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About

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.

This is Arkana’s blog.

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Contributor Spotlight: Keats Conley

Keats Conley discusses her poems “God of Caddisfly Larvae” and “God of the Star-Nosed Moles” from issue 6 of Arkana.

Interview conducted by Mel Ruth (Poetry and Blog Editor)

 

Mel: Both of your poems, The God of Caddisfly Larvae and The God of Star-Nosed Moles, are prose poems. What decisions went into choosing this form, as opposed to a more lineated form?

Keats: I conceived of these poems as a series of advice columns from God about the global extinction crisis. I used the prose form to mimic a newspaper column. Of course, God’s got a lot going on, so the content is more condensed than, say, a “Dear Abby” response. I consider them “micro-prose poems.”

 

Mel: My readers and I were very intrigued by these poems. What inspired them? How do they fit into the series, or project, as a whole?

Keats: The poems are from a collection entitled Guidance from the God of Seahorses, which is forthcoming as a book through Green Writers Press. There are fifty poems in the book, and each profiles a separate animal through the voice of its creator. Many of the animals represented are threatened or endangered, but for contrast and relief I also profile thriving—even invasive—species. Collectively, the Gods grapple with topics such as climate change, habitat fragmentation, and extinction.

 

Mel: In your biography it states that you are a research biologist in Idaho. What made you turn to poetry? What does poetry achieve that science, or more specifically a simple statement of facts, could not?

Keats: I grew up in a very literary family. My mother is a poet and my father is a non-fiction writer (I’m named for his favorite poet, John Keats). I’ve always loved writing, but in the end gravitated more strongly toward science. Now, as a biologist, I write a lot of manuscripts and technical reports. I sometimes feel trapped by the stiff and unemotional style of scientific writing, which leaves little room for sentiments like humor, awe, grief. As a medium, poetry allows a lot more freedom. Poetry gives me a space to play with the Latinate beauty of scientific words, and to reflect on our rapidly changing world as both a scientist and as a human.

 

Mel: Aside from Arkana, are there any other publications, projects or opportunities you are excited about? 

Keats: In January 2019, I set a goal of writing a poem a day until I had a book-length manuscript. I mostly achieved that goal, albeit with some editing days interspersed. I’m excited to see this project come to fruition by publishing Guidance from the God of Seahorses as my first book of poetry.

Another simultaneous project has been growing a human; we are expecting a son any day now. Being a mother has had a profound impact on my worldview, particularly of wildlife conservation. When I read to my daughter, I notice how many children’s book characters are animals—pandas, giraffes, tigers, elephants. In the back of my mind I’m always wondering if those animals will still be on the planet by the time my daughter is my age. I want to do everything in my power to ensure that they are, and I hope these poems are a small contribution toward that goal.


Keats Conley is a research biologist for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in Fort Hall, Idaho, where she works on salmon recovery. Her most recent poems have been featured in Animal: A Beast of a Literary Magazine and The Curlew.
Looking to the Literary World

A Digital Literary Sea

In an article titled “Reading the Tea Leaves: Notations on the Changing Look of the Literary,” Sven Birkerts notes how the literary landscape is changing from the physical to the online, and that scares him. The fear is founded; in a world that is moving away from printed media, it can be scary to see what happens or where literary works end up. And, while the literary world will not collapse in the future, Birkerts is right: it is lost in a digital sea. 

However, our literary future is not a doom-ridden world where books burn and knowledge disappears. We will not wake up tomorrow and find our beloved books being taken from us (unless society falls, anarchy reigns, and we’re thrust into a dark age, in which case, I implore everyone to hide their books!).

Instead, the literary future is one where people come together to discuss and explore, to excite and challenge. Thanks to the internet, we’re already on that path. We’re no longer bound by location. People can find literary communities that speak to them.  We don’t have to be alone in our writing or reading adventures anymore.

The biggest challenge to a digital literary future, however, is digital noise. Thanks to our need for instant gratification, reading has become harder. With folks constantly being bombarded by headlines, tweets, and the ability to watch whatever one wants, the literary world finds itself lost at sea. It must, somehow, navigate uncharted waters and launch a beacon that says “Hey! Come check us out!”

With new writers finding themselves braving the sea, the noise becomes increasingly difficult to break. The greatest noise comes from Netflix, YouTube, and other streaming services, as well as video games. They provide the instant gratification that, honestly, reading doesn’t. In the odd world of a digital sea, these outlets are the harbors where most will settle.

How do we bring those potential readers into literary harbors? How do we invite them to the literary beacon floating at sea? 

The literary world must adapt.

The digital space is ever changing. And the literary world needs to change with it to keep navigating the waters. We’ve already begun the path, from narrative podcasts (a new form of radio plays) to websites and games that act as visual novels. There are also audio books, and while they’ve been around for ages, they are becoming increasingly more popular. 

Social media is also an aspect of the digital age that the literary world cannot ignore. It already connects writers to readers and vice versa, so why not connect readers and writers with stories? By this I mean, exploring stories through tweets, pictures, and emojis (I know, that sounds odd, but it could work).  There is potential for storytelling in social media that the literary world could embrace. 

We live in an exciting time, where a whole world, with hidden secrets, waits to be explored. The literary boats may find themselves in rough waters, but they’ll pull through. They’ll find a place to berth. So, like the explorers of old, let us board our ship and set out into the digital sea. 

Looking to the Literary World

Is diversity in the literary world happening?

by Cait Smith

I received my first rejection letter during my time as an undergraduate. When submitting, they say you should hope for the best, but I wasn’t expecting the best because it wasn’t my best. It was a pathetic, ill-prepared paper I wrote in my Forms of Fiction class that I thought would be a good fit in a journal. At least I started early in the submission pool though, right? However, it never dawned on me that my race could be a factor in the decision-making process of submissions.

For whatever reason, we can’t seem to break the inevitable barrier of racial divide in the literary community. We’re 80 percent of the way there. What I mean by that is these widely known publishing houses only select (if any) people of color out of necessity. They’re not picking these writers because the writing is sufficient but rather, they themselves lack diversity. Sure, go ahead and use the token black female author as your prop to show you value black writers to your white counterparts.

In article featured in Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century, Daniel José Older’s, “Diversity is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing,” Older mentions the single-handedly (and backwards might I add) most important rule in the publishing industry, the “Market.” To put it in simpler terms, that just means books sell faster with white characters as the protagonists. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming editors and readers for this. They can’t help it that they don’t identify with the black boy from Alabama who talks heavy slang. Maybe they didn’t grow up around black people or they went to a predominately white institution. Understandable. But why such push back of trying to understand these different dialects, forms, structures, etc.? We cannot let our biases get in the way of learning new things. More so, we cannot let our biases get in the way of choosing work fairly. Until we see a change, as Older puts it, “The publishing industry looks a lot like one of those best-selling teenage dystopias: white and full of people destroying each other to survive

But don’t think this lets people of color off the hook either. We recognize this racial divide but do nothing about it. Publishing houses won’t represent people of color, so we run the other way. We run to those who publish what we identify with. For example, I’m a black woman, and I would submit to a publisher that truly values a black person’s work first over a publisher that rarely features black authors on their website. Or better yet, I’ll submit to black-owned publishing companies like Urban Books, Kensington Publishing Corp, or Streetlife Publishers. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with that, but is it breaking boundaries? Last year, I discovered a smaller publishing company here in Arkansas. I was eager to talk to the owner, especially because she’s a black woman. My memory of how that meeting went is a little foggy since it occurred in 2018 but I can remember her using distinct phrases like “only for black people” and “built for people of color.” While I appreciate her candor, it’s sad to say the least that it has come to that. We have to rely on our same race publishing companies for exposure. We’ve accepted this reality and don’t feel the need to change it.

In the interview with Erin Belieu, cofounder of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, Belieu made a valid point about the publishing industry, “Why should women writers want anything less than their male counterparts have?” Although she was referring to gender, this goes hand and hand with race as well. People of color shouldn’t settle for less when it comes to submissions. So, what if a publishing house’s main demographic is white…be the one to change that. We can’t knock walls down standing ten feet away. You might get rejected 50 times, but who’s to say you won’t get that acceptance on the 51st try? Once you make it in, others will follow.

Since I’ve been in grad school, I’ve gotten tons of “So, what are you going to do afterwards?”, “Are you going to teach?” and “Are you writing a novel?” My answer is simple, I’m going do what I’ve been called to do…be the change in the literary world. You’re going to see my name again. Maybe not within the top five publishing houses, but trust me, it’ll be out on some white publishing house’s website. All being said, don’t be ignorant to change in the literary world. Diversity is happening right before our eyes; it’s slow but it’s happening, nonetheless.

Sources: Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts

Interview

Contributor Spotlight: John Sibley Williams

John Sibley Williams discusses his poem “American Bounty” published in issue 6 of Arkana.

Interview conducted by Mel Ruth (Poetry and Blog Editor).


Mel: The title of your poem, American Bounty, elicits a very warm, almost nostalgic, feeling, but the content presses against that feeling. What were you hoping to achieve through that confliction? 

JSW: These conflicting emotions were all I really meant to achieve in this poem. All people, though Americans in particular, tend to either praise or condemn, be it parts of the country, ways of life, cultural perspectives. The “heartland” evokes familial labor, golden fields, silos, a nostalgic simplicity that grows less common by the year, yet it equally evokes conservativism, religiosity, and a kind of rural life that sparks boredom or desperation in youth. The “we” in this poem exist in that crux. Yes, they are stripping copper wires from a home, but they also seem to recognize the hurt they cause. There’s a futility and despair in their rather practical actions. There’s a hunger for something they cannot quite pin down. And I hope the poem exposes this hunger as universal, their actions as just one form of struggling against a common, unfillable dearth.

 

Mel: The form of this poem is very disjointed. What effect were you hoping to achieve with this form that you felt the content alone could not?

JSW: I wish I had a concrete answer, but this structure simply felt like the best way to explore the situation. The longer, almost prose-like lines contrasted against an ocean of white space spoke to me about the experience the poem presents. I feel the “we” have lost themselves in yet are still an integral part of a certain segment of our population: trapped between practicality and hopelessness, nostalgia and the need to survive, somehow, in a country that can’t hear them. I’m not sure why, but this disjointed structure seemed to fit those warring emotions.

 

Mel: You have two collections of poetry coming out this year. The first one, As One Fire Consumes Another, launched at AWP 2019 and is the winner of Orison Poetry Prize. The second, Skin Memory, was selected by Kwame Dawes as winner of the Backwaters Poetry Prize. Is American Bounty part of a larger project? How does American Bounty fit into either of these collections, if it does? 

JSW: It has indeed been quite a year! I’m honored and, to be honest, a bit shocked to have received such love and support from these two incredible presses. “American Bounty” would fit perfectly in either book, with its overall theme of conflicted American nostalgia and its focus on real people who have potentially slipped through the cultural cracks and are trying to find their way in this beautifully strange world. Structurally, it more closely resembles the poems in Skin Memory; if I had written “American Bounty” earlier, it would likely be included in that manuscript.

 

Mel: Aside from Arkana, and your upcoming/ recent book publications, are there any other publications, projects or opportunities you are excited about? 

JSW: Apart from writing and touring for both books, I’m excited to start my Writer in Residence with Literary Arts, a Portland-based nonprofit. Through their Writers in the Schools program, I will be teaching poetry to high schoolers this fall.

I am also thrilled to say my chapbook, Summon, just won the 2019 JuxtaProse Chapbook Contest and will be out this winter.

 


John Sibley Williams is the author of As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize, 2019), Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize, University of Nebraska Press, 2019), Disinheritance, and Controlled Hallucinations. A nineteen-time Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous awards, including the Wabash Prize, Philip Booth Award, Phyllis Smart-Young Prize, Nancy D. Hargrove Editors’ Prize, Confrontation Poetry Prize, and Laux/Millar Prize. He lives in Portland, Oregon and serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review. Visit him at https://www.johnsibleywilliams.com/.

 

Looking to the Literary World, Uncategorized

The Role of Literary Journals

We cannot think of the role of literary journals without thinking of the role of literature itself. I tried to imagine a world without literature, but I found I could not. Why? Because literature exists in our life so naturally. Everyone grows up with stories, poems, and old sayings, and they will continue to be impacted by them their whole lives. Like food for our physical body, literature provides vitamins for our minds. Chris Mackenzie Jones in his book Behind the Book writes, “Story is a survival instinct” and “We are hard wired to crave it.”

However, the importance of literature is not universally recognized. Most of the time, people take it for granted without much consideration of its real values, like hope, faith, comfort and relief. Since we can obtain it for free, we assume our work can be free too. Only a very limited number of people make a living on it.

It has become a convention for literary journals to rely on funding from art grants, endowments, or universities since their goal is not to make money, but to get the best and most influential work out and present them to their readers. Just as Megan M. Garr in her article “Hold the Damn Door Open: Idealism is no Currency” says, “We are just too important to be bothered by the real economy of literal journals.”

For literature enthusiasts, even though the publishing door is hard to knock open, even though they are often paid nothing for their submissions, they continue to strive to produce and send out their work. Maybe it is not the economy or publication credit that motivates them, since most of them are students, amateurs, and ordinary writing lovers. It is their passion for writing and the habit of sharing that pushes them on, because the writing process was simply thrilling, edifying, and rewarding by itself. No matter how small the chances of getting their work published, at least they are read by someone else, and they are told where they are for this long journey.

For many published writers, they may not think of publishing as their eternal goal. Their eternal goal is to reach readers’ hearts and give positive influence in others’ lives, like what literature provides. Like a seed, to be chosen, planted and then to grow.

There will never be too many writers or too many literary journals. The boom of the industry shows hope to our society. Writers produce hope and literary journals disseminate hope.

By Zhihua Wang

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Exquisite Corpse Poems

Exquisite Corpse poems written from lines left on leaves for our Poet-Tree at AWP in Portland 2019.

By Melinda Ruth, Poetry Editor

 

1

Time is a flat circle. Every day a loss
of light from the lemon
tree blowing in the fog. Their breath
heavy with want. Last night, I snuck
out to poach Rosemary blossoms, tucking
into the night. Tonight, however, the soft dry
wind obliterates my failing. I knew my father
had disappeared when yesterday
seemed to be years away. I wish
with all my heart that my father
would call me back. The quiet asks
me the greatest questions.

2*

There’s a light in the village and I’m putting it out. Too many
lights, too many people. Look at the savage pink cresting, its orange
filling there under that roof, encompassing black dirt and dust

storms. Blood stings electric. Swollen, a flood bursting. Look
at the time—how it convulses. Does glass remember
its ancestry, blown in waves over the savannah or tossed

by turtles egging the future pits. I’m filled with broken necks
and twist ties. Shackled bones of diaphragm burst into snow dust
when women leave the church. Transcend ironing—folding clothes, the faces

embraced the moonlight. Dredge the pipes, flush the drains, will the sunlight
in incantation. The sun never sets inside your home.

*Line in Italics borrowed from a poem by Ilya Kominsky

3

I make coffee at 10:30PM because I want. The shaking
hand drinks and drips caffeine. I still don’t know

how many hot pockets mean I made it. I’d snort
a line of ants if I had to. Laying on the floor

of his studio as the black India ink
bleeds I had a feeling you would wreck

me, but I jumped anyway. Cold heart: we think
we want to be Axl, but Slash is the only human option.

4

My heart barks then sighs then sleeps. The pines
bowed to wind, loblolly to granite. The fox in the dark-
ness, a flash of flame. How the rain stops
the thoughts from plugging up the gutters. I love
to be free. Feel the wind push you under until water burns
your lungs, commanding all your air out. We scrap
and paw too. Are we really inside?

5

Morning tea without the breath
of last night’s enchilada or the wonder
about clean teeth. I heard a voice, she
said she was magical but it hurt

to be so close to that. I can’t remember
the last time the act of eating didn’t feel
so banal. The inspiration I get from not having
eaten all day. The creative ache must be

tended. My coffee gets cold, but hers releases
steam for hours, making me sweat.

Interview

Contributor Spotlight: Emma DePanise

Writer and educator Emma DePanise discusses poetry, craft, and the process behind her poem “When the Thermostat’s Low,” included in our 5th issue.

Interview conducted by Melinda Ruth, Poetry Editor

Melinda: “When the Thermostat’s Low,” has a soft, haunting, Simko like feeling to it. What inspired the poem? What were you trying to convey?

Emma: Growing up in an old farmhouse, winter often meant cold drafty nights shivering under layers of blankets. I wanted to intimately convey how the cold can provoke a longing not only for warmth but for the warmth of another person. I wanted to convey the absence of such a person through the presence of the old house, through details such as the windowpane and floorboards, through the poem finding that person everywhere they weren’t. I wanted to create the sense that this longing went beyond temperature or the immediate senses, that it would continue even as the poem ended.

Mel: The poem is grounded in texture and nature images, such as the skin in the sock and your ear in the sweatshirt’s hood. What is the relation of the Fibonacci Sequence, a mathematical series of numbers in which the next number is found by adding the two numbers before it, to the poem? What does this say that a natural image couldn’t?

Emma: The mathematical sequence, often appearing in nature, adds tension and a new context to the other natural or texture-based images. The image works to redefine longing, a feeling often grounded in single sensory moments, as something continuous, patterned like the sequence. Through its repetitive nature, the mention of the sequence allows for an expression of longing into the future, rather than longing only within a present moment.

Mel: You mentioned at the 2018 Nimrod conference that poet Daniel Simko is a big influence on your work. Who else influences your writing?

Emma: In addition to Daniel Simko, Jake Adam York has greatly influenced my writing through his lyric use of time and context. I also deeply admire Kimberly Grey’s emotional bravery and formal experimentation. The work of these poets, as well as the work of my mentor, John A. Nieves, continues to affect my writing and leaves me with rhythms and lines I return to over and over.

Mel: As we both hail from Salisbury University (me as an alumna and you as a current student), we’ve both started learning craft from a strong mentor in a close-knit writing community. How do you think having this mentorship and community has affected your writing?

Emma: The mentorship and writing community at Salisbury University has challenged me, supported me and allowed me to grow quickly as a writer. I am constantly learning from my peers’ strengths and have gained a sharp eye and ear through our workshops, which often pay special attention to line and sound within poetry. It means everything to me to have a mentor and group of people who inspire me and push me into new avenues of thinking.

Mel: I recently received the first call for submissions for The Shore, an online poetry journal you helped create. Could you say a little bit about this endeavor and how it came to be?

Emma: The Shore aims to publish poems that engage those harder to nail down things—those surprising and haunting liminal spaces. The two other editors, Caroline Chavatel and John A. Nieves, along with myself, saw a need for a journal devoted to this concept and were excited to create that space ourselves. Caroline, who had been interested in the three of us starting a journal together, initiated the project.

Mel: Besides your recent publication with Arkana and your work with The Shore, are there any other recent publications, honors or opportunities you are excited about?

Emma: I am thrilled to be featured in Arkana and am also quite excited to have the opportunity to read for Puerto del Sol at AWP in Portland. I am also looking forward to teaching a poetry workshop to high school students on the eastern shore of Maryland this spring.

Read “When the Thermostat’s Low” from our 5th issue!


Emma DePanise has poems forthcoming or recently published in journals such as Superstition Review, Plume Poetry, Potomac Review, Nimrod International Journal, Little Patuxent Review and elsewhere. She is the winner of the 2018 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. She currently studies creative writing at Salisbury University in Maryland.