Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Denise Low comments on William Stafford's "Listening"

Remarks presented at the Watkins Museum celebration of William Stafford's birthday, January 15,

I am so honored to have known William Stafford, born January 17, 1914, at the beginning of my writing life. His person and his poetry influenced me to strive for reflective engagement with natural and human surroundings. He uses poetry for play, for surprises in language, for folding the outside patterns of nature into my inner life, comingling the two. He fit his poetics to align with the unique grasslands ecology of the region where he grew up, from Liberal to Hutchinson to Lawrence—where he received his BA and MA. The sparse landscape of horizontals with gentle angles of ridges creates a backdrop where any vertical, like a watermill or steeple or horse, becomes dramatic. Human experience is set against an enormous sweep of sky.

 The most important aspect of Stafford’s poetics is his humility, which gives him the ability to step aside from the role of master over the wilderness, which was the biblical tradition. Instead, he took the pose of one who listens and learns, as in this favorite of mine, which suggests his Indigenous background: https://www.ayearofbeinghere.com/2014/06/william-stafford-listening.html

         Listening by William Stafford:

My father could hear a little animal step,

or a moth in the dark against the screen,

and every far sound called the listening out

into places where the rest of us had never been.


More spoke to him from the soft wild night

than came to our porch for us on the wind;

we would watch him look up and his face go keen

till the walls of the world flared, widened.


My father heard so much that we still stand

inviting the quiet by turning the face,

waiting for a time when something in the night

will touch us too from that other place.

 He mixes the human and natural worlds, with the “moth in the dark against the screen” and the portal between the two realms, the “porch.” The porch becomes the interface between mortality and immortality.

 A second point about Stafford’s poetics: his discussion of ethics. “Traveling Through the Dark” is the most well-known example of this, where he pauses and could “hear the wilderness listen.” He reverses the role of judge and makes readers aware that their actions, like his, have moral consequences.  And finally, the language is subtle, like the landscape, with deep images that continue to build layers throughout the years. The dead deer by the side of the rode is singular and memorable. Not many details appear in the verse, and the image of the deer is the point, not the poet’s acrobatic use of vocabulary and rhetorical devices. Here is the poem “Traveling Through the Dark by Willilam Stafford: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/42775/traveling-through-the-dark

My poem responds to “Listening.”

Variations on Keening by Denise Low

We would watch him look up and his face go keen. William Stafford

My father’s face goes keen. Cicadas drone as

darkness walls us in. His eyes are echoes


on fire. He speaks kennings. His wise eyes

turn blue fire. His prophet’s sight pierces night


with keen perception. Agate rings lie buried

in river mud. His eyes see their spirals.


A sunfish rouges under a keen-bladed knife.

Sequin scales flake. Its eyes darken into a stare


beyond ken. I keen. My father’s twin-star eyes

gaze equally into and out of the dark.

                                                            Wings (Red Mountain Press, 2021)

 My play on “ken” and “keen” emphasizes my wonder at the same cosmos that Stafford knew in the grasslands of Kansas. I conflate him with my father, born a few moths after Stafford and twenty miles away. Stafford is my poetic father. His example of self-effacement, images, and focus on a few key words—these I try to follow. www.deniselow.net

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Denise Low interviews Jemshed Khan about Speech in an Age of Certainty

The Colonised Mind by Jemshed Khan
               What any colonial system does: impose its tongue on the subject races.
        ―Ngugi wa Thiong'o,  Decolonising the Mind

For me, it is already done:
my parents' ghazals shushed and mute;
their language siphoned away
by force of nursery rhyme, church choirs,

by various baptismal schemes.

Colonial garrisons occupy
the language centers of my brain―
my thinking circuits click the Anglo way.
Something traded once for wampum, 
Venetian beads, cowrie shells...
my tongue twists but it cannot say.

DNA still drives my bones and skin
but I am tongue-tied, beset historically.
Far from nest or clan or den,
my diaspora brain adapts as best it can―
colonised because language can.

from Speech in an Age of Certainty by J. Khan (Finishing Line Press, $14.99, 36 pages) 

Email Interview 8.31.2021:
Denise Low: Your title of this book of passionate involvement with social justice is Speech in
an Age of Certainty, based on a poem’s title. What led you to choose this as the book title?
Jemshed Khan: Great question. We live in a time when many people seem so certain and so vocal that their viewpoint is correct. Our leaders, on the other hand, give lip service to social justice but will not vote for any real change in military spending, healthcare, or housing because it will anger their corporate donors. Yet we cling so fervently to what little leadership we have left to believe in! It is this misplaced certainty that I am trying to disassemble in the reader’s mind. Of course, this is a Quixotic goal, but this is the nature of activist writing: to illustrate a counter-narrative in the face of overwhelming corporate and government power, media bias, and censorship. 
D.Low: The cover art of your book is striking—a blindfolded man holding an image of a single

eye as a political sign, and a row of eight figures dressed in black. Why did you choose this image? What does it signify to you?
J. Khan: The blindfolded prophet holding up an eye is symbolic of the act of purporting to have a truth.  The ominous crowd is vaguely sinister. A Matrix-like background implies contemporary digital relevance. All of these elements, for me, represent the false portrayals of reality that Americans navigate on a daily basis. The cover is designed to create a suspicion that some manipulation lurks beneath the surface.
D. Low: The poem “Dead Boys” begins with reference to a camera’s point of view: “The camera pans hillside jungle / zooms to our hero / body splayed, face up, / and stubbed by a missing limb” (18). Media play important roles in your book as source material and as models for structure. Can you discuss your relationship to media and how you work with them?
J. Khan: First off, I am not on FB, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, etc. As a writer hoping for an audience this is hugely disadvantageous, but I am opposed to the financial mining of personal data.  Second, I try to demonstrate how mass media and entertainment are the primary methods of programming the US population to accept “forever wars.”  Noam Chomsky pointed this out in Manufacturing Consent. 
     First-person shooter video games, multi-player online combat games, and Hollywood thrillers are developed with military input: the so-called Military-entertainment complex has its own Wikipedia page.  I am not saying that military input is bad, but the failure to openly communicate this to the public is emblematic of the extent to which the ruling elite manipulate the public, even children, without any pretense of transparency. We live in an age where much of our reality and our children’s reality is manufactured by the media in concert with institutions that are no longer subject to moral hazard or constitutional restraint. This is so pervasive that we don’t even question it. The net result is that the public treasury supports wealthy and wasteful private sector corporate interests at the expense of the overall public good, for example, billionaire wealth increased 44% during COVID, a time of serious unemployment and homelessness.
     My relationship with the mainstream media is one of caution. I do not want to be labelled a troublemaker and have my travel rights restricted as has happened to several Western journalists who write outside the accepted establishment guidelines. While the reach of poetry is limited, the arbitrariness with which our government can and will imprison individuals is not widely appreciated. Still, I wish my work to have impact as a counter-narrative. I am exceedingly grateful for the rights afforded to me as an immigrant and US citizen: to be accepted in US society and engage in passionate free speech of the type that is not tolerated in most countries. When I criticize the misuse of power, I am exercising my right to do so. Free speech!
D. Low: How does your experience as an immigrant writer inform your writing?
J. Khan: Well, I love the good in America. Like many readers I have a safe home, leisure time to read, travel activities, three meals a day, healthcare, a rewarding career. Indeed, from a personal perspective, I have no complaint. What little racism I have encountered in the US over the last 40 years was of trivial emotional or physical consequence compared to the overwhelming generosity that is the norm. America has been an awesome privilege for me and my parents in our immigration and journey.
     Therefore, what I have to say about the shortcomings of America relates to the disadvantage of others more than to me. One of my poems, “Maryville High School,” explores this. There are many wrongs. Writing through and about them has helped me come to terms with the limited impact an individual has on addressing the failings of society. 
D. Low: What is your recent work like? How does it relate to the poetry in this book?
J. Khan: I am in the midst of an epic poem collaboration with artist Leonard Greco where we follow the Mayan Hero Twins’ journey into the underworld. This project overlaps my current book in terms of subversive undertones and populist sentiment. 
     The conquest of the Mayans by the Spaniards was driven by pure colonialism and exploitive greed only matched at the time by the North American genocide against the First Peoples and subsequent North American slavery.  Leonard and I know we must acknowledge this history and deal with it in our revisiting of the myth. There is a line between accessing another culture’s mythology versus appropriating. This is difficult terrain as it strikes at the motives of the writer and requires appropriate distance, deferential tone, and sensitive treatment of subject matter. I am reading on how other poets have dealt with this; Derek Walcott in Omeros, Edward Kamau Braithwaite in Masks, and Michael Bazzett in recent translation. It is a great time to be writing. We will find our path.

Jemshed Khan lives and works in Kansas and Missouri. He has published in diverse magazines including Unlikely Stories, Rigorous, Rat's Ass Review, Chiron Review, Clockwise Cat, shufPoetry, Barzakh, pureSlush, Fifth Estate, I-70 Review, califragile, Coal City Review, San Pedro River Review, and Writers Resist. He has served as a guest editor for Glass: Poets Resist, was nominated for The Pushcart Prize XLIV, has completed a chapbook, and is mulling a book-length collection.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Poet Bill Sheldon publishes "What I Know Today" online with Coop: Poetry Cooperative

The Kansas group poetry site, 150 Kansas Poets, has revamped and is now Coop, 

March is my month to curate, and here is this week's poem by William Sheldon of Hutchinson. He is a Mammoth Publications author, website:

What I Know Today
The opposite of life is…
Well, death’s opposite is hunger
“Love and death,” the poet
says, “love and death.” Horsetail
clouds framed by a window tease
dying leaves, red in setting sun.
All preamble to my saying again,
how much I love this graveyard
we tread daily. Let me walk thigh-
deep in the river, sit under winter’s
red skies.  We can be friends, but dirt
is my only lover.  We will lie together,
rise in each other’s clothes.

Here are submission guidelines for this now national cooperative poetry project: Theme: “I’m Speaking: Renewal and Change.”  We hope poems that respond to this theme are far-seeing and diverse. We welcome feminist work.  We welcome anti-racist work.  We hope to support many communities by sharing voices from varied experiences.  Work need not be overtly political, and may speak to either renewal or change in its themes. In a time of pandemic, global warming, attacks on truth, and the pillars of democracy, change may feel both necessary and terrifying; we look for poems that help navigate challenging times.

Quality: Please send us your strongest work aiming for the most powerful poems you can write.  We prefer imagistic poems that surprise and challenge.  We look for poems that move us.  We want lines we can quote.  Poems to recite.  Poems to hold close to our hearts.

Submission: Send us no more than five poems and a 50-word third person bio note in a single Word or RTF document to KSPoetryCoop at gmail.com.  Your single document must be formatted in this way: Your name at top left of the document (not in the header) followed by your email address, a list of the titles of the poems included in the document (also flush left), bionote, and then the poems exactly as you hope they will be printed.  In your bio note of no more than fifty words, feel free to include hyperlinks to your appropriate websites or books.  Please include italics as usual for magazines and books.  Please do not use page breaks but instead just leave about 4-5 lines between poems.

Here is the story of Coop from their website: "This site owes its inception to Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg who started the site as part of her duties as Kansas Poet Laureate with the intention of collecting poems to celebrate the state sesquicentennial. By 2013 Mirriam-Goldberg had created a site where a community of poets curated poems to speak to themes vital to many of us in and beyond Kansas and the heartland. The site changes themes periodically while collecting and publishing the poems from the previous theme. This evolution has lead us to the current name, The Coop: A Poetry Cooperative.

Laura Lee Washburn has worked as Editor-in-Chief or Chief Curator since 2020, after serving as a help to Mirriam-Goldberg’s site management.  In 2020, Laura Lee Washburn was joined by Katelyn Roth and Morgan O.H. McCune as additional site managers and editors.  Throughout the coming months, Poetry Cooperative will continue the tradition of monthly rotating ed

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Denise Low interviews Eileen R. Tabios; Neil Leadbeater reviews PAGPAG by Eileen R. Tabios

Eileen R. Tabios has developed a following as a writer, blogger, book collector, artist, and reviewer. Here is an interview with her, and scroll down for a review of her book PAGPAG by Neil Leadbeater. I first heard her name from my poetry friends and then saw her poetry review online journal GALATEA RESURRECTS (A POETRY ENGAGEMENT), an important commentary on contemporary verse. After relocating to northern California, I looked her up, and we have enjoyed an ongoing dialogue about our writing, her small book library, her fostered dogs, and
more. We exchanged questions and answers for this interview in 
early October, 2020, as she and her family were displaced by the Glass Fire.

 DL You have a large body of published work, and the listing of publications is available on your website. https://eileenrtabios.com/  How does this new book of short stories PAGPAG: The Dictator’s Aftermath in the Diaspora (Paloma Press) relate to your themes in previous work?

ERT That is a good question, because this book is an interruption of the writing styles I was exploring. These stories (except for one I added to cohere the collection) were published from 1995-2000; they represent me as a newbie creative writer, and I do not write the way I wrote back then. But I decided to re-issue them as a book in protest against the cruel policies of current Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte as well as his complicity in rehabilitating the reputation of the family of Martial Law dictator Ferdinand Marcos. I thought it important to remind people that Martial Law occurred, was damaging, and offers a legacy wherein junior-Marcos-type politicians undeservedly thrive to the detriment of the Filipino people they are supposed to serve.

Having said that, I am calling *interruption* only as regards writing style. PAGPAG’s stories are not that far from a consistent root cause to my poetry, which is addressing injustice. In my case, injustice helped create me as a diasporic. But it’s okay that I present from the diaspora because, as I say in my introduction, the effects of a dictatorship go beyond the obvious killings and torture of political rebels; the effect continues for generations and beyond national borders, and one result is the growth of diaspora. The growth in diasporic movement is not just from opposition politicians fleeing the dictator but also the population going overseas for work and other opportunities not available domestically, due to insufficient domestic development policies.

One aggravating—though not the most important—result of injustice is how it interrupts Beauty. I am very interested in exploring the many facets of Beauty (much of my poetry attests to that), but addressing injustice is of course a worthy diversion. For PAGPAG, the proverbial straw that caused me to release this book—and it was a very swift process from that decision to publication, thanks to Paloma Press publisher Aileen Cassinetto, who empathized and saw exactly what I was trying to do—was when I learned how the word “pagpag” had turned from its original definition of “dusting off” objects to be one of when poor people recover food dumped into trash landfills before attempting to clean them for re-cooking into new meals (you can see, and be offended as I was by, this video: ).

While PAGPAG is a short story collection, it also offers poems (inevitably so since I am a poet), including its ending poem from which I excerpt about the choice-that-is-a-non-choice faced by the poor:

          How to choose between          malnutrition versus Hepatitis A

                                                           malnutrition versus typhoid

                                                           malnutrition versus diarrhea

                                                           malnutrition versus cholera

A Filipino scholar I respect noted that the pagpag practice can exemplify the resilience of a people who otherwise might starve. Far be it for me to criticize actions by the hungry and malnourished, but all of those diseases mentioned in my poem can result from eating food scavenged from trash. So I was enraged at how the political leadership allowed this fate for poor people. I truly feel a nation must be judged, too, by how well (or not) it treats its weakest constituents. The poor are not given enough support, so the least I can do is remind with a book, even though inevitably I must write from the position of one who was able to leave and is outside the country. I do say in my Introduction:

"The aftermath [of a dictator’s actions] is not always obvious like the imprisoned, the tortured, or the salvaged (murdered); the aftermath goes deep to affect even future generations in a diaspora facilitated by corruption, incompetence, and venality."

DL  What did you hope to accomplish with writing this book?

ERT  My voice from the diaspora is not as important as those (in the Philippines) directly helping the poor and working for political change. But I suppose I just wanted to add my voice, which perhaps can add another element to illustrating the effects of a dictatorship, as I describe above. The stories all maintain a “from the diaspora” point of view but they are from the fictionalized children of the anti-Marcos opposition that had to leave the Philippines while Marcos was in power. I am just adding a modest voice to the clamor protesting against those failing in their public duties.

DL  What differences do you find between writing poetry and writing fiction? Any similarities?

ERT  I find I am more didactic when writing fictional prose—that the about-ness is more privileged than if I was writing a poem. This, by the way, is why I feel that in terms of effectiveness, the poems in PAGPAG are not as good as the short stories. The poems elide too much of the specifics that need to be shared full-frontally about the nature of political abuse and dictatorship. The poems, thus, are in support of the fiction which do a better job in communication because of their didacticism that offers specifics.

This is not to say that political poems cannot do justice to what they are addressing. I am only talking about me, and how I prefer in poetry to address Beauty than non-Beauty, knowing I can go to other forms like fiction when I want to do something else.

DL  Often people note that United States poets fail to write many good lyric poems that are political statements overtly, as the didacticism detracts from the lyricism. Perhaps here you say the elision of lyric poetry also makes political poetry more difficult. Thank you for that insight. You and I have talked about my good fortune in meeting Bienvenido Santos when he was a professor in my MFA program. He first made me aware of the political and personal tragedies in his and your homeland. What else would you like to share about your book or its impetus?

ERT  I would not go so far as to say lyricism makes political poetry more difficult. I only know that part of my position is not having to be constrained by only writing poems. I can write prose, too.

As for what else I would like to share about the book, the (abusive) effects due to the extremes of rich vs. poor and elite vs. disenfranchised are well-known and stretch back over much of human history. But as a person of my/our time, I notice what seems to me more drastic gulfs caused by wealth spurred by technology and financially leveraged products, among others. In the past, we certainly had the Rockefeller wealth due to oil and J.P. Morgan’s wealth due to finance, and these wealths, proportionately, may not be significantly different from those of today's Gates, Bezos, or Musk. But it seems to me that we have more such gazillionaires today. I speculate that the more you have of such people, the more they are able to create a culture such as a financial wealth-created bubble; such a bubble creates thicker borders because there are enough people with whom to socialize within that bubble.

Then, I suspect that from that bubble—and economic elite of course can translate to political

and other types of elitists—you start seeing politicians with decreasing empathy for the weakest among their constituencies. For they are not as in touch with them, or they recognize the suffering of other people as theoretical versus lived. In the Philippines, for example, there is a group of families that usually control economic and political standing. In the U.S., well, how much empathy has the President shown for people who live in various margins?

In my Introduction to PAGPAG, I insist that “it’s not okay. Pagpag is never okay—especially in a land where others spend 15 million pesos on a handbag’” when a serving of a pagpag meal can cost "as little as 20 pesos hard-earned by the poor.”

I do not know if my book PAGPAG offers any benefit. But as I write in PAGPAG, “A writer writes and here I write in protest—I know writing by itself is not adequate… But I do believe in the ultimate power of the written word and this book would be among those I’d send back from the diaspora to the Philippines.”

Consequently, too, I am glad to share that PAGPAG will have a Philippine edition released by the end of this year. It will be published and distributed in the Philippines by Wesleyan University Philippines. I could not have expected this result when I first put together the book. But I am glad because it is fitting that this facet of my writings return to the homeland. Not everything should remain in exile. And/or, I do not need to remain exiled.

DL  This is almost a note of optimism. Thank you so much for your reflections.


NEIL LEADBEATER reviews Pagpag:

The Dictator’s Aftermath In The Diaspora
by Eileen R. Tabios (Paloma Press, 2020, available at https://eileenrtabios.com/fiction/pagpag/)

 “Pagpag” is a Tagalog word meaning “to shake off dust or dirt” in the sense of fluffing up bedding to get rid of dust or shaking off crumbs that have landed in your lap. More recently it has come to refer to the scavenging of leftover food from garbage cans. Beggars or scavengers shake the food to remove the dirt that may have become attached to it. People who scavenge for leftovers in the Philippines will frequently cook what they find to make it less dangerous to eat.

In this collection of eleven protest stories, written between 1995 and 2001, Eileen Tabios rakes through the debris of “the continuing past” of a ruthless dictatorship to register her offence at having been forced to join the Philippine diaspora. For her, “pagpag” “heart-wrenchingly symbolizes like no other the effects of a corrupt government unable to take care of – indeed, abusing – its people.”

In her introduction she says, “A writer writes, and here I write in protest – I know writing by itself is not adequate, even as I humbly offer this collection to readers. But I do believe in the ultimate power of the written word and this book would be among those I’d send back from the diaspora to the Philippines.”

Throughout this collection, poverty is described in all its forms and not just in terms of a lack of money. It is also seen with reference to a lack of opportunity and, more importantly, a lack of being able to make one’s voice heard and a lack of being able to do anything about it. There are old men and women sleeping on hard surfaces, small farmers forced out of business, companies stripped of their assets and a displaced population from Calauit who end up dying of starvation.

There are also many things that have been discarded, broken or inadvertently left behind: a diamond ring and a pair of earrings, halved coconut husks, the broken fragments of a crystal vase, the mountainous trash heaps of wasted food in the foothills of Manila. All of these have consequences for the poor.

There is plenty of variety too, ranging from the politically charged “Force Majeure” and “Redeeming Memory” to the politically correct “Homeland” and the comic “Pork” and “Tapey.” Ghosts are present in at least three of these stories, but there is a sense in which they haunt every one of them as Tabios confronts her past.

The cover image, Self-Contained (2009) by Rea Lynn de Guzman—an interdisciplinary artist working in painting, print media, and sculpture—is the perfect fit to this collection since, like Tabios, she also immigrated from the Philippines to the United States at an early age, sharing that common bond of displacement and exile. This is a powerful collection of stories that illustrates the extent to which the legacy of dictatorship is still being felt today within the Filipino diaspora.


Neil Leadbeater is an author, essayist, poet, and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His publications include Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011); The Worcester Fragments (Original Plus, 2013); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, 2014), Finding the River Horse (Littoral Press, 2017), Punching Cork Stoppers (Original Plus, 2018) and Penn Fields (Littoral Press, 2019).  His work has been translated into several languages.

             Eileen R. Tabios loves books and has released over 60  collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in ten countries and cyberspace. Publications include form-based Selected Poems, The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku: Selected Tercets (1996-2019), THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL: Selected Visual Poetry (2001-2019)INVENT(ST)ORY: Selected Catalog Poems & New (1996-2015), and THE THORN ROSARY: Selected Prose Poems & New (1998-2010); the first book-length haybun collection, 147 MILLION ORPHANS (MMXI-MML); a collection of 7-chapter novels, SILK EGG; an experimental autobiography AGAINST MISANTHROPY; as well as two  bilingual and one trilingual editions involving English, Spanish, and Romanian. Her award-winning body of work includes invention of the hay(na)ku poetic form as well as a first poetry book, Beyond Life Sentences (1998), which received the Philippines’ National Book Award for Poetry (Manila Critics Circle). Her poems have been translated into 11  languages as well as computer-generated hybrid languages, paintings, video, drawings, visual poetry, mixed media collages, Kali martial arts, music, modern dance, sculpture and a sweatshirt. Additionally, she has edited, co-edited or conceptualized 15 anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays as well as exhibited visual art and visual poetry in the United States, Asia and Serbia.


Saturday, September 26, 2020

Nomadic Coffee "publishes" poet Denise Low, with audio

Nomadic Coffee of Berkely pairs coffee beans with poets plus provides a call-in line for the poet's commentary plus a reading. Thank you Nomadic Coffee! This is my poem currently tucked into coffee bags and available for call-in. Kim Shuck, Poet Laureate of San Francisco, is the curator for this quarter, and thanks mucho, Kim! Thank you to Arthur Johnstone for the featured portrait. Thank you Nomadic Coffee. Denise Low


“We look at the world once in childhood.

The rest is memory.” Louise Gluck


In my first house of cut-up puzzles

Mother disappears behind jumbled

heights, walls, gravity windowpanes—


a domain of no lullabies

but instead, pauses.

In the upstairs room under elms


stars pelt the glass.

Hunger returns. Under my chin

white ruffles loop endlessly.


I remember to this day

the curved bassinet, dusty pink,

how I lived within its wicker.


Later she stored it on the back porch

where even now, generations later,

it calls me to return.


 Nomadic Coffee broadside and Dial-a-Poet, 415-484-7919, ext. 730  

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Contact U of Mo-Ks. City Provost to save New Letters literary radio show and BkMk Press!

Dear writer friends, I sent this to telltheprovost@umkc.edu. Details are at KCUR.
Dear Provost and Administration Team, New Letters on the Air, BkMk Press and New Letters magazine are good for business. Please do not cut any of them. Four years ago I met at the Tannic Bar with Mayor Sly James and the convention coordinator, along with the AWP conference chair and assistant, to discuss the possibility of Associated Writers and Writing Programs having its annual conference of 15,000 in Kansas City. This is the largest literary conference in the world. (I had been AWP board president and conference chair previously and was their contact in the KC area.) Yes, there were BBQ and jazz as enticements, but more so there were the creative writing programs at UMKC and nearby KU and MU. In particular, the UMKC-sponsored suite of New Letters, NL on the Air, and BkMk Press were what the AWP conference staff recognized as national literary programs. AWP decided to locate the conference in KC in 2021 as a result of our discussion. https://www.awpwriter.org/awp_conference/overview . Indeed, the arts in Missouri are a 3 billion dollar asset, 3.3% of the state's economic value (National Endowment for the Arts https://www.arts.gov/artistic-fields/research-analysis/arts-data-profiles/arts-data-profile-25 ). Diminishing assets of UMKC may be a short-term fix, but in the long run, a shell of a vocational school might remain. Yes, the inhumane release of employees without health insurance with two weeks' notice is despicable. Yes, these are culturally essential heritages that are being extinguished. Yes, this will diminish UMKC in its accreditation profile. Also, this is bad business. Please reconsider your plans to cut New Letters on the Air and BkMk Press. Please do retain New Letters magazine.

Sincerely, Denise Low, Kansas Poet Laureate 2006-08 and proud New Letters, BkMk, and New Letters on the Air author.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Denise Low Interviews Xanath Caraza

One of the most outstanding Mammoth Publications authors is Xánath Caraza, who now lives
in Kansas City. She is a traveler, educator, poet, short story writer, and translator. She writes
for La Bloga, The Smithsonian Latino Center, Revista Literaria Monolito, and Seattle Escribe. Mammoth has published some trilingual works of hers: Nahuatl, Spanish, and English versions of the same poems. This is a recent email interview. See Xanath Caraza's Mammoth books: https://mammothpublications.net/about/writers-a-to-l/xanath-caraza-conjuro/  Mammoth Publications is a small literary press located in Northern California and published by Denise Low and Thomas Weso.

Denise Low: When did you begin writing? Was poetry always a primary genre? Why?
Xánath Caraza: Hola, Denise, it so nice to chat with you. I began writing when I was a young girl. As a young child, I was presented with poetry and literature. Mostly, I need to express gratitude to my father for this and also one of my tías, my tía Martha, my father’s sister. As a gift at my birth, my father bequeathed to me the three volumes of Las mil y una noches. I cherish these volumes to this day. As I pleasantly recall from my early childhood, he used to introduce me to authors such as Lorca; he used to recite part of “Romance Sonámbulo” for me  “. . . verde que te quiero verde. Verde viento. Verdes ramas. El barco sobre la mar y el caballo en la montaña….” Naturally, I didn’t have the notion this was Lorca. I just learned it by heart. He also recited Sor Juana for me, “Hombres necios que acusáis a la mujer sin razón, sin saber que sois la ocasión de lo mismo que culpáis y si las incitáis al mal…” and a haiku that I also memorized early in my childhood, “A la fuente vieja/ salta veloz la rana/ el agua suena” by Basho. As well, he acquainted me with Li Po or Li Bai and my brilliant Nahuatl poets. Habitually, I take with me the following verses from one of Netzahualcoyotl’s poems. It must have been from “Canto de primavera””…libro de pinturas es tu corazón, has venido a cantar…en el interior de la casa de la primavera…”   I have a good number of books of poetry that
my father gifted me. To this da,y in fact, he shares with me books of poetry. Each one has a lovely dedication he wrote in the front cover. My aunt was also quite active in my early introduction to literature. Nevertheless, she presented to me more novelists than poets. Later as an adolescent, I had a reawakening with poetry along with my friends. Incidentally, a few of these friends are writers now themselves, as well. I began to put pen to paper as a young child, but I started publishing more formally as an older adolescent and into my early twenties. My father would share with me, “La que lee mucho algún día va a escribir”—the one who reads a great deal one day will become a writer. I quickly agreed with him as I self-prophesized about being a writer. My first poem I created, or should I say what I remember as a poem, was at six years old. The stars and moon were its theme. With a pink marker, I wrote it and ran to give it to my aunt.
Denise Low: I met you at the Association of Literary Translators of America conference in 2011, where I first heard your bilingual poetry. We talked, and you sent me a manuscript, Conjuro--in Nahuatl, Spanish, and English. This became your first full-length book and first of three books with Mammoth publications. How did you develop that first book? I know there was a chapbook that came first.
Xánath Caraza: I was certainly happy to know that Mammoth Publications wanted to read one of my manuscripts. I started by reading and rereading many of my poems in order to find a rhythm for the collection. I had previously published in several literary journals, but I had never published a full-length poetry collection. After deciding the order of the poems, I started translating them into the English, I also had one poem, “Mujer”, translated into the Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs by my mother. And, I had recently met Sandra Kingery, who translated two poems in Conjuro.
DL: You celebrated Conjuro with a wonderful Sunday dinner for Tom Weso, the Mammoth co-publisher, and me. I see you post scrumptious food on social media. Do you find and continuity between cooking and writing?
XC: Cooking relaxes me from my daily routine. I love art and taking photos of the dishes I cook is another way of creating. I’m glad you enjoy them.
DL: How many books of poetry do you have now? I've lost count! And where can readers find them? 
XC: I have sixteen books of poetry and two short story collections. FlowerSong Press, Mammoth Publications, Mouthfeel Press, Lobo Estepario Pandora Press, Editorial Nazarí, Spartan Press, Capítulo Siete, and Gilgamesh Edizioni are some of my publishers where my books can be found.
DL: What are some of the major themes in your poetry?
XC: Between worlds, I have always lived. As a child in Mexico my borders were linguistic and social. At an early age, I was aware of this. My mother grew up bilingually between Spanish and Nahualt, the language of the Mexica (Aztecs). I was also aware of the drastic division of social class in Mexico at an early age. Currently, I live between the US and Mexico, and, again, I am a border crosser, linguistically, physically and emotionally; therefore, place has been always inherent in my work. For instance, Sílabas de viento / Syllables of Wind / Le Sillabe del vento, one of my books of poetry, published in three languages—Spanish, English and Italian—is entirely a reflection on place, México, Spain, Croatia and beyond. What’s more, my book of poetry Donde la luz es violeta / Where the Light is Violet is full of the light and colors of Italy. This book I wrote in 2015 during a writer’s residence that I had the opportunity to do in Italy that same year. Women’s voices have always been present in my work. As a female poet, I pay attention to what other women experience and weave those sounds into my poetry or narrative as a manner to validate our diverse perspectives of seeing the world. Frequently, these voices come through their own culture. As mentioned, I live between the US and Mexico and, within each of these countries, a myriad of cultures has co-existed for centuries. From these cultures and beyond, I want women’s voices to be recognized and interacted with in a public sphere. For example, the title story of my short story collection, Lo que trae la marea / What the Tide Brings, presents the voice of a young Afromestiza/African Mexican woman and the challenges she faces in her daily life. In addition, my book of poetry Lágrima roja is a lyrical document of a personal concern I have for femicides. The social theme is constantly present in my work, Corta la piel / It Pierces the Skin, my most recent book, is another example of my writing flowing among the personal, political, and geographical terrains.
DL: You also have books of fiction, which are also wonderful. How do your short stories extend your overall narrative?
XC: I love writing short stories. I like to think that I write with my five senses. Both my prose and poetry project sounds, colors, aromas between the lines.
DL: What are you working on now?
XC: Among other projects I am working on Ejercicio en la oscuridad. Ejercicio en la oscuridad is a collection of poetry that is in the process of being translated by Sandra Kingery’s translation class, for which I am thankful. At the same time, artist, Tudor Şerbănescu from Romania has created images for each of the poems in this collection.
DL: I so appreciate your legacy of writings as well as your community activities. Thank you for this interview, and thank you for your tireless literary citizenship!

Xánath Caraza is a traveler, educator, poet, short story writer, and translator. She writes for La Bloga, The Smithsonian Latino Center, Revista Literaria Monolito, and Seattle Escribe. In 2019 for the International Latino Book Awards she received Second Place for Hudson for “Best Book of Poetry in Spanish” and Second Place for Metztli for Best Short Story Collection. In 2018 for the International Latino Book Awards she received First Place for Lágrima roja for “Best Book of Poetry in Spanish by One Author” and First Place for Sin preámbulos / Without Preamble for “Best Book of Bilingual Poetry by One Author.” Her book of poetry Syllables of Wind / Sílabas de viento received the 2015 International Book Award for Poetry. She was Writer-in-Residence at Westchester Community College, NY, 2016-2019. Caraza was the recipient of the 2014 Beca Nebrija para Creadores, Universidad de Alcalá de Henares in Spain. She was named number one of the 2013 Top Ten Latino Authors by LatinoStories.com. Her books of verse Where the Light is Violet, Black Ink, Ocelocíhuatl, Conjuro and her book of short fiction What the Tide Brings have won national and international recognition. Her other books of poetry are It Pierces the Skin, Balamkú, Fără preambul, Μαύρη μελάνη, Le sillabe del vento, Noche de colibríes, and Corazón pintado. Caraza has been translated into English, Italian, Romanian, and Greek; and partially translated into Nahuatl, Portuguese, Hindi, and Turkish. For more about Xanath Caraza, see her website: https://xanathcaraza.webs.com/biography

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

DENISE LOW interviews KIM SHUCK, Poet Laureate of San Francisco

KIM SHUCK'S new chapbook from Mammoth Publications, Whose Water: Poem, is a chance to reflect on her writing process. This email interview took place in early March, 2020. My appreciation to this outstanding writer, poet, beader, and educator. She is Poet Laureate of San Francisco with previous books:  Deer Trails: San Francisco Poet Laureate Series No. 7, (City Lights Publishers), Murdered Missing (Foothills Publishing), Sidewalk Ndn, chapbook (FootHills Publishing), Clouds Running In, (Taurean Horn Press ), Smuggling Cherokee (Greenfield Review Press, Poetry Foundation bestseller list, SPD Books bestseller list. For orders, contact mammothpubs@gmail.com, $10 plus tax and shipping OR order with PayPal Link

Denise Low: Kim I ran across your Rabbit Stories (Poetic Matrix Press) and bought it immediately. It had some influence on my own writing of Jackalope (Red Mountain Press). Tsisdu is an energy I have to reckon with in my writing life and elsewhere. How about you?
Kim Shuck: Those iconic cultural symbols are absolutely there to speak to inner truths. For many reasons I find trickster energy, and particularly the gentler, sillier trickster energy, something that has led me. Sometimes right into a bramble patch, but it has led me.
DL: What I love about your work is how there are these nuggets placed throughout each work, no matter what the genre, turns of phrase like “Thumbprints of the sacred / Human measures / Thumb, forearm, heel to toe.” How do you strategize such moments, and/or how do you edit to emphasize them?
KS: Thank you. I used to write from those notes. I'd find a phrase that rang and then I'd write around
it. Now, should I confess? I don't really edit much at all. I may change a word or two but nothing that would really qualify as editing. It happens in my head. I write like playing free jazz. There are things that come up in my thoughts and I know that they will work and then there are things that I see that might lead me somewhere else and I grab them. The notes that repeat, the knots that hold the fabric together, I don't know why I put them where I do. I find a place where they feel right and then I read them out loud a few times and if they chime there I leave them.
DL: In Whose Water I admire the rhythm of the mostly short lines and the momentum of the poem. Repeated motifs like waterways and rural sightings of silos, cornfields and churches (boxes), as well as geography, tie the work together. How did themes arise? Did you write in the car, as the movement of the words suggest?
KS: When we left San Francisco to take that trip I had just organized a reading by Pacific Island people about Mauna Loa and I was thinking about sacred space and how some people need there to be a building for something to be sacred and wondering why that was. At the same time I was thinking about the readings I was going to do and in two cases working out the land acknowledgements, which led me to prayers and going to water and what constitutes belonging to a place. I think that I came to some conclusions on the way. I write about water all of the time anyhow. Then there's the way I travel, which is in a car with a partner to whom all of this Indigenous reality is fairly new. I do write down a few words in the car sometimes. Sometimes I just remember the images and write them later it depends upon the urgency of the image. Most of that poem was written in the car.
DL: What did you leave out of the long poem Whose Water? Why?
KS: Oooh, I left a few things out. I read at Haskell on that trip, read from Murdered Missing (FootHills Publishing) and that day was a separate place for me. So what is in there of that moment is heavily redacted. There were also moments in the trip that were seriously alienating: signs, flags, comments. If I am tempted to adjust the reality of a moment I leave it out. I want to be as clean in my images as I can be.
DL: Do you see any influence of your beadwork and other textile arts on your creative writing? 
KS: Story, textiles and beads are my first languages so they are probably in there if I see them or not. I think that they all influence one another. I will notice things I like to bead and those things make it into my writing. I suppose my taste in nouns shows up one way or another.
DL: Would you share a poem and then describe what success you feel you had with it?
Then night splits the  Husk of day and emerges
Slick with the damp of
New things and
Spangled with the prickles of
Human need an
Incidental loveliness that
Burns like the
Gems my grandmother
Imagined and maybe
Thinks of still somewhere and we
Look at the dark and reference
Heat or cold depending upon our
Experiences our frames our
Lenses which
Magnify the varicolored
Lights it's difficult not to
Smile so I do because with all of the
Smudge and creak of
Person led creation with all of our
Silly and greedy and
Ill-considered there is also
Beautiful and some days that is what I
Want to say about us

I like the forgiveness in this poem. Both for myself and others. The rhythm is good. I like the way some of the lines slide from one to the next. It feels familiar and not too familiar.

DL: Thanks for that ending paradox here about how we want both repetition (the familiar) and the surprise (not too familiar) in poetry. This is your magic trick. And thank you for this discussion.

Kim Shuck is a Tsalagi (Cherokee)/Euro-American poet, author, weaver, and beadwork artist born in San Francisco, California. She belongs to the Northern California Cherokee diaspora and is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. In 2017, Mayor Ed Lee named Shuck as the 7th Poet Laureate of San Francisco.  Other awards include a PEN Oakland Censorship Award, National Laureate Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets, KQED Local Hero Award, American Indian Heritage Month, Mentor of the Year Award from Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers, Native Writers of the Americas First Book, Diane Decorah Award, and a Mary Tallmountain Award. Previous books of poetry are Deer Trails: San Francisco Poet Laureate Series No. 7, (City Lights Publishers), Murdered Missing (Foothills Publishing), Sidewalk Ndn, chapbook (FootHills Publishing), Clouds Running In, (Taurean Horn Press ), Smuggling Cherokee (Greenfield Review Press, Poetry Foundation bestseller list, SPD Books bestseller list. She earned a B.A. in Art (1994), and M.F.A. in Textiles (1998) from San Francisco State University. She has taught American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University and was an artist-in-residence at the de Young Museum in June 2010 with Michael Horse. http://www.kimshuck.com/  Photographs of the poet and the beadwork image by Doug Salin. Copyright 2020 by Kim Shuck, art and interview text.
Copyright 2020 by Denise Low, interview text.
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