Interview with Ryan Black

Naomi Day: Your poems invoke many numbers: dates, measurements of time and space, etc. Does this represent anything personal for you? Is this intentional? 

Ryan Black: I don’t know if it represents anything personal other than my want of documenting the histories of these spaces. And by histories I mean the constructed histories, both personal and public. And there’s so much I’ll get wrong, so I can at least get the numbers right. Mostly.


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Death of a Nativist by Ryan Black (Poetry Society of America, 2016). Click here to learn more and purchase a copy.


ND: You track time in fascinating ways in your poems. You do it with different speakers, points of view, different times, etc. Does this reflect how you experience time yourself or is it the way you process in writing? Do your poems come out in this fashion or is the timed structure set up later, during the editing process?

RB: You’re right. Time is, perhaps, the recurring preoccupation of the book. It loops. It overlaps. It runs ahead and trails behind. It’s an experience of time as a kind of simultaneity, a past that “is not even past,” as Faulkner says, or something like that. I think of many of the poems as reckonings with history and place. If Queens is a model of where our nation is heading demographically, which has been long been argued, then an honest interrogation of its past feels paramount to me. Honesty has never been our national inheritance.

Joanna Cleary: Your poems drastically differ in form, from couplets in “Skip to My Lou” to less traditional aesthetic styles in “Why Bother” and “Not Once.” Do you have a poetic style that most resonates with you? How do you go about determining the way in which a poem should be written?

RB: The book’s longer poems are mostly written in tercets. I feel most comfortable in that form. I think tercets allow for the weaving of time I mentioned earlier. Or at least it feels that way to me. They look back as they move forward. They’re discursive, open to digressions. And they braid time like a fabric. A textile.

The couplets in “Skip To My Lou”were the form I found for a sequence of ballads spaced throughout the book. Each poem in the sequence takes for its title a different traditional American song. I was interested in how the folk tradition, with its narratives of misogyny, racial strife, class struggle, and sudden, inexplicable violence, might be adapted to contextualize hyperbolic and fetishized representations of Queens within an America steeped in sensationalism. The material for these poems is stories of petty crime (the hustler in “Skip To My Lou”), or murder (the racial violence of “Stagger Lee,” the misogyny of “Ommie Wise” and “In the Pines,”) or failed responses to natural disaster (the disrepair of post-Hurricane Sandy in “Home By the Sea”). If we pay attention to consistencies in the representation of urban spaces, we might recognize these as rhetorical spaces, that is: spaces made by rather than creating modes of representation.

Forgive me. I didn’t answer your question about the couplets. I’m not sure why couplets other than that tercets weren’t quite right.



JC: Regardless of the extent to which your poems are autobiographical, you write about extremely vivid characters, such as Bobby in “Not Once.” Who are your muses?

RB: Bobby is a muse, for sure. The people I would see everyday as a kid living in South Queens. The places in New York City I’ve known intimately. And trains. Elevated trains. The J train is the elevated muse of “Not Once.” It’s my favorite train in the city.

ND: You mentioned constructed histories and interrogations of the past, and many of your poems explore those themes by looking at what’s already happened. Do you ever write forward, with an eye to envisioning what the future might look like based on these past experiences, or do you find the honest exploration of bygone events more impactful?

RB: I would love to write poems that envision potential futures. I would love to write speculative poems like Cathy Park Hong or Eve Ewing. I’m just not there yet. I’m still mining the past for truthful ways to talk about the now. The closest I’ve come to writing “what the future might look like” is the final poem in the book, “A Gun to the Heart of the City,” which imagines an alternative past, one in which a planned protest—a protest that never actually occurred—of the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Queens did in fact happen. A stall-in that disrupted opening day, forcing the city to confront its continued racist practices.


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The Tenant of Fire by Ryan Black (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019). Click here to learn more and purchase a copy.


ND: Your poems often have an unidentified “we”. Is this intended to pull the reader into actively occupying the space you’ve set up, or do you have a specific “we” in mind — or is it something else entirely?

RB: I think I often have a specific “we” in mind, or a “you,” at least. Many of the poems come out of an epistolary tradition. The intimacy and logic of letter writing seemed right for the kind of work I wanted to do in the book. I worry about writing out of a “we”, of speaking for someone else. I certainly don’t want to adopt an Olympian tone, but sometimes “we” just felt necessary.


157777871438027382.pngRYAN BLACK is the author of The Tenant of Fire (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019), winner of the 2018 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize, and Death of a Nativist, selected by Linda Gregerson for a Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship. He has published previously in AGNI, Blackbird, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, Virginia Quarterly, and elsewhere, and has received fellowships and scholarships from the Adirondack Center for Writing, The Millay Colony for the Arts, PLAYA, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Queens Council on the Arts, and the T. S. Eliot House. He is an Assistant Professor of English at Queens College of the City University of New York.

 

What We Love(d) and Want(ed) More of as Young Writers

The young writers’ community is an ever-growing one and while great resources, networks and programs for young writers do exist, they are not always accessible to everyone. As a magazine run primarily by young writers, we decided to ask Inklette’s staff members what they love(d) and want(ed) more of as young writers and for young writers. 


What We Love(d) As Young Writers

For me, my experience at Iowa was the best experience I had as a young writer. I felt that the schedule of our workshop was conducive to exploring the city and culture of Iowa City. We had some writing jam sessions in the morning and workshops or seminars that would end in the afternoon, leaving us a great deal of time to write, eat and explore or attend readings in Iowa City bookstores and the University of Iowa campus. But apart from that, the readings were very different from the ones I have encountered in other workshops. There were more translated works, more works by writers and writing published by small, independent publishers.

-Devanshi Khetarpal, Editor-in-Chief

I also attended the Iowa Young Writers Workshop, and was captivated by the space and the feeling that there were real people who did what I wanted to do in real life, as opposed to on the side of whatever they did to make real money. I also loved the professors, family members, friends, and occasional random strangers who validated what I was doing with my free time. I find writing as a full-time profession is often looked down upon by others, so having folks around who constantly said “Yes, you are absolutely allowed to spend all your free time creating these wonderful imaginary worlds” did wonders for my passion for creative spaces. Additionally, spaces like PANK magazine that welcomes submissions from folks no matter their age range or backgrounds helped me understand that I didn’t have to have the credentials I saw so many others with — I just had to have my passion for writing!

-Naomi Day, Blog Editor 

I completely agree with Devanshi’s and Naomi’s description of Iowa, so I won’t add much more to that, but I was lucky enough to also participate in the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program in the same summer. In Adroit, I loved the close one-on-one relationship I had with my mentor, the support of all my fellow mentees, and the flexibility of the program. Between traveling and attending other conventions, I was relieved to know the community at Adroit was never more than a text or email away. Throughout the entire month of the program, I thoroughly enjoyed the specially curated reading list and writing prompts my mentor had organized, but I also distinctly remember loving the final project: creating a final portfolio of your work and sharing with another mentee! In reading the collection of another’s work, I felt I had truly understood not only his work, but who he, as a person, stood for. Now, more than anything, I am so so grateful for this little writing community that still keeps in touch.

-Sarah Lao, Social Media Manager 

When I was around 12-13 and had just developed an interest in creative writing, I spent a lot of time reading and posting on Cicada Magazine’s The Slam, an online forum where readers could post their own work. Not only did I have an outlet for my developing prose and poetry, but I was also able to make several long-distance creative friendships. While I never met any of these fellow young writers in person, I still think of them often and am immensely grateful for the love and trust we had when sharing work with each other. 

-Joanna Cleary, Blog Editor

I loved attending writing programs when I was in high school. The summer before my junior year I was accepted into the Missouri Scholars Academy, and while its not strictly writing centered, the classes that I took were. Being around people who were writing and creating because they loved it and not because it was assigned in a classroom was so refreshing and wonderful, and I was so inspired while I was there. I also rediscovered my love of poetry as an added bonus! 

The following summer I attended the Young Women’s Writers Workshop at Smith College and had an incredible time. I made so many friends and discovered so many incredible female writers that I would never have some across in one of my classes in high school, even in the creative writing and advanced placement english classes I had been taking since my freshman year. I very much doubt that I would have gone on to create my own arts centered major in college if I hadn’t had the privilege of surrounding myself with other creative spirits so early on. 

-Savannah Summerlin, Blog Editor

What We Want(ed) More Of As Young Writers

I wish there were more workshops, programs, avenues for literary translations and learning of regional languages and local dialects, and literatures written in those languages and dialects. My education was a product of colonialism and encouraged a more colonial attitude towards regional languages, dialects and even Hindi. I wish we could break apart and disintegrate the hegemony and glorification of the kind of literacy and literature that privileges colonialism and the process of colonizing today.

-Devanshi Khetarpal , Editor-in-Chief 

I wish there had been more community around the genres I was interested in writing: I did a lot of fantasy writing (think farms with talking wolves and cities with magic stones) but never shared them because I didn’t think young people wrote fantasy like that. Having a greater sense of community and space to share and receive feedback would have helped my sense of belonging.

-Naomi Day, Blog Editor 

Having always suffered from a drastic drop in creative productivity once the school year hit, I think I would want something that could hold me more accountable. I’m not exactly sure what that would look like, but certainly, I think a long-term program during the school year would help. In other words, I’m hoping the stress of a series of deadlines would encourage me to break through any writer’s block.

-Sarah Lao, Social Media Manager 

I wish there were more online workshops. It’s expensive and not practical to travel. Most people can’t take large chunks of time off from school or work, and others (like me who is 40 years old) have children who depend on us for care. Even when a retreat or workshop offers daycare options, that only works if one’s child(ren) are not school-age. When I was in high school, I would have loved to have taken a creative writing course or belonged to a creative writing club. Some high schools offer such courses, but mine did not, even years later when I returned to teach at the school. 

-Lisa Stice, Poetry Editor

To learn more about our staff and read their bios, visit our Masthead page by clicking here.

In Conversation: Blog Editors

Following up last week’s blog, our Blog Editors are back with a conversation on questions about who they write for, what they write about, how they write, when and where they write and, lastly, why they write. Read on for more provocative insights.


Maria Prudente: Hi Joanna! I know we are both busy gearing up to begin our fall semester, but it seems there is no time better than now to go back to basics and discuss who, what, when, where and why we write. For whom do you write?

Joanna Cleary: Hmm… that’s a difficult question. I’ve written for teachers, mentors, friends, ex-friends, unrequited love interests, and complete strangers, but I think first and foremost I write for myself. I’m sure you can relate to the fact that students often don’t have a lot of spare time and those interested in writing have to really, truly want to write in order to make time for it. There have been times I’ve stayed up to 3:00 AM writing when I really shouldn’t have, usually because I only have time to write at odd hours of the day (or night) when on school terms, but I’ve never regretted it the next day. Writing is a joy I give to myself; it reminds me that I’m human, that I feel pleasure and pain, happiness and despair, and all of those more complex emotions in between the aforementioned binary opposites. I write to understand who I am, and I hope what I write occasionally helps those who stumble across it do the same for themselves. What about you – for whom do you write? 

MP: A Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk, wrote this excellent op-ed for the New York Times where he attempted to answer this great question. He said, “[w]riters, write for their ideal reader, for their loved ones, for themselves or no one. All this is true. But it is also true that today’s literary writers also write for those who read them.” I would agree with all of this. I think we create people to write for and other times we answer directly to people we know will read our work. I find that affects how I write. My writing frees up when I write for a dreamed-up “who” as opposed to an audience of a particular publication but, because our culture demands content quickly it can be tricky and, in Pamuk’s words, perhaps stifle our writerly “desire to be authentic.”

What do you write?

JC: I like how Pamuk acknowledges that all people for whom writers write are valid, as I think the wish to write is too nuanced to be defined in simple terms. I strive to cover a multitude of different topics when I write — from feminism to the body to the landscape around me — in order to continually challenge myself as a writer. In order to do this, I need to write for a variety of people. In terms of tangible projects, however, I want to eventually write a collection of poetry. I find the idea of bringing individual poems together so they can make meaning as a single microcosm fascinating and would love the opportunity to delve extensively into a particular topic or poetic style. And you? 

MP: What I strive for is to write about what it means to be human. My non-fiction and playwriting seem to have this shared obsessive quality in exploring the young female living a creative and precarious life.

The content of what I write significantly affects my approach. If what I require the kind of research I can’t pull from my own experience, I find that writing within an outline is beneficial. How do you write?

JC: I pull up a blank Word document, stare at it for awhile, type a bit, get distracted, type a bit, get distracted, edit what I have, and eventually (hopefully) have a rush of creativity that leads me to produce something of substance. I’ve learned about various ways of combating writer’s block over the years, such as writing stream-of-conscious without stopping, but I also think that writers should recognize when to let their ideas come slowly. Often, I quite literally need to lie down in bed and do nothing but think for a solid fifteen minutes in order to make sense of what I want to write. However, I’m always trying to try new techniques, which is why I’m curious as to the ways in which you write.   

MP: Whether I think an idea is good or not, if it’s pulling me toward the page, then I write it down; anything is writable. Inspiration doesn’t strike as frequently as I’d like, but when it does, if I can, I will drop when I’m doing, sit down and, write. I’m a firm believer in staying in the pocket and not coming up for air until there’s nothing left to put onto paper. For me, writing requires a particular kind of silence that I can only find at my home.  When and where do you write?

JC: I’m actually quite the opposite at times, even though, like I said, sometimes I stay up until 3:00 AM because of a burst of creativity (usually at home, though once in the library on campus during exam season). I find that sometimes it works best for me to leave an idea partially unrealized so I have something tangible to work on when I return. Doing this also motivates me to come back to a project instead of abandoning it for something new, as so much of writing is editing. Reminding myself that I always have material to add to a project helps me remember why I’m passionate about it. Speaking of which, why do you write? 

MP: I think of this Henry Miller quote often: “[d]evelop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.” Unless what I’m writing is a memoir piece, I try to use that as my compass. The why of my writing rests in my desire to make connections and arrive at some truth. I write because I need to. Why do you write?

JC: I write because it feels right. I imagine writing, for me, feels like how hitting a home run, or cooking a perfect fillet mignon, or re-organizing a messy room feels for others — it takes a lot (and I mean A LOT) of work, but I couldn’t imagine feeling as fulfilled doing anything else. Like you, I suppose I need to write. I feel as though people can contribute most to the world by making meaning in the ways they are most passionate about, and for us, that’s through the written word. 

That said, hopefully we’ll each have time to do activities besides writing essays and reports in this upcoming term. I wish you all the best as we head into another semester, and I’m excited for the conversations we’ll surely have before 2020 arrives!


To know more about our blog editors, visit our Masthead page here.

Experiments with Reading / Writing

The idea of finding oneself as a writer in what one reads is an attractive notion. And as difficult as it is to answer larger questions about what we write and why or how, our readership and experiences or experiments with reading can help us find answers, however changeable they may be, to some of those questions. The Inklette team tried answering some of these questions by flipping through the pages of books we are currently reading or books near us, kept an inch away from our grasp, and copying sentences or two that answer the questions of who we write for, what we write about, why we write, when we write and where. We hope you enjoy this blog, not only as a potential reading list to kick off the fall but also as an experiment in reading ourselves in what we read.


Devanshi Khetarpal, Editor-in-Chief 
from Neapolitan Chronicles by Anna Maria Ortese (trans. Ann Goldstein and Jenny McPhee)

 

Who do you write for?

He must have left Milan some time ago.

What do you write about?

Silence, swift memories of another life, a sweeter life, nothing else.

Why do you write?

Much like the previous evening in Chiaia, although it wasn’t yet the same hour, here, too, there was a great commotion, a feeling of extraordinary excitement, as if something had happened– a murder, a wedding, a victory, two horses breaking loose, a vision– but then drawing nearer I saw it was nothing.

When do you write?

On the evening of June 19 (evening in a manner of speaking, since the sky was bright and the sun was still high over the sea, its glare intense), I boarded the #3 tram, which runs along the Riviera di Chiaia to Mergellina.  

Where do you write?

This cafe is at the intersection of Piazza Trieste e Trento and the tortuous Via Chiaia. 


Angela Gabrielle Fabunan, Poetry Editor
from Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons by Marilyn Hacker

 

Who do you write for?

“For you, someone was waiting up at home. 

For me, I might dare more if someone were.”                        

– from ‘Runaways Café I’

What do you write about?

“I broke a glass, got bloodstains on the sheet:

hereafter, must I only write you chaste

connubial poems?”                                                             

– from ‘Eight Days in April’

Why do you write? 

“Now that we both want to know what we want,

now that we both want to know what we know,

it still behooves us to know what to do:

be circumspect, be generous, be brave,

be honest, be together, and behave.”                                   

– from ‘Runaways Café II’

When do you write? 

“Hello, sweetheart, it’s seven-twelve AM.”    

– from ‘International Women’s Day, 1985’

Where do you write? 

“Where I see only you, where you can see me.”

– from ‘Having Kittens About Having Babies III’


Sophie Panzer, Prose Editor
from The Slow Fix by Ivan E. Coyote

 

Who do you write for?

So far, Kirsty and Mouse are my favorites. 

What do you write about?

I am a collector of stories, a connoisseur of character, so for the most part I love the random way that traveling strangers enter and exit people’s lives. 

Why do you write?

I can still work in my underwear, but I hardly ever eat soup right out of the pot anymore. 

When do you write?

Was it when all the cute rock-climber girls went back to school and the rednecks didn’t?

Where do you write?

Like I said, I love Amsterdam.


For staff bios, please refer to our Masthead page here. Amazon links to purchase books can be accessed by clicking the titles. 

Interview with Angela Gabrielle Fabunan

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Joanna Cleary: Thanks so much for your willingness to have a conversation about your writing with us and congratulations on the publication of your most recent collection of poems: The Sea that Beckoned. According to the book’s description, these poems are “an exploration of all those places we’ve sought to call home.” Could you elaborate on that? 

Angela Gabrielle Fabunan: I’ve always yearned for a home. My childhood spent in the Philippines did not feel like home because my mom and dad were always abroad; my mom came home every six months, stayed for six months, then left for six months. Even now, I live in Manila, while my mom lives in Olongapo City, Zambales, which are two different places in the Philippines. I travel for 3-4 hours every weekend to see her. 

Place is very different from home. There are many places I mentioned in The Sea That Beckoned, and yet, I feel I am always searching for home, which is why it is an exploration. My home is a place, but not just a place, it is a place of comfort, where my loved ones are. Home is difficult to articulate, for me. So I thought this search for home might lead somewhere, and it did, to The Sea That Beckoned. Each place I’ve been in is ridden with memory and emotion, and I thought it might be interesting for me and for others, if I were to write it down. 

Maria Prudente: At the end of your poem, “Midway,” you land on this beautiful line: “I am the mango heart left beating in your hands.” How do you approach imagery in your work? Where do you find your inspiration?

AGBF: I am a bit of a mystic when it comes to poems. I believe that the poem itself will lead me to where it wants to go. Once I have the first line, or the first image, or the first rhyme, it will take me on a journey. I have been schooled in the technical aspects of poetry, and can tell what form or meter I should use, but I wouldn’t want to manipulate the poem into what I want. I want what it wants. So the deeper into my schooling about poetry that I get, it seems the more faith I have in the mysticism of poetry. There are times, however, in revision, where I have to tweak, and I suppose that’s where my formal training comes in. But for a poem such as “Midway,” it came fairly easily, without much manipulation. The images of the foreigner is interwoven within, as are my longing to come “home” to the Philippines. I was in New York then, in 2017, and I was torn between a love and a place. I loved New York, but I had already built what I call a home in the Philippines, with my loved ones. And I thought there might be a poem there.

That image of the mango heart seems like generic Philippine imagery, and indeed the mango has been used many times in folklore or even in contemporary literature. But there’s a bit of background with that—my mom owns a mango farm in Balasiw, Zambales, and that’s where I often visited and ate delicious mangoes. I recently sold some mangoes to friends in Manila this past harvest, and they couldn’t help quoting that quote that you mentioned while I was giving them their mangoes.

I think the most artful images are those that have a back story that you don’t necessarily have to mention. I didn’t mention that my mom had a mango farm in the poem, but the remnants of the emotion I feel when it comes to my mango heart is felt because of that background. So I guess write images of what inspires you, even if it’s something as mundane as mangoes on your kitchen table.  

JC: My favourite stanza from “migration story,” a poem in this collection and also published in Eastlit is: 

laying down my back to the bamboo

i would count the leaves 

above my head, dreaming 

of snow, and my dad was bright and alive 

then, there in the hot, humid december,

decades ago before he would die

in a frigid hospital while the snow fell.

In this poem, as in your other poems, you mix such intimate details of individual life with universal images of searching, longing, and home. Can you speak to the parts of The Sea that Beckoned that you found the most personally difficult, and/or personally rewarding, to write about?  

AGBF: I believe that poems crafted from the heart are those most difficult to write, because it comes from a synergy of the heart and the mind, of the intricate connections between emotions and intellect. You sort of have to find a way to be able to mix the two gently. The silly love poems in the latter half of the book were, personally, because the trauma of love for me is still ongoing. The love poems such as “Murasaki,” and “To the Man Who Claimed Me” and “Visit” did not come to me as effortlessly as did the poems of place, such as “Midway” and “Abò,” perhaps because I am always thinking of place, of home, and of my tender regard for these places. 

The poem you mentioned, “migration story” is an ode to my dad, and although he’s been gone for more than 10 years, every time I revisit the story of his life, it’s both difficult and rewarding. It’s the epitome of the synergy I was talking about earlier and of plumbing through loss. 

MP: What advice do you have for writers interested in publishing their collection of work? What was your process for The Sea That Beckoned?

AGBF: My advice for young writers is just to read, read, read and write, write, write. One of my poetry professors always told me never to rush the poem. I always take it to wherever it leads me, and some poems take minutes and some poems take years. The poem always has a mind of its own (a muse, maybe?) and thus it can tell you if it needs to be a sonnet and a pantoum, if it needs to be in rhyme or meter, if it needs to be published now or later. 

As for publishing, I have the same advice: submit submit submit. Never be afraid of rejection, because it will give you the strength to work harder to be accepted. I submitted through the regular submission cycles at Platypus Press, and the editors Michelle Tudor and Peter Barnfather were kind enough to choose my work amongst many others. If I had been afraid of submitting then, The Sea That Beckoned would never have been published. 

MP: We cannot wait to read more from you! Can you tell us what you are currently working on? 


AGBF: I’m working on a second manuscript, for the moment called As Memento, As Imagen, As Woman. It’s a work inspired by mythology and feminism alike, and inspired by the works of Carol Ann Duffy and Louise Glück. In these poems, I give voice to women of myth, from Greco-Roman to Philippine mythology, such as Medusa and Bakunawa, bending these myths along the way to reflect the context of the modern-day Filipina. It still needs a lot of work, but it’s getting there. Thank you for your questions and this interview! 🙂


To buy Angela Gabrielle Fabunan’s book, The Sea That Beckoned, click on the link here.


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Art by Rayji de Guia 

ANGELA GABRIELLE FABUNAN was born in the Philippines and raised in New York City. She graduated from Bowdoin College and attends the University of the Philippines MA Creative Writing Program. In 2016, she was awarded the Carlos Palanca Memorial Foundation Awards for Poetry. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Cordite Poetry Review, Asymptote Journal, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Eastlit Magazine, and New Asian Writing, among others. She is one of the current poetry editors at Inklette Magazine. Her first book of poetry, The Sea That Beckoned, is available from Platypus Press.

 

Conversation on ‘REJECTION’

by Joanna Cleary and Maria Prudente

Joanna Cleary: Rejection: it’s awful. Unfortunately, however, artists– regardless of medium, experience, and to a large event, even talent– have to face rejection on a continual basis, which is why I’m so excited to have a conversation about it. Since we live in an increasingly progress-oriented world, rejection has become equated with failure and failure with shame. However, when I received my first rejection letter at the age of twelve or thirteen, I felt proud. Even though my poem wasn’t accepted by the magazine I’d submitted to (and for good reason– it was terrible), I was thrilled that somebody other than me, literary editors no less, had actually read what I’d written. I’d given something – a perspective, perhaps, or a story – to somebody else. I learned that being an artist is about giving; as long as you try to do that, you’re on the right path. Even though rejection is undeniably discouraging, I’ve learned to never be ashamed of offering my work to others. Now over to you– tell me about your first rejection.

Maria Prudente: I didn’t get a part I wanted in my high school musical. I was a sophomore, and I had my heart set on playing Velma in “Chicago,” but this senior who was known for doing beauty pageants and had never done theatre before walked in and nailed her audition. It was between the two of us in callbacks, but the director loved her; and the next day when the cast list went up I was, as expected, devastated. I think it’s common to compare and self-loathe in the first moments of rejection. I kept thinking, “If only I was older and sexier and more tan and had longer legs…” the list kept going but it was all superficial. Within a couple of hours of feeling sad about it, I realized what I had that this senior didn’t have was experience, knowledge, and a deep curiosity and love for performing.

Consequently, I ended up not only taking a small part like Mona in the “Cell Block Tango” and making my monologue land a big laugh every performance, but I ended up being an assistant director for the show. Deciding to turn the pain of that particular rejection of that role into a new role where I could contribute to the theatre in a new way was incredibly empowering. But, as you stated earlier, experiencing rejection is ongoing for artists. How do you cope?

JC: I think the key to coping with rejection is not letting it define you as a person and artist.

Whenever I receive a particularly difficult rejection, I make an effort to do something I enjoy, such as having a cup of hot chocolate or going for a run. By investing energy into who I am as a person, I don’t feel as if my self-worth relies on who I am as an artist. However, I also use rejection as a motivator when it comes to my identity as a writer – for every rejection I receive, I try to send out one or more submissions into the world so that there will always be a glimmer of possibility for me to aspire towards. Again, over to you – how do you cope with rejection?

MP: I think you have a really healthy outlook. Creating routines to feel connected to our sense of self or reciting positive self-talk is an ideal way to deal with rejection. It’s also a really hard thing to practice. There have been days where I have found out from several publications that my work hasn’t been accepted. Sometimes I’ll read that my work was being considered but wasn’t quite right for their issue and I obsess over what thing it was that kept them from putting my piece in the “yes” pile. I think tailoring work for certain publications is important for writers to improve their chances especially if they are trying to build a body of work. Submitting work and finding out what people like is so subjective and completely out of our control. All we can do is revise, rewrite and re-wire the way we accept rejections and instead use them to, as you say, motivate us. When I’m looking for a win, I write something that I feel really good about and I save it to my documents for my eyes only. I think sometimes having something in my back pocket helps me to feel confident. Returning to a piece and cutting it or building on it can be really satisfying because it isn’t being judged by anyone but you, the writer. I can tell a story and chip away at the truth the way I want to. What’s important for writers to remember is why they write and for whom they write. This helps me keep a grip on reality and reminds me of what I love about writing in the first place.

An acting teacher of mine always said: “tell the story simply and clearly”. The same can be said for writing. I often remember this phrase when I feel caught up on using flowery language or I’m inside an overly stylized piece and I fall away from what I’m trying to say. Have any mentors from your past or present given you advice that you’ve found valuable in your writing?

JC: A creative writing mentor of mine once told me not to think of rejection as a lost opportunity, but as an opportunity to give meaning to hardship through growth. Like you say, we need to revise the way we accept rejections so they enhance our ambition instead of draining it. It’s all about finding a balance between controlling our stories and accepting that, oftentimes, we can’t control everything in our lives. I’ve learned to tell myself that I can control what happens to me, but I do have more say over what I make happen.  


155113583331125364MARIA 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.

149460297287447JOANNA CLEARY is a college student double majoring in English Literature and Drama. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cicada MagazineInkletteGlass Kite AnthologyParallel Ink, Phosphene Literary Journal, HIV Here and Now, and On the Rusk. Poetry has been a long-time passion of hers. When she is not writing, she can be found reading, eating various forms of chocolate, and, of course, thinking about writing.

 

Interview with Mihir Vatsa

Our Blog Editors interviewed Mihir Vatsa, an Indian poet and the editor of Vayavya, for this week’s blog. In this interview, we ask him about the practice of writing and the habits that pertain to it in some way or another. We also ask Mihir about not only staying committed to writing, but also staying committed to writing about Hazaribagh.


Blog Editors: Ernest Hemingway wrote first thing in the morning. Maya Angelou reserved hotel rooms just to write. Stephen King forced himself to write six pages every day. Susan Sontag instructed people when not to call. Have you developed any specific methods for writing?

Mihir Vatsa: I wish I could reserve hotel rooms to write. Someday, perhaps, I will. I usually write at night– the darkness sorts relevance from distraction. When I am writing to meet a deadline, I set a target. With prose, it is thousand words. Poetry is more malleable that way– just three lines could be a poem too, as long as they are good three lines. I am more relaxed with poetry, less so with prose. The latter demands some discipline, I have learned recently.  

BE: Do you journal? And how well do you work with or meet deadlines?

MV: Unfortunately, no, I don’t maintain a journal. I do have some romantic affinity towards the process though, and I like to hear stories that involve journal writing. I have tried it before, but have stopped midway. Trivial things begin to annoy me– is the notebook cover journalish enough, what if I wrote something and someone read it, if I am doing it on my PC then what should be the password, do I really want it personal or do I secretly want it read? I think of these clearly pressing thoughts and defer it.

I think I can work with deadlines, though I procrastinate a lot. So if the deadline is tomorrow, I would get working today, not sleeping, not eating, a bit possessed. It’s not a healthy practice for a writer, but then writers are not really known for their exemplary health.

BE:Do you outline ideas before or do you let the form teach you what kind of story you are writing?

MV: I do outline, but mostly in mind. I prefer having some ideas, some thoughts about what I should write once I start the computer. Often a poem is left hanging for a few days: one stanza emerges, then there is the wait, then another line comes up. When I am not writing, I am working with collages– cut here, paste there. When I think I have enough to go with, I start typing. With longer poems, I take it slow, filling in the blanks first, then tying the content up as the form suggests. With prose, and especially essays, I have found that it’s helpful to have some pointers beforehand, a road map, on how to progress from one thought to the other without jarring the flow.  

BE: What do you do when you become stuck while writing?

MV: If the deadline is far, I give in to the block. I switch to Netflix or Youtube, or take up a book which I had been meaning to read. You can only watch something for so long. When saturation hits, writing becomes a needed retreat. Sometimes I get stuck because I don’t want to put an idea into a form that I have already done before. Then, reading helps. I go to the internet and read whatever poetry I can find, preferably by poets who are alive. That way, I get to see what other poets in the world are doing, how they are managing language, how they are working with form, and so on. The last time I got stuck, the deadline was close. So I ordered a book and told myself not to touch it before I finished writing. It kind of worked.

BE: How do you stay committed to Hazaribagh? Is there a different lens or observation you require in order to practice the writing of something so close when you want it to reach far?

MV: This is a really good question, actually. My upcoming book A Highland in the East (Speaking Tiger Books 2019) is a memoir about living and travelling in the Hazaribagh plateau, and though I had a great time writing it, I was also often conflicted about my loyalty to Hazaribagh. I am not talking about the town per se– Hazaribagh is like any other small Indian town. It has its half-finished buildings with exposed brickwork, it has its temples and mosques and narrow streets. Somehow these things haven’t appealed to me yet. I am more attached to Hazaribagh’s landscape. Therefore, the hills, the trees, the rivers, etc are my points of affect. I remember, this one time, my friend Raza Kazmi and I were staying for a few days at Palamu Tiger Reserve in Latehar. The place is about a six-hour drive from Hazaribagh. There, I was surrounded by taller hills, denser forests, reliable waterfalls, and it made me sad. What if I outgrow Hazaribagh? “You can be committed to Hazaribagh and still enjoy Palamu,” Raza said something along this line, and though I understood him, I was still uncertain. What I fear is that one day there will be nothing wonderful about Hazaribagh for me. No waterfall will excite me. Been there, done that– that kind of boredom, you know, and so I try to modify perspectives. There is a lot in Hazaribagh, things that I still don’t know, so maybe one day I will enjoy the roads, or the history, or engage with the place in a more direct, participatory way. At the moment, I am gripped by the plateau; later, it might be some other aspect of the town.

Perception is universal– the way I perceive Hazaribagh may be similar or different to people who perceive other places, but the act is not uniquely mine. As writers, we work in and with shared cultures, so I think while Hazaribagh may be a little-known, “niche” place to write about, the things I feel when I am in Hazaribagh do resonate with people outside. When I post a photo of a hill range and see the reactions on it, I know I am doing something right. I try to understand the relevance of Hazaribagh for other people, and this is a conjecture at best, but I think that in Hazaribagh, I work through a dual-gaze. I am both an insider and the outsider, insider to the town, outsider to the plateau. When I look for information on, say, how the lake came about, or how the hill was fashioned earlier to appear the way it does now, I am being a hopeless local historian; on the other hand, when I venture into the forest, trailing a stream and not knowing where it would take me, I feel more like a tourist. Perhaps this duality works, though I am not sure yet.

BE: Do you think your editorial practice, or editorial ethics, have impacted your practice as a writer?

MV: Maybe? I don’t really know. Earlier I used to get irritated at the long wait to get a response, but as someone who has also been on the other side of things, I realise now that such delays happen, especially if you are working as a small, un- or underpaid team. One thing that I loved doing as an editor was to really edit– and not just select– a poem for publication, you know, the old-fashioned way. I would chance upon a poem which was almost ready, except that it didn’t work in some parts and patches. Whenever it was the case, I offered detailed feedback, putting the ball in the poet’s court. Here is what I think. If you agree, we can go ahead with the publication. With my own writing too, I am not averse to feedback or revision. I appreciate it if someone devotes a chunk of their time to offer comments on my work. This is something that I cherish with respect to writing, mine or someone else’s.


155727205559673739MIHIR VATSA is the author of the poetry collections Painting That Red Circle White (Authors Press 2014) and Wingman (Aainanagar & Vayavya 2017). A former Charles Wallace Fellow of Writing at University of Stirling, UK, Mihir is the winner of Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize and a Toto Funds the Arts Award in Writing. Mihir lives in the plateau-town of Hazaribagh, India, where he works across the disciplines of literature, writing and human geography.