care for our neighbors,
we are greater when we open up our hearts instead of build walls,
when we are stripped down of everything
but the rain-soaked shirts on our backs
drowning in overtaking oceans,
we reach out our hands from under the water
just wishing someone…
anyone…
another human being…
would grab hold and say
“I’ve got you.”
“You’re safe now.”
“You’re going to be alright.”

Our hands are out to you Houston.

In the middle of Houston, there is US.

***

Kai Coggin, 2017

What gave you the idea for “hoUSton”

I am a Bangkok-born, Houston-raised poet, who now lives in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas. My mother still lives in Houston, and there is always a huge soft spot in my heart for my hometown. Watching The Weather Channel’s coverage a few days before Hurricane Harvey hit, I knew that Houston was going to be in tremendous danger from the slow stalling of the storm that was projected to occur. I watched religiously as the continuous coverage started on Friday – as the storm barreled into Rockport and Corpus Christi. The outer bands began to pummel Houston, and the rain started, and didn’t stop, and didn’t stop, and didn’t stop. I was on the phone with my mom as she ducked in the closet while tornadoes swirled overhead. Houston was going to flood, and The Weather Channel kept throwing around words like “epic,” “catastrophic,” “unprecedented,” and “we have never seen a storm like this.”

I visualized my mother being safe and dry, kept texting her every few hours to make sure she was ok, and kept praying that my city would be okay through this never-ending rain. I felt helpless watching this all unfold on TV, while hundreds of my old friends and former students on FB were updating, live, the devastation that was occurring. I couldn’t just sit on my hands and watch in an anxious state; I had to write. That’s what poets do in times like these; we write.

On the Saturday of the first pourings of torrential rain, I visualized the word, “Houston,” in my mind’s eye and the “US” stuck out to me like this: hoUSton. I posted a FB graphic with the blue background and two hands holding across the bottom with the word “hoUSton” in the center. It was like a prayer, a visualization, a meditation for all of us to see the humanity of US in what was about to happen to the fourth-largest city in the country, Houston… and to hold them in our thoughts.

That is how the poem was born; from that image. A few days later, as the waters swallowed the city of my youth, I wrote the poem. My mother stayed safe and dry – miraculously – and I finally had a moment to process what was going on in my poet heart. The line that circled in my head and kept repeating was “In the middle of Houston, there is US.” The rest of the poem flowed together in one sitting as the waters continued to rise.

 

What got you into writing poetry?

Poetry was a means for survival for me, and didn’t truly emerge as a pillar in my being until I was about 18 – even though I had written stories and poems for most of my young life.  I was going through some extremely difficult circumstances, and I felt completely alone in the world. Poetry was my diversion from suicidal thoughts. Poetry was the safe, in which I could lock away my secrets. Poetry was the heart that could answer back my unrequited love poems. Poetry was there for me in every way, in those days, but I took from poetry more than I gave. It was a sounding board and a shoulder to cry on and the one I ran to when the darkness enveloped my thoughts.

Now, I give to poetry. I give my whole heart and listen to what bounces back. Poetry is a medium that allows me to microscopically view situations, people, and moments, and dissect them with precision, craft, and beauty, to offer perspectives that others may simply miss. I always try to offer a silver lining, a ray of hope, a deeper meaning in my poems. Though I write many poems on social activism, political poems, environmental poem (all poems that seem like they would be somewhat depressing), I always leave the reader with something to think about, a call to action, or a call back to what matters most: love.

 

How long have you been writing?

Lifetimes.

 

Tell us about your past books and stories?

My debut collection, Periscope Heart, was published in 2014, after my manuscript won a contest put out through Swimming with Elephants Publications. The poems in Periscope Heart deal with love, body image, spiritual striving, metaphysics, and more. It is the first sounds of my essence truly spilling out into the world. My second full-length collection, WINGSPAN (Golden Dragonfly Press, 2016), contains poems that reflect “fight” or “flight” themes reflected in many different personal, community, global, and sociopolitical realms.

In February of 2017, I recorded my first spoken-word album, SILHOUETTE, complete with musical accompaniments with talented friends I have around the country. I did it all on the Garageband app on my mac (the recording, mixing, layering, editing, and producing). It was such a fun and different creative process than putting together a manuscript.

 

What is the writing process like for you? What is your writing day like? What have been the biggest influences on your writing?

I am stimulated by heart. My writing follows suit. I am inspired by beauty or destruction, pain or pleasure, life as it unfolds every day. I do not follow a strict writing regimen, but write when I am moved by something I cannot contain, until the passion around a thought bubbles out of me.

There is a time every year that I really strictly write, and that is during National Poetry Month every April, where I lead a 30/30 challenge in my poetry community, to write 30 poems in 30 days. Some of my best work comes from this time every year.

 

What is your favorite book (other than your own book, of course)?

I love anything by Jeanette Winterson or Paulo Coelho.

 

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I evolve constantly, always, in relation and response to everything around me. As a poet, I like to become a deep part of whatever I am writing about. I give myself to the subject, to reveal the voice that the subject contains: the humanity waiting to be revealed, the divine spark waiting to be lit with recognition and acknowledgment in poetry. If you write with an open heart, you will continue to evolve, to grow, to understand the many facets of life all around you.

 

What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?         

An open heart. A keen eye for observation that notices tiny nuances others would ignore. Courage.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?

Sandra Cisneros, internationally acclaimed author of The House on Mango Street, leaned over her kitchen table, over the Corona we were sharing and the steam rising from the quesadilla she made me, and told me, “Tell your story. Someone needs every word.”

 

How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?

I shamelessly market myself on social media. I believe that if you are not excited to share your work, no one else will be. I use Facebook more than other platforms, and it has been a really successful way for me to sell my books and CDs. There is a plateau that is ultimately reached, though, and I haven’t figured out the solution for that yet. I also do readings and book signings that get my work out there into the community.

 

What piece of your own work are you most proud of?

I am proud of every piece that I create, even the half-done, wonky pieces, the epic poems that shoot straight to the heart, and the sappy, longing, love poems. Everything is something that I birth into existence with my thought. It is an act of magic, really, this process of making something out of nothing, simply by stringing letters together and breaking lines and building pictures out of words. I love it. I am proud of everything that I create.

As for my poem, “hoUSton,” I am really thankful that The Weather Channel and The Houston Chronicle shared the poem, only because I feel like there are millions of people who need to hear the message that is intended in that poem; “In the middle of Houston, there is US.” It is the idea that we are all reflected in this tragedy and what is shining so brightly about Houston is its people coming together and helping one another.  We all need to hear of unity and togetherness during this time of divisive political agendas and hate on the rise.  This current administration will not be the end of us. We must come together with our hope for a better tomorrow for our children, and we must create that in our actions and in our words. We are still all Americans, humans, citizens of the world.

 

What are you doing next?

I will continue going into every day, armed with my open heart and my words, to bring, share, and spread Light with my poetry.

 

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Don’t quit when someone tells you “no” or when you get a rejection letter. Keep writing, even if it is just for you. Your story is important.

 

Bio:

Kai Coggin is a former Houston Teacher of the Year turned poet and author, now living in the valley of a small mountain in Hot Springs National Park, AR. She received her B.A. in English, Poetry, and Creative Writing from Texas A&M University. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Sinister WisdomAssaracus, Calamus Journal, Lavender Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, Luna Luna, Blue Heron Review, Yellow Chair Review, and elsewhere.

Kai is the author of two full-length collections, PERISCOPE HEART (Swimming with Elephants, 2014) and WINGSPAN (Golden Dragonfly Press, 2016), as well as a spoken word album called SILHOUETTE (2017). Her poetry has been nominated twice for The Pushcart Prize, as well as Bettering American Poetry 2015, and Best of the Net 2016.

 

Links:    If you would like to order signed copies of my books or CD, please order from the first link below, and they will go straight from my hands to your heart. Thank you!

Kai Coggin’s Official Website

Kai’s Facebook Page

Instagram: skailight

Twitter: @skailight

 

Reviews:

Review of PERISCOPE HEART – Yellow Chair Review

Review of WINGSPAN by Erica Charis – Yellow Chair Review

SpokenHeard Radio Show Interview about WINGSPAN
If you would like to read more poems by Kai Coggin, here are some links to a selection of publications in which her work appears.

“ten thousand wishes” – Elephant Journal

“Paris Accord” & “surrender” – Calamus Journal

“The Pulse of a Rainbow”- Crab Fat Magazine

“Keys” – Luna Luna Magazine

“Déjà vu,” “How to be Fat and Beautiful,” and “Once in a Blue Moon” – Dragon Poet Review

“palette” – Rise Up Review 

“grey horse” “this is a painting” “this is how to eat your past” – Anti-Heroin Chic

“Every black boy is a Lion” – Yellow Chair Review

“There Will Be An Orchard / I Throw Fruit into the Gully” – Drunk Monkeys

Dad & The Dalai Lama – ELEPHANT JOURNAL

“Becoming Vapor and Rain” & “You Become Me Become You” – Women’s Spiritual Poetry

 

© The Literary Librarian 2017