Arkana Blog

Interview

Interview: Megan Neville

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!

Discover more about Megan and her work here!


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.

Interview

Indie Snapshot: Sibling Rivalry Press

By Melinda Ruth

“We started out all wrong, did it how everyone tells you not to do it.” In a small classroom, Seth Pennington sat at the front of the room. The desks were arranged in a square while Seth addressed the room. He came to our Editing & Publishing classroom to explain how Sibling Rivalry came to be, and how they thrived in a diminishing publishing industry.

Sibling Rivalry is a small independent publisher based out of North Little Rock in Bryan and Seth’s house. They have since become a beacon for minority writers everywhere.

“In 2010, Bryan was publishing in Ganymede, a New York City based literary journal for gay men. The creator of Ganymede offered to make a book of Bryan’s poetry. He was going to create a press to make it look official.”

But two months later, he was gone.

“People started talking to Bryan, wondering what was going to happen to their work in Ganymede.” Bryan went to New York to arrange a memorial issue and reading, celebrating Ganymede’s legacy while also mourning the loss of it.

It was there that Ocean Vuong, who had been published in Ganymede, asked Bryan if he would publish a small chapbook for him. And Bryan did. In the meantime, Brain started a new literary magazine, Assaracuss, which was the only gay men’s poetry journal at the time.

“I went to UALR” — University of Arkansas in Little Rock– “to study with my friend, poet Nicole Brown. There I met Bryan through an anthology reading about being gay and religious.” Bryan and Seth clicked, and it wasn’t long before Seth took over design for Sibling Rivalry, in which he designs 99% of the covers.

Bryan and Seth are full-time paralegals in Little Rock, a job that while demanding, allows them to do what they love–publishing.

“We wanted to invest in Arkansas.”

And they did.

Sibling Rivalry is recognized by the Library of Congress where they are included in the rare book and findings room. They are also the independent press to win a Lambda Literary award in Gay and Lesbian poetry.

But that’s not as important as their commitment to their community.

“Our main focus is on minority groups. We wanted to find something common in the language of people who have been othered. We want to believe in the work, but we want to believe in the people most.”

Seth and Bryan worked with poet Randi Romo, a queer activist who started as a spoken word artist, then worked their way to the page.  Bryan and Seth worked with them on craft, execution, manuscript building, and more until their book, Othered, was released.

In June of 2019, I went to a wine bar to attend the launch party for “Stonewall 50,” a book of poetry celebrating the fifty-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots which catapulted the LGBTQ+ civil right movement. I was able to meet Randi Romo and listen to other minority poets read their work.

As an indie for-profit press, Seth and Bryan are able to be involved with their writers in a way that most presses aren’t. “We don’t want a board to undermine decisions.”

In addition, they created the Sibling Rivalry Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to lifting the voices of minority poets, such as Undocupoets, a coalition run with Amazon for undocumented poets to help offset the costs for submissions and events.

Seth and Bryan are also working in conjunction with Queer Arts Arkansas to try and bring more queer artists to Arkansas, hoping to put their home state on the map for queer artists.

Since they’ve begun, Sibling Rivalry has published chapbooks by poets such as Kaveh Akbar, Saeed Jones, Carl Phillips, Franny Choi, and more.

So how are they able to do all of this?

Sibling Rivalry works with a print-on-demand system run through Ingram in Tennessee. They use Lightning Source, where they can fix errors between printings without investing in a lot of stock. This not only allows them to minimize stock, but also cut the costs related to big publishing.

Sibling Rivalry’s chapbooks typically cost around ten to twelve dollars and thanks to their system, Sibling Rivalry is able to afford a generous royalties package of around 30% with copies. “Ninety cents of every dollar we earn goes back into the press. The other ten cents goes into funding book launches and other projects.”

Although they are on a hiatus for 2020, Sibling Rivalry typically reads manuscripts–both chapbook and full length–from March 1 to June 1. While they tend to be poetry focused, Sibling Rivalry also publishes fiction and non-fiction. Instead of the traditional reading fee, Sibling Rivalry has you purchase one of their books.

“Choosing a publisher is like choosing a family. We want writers to support each other. If money is a barrier, the fee is dropped.”

As Seth prepared to leave, he parted with a promise of things to come. “We hope to do more in the future.”

Interview

Et Alia: A Small Press for Big Voices

An Interview with Erin Wood: Publisher, Essayist, and Booksmart Business Woman

By Liz Larson, Fiction Editor

In the past three years, I have been lucky to work with two inclusive and diverse publishing organizations: Arkana and Et Alia Press: A Small Press for Big Voices. Both are located in the heart of Arkansas—where good words find good homes.

Below is a Q and A with Erin Wood, the Et Alia Press publisher responsible for one of the most dynamic and contrasting book catalogs in the region. (Be sure to check out Et Alia’s website to familiarize yourself with the variety of Lit this small southern state of Arkansas offers its readers: https://www.etaliapress.com/)

 

Erin, thank you so much for answering Arkana’s questions! 

What drew you to Et Alia in the first place? You joined it in 2010 and then took sole ownership in 2018?

In 2006, I moved back home to Arkansas, and in 2009, I graduated with my master’s in professional and technical writing with a nonfiction focus from UA Little Rock.

A grad school professor shared that he and a partner were thinking about starting a small press. In part because I previously practiced law, they asked if I’d be interested in joining them to do the startup work, draft author contracts, and do some editing. I knew basically zero about publishing other than what I’d learned during three years as the managing editor of the academic journal, Literature and Medicine (which used to be housed at UAMS). I truly learned on the job. Only a few titles came out during the first several years. Soon, though, I wanted to turn my full focus to it, had a solid vision for it, and took it over solo. I’ve fine-tuned its focus to nonfiction writing with preference for subject matter and/or authors with strong Arkansas connections. To me, if you’re going to publish 3 to 5 books a year, there’s an endless supply of material to captivate right here in Arkansas. Plus, it gives me the opportunity to learn more about my home state and its people and to build community.

 

On your website you state, “Et Alia is a small press based in Little Rock, Arkansas, with publishing interests in three areas:

Local Histories: preserves and expands cultural memory in its diversity, especially valuing neglected and alternative histories.

Health and Wellness: places special emphasis on physical, spiritual, and environmental well-being; the series also gives voice to practitioners of holistic and alternative medicine.

Emerging Artists: gives voice to talented first-book authors.”

What made you choose the above as your press’s priorities?

So much that I enjoy reading falls into these categories, and it feels like there is so much necessity and possibility in them all.

Looking at local histories offers the opportunity to consider Arkansas stories that perhaps we haven’t heard about before. As a native Arkansan who “lived away” for some time, I’ve come to see my relationship with my home state as not dissimilar to a long-term or familial relationship. Relationships are complicated— so many layers of history along with what is said and unsaid. And yet it is possible to wish some things were more understandable, or different, and to love at the same time. It is possible to hold both these things inside ourselves when we think of a person or a place. I am always anxious to look more deeply at that with regard to Arkansas.

Regarding health and wellness, this is such an underpinning for every human being throughout our entire lives. Not only are health memoirs my favorite reading material, but this subject matter feels intensely personal. I’ve had twelve surgeries, including nine abdominal surgeries, experiences that led me to create Scars: An Anthology. Also, having lost a baby and birthed our daughter at twenty-three weeks’ gestation, it is important to me to be part of the conversation about childhood illness and bereavement (such as with books like Adam Gets Back in the Game, authored by the bereavement program coordinator at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Greg Adams, and just published in September 2019, and The Moon Prince and the Sea by Daniela Rose Anderson). With age and massive life-changing experiences, I am also eager to delve deeper into learning about consciousness and spirituality.

Emerging authors? It is so fulfilling to be part of the process of helping authors get to print for the first time. I’m always honored when authors place trust in Et Alia as a partner in the publishing process.

 

What does Et Alia do differently than the many presses in its cohort? I mean, you don’t seek to be like the big five publishing houses, or do you? What can a small press do that the large monoliths can’t?

The personal relationships with authors feel really great. In fact, I often say in introducing a new author who has just signed a contract, “Please welcome _______ to our Et Alia family.” Maybe that comes across as corny, but that is how it feels to me and that’s the sense of community that I strive for. Family being the ones that you actually want around!

 

What has been one of your more inventive ways to publicize and market your authors?

Honestly, I think authors sometimes feel like they need to get super creative in order to have the big idea that will sell loads of books, but what I’ve found most important is the good-old-fashioned getting out there, reading, appearing, and discussing. While I do sit down with authors to create a marketing plan, and that looks a little different for every author, the tie that binds is daily toil. It is rare to sell tons of books at once and it is more likely to happen by plugging away, and taking advantage of every opportunity to talk about your work. Podcasts, especially, seem to work well for spreading the word, as does being a conference speaker. I think perhaps this is because these venues offer a chance to get more than a soundbite or a text snippet about someone, instead providing the opportunity to see their heart a little and understand their work in more depth. Also, as of more recently, I do suggest that authors hire a publicist and/or that they have a well laid-out plan for how they plan to market their book. I’m a one-woman shop here, and I can help push books out but marketing is its own full-time job. I think most small press leaders would agree that sales are extraordinarily dependent on author platform and motivation. Authors often have the best ideas about how to market their own books!

 

What was your biggest learning aha!? 

I’ve had many. We could be here all day! I’ve seen books get ruined in high humidity and water gushing out of a drain pipe at a festival. I’ve failed to check a shipment only to find out after it was too late for credit that the pages were printed in the wrong order. I’ve grossly underestimated how long it would take to edit a book on more than one occasion, leaving me anxious and scrambling.

I’ve priced books too low a couple of times. Our books are printed in the US and we sometimes cannot compete with large publishers printing in China. Unfortunately, those are the prices that consumers are adjusted to, so that can be difficult to overcome. It is especially noticeable when it comes to color printing, which Et Alia does a lot of.

Sometimes, you just have to say, “I’m doing my best!” and be proud of that.

What are you looking forward to now that you are an established presence in the publishing field?

Is that true? I don’t know. But if it is, I just hope that what Et Alia delivers through our titles is subject matter that helps readers marvel and that enables them to look at something they may have passed over before or think about someone’s story in a different way, whether that is insects in the leaf litter at their feet, the buttons on their queer friend’s jacket, someone’s story of living through a natural disaster, or the contents of their favorite auntie’s handbag.

 

Women Make Arkansas explores the meaning/importance of women-owned creative businesses in Arkansas. What do you find particular to your own creative endeavors? What is similar to those other creatives in your own world?

I think many creatives can relate to the challenge of finding (making!) time for their work. Like many writers who also support their work through other aspects of their careers, I have to consistently remind myself to do my own writing too. I’m a slow writer. So slow. My last published piece about a young friend’s death to cancer and her resurrection through the unexpected medium of moss required a lot of research on moss and took me nearly three years to write. (https://catapult.co/stories/my-friend-died-of-cancer-but-lives-in-moss)

I’ve been working on my current essay for about a year. To me, the revision is where interesting things really start to happen and it can take dozens of drafts for me to feel that I’m approaching something meaningful. Every writer’s process is a little different, of course. I’m trying to remind myself (again) that I can write short and that good things can happen without requiring huge chunks of time. Since big time blocks seem hard for me to come by, I’m trying to adapt my work to the writing time that I have available rather than not doing it at all.

Another similarity to many of the women in Women Make Arkansas is that as we progress down our creative path, we are striving to close the gap between what we picture or imagine in our minds and what we can actually create with our hands. Closing that gap is not only about practice and learning about our craft, it is also about having the patience and fortitude to ride out the inevitable frustration that is an essential part of the creative process.

Finally, so many of these women bravely shared the stories of their lives. I don’t separate my personal from my professional life too much, nor do I really imagine one without the other. I found this to be true for many of these creative women, and it reminds me that our art is much more rich and profound when we reveal the personal through it and allow the personal to deepen our art.

 

Where is Et Alia in five years?

There are loads more submissions than I can publish and fund, so I would love to provide a curated author-funded imprint, wherein carefully-selected writers fund their own books but have all of the other benefits of publishing with a small press (such as editing expertise, printing and distribution forums, publishing and marketing guidance, an established website and following, etc.). Stay tuned!

 

It feels like Et Alia Press and the journal, Arkana, have similar missions, but different venues. How are these diverse, marginalized voices best expressed and what needs to be developed moving forward?

It is cool to hear you say that since you’ve worked for both, Liz! Really, I just publish what I’m most interested in as a reader. I think diverse, marginalized voices do a perfectly good job of expressing themselves if those in the position to broaden the spectrum of what is available in print do what they can to allow the margins to become mainstream. When something other than the same old stuff is what we come to expect, isn’t that more exciting? To me, it is about providing readers opportunities to understand that if they remain curious for what may be unexpected, they will be rewarded. I hope more writers who feel that their voices have been pushed back, muted, or tamped down will continue to share their work and find Et Alia and Arkana, or other venues where they feel received and heard. We’ve got work to do and it’s time to let these voices echo!

 

Again, a huge thank you to Et Alia Press and Erin Wood for doing what you do to invite Arkansas voices to the table and taking that often neglected next step of letting them be heard.

 

 

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/.

 

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.
Interview

Contributor Spotlight: Kathya Alexander

Author Kathya Alexander discusses her writing process and inspiration behind her short story “My Daddy Dead,” included in our 5th issue.

Interview conducted by the Arkana Staff

A: What came first for you when you began writing “My Daddy Dead”— the setting of a church on Sunday morning, the situation of family tension and words unspoken, the character of the wounded child, or something else?

KA: The image of the father having a heart attack in the pulpit of the church he pastored just as he had his hands raised for the benediction came first.

A: What is your “go to” place, either physically or creatively, that assists you in beginning a project? What triggers your writing?

KA: I tell stories monthly at a Starbucks in Seattle, and all the storytellers write on a particular theme. That theme usually guides me at the beginning. In other cases, the trigger begins with something I am curious about or want to explore more fully.

A: When writing “My Daddy Dead,” did you hear this as a spoken word performance prior to its present written, textual form?

KA: I “hear” everything I write as I write it, so I guess I write all of my stories to be spoken word performances.

A: What techniques did you employ to keep the rhyme sounding natural rather than forced or sing-songy in “My Daddy Dead”?

KA: Again, I hear my stories as I write them and, even though they rhyme, what I hear is the story. I use the online rhyming dictionary quite liberally when I’m stuck on a line of the story where I can’t think of a rhyme. At the same time, quite often the rhyme dictates what comes next in the story.

A: Any recent publications you’re especially proud of?

KA: I am especially proud of being published in Arkana because I grew up in Arkansas, and this feels like coming home. I will be published in an upcoming issue of The Pitken Review, so stay tuned! “My Daddy Dead” is one of the stories in a collection of short stories entitled Angel in the Outhouse which is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Angel-Outhouse-Kathya-Alexander/

Read Kathya Alexander’s “My Daddy Dead” in Arkana Issue 5!


Kathya Alexander is a writer, actor, storyteller, and teaching artist. Her poem, “Naa Naa,” appeared in Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workplace. She has won the Jack Straw Artist Support Program Award; 4Culture’s Artists Projects Award; and the WRAP Award, Youth Arts Award, and the City Artist Award from Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture. Her play Black To My Roots: African American Tales from the Head and the Heart won the Edinburgh Festival Fringe First Award in Edinburgh, Scotland for Outstanding New Production.
Interview

Contributor Spotlight: Kathryn Brown

Writer Kathryn Brown discusses her writing process and inspiration behind her creative nonfiction essay “The Rotting Man,” included in our 5th issue.

Interview conducted by the Arkana Staff

A: Your piece “The Rotting Man” deals with, like most memoir pieces, extremely personal raw emotion. How do you get enough distance from an event like the one you describe in “The Rotting Man” in order to write clearly about it?

KB: It takes time and many rewrites for me to set aside the emotional triggers of an incident like “The Rotting Man” and create a piece that is relatable to a wide audience. My first versions were filled with a lot of backstory and unnecessary detail, all to avoid writing about the actual trauma.

A: The last sentence of your essay claims, “We have become a society capable of heartbreaking indifference.” How can we, as writers and readers, combat such a huge societal problem?

KB: After this incident, it was no longer possible for me to ignore human suffering. I had been very successful in compartmentalizing the continual string of horrors that I dealt with, but something about the “Rotting Man’s” condition stunned me and broke through that carefully constructed protection.  

I was struck by the lack of care or compassion for a man who is allowed to rot on a city street.

As a writer, it’s important to me that the reader comes away with a sense that ignoring the mentally ill and their suffering is simply not acceptable. But more importantly, my hope is that the reader considers the power of even the simplest act of compassion. Perhaps, one by one, we will begin to care for each other.

A: According to your bio, you used to work as a captain with the San Francisco Police Department. Is writing a longtime interest for you, or is it something you only focused on after retirement? Do you have any tips for juggling a separate career alongside an interest in writing?

KB: I began writing early in my career. I found it difficult to write seriously until I retired, but that’s because I can be lazy. If writing is your passion, write! Early in the morning, the middle of the night, whenever you can carve out the time, make it a priority and write. I find that if I write everyday, even for 30 minutes, my writing improves significantly.

I was a police officer for 30 years. Don’t wait that long.

A: When you sit down to write an essay, where do you start— with characters, themes, setting, etc.? Do you go into an essay knowing what you want to say, or do you find its purpose through the writing process?

KB:When I sit down to write a memoir piece, I completely emerge myself in the actual incident; allowing myself to remember smells, sounds, feelings. My initial versions are often filled with too much detail and too much emotional angst. After a couple of drafts, it’s easier to see what exactly I want to say.

I try to stay true to the characters involved, closing my eyes and seeing them, hearing them, smelling them. Writing has been an extremely cathartic experience for me and as I look back on some of my earlier writings I can see myself working out unresolved issues and feelings.

A: Any recent publications you’re especially proud of?

KB: The Baltimore Review published a story called “Ambushed.” It’s a favorite of mine. http://baltimorereview.org/index.php/winter_2016/contributor/kathryn-brown

Two Hawks Quarterly published “Misty.” Another favorite

http://twohawksquarterly.com/2015/12/08/misty-kathryn-brown/

Read Kathryn Brown’s “The Rotting Man” from Arkana Issue 5!


Kathryn Brown is a retired captain with the San Francisco Police Department. She is currently working on a collection of short stories based on her experiences while working in high crime areas of the city, particularly the Tenderloin. Her intention is to take the reader beyond the surface experience of interactions between police and the public, to provide a deeper understanding of the psychological and perhaps spiritual impact of those encounters. Read her published stories at Two Hawks Quarterly and The Baltimore Review.
Interview

Contributor Spotlight: Sarah Sophia Yanni

Writer Sarah Sophia Yanni discusses her writing processes and influences behind her poem “and nothing changes, never,” included in our 5th issue.

Interview conducted by the Arkana Staff

A: “And nothing changes, never” includes many inconsistencies in capitalization. For instance “Cabo San Lucas” and “Mexico” are capitalized while “syria” and “american” are not. What kind of discussions were you hoping to raise with this nontraditional capitalization?

SSY: The capitalization (or lack thereof) was meant to create a sort of hierarchy of language, or more specifically, a hierarchy of place as it pertains to my own life.

The capitalizations are not meant to reflect powers as they exist in a grander socio-political context. The poem is personal, and the poem is about Mexico, my time there, the way I see the culture being commodified and minimized.

I wanted to give Mexico and its cities a way to stand apart and be noticed, to reclaim their importance, even if that’s only achieved via a small letter difference.

A: Where did you get inspiration for “and nothing changes, never”?

SSY: My mom is from Guadalajara, so I spend every summer there. I’ve seen the awful class disparity that exists in Mexico. I’ve seen the way American tourists treat the cities and beaches I consider a second home. And living in Los Angeles, I’ve seen the way people bring back artisanal goods and upsell them with no consideration for the culture that produced them. So, it was inspired by my observations.

A: What are some books, writers, or other artists and artworks that guide your writing in general?

SSY: I’m fueled by a random mix of women writers like Maggie Nelson, Jennifer Doyle, Miranda July, Sandra Cisneros, and Sylvia Plath. My most recent reads were My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh and Corazón by Yesika Salgado, both of which I loved.

A: For you, what is the significance of the final three lines, “y nada cambia, nunca” in relation to the images conjured by the poem?

SSY: The repetition of “y nada cambia nunca” is significant firstly because it is the largest chunk of Spanish language in the poem. I am interested in writing that alternates in language, and I try to weave that into most of my work.

I chose to include the line three times to emphasize the desperation and exhaustion caused by those previously conjured images, and the feeling of an inescapable cycle, repeating and layering onto itself.

A: Any recent publications you’re especially proud of?

SSY: Yes! I had a flash fiction piece in the last issue of Ghost Parachute called Nobody Is Listening and That’s Okay.  I will also have pieces in the upcoming issues of inbtwn. mag and homonym journal, which I’m thrilled about.

Read Sarah Sophia Yanni’s “and nothing changes, never” in Arkana Issue 5!


Sarah Sophia Yanni is currently an MFA Writing student at the CalArts School of Critical Studies. Her work mostly centers on the first-generation experience and the trials of speaking accidental Spanglish. She is an editor at Sublevel Magazine, and her work has appeared in BUST, Scribe, and Palaver Arts, among others. She lives in Los Angeles.
Interview

Interview with Drew S. Cook

Arkana‘s interview with poet and professor Drew S. Cook, discussing neurodivergence, mental illness, and writing.

by A. É. Coleman, Audio and Art Consultant

Arkana was excited to sit down with Drew S. Cook, our former poetry editor, to discuss neurodivergence, mental health, poetry, and writing.

Drew SCook is many things: an expert in obsolete operating systems, a student of literature and poetry, a psychiatrically disabled person. He is other things, too, and grew up in the Ouachita Mountains, whose sights and sounds continue to inform his writing. Drew is currently a Co-Executive Editor at Trio House Press. His poems have appeared in Nimrod Journal, Pleiades, and elsewhere.

Here’s what Drew said on some of the challenges when writing through the lens of neurodiversity:

“It’s hard to write about things when your language isn’t tailored to address them. So there are lots of personal challenges in creating the work. I find sometimes, looking out, that there’s sort of a performative expectation with regard to what I would call ‘mental illness writing’. I think people by and large like inspiring stories or stories of triumph over adversity or things that are sympathetic and tragic, and there isn’t always space for the kind of complexity that real life offers us…”

Check out the video for more!

You can find poet Drew S. Cook online at https://www.facebook.com/seriousbidnz


Originally from Oklahoma, A. É. Coleman writes fiction, comics, and questionable poetry.  He’s a Navy vet who owns cats, plays bagpipes, and listens to science podcasts while pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Central Arkansas.
Interview

Interview with Micha Meinderts

Arkana‘s interview with Dutch author Micha Meinderts.

by A. É. Coleman, Audio and Art Consultant

It’s a day of firsts. Not only has Arkana crossed national boundaries with our interview of Dutch author and trans activist, Micha Meinderts, but it is also our first video interview. We were honored to have Micha as our guest on this maiden voyage.

Micha is the author of five books, the most recent of which being Aldus Sybren. This is an autobiographical work of fiction about the main character, Sybren, who was born a female in the Netherlands, grew up in the US where “she” transitioned to he, and is now returning to the Netherlands as an adult male to both find his way among men and his place as a stranger in his homeland.

http://www.michameinderts.nl
https://www.facebook.com/aldusSybren/
https://twitter.com/michameinderts
https://www.instagram.com/michameinderts


Originally from Oklahoma, A. É. Coleman writes fiction, comics, and questionable poetry.  He’s a Navy vet who owns cats, plays bagpipes, and listens to science podcasts while pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Central Arkansas.