Friday, January 23, 2009

THE POETRY CHAIN GANG (part 4 w/ Jennylynn Keller)

The Black Telephone has five fast questions for poet Jennylynn Keller.

BT: I love beginnings; one of my favorite poem-beginnings is: "That rusty zipper, the Pawcatuck river/fastens Rhode Island to Connecticut down/to the sea" from Leslie McGrath's poem Renewal. Is there a poem beginning that you absolutely love?

JENNYLYNN: Sylvia Plath's "Morning Song". She says, "Love set you going like a fat gold watch."

BT: Novels get turned into movies; short stories do, too. Is there a poem out there that you could see as a movie or inspiration for a movie?

JENNYLYNN: "The Red Wheelbarrow" [by William Carlos Williams] or "We Real Cool" [by Gwendolyn Brooks]

BT: Poets & jocks— I have a weakness for both; which one do you think makes a better lover? How come?

JENNYLYNN: Jocks. But maybe that just means I haven't found the right poet yet.

BT: Are you working on a poem right now? If so, would you mind sharing the title? If not, what poetry related thing are you working on?

JENNYLYNN: "In Five Days"

BT: I'm trying to start a chain, a chain of poets, sort of like a chain gang of poets. Suggest, please, a poet I should ask five fast questions to next.

JENNYLYNN: I'm tagging Ian Douglas. There's just something about that 'burgh.

What's that you say? You want more Jennylynn— go here then:

THE POETRY CHAIN GANG (part 3 w/ Tony Mancus)

The Black Telephone has five fast questions for poet Tony Mancus.

BT: I recently read an old interview with poet Robert Graves. In it, he was asked "Do you consider yourself fortunate in having been a poet?" His answer: "There's no alternative. If you're born that way, that's your fate - and you've got to do your best. It's a way of life." I pose the same question to you— do you consider yourself fortunate in having been a poet?

TONY: Hmm. That's tricky. Fortunate for the kind of attention it's trained me to have. I do believe it's a way of life and a lot of poets aren't poets in the sense that it's their job to write poems. There are people who live with the same sort of intention and attention who do all kinds of things. Artists and carpenters and financiers and presidents and dog walkers and teachers and tailors. But I don't really know what makes someone a 'poet' or what makes someone fated to be this thing. The best handle I've got has to do with attention and intention. People who tend to write often notice things that other people may gloss over. And they're slightly-to-morbidly obsessed—with language and its play and their own humanity in a lot of cases and the words and world around them. It's weird trying to be a poet currently— like Paul was saying in your last interview, there are a lot of people concerned with the craft and production and circulation of poetry, but on a broad scale a lot of people in this country are scared and/or completely uninterested in it.

Jon Stewart, the night of the inauguration, said something like what method, other than a button on Dick Cheney's wheelchair, would get 2.5 million people off the national mall—then he showed a clip of all the people exiting once Elizabeth Alexander started reading her poem. Now it's still exposure for poetry but it shows something about the attitude most people in this country have about for what we do. But putting fear of inadequacy and ridicule aside for a while, it does feel very good to write and to make things. I do feel fortunate about that. I read somewhere that Williams said poets write to become better people and while that may seem very self-help-y and a bit like psycho-babble, you can take it to mean that there's a weird sort of accumulative effect that happens when you spend your life working on something that not too many other people care about. Over time the idea of self you have in your head comes closer and closer to the self that's walking around in the world, especially with writing since the person doing the work is constantly tweaking their perception. I hope that this is true at least and if it is, then yes, I feel very fortunate.

BT: Do you do something poetry related everyday?

TONY: I try my best to. Sometimes this happens and sometimes not. Some days I do a whole lot of poetry related stuff, like today for instance. I'm trying to type up material from my little black book and answer these questions and go back over a bunch of lines that aren't quite adding up right and later maybe make a couple of book covers.

It takes me an inordinately long amount of time to figure out what things are and where they're going. I don't know how this happens for other people. I ask them sometimes but feel like they consistently lie to me. A lot of people have very diligent and ordered writing practices and I am not one of those people. Teachers have always said to write every day and many of the days that I'm not writing, I wish I was. But that doesn't mean I'm not doing stuff that has to do with writing. Just being lazy, or cooking, or making a bookcase, or watching TV, or listening to conversations, or having them, or yelling at your neighbor's pets, or cleaning the grout, almost anything relates back to or can get incorporated into poems. And that's one of the most wonderful things about writing. About art in general. What feeds it is as much the ordinary as the extraordinary as long as we're tuned in.

Most often, especially as of late, writing happens for me when I'm in motion— like on the train in to work or when I'm driving. There's something about the road that clears my head in a way that allows for things to happen up there. I'm not stuck on how many dishes are in the sink or what number of papers I've got to not grade in order to have a sleepless Sunday night or whatever. I don't actually write while driving. In the past I've tried but it doesn't make for good travel really with all the head movements needed and the way roads turn and it's dark a lot of the time at night, hard to steady the paper. Sorry, I got headed off track here.

So anyway, yeah I try to do something poetry related most days.

BT: A starving artist appears on your doorstep: hungry for inspiration, thirsty for poetry— what do you feed him/her?

TONY: Plum tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil with some balsamic and good oil drizzled over top—a touch of salt and pepper. No, seriously, it's good stuff. But this is a question about reading, right? If I had a recording of Yusef Komunyakaa handy, I'd probably play that. His voice shakes something loose in people. Lorca's Romance Sonambulo, Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son which technically isn't poetry, but it is. Um. Blake and Elizabeth Bishop and Creeley and Harryette Mullen in some kind of smoothie with a dollop of Levis on top?

BT: I consider myself a logophile (which is a lover of words). Is there a word you're terribly fond of at the moment?

TONY: This past week I've been stuck on 'obfuscate.' I don't know why exactly. My girlfriend just had to take the GRE and she'd been studying flashcards with a bunch of $.75-$1.00 words on them. I can't say if this was one of them or not. I've always like the word 'liquefy'— something about the sounds there, but I never use it. Fear of water, maybe? I don't know. Basically any word that feels good in my mouth I like and I try to use and then figure out the meaning or if it's actually a word later.

BT: I am trying to start a chain, a chain of poets, sort of like a chain gang of poets. Suggest, please, a poet I should ask five fast questions to next.

TONY: Keeping it Pittsburgh— Jennylynn Keller

Want more of Tony Mancus? Go to:
Read a poem by Tony Mancus:

Thursday, January 22, 2009

THE POETRY CHAIN GANG (part 2 w/ Paul Siegell)

The Black Telephone has five fast questions for poet Paul Siegell.

BT: I enjoyed (and am still enjoying) your book, "Poemergency Room," because it's, to me, perfect for non-poets as well as poets. It's hard not to be inspired by it. That said: I would describe your book as a "cure for writer's block." How would you describe it?

PAUL: Thanks so much for reading it! So glad you're getting some pleasure and usefulness out of it. And, wow, a "cure for writer's block." That's a pretty funny, and awesome, way of looking at it. I've always loved books that sent me off into a writing flight, so I'm gonna take that as a gigantic compliment.

To pull some phrases from outta the book, I can describe Poemergency Room as a "curiosity dynamo" or a "dictionary playpen" that explores the ways that words – in sight and sound – can themselves be thrilled when placed into a poem.

And in that context, that of putting words and The Poem up on a pedestal, it could also be described as a book about a "realworldolescent" struggling with the relationship between "Fire Work" & "Hire Life," all the while taunting, "A cubical food fight? Rip-roarin' rhapsodic, I'm ready when you are."

I could also describe it by the feelings I get when I read it, to myself and to others, by the changes in their faces as they acknowledge certain lines, if they laugh or if they squint, and by the handshakes and conversations I have afterwards. Reactions and relationships. What the book does. I can describe it in the emails I get from old friends and even total strangers who request the craziness of a signed copy. Where the book goes, and where it takes me.

I can describe it as something that my parents can kvell over. I can describe it as something I worked really hard on, something I was fortunate enough to be able to put into the world. I can describe it as a volume of work that fulfilled yet another of my many dreams.

BT: Bob Marley is to reggae what _________ is to poetry? Please fill in the blank. Feel free to explain your choice.

PAUL: I and I wishes I and I had a real answer for this… Something this big requires a prophet, a messenger, a lion, an uprising, and I just don't know enough about poetry to answer it responsibly. Who knows? At any given moment, maybe any poet could fill the roll. Any time a poet writes about overcoming oppression, of any kind, or about freeing oneself or a people, then maybe there some dreads are growing.

BT: Poets—endangered species or in hibernation?

PAUL: Absolutely neither. Poets are up in the summer AND in the winter. If Ron Silliman's six-year-old blog just recently tallied over 2,000,000 hits, then we have a lot of folks messing about with the way language operates. He estimates that there are "ten thousand publishing poets in the English language." Maybe it's a slow burn, but poets ARE burning right now—My inbox doesn't shut up because of them! And judging from the many, many active poetics-focused blogs and listservs, and goodreads and facebook profiles, there seems to be poetry readings in this country every week, and not just in NYC.

Poems, all kinds of quality poems, are being published and offered to audiences all over the world and it can get pretty overwhelming tryna keep track of even two percent of who everybody is and all the cool and crazy things they're doing with words.

Poets are not hard to find. Poetry readers are.

BT: Sometimes poems are bigger than the page. What poem or line from a poem would you consider having tattooed on your body?

PAUL: "You are the music while the music lasts." T.S. Eliot

BT: I am trying to start a chain, a chain of poets, sort of like a chain gang of poets. Suggest, please, a poet you think I should ask five fast questions to next.

PAUL: Tony Mancus.

Paul Siegell's book Poemergency Room (Otoliths Books, 2008) can be purchased @ Want to learn more about Paul Siegell, check out his blog:

Read a poem by Paul Siegell:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

THE POETRY CHAIN GANG (part 1 w/ Missy McEwen)

The Black Telephone has five fast questions for poet Missy McEwen.

BT: I am a logophile, which is a lover of words. Do you have a favorite word at the moment? If so, what is it and why?

MISSY: I love words, too! My favorite word at the moment, and probably for always, is "obsession". The synonyms for that word – fixation, passion, mania, fascination – delight me. I think it is the definition that I love. I think it is the S's in the word. Actually, I don't know what it is exactly, but ever since I was a teenager, I loved the connotations of that word.

BT: Names can be poetic, too. That said: name Erykah Badu's next baby.

MISSY: Yea, baby names— another favorite topic of mine. I hope she didn't have it yet. If it is a boy: Soldier; if it is a girl: Salvation, nicknamed "Sally."

BT: Are you working on a poem right at this moment? If so, can you share the title? If not a poem, what poetry related thing are you working on?

MISSY: I'm not writing a poem right now (I wish I were), but I have to record myself reading two poems I wrote last year; it is for the publisher of a literary magazine my poems are featured in (MiPO, July 2008).

BT: Sometimes poems are bigger than the page— what poem could you see painted on a wall?

MISSY: As I recollect the July you - Milledgeville, 1944 by Susanne Kort. The line: "...come in the drawl/of southern evenings, from under the taffeta leaves,/accompany the fireflies, ruminate, come back" would look so good painted in jet black on a wall or a wooden table.

BT: I am trying to start a chain, a chain of poets, sort of like a chain gang of poets. Suggest, please, a poet I should ask five fast questions to next

MISSY: A chain gang of poets, I like that, kind of like a daisy chain, too, and like a chain letter. I suggest Paul Siegell.

Missy McEwen is a recent Pushcart nominee & creator of