Interview with Linda Ashok and Jamel Brinkley

Our blog editors, Maria Prudente and Joanna Cleary, were interested in interviewing writers about their obsessions and repulsions and how they influence writing. Scroll down to read their interviews with two writers we love, Linda Ashok and Jamel Brinkley.


LINDA ASHOK

Maria Prudente: I find that writers need to return to their obsessions in their work. Do you write about your obsessions and, is it challenging to find new ways to write about them?

Linda Ashok: I am not sure about what is implied by obsession. Are you referring to recurring motifs? The thing about my writing is that I never have to think too hard and I mostly go with the flow; writing is quite organic for me as I extract elements from my unsettling dreams. In this process, there are elements that appear quite frequently but they neither demand anything nor dictate. 

MP: Are you ever driven to write about what repulses you? How do you fight the urge to not write around it but through it?

LA: Like anybody else, I am repulsed by any kind of violence but I do write about it because it is therapeutic for me. It helps me to see the underlining of what we perceive as violence. It also builds familiarizes the readers to recognize violences they experience in their personal or public spaces.

Joanna Cleary: As a Communications and Branding professional as well as a writer, how do you think the increasing role of virtual reality and communication in our lives has affected your creativity and creative work? 

LA: Well, virtual reality has built and broken our lives in many ways. In my case, I leveraged virtual reality to expand my creative pursuit; I lived places before I literally travelled to those places. Imagining I am in a certain place, imagining the lives of people local to those places, helped me manifest my desire to live those places in real life through positive affirmations. I experienced their poetry, their struggle, their joys through virtual reality. So yes, it contributed a lot to my writing while also exposing me to a lot of toxicity that affected my mental health in several ways. That I am currently dealing with social anxiety is because of being overwhelmed by the duality of people as seen on social media vs real life. And of course when your life is affected, it does reflect in your work too.

JC: Can you speak to what inspired the title of your 2012 book of poetry, whorelight

LA: My book came out in 2017. I imagined a different name for it and that was whorefrost. But over the four years of its preparation, I found a mention of ‘whorefrost’ somewhere on the net and that really upset me. I wanted to have a unique name to my book. So I continued brainstorming until one day I coined ‘whorelight’ to define how light streams into our darkness, sleeps with it, and leaves everything illuminated. I feel it is akin to those sex-workers who somehow fill in a lot of void in the lives of their customers; and therefore ‘whorelight’ talks about many such moments and experiences that prostituted to fill the many spaces in my life forever inquisitive about meanings.

MP: I was so moved by your poem, ‘We Two Women Can Father A Child.’ Can you elaborate on how that particular piece came to be? 

LA: A certain phase of my childhood happened in the company of my biological mother and my step mother. My mother was too courageous to share her family space with my step mother and she did it to help my dad manage his finances better. In the wake of the world being more accomodating of non-binary relationship, that childhood experience of mine acted as a prop wherein I imagined my mothers discussing how they alone can father me without my dad being around. It is also a depiction of my queer sensibilities imagining two women fathering a child with more considerate human values.

JC: When I read “chew my tongue like a cannibal/ eating a red, fleshy berry” from your poem, ‘Tongue-Tied,’ I was  struck by the theatricality of language. Do you ever perform your work live?

LA: I do. But to myself. These poems are not for a listening audience as the kind of patience they have wouldn’t be enough to simulate the interior theatricality of the poem or poems as such. And even if I am given a very patient and perceptive audience, I would still refrain from performing it as these are very intimate pieces. 


JAMEL BRINKLEY

Maria Prudente: Writers seem to write a lot about their obsessions. Maybe that obsession is a place or a type of person. A writer I know constantly writes about going back inside her mother’s womb. Do you write about any of your obsessions?

Jamel Brinkley: I would say I do, but I’m usually not aware of that fact until after after I’ve written and I can retrospectively look at my work to truly see what I have done. For example, only in hindsight did I see that in my book I was writing about, and obsessed with, families, brotherhood and male friendship, masculinity, and love of various kinds.

MP: Are you driven to write about what repulses you? How do you face that challenge head on?

JB: I think I’m driven to write about what fascinates me, about what I have questions about, and perhaps that sometimes means writing about what repulses me. I think the challenge is making sure that what I’m writing about is interesting to me, so if feeling repulsed is the only response I have to a character or action, then I probably won’t write about it. Complicated or even contradictory emotion is key in driving and sustaining my interest in any story.

Joanna Cleary: According to your website’s description of your collection, A Lucky Man, the work “reflects the tenderness and vulnerability of black men and boys whose hopes sometimes betray them, especially in a world shaped by race, gender, and class—where luck may be the greatest fiction of all.” Can you speak to what luck means to you? Is it an obsession or a repulsion, or both? 

JB: I wouldn’t say that luck is a repulsion; maybe it’s something like an obsession. On the one hand, luck, or the idea of being lucky, is one that I mean to take seriously in the book. I hope that every story contains at least one moment of genuine joy or pleasure or grace for my characters, the kind of moment that makes one feel lucky to be alive. On the other hand, or at the same time, I do mean my invocation of luck to be seen with some irony. For the protagonist of my title story, for instance, luck comes to mean something painful. His life hasn’t turned out the way he expected. And the idea of being fortunate, of being blessed by fate, means that his sense of deserving good things in his life is a lie. What I’m talking about now isn’t unrelated to the myth of meritocracy, which, for some reason, so many people in this country believe in wholeheartedly.  

JC: According to your website, you have many literary events and workshops coming up. Can you speak to how you find that participating in these events influence your work as a writer?  

JB: It’s a real pleasure to meet with readers of my work and with those who are interested in reading my work, and it’s fun to meet with people who are devoted to the writing life. That said, there is a difference between being an author (a public figure) and a writer (a private figure), and participating in all these events has pulled me away from writing. I’ve felt less like an artist than a promoter of my own work. In response to that feeling, I’m learning to be a little less precious about the conditions I require. For example I’m learning how to write in the sterile environments of hotel rooms and, at times, even on airplanes, instead of always needing my apartment, my desk, my coffee mug.

JC: Can you tell us about your current writing fellowship at Stanford?

JB: The Stegner Fellowship is a two-year gift of time and money for which I am very grateful. I benefit from the amazing writing and insights of my peers, the other fiction fellows, when we meet for workshop every week. And we all benefit from working with the Stanford creative writing faculty, with incredible people like Elizabeth Tallent and Chang-rae Lee.


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Author of whorelight, LINDA ASHOK is the 2017 Charles Wallace India Trust Fellow in Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Chichester, UK. She is the publisher of RLFPA Editions, Founder/President of RædLeaf Foundation for Poetry & Allied Arts that funds the annual RL Poetry Award (since 2013), and the founding editor of the Best Indian Poetry series. For features, press coverage, published works and more, visit lindaashok.com

 

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Photo credit: Arash Saedinia

 

JAMEL BRINKLEY is a graduate of Columbia University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He has received fellowships from Kimbilio Fiction, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, and Stanford University. A Lucky Man is his first book. He lives in California.

Interview with Jenn Givhan

In celebration of International Women’s Day, our blog editors, Joanna Cleary and Maria Prudente, interviewed poet and novelist Jenn Givhan for the Inklette blog. Read on to know more about the women writers who inspire her, writing about motherhood and lots more!



Maria Prudente:
In your collection, Landscape with Headless Mama, you include the experiences of what you call “different mother-entities”. What compelled you to write about women through the collective experience and difference in motherhood?

Jenn Givhan: When I first tried having a baby, I experienced infertility and loss. Though I felt like a mother and mothered the unborns of my heart and imagination, I could not bring a living child into this world. At the time I was working on my Master’s degree in literature, focusing specifically on Latinx views and portrayals of motherhood, searching for mothers outside of the narrow definitions of birthmother that Western society put dataURI-1552097845512upon the lexicon, and found that in many other cultures (Latin American/Mexican, for instance) much of the mothering work is shared by tías, hermanas, abuelas, primas (i.e., female relatives) and I was taken, for instance, with Laura Esquivel’s novel Like Water for Chocolate and the role of Nacha, the abuela figure, the magical cook, an indigenous woman who is the primary caregiver of Tita as she grows up, and then later, adult Tita as the wet nurse of her sister’s baby, who becomes a Nacha-like figure to the girl, raising her in the kitchen. As I searched through the literature and began forming my own poetics, I asked questions of motherhood such as is the infertile woman the fertile woman’s doppelganger? Does she represent a fear of being without value in patriarchal society? This all helped me develop a poetics of motherhood outside of the patriarchy in my first collection and beyond, and I’m currently working on a lyric-hybrid memoir Quinceañera with Baby Fever that further delves into my experiences as a Latina growing up on the Mexicali border, examining the cultural stigmas toward childbearing and mothering in the Latina community filtered through my own experiences with teenage sexuality, contraceptives, abortion clinics, miscarriages, and violent relationships with machismo boys/men.  

MP: How does your identity as a Mexican-American women influence how and what you write?

JG: My identity as a Mexican-American woman is embedded in everything I write—even when I don’t explicitly examine my cultural heritage or reference it in my work—because it is linked to my worldview, my deepest belief system, how I view the world and myself. As I discussed before, my work tends to examine mothers at the center, all the variations and possibilities for what mother means, and my own Mexican-American mother is at the heart of this. Everything I write grapples with the complexities inherent in straddling cultures, roles, expectations. Where mainstream U.S. culture would ask me why on earth, for instance, I’d try having a baby while still a college student, why I’d adopt a baby in grad school, my Mexican family never once questioned my deep desire to be a mother, even so young. Now, I’m examining the changing perspectives in my culture and re-evaluating the expectations I felt so crucial, and I’m showing my daughter all the myriad choices she has—she’s eight years old, and we’re already planning for Harvard, which is where she says she will attend college, and which we’re visiting this summer after a book expo for my first novel. I love the Mexican-American woman role model I can be for her—she sees that I’m a mother, yes, but that’s just one aspect of who I am and the possibilities she can hold for herself, if she so desires. She is growing up to know her own strength, and that’s the most powerful aspect of our Latina badassery I can pass onto her.

“Alongside these forebears, I strive to weave together a multilayered song of endurance, survival, and, ultimately, celebration sung by the many women of color working together in the resistance.”

Joanna Cleary: Trinity Sight, your debut novel about a woman’s journey through a dystopian New Mexico, combines indigenous oral-historical traditions with modern apocalyptic fiction. What inspired you to do that? 

JG: I started out writing a story about a woman in New Mexico who loses her family and is on her own, and must find her own strength if she hopes to reunite with them, and perhaps more importantly, to see who she always was, with or without her family. The core of this story, then, is very close to my own heart, and speaks to my own greatest fear(s). Because my own family is from New Mexico on my great-grandmother’s side, and has roots to the Puebloan peoples, the stories that I was researching as I was reclaiming my own family history became enmeshed in protagonist’s search for strength and resilience. I didn’t necessarily set out to write a “post-apocalyptic” book, but the stories of the ancients here in the Southwest lend themselves to the cycles of destruction and rebirth that the indigenous peoples here have long known of and recorded in their sacred stories. I’m so grateful that my own inner journey connected with the ancients’—and that I’ve been able to glean a different perspective on dystopian fiction from a Latinx/indigenous perspective, centering us in our lands.

MP and JC: Which women writers have influenced you the most?

JG: My work follows the tradition of lucille clifton, who writes, “we have always loved us” and “come celebrate with me/that everyday/something has tried to kill me/and failed,” and Audre Lorde, who writes, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” My work follows my forebears Sandra Cisneros, Rosario Castellanos, Sor Juana Inéz de la Cruz, Toni Morrison, and Ana Castillo, and through paths tread clearer by contemporary poets Lisa D. Chavez, Natalie Diaz, Natasha Trethewey, Patricia Smith, and Margo Tamez. Alongside these forebears, I strive to weave together a multilayered song of endurance, survival, and, ultimately, celebration sung by the many women of color working together in the resistance.

MP and JC: What do you think is the most important message to share with emerging women writers?

JG: Believe in yourselves, beauties. Believe in yourselves so strong and resilient, so neverending, that no one, no one, can knock you down longer than it takes you to brush yourselves off and stand up, stronger, taller, braver than before, and to put your whole heart out there again and again and again. People will try to keep you down. And you will fall sometimes. And it will hurt. I wish I could say it won’t, but it will. You might not publish your first poem or story or even your tenth. You might have to send your book a hundred places. All the while you are putting your entire heart out for the world to see, keep learning. Keep growing. Keep shining. Stay open. When doors shut in your face, knock harder, knock louder. Knock the effing doors down. Climb up the fire escapes. Never, ever give up. Keep studying. Keep transforming. Keep shutting down the patriarchy. Shut that shit down every single time. And this all starts here: believe. In yourselves, in your truths, in your worth. As I believe in you. Together, we will change this whole world. ❤


15521042047946229.gifJENN GIVHAN, a National Endowment for the Arts and PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices fellow, is a Mexican-American writer and activist from the Southwestern desert. She is the author of four full-length collections: Landscape with Headless Mama (2015 Pleiades Editors’ Prize), Protection Spell (2016 Miller Williams Poetry Prize Series edited by Billy Collins), Girl with Death Mask (2017 Blue Light Books Prize chosen by Ross Gay), and Rosa’s Einstein (Camino Del Sol Poetry Series, forthcoming 2019), and the chapbooks: Lifeline (Glass Poetry Press) and The Daughter’s Curse (Yellow Flag Press). Her novels, Trinity Sight and Jubilee, are forthcoming from Blackstone Press. Her honors include the Frost Place Latinx Scholarship, a National Latinx Writers’ Conference Scholarship, the Lascaux Review Poetry Prize, Phoebe Journal’s Greg Grummer Poetry Prize chosen by Monica Youn, the Pinch Poetry Prize chosen by Ada Limón, the Joy Harjo Poetry Prize 2nd place chosen by Patricia Spears Jones, and fifteen Pushcart nominations. Her work has appeared in Best of the Net, Best New Poets, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Ploughshares, POETRY, TriQuarterly, Boston Review, AGNI, Crazyhorse, Witness, Southern Humanities Review, Missouri Review, and The Kenyon Review, among many others. Givhan holds a Master’s degree in English from California State University Fullerton and an MFA from Warren Wilson College, and she can be found discussing feminist motherhood at jennifergivhan.com as well as Facebook & Twitter @JennGivhan. 

Conversation between Joanna Cleary and Maria Prudente

Blog editors, Joanna Cleary and Maria Prudente, talk about their writing lives and its challenges, writers who inspire them, the importance of an artistic community, and, of course, blogging and their plans for the Inklette blog!


Maria Prudente: Hi, Joanna. I’m going to start us off here and begin with sharing a little about me. I grew up in the suburbs of a tiny university town in Charlottesville, Virginia, where I tacked up pictures of New York City behind my bed. I always knew I wanted to be an actress, so I moved a few weeks after I graduated high school to begin my conservatory program in musical theatre. It was super intense. I barely remember eating, sleeping or talking to people, really, but it helped me get started on my career at 19 and, I never looked back. When I was younger I made everything so romantic and that included how I viewed my life as a performer but being an actor is tough. Your dreams build and break within an instant. A couple of years ago, I found myself emotionally and creatively depleted. I wanted to create myself all over again. My brain was hungry and I longed to fulfill the academic in me. Now, I’m at Columbia in my second year studying Creative Writing. Before I go more into detail on that, I want to know about you and your life at the University of Waterloo where you are studying English and Theatre, correct?

Joanna Cleary: Correct! I grew up in Toronto, Ontario (that’s in Canada, eh) and, much like you always knew you wanted to act, I somehow always knew that I wanted to write. Even though I didn’t start to write creatively until I was a teenager, my childhood was consumed with books and visits to the library. I found there was a specific sense of peace within the worlds that the written word created, one which I couldn’t always find in real life. Because I spent multiple periods in my childhood struggling with anxiety, retreating to these worlds offered me a break from my own problems. I found that reading, and later, writing, helped me understand myself and the world around me more deeply. As I began to branch out into writing plays as well as poetry and the occasional rambling short story, I realized I want to create worlds that do for other people what the written word did for me growing up; I want to help people escape, reflect on who they are, and find the strength to return to reality more prepared to cope with it. This brings me to a question I have for you, Maria – how did you first get into writing?  

MP: I started writing as a kid. It offered me a sense of relief. You mentioned struggling with anxiety which I can completely identify with and it all began in my childhood. Growing up I could put on this face of being very normal and, you know, playing flashlight tag with the other kids in the neighborhood, but, I also felt like an outsider. I was the only kid with a single parent who also happened to be sick. I spent an unusual amount of time worrying. I was alone a lot. We didn’t have as much money as the other families. When you are a kid, your imagination is what keeps you company but, I found that writing was a more immediate way to express myself. I could create the worlds of other people and writing allowed me to consistently return to those worlds.

JC: I completely agree that your imagination keeps you company when you’re a child, but, especially as you grow up, writing can offer a more direct way to create the worlds you want to make real. Having always been an introvert, I also felt like a bit of an outsider many times during my childhood. I often felt as though there was something about other people that I didn’t quite understand, or that I was afraid of. Reading and writing helped me cope with this, as I didn’t need the people in books to understand me; I was happy just to co-exist in their worlds. Growing up, I often became extremely irritated when watching book-to-movie adaptations that didn’t create the exact world I had imagined for the book in question (which was most of the time, if not always). However, as I continued to grow older (and realized that I may have a slightly obsessive need for control), I realized that subjectivity is one of the most empowering aspects of art. Nobody can ever completely control how another person writes, as we all have unique writing styles, as well as writing ideas, that can’t ever be truly micromanaged by others. With this in mind, I began to delve into writing as a form of emotional expression that created the worlds I knew I imagined and nobody else did, at least not in the same way. Do you find writing to be an immediate form of expression for you as well?

MP: Absolutely. Today, it’s still a great relief to put a word to a feeling. The writing program at Columbia has challenged me in such a wonderful way. It’s humbling to sit in a workshop and listen to people read your work aloud without you, the writer, being able to explain it or justify your choices. I admit I am hypersensitive. I have all but cried when a piece gets gutted because one tiny moment in the story doesn’t click with them. I try not to sit and self-loathe. I’m getting better but some days can be harder than others. I do care a lot but I try to pick what’s necessary to think about for revision and what isn’t. I try to stay focused on improving content and less on perceptions of my work over all. Some things will resonate deeply with people and some things won’t. How do you deal with workshops and critiques of your work? How do you move forward?

JC: I can be extremely sensitive to feedback if I feel that my work is misinterpreted. For instance, if I write a piece that specifically intends to play with the conventions of typical narrative structure and people spend all their time talking about how they don’t understand the lack of a proper beginning/middle/end, I’ll struggle not to dismiss feedback as having missed the entire point of what I was trying to do. My childhood desire for control clearly has not diminished in the slightest. However, the creative writing and play development workshops I’ve participated in throughout my university education have taught me that everyone has something useful to say, even if I may not agree with it. For instance, comments made by people talking about the lack of a conventional narrative arc in a piece without a clearly defined beginning/middle/end may help me understand that I need to be clearer about my aesthetic intentions. As a creative writing professor once told me, we’re usually the most defensive about criticism we know is true. Hence, I always try to keep an open mind when listening to feedback, even if my gut reaction is to shut down. If I succeed, I often find that people offering feedback can help me as much as my initial sources of writing inspiration. Speaking of which, can you speak to which writers influence you?

MP:  When I was eleven, I stole “The Virgin Suicides” by Jeffrey Eugenides from my brother’s bookshelf and read it over and over. I became obsessed with that story the same way the boys in the book grow obsessed with the Lisbon sisters. I read the
“The Marriage Plot” on a trip to London and had to stop reading because I was irritated I hadn’t written it myself. I like the darkness to Eugenides’ work. I’m a massive fan of playwrights. After getting the chance to put their work into action, it’s hard not to feel creatively committed to them. From Shaw, Strindberg, and Chekhov to John Osborne, Ariel Dorfman, Mamet, Rabe, LaBute. I think Leslie Jamison should be required reading for nonfiction writers on how to master work that combines the personal with research. My list keeps growing as I keep learning. Who are you favorite writers?

JC: I love e.e. cummings, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Lucille Clifton, Sarah Kay, Lauren Groff, and Hanya Yanagihara (in no particular order). One of my favourite hobbies, however, is picking up a writing collection or visiting an online magazine, going to a random page, and reading what’s on there. I love discovering new artists as much as I love revisiting familiar ones. Becoming suddenly acquainted with the unique style of a contemporary artist I have never heard of before often inspires me to continue writing when I feel stuck. It’s important to remember what makes you want to write and what you want to write for. I often find simply being exposed to the sheer desire to write and the energy that the written word can have compels me to write for those moments and emotions in my own life that can’t be expressed in any other way. What about you – what you you write for/against? What compels you to write?

MP: I do feel this urgency to write about what repulses me. I had a professor encourage this notion to our small group of maybe six writers last summer. It’s tougher in non-fiction. In that particular class, I started writing about being a hypochondriac and having contamination OCD. I’d had some distance from it so I understood that I could imbue some humor into it because on some level it is funny. It also feels deeply selfish. I was a nervous wreck to share that with my class but they encouraged me to go even further. That same summer I had this assignment that I didn’t like. We had to do an art review and I was having a tough time picking one piece so, I ended up writing this ultra-cynical meta-critique on several paintings and simulations. It ended up being this dark-humor commentary on corporatized art in Chelsea. I had clearly made a mistake choosing Chelsea Galleries and yet it worked! I would say that I am like most non-fiction writers: I write to understand. I have to ask because we are co-editors for Inklette, do you have any prior experience writing blogs?

JC: Almost none! Aside from a writing a few Inklette blog posts over the past few years, blogging is a new medium for me. This is why, after having been a poetry reader/dditor ever since I joined Inklette, I wanted to try and form of writing with which I have less experience. I’ve always been interested in creative nonfiction and I love reading blogs because they are often intimately related with the idea of knowing writers as people. I believe that is essential to the empathetic interpersonal bonds that writing creates. However, I know that you have a blog because I’ve shamelessly stalked you on it. Tell me more about your blogging experience!    

MP: Oh gosh! Sometimes I forget that it’s out there and I suddenly feel naked. I didn’t know you posted for Inklette before, that’s so cool! My blog, Pink Moon, is a year old. It is a mixture of the political and the poetic. It’s not meant to be polished, it’s messy and honest. I insert my voice in the kinds of work I post there but, for Inklette, I think the work should primarily be about telling the stories of others and exploring shared conversations. Supporting other writers, learning about them and reading what they have to say is so important for our growth as writers.

JC: I agree – community is essential to the life of writing, which is why I’m thrilled to be working on the Inklette blog with you. As for everyone reading, we hope that you’ll stick around for more messiness, opinions, art, and random tidbits coming your way.

MP: Agreed! Stay tuned!


149460297287447JOANNA CLEARY is an undergraduate student double majoring in English Literature and Theatre and Performance at the University of Waterloo. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in The /tƐmz/ Review, The Hunger, Pulp Poets Press, Every Pigeon, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Subterranean Blue Poetry, among others.

 

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MARIA PRUDENTE has written about feminist ethics for Manifest-Station and is featured in Grey Wolfe Publishing’s upcoming anthology of nonfiction short stories. Maria is a professional stage and film actress. She received her training from the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute and graduated from the American Musical & Dramatic Academy with a concentration in Musical Theatre performance. Maria is the Content Editor at CountrySkyline, LLC and proud member of Actor’s Equity Association. She lives in NYC where she studies Creative Writing at Columbia University.

 

Interview with Amy O. Woodbury

” Amy Woodbury is a connoisseur of abstraction, an artist who unflinchingly exposes fierce secrets and restless dreams– all with a deft precision. Here, we cross over into a plane that moves with uncanny ease from the physical to abstract. Stroke after stroke scorches with unnamed longing, melodic stillness. This art, this surreal entity, is a deeply reflective meditation of modern wanderlust, yearning, and enigma. As a former modern dancer, Woodbury paints in much the same way as she danced–with daring, elegance, and a wondrous verve.”

-Maggie Lu, Visual Art Editor 


Inklette: How do you think your 22 years of artistic background in dancing/choreography influence your visual artwork? What was the catalyst in your transition from dance to artwork?

Amy: i consider my dance background to be my visual art training. to me, there are many similarities between composing a dance and composing a painting in that both art forms address improvisation, lyricism, space, line, texture, scale, abstraction and narrative. and with my figurative work, i often feel as though i’m still choreographing, still inventing movement. i love that!

throughout my dancing career, i would simultaneously be drawing and painting something, whether it be on costumes, on set pieces, on the walls of our home, on paper. the christmas after i retired, my husband gave me canvases and paints and that was that – i haven’t looked back.  

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“The Snail’s on the Thorn,” 30″ X 40″, Acrylic on Canvas. ©Amy O. Woodbury

Inklette: I love your painting “The Snail’s on the Thorn”; can you speak about your composition and inspirations for that one specifically?

Amy: thank you. i am very pleased with how she turned out. it’s a romantic piece with a romantic ending (regarding its sale). 

the line, “all’s right with the world”, from robert browning’s verse poem, pippa passes, kept running through my head as i was making this. i love birds, the whole of the animal kingdom, and i love english literature and old books too, and i wanted to create a peaceful and harmonious world, where things were “right”, to quote mr. browning. when the foreground  figures were complete, i added the miniature chorus behind them, gave the earth an organic striation and the sky a crunchy texture. the palette was a guiding force, too.

Inklette:  Do you ever find moments of artist’s block? If so, how do you regain momentum?

Amy: i do and when it happens, i remind myself of the children i know and how fearless they are when they’re making art, “oh, i’ll just do this and add this and make this happen because i want to”. the judgement and editorializing go out the window, they’re free. i also have a mantra, “move off the spot”. just go. and even if what i throw down isn’t very good, it’s a start, it’s movement – have i mentioned that word before?

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“Yin Yin,” 18″ X 24″, Acrylic and water color pencil on canvas. ©Amy O. Woodbury

Inklette: As an Illinois native, how do you find your work influenced by your upbringing and surroundings?

Amy: i was born in a quintessentially midwestern small town, mendota, and i have sweet memories of walking out our back door into cornfields and sky. there is variety to the landscape here. and there is a plethora of green and water and four very real, very distinct seasons. all of which makes for rich fodder for my work. i also live part time in southern utah, but illinois stays with me; oftentimes i will paint an illinois-infused piece while i’m in utah. so i take my roots with me wherever i go. i like that.

Inklette: Which artists or pieces of artwork did you find yourself drawn to in your formative years?

Amy: as a choreographer, henri matisse; he was a massive presence. i created an evening-length work, “ ode to a wild beast”,  based on several of his paper cut-outs. years later, working with paper and constructing collages, i felt i was channeling him all over again. 

but before the paper pieces, in my formative years, i was drawn to asian art: scroll paintings, woodblock prints, the “floating world”, kanji symbols, etc., which led me to purchase the tale of the bamboo cutter with superb illustrations by masayuki miyata. that little book fed me for several years – long enough that people thought i was asian. simultaneously, i loved poring through my grandmother’s art history books and selecting portraits of medieval madonnas for inspiration- icons by the likes of carlo crivelli, fra filippo lippi, piero della francesca. and i painted them on 4’x4’ sheets of masonite –  they were very primitive but a whole lot of fun to make.

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“Michigan,” 36″ X 48 “, Acrylic on canvas.   ©Amy O. Woodbury

Inklette: Finally, I’d love to hear about your current exhibition at cafe selmarie in Chicago. How were you attracted to the venue? What sort of materials and inspirations did you draw on for your pieces “yin yin” and “michigan”?

Amy: i’m good friends with the owners; in fact, one was a dance colleague of mine. i enjoy showing there because of its lay-out, the generous wall space, the palette and the fact that the cafe’s clientele includes art collectors – i owe a lot to cafe selmarie in terms of my own client base. my current show, 20 strong, is a good example of the many different things i love to paint/draw: “yin yin” is a re-inventing of an older portrait that i felt wasn’t working so i flipped it upside down and there she was. she has a tinge of the surreal and with the two-female-portraits-in-one, i titled her “yin yin”. “michigan” is, once again, a manifestation of my love affair with the midwest; every summer we head north to the upper peninsula of michigan, on the southern shore of lake superior. aptly named. 


studio portrait

Photo Credit: Richard Woodbury

A former dancer and choreographer, AMY O. WOODBURY has been a visual artist for twenty years. Mostly self-taught, Ms. Woodbury works in acrylic and mixed media, painting and drawing a variety of things: fantasy figures within dense detritus-laden terrains, portraits of imagined women, abstract expanses of water and land. What motivates her? Movement, memories, intuition, color, randomness, thinking outside the stretched canvas. Born and raised in Illinois, Amy makes art in Chicago and Boulder, Utah. Exhibits include: Judy A. Saslow Gallery, the Goodman Theatre (scenic elements), the Evanston Public Library, permanent collection, the Evanston Art Center, GenesisMke, Cafe Selmarie, the Burr Trail Outpost, and her Annual Front Yard Art Sale, an anticipated Evanston event.

Interview with Talin Tahajian

“As a poet, there are certain milestones you can mark, vague and blurry as they are, about writers and experiences and pieces that changed the way you approach your craft. Reading Talin Tahajian’s poetry has been one of these formative moments in my relationship with the craft of writing and understanding how it operates not only on a level of metaphor and meaning, but also subliminally. Talin’s poetry is an interplay of images, of the way sceneries of the mind can become metaphors for larger, more deeper meanings, and how the individual identity roams freely even when tied down physically.. The kind of internal monologues her work explores become reflections of some of the best pieces you might’ve ever read – there is a universality to them, but also ground for questioning, for doubt, a whole room to move in and interpret as you please. It is perhaps the best quality a work of art could claim to have.”

Smriti Verma, Poetry Editor 


Շարական (“In this new country”)

 

I’m living in a ridiculous, beautiful imitation
of a place I’ve already lived.
America’s scholarly faux cathedrals—
her gothic turrets and traceries—
her autumn-evening blue-bright architectures—
the way the light leaks in, cutting neat the forested edge of the entire visible world—
where the street folds into itself and ends without indication—
where everything is made miniature at the end of a long brick road with maples—
her nouveau riche. Her strange glories inherited—
her good real estate. Such a good way to render this discovered

immaculate land—I wake up, and my goddess-huge maple
has started to turn. Its leaves all flushed through.
September is over. And still I don’t know where in the world I am—

Here, in this new country, more people look like me—look just like me—

In moments of daily theophany, I walk by girls who look like me.
Imagine, all of us together again in the cul-de-sac of our ancestors.
Lined up as tiny identical icons—assembled in perfect portraiture—
kissing our խաչքարեր for mercy—but this time, not shot dead in turn—
Խարբերդ, the place we’re from, is no longer part of our country.
And, most of all, we’ll say, of Արարատ, they stole our beautiful mountain.

I don’t know what’s left in Armenia for me.
And Aleppo is gone.

In my mind, every day, I’m still on King’s Parade—
I’m crossing the same bridge over and over—
I did the best I could—it doesn’t matter—
there’s no place for me in England—

I waited three years to go into King’s Chapel, and when I did, my blood was flashing artificial—
I was seeing things that God didn’t choose to make—all of us
showing such petty irreverence for those blood-blue vaults and buttresses, all of us
together beneath the ripe-hanging festival moon—

The drugs tortured me as they left me—They torture me and again
again the torture, as the sun rose, through my fits and figures,
sapped primordial as Michelangelo’s yet-lifeless Adam, palms limp—
reaching toward grace—for the drugs—in some other kind of begging
before prayer existed at all—farewell, love, I’ve thought to myself

as I rise with it—the chemicals—naming myself and my friends over and over.
I sometimes forget my nomenclatures—I sometimes forget—

Once, I licked drugs from the hands of someone I love
disgustingly particularly—do you remember?
I am reminded of creation as wicked in a way that can’t be described
in speech or spell—that devilish art—I was named after a village

with a cathedral inside it . Talin, first misnamed nine
centuries ago by an ancient astronomer—an old master—I’d rather forget.
I name myself—Թալին—I name him too—Ptolemy

O my ancestors—O my lovely lost forgotten գուսանք—
my own little շարական—I create you—
I don’t know you—I still don’t know what parts of me are holy—

(Published in The Rumpus, July 2018)


Inklette: This question may be a little vague, but in all our reading of your work, starting from the very beginning, we’ve noticed that a number of your poems feature bird imagery as a recurring metaphor. What’s the intention behind this? Do you think we as writers tie ourselves to certain images and metaphors over the course of our careers?

Talin: I’m still young, too. Once, I was asked a similar question, and I said I’d never come away from the dead birds, or something like that. But I think, largely, now, I have done. I think it has to do with what we’re casting ourselves up against, at the moment—writers create imitable things, and I think that part of growing up and learning is sapping them all up—the ones that really stick with you—and spitting them back out. So, early on, I guess I was reading a lot of poets who use a lot of birds, and that’s how I learned how to write. They’re also, of course, almost infinitely poetic creatures—as in, literally, able to be poeticized—and can stand for love, hope, fear, loss, overcoming hardship, the transcendent, et cetera. This is why they are so malleable in the hands of new and seasoned poets alike, and another reason why they’re probably all through my older stuff.

That being said, about the “concrete metaphor”: I think we latch and unlatch like barnacles as we grow older, as the seasons change, as we move from city to city, and we’re surrounded by different objects and spaces…

 Inklette: How does a poet know the extent to which the usage of symbols would retain their personal appeal to the poet, while also not appearing overly cryptic to the readers?

Talin: The question, to me, seems to be about what is expected of the reader—what sort of reader are we expected to be? What does difficulty ask of us?—what does poetry ask of us? Does poetry really “[require] nothing of you other than a willing ear,” as Jia Tolentino recently described for The New Yorker? Poetic “difficulty” raises questions about elitism and precipitates discussion about the literarily “democratic,” qua Geoffrey Hill. It’s all about readerly expectation. But where does expectation come from? Again, it’s something constructed by our own understanding of what poetry “is” or “should be,” which comes from our own vertical and horizontal reading. So, the “symbol”-object, as you call it, will mean something different to me than it means to you, and it will mean something different to another reader, et cetera. I definitely don’t always intend for readers to “understand” everything that I write; that is, to interpret it in the same way that I do—how could they? Instead, I hope that they can sap from it what they like, the way different metals, affected by the same sound wave, ring with different tones?


Earth usually has more than one moon, study suggests

 

When the last stellar-studded gown swept across the whole

bleeding world, I cried. The pearly night ate me up. Marveling,

you ask, What is it like, living in the larval object? I used to know­—

the same goes for our sloshing planet. Now, I forget most things.

The darkness is round and white. It has become glorious and full.

It’s remarkable­—the way everything glows with the putrid energy

of an oyster mushroom decaying a dead and violated animal.

Long ago, before the end, the pink-grown sky haunted me lengthily

with an old, Western beauty. I was born beneath a sprawling display

of spring-torn clouds. I died the whitest death. Now, incessantly—

I’m bored of being famous; I just want to be a good person. I live in a glade

in an inside-out universe, a spell of sopping moss. Don’t you see?

I have risen from the black smoke of the new Levant, the richest part

where the moon is twice. O, you­—you break my thrashing heart.

(Published in The Iowa Review Online, April 2018)


Inklette: Two of your poems—“Perseids” and “Signs of Life,” both my absolute favourites—focus on merging internal monologues with metaphors of cities and coastlines. What’s the idea or the somewhat deeper meaning behind this? How does your conception of cities influence your writing?

Talin: Wow—well, I think that, right now, the city-as-poem and city-as-transgressable/trespassable-object is the obsessive place toward/into/in which I write, qua the first question… I’m not sure why. I like the way that reality and not-realities seem to coexist in the city. In a pretty typical way, I also have a lot of memories and passions and nostalgias attached to specific cities, and those are the ones in which most of my work lives, at the moment.

Inklette: A lot of your poetry focuses on interiority and reads like a stream-of-consciousness piece. At the same time, it also relates itself to, say, the immediate surroundings. Do you find this challenging? Do you think it can be hard to situate an internal monologue with, say, a political or social theme?

Talin: I don’t think it’s hard for some people—immediately, Nicole Sealey’s “Virginia is for Lovers,” sam sax’s “Executive Order,” and Dorianne Laux’s Facts About the Moon” come to mind, and there are many, many others—but, usually, I think it’s challenging for me, yes. I think I need to go somewhere, insert myself into that place, and that’s usually the right kind of fodder for me. Recently, I went back to Cambridge (UK) to do this, and it was incredibly important to me that I did. I believe that, in some way, most social themes are still spatial. (That’s one of those generalizations about which I’ll definitely disagree with myself in a few years, but hey.) The space is always there to ground the monologue, to tether it to the Earth.


No Steeple

“If there is still one hellish, truly accursed thing in our time, it is our artistic dallying with forms, instead of being like victims burnt at the stake, signaling through the flames.”
Artaud

I live in beautiful old buildings
that your fathers lived in,
& their fathers. Nothing is real until it is.
You’d hate that.
It’s hard to hurt things.
Isn’t it.
I’m afraid of spiders but I still scoop them cold
into my hands & let them free. Where’s the church
for things like this. I could talk about churches
but for the dust. I could talk
about cities but for the mist. Last night, I stepped out
into the crystal-cold English night & our looming chapel
was hanging in fog. None of us even deserve
any of this: the only city that envelops you like a shrine
to something you’re not even good enough to worship.
The not-church is my bedroom
& my soft-stained sink. The not-church is everything you, boy, think you know.
I’ve seen your books. I’ve seen your pen. Artaud called it
burning at the stake. I have burned & burned but is it burning
if there’s no one there to see? I burn
in a dark gorgeous cave in a turn of twisting earth
& there are no sounds there, & no figures
or forms, but the softest crystals on earth, pieces of not-rock
& not-thing & I burn in the not-light / & I bleed into my soap-stained sink
still soft / & I sign as I am supposed to sign:
standing straight still, signaling nothing, with nothing, for nothing, forgetting
my name as an echo that drifts & leaves its way to the shrine-city for which none of us
are good enough, where it disappears into the system of bells
as just another tonal, longing thing, lengthening & fading.
From my not-church in a building older
than our fathers, I hear it & don’t recognize myself
in it. I hear bells where, somewhere, in another
similar universe, there are no bells,
but through the chapel-feasting flames, an echo
from some dark-cave slick stone stake
signing Talin, Talin, Talin, Talin, Talin, Talin, Talin,
until, in the distance, a small body
falls from a cave in a cavernous crag, a burnt,
budding thing, still crying or bleeding, so thin
& so rot for mercy.

(Published in Cosmonauts Avenue, March 2017)


Inklette: In your artistic career, has there ever been a particular poem that you started working on and stopped? What was it about? Do you ever think about going back to it?

Talin: There are pieces that I think about writing, but I really don’t tend to start until they’re fully cooked—fully marinated? Ready to simmer? Or, done simmering and ready to boil? Either way, what I mean is that I don’t usually start things unless I’m itching to write them, and pretty deeply aware that I’m ready to write them, which is usually a gut feeling. That’s not to say they’re perfect. But I sit on things for a while. I sat on the topics of “Landscape” and “Barn Point” for ages, for instance—until I had a poem in me, fully and definitely, and until I knew that I’d got something—even if that “something” were very small—somehow right.

 Inklette: How have your sources of artistic inspiration changed over the span of your career?

Talin: Now, I learn and draw from the materials around me differently, and with a more critical eye, than I did when I was in high school. And I’m more aware and knowledgeable of the long poetic tradition of which we’re all a part—so, more to draw from. But I think the “inspiration,” the root of everything, must be the thing that doesn’t change—maybe not the reason the hand drags the knife, but the hand, or that the knife is dragged? I hope that makes some sense. Thanks for these questions.


I keep a strange list

 

The night whistles in
as through two
rain-white teeth.
I turn to myself
and say Help
I think I am killing myself—

this is everything we think we want.
Roadkill is so intimate. Launch yourself
into the gore-warm
ocean. Beautiful.
Hello the drowning
is so good Come back no one
can talk to buildings Come home
but I am missionless. I wait
for the water to reclaim
the high white columns
of our fathers. I am from an old city
and, now, from other older cities.
It’s hard to remember.
Sometimes, I walk
on the wrong side of the road
in the wrong country.
I am always dazed
and easily dazzled.
Like any good drug, a cold
glass of coffee lifts me bright.
I keep a strange list
of people I love.
I keep my own personal
terrible holy spirit.
It lives in my faint blood
and my whole animal heart.
We beat together. He is so cold.
Real gods knife you up.
I have experienced indications of the end of the world
so I’ve never been happy.
But I’ve been euphoric. If anyone ever
listened to me, they would know prophecies
and spells Come home to the water
but they don’t listen—they never—

(Published in Peach Mag, July 2018)


tt1TALIN TAHAJIAN grew up near Boston. Her poetry has appeared in the Kenyon Review Online, Indiana Review, Best New Poets 2014 & 2016, Black Warrior Review, and the Rumpus. She edits poetry for Big Lucks and the Adroit Journal, and is an MFA candidate at the University of Michigan. Check out her website and her Twitter

On Having a Blog

BY JOHN S. OSLER III

Writing can get lonely. Oftentimes, if it’s not lonely, you’re doing it wrong. A mistake I made when I was just starting out (in a relative sense, hopefully in the grand scheme of things I’m still just starting out) was that I spent too much time talking about writing and showing people my writing and thinking about writing and hardly any time at all actually writing. It’s temptingly easy to make being a writer into your identity. It’s got a sort of prestige to it, an area of creativity and self-expression where the only barrier to entry is literacy. Spending enough time alone in a room to actually write something of a decent length (never mind value), that’s harder.

But, like with most things, there’s a danger at each end of the spectrum. At first I was someone who talked up my stories without ever doing anything with them, then at some point I became someone who would write and write and write with no real end goal in sight. That’s not a bad way to learn, exactly, and I sure as hell had fun. But like I said, it gets lonely. And depressing too, building up a tower of pages only to realize that odds are no one but you will ever read most of it.

I started to get out of my shell a little bit, at first by going to the Iowa Young Writer’s Studio, then the New York Writers Institute two years later. A little at IYWS, but more so at NYWI, I realized the power writing has to connect people. It was a unique experience to get to know someone as a person and then read what they wrote. It’s like how you need two eyes set a little ways apart to get depth perception: you know how someone acts, you know how someone writes, and you feel like you know them inside and out. It helped that everyone I met at those events were excellent writers and people, but still, I wanted to get that more often. I wanted writing to be something more than what I did for an hour every night alone in my dorm, building up a stockpile of stories that might not ever exist anywhere but in my desk drawer.. That lonely dedication is necessary to build up the skills you need, but it’s still lonely.

I actually realized the solution a long time ago, but it took a year for me to have the surge

of commitment just to go ahead and do it. My blog is relatively young, just two months old at this point, and while I’m scared I’m running through ideas at an unsustainable rate, it’s still given me more or less what I wanted. It’s nice to have a platform to articulate the ideas that bounce around in my mind in lazy moments, and it’s given me a real opportunity to connect with people. I’m not a natural extravert, my voice doesn’t carry and even if it did I’m usually not good enough at coming up with something to say in the moment for it to be worth it most of the time. But I hope putting out my writing gives people the two-eyed perspective on me that I enjoyed with others, while I search out other peoples’ writing best I can so I can get the same perspective on them.

Of course, there’s a lot of navel-gazing involved, and I always wind up wondering if I’m really that interesting. But if that ever does become a problem, I’ll just have to think about other people for a little while. That doesn’t seem so bad.


12003007_1001022556622760_6551224101653223437_n-2jj JOHN S. OSLER III is a sophomore at Grinnell College. He attended both the Iowa Young Writer’s Studio and the New York Writer’s Institute. In middle school and high school he wrote over two hundred satirical articles for The Southern View. His short stories have been published in Sprout Magazine, The Phosphene Journal, Random Sample Review, Zephyrus, and The Grinnell Underground Magazine.

Revision And How To Make It Not Suck

BY LAURELANN HEATHER EASTON

No matter where you are in your writing process, revision will always come around. It creeps into your thoughts and makes you question if your writing is good enough, or if you should even keep going if the pages behind you are trash.

You can’t let the fear of the pages being polished enough stop you from finishing the draft, though. I have a friend who has been obsessing over the first two chapters of his novel. He’s been going back and revising those same pages, nitpicking at commas a conjunctions and descriptions, for over a year. I’ve been fighting with him to get him to just keep writing. At fifty pages, he was hardly moving forward. I encouraged him to push past that because there’s always time to revise. You can’t revise what you haven’t written, either (obviously), so it makes more sense to ride out the writing process across the finish line.

It might be okay to go back and revise before finishing your draft if the plot needs fixing earlier on, though, especially if it affects how you’d write anything subsequent. If you feel that something is structurally wrong, as in the house will topple if you don’t backtrack, then go forth and backtrack! It will keep you from any potential writing blocks to work out these kinks sooner rather than later. In my personal experience with a novel I started a few months ago, I received recommendations from my mentor to really get the world-building in it solidified, whatever that would look like, because the larger mechanics of the world weren’t really in place yet because I hadn’t made the hard decisions. These revisions of adding in world-building throughout the first thirty pages made it necessary to put off writing the next set of pages to instead edit and add in new details. I also ended up changing the timing of a key event in my narrator’s life, which would have also severely affected the following pages, so this is one of those types of adjustments to put off future writing for. It would suck to write more new pages and then delete most of it because you changed something earlier in the story.

It’s possible that the revision process will still lead to a lot of deletion. Don’t be afraid of that either. Some parts that you loved in the story may have to go because they don’t fit in with the rest of the plot the way you had wanted them too, but in the end that’s a good thing. It keeps your novel focused and clear!

So, some of you might be thinking, “Great ideas, but how do I stay in love with this story while tearing it apart?”

The thing is, you have to not view it as tearing it apart—unless you’re the type of person who hardcore gets a kick out of that sort of thing (like me). Consider it more like nurturing the piece to its best potential. The best comparison I’ve ever heard about what a piece of writing is like, is that it’s like a deformed baby. You love it, in all its ugliness, yet somehow you’re compelled to keep taking care of it. Your short story, poem or novel is your baby. It might not be the prettiest, but like the ugliest duckling, it has a lot of potential to be something amazing. Keep the love alive!

To help that, try to approach your work at a new angle that still keeps you excited and maybe digs deeper into things. The most interesting suggestion my mentor have me was to consider how much my narrator remembers of her traumatic experience. Playing with knowledge, and who knows what information, can be a lot of fun—challenging, but definitely fun. My mentor pushed me to delve further into her psyche and explore the darkness there. Remember, too, that your characters are fascinating people. You wouldn’t have chosen to write about them if that wasn’t the case. So see what’s there inside of them that you can pull out to keep you excited about their story!

Here’s a link to one of my favorite lists. It provides so many ways to revise and reconsider your writing! There are also a lot of exercises here that may just be helpful to get you out of a writing block! 


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LAURELANN EASTON  grew up in Oswego, New York, but now lives in and attends collegein New Hampshire for a degree in Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University. Her work has appeared in the last two annual publications of SNHU’s literary journal, the Manatee. Outside of writing and reading for fun, she enjoys hiking the peaks of New Hampshire and dabbling in the fine arts of painting and jewelry making.

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