What pulses beneath the soil? What do our roots seek when they dig deep? What sap rises in spring to feed the branches that reach for the stark sky? Place an ear to the trunk of Arkana to hear the hushed voices at work beneath the bark.
In the Spring of 2022, Arkana Editors chatted with writer Annie Lyall Slaughter. Her creative nonfiction piece, “Putting the Fear Behind” is featured in Arkana’s 11th Issue as the Editor’s Choice Award winner.
Arkana: Tell us about your intentional decision to begin your piece with a disclaimer. Relatedly, do you make it a consistent practice to change the names of your characters, especially when threatening or disrupting topics are being explored? Or is this your general practice when writing creative nonfiction, as a genre?
Annie Lyall Slaughter: When writing creative nonfiction, I typically try to keep all the information in my stories as close to the truth as possible, including the names of my characters. That said, for this particular piece, I didn’t ask the family’s permission to write the piece and wanted to respect their confidentiality, given the fact that they arrived to New York on refugee visas. Although they are no longer my clients (I have since left the resettlement agency), I felt it would’ve been a breach of trust to include their names in this story without their explicit permission. Not to mention, I wanted to keep them safe.
ARK: When you look back on the situation you were in, would you have been able to keep hold of hope if Ayesha and Sharif hadn’t reacted the way they did?
ALS: A loaded question! Ayesha and Sharif went on to secure an apartment in Little Pakistan largely on their own, thanks to the help of their family friends in the area. I couldn’t have done it without them. Although I went on to support countless families throughout nearly two years in the role, I would be lying if I said it wasn’t an everyday battle to maintain composure and hold on to hope. The exorbitant price of rentals in New York City paired with the lack of federal funding in the refugee resettlement program creates insurmountable challenges for refugees who resettle in the New York City metropolitan area. As a result, resettlement staff—required by law to help newly arrived families find a home—are left scrambling, constantly trying to patch the holes of a larger systemic issue that needs addressing.
ARK: Would you say that the situation then would be similar today or in the near future, or how do you think it has changed?
ALS: Although I am no longer working in refugee resettlement, from what I understand, little has changed. There was (and still is) a huge shortage of housing in the fall when hundreds of Afghan evacuees arrived in the city. There are some truly wonderful people and organizations doing great work to support refugees in NYC, but unfortunately, the housing market is relentless, and the cost of living has only increased here since COVID-19. On a more positive note, I’d like to acknowledge the incredible work of Ruth’s Refuge, a Brooklyn-based organization dedicated to supplying moving services and furnishings for refugee and asylee families. Thanks to their services, many newly arrived refugee families are able to save up to $1,000 in expenses towards furniture and home goods.
ARK: How did you come to realize that creative nonfiction called you and that you enjoyed writing within this genre?
ALS: I’ve always loved to journal. As a child, I would write stories when something unimaginable or exciting happened to me. (I’ve always felt a creative urge to put pen to page.) But it wasn’t until I started working at the IRC that I realized just how much material there is to write about in the immediate world around me. Now, I’m working towards a master’s in journalism, learning how to combine my own personal experiences with reporting to comment on larger social, cultural, and political trends.
ARK: In addition to your work with Arkana, are there any other publications or projects you are excited about? (What are you working on now?)
ALS: As an M.A. student in NYU’s Cultural Reporting and Criticism program, I’m currently working on a long-form essay analyzing the history of naming traditions (onomastics) in the American South, through the lens of my own double name “Annie Lyall”. Actually, I’m also working on another creative nonfiction piece about my time at the International Rescue Committee… I can’t seem to get away from it!
Ark: Thank you for sharing with us and congratulations again on the Editor’s Choice Award!
Annie Lyall Slaughter is a writer based in Manhattan. From September 2019 to March 2021, she secured twenty-one apartment units for refugee families while working for the International Rescue Committee in New York City. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism at NYU.
We are excited to announce the new MASTHEAD for Arkana Issue 13!
In the coming weeks, we will check in with our genre editors here on our blog to learn more about their teams. In the meantime, we are already reading your submissions, so keep sending us your best work! Just a few of our current requests include place-based nonfiction that continues to give a voice to under-represented topics or issues such as regional concerns or communities, more 10-minute plays, and flash fiction. We would also be excited to see more illustrated narratives, a photo or story album that tells an intriguing narrative. This is just a short list! There is more to come as we highlight each team.
Do you have something ready for us to read? Find out submission details on our Submit Page.
Want to see what we have published recently? Explore our current issue here or check out something from the Archive.
We love sharing our enthusiasm by celebrating our artists as much as possible. We nominate our writers’ work yearly for the Pushcart Prize and for other prizes, including Best of the Net. Also, for each issue, we award an Editor’s Choice Award for Fiction and Editor’s Choice Award for Poetry.
Looking forward to another great issue!
All the best, Kathy M. Bates Managing Editor, Arkana Literary Journal
Arkana is an online literary journal whose mission is to seek and foster a sense of shared wonder by publishing inclusive art that asks questions, explores mystery, and works to make visible the marginalized, the overlooked, and those whose voices have been silenced.
Arkana Editors chatted with writer, artist, and professor, Rosetta Marantz Cohen. Her poem, “Spartan Woman” is featured in Arkana’s 11th Issue.
Featured Artwork: “Self-Portrait,” by Rosetta Marantz Cohen
Arkana: “Spartan Woman” is reminiscent of an otherworldly epic that draws you into its lyrical narrative and demands your careful attention throughout. How do you, as a poet, approach a lengthier and more detailed piece like this one? Does that approach differ from how you might write more condensed work?
Rosetta Marantz Cohen: The complexity of the subject seemed to demand I write a long poem, one that spans a woman’s entire lifespan. I wrote the poem in sections; each, initially, had its own title. Once I finished, I realized the titles weren’t necessary, that the poem told a coherent and chronological story.
I had never written such a long poem before. I consider myself a formal poet, and those forms (sonnets, villanelles, sestinas, etc.) often dictate their own lengths. I’d thought I liked the constraints of formal poetry, but I found it very freeing to write this poem without any kind of metrical constraints. …Though I suppose that staying true to the historical sources I was using substituted one form of constraint for another.
Ark: Much of “Spartan Woman” includes references to life in Sparta. How did you approach researching for this piece? Is research a primary facet of your other work as well?
RMC: Though my reading often inspires ideas for poems, I’ve never before used such extensive primary and secondary research in composing. During the pandemic, when I was confined to the house, I became interested in reading a lot of history, and specifically about women in the past who pushed back against their constricted lives—rule-breakers and outsiders. “Spartan Woman” grew out of some fascinating reading about this very alien culture where everything in the society was focused on war, and where women were useful only in their capacity to create more male soldiers. My favorite source was Sarah Pomeroy’s Spartan Women, which describes in great detail some of the odd practices that were considered normal in Spartan society, including infanticide and the cross-dressing of young brides.
Building a life story from historical research was so satisfying and engrossing for me that I continued the series, writing several more lengthy poems about other “outsider” women—a medieval anchoress, a woman in Salem during the witch trials, a pioneer schoolteacher. Each of these long poems have been built on primary and secondary research and the whole process allows you to become immersed in the character you are creating so that I’ve come to feel I know them as real people.
Ark: Where did the inspiration for the piece come from?
RMC: As a professor of Education with a focus on women’s education in the developing world, I have been teaching for many years about the lives of women struggling against social constraints, poverty, prejudice. Until this year, I had never thought to turn life stories into poems. Once I started writing about this character—this woman from Sparta in 600 BCE—I saw the links between my academic work and my poem. Her difficulties were not wholly unlike the barriers women face today in some parts of the world.
Ark: How did you go about revising “Spartan Woman?” Is the finished piece similar to the original draft, or did the piece undergo many changes?
RMC: I knew I wanted the poem to have multiple sections, each dealing with another pivotal moment in the speaker’s life. I revised a good deal. My husband is an English professor and he is my best critic. He catches every word that is “off” and he is (almost) always right. So I do revise with the input from a trusted critic. It always amazes me how “good” a line can sound when you first write it, and how “wrong” it seems the following day.
Ark: So, what are you working on now?
RMC: Right now I am finishing a book of five long poems based on the subjects I note above—the anchoress, the pioneer teacher, the witch, and also a contemporary woman who is herself an outsider from the dominant culture. What I have found is that all these voices have become linked in surprising ways. They share a kind of visionary capacity—an ability to see themselves outside the norms and restrictions of their time and place. They also share a deep sense of loneliness. They (we) have become a kind of sisterhood of misfits.
Rosetta Marantz Cohen is the author of two prize-winning chapbooks of poetry, Domestic Scenes (Foothills) and The Town of Insomniacs (Finishingline), and four scholarly books. She is the Myra M. Sampson Professor of Education at Smith College.
Mel Ruth is a PhD student at Georgia State University, with a focus on poetry. Mel has pieces published in Pleiades, Emerson Review, New Pages, and more. They were a Slice Literary Magazine “Bridging the Gap” Finalist, and their chapbook A Name Among Bone, was a semi-finalist in the 2020 Black River Chapbook Contest, and the winner of the 2021 Cow Creek Chapbook contest. They/them or she/her/hers. Follow them on Twitter @Mel_Ruth_.
A Name Among Bone is Mel Ruth’s first poetry collection. It won the 2021 Cow Creek Chapbook Prize held by Pittsburg State University and was published by Emerald City Press in 2022.
The heavy-weighted title is followed by an acknowledgment page containing the brief two words preface “for Nan-Nan.” Both reveal the main melody of this collection: family and lineage. The relationship with one’s grandparents can be as intimate and impactful as one’s parents. They are farther in blood distance but may be closer in family history. Ruth’s poems in this collection depict the beauty and mystery of that relationship in her family.
Figurative language is Ruth’s strong suit in this collection. Metaphors are dense and they carry symbolic meanings.
“Running Waters” is the first poem in the book. The title is a metaphor suggesting generations passing down like water in a waterfall. Ruth starts the poem with the speaker calling her father about her confusion about the family genealogy. She describes the sound of her name as “crisp like embered / leaves littering dirt.” (4-5) Then she uses a parallel structure to show contrast: “You wanted / a son, I wanted not to be // here atop this mountain.” (5-7)
The latest generation in the family, though the youngest, represents the successful extension of blood, and gets the most attention, like a mountain top the family looks to. It also shows the speaker’s awareness of her father’s expectations of her and her stress of being the focus of the family. As Ruth continues to trace up, she adds more metaphors. “The dirt / our bed and we return” is another powerful one to show people’s final fate. By the end, Ruth brings in the shooting target image, one that she repeats several times in this collection, to symbolize her trying to find the missing puzzle of her ancestry or to decipher her family’s genealogy.
Parallel with Ruth’s imaginative figures is her economy of words. The poem “View-Master: Revisited” is a narrative poem about the speaker’s Nan-Nan. It starts with how Nan-Nan is called, then what Nan-Nan means to the speaker’s family. In an extended metaphor, which contains 4 lines or 21 words, Ruth describes Nan-Nan’s function and contribution to the family, also how Nan-Nan’s sudden death brings trauma to them.
….. …..She was the thread ….. …..that bound us like the patchwork
….. …..of a story quilt, cut too soon, creating ….. …..chaos in the fallout. (3-6)…..
The metaphor implies the warm feeling the speaker feels for Nan-Nan, and the attention the family gets from Nan-Nan. However, Nan-Nan’s funeral has some chaotic scenes: “Shattered / glass angels, broken bloody noses, a pink / marbled coffin.” This scene is disappointing. Not what Nan-Nan asked for, and not what the speaker’s Pop-Pop wanted for her. By the end, Ruth continues to paint the scene with concise language: “Stolen knick-knacks / in the lounge, bitter / coffee, fake sugar.” (10-12)
The last three lines are a pun, suggesting both the literal and metaphorical meanings: knick-knacks, like good memories, were stolen, and the sweet words from people at the funeral are like fake sugar, not genuine. The coffee is bitter as the loved one is gone. In 3 lines of 8 words, Ruth draws a scene that arouses a lot of imagination and association in the reader’s mind.
Later in the collection, “Outside Your Skin You Are Narrative” is a poem that reveals both Ruth’s extraordinary storytelling skills and ability to embed strong imagery in her poetry.
The opening line draws interesting pictures in the reader’s mind, hooks them to read on, and leads them to imagine the scenes: “Cleanse everything with lavender. Your / body, your home, us.” As the reader reads on, they get to know that this is not the speaker’s voice, but Pop-pop’s memory of his mother, the speaker’s Nan-Nan. Then Ruth sketches vivid, dynamic pictures with sensual five senses:
….. …..hair in salt scented breezes ….. …..engulfing carnivals and oceans,
….. …..or whipping out of half open ….. …..windows in a rusted station? ….. …..wagon, rolling down highways
….. …..to Tennessee. (3-9)
The sight of “long hair,” the smell of “scented breezes,” and the contrast of hair flying in the open windows against a “rusted station wagon” together paint a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. Each word is imaginative and concrete. They reflect the difference between reality and dream. “You / believed in angels, but / your ancestors called them ghosts” (Ruth 10-12) suggests the gaps between family generations or different interpretations of life dreams. By the end, Ruth keeps painting rich and beautiful pictures in the carnival:
….. …..of Ferris Wheels and merry- ….. …..go-rounds in neon
….. …..lights, chasing Elvis, chasing ….. …..angels. Only part of ….. …..this was. (14-18)
The ending adds multiple layers of meaning to the poem. From concrete, fancy images of “Ferris Wheels and merry-go-rounds in neon lights” to slowly move to more symbolic images like “chasing Elvis” and his song in Tennessee, then to move to what the poet is doing now – her pursuit of art, poetry. This poem covers a long time and a broad space to arouse the reader’s imagination.
The last poem in the collection “Memoir: A Poem” adds the memoir element to poetry. Its last line provides the title for this collection, and it is also a lyric poem that reflects Ruth’s strength in using images to stir the reader’s emotions. It’s another poem for Nan-Nan.
The open line “I read you gone” composes a one-line stanza. It sets the grave tone for the poem. The large amount of white space allows the reader to digest the heavy topic. Instead of telling the reader her helpless and sad feeling, Ruth depicts it in imagery:
The image hits the reader with pain and grief. Then Ruth draws a lighter, livelier picture following this grim topic: “I // want to see galaxies on my / nails, feel civilizations on / my palms.” This shows the contrast between reality and dreams. The ending is another picture Ruth composes to embody the theme of the poem, also the theme of the book:
….. ………. ………. ………. …I need ….. ………. ………. ………. ………. ….to dance. To be
….. …..the solid center of bright ….. ………. ………. ………. ………. ….pink target. To count
….. …..each grain of rice. To have ….. ………. ………. ………. …found a name among bone. (9-14)
Even with Nan-Nan’s passing away, Ruth understands she cannot be broken. She needs to stay calm and collected, for her ancestors, and also for her dream. She needs to put herself together to be the solid center of a target, counting the memories like counting the grains of rice. She has Nan-Nan in her blood and bone and will never forget her. The repeating shooting or target images in the first and the last poems echo, both reflecting the speaker’s goal: to hit the target right.
A Name Among Bone reflects Mel Ruth’s free and mature use of the different poetic craft elements in her work. Her figurative language, natural talent with imagery, and storytelling ability contribute to making this collection as strong as the title suggests, meanwhile generating an everlasting effect on the reader’s mind.
Zhihua Wang is a poetry candidate in the Arkansas Writers’ MFA Program at the University of Central Arkansas. She worked as the Managing Editor of Arkana from 2019-2020. Her recent work is shown/forthcoming in Aji Magazine, Last Leaves, San Pedro River Review, Nurture, The Curator, Eunoia Review, Down in the Dirt, and Writers Resist. She is working on her first poetry collection: Faraway Hometown.
You have finished writing your novel, your collection of short stories, or your poetry collection.
Now what do you do?
You contact editors and proofreaders and then literary agents in order to publish your work. One of the first questions a literary agent will ask you is if you have a social media presence. Do you have followers? Do you have a group of people already willing to buy your book?
The literary agent and their company will be able to do some marketing for you, but depending on the size of their company, it will limit how much support they can give you. A large company, like one of the Big 3, will have an entire team dedicated to marketing your book, as well as many others coming out around the same time. An indie publisher will most likely have a marketing team, as well, but it is usually a small group of people. What about self-publishing? Well, that is all up to you. If you choose to self-publish, you are the only person pushing that book out.
Now you may be thinking that marketing for your book sounds like a daunting task and it can be. Here are five tips that would be helpful when you are ready to start marketing for yourself.
Find the best time for you to start marketing.
Knowing that you are responsible for creating more revenue for yourself is a scary thing to think about and it can stress a lot of people out. The important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong time to start marketing for yourself. Should you start marketing before you even finish the book? Probably not, unless you have a deadline and know exactly when the book needs to be finished. Trying to market yourself can distract you from finishing your work so worry about that later.
What about when the book is finished and you’ve been accepted by an editor? This would be a better time to start marketing and contributing to the literary world online. This can be engaging in online discussions, starting your own blog, or simply commenting on other authors’ social sites. If you want to, you can create your own Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tiktok, and/or create your own website. The point is to get started somewhere. AND if you are so overwhelmed with editing, then wait.
The worst time to decide to try to market yourself is never trying in the first place.
Don’t feel like you have to use every platform.
You can do whatever feels comfortable for you. If you don’t feel comfortable posting videos of yourself, then stick to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you don’t like being limited on character amount, don’t use Twitter. Do what feels right for you.
Let’s go through each platform.
Facebook is well-known and allows you to post text, photos, and short videos. You can write long posts or short ones, as well. Audience-wise, younger generations are less and less likely to use Facebook, so if you are marketing a YA novel, Facebook might not catch all of your potential readers.
Instagram is owned by Facebook, so whatever you post on Facebook, can also be posted on Instagram. Although, Instagram is a little different because its main focus is posting photos with shorter captions. Younger generations are more likely using this platform.
Twitter also allows you to post photos and short videos but you are limited by a character count. Twitter is made to be straight to the point so if you want to tell detailed stories, Twitter isn’t the platform for you. Younger generations are also on this platform.
Tiktok is its own breed of social site. It is only videos that can be 15 seconds, 30 seconds, or 3 minutes long. You don’t have to show your face in your videos, but it will be a lot easier to create a following if you do. The younger generation is most likely most active on Tiktok so it would be perfect for marketing for YA.
Creating your own website is also a great way to start marketing yourself. You can create it however you want to and there are templates that can help guide you, as well. Your site may not be able to get as many views as a social media post, but you could post a link to your website on social media and encourage people to visit it that way.
The important part is to only use what makes you feel comfortable. If viewers can tell you are uncomfortable, then they will most likely not want to follow you.
Determine your audience.
As was mentioned in the last tip, some platforms can be geared more towards certain demographics or age groups. Your genre and subject matter will impact who you plan to market to. For example, if you are marketing for your poetry collection, you won’t want to engage with sites or groups for fantasy writers and vice versa. If you decide to start writing book reviews on your blogs and all the books you review are memoirs, then you should probably be marketing for a memoir.
The need for consistency is key because you don’t want to confuse your audience.
Don’t compare yourselves to other writers.
A quote I found recently sums this up perfectly.
“Don’t compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20.” – Unknown
Just because your fellow writer started marketing for their book before they even finished writing it, doesn’t mean you have to. Take it at your own pace and remember that all marketing plans are different.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to other writers.
If you follow writers on social media then reach out to them and ask what they have done. Most of the time, writers will be more than happy to help you out and give you advice. We may be competing against one another for book sales, but our love for reading and fellowship is stronger. None of us want to be alone in this huge industry, so don’t be afraid to ask. The worst thing that can happen is that they say no.
The main point here – do what you want.
This is your journey, not anyone else’s. Do what is best for you.
Melanie A. Wilson is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Arkansas. She is a fantasy and speculative fiction writer and an avid D&D player and creator. Check out her website.
Recently, Arkana‘s managing editor Kathy M. Bates sat down with writer and educator Megan Neville to discuss her writing and poetic forms and themes at work in her latest poetry collection, The Fallow.
Transcribed by Melanie A. Wilson.
Kathy M. Bates: We are happy to share in the excitement of your first full-length poetry collection The Fallow. Teaching, writing, contests, traditional and non-traditional paths, tell us a little about your writing journey.
Megan Neville: Writing is something I have done my entire life. I know a lot of people say that, but it really is. I put together little books when I was a kid, when I could barely write words. I did a zine when I was 13, 14, 15-years-old. So, writing has been something that I have always done and it has always been intrinsically linked with teaching. When I really started to take writing seriously, in my adult life, I have to give a lot of credit to the National Writing Project at Kent State University. NWP is an organization that operates on the philosophy that K-12 teachers should be writers themselves–if we are going to teach writing, we need to write. So, I did that in 2007 and that just reinvigorated my passion for writing. That’s when I started to really see myself as a writer again. That’s where the journey to where I am now was rekindled.
KMB: At what point during the writing and organization of The Fallow did you decide on the title? Fallow is in essence remains that are left to restore over time. Tell me a little more about the title and deeper connection to thematic elements within the collection.
MN: Yeah, that’s huge. You know, it was originally going to be “Our Lady of Impermanence”, which is the title of one of the poems. But then I realized that the poet, Traci Brimhall has a book with a very similar title and I obviously didn’t want to be too similar to someone else’s book. I was looking around at other things in the book trying to figure out what was kind of a unifying theme. And the whole idea of fertility is huge in this book, and the intentional non-use of fertility. My poems touch a bit on the concept of motherhood and mothering, and it’s very much a book about the fact that I’m not a mother, I don’t have children and I don’t want to have children. And just kind of exploring maternal instinct and things like that in the context of not being or wanting to be an actual mother.
I also think about it from an agricultural standpoint, because I am in Ohio so that is something that once I get an hour outside of the city I live in, is a big thing. You know, leaving a field fallow is purposeful, right? It’s so that things can regenerate and restore nutrients and kind of nurture the land itself, as opposed to just always spawning things from the land. So, you know, when you first hear the definition of the word fallow, it might seem like something negative like, oh, that’s sad. It’s not bearing anything, but then when you think of the purpose of it, I like to think of that as a metaphor for why I have chosen not to be a mother.
KMB: Let’s talk a bit about how form mirrors content but more potentially exposes context. Namely in “Rotational Fall,” there are 3 stanzas parted by pages as well as appearance. How are your choices informing the underlying story you hope to relay?
MN: I love this because I love to play with form. And I love any way to enhance content. So, when I play around with form, like for “Rotational Fall,” I’m basically trying to let the reader into how my brain is working, like how I’m grouping thoughts together or how different stages of the poem were created and how they play off of each other. With “Rotational Fall”, you have to physically rotate the book while you’re reading it.
That poem was based on a story I heard on NPR about, forgive me, I forget her name, but an actual competitive equestrian rider who died after a rotational fall a few years ago. Just hearing that story sent me tumbling. I used to ride horses when I was a kid, and just thinking how someone could die in such a tragic way, doing something that I did for fun, for recreation. It really threw me for a loop. So just that whole circle and cycle and rotation and the fact that the whole rest of the book is about cycles of violence, cycles of matrilineal turnover and things like that. It felt like it would fit to make people actually turn the book around a few times when they’re reading.
KMB: There are many other poems that use white space, dropped lines, and intentional location. Do you often see these elements in the first draft, or do they come into play upon revision and reflection?
MN: A lot of times when I write a poem, I’ll write it out exactly as it looks in my mind, with pauses, things like that, like visual caesuras and dropped lines, and things like that. It will just come out right away. But then sometimes when I’m playing around with a poem, and I’m not sure exactly how it should be, I actually just put it all together as one block of prose. And then I play around with different ways of using indentation and lineation and things like that.
There are a couple of poems in this book that were originally published differently. Like “Stand Her Ground” is one, for instance. When that originally appeared in the Longleaf Review, it looked very different than it looks now. The other one that I’m thinking of is “Searching Plan B Availability in Utah” which originally was a prose poem. So I think some of them have evolved over time as they live in my mind and they just take up more space, sometimes they need to expand, and I like using blank space in poems in general because they often feel like you need that reflective space somewhere.
And then some of it also has to do with whether it’s a poem I imagined myself reading aloud, in front of an audience, versus if it’s a poem that I picture people reading with their eyes on a page.
I tend to be a very extroverted introvert, at times; I love being around people, but then they exhaust me and I need time to myself. So if I’m in a phase where I’ve been very extroverted, I find that I tend to write a lot of poems that are more traditional looking because I’m going to envision myself reading them in front of an audience. But then when I’m more in my little hidey-hole, I tend to write poems with a lot of visual aspects.
KMB: As a follow-up, considering poem evolution, many writers feel like their work is never really finished. What are your thoughts about that? How do you know when you are finally ready to let go of a piece?
MN: There have been a handful that I’ve let go of, but the vast majority I see as constant works in progress. When a poem is published somewhere I feel like that’s just a checkpoint. That’s where the poem is at that time. It’s like a photograph where it’s like, that’s how this person looks at this moment in their life, but they’re not going to look like that forever. As a teacher of writing for high school, I do a lot of encouraging my kids to know that your work is never fully done. You just write drafts of it. And that’s very hard for them to internalize because they want to know exactly what something’s supposed to look like. And that’s why as a writer, I like poetry because I feel like it can evolve and I feel like all the poems that I have right now, are in a lot of ways in conversation with older poems that I’ve written. So, I feel like every poem that I write is kind of like a little branch, like an offshoot of other things that I’ve written, and little tendrils can come off of them as they constantly evolve.
KMB: What about the process of choosing the order for your poems?
MN: It’s messy and I love it. That’s honestly one of my favorite parts of putting together The Fallow. I print everything out, as I’m sure many writers do, and I spread everything out on the floor. My apartment is not big enough, and plus the cat tries to help, so sometimes I’ll go someplace else where there’s a lot of floor space or table space. And I just spread out every single poem that I’m thinking of putting in a manuscript and I go through and I put little like tags on them, like what are the themes in the poem or the images in the poem and then I start grouping them together. And then once I have groups, I start to tease them out. Then I expand because I don’t want all of the poems with the same theme to be together. I want them to be spread out. So that instead of there being like a clump of poems about one theme and then a clump of poems about another theme, I like to have everything spread out a bit, so that just when you think you’re out of one theme, as a reader, you get drawn back into it again. So there’s this sort of spiraling out or going forward and back and forward and back and forward and back. So that’s how I chose what order they went in.
And then with the two sections, I tried a lot of different ways of doing this. I really wanted the first section to be more about origins and then the second section more about consequences.
KMB: You mention groups and themes, some of those conversations are more difficult than others. Which was the hardest poem to write?
MN: I think one of the hardest ones, I wrote in 2019 in a workshop I was in with Ada Limón. It was the one about “Searching for Plan B availability in Utah because no this is not what you think.” I was writing it in this sort of scathing and angry mood, and I realized the jealousy and suspicion invoked in that poem would cause more of that. And so, that was a poem that kind of ate itself as I wrote it.
And I love that poem. It’s really short and really simple, but that was the hardest one to write because it involves so many things that I wanted to say that I knew I would be in trouble for saying. And as a K-12 teacher, that’s something I’ve struggled with a lot as a writer. Because for some reason, the teaching profession in the United States, I’m honestly not sure if it’s like this in the rest of the world, but teachers here are sort of infantilized. We’re expected to be non-sexual beings and we’re expected to be, you know, prim and proper all the time. I’ve been in education for 18 years but I’m a grown-ass woman, you know, so I have the same thoughts and issues and desires and experiences that any other 41-year-old woman has.
So writing several of the poems in this book, I realized I was taking a risk by putting them out into the world. But I realized that I was taking more of a risk by keeping them inside, so I went ahead and wrote them.
KMB: Looking back, is there anything you would have taken away or added?
MN: You know, there’s the one poem I wish I would have followed a little bit further with is “Body of Knowledge.” It goes as far as celebrating the clitoris, yet there’s so much more to sexuality than just the pleasure centers. I sometimes wish I would have expanded on that one a little bit more. Sometimes I feel like I was a little bit too safe with that one.
One of the ways that I thought about that poem and kind of reconciled putting it in the, despite wishing I’d had gone further with it, is that the fact that it doesn’t interrogate quite as much as I would like it to interrogate. But I think that represents a vulnerability, searching for pleasure and trying to understand my own capacity for pleasure despite not being taught that such a thing exists. I think that kind of leaves open, like, hey, there’s more to learn. I like how that gets represented in the poem.
KMB: Can you isolate a favorite poem from this collection? Why?
MN: I’m gonna have to say they’re all my babies, I love them all. But I’ll go with “Elegy with Apologies to Leon Jakobovits James,” because that one is my 2020 poem. It’s the most recently-written poem that made it into the book.
It’s my locked-down, teaching remotely, trying to live, reflective covid-era poem. And I mean, a lot of people wrote 2020 poems. I think we all wrote some 2020 poems. This one covers everything starting with my father’s death at the end of 2019, right before the pandemic started, and goes both forward and backward in time. I was still grieving for him when the whole pandemic started, and the pandemic has been just a years-long ball of grief upon grief upon grief. The structure of the poem is based on the concept of semantic satiation, which is when you say a word over and over again until it just doesn’t sound like that word anymore. It doesn’t have any meaning anymore. So the idea was, maybe if I talked enough about all the grief that I was experiencing, that it would go away. So, it was very cathartic for me to write and I love the way it turned out.
KMB: With the excitement of a new release, we know the journey continues. What are you working on now?
MN: It’s really interesting because in my own writing process, I go through phases where I write and write and write and I can’t stop writing. Then I go through phases where I don’t write quite as much. Right now I have not written a poem in about five months. But I have a lot of them brewing.
I’m working on some creative nonfiction, though. Right now I’m developing an essay about the intersection between teaching, watching the TV show Euphoria, and texting like a mom–which is something my teenage students say is a thing. That essay is what I’m working on right now. I do, like I said, also have a few poems brewing. I tend to write poems in chunks. I just get a word or a phrase or concept or an image stuck in my mind and I just jot it down, and then I ignore it for months until I have many of those and I start to look at how we put them all together. So I’m in the very nascent phases of writing some poems and then working on a couple of essays, as well.
KMB: Well, it is definitely exciting when it all comes together, and we hope to see more soon!. Thank you so much for speaking with us!
Megan Neville (she/her) is a writer and educator based in Cleveland, Ohio. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in West Branch, Pleiades, Poets.org, Wildness, McSweeney’s, and elsewhere. She was the winner of the 2019 Wick Poetry Center Contest for Peace & Transformation and has been a finalist or semifinalist for the Write Bloody Book Contest, the Akron Poetry Prize, the Frost Place Chapbook Contest, the Tupelo Press Sunken Garden Chapbook Contest, the YesYes Books 2020 Open Reading Period, and others. In 2021 received a Best of the Net nomination and two nominations for the Pushcart Prize. Megan is also an editorial assistant for Split Lip Magazine. Find her on Twitter @MegNev.
Arkana Editors visited with Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow & Explorer, Alyea Pierce. Her poems “28 Days” and “Return” are featured in Arkana’s 11th Issue.
Arkana: What are some of the earliest poems or poets you read? What artists inspire you today?
Alyea Pierce: I have a hunger for engaging with 20th and 21st-Century Afro-Caribbean, Latinx, and African-American Literature with focus areas in poetry, female mobility, migration, performance, critical ethnography research, and racial, cultural, and sexual empowerment. This passion was ignited via fiction authors like Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Angie Thomas, Sandra Cisneros, Earl Lovelace, and Derek Walcott, as well as poets like Jamaica Kincaid, Audre Lord, Edwidge Danticat, Olive Senior, Maya Angelou, Vanessa Angelica Villareal, Patricia Smith, and SO MANY MORE! Their pieces created and continue to create this space for Black folx across the diaspora to reimagine ourselves and history.
Ark: The layout of “28 Days” is visually stunning. What reader effect were you hoping for through the combination of language and layout?
AP: The combination of language and layout of “28 Days” is built from the main theme of this poem. This piece is about Black History Month and the limited time allotted to celebrating Black life, so already there is a contrast. The reader experiences distance, moments of silence, waiting/wading, breath, and pausing and is forced to engage with blackness and history. I want the reader to take their time through this. I love that the lines are separated and come together at the line, “I want Black women in white” because even that line is a contrast.
Ark: In your poem, “Return,” the line, “I am stretching / and I can no longer fit within this poem” is fascinating and evocative. Can you speak to a time when you were drafting a piece and found that your ideas, themes, or voices in a piece were larger or more complex than initially envisioned?
AP: Writing is an interesting process. As we are thinking about the words we intend to write, we are simultaneously editing them and editing them and editing them again. I remember writing a piece on womanhood and how guilt roots in women, sits in us, and then one day we are apologizing for entering a room. My poems often play with time and space, so I definitely struggle with what is my entry point into the scene, what voices need to be in this poem or where am I right now. And that is when I must take a step back and ask myself, why am I writing this? What started in me originally to put pen to paper about this topic? O.K, now let’s start from there.
Ark: How much would you say that your faith comes through in your writing?
AP: I view faith in several different ways through my writing. For example, 1) Religious faith; 2) Spiritual faith; 3) Personal faith in myself, others, and things. Not only am I an emerging writer, but I am an emerging human in this world. As I am discovering my own religious/spiritual/faith beliefs, my writing will reflect that deep, internal work of what I will stand by and what will stand by me. As of now, I am focusing on the exploration of faith on various levels.
Ark: In addition to your work with Arkana, what are you working on now? Are there any other publications or projects you are excited about?
AP: Currently, I am a poet and researcher for a new National Geographic six-part podcast series, “Into the Depths”. It follows National Geographic Explorer, Tara Roberts, as she follows Black scuba divers across the world searching for buried shipwrecks from the transatlantic slave trade when millions of enslaved Africans were trafficked to the Americas during the 15th to the 19th centuries. Roberts sets off on the journey of a lifetime to meet the divers, marine archaeologists, descendants of those brought over on ships, and historians investigating the lost stories of the slave trade. Our hope in doing this work is to share their accounts both to expand the historical record and to honor the estimated 1.8 million unsung souls who perished during the Middle Passage.
Alyea Pierce is a Fulbright-National Geographic Fellow & Explorer, educator, and poet. Pierce has performed her spoken word poetry internationally from the UK to South Africa and at numerous TEDx events. Her work has been published online and in print, including TheGuardian, New York Daily News, Caribbean Writer, Autism Speaks, to name a few. As an educator, her mission is to help students transform creative ideas into professional voices, empowering diverse learners to be leaders within their own communities.
Arkana Editors visited with playwright Janet Kenney. Her creative nonfiction work, “What Else but Grace,” is featured in Arkana’s 11th Issue.
Arkana: “What Else But Grace” is part of a longer project. Can you give us an overview of the book-length work?
Janet Kenney: Around 1980, we saw signs of illness. Six long years later, we had a diagnosis: lupus. I did not take it well. The story is about all the wild and many catastrophes I’ve endured, and the many tree roots I tripped over as I made bumbling attempts to grow up, earn some grace and live a good life anyway. It’s told in a series of chapters and updates; in updates, I share some of the issues and events that occurred while I was writing the book. The updates, I hope, will help readers understand a little about what chronic feels like. And I cannot tell my story without including my little white fluffy mutt, Grace.
Ark: “What Else But Grace” recalls a situation you experienced over thirty years ago, yet feels timely and fresh in the essay. What inspired you to return to this event and tell this story today?
JK: I have Irish blood, both sides, all the way back; I’m a natural-born storyteller. I know a good story when I live one.
Ark: The style in which you write takes the reader all across New York, causing a bit of the traveling fatigue and confusion that your main character relays as limbs become heavy and tired. Was this intentional, this shared burden of movement?
JK: What a powerful question. It was my intention to make the feelings from inside a body with such illness clear, nearly tangible, to the reader.
There’s a continuity between the morning and afternoon sensations—the gown, the tiara, the dull ache, the children’s shouts and then, later, we’re still in the details: the woman’s red cheeks, the sneakers, the policeman’s eyes. I’m trying to help folks stay connected even though they might want to back away.
Ark: How does your background in theatre influence your writing?
JK: Dialogue is action, we say in playwriting. There’s a lot of dialogue in the piece—more than might be expected for a memoir. I think the way people speak reveals their outer and inner lives, their true charm, or their ill-will, and that delights me. We also say that character is everything. My dad, my doctor, and my dog are major characters in the book. Theater teaches you how to entertain an audience. Laughter leaves you open to the next moment. In theater, you cultivate timing, authenticity, and vulnerability. Anything can happen. Live. I hope the book is live – always capable of surprising you.
Ark: In addition to your work with Arkana, are there any other publications or projects you are excited about?
JK: During the height of the pandemic, I had a quiet life that gave me time to write a new full-length play, Cape Haven. (Even with all that time, I’m just recently feeling it’s finished!) It’s set in the family house on Cape Cod over an August weekend in 2019, six years after the Boston Marathon bombing. Lou lost part of her leg in the bombing and she and each of her family members all face more unbearable loss. I think it’s one of the things that binds humans to each other—surviving loss.
Ark: We wish you well with your new play and look forward to seeing “What Else but Grace” in a book-length work in print in the future! Thank you for sharing with us!
Janet Kenney is an award-winning playwright whose plays have been produced from Boston to Alaska. She spent the pandemic year writing her new full-length play, Cape Haven. She has a Masters in Playwriting/English from Boston University and a BA in Theater Arts from the University of Massachusetts/Boston. She teaches ESOL for fun.
Arkana Editors visited with instructor and poet Holly Day. Her poems, “Testing One” and “The Pond,” are featured in Arkana’s 11th Issue.
Arkana: Your pieces challenge the reader to slow down and take in the natural surroundings, animals, and sounds of the poetic environment you are creating. What are you hoping readers will experience by taking it all in and “put[ting their] ear to the ground”?
Holly Day: Exactly that—just to stop and look around, take notice of little things, take a breath. I have a fascination with the personal relativity of time, and how some activities make time slow down, while others make it go by too fast. You would be surprised how amazingly long a day feels if you spend the whole time just walking and observing and just being a part of everything. This is only a comfort if you want time to go by slowly, of course. Some people seem to want it all to be over as quickly as possible.
Ark: “Testing One” features a government testing site in the desert. What drew you to write about this sort of location?
HD: I had several family members on my mother’s side that quite possibly developed very aggressive cancers in the 1940s from observing nuclear bomb tests in New Mexico before they knew/admitted that they had miscalculated the “safe distance” from those tests. That, and growing up during Reagan’s Cold War, one always worried about bombs going off.
Ark: What kinds of works and which poets have served you well in your writing career and in what capacities?
HD: I try to read everything, but I would say I’m especially drawn to the exquisite melodrama of Victorian poets like Elizabeth Barret Browning and John Keats. I’ve never had much luck writing decent form poetry, but I like to read it.
Ark: Do you dabble in other genres or do you mainly focus your creative efforts on poetry?
HD: I’ve written everything from ad copy to feature writing to technical writing to fiction and poetry. The first three pay way better than the last two. Now that my house is paid off and my youngest is preparing to go to college, I’m trying to spend more time writing poetry and fiction because that is where my heart is.
Ark: In addition to your work with Arkana, are there any other publications or projects you are excited about? What are you working on now?
HD: I’m slowly but surely finishing writing the first draft of a novel, which has been a lot of fun. I’m trying to avoid looking for or thinking about new nonfiction book projects since there seems to always be one of those waiting to suck up more of my time, but other than that, just trying to spend more time writing the fun stuff.
Ark: We wish you luck while you carve out that time to write the projects of your heart! Thank you for sharing with us!
Holly Day (hollylday.blogspot.com) has been an instructor at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis since 2000. Her writing has recently appeared in Hubbub, Grain, and Third Wednesday, and her newest books are The Tooth is the Largest Organ in the Human Body (Anaphora Literary Press), Book of Beasts (Weasel Press), Bound in Ice (Shanti Arts), and Music Composition for Dummies (Wiley).
Arkana Editors were excited to chat with L Mari Harris about her process and story inspiration. Her microfiction piece, “Highlights From the First Hour of Tradio at 88.5FM,” is featured in Arkana’s 11th Issue.
Arkana: “Highlights” is a work of microfiction. What is your process in writing with this medium to create the most impact with so few words?
L Mari Harris: In the simplest terms, you want the most bang for your buck. When I begin a new piece, my first draft is free-flow and is usually about three times its final length. Then, with subsequent drafts, I start to whittle it down, first getting rid of unnecessary weight, be that exposition or imagery. And as I revise, I also add. As I listen to the piece in my head, new imagery arises. It’s all a weaving process as I build what I am ultimately happy with, what ultimately speaks to what I hope to show readers.
Ark: What inspired you to write this piece in this format?
LMH: There really is a morning call-in show in my rural Ozarks county where people buy, sell, and trade. Many of the calls are your average “I have a Ford F150 for sale”, but some of them include the caller’s story of why they’re calling, and they will break your heart. While everything in this micro is fiction, the host really does say, “I don’t make the rules, I just follow them, folks” every time someone calls in to sell a handgun. Long guns are legal to advertise, but short guns are not, and the host is constantly reminding callers they can’t advertise short guns for sale and he’ll interrupt them if they start to say they have a pistol or revolver for sale. I hear it at least once a day, and I just had to use it.
Ark: When writing this piece, did you have a particular community or location in mind? Do you have experiences or memories that might speak to the tight-knit community feel of the calls being received and the dialers making those calls?
LMH: We are about as rural as you can get. The largest town is 40 miles away, and it’s a whopping 22,000. If you break down on one of the roads, sit tight because a farmer will eventually drive by and fix you right up. We have a wonderful community kitchen where seniors and anyone else needing companionship and a hot meal can go free of charge every day of the week. If someone says they need help cutting firewood or patching their roof, a half dozen strangers will show up. I’m proud of how we look out for each other without asking for anything in return.
Ark: What led to your decision to highlight, in particular, the first hour of a radio show as opposed to the third or fourth hour? What kinds of tones and messages were you hoping to capture by featuring the first hour’s calls?
LMH: The first hour of the real call-in show is always the most unpredictable and most prone to backstories from the callers. It’s supposed to be a two-hour show every weekday, but sometimes the calls dry up, and the host will just segue into a Judds song without explanation. I love the drama of never knowing what’s coming next.
Ark: In addition to your work with Arkana, are there any other publications or projects you are excited about?
LMH: I’ve been getting two chapbooks of flash fiction ready for spring contests, I have about a dozen different flash and micro drafts in process, and I’m working on a longer story, also inspired by true events. Right now, I only have two pieces I’ve submitted to journals this year. Last year was so incredibly busy for me with my day job that I ran out of unpublished material to submit. It feels like I’m starting from scratch, and that’s a fun place for me to be right now like the entire world is just waiting to open up for me again.
Ark: We can’t wait to see what windows and doors open and where they might lead! Thank you for sharing with us!
Read “Highlights From the First Hour of Tradio at 88.5FM” here!
L Mari Harris’s most recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in No Contact, matchbook, Milk Candy Review, CRAFT, Okay Donkey, among others. She works in the tech industry and lives in the Ozarks. Follow her on Twitter @LMariHarris and read more of her work at www.lmariharris.wordpress.com.