Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Annie Lyall Slaughter

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!

Read “Putting the Fear Behind” here!

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.

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Rosetta Marantz Cohen

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.

Ark: Thank you for sharing with us!

Read “Spartan Woman” here!

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.

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Alyea Pierce

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. 

Ark: Thank you for sharing with us!

Read “28 Days” and “Return” here!

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 The GuardianNew York Daily NewsCaribbean WriterAutism 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.

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Janet Kenney

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!

Read “What Else but Grace” here!

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.

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Holly Day

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!

Read “Testing One” and “The Pond” here!

Holly Day ( 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).

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: L Mari Harris

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

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Linda Scheller

Arkana Editors were excited to chat with Editor’s Choice winner Linda Scheller and discuss her poetry, research, and process. Her piece, “The Coming of the Yamnaya,” is featured in Arkana’s 11th Issue.

Arkana: Of all the historical cultures known for conquests, what inspired you to write about the brutal conquests and colonization efforts of the Yamnaya people?

Linda Scheller: I was inspired to write the poem after reading “The Skeleton Lake,” an article by Douglas Preston in the December 12, 2020 issue of The New Yorker. It described the Harvard geneticist David Reich’s genomic analysis of 270 ancient skeletons from the Iberian Peninsula. He concluded the incursion of Yamnaya nomads into Europe left a “genetic scar” because even now, “the Y chromosomes of almost all men of Western European ancestry have a high percentage of Yamnaya-derived genes, suggesting that violent conquest may have been widespread.” This finding corroborates Marija Gimbutas’s 1956 Kurgan hypothesis of continuous raids by the Yamnaya warriors who apparently killed the men they conquered and subjugated the women, creating a male-dominated warrior culture of sexual inequality and social stratification that supplanted the peaceful, goddess-worshipping society that she believed had existed previously. Gimbutas’s hypothesis had been largely discredited until this recent scientific finding.

Evidently, the coming of the Yamnaya was a terrible turning point for women in the European continent. As someone who is fascinated by history, I found this revelation profound and very moving. I couldn’t help but imagine what it must have been like for the women who saw their lives destroyed by this sudden, brutal conquest.

Ark: Have you written about other cultures like the Yamnaya? What significance do these historical events hold for you, four to five thousand years after their occurrence?

LS: I haven’t written about similar cultures, but that article brought to mind When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone, a book I read decades ago. I’m keenly interested in women’s history—and prehistory—and seek to understand how events, religions, traditions, politics, and cultural movements affect women’s lives.

Ark: What advice do you have for writers who seek to recall the narratives of historical events and peoples in their own works?

LS: Read as much as possible to garner knowledge and build understanding from different perspectives. For my book Fierce Light, a collection of persona poems based on my research into the lives and work of 36 historic women, I spent years reading biographies, articles, documents, and autobiographies. I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could about the women’s lives within the context of the times and places in which they lived.

Ark:  What other topics and themes do you most enjoy exploring in your poetry?

LS: I enjoy writing about the natural world, its effect on humans, and our effect on nature. Also, I have a new book of poetry coming out from Main Street Rag Press, Wind and Children, that contemplates childhood poverty and violence from the perspective of an elementary school teacher.

Ark: In addition to your work with Arkana, are there any other publications or projects you are excited about?

LS: I’m working to secure publication for a poetry manuscript called Black Forest which examines the effects of power, especially absolute power, on women. Fairy tales are the vehicle for much of this examination, and I experimented with form and voice in many of the poems. “The Coming of the Yamnaya” is part of this manuscript. Currently, I’m reading books about Joan of Arc, and soon I’ll start writing about this brilliant, courageous young woman. In addition, I’m seeking publication for two reviews I just finished writing on the poetry books Scale Model of a Country at Dawn by John Sibley Williams and The World That the Shooter Left Us by Cyrus Cassells. Writing reviews is time-consuming but rewarding because the effort of analysis helps me better understand what makes poetry effective in terms of craft, tone, sound, and presentation.

Ark: We wish you the best of luck and be sure to keep us updated! Thank you for sharing with us!

Read “The Coming of the Yamnaya” here!

Linda Scheller is the author of two poetry books, Fierce Light from FutureCycle Press and Wind and Children, forthcoming in 2022 from Main Street Rag Press. A widely published poet, playwright, and book reviewer, she is a founding board member of Modesto-Stanislaus Poetry Center. Her website is

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Joe Baumann

Joe Baumann discusses his fiction featured Arkana’s 11th Issue with Arkana Editors.

Arkana: What inspiration drew you to write a piece like “Hot Lips?”

Joe Baumann: As with many things I write, I started with an idea—a kid who could breathe fire—and a title (“Hot Lips,” though I can’t recall where that came from.  Those are the two seeds I usually need to get started on a story, and at that point, it was simply a matter of engaging in exploratory writing until the arc of the story managed to emerge from what I was trying out narratively.

Ark: Is there any sort of backstory for Allen’s ability, or is his fiery breath just something he can do?

JB: Not really.  Most of the fabulist/surrealist stories I write are like this; I’m not usually interested in explication or an “origin story”—I find they take up precious space and are often not that interesting.  I tend to simply create unusual elements and slip them into the world as if they belong. 

Ark: Allen’s room is featured in several scenes in this piece, with its lilac walls. Was this an intentional choice? What made you decide to have Allen’s room painted this color specifically?

JB: One of the things I’ve been playing within several stories recently is upsetting what I sometimes think of as “dogmatic masculinity” (a version of “toxic masculinity” that is maybe not quite as toxic).  So, in this case, it’s the detail of Allen’s walls.  I think lilac isn’t a color most of us would expect from a young man, especially one who is in a fraternity and living in a fraternity house.  So that was really simply one way of upending expectations for the kind of person Allen, and those around him might be.

Ark:  In writing craft classes, there is usually a discussion about character creation through observation.  Did you base Allen or Clive’s characters off of people you know in real life?

JB: If anyone, Allen is marginally based on me, in that his uncertainties about himself parallel a number of the confusions and uncertainties I experienced as a young man in college (and the fraternity and its house are near-identical liftings of the fraternity and its house that I joined at my small liberal arts college, too).  Clive isn’t so much based on an actual person—I was really trying to craft someone who appeared to be in many ways Allen’s opposite.  When I was thinking him up, I managed to be struck by an image of this tall, languorous, dark-haired kid, almost a rock-and-roller who’s slipping through college.  He somehow arrived in my head largely fully formed.

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?)

JB: I’ve got a couple of books coming out soon—I was honored to find out my manuscript Sing With Me at the Edge of Paradise, a collection of short stories, was chosen by Texas Tech U. Press for its inaugural First Book Award, and I now also have a second collection, which reimagines the plagues of Egypt in modern settings, forthcoming, too.  In terms of things I’m at work on now, “Hot Lips” is actually part of a sequence of stories that I hope to bloom into a full-length collection of work centering on this same group of students, each of which has some bizarre or unique ability/feature/etc.

Ark: Congratulations on your award news, and forthcoming publications. Thank you for sharing with us!

Read “Hot Lips” here!

Joe Baumann’s fiction and essays have appeared in Phantom Drift, Passages North, Emerson Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Iron Horse Literary Review, Electric Literature, Electric Spec, On Spec, Barrelhouse, Zone 3, and many others.  He is the author of Ivory Children, published in 2013 by Red Bird Chapbooks.  He possesses a Ph.D. in English from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.  He was a 2019 Lambda Literary Fellow in Fiction.  His first short story collection, The Plagues, will be released by Cornerstone Press in 2023, and his debut novel, I Know You’re Out There Somewhere, is forthcoming from Deep Hearts YA.  He can be reached at

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Adam D. Weeks

Adam D. Weeks discusses his poetry featured Arkana’s 10th Issue with Arkana Editors.

Arkana: Both poems feature lines attributed to other artists; Emma Depanise in “Witness Marks” and Ani DiFranco in “Nuclear Music.” How does integrating and/or borrowing others’ words inform your writing process? Do these lines serve as a jumping-off point for your work, or do they find relevance and meaning as your poetry comes into clearer form?

Adam D. Weeks: The integration of or reference to the art of others, whether it be poetry, music, film, or any other art form in general has always had an incredible impact on my work. I find myself constantly inspired by the words and ideas of others and do often use them as jumping-off points to inspire my own work. If I’m hitting a wall with a poem I’m working on, I’ll often turn to the recent music, films, and books I’ve been enjoying to see if something will make me start to consider what I’m writing in a new light. I think this really began during my undergraduate career studying creative writing at Salisbury University, where I was constantly inspired by the words of the other incredible writers in my cohort such as Emma Depanise, whose line inspired “Witness Marks.” 

Ark: Tell us more about the layout and use of intentional spacing in “Nuclear Music.” How are you hoping and/or envisioning such creative design will inform the reading experience?

AW: Whitespace is one of my favorite aspects of craft to play around with. In “Nuclear Music” specifically, I wanted even the form to speak to this uncertain feeling of being rooted in the past while still trying to grow in different ways into the future, hence the disjointed lines. I wanted the overwhelming look of the piece to communicate the turmoil of feeling unsure about where to go in the future while existing in a world that is also so unsure about how to grow.  

Ark: In “Witness Marks,” themes of slow decay, sweeping change, and development, as well as reckless abandonment are touched upon. How do you see these notions intertwining in this work and your poetry in general?

AW: In the past year or so I feel I really found the center of what all my work has been circling around. “Witness Marks” really is the poem that best explains what I want my work to speak to, which is this troubled relationship younger generations have with a society that in many ways loves and wants to support them but has slowly compromised the integrity of our planet and the potential for our future. At the point in the poem where the speaker says “but//I am writing this/into history: fit in/-to me. Break into me,” it is really a call for the world to be honest with ourselves about where we are, what we’ve done to the planet we’ve been given, and what we can do from here to make this life meaningful. The reckless abandonment in the poem is the enemy—the speaker wants to look at what we’ve left behind us. 

Ark: Tell us a little bit about your process, routine, idea generation, etc.

AW: My writing process involves a lot of “research,” which I put into quotes because the research I’m talking about is more just my time spent listening to new music, watching movies, reading poetry, and observing the people and lives around me. I live by Atlas Obscura and will often spend hours reading through articles on there, filling the notes app on my phone with random paragraphs that sometimes don’t make sense by the time I’m done with them, but always give me a jumping-off point when I’m feeling stuck. Seeing the new work of my close friends also consistently drives me and keeps me in a routine of weekly writing (shout out to the incredible poet Jeremy Rock for always keeping me motivated to keep up by sharing his killer work).

Ark: In addition to your work with Arkana, are there any other publications or projects you are excited about?

AW: I recently had the opportunity to start the new publication Beaver Magazine with my two amazing friends from undergrad Ellery Beck and Haley Winans, which has been one of the best experiences in my writing and publishing career. I’m also lucky to have recently had my work featured in print at Sycamore Review and Sugar House Review as well as online at Thrush.

Read “Witness Marks” and “Nuclear Music” here!

Adam D. Weeks is an undergraduate student at Salisbury University, the social media manager for The Shore, and a poetry reader for Quarterly West. He is a Pushcart Prize nominee and has poetry published or forthcoming in Ninth Letter, Poet Lore, Puerto del Sol, Sugar House Review, Sycamore Review, Thrush, and elsewhere.

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Madari Pendas

Madari Pendas discusses her creative nonfiction piece, “The First Woman I Loved Was Pain,” from Arkana’s 9th Issue, with Jennifer McCune and Arkana Editors.

Jennifer McCune: This is a very beautiful, lyrical piece. How would you say being a poet contributes to composing prose pieces?

Madari Pendas: This is a great question! Poetry forces one to think about language on an almost atomic level, so to speak. What I love about poets is that they are very attuned to the way their work sounds, and often you will catch them reading aloud their words. I want each sentence to go beyond its utilitarian function and feel like a gift. I want a reader to feel that the author has attempted to compose something beautiful for them, something that sounds lovely in their mind’s voice, something they too want to repeat aloud. Poets are so attentive to language and I think that type of careful curation is something I try to bring to my fiction and nonfiction works. Poetry is such a generous art; it gives you writing that you read for the simple pleasure of how lovely it sounds in your mouth. So when I write something, I want to give them a story, but something that is pleasurable on an additional level. For instance, my mother doesn’t speak English, but there are certain phrases or words in English that she loves and repeats because they’re fun to say, like “bouncing beach babies” and “what’s new pussycat?” from the Tom Jones song. In a certain way, poetry is like bubble gum and can stick with you and can be chewed over and over. Poetry carries a beauty beyond its literal meaning. Sometimes when I’m cooking or cleaning I’ll remember: “esta noche puedo escribir los versos mas tristes”/”tonight I can write the saddest lines,” and feels like a secret little pleasure. Poetry inspires me—if you do well, your lines can be with someone for the rest of their lives. So, I think language can go beyond being a means of communicating information and become something lovely, haunting, and borderless. 

JM: You are a painter and author. Which medium are you most comfortable creating in, that is to say, which medium do you feel gives you the most freedom of expression of your intersectionality?

MP: There’s a line in one of my favorite Derek Walcott poems, “Love Letter from Brooklyn,” and one of that piece’s haunting lines is “heaven is the place where painters go/all who bring beauty on frail shell or horn,” and it reminds that all these different mediums are constantly conversing with one another. There’s a long history of writers also working as painters (or vice-versa), like Victor Hugo, Oskar Kokoschka, Maynard Dixon, Elizabeth Bishop, Leo Tolstoy, and many more I try to use painting and sketching techniques with my writing. For instance, sometimes an artist will sketch with their non-dominant hand because doing so helps them be more loyal to their reference. With the non-dominant hand, you’re focused on stability and keeping your lines straight. Whereas when you’re working with your dominant hand (in my case my right hand) there’s a tendency to deviate from the reference and draw the way you think the subject is supposed to look versus how the subject actually looks—you’ll make more assumptions. Some artists will flip the reference upside down to achieve something similar or drop grids on the reference and work from one box to another box. I apply this to writing by asking myself “what assumptions am I making about a character or their behavior?” “what are some references from real-life that I can look at?” “Am I looking at this in detail?” Also, longhand calligraphy is art itself. When I look at someone’s journal with cursive, I can’t help but think that too is art and something aesthetically beautiful—separate from the literal meaning of the words. There’s a theme here, words being emancipated from their meanings to do different work (visually and auditorily). To your question about freedom, I think writing is more liberating and allows me to be more expressive. Paints, turpentine/mineral spirits, canvases, thickening medium, palate knives brushes, and varnish are expensive, so it’s not the most economically accessible artform. I didn’t start painting until I got my first full-time job, but I’ve kept diaries and written since fourth grade. A notebook or journal at the Dollar Store is cheap and none of what I write is openly displayed the way a finished painting hangs somewhere on your walls. So I can be more open and dangerous in a notebook. I can write unfinished stories or bad poetry or about a memory or list off the first words I learned in English. With a painting, I’m always aware that when I invite someone over, it will be seen; it’s a bit more public-facing than a journal that I can stash away. But what painting gives me is the ability to express myself without the constraints of language. My mom, uncles, grandparents, and more relatives can’t read my work in English, so painting allows me to make art that doesn’t require language fluency. I’ve also found that with painting I don’t have to justify the subject matter—like in fiction I need a plot; in a poetry chapbook I need thematic harmony—it can just be a pretty sunset or a recreation of the way light from a streetlamp reflects across wet pavement at night.  

JM: Which authors/painters inspire you the most and why?

MP: Painters: Remedios Varo, Amelia Peláez, Mario Carreño, Nikki S. Lee, Marc Chagall, Oskar Kokoschka, Mon Laferte, Henri Matisse, Vincent Van Gogh, and many more, especially the Dadaist (I dig the idea that art is the process of making art and not necessarily the final outcome). Authors: Ashley M. Jones, Jacquira Diaz, Carl Philips, Martin Espada, Christina Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros, Ana Menedez, Julie Marie Wade, Richard Blanco, Martin Amiss, Gregory Orr, Tim O’Brien and so many more. 

The works of the above-mentioned artist are always so layered, textured, rich in composition and color, and do an excellent job of deconstructing our assumptions on form and structure. Their paintings and many would fall under the flexible term “Expressionist”, demonstrated the importance of painting from emotional memory versus strict obedience to reality. Perhaps for similar reasons I love the above authors’ works—they’re beautiful, challenging, political, and instruct us. It’s the type of work that moves you off the page and into your own journal.   

JM: When did you begin writing and painting?

MP: I’ve always had a diary. My abuela took me to the dollar store when I was in fourth grade and got me a pink plastic four-by-four journal with a tiny lock on the side. The pages were pink, and I believe perfumed too. I started submitting work for publication and taking the medium more seriously around 2013. The first poem I ever submitted for publication, to my local college’s journal, was a persona poem about Van Gogh’s painting “At Eternity’s Gate.” My grandfather’s brother, Cheito, was a painter and I remember as a kid seeing the stacks of canvas rolls in his poky duplex. He was always a little sad that when he emigrated to this country, he had to leave some of his favorite works. I began trying to imitate him—really, I just wanted to bring him something I had made and hear him say, “wow, good job.” I started at twenty-two, after getting a full-time job that allowed me to buy more materials. 

JM: Aside from Arkana, are there any other recent publications, projects, or opportunities you are excited about? (Please provide links if available.)

MP: Yes! My flash fiction piece, “Mispronounced Girl” was recently published in Everyday Fiction. Another one of my fiction pieces, “Your Life as Told by a Stranger” is forthcoming publication in The Flagler Review.

Read “The First Woman I Loved Was Pain” here!

Madari Pendas is a Cuban-American writer, painter, and poet living in Miami. Her works focus on the surreal aspects of the exile experience and the ways Latinidad intersects with other salient parts of her identity as a queer, working-class woman. Her work has appeared in The Acentos ReviewPank MagazineThe New TropicLambda Literary, WLRN (Miami’s NPR affiliate), and The Miami New Times, among others. She is currently a graduate student at Florida International University.