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.  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

 “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 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. . Indeed, the arts in Missouri are a 3 billion dollar asset, 3.3% of the state's economic value (National Endowment for the Arts ). 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:  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 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:

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, $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.  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.
Contact mammothpubs[at] gmail for permissions.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Denise Low interviews poet Lindsey Martin-Bowen

DL: Lindsey, you and I have had parallel lives, as we lived in the Kansas City area for decades, and now we find
ourselves on the western edge of the continent in Oregon and California, respectively. How has the move affected your writing life?

LM-B: Every morning, I am blessed to look through our living-room “picture” window and be mesmerized by beautiful foothills a few blocks away. Between our home and those hills, two-story, clapboard houses, circa 1905, their chimneys often puffing miniature clouds of smoke from wood-burners, create a scene from another century. It’s as if I live inside a greeting card, especially during the Christmas season when many neighbors edge their houses with lights.
Thus, those foothills whether draped with snow, spring flowers and greenery, or the rusty browns and mauves of autumns, call me to write about them. So I do. In fact, a poem I wrote within the last year, entitled “No Exit” (originally “The Foothills Snow”) is one where I focus on those surrounding hills in lieu of using them as a backdrop. I stole the title from John-Paul Sartre, but in my poem, the “no exit” theme is more positive because in it the persona mentally moves from Mount Emily’s foothills to the Rockies, (where I once lived), onward to the Alps, and lands back in La Grande—home. (This poem will appear in 365 DAYS: A Poetry Anthology Volume 3, so I can’t yet share it here.)

DL: I think of your work as being very descriptive of your surroundings, complicated by mythic connections. Your Jim Morrison book has vivid road scenes as framework for an apotheosis of this inter-dimensional rock personality. 

LM-B: Thank you. Along with giving me visual images, setting often inspires the rhythms and sounds in my poems, especially when I write about water settings, whether they lie beside a lake or an ocean. And of course, the sea pulses with and flashes mythic allusions.
            A poetry teacher once restricted my classmates and me from using the word, “mountain,” because its meaning is “cliché,” he said. I understood his point. Yet, I also discovered sneaking “cliffs” and “hills,” even “foothills,” into poems did not incur his wrath. He merely wanted to challenge us to use words beyond the standard ones. (He also liked Anglo-Saxon words, like “jut” and “cut,” which work well with cliffs and ridges that jut along the horizon and emulate cardboard layers of rock.)

DL: You have such a vivid style. Do images come early in your writing process, or do you add or amplify them in later drafts?

LM-B: Again, thanks, Denise. I am honored that such a master of describing the land has referred to my description as “vivid.” Recreating vivid imagery in a reader’s mind fulfills me. I admit sometimes it seems easy: the visual images flow. Other times, the auditory images seem to roll off my lips.
Yet, there are the other times, when I write a “stick figure” poem that lacks muscle—rather like that 95-pound weakling in those old “muscle-builder” advertisements. For example, “That Day in Williamsburg,” the opening poem for Standing on the Edge of the World (Woodley Press/Washburn U 2008), started out as a stick figure weakling back in 1976. Although I tried revising it over and over again at the time, it didn’t quite click. Nevertheless, I kept it. I wanted to retain a scene that occurs in it—and some of the imagery of Williamsburg.
Then, in either late 2001 or early 2002, I came across that old attempt. This time, the rhythms of the ocean started taking over my rhythms as I revised it. The poem grew into something strong. I wrote more drafts and worked on it until it came alive—and the last half of the final stanza went to the imagination realm. Finally, the poem passed the rigid Carl Rhoden acceptance test. (He’d claimed I had to “earn” that last line, which came before the few lines preceding it.) John Eberhart, then The Kansas City Star’s Poetry Editor, read it, liked it, and published it (July 14, 2002).

DL: Do you see any influence of your legal training on your creative writing? I would say there is precision.

LM-B: I agree that both poetry and the law require precise language. In the law, the difference between “and” and “or” can be tremendous. Nevertheless, although legal language must be exact, it often lacks rhythm. Thus, the legal script varies so much from flowing and “singing” as poetry often does, I find the legal lexicon often drags me away from writing good poetry. Besides, such teachers as Jim McKinley, David Ray, and Dan Jaffe stressed being precise (when writing poetry or fiction) that I entered law school with that goal.
            Moreover, law school remains my most arduous intellectual experience. It was boot camp of the mind.

DL: Would you share a poem and then describe what success you feel you had with it?

LM-B: Here’s one that made me feel successful for various reasons:


Some sprout in earth—dirt,
rich mulch, where molecules
are born, split and fuse into more
cells, then sweet potatoes, carrots,
beets, and rutabagas—roots—
vegetable limbs sinking into blackness,
growing deep, building skin to protect
soft meat from animals and elements.

Some blossom—broccoli, cauliflower—
miniature coiffures of granny hair—
and shimmer with dew early during
June and July when morning
glories bloom and climb gates. These
veggies stay awake, feel wind against
their heads, wait for the perfect
hour before they lie in beds.

Others are towers—monuments
of phallic energy: Asparagus
stems stretch toward the sun,
artichokes spit spiky leaves
at the moon, and celery stalks
grow ridges for strength.
And can we name sugar cane
among these solid shoots?

And then come the fungi:
mushrooms bloom in wet
places, show button faces
in spaces where many
dare not step.
Amanita muscaria—no, not yet.
Published in Where Water Meets the Rock (39 WEST Press 2017, first published in I-70 Review)
 First, I surprised myself because it was the first time I wrote about vegetables (in poetry), and the humor appearing in the double-entendres made it fun to write. Then, I realized the poem also contains imagery and sound, and another “layer” of meaning. So for fun, I submitted it to the 2016 Writers Digest 85th Writing Competition in the “free verse” category. Later, I learned that the contest received 6,000 submissions (including all three poetry categories). At the same time, I learned that I didn’t win—but I did receive an “Honorable Mention.” Writers Digest also sent a gold Award Winner seal to place on any collection containing the poem. Even if it’s only an honorable mention, out of a huge number of competitors, the poem caught someone’s eye. That indeed was a pleasant surprise.
Dr. Lindsey Martin-Bowen teaches Criminal Law and Procedure and American Court Systems (online) at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon. Until August 2018, she taught writing, literature, and Criminal Law at Metropolitan Community College-Longview and taught at the University of Missouri-Kansas City 18 years. Her most recent poetry collection, Where Water Meets the Rock (39 West Press 2017) contains "Vegetable Linguistics," which received an Honorable Mention in the Writers Digest's 85th Annual Writing Competition (2016). Her previous collection, Crossing Kansas with Jim Morrison, won the "It Looks Like a Million" Award for the 2017 Kansas Authors Club competition. The book is an expansion of her chapbook named a finalist in the 2015-2016 Quills Edge Press Chapbook Contest. "Bonsai Tree Gone Awry" from Inside Virgil’s Garage (Chatter House Press 2013) was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. This collection was also runner-up in the 2015 Kansas Authors Club Nelson Poetry Book Award. Woodley Press (Washburn University 2008) published her first full-length collection, Standing on the Edge of the World,  which McClatchy newspapers named one of the Ten Top Poetry Books of 2008. Paladin Contemporaries released her novels Rapture Redux (2014), Hamburger Haven (2009) and Cicada Grove (1992). Her work has appeared in New Letters, I-70 Rev., Thorny Locust, Tittynope Zine, Bare Root Rev., Coal City Rev., Flint Hills Rev., Amythest Arsenic, The Same, Silver Birch Press, Phantom Drift, The Enigmatist, Rockhurst Rev., Black Bear Rev., Little Balkans Rev., Kansas City Voices, Lip Service, 11 anthologies, and others. With Dennis Etzel, Jr., she edited Gimme Your Lunch Money: Heartland Poets Speak out against Bullies (Paladin Contemporaries 2016). She holds an M.A. in English (creative writing emphasis) and a Juris Doctor.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Mammoth Publishes Kim Shuck's WHOSE WATER: POEMS

Kim Shuck's new long poem Whose Water: Poems

Kim Shuck, Poet Laureate of San Francisco, writes a stunning long poem about her journey across the United States, what becomes a personal migration along its waterways. She names and transforms history, politics, nature’s beings, and her own ties to Cherokee Nation, of which she is an enrolled member. She notices “Selu” (corn in Cherokee), orchards, “dead gas stations,” and “ravens in parking lots.” In the flow of scenes, Shuck articulates an identity, “Americans are defined/by crossing water/Atlantic, Mississippi, Rio Grande, Pacific.” Place names of Latin, Spanish, and Algonkian origin wend together. An unanswered question haunts the verse as the poet moves in a terrain of observation and imagination. Readers join Shuck in creating possible responses.

Truck stop coffee

In through the passes
The satisfying watersheds whose punch lines we know
Here through the fog on the hillside
Through the sunwink and traffic of the floodplain
Here again among handprint bridges and watersong
Here at the straights
Whose water?


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.