"I Missed the Things I Could See": An Interview with Nicole Walker

Nicole Walker is the author of the nonfiction book, Quench Your Thirst with Salt won the 2011 Zone 3 nonfiction prize and will be published next year and a collection of poems, This Noisy Egg (Barrow Street, 2010). She edited, along with Margot Singer, Bending Genre: Essays on Nonfiction, which will be released by Continuum Press in 2013. She currently teaches at Northern Arizona University’s MFA program.

Three of her micro-essays appear in Issue Thirty-Four of The Collagist.

Here, Nicole Walker talks to interviewer Elizabeth Deanna Morris about small things, big things, and micro things. 

1. Could you discuss how to came to writing these there micro-essays, about micro-words? (Did at any point you say/read/write the word micro so much that it became weird? Is it doing that now?)

I started writing about metaphors and what’s troubling about them. Do they in fact shrink the world by making two things one? Is the problem with comparing the large to the small that the world becomes reduced? Don’t we want to touch everything and if it’s smaller, can’t we hold it in our own hands? I was worried about forest for the trees, running in the woods, staring at tiny rocks while missing the owl flying overhead.

Some of this negative view persists but sometime last summer I decided to be less grumpy and cynical. I went looking for a more positive spin and found it while interviewing scientists down at ASU about microorganisms. I wrote a long, long essay about how microorganisms can reduce pollution in wastewater. Maybe the small, on its own, is the big thing. What came up in the writing about these microorganisms and in several other longer essays is a sense of interconnectedness. Things don’t interconnect on a large scale—a person is not a road. But, there is interconnection between the miniscule. If you look closely enough at what’s around you, it’s not that everything is one—there’s no collapse—but there is a link between the microorganism (water, yeast, horticulture, sanitation) and microbrew, (water, yeast, hops, wheat, barley, sanitation). It’s the word “micro” that brings them together. 

If nearly every word can have a micro in front of it and still have meaning, then that digging down into the linguistic small might be a way to break the big ideas into their constituent parts to see where things might connect and build a link between this small and that small until the map becomes plainer.  

2. In all of these essays, it’s the smallness that seems to make the biggest impact: the small sound that stopped, the small lump, the small environment. Could you talk about how these micro things are emotionally large?

Looking at the small is one way I train my eye to be more generous. I tune in, from the force of the form as well as from the title, and look out. That pressure of containment, which works sometimes well for me in formal poetry, has, at least sometimes, the power of sublimation. From the small solid to the large gas, skipping the liquid state entirely. Squeeze and explode. Don’t tell the whole story, just part of it. Don’t define the word, jump from it.

3. I read in your bio that you co-edited Bending Genre: Essays on Nonfiction.  As someone who usually writes poetry, I could see myself writing something similar to this and just throwing it into that genre.  What’s your reasoning for calling this non-fiction?  Do you think it matters what’s it called or is that just a vehicle for finding it a home in something like a literary magazine?

I think about this a lot. In my classes, my students ask what’s the difference between a prose poem, a microessay and flash fiction? And then I get to roll around in discussions about genre for a semester which is my favorite thing to talk about. In these microessays, I claim the conventions of nonfiction. Etymology is a common trope of nonfiction which is why the essays begin with the word in its dictionary form, even if the definition abruptly veers away from the strict definition. I use lists, white space, voice, and actual facts to help propel the essay. I toggle back and forth between research and personal history. 

Nonfiction relies on different tropes than poetry or fiction. Flash fiction relies, even when it’s brief, on character, scene and plot. Fiction is always starting with a character name: “Jimmy Houston bit the rattlesnake right back.” A whole different part of me writes poems. Poems are the domain of the metaphor and the leap. This is not to say that these genres and tropes don’t bleed into each other. Obviously they do. But when I look at one of these essays and think, could I line break this thing into a poem, for the most part I can’t. They’re born of the nonfiction part of my brain that says, your voice and those facts are the main thing here—not image, not metaphor, not believable characters. When they show up, they’re welcome, but they are not the impetus for the piece.

4. What’s worth reading these days (at least in your opinion)?

Because it’s summer, and because it seems appropriate to my micro project, I’m reading a lot of short things these days. Recipes and facebook status updates, flash fiction and tiny poems. Interview questions. I’m horrible at choosing books. I will read anything thrust upon me.  Someone gave me Mark Slouka’s Visible World so I’m reading that. David Hawkins’ Lorraine Nelson: A Biography in Post-It Notes, Sean Lovelace’s blog. I’m also reading Little House in the Big Woods as I prepare for post-apocalyptic meat-preserving and jam making. I think everything’s “worth” reading, if you have the time.

5. What else are you working on? Are there other micro-essays written or in the works?

Speaking of the apocalypse, I’m working on a book about cooking salmon in drought-ridden world. I’m also writing the larger essays about micro—microclimates and micropreemies (which I think I’ll work on right after I finish this.) I do have a number of micro essays in the works but they have to be tight-fisted and full of turns and something about writing in the hot, dry summer seems to make everything open-palmed and loose-fitting. It’s a good time to write about beer. Microbrews!



"She Did Not Think to Stop Him, This Stranger": An Interview-in-Excerpts with Sybil Baker

Sybil Baker is the author of two books of fiction, The Life Plan, a comic novel, and a linked short story collection, Talismans. Her MFA is from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She spent twelve years teaching in South Korea before returning to the States in 2007. She is an Assistant Professor of English (Creative Writing) at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where she serves as the Assistant Director of the Meacham Writers' Workshop. She is currently on the faculty of the first international MFA program at City University of Hong Kong and is Fiction Editor at Drunken Boat.

An excerpt from her novel Into This World appears in Issue Thirty-Five of The Collagist.

Here, she answers questions "in the form of excerpts"--with further excerpts from Into This World. Enjoy!

1. What is writing like?

Until the end of April, Mina’s life was a shiny ribbon unspooling from a center she hoped she’d never get to. She’d wake up in her studio in Ilsan, have a cigarette, and then walk around the lake before the retired Korans crowded the five-kilometer track, edging her out of the path she’d cut. She’d reduced her life to basic needs, and the morning walk was one of them. The running and cycling paths, the tiny islands, the pagodas, the wood bridges, the landscaped gardens—all brought her a kind of peace. 

2. What isn’t writing like?

She would have returned to editing manuals and technical papers down the hall from Ray, listening to Norah Jones and Sarah McLachlan on Pandora, refilling cup after cup of Tension Tamer tea, going for soup and salad at Applebee’s or Panera or Chili’s with the girls on Thursday, gossiping about the latest Idol or Dancing with the Stars, sneaking in online virtual tours of homes she couldn’t afford, even now with the housing downtown, not alone. Her life had not been one of unhappiness, a life not unlike most people she knew. 

3. When you do it, why?

She did not think to stop him, this stranger who wanted her—or something—so desperately as if his life depended on it.

4. When you don’t, why?

She moved up to Seoul to work in the Dongil Textile Company. She lived in the company dorms with the others workers, all female, working fourteen hours, seven days a week for 220 won a day, enough to buy a cup of coffee. She did piece work on a sewing machine in a space four feet high that blew dust and cotton and other particles in the air with no ventilation. 



"In My Writing I Prefer to Torture the Living": An Interview with xTx

xTx is a writer living in Southern California. She has been published in places like PANK, Hobart, Puerto del Sol, Smokelong, Monkeybicycle, Storyglossia, Kill Author, and Wigleaf.  Her new story collection, Normally Special, is available from Tiny Hardcore Press.  She says nothing at

Her story "The 33rd Word for Cold" appears in Issue Thirty-Three of The Collagist.

Here, she speaks to interviewer Joseph Scapellato about hells, dungeons, and making what's ugly beautiful.

1. Where did “The 33rd Word for Cold” begin for you, and how did it get to here?

It began early one morning before work when I had all of my Radiohead albums playing on shuffle.  I was still half-asleep, the sun wasn’t out yet and the suddenly music became everything and the only thing that existed around me and I wondered, what if I couldn’t escape this?  Then the line, “We exist in a Radiohead dungeon…” came out of me and I just went on from there.   

2. In part, I read this as a fresh and emotionally gripping approach to what could be called the “trapped in hell” story.  Whereas most depictions of hell feature an unchanging eternity, this hell changes—new words are coined, multiple mental dungeons are revealed, a character dies.  I’d love to hear about how you did/didn’t conceive of this as a “trapped in hell” story while you were composing/revising.  Did you do some thinking about the conventions of such works?  (Any favorite hell fiction?)

I can see where this could be a “trapped in hell” story, but in my writing I prefer to torture the living so maybe that’s why it remained in a dungeon instead of a hell.  I didn’t consider other works while writing it and can’t think of any hell fiction at the moment.  I think the scariest hells are ones here on Earth, some we are thrust into, others thrust upon us and how we deal with them when they do.  That’s what I had fun exploring with this piece.

3. I love this story’s neologisms—how the characters name the varieties of cold to “make the misery seem a bit pretty, maybe exotic.”  Do you think that most writers are “guilty” of this—of beautifying misery?  To what degree should this be a writer’s duty?  (For you, for others?)

I think misery gets beautified/glamorized in a lot of fiction; some inadvertently, some not.  I don’t think it should be any sort of “duty.”  I sometimes find myself getting caught up in it though, especially when the misery they are beautifying is drug, alcohol or sex focused.  It’s only after I close the book that I realize, “Hey, that wouldn’t be fun.”  I do love and admire when writers can make even the ugliest things beautiful. 

4. Does this piece appear in your story collection Normally Special?  If so, how does it fit in?  (And if it isn't in this collection, does it mark a new direction for you, aesthetically?)  

 This piece is not in Normally Special but I’ve noticed that the writing I’ve done since the stories in Normally Special are more fleshed out, more developed.  I think I’ve gained some patience to stay and grow a story instead of maybe ending them early just to have them finished.  Aesthetically, it’s a bit different, yes and I am finding myself dabbling in a bit of magical realism lately.  I like being able to not have typical boundaries in my stories.  

5. What writing projects are you working on right now?

Currently I am working on a novel.  It’s been a long and painful process and I suspect it will continue to be so for some time.  I pray there is a happy ending.

6.  What killer writing have you been reading recently? Are there any upcoming releases you're excited about? 

Some outstanding books I’ve read this year include, Murakami’s, IQ84, Cheryl Strayed’s, Wild, Matt Salesses’, The Last Repatriate and Matt Bell’s, Cataclysm Baby

I am excited to read Frank Hinton’s, Action, Figure, Mel Bosworth’s, Every Laundromat in the World, Brian Allen Carr’s, Vampire Conditions, Poisonhorse by Brandi Wells and all the other books I can’t think of right now. 



"The Past on the Closest Tree": An Interview with David James

David James's book, She Dances Like Mussolini, won the 2010 Next Generation Indie book award for poetry. He teaches at Oakland Community College.

His poem "The Death in Your Face Game" appears in Issue Thirty-Four of The Collagist.

Here, David James speaks with interviewer Elizabeth Deanna Morris about games, dying, and the inevitable.

1. Could you please talk about how you wrote your poem, “The Death in Your Face Game?”  (Also, have you ever “played” this game?)

I have a long series of game poems like “The Moo Game,” “The Pizza on Your Head Game,” “The Tired of Your Present Life Tree Game.”  This is a recent one and I started with the title first.  Most game poems are silly and have a bit of humor, so I tried to use the format to write a serious poem.  “The Death in Your Face Game” is actually a rhyming poem called a weave (a form I created).  Its rhyme scheme is abcad befbg ehiej hklhm, etc. 

The older I get, the more my poems deal with death in some way, shape or form.  Maybe it’s my attempt at understanding the inevitable.

2. Could you speak a little more about the author’s relationship to death in this poem?

The narrator’s advice, hopefully, is the kind of advice I take to heart: carpe diem or seize the day.  I can dwell on the certainty of death or I can accept it and find joy/pleasure in my daily life, however mundane it may be.  Writing has always been my method for confronting issues, challenges, disappointments, miracles.

3. I find the last two lines of this poem, “Those who grind a path toward next week / or next year get blown away like human debris,” to be interesting in their self-referentialness. If humans are the ones getting “blown away,” it seems odd to compare them to “human debris,” something human in origin, but destroyed and broken into pieces.  Could you talk about the difference between humans and humans as parts?

The last two lines speak to that human tendency to project ourselves into the future, to think about next month or the next vacation, or when we retire.  We must do a bit of planning, for sure, but that preoccupation takes us away from the here and now.  We should focus more closely on today, this moment, this experience, or else, as the poem predicts, our lives blow away in the wind like litter.  For me, human debris is the equivalent of pieces of torn newspaper tumbling down the street.

4. What’s been sitting in your bag/on your beside table/on the top of your desk to be read, recently?

I’m just now reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s precurser to Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseEverything is Illuminated.  I loved the second novel so I’m going back to read his first.  And I am constantly reading The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry, trying to broaden my aesthetic view of poetry.

5. What do you plan to write this summer? 

I never plan to write anything.  I create time to sit and think and then poems start and, when I’m lucky, develop lives of their own.  I like paraphrasing Robert Frost who said, writing a poem is an act of discovery.  My pleasure stems from the process of imagining and stumbling into a poem and its topic.  In the best possible way, I want to see where the hell each poem will take me.  And it always takes me somewhere . . .



"Words Make Us Into Monsters of Ourselves": An Interview-in-Excerpts with J. R. Angelella

J.R. Angelella is the author of the novel Zombie (Soho Press) as well as a forthcoming Southern Gothic supernatural YA series (Sourcebooks/Teen Fire) co-written with his wife, Kate Angelella. He is a contributing author to the forthcoming murder-mystery anthology Who Done It? (Soho Teen), benefiting the nonprofit organization 826NYC and his short fiction and essays have appeared in numerous publications. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Bennington College and teaches fiction at the Gotham Writers Workshop in New York City. He lives in Brooklyn.

An excerpt from Zombie appears in Issue Thirty-Five of The Collagist.

Here, J.R. Angelella answers questions "in the form of excerpts"--with further excerpts from Zombie.  Enjoy!

1. What is writing like?

The screen flickers. Thin, white lines streak and scroll up from the bottom, horizontally, thin at first, but widening as they reach the top. The lines grow and widen, before cutting back to a soundless black—disappearing. A screen of nothing. The black continues. Then, a buzz breaks into the background, faint, but constant and steady. The buzz, too, fades away and disappears and reveals for the first time actual sound—movement. General movement without words. Like when Dad returned from his walk with Dog earlier—coughing, grunting, walking, moving, breathing, whatever-the-fucking. I punch up the volume and lean in close. The screen still black, a muffled voice speaks in short, clipped phrases. A calm voice. A male voice. A direct voice directing others. The whatever-the-fuck noise in the audio scrambles like tuning an AM radio station, finally correcting itself, clearing away the cobwebs. Then the voice.

“Some call it God’s Will. Others—Devil’s work. Some call it Fate. Others—self-directed destruction. Maybe you prefer Destiny. The semblance of it amounts to utter garbage. We live a pre-determined life, an inevitable existence. A name matters nothing. What we seek is absolution. What we seek is beyond a higher power. What we seek is reckoning. What we seek is an uncommon valor. A code—this is it and it is all we have—a code. Wholeness. Transgressing without the slowed process of phases. Skip the burn and get right to the healing. Fractured, bitter, endless pieces familiarized into a singular oneness. You. A man. Adam. God’s creation. The first. Fuck Eve. It’s about commitment. Sublimation of spirit. Will. Fate. Destiny. Bullshit. One code. Without it, we are merely base animals. Do we agree?”

A wall of deep and heavy male voices responds, “Yes.”

An electric buzzing begins. A power tool. Far away. In a single tone. Then, it changes. The buzzing changes.

Gentlemen, let us suppose that man is not stupid. But if he is not stupid, he is monstrously ungrateful! Phenomenally ungrateful. In fact, I believe that the best definition of man is the ungrateful biped. But that is not all, that is not his worst defect; his worst defect is his perpetual moral obliquity.

The men respond, “Yes.”

The buzzing now screeches—slowing for a moment, before speeding up, ripping through something. I want to press pause and stop this whole thing, but my fingers don’t move or can’t move. The buzzing screeches and screams, ripping and ripping. Silence again. And an uneven breathing, which becomes whispers. A new voice, almost invisible, speaks to himself.

“Jesus Christ, no. I—no—I. I have to—no. Shit. No, no, no.” The man’s voice sounds fragile, frozen, and far closer to the speakers than the other man. The man stops talking, but his breath picks back up—fast, heavy, and hard.

Silence resumes, which forces me to search the black screen for something, anything, and then I see it—a thin circle of light at the edges. I touch my finger to the screen and a blue spark shocks me. I trace my finger along the light.

The main voice continues, “Things finally come down to the business itself, to the act of revenge itself.” Footsteps. Walking. Shoes.  Crunching of plastic underfoot. The man’s voice moves closer to the camera now. His tone changes, no longer reciting words, but rather taking registration. “Month—August. Day—Twenty-Nine. Sublimation one—Ralph Andersen.”

There is a dark void of silence. Until an avalanche of sound comes crashing down—a collective primal scream. Who knows how many people are involved, or what it means. The microphone pops and cuts between silence and the communal scream. A reverberating echo pounds the speakers, the screen still black.

A new voice close to the camera says, “Are you a fucking virgin at this? Take the damn cap off.”

Cap. Camera. Someone has forgotten to remove it.

The circle of light disappears as the cap pops off and a hot, bright, white light crashes into the lens, causing the camera to shuffle and refocus, shocking it into disorientation. The group primal scream now filters through mechanical camera adjustments. Everything blurs and nothing is clear. The scream stops and a choking is all that remains. The choking is violent. Maybe better described as gagging. Like someone having chopsticks shoved down their throat. The robotic sound of the camera auto-focusing stops and the white light settles and the white emptiness looks like what I imagine Heaven to be.

The aggressive white rushes away from the camera as color descends. An image comes through in flashes. A man. A man’s body. Thick, industrial plastic covers him like a blurry blanket. Monitors and machines run wires to him, slipping under the plastic; his eyes taped shut; a clear tube stuffed down his throat, chocking him. He is awake. His body twitches. His neck turns, pulling away, gagging, chocking. A seizure, maybe. The way he thrashes under the plastic and the plastic begins to move and slide and gains speed and clears away from the body completely and the anonymous head finally becomes a head with a body and arms and legs.

The man is strapped to the bed, restrained with long, leather straps crossing over his chest, his stomach, and his knees. The man is fully naked, his junk exposed and all. The body extends out of the frame of the camera, stopping at his knees. No one is on camera at all except for the man—only this man in pain.

Two men dressed in pale green surgical scrubs and caps and masks covering their faces poke around the monitors and plunge a syringe into the IV bag. They talk to each other, checking vitals, but their voices are inaudible. They finally exit off screen—doctors of some kind.

The main man’s voice returns. “Oh, absurdity of absurdities!

Snuff film—is this what I am watching? No. Snuff films are not this. They are where some dude fucks a chick and then kills her on film for serious pervs to get off on, but this isn’t that. I don’t know what this is. This is something else altogether. I lean forward, lean closer, look closer.

The camera pitches again—auto-focusing—and I see them. A crowd stands in front of the man strapped to the bed and the bed is centered on a slightly raised stage. I see them and think it’s a trick of light. I see them, all of them, standing. I hear the man’s voice again.

. . . that you have not, and perhaps never will have, an object for your spite, that it is a sleight of hand, a bit of juggling, a card-sharper's trick, that it is simply a mess, no knowing what and no knowing who, but in spite of all these uncertainties and jugglings, still there is an ache in you, and the more you do not know, the worse the ache.”

The man strapped to the bed gags.

Dog leaves the living room, sleepy, moving away in a slow walk. I wish I could follow.

The surgical tape over one of the man’s eyes snaps loose, so that one eye remains taped shut while the other is open wide, seeking, searching the room. The eye finds the camera. I tilt my head like people tilt their heads in horror movies, all cliché-like and shit. I try and see the man’s face, like I might know him, like I might be able to identify him for the police or something.

I see them there. Others. Men. Their heads are covered in black hoods and masks, like executioners. Some of the men are shirtless. Some in suits. They stand in front of the stage with the bed. They just watch, doing nothing, except for a few that rub their dicks or suck on their fingers.

The main man, the leader says, “This is what redemption looks like, gentlemen. This is the real Ralph Anderson.” 

The man in the bed gives up, stops fighting, breathing shallow breaths, and I keep breathing, breathing for him. He closes his one eye and breathes through the tube down his throat and then exhales and opens his one eye. A surge blasts from his chest as he throws everything into a final fight, twisting his body with enough force that forces some men away from the bed. The doctors rush back into frame, holding him down. The movement startles the crowd as they shift like current away from the stage and collide with the camera. The tripod with the camera crashes to the ground, the camera still filming, but only legs and the heavy plastic covering the floor and the crunching of feet stepping on the plastic. Then the audio goes silent as legs moves past the camera and the screen cuts to black.

Sublimation goes back to Dad’s closet like a fucking bullet. Fucking leave that bullshit behind. I wish I had never found it. I wish I could make myself forget it.

This is the savage animal ripping through my body at this very moment. 

2. What isn’t writing like?

The problem is that I don’t feel horrible from the art, but rather absolutely terrified from failing to feel anything.

3. When you do it, why?

This space is endless. Nothing matters in this space. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Because nothing actually exists here. Everything is possible here, but nothing is certain here. There’s no telling how long this moment will last, but I want it forever. Forever and forever and then a little more forever. To feel this protected. An endless spot in time where our decisions and our actions are nonexistent. I share this space with no one and wouldn’t let anyone in if they came knocking. The anger and rage and presence of certain people in my life are all gone, leaving only a flat line of possibility.

My memory is left intact, but emotion gutted. The memory of what was said that has brought me to this place is a trail in the woods, leading from the house to the dark, unknown destination beyond the house. To watch all this take place. Spoken about. Preached about. Prayed about. To bring us all together is what it is about. The truth is that we all have things to say and whether we are right or wrong, we say them. We say things we believe and most often we’re wrong. And even if we’re right, we fight so hard at making someone believe we’re right, we become wrong. Words make us into monsters of ourselves.

4. When you don’t, why?

And this is the space we exist in for now. A kind and quiet and gentle place.

Nothing is undone here. Hands not re-attached. People not un-drugged, de-sexed, un-plaided, re-booted. People simply stop.

I realize now, here, in this stuck state, that there had been a rattling, snarling demon inside me, growing in strength for some time. Ready to eat its way out. I know this now because I feel nothing now. I am empty now. There is nothing. The heavy, sick darkness stuck inside my skin is gone. Evaporated. Ripped clean. Vaporized. Disappeared.

I am brand new.

There is nothing left to put back together with tape or glue or nails—this is what is left.



"Unnaturally Large and Abnormally Thick": An Interview-in-Excerpts with Matt Dojny

Matt Dojny co-authored the illustrated essay “Impossible Sightseeing” in A Public Space, as well as contributing an illustrated piece to THE MOMENT: Wild, Poignant, Life-Changing Stories from 125 Writers and Artists Famous & ObscureThe Festival of Earthly Delights is his first novel. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, son, and dog. Visit him at

An excerpt from The Festival of Earthly Delights appears in Issue Thirty-Five of The Collagist.

Here, Matt Dojny answers questions "in the form of excerpts"--with further excerpts from The Festival of Earthly Delights.  Enjoy!

1. What is writing like?

There was a pregnant pause, and then, with a tremendous shudder, I felt something begin to slowly, gently slide out of my body. It was unnaturally large and abnormally thick and went on and on and on, seeming as if it might not stop until my intestines had unspooled in a heap onto the floor. The violence of the act disturbed me, but I simultaneously experienced an illicit, adrenaline-filled rush that made my head swim. After I finally heard the thing fall with a thud into the ceramic bowl below, I hovered there, savoring an empty-headed moment of blissful calm, and then cautiously turned around to see what I’d created.

2. What isn’t writing like?

DICKSPLASH: [pause] Um… whiskers?

3. When you do it, why?

During the Exercise, you may experience Joy in many forms and intensities, ranging from the Joy that raises the hair of the body, to the Joy that raises you off the ground, sometimes to the ceiling.

4. When you don’t, why?

I spent an hour trying to pull nightcrawlers out of my tearducts.



"I Hate Cake": An Interview-in-Excerpts with Carissa Halston

Carissa Halston is the author of a novella, The Mere Weight of Words, and a novel, A Girl Named Charlie Lester. Her shorter fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Wigleafkill authorPrecipitate, and Consequence. She currently lives in Boston where she edits a journal called apt, hosts a quarterly reading series called Literary Firsts, and is at work on a novel called Conjoined States.

An excerpt from The Mere Weight of Words appears in Issue Thirty-Five of The Collagist.

Here, Carissa Halston answers questions "in the form of excerpts" -- with further excerpts from The Mere Weight of Words.  Enjoy!

1. What is writing like?

How I reveled in the existence of the International Phonetic Alphabet, how well its symbols fit my mouth. I used to read them aloud, believing that if I could pronounce them all, I could make any word in any language come true—or at least sound true. Drunk with the power of speech, I fell steadfastly in love with a field I knew nearly nothing about. I would be a phonetician. It seemed the surest thing in the world.

2. What isn’t writing like?

I hate cake. Its form nauseates me. Hiding in a guileful happiness, it purports a celebratory aura, sometimes being so bold as to boast sprinkles. But as soon as it enters your mouth, it enters your system, and, ultimately, your life, bringing its insidious crystalline glucose in tow.

3. When you do it, why?

I clutched their unwritten gesture, gripped it next to my heart. Its edges fluttered when pinned to my pulse, beating a rapid cadence, so charged was the setting and each glance and the often uttered notion, “What next?” Everyone had asked in one way or other. Somehow, graduation hadn’t been enough. It lacked finality. We remained unfinished, unending. Something was sure to follow, if only it would reveal itself.

4. When you don’t, why? 

These memories irk me. They’re akin to reading loose where the word should be lose.



"Dreadfully Ordinary and Mythic at the Same Time": An Interview with C. Dale Young

C. Dale Young's most recent collection of poetry is Torn (Four Way Books 2011). He is a 2012 Guggenheim Fellow in Poetry and lives in San Francisco.

His poems "What is Revealed" and "The Ninth Metal" appear in Issue Thirty-Three of The Collagist.

In the following interview with Amber L. Cook, C. Dale Young explores his fascination with the Hawkman and the hidden. 

1. What inspired you to write poems about the Pietà sculpture and Hawkman respectively?

The poem “What Is Revealed” is, for me, more about perceptions of mental and emotional stability than actually about the Pieta.  But reading about how Michelangelo chiseled his name across the sash of the sculpture, something he had never done with any of his other work, is really what prompted me to start the poem.  That behavior could be seen as either quite normal or completely mad.  As for Hawkman, I always found the fact he had wings but didn’t really use them to fly a fascinating thing.

2. In “What is Revealed,” I enjoyed the meditation on Michaelangelo’s Pietà sculpture which shifts into the discussion of themes like modernism vs. tradition and skepticism vs. belief. How do you see these themes in conversation with one another? How did the Pietà spark this conversation for you?

I don’t really see the modernism vs. tradition in the poem.  And though I can understand the notion of skepticism, I am not sure that such a dialogic as skepticism and belief exist in the poem either.  I really think the poem is about how ideas of what is “crazy” are always shifting and are affected by who makes that judgment.  The story of the man attacking the Pieta with a pick-axe is 100% true, and it why the sculpture resides behind bullet-proof glass today.  But it made me think about all the things we hide in order to give them value, in order to show them.

3. “The Ninth Metal” hinges on a speaker who is juxtaposed with the fantastical comic book character, Hawkman. The speaker goes through moments of clarity contrasted with moments of insanity and repeats phrases like “I’m not crazy” and “Men aren’t supposed to fly.” How was Hawkman a catalyst in helping to guide the speaker through these moments?

I liked the idea of writing a rant against a comic book hero.  As I mentioned, Hawkman has wings but cannot use them to fly.  I found that so shocking.  Like “What Is Revealed,” this poem plays with perceptions and the same character, a man who has wings.

4. What is something that you’re currently reading that you can’t put down?

I am not currently reading a book.  I work full-time as a physician, so time is limited.  I did re-read Conrad’s Heart of Darkness last weekend.  It was the 22nd time I read it, and I found things, once again, I had never noticed before.

5. Are these poems part of larger projects? If not, is there a larger project that you’re working on?

Since 2008, I have been writing these poems, poems I refer to as the Halo poems.  They seem to be of one mind.  Other poems in this group have appeared in The Collagist previously.  They all seem to circle this charcater who is both dreadfully ordinary and mythic at the same time, mythic because he has wings he cannot understand.  The poems are odd.  I have had friends suggest to me these are all sections of one long poem, but I am still resisting that notion.  I keep thinking I am done with these poems, and then a new one arrives.  Sometimes, I have gotten excited as I think through a poem because I think it is a new break, a shift.  And then when the draft is down on paper I see it is another of these poems.  Time will tell the story, I guess.



"Grind Together in Memory": An Interview with Molly Brodak

Molly Brodak is the author of the book A Little Middle of the Night (U of Iowa Press, 2010) and the chapbook The Flood (Coconut Books, 2012). She lives in Atlanta and is the 2011-2013 Poetry Fellow at Emory University.

Her poem "Awoke" appears in Issue Thirty-Three of The Collagist.

Here, Molly Brodak talks to interviewer Melissa Goodrich about Moby Dick, comedy, and the attractiveness of short poems.

1. Does “Awoke” begin in waking?  Dreaming?  That liminal space between?

Yes, waking, which can be kind of a disturbing or disappointing experience, although it seems like it should not be. I always feel like I have just materialized, or been gathered together. It feels primitive.

2. When you write “in the Boethius,” what do you mean?  Isn’t Boethius a Catholic martyr?

I woke up and realized I had fallen asleep reading, and found my hand in the book, marking where I had left off but also seemingly estranged from me. I remembered that totally weird small moment in Moby Dick when Ishmael describes waking up as a child and seeing his own hand dangling off the bed and feeling terrified of not being able to recognize it; nor does he want to move it and risk breaking the “spell.”  

Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius has been an important book for me because of how it was written—imprisoned for suspected conspiracy, I think Boethius breaks his mind and writes this imaginary conversation with philosophy—kind of an insane act—to keep sane. The way he switches from verse to prose and back, and the pieces of Greek, Roman, and early medieval writers he adds all feels patchy and jumbled in a way that looks like a lot of contemporary writing. But he was not pasting up half-understandings, this is just all he had access to in prison, his own memory. The pieces grind together in memory. The mind does this anyway while we are asleep, in dreams. To me the funny part of the idea of having or not having ‘control over’ our own minds is not the control bit but the other half of the idea that there is an “I” that is not the mind, some way to function out of another other device that can observe the mind—it seems like a brain wants to turn in on itself so much sometimes.

3. How do you craft such a tiny poem?  Does your work tend to be so contained?

I don’t usually write poems that are quite this short, although I do feel attracted to a short poem. I think you craft it by having the humility to lift your fingers off the keyboard and leave it short. That seems brave. I try to do this but often fail.

4. Whose work do you admire most, where brevity is concerned?

The short poems of Mary Ruefle are some of my favorites, and most of the poems in Laura Jensen’s Bad Boats, which is a book that can be hard to find but is worth looking for, it is so good. I also think Andrew Michael Roberts’ book Something Has to Happen Next is great for short poems. And many of Christine Garren’s poems, specifically, “The Underpass,” one of my favorites, feel like a whole world compressed into a dozen lines or so.

5. What are you writing now?  Is it all so pocket-sized?

I’ve been writing a lot of poems over the past year loosely focused on the place I think you land when you go as far as possible into, and all the way through, pain and despair—which is comedy. I don’t mean the poems are funny; they are not funny at all. I just think it itself is hilarious that the most intense tragedy can considered funny with the right framing, or soundtrack. The poems are of all shapes and sizes.



"Circles, Stars, Squares": An Interview-in-Excerpts with Christopher Narozny

Christopher Narozny earned an M.F.A in fiction from Syracuse University and a PhD in creative writing and literature from the University of Denver. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in American Literary Review, Denver Quarterly, Marginalia, elimae, and Hobart. While at Syracuse, he won the Peter Neagoe Prize for Fiction, and at the University of Denver, he was awarded the Frankel Dissertation Fellowship for an earlier draft of Jonah Man. He currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.

An excerpt from Jonah Man appears in Issue Thirty-Four of The Collagist.

Here, Christopher Narozny answers questions "in the form of excerpts"--with further excerpts from Jonah Man.  

1. What is writing like?

I take up the pad, flip through the pages.  Each page is drawn over with the outline of a man’s suit.  I’ve filled the torsos with circles, stars, squares—the circles standing in for sapphires, the stars for rhinestones, the squares for rubies.  On one suit I’ve drawn circle-studded stripes down each sleeve, on another I’ve dotted the arms with squares and stars.  I’ve penciled in rhinestone collars, ruby collars, mixed collars.  Some of the torsos I’ve covered with distinct shapes—the bulb and stem of a rose over each breast pocket; stick-figure fish swimming vertically, horizontally; small birds in various stages of flight. Others I’ve filled with patterns—checkered rhinestones, wavy lines of sapphires, ruby pinstripes.

I turn through the pages, pencil in hand, erase a half-circle of squares from one torso, add a line of stars to another.  With each addition or deletion I imagine the changing pattern of light.  I close my eyes, place myself in the audience, squint at the reflection from the front row, the back row.

2. What isn’t writing like?

The trombone would play notes that sounded like falling, but I never fell.

3. When you do it, why?

Anything he managed to do, he managed to do despite something fundamental in himself, something he couldn’t name but had spent his life disguising.  A compulsion to be great.  A conviction that he wasn’t up to the task. 

4. When you don’t, why?

Wherever his mind lands, he discovers a hope and contentment he did not experience at the time.  He sees his life not as he always thought of it—as progression and regression, movement toward and away from a target—but as modulating textures composed of noise, scenery, weather.