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Interview: Angela Narciso Torres

Angela Narciso Torres has two poems in the June Issue of The Collagist. She was born in Brooklyn, New York and grew up in Manila, Philippines. An editor of RHINO, her poems have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, North American Review, Asian Pacific American Journal, Rattle, Her Mark 2009, and the anthology Going Home to a Landscape: Writings by Filipinas. A graduate of the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers, she received a Ragdale fellowship in 2010.

1. Can you talk about the inspiration for "Things I Learned From My Sons While Driving Them Home From School" and “My Father’s Ribs”? What was on your mind while you were writing these poems?

Ferrying my sons to and from their daily activities takes me away from my writing desk more than I would like, so my car has become a combination mobile writing studio, reading room, and listening station (audiobooks are great!). While driving, I keep my eyes and ears peeled to anything that might find its way into a poem. As a writer I often find myself listening in on others’ conversations; my sons are not exempt from this, especially because they tend to be uncommonly tightlipped and laconic when I ask them, “So, how was school today?” I’ve found that fading into the background like a chauffeur yields better results than direct interviewing. ”Things I Learned from My Sons While Driving Them Home from School” grew out of a collection of interesting and odd snippets I saved from overheard conversations during the innumerable daily runs to and from school.

Regarding “My Father’s Rib,” I’ve always been intrigued by family lore, those stories that in their retelling eventually become part of one’s identity. One of the stories my mother often repeated when I was young was how I was born missing a rib. In the same breath she’d tell me how my father had an extra one. I found this information both terrifying and fascinating: here I was, a child like everyone else, but with this dark secret, this void that captured my imagination, making me feel a kinship with mythological or biblical characters: Athena springing from Zeus’s brow or Adam being fashioned from Eve’s rib. I was a shy, introverted child, more of an observer than a joiner, often standing at the fringes of a group. Growing up, I identified with my father, also an introvert, in many ways.  This story, with its equal parts biological fact and mystery, reinforced this identification and strengthened the bond I shared with my father even more.

2. A good list poem like "Things I Learned From My Sons While Driving Them Home From School" seems to have a summation effect, where the different pieces come together to build a narrative, define characters, and mean something essentially larger than the parts. In this particular poem, the ending has a substantial weight, distanced from the humor and realism of the other parts. As I was reading, I let my guard down, remembering some of those facts, like the paper folding, from my own childhood, and when I reached the ending, I was both caught off guard and ready for such an astounding idea. How did you hope to construct this particular list poem to have that powerful impact as a whole?

I’m always pleased when I come across a list poem that creates something larger than the sum of its parts, so I appreciate your saying the poem “builds a narrative and defines characters,” which is what I’d hoped as I constructed this poem.  The gathering of list items was the easy part; the bigger challenge was choosing and ordering the list. A poetry teacher once said, “You want a list poem to seem, but not be, random.” I was aiming for an inventory that was varied yet cohesive, that had something of an underlying narrative arc, and that left the reader with some universal truth that transcended the mere accumulation of fact—how to do all this in a seemingly random list? Mostly, I proceeded by intuition, by trial and error. As in most poems, I don’t think I could have planned the overall impact in advance any more than I can point to a set of rules that would make the process repeatable.

3. In “My Father’s Ribs,” the religious symbolism is obviously very strong with the mention of Eve’s creation and the juxtaposition of the speaker’s father and God, often thought of as The Father. Did this influence of religion come because of the idea you wanted to impart upon readers or is it a common influence in your writing?

Like it or not, our familial influences inevitably infiltrate what we write. My father was a huge influence in my development as a writer. He also happens to be a deeply religious man. If this religious influence comes through to the reader, it is not meant to be didactic in any way. We all write from our particular lens; this is what makes one voice distinct from the others. But I think that aside from being raised by devout Catholics, it was my father’s rich inner life, his love of books and music, and his deep compassion stemming from an unshakeable faith in the inherent goodness of human nature, that nurtured the life of the spirit, and eventually, the writing life. Through our growing up years, he’d somehow come up with the perfect books for my sister and me, at any age: Enid Blyton, C.S. Lewis, Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden. As we grew older, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Carson McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding. From his personal library we discovered Shakespeare, Cyrano de Bergerac, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Somerset Maugham. Relaxing after work, he played violin, my mother accompanying him at the piano.  From his collection of LPs or those giant reels he played on an 8-track tape deck, we heard everything from Beethoven to Keith Jarrett; from The Sound of Music to Jesus Christ, Superstar. He invented stories to go along with Beethoven’s symphonies, pointing to illustrations in his medical books to accompany the scenes he conjured up. He also kept a file folder of our school compositions, poems and essays that he felt were worth saving. I remember the surge of pride I felt when one of my pieces went into the file.  From him I learned that the inner life, and particularly, the writing life was something to be valued, protected, and nurtured.

4. You grew up in the Philippines and have been included in the anthology Going Home to a Landscape: Writings by Filipinas. How did your upbringing influence your writing?

Many of my poems are obsessed with memory, with recording and bearing witness.  This has always been and perhaps will always be an obsession, as often happens when someone writes at a remove from their homeland.  Though I was born in New York, I grew up in Manila and lived there my first 23 years.  When I left for graduate studies in the US, I did not know that I would never go back. Machado writes, “Love is in the absence.” How does one survive the absences wrought by leaving home? Writing is one way.  Often the remembered place becomes more significant in memory because it has been lost. Even in my poems that don’t necessarily describe the Philippine landscape, there is a sense of recapturing what might otherwise dissolve into oblivion.

5. What other writing projects are you currently working on?

I just finished my first book of poems and am getting ready to send it out into the world. Reading and editing RHINO magazine ( for the past two years has been and continues to be an enriching and humbling experience. I’m pleased to have poems in two upcoming anthologies, one featuring Southeast Asian women writers and the other, an anthology of persona poems.

6. What great books have you read recently? Are there any upcoming releases you're excited about?

I enjoyed Kyoko Mori’s new memoir, Yarn: Remembering the Way Home. I liked how she used her knowledge of knitting—both the craft and its history—to illuminate and weave together her fascinating, devastating, and ultimately triumphant personal history.  On my nightstand are two very different, but equally captivating books: Lydia Davis’s short story collection, Break it Down and Antonio Machado’s Border of a Dream: Selected Poems, the latter a fine translation by Willis Barnstone recently recommended by a poet friend.

I’m eagerly awaiting the release of these upcoming first books of poetry: Karen Llagas’s Archipelago Dust, Rose McLarney’s The Many Broken Plates of the Mountains, Dilruba Ahmed’s Dhaka Dust and Shadab Zeest Hashmi’s The Baker of Tarifa.  Nothing thrills me more than when deserving poets get their first books into print, and each of these poets is definitely worth watching for.

Interview: Brian Kubarycz

Brian Kubarycz's fiction appears in the June 2010 issue of the Collagist. Brian writes and paints in Salt Lake City, where he teaches Intellectual Traditions for the Honors College of the University of Utah.  His work appears in The Quarterly, Black Warrior Review, Unsaid, The New York Tyrant, and other literary journals.

Can you talk about the inspiration for “Calvino’s Fingers”? What was on your mind when you were writing this story?

When I write I try not to think so much as listen.  Though in the case of “Calvino’s Fingers” I suppose I cast myself back into my own childhood and tried to relive certain experiences, and to type everything as quickly as possible once I could feel myself within certain once-familiar situations.  Again, I try not to think so much as feel and respond, react as quickly as possible through the medium of language.  Which is what I mean by listening.  As for the actual content of the story, I suppose what I managed to do there was combine various experiences I’d had – going to mass, fishing with my grandparents, taking biology and shop classes, swimming in the Erie Canal, exploring other people’s bathrooms - into one very condensed, overdetermined narrative.

There’s a quite nicely balanced straining sexuality all through this piece, from the exact mix of force and grace required to push a frog into a jar, to the way the narrator is aware of how Calvino “made lying under the knife appear somehow to be comforting.” The title underscores this (or perhaps bolds it) though content-wise it’s more a story of frogs than Calvino, and while it’s wonderfully suggestive, it remains vague; a bit of intrigue rather than a focal point. Why did you choose this title, then? And perhaps more generally, how do you like titles to work—more as direction or more as a point to reference back to?

Usually, I’ll just cull a title from a phrase within the body of the work.  In this case I actually fretted over the name.  It was the hardest part of writing the story.  Generally, I have a name locked into place from the moment I begin writing.  In fact, most of my stories are built around the sound of a character’s name. Or my characters are built around the absence of a name.  In this case though the name actually came last.   I liked the name Calvino because it sounded at once foreign and familiar.  Calvino seems constructed as culturally other, an Italian kid living in the land of Guiness.  And yet we all know Calvino to be the name of the author of Invisible Cities and we carry countless associations with that.  But, ultimately, the name just sounded right to me.

As for the unselfconscious incipient sexuality in the story, I guess that was just an attempt at evoking a time when everything felt new and good and slimy.  I think some of our first real excitements in life are creep-out or gross-out moments.  Certainly the children’s-book world is aware of this.  Dr. Seuss gets at that in his story about the Pale Green Pants with nobody inside them.  And Maurice Sendak, at his most daring, understood the delight of the gooey, goopy, lumpy and squishy.  When I was a kid I really liked his In The Night Kitchen, and as an adult I often wondered why I never saw it around more.  It seems that parents were disturbed by imaginative exploration of the erotics of childhood and tried to have the book banned.

I think my favorite thing about this piece is that everything surrounding the very vivid details is just the opposite of that. It could be set anywhere, at any time, it seems. The narrator could be anybody, male or female, age 12 or 20. It seems to me that to leave a story so open in this way, the writer has to have quite a lot of faith in his readers and their ability to make something of the open spaces in a story. Is the idea of a partnership between author and audience something you had in mind while writing this story?

I don’t think I’m trying to foster an open form or a relationship with the reader, at least not deliberately.  I suppose I just take certain things for granted.  If I meet someone at a Prince show I imagine they’re there to shake some ass, and if they’re at a Slayer gig they’re there to bang some head.  And I will interact with them accordingly.  The same thing applies in writing.  I assume my reader has picked up a journal with a certain set of expectations in place, with a desire to get right down to lit, without being patronized by descriptions of characters and settings and motivations, all of which would just bog the reading down.  There are certainly many stories out there which do teach a reader how to read, but those aren’t my stories.

In a recent interview with PANK, you say, “All editing, ideally, should take place while the story is first emerging. Or, editing should take place after a story has been allowed to sit for so long that it is no longer even a story anymore but just raw rock to be dug up, crooked timber to be hewn.” If it’s not giving away too much of the mystery, was “Calvino’s Fingers” a piece that came to you mostly whole, or did it need some time to cure? Which of those processes do you prefer, or maybe just tend, to work through?

“Calvino’s Fingers” emerged in a fairly typical manner.  I wrote it in about as much time as it might take someone to read it.  Which is why I say I didn’t think about anything in it but rather felt and listened.  Sometimes I’m a decent thinker. But I’m always a very slow thinker.  Whereas here I just sat down and kicked out a story the way someone in a figure-drawing class might crank out a gesture study, or a student at the piano might bust out an improvisation.  There’s no time to think and no time to be self conscious.  You’ve got ten minutes to get in and get out and there’s no possibility of backing up and correcting.  But if you sketch or improvise regularly enough, you train yourself to correct along the way, without retracting.  Correction becomes a way of moving forward.  So I just wrote this and moved on to the next exercise.  When I came back to it quite a while later I’d already forgotten most of what I’d done.  I could have torn it up and used it as raw material, something I’ve said I do.  But in this case I rather rewrote the story by making a few very rapid and decisive cuts.  Snip, snip, snip.  Much like Calvino working on the frog, very quickly but delicately laying it open in such a way that it doesn’t seem even deader but seems actually to be coming back to life, to enjoy its own dissection.

What other writing projects are you currently working on?

Most recently I’ve been painting and trying to get a local show.  I haven’t had my work in a real gallery for a few years now and it feels like it’s again time to get it out there and seen.  I’ve written a few stories that will be appearing in the next Unsaid, a journal edited by the very talented David McLendon.  Those pieces are examples of the two poles of writing you asked me about earlier.  One was written by hand in a single sitting, no erasing or striking out in the act of execution, and then sent off the same day without any revision.  The other two, by contrasts, were the result of a process which altered every single word, not really a revision so much as an act of reconstitution.  Which of these processes leads to better results I will leave to the reader to decide.  Finally, I’ve got a novella that I’ve been sitting on for a few years now.  It’s about painters.  At present the whole thing is a mess.  McLendon read it and found the one good page out of one hundred and twenty, and he published it as a short story called Zimmerman.  Ever since then, the other one hundred and nineteen pages look ever worse to me.  And yet I still feel there’s something in it I should try to rescue.  Mucho trabajo.

What great books have you read recently? Are there any upcoming releases you’re excited about?

I was very impressed by the controlled claustrophia of Robet Lopez’s Kamby Bolongo Mean River.  Also, Vanessa Place’s Dies: A Sentence pretty much floored me, all sentence long. Unfortunately, though, I probably don’t pursue emergent literature as tenaciously as many of your other readers.  It’s not that I don’t want to.  But my teaching duties require me to stay current with scholarship, and I can only do so much.  What I’ll try to do though is read everything, including historical texts and critical theory, as if it were contemporary fiction or poetry.  I think this accounts for a lot of the archaisms and anachronisms which find their way into my work. I have always liked Virginia Woolf’s novels, though most recently I read her thoughts on the history of literature and amateur reading, in The Common Reader.  There, Woolf provides a perfect example of what I try to do as a reader, broadly survey various historical materials and ask what still holds up, not for modern scholars but rather today’s fan of literature, and why?

I was eager for the release of Daniel Heller-Roazen’s The Enemy of All, a study of the history of the pirate, as a legal category.  Everything he writes is brilliantly insightful and wonderfully readable.  I can’t think of anyone else who can convey such nuanced observations so clearly, even compassionately.  Michael Taussig’s ceaseless output of ethnographic writings continues to fascinate me, though I think his best book is still The Magic of The State. There he gets into disturbing affects of the sort I mentioned before, especially in a chapter called “Mucoid Ignominy”.  Sianne Ngai does something similar in her recent Ugly Feelings.  I also read a lot of art criticism, not so much to help my painting as to develop analogues to trends in literature.  Rosalind Krauss’s The Originality of The Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths and The Optical Unconscious overturned everything for me, in art and literature.  After reading those strident and maddening books I couldn’t look at the creative act the same way again.

Finally, I read a lot of theology and devotional literature.  Most people would probably find this a huge waste of time, but I’m fascinated by the centrality that feeling, indeed exquisite extremes of feeling, played in medieval life, and the ways that various artists and writers have attempted to maintain the centrality of affect after the apotheosis of Reason. The two novels I always come back to are Kenneth Burke’s Towards A Better Life and Gordon Lish’s Dear Mr. Capote, both are protracted monologues of aggressive artificiality.  I see them as baroque efforts to crucify the human voice, force it to burst forth in a climatic ecstatic cry.  And I always think of them together, because they had a similar effect on me: I was scared shitless.  I finished the book, put it down and thought, I have got to get out of the house now and just move around if I want to keep my sanity.  The effect was huge, and very physical.  That’s a pretty amazing quality in a book, the power to kick you out of the house, chase you down the block.

Interview: Rickey Laurentiis

Rickey Laurentiis' poem "You Are Not Christ" appears in the June issue of The Collagist. He was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Nashville Review, Indiana Review, Knockout Literary Magazine, among other journals. A recipient of a Cave Canem fellowship, he has also had poems commissioned from the Studio Museum in Harlem. You can learn more about his current projects at

1. Can you talk about the inspiration for "You Are Not Christ"? What was on your mind while you were writing this poem?

“You Are Not Christ” is a poem that went through radical changes. It began under a different title and was, itself, much longer—nearly two pages. The bulk of that length was due to a middle section that boldly and colorfully described Christ’s crucifixion. That description was flanked at the beginning and end with ideas about water and drowning. Eventually, I realized that this approach wasn’t working. Christ—whether one believes him as the literal Christ/Messiah, or simply appreciates his historical and metaphorical value—is a difficult figure to place in any poem without that poem, itself, drowning. I didn’t want the poem to concern him as much as I wanted it to concern the trauma and, as a friend of mine once put it, the tragedy of water. More specifically, I wanted to interrogate any given (human) body’s relation to this mysterious, vital force. Being from New Orleans, and having lived through (survived?) Katrina, this is not a theme uncommon for me.

2. The line—You are what’s in the lamb/that keeps it kicking—has stuck with me, as a definitive statement in this poem. This seems like the perfect expression for which the rest of the poem was constructed. However, you continue the poem, ending it with “Let it.” How did that sharp instructive line seem like the right fit to pull it all together?

Thank you. I wanted that line to function just in that way, perhaps like flash of lightning in a dark and darkening sky. Still, I didn’t want the poem to end in that moment. I needed to suggest that this was a revelation (if it was a revelation at all) that was brief. Therefore, I needed something to follow it. In some other poems I have written that comprise a manuscript for where all these themes and questions are worked out, I have utilized this phrase “Let it.” When I came to this part of “You Are Not Christ,” I realized this would be a good place to reprise it. “Let it,” to me, sounds wholly human in that it can be read simultaneously as an “instructive” or a command, but also as a plea, a wild call of desperation, as in “Let it, please.” This is human to me because it’s contradictory, a battle of two opposing energies. In this way, I decided to end the poem here so as to mirror the poem’s panicked yet peaceful beginning.

3. The title “You Are Not Christ” seems weighted as an emotional, reactive statement. How did this title develop?

The title was the only place in this poem that, eventually, I realized Christ (at least in such a blatant fashion) could exist. But even still Christ only exists peripherally, as a means to describe what “you” (any human) is not. As I’ve tried to make clear earlier, this poem is concerned with humanity; it is decidedly unconcerned with the divine. We all know or we are all made to believe that Christ might have willingly stepped into the water and, instead of walking it, may have slipped under and readily accepted death, as he did the night he and Judas kissed. There would have been no struggle, no war, only peace. There are certainly other ways to read Christ within the Bible, to determine whether or not he did go gently. Nevertheless, this idea of Christ as so devoted, so faithful, that he would willingly choose death out of love for what wouldn’t/can’t (i.e. humanity) is, I think, quite popular. It’s an interpretation that I remember, while growing up as a child in the Catholic church, was hung over my head (literally, Christ-on-the-Cross loomed over the altar where I served as an altar boy) and that constantly stressed to me that this act of sacrifice is, ironically, the epitome of what it means to live. In order words, it was a reminder that I was not, nor would I ever be, Christ and, for this terrible flaw, should be ashamed. When I made the decision to use this title for this particular poem, I sought to revise this latter idea; to suggest that there is no shame, necessarily, in not being Christ and that there is something strangely (queerly) beautiful about being just what you were created to be. The tragedy is that you may not realize this until the end.

4. As I was reading your blog, the first post I came across attempted to determine what makes a poem “gay.” I was reminded of a previous interview I did with Saeed Jones, whose blog happens to be in your blog roll. He had a blog post discussing the same issue, concluding that the real question deals with where the elements in the poem that identify the poet. Also, your post mentioned the idea of “drowning” as a metaphor for this issue, a topic Jones discussed in both his poem and his answer to my question. How does knowing other artists with similar perspectives and opinions, such as Saeed Jones, affect your writing?

It’s probably safe to say that Saeed and I met through that very question: what is a gay, or queer, poetics? That is to say, we met through Wilde Boys, a queer poetry salon in New York City, founded by Alex Dimitrov, which, as far as I’ve determined, means to answer this question by means of rigorous, sometimes conflicting, discussion. The post on my blog that you reference was, in fact, a part of the response I gave to Saeed when he first asked me what makes a poem gay. In time, I fleshed out the response more into a kind of mini-essay. Similar to Cave Canem, which is a foundation for the cultivation of African American poets, another organization I am a member of, knowing artists with similar perspectives and opinions to mine and, more importantly, having them as friends, has greatly affected my own writing. Firstly, it gives me confidence to continue writing, to know that my ideas are not only comprehensible but are valuable. Secondly, it challenges me, for it becomes just that more crucial to find one’s original voice as you continue to sing in a chorus of your family. Particular to this theme of drowning, I was both surprised and excited to see that metaphor in the Saeed’s poem that you published last issue. I know, for me, water (and drowning in it) is a dominant image in my poetry not only for the fact that, in its fluidity, it represents a queer sensibility and sexuality but also, as I’ve mentioned earlier, represents a pivotal, life-changing moment in my life. As such, I am certain it will always remain with me and it will be my task to find still new and interesting ways to handle this obsession.

5. What other writing projects are you currently working on?

I’ve several different projects happening at the moment. Having just completed my first manuscript, I’m now involved in the work of sending it out into the world, which is both an arduous and intimidating task. My blog, CAYENNE, which you’ve mentioned, is also a current artistic project I’ve recently begun. There I hope to investigate the way poetics and art intersect with politics, as well as to feature reviews, art and writing from emerging and established artists, particularly those who identify as a queer person of color. Finally, I’ve begun the slow process of writing my first serious work of fiction. It’s still too early to go into great detail about it, but I can say it does feature antebellum New Orleans and, of course, water.

6. What great books have you read recently? Are there any upcoming releases you're excited about?

Breach by Nicole Cooley is lovely, important and necessary contribution to the growing category of books on disaster and trauma. I’ve read and reread Amorous Shepherd, by Dante Micheaux, and have yet to find words to exactly articulate the deep seduction the book has over me. Then there is Toni Morrison, whose oeuvre I’ve been reading all this summer, moving through A Mercy, Beloved, Song of Solomon (which I read side-by-side with the Bible’s Song of Solomon) and now I’m rereading Jazz. I may have to put her down, if only briefly, since Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room and Camus’ The Stranger keep eyeing me from the shelf. I look forward to the release of Rachel Eliza Griffith’s Miracle Arrhythmia scheduled for this September.

Interview: Jaime Warburton

Jaime Warburton's poems “Upon Seeing Photos of my Ex-Lover’s Cooking-Related Injury,” " and “I Would Have Called, But You Might Have Me Made As Drunk” appeared in the June issue of The Collagist. She is assistant professor of Writing at Ithaca College. Her work has most recently appeared in The Silenced Press and Storyscape; her chapbook Note They Cannot Live Happily is available from Split Oak Press. It is true that she has previously worn Princess Leia costumes. You can find her at

1. Can you talk about the inspiration for “Upon Seeing Photos of my Ex-Lover’s Cooking-Related Injury,” " and “I Would Have Called, But You Might Have Me Made As Drunk”? What was on your mind while you were writing these poems?

The inspiration for “Upon Seeing Photos of My Ex-Lover’s Cooking-Related Injury” was, you know, seeing photos of my ex-lover's cooking-related injury. Prosaic. Usually, in an anti-poet way, I throw the manhole cover back on whatever thoughts try to crawl up from the brain-sewers in such circumstances, but this time I let it stay off. The narrative and characters took on something of their own lives, but are grounded in truth.

The genesis of “I Would Have Called, But You Might Have Me Made As Drunk” was different; I was really quite taken by the discovery of a fossilized snake caught in the process of devouring hatching reptiles. I was obsessed with Pompeii when I was a child, and remain fascinated after having visited the city as an adult, and something about  ash-arrested motion and unselfconscious futility felt very much like a poem, as did this fossil.  It taps into this overwhelming desire we have (or maybe only I do) to tell people we care about about our experiences, to draw them closer to ourselves  by saying, “Look; do you understand?

2. Besides the last line of “Upon Seeing Photos of my Ex-Lover’s Cooking-Related Injury,” both of these poems use couplets, with varying line lengths and no rhyme. How did this structure seem right for these poems?

I seldom use couplets, but must have been in a couplet-y mood! The paired lines, punctuated by one left alone, seemed to mirror the emotion of “Upon Seeing...”, and although there's no rhyme scheme, most of the end words have an aural relationship. I prefer my breaks, when I use them, to tell their own story.

“I Would Have Called...” started life as a prose poem. In its revision process, it became lineated, was edited, was sent back to prose form, edited, and sent back to being lineated, where it stayed. As this poem, too, is a kind of dance in understanding between speaker and spoken to, it ended up demonstrating that paired nature – and the longer lines maintain the prose-y, conversational tone that sparked the original version. The form's structure belies the hope beneath the speaker's dismissive last words.

3. Also, both of these poems rely on dual images stacked on one another for the visual aspect that strengthens the personality of the poem. The first poem uses the image of the lover’s fingers—the cut, the ring, the fingernail—followed by the image of the dance—Carole King, the movement, the lasagna. The second poem focuses first on the startling image of the snake about to eat the reptile being birthed from the egg, then settles in the end with the calmer image of the speaker, head thrown back, staring up at the moon. Can you speak a little about these images, and how you use images in your writing?

I was once asked if image or sensation come first for me, which made me decide that it's much easier to find a sensation in an image than to find the proper image for a sensation. This is probably why more people go to the MoMA than make art themselves. (Now that I've said that, doubtless I'll read a study about the massive numbers of people who make art contrasted with dwindling MoMA membership, but there you have it.) However, the two tend to be paired for me, whether one extended image represents a feeling or a series of images helps us along an unfolding of logical steps.

These poems both focus on sensation and emotion as they live in the body. Anyone who has ever played in an orchestra or sung in a choir will say that you can feel the process of music-making, the peculiar kind of intimacy you can share at your core with people you might not even know that well. Our bodies are often smarter than we give them credit for, and can clue us into the energy between ourselves and our surroundings if only we listen. So these images are about the body in the moments when it tells the brain and heart how they feel instead of the other way around.

In particular, these poems both came out of looking at a photograph, and so are naturally image-driven. Memories can come in flashes as though viewed from the ceiling: these pictures are some that stuck with me.

4. Your chapbook Note That They Cannot Live Happily was released last year by Split Oak Press. How did that partnership come about? Also for those of us readers interested in more of your writing, what can we expect from that chapbook?

Well, I knew this guy who knew this woman who'd read these know. I  enjoy working with Split Oak because they're located in central NY, meaning I can easily participate in readings, and the editor respects his authors. That collection of poems takes much of its inspiration from fairy tales, plucking the classic tropes and setting them back down in the 21st century: it includes reimaginings of stories and speakers, magical creatures living in the present, dying families reaching out, quests, modern relationships that don't end in marriage (or, sometimes, in relationships at all!). Some of the poems are erasures of pages in Strunk and White's Elements of Style, and those poems function as the fairy tale narrator, a sort of oracle handing down sets of rules or explanations to the reader much as a golden carp or gnarly gnome might have in a Perrault fairy tale. Lots of story with a good dash of weird.

5. What other writing projects are you currently working on?

I recently completed a collaboration for which I wrote an oratorio's libretto – a retelling of “The Goat-Faced Girl,” mostly from the point of view of the lizard queen Renzolla. I love a cold-blooded character. Right now I'm working on a couple of essays, one based in food and the other in the adolescent trio of smoke, sex, and schnapps, and, of course, more poems with more characters searching for belief in the strange forest of language.

6. What great books have you read recently? Are there any upcoming releases you're excited about?

I love books! One of my favorite things about being an academic is how much reading I can do during the summer – stories and novels, nonfiction and biography, poems and essays. I just finished Judith Thurman's biography of Colette, Secrets of the Flesh, and at the moment, Kate Atkinson's novel Emotionally Weird is open on my desk next to me, and behind me on the floor is Larissa Szporluk's poetry collection Embryos & Idiots. I'm looking forward to reading Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (which, coincidentally, is reviewed in this edition of The Collagist), and I'm also anticipating the release of Paisley Rekdal's Intimate next year – it's described as “a hybrid photo-text memoir that combines poems, nonfiction, and fiction with photography.” Sounds cool, right?

Episode 33: Dilruba Ahmed