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.
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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.

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.

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 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 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.

Interview with Playwright Sharai Bohannon

An interview about writing, plays, and MFA programs.

Conducted by Jeremy Williams, Nonfiction and Scriptwriting Reader

I asked Sharai Bohannon for an interview to discuss the debut of her play, Craigslisted, and she happily agreed. Later that day I visited the set of Director Trent Reese’s production of Bohannon’s play to get a better feel of what the play is about. After breaking from a scene rehearsal, the cast returned to the center area of the stage. “I need you on books,” Reese said to his production assistant. Then he turned to his cast and shouted toward center-stage, “We need pace, we need drama, we need action.” Heads nodded and Reese turned towards the top of the small seating area to take birds-eye view of center-stage where characters “Dave” and “Maggie” try to work through a complex dilemma of love and betrayal. Reese has a genuine smile and jovial personality but he is very much in charge of this production. Reese told me that Bohannon’s play was chosen in efforts to support more unpublished playwrights. After rehearsal I returned to campus to make arrangements for my interview with Sharai Bohannon:

Arkana: Your play, Craigslisted, will debut on September 15 at The Lantern Theatre in Conway, Arkansas. I know that the play took shape and form during the last half of graduate school. Can you elaborate on the conception and development of your play, tell us what it’s about, and how it made its way to Lantern Theatre?

SB: I was nearing the end of my time in school and worried about how I was going to pay off all of my student loans and find work with the modest collection of degrees I have. When it was time to begin my thesis play in earnest those fears sort of manifested in Maggie. I wrote a SUPER rough draft that was chosen for Texas Tech University’s 2015-2016 Lab Season and also chosen for the school’s WildWind Performance Lab where we workshopped it until it was a completely different, and better, script. All of the subsequent drafts happened because we had all of these smart artists in the room giving me feedback and making me look at everything from different angles. While I owe everyone during that time some major gratitude, Kamarie Chapman was the MVP because she served as the original Dramaturg and helped me narrow the monstrosity that I’d written down to the smaller list of what I really wanted the play to address. She also had the original idea of “seeing what was on the screens” which became all of the projections that are seen throughout the play.

During my last year of grad school, I was sending the play literally everywhere that had a submission opportunity that fit the script. My friend Trent Reese (who is directing this current production and is on the board of The Lantern Theatre) sent out a note to playwrights from our undergrad letting us know that The Lantern wanted to do more new works. Eventually, my play was chosen and it’s been a fun whirlwind ever since. Trent also directed my very first play in undergrad, and The Lantern produced my first non-academic production, so this production does bring me full circle in a couple of ways. I’m excited to get into town and thank everyone in person and see everything come together during tech week.

A: How do you decide what to write about? Where do you find inspiration?

SB: Lots of times projects find me. I’m definitely guilty of forcing some pages out because an opportunity calls for it, or just so I can keep saying I’m a playwright, but the projects that I love come from sitting down with people who spark my imagination. I’m currently working on a retelling/adaptation of Faust with my friend, Sophie Duntley, because she had the idea and asked me if I wanted to collaborate on it. We started firing ideas off of each other, discussing the gender politics of there being a Lady Faust, and now we have a wonderful cast, a wonderful venue, and I’ve been spoiled by having a writing partner to help shoulder the stress of writing a full-length. I hope she realizes what she’s done because I definitely want to do it again (and soon). A different project that I’ve been loosely working on started as an inkling because I had the final image in my head. I started writing but wasn’t really excited until I went on vacation and a different friend randomly mentioned a topic that sort helped to make everything I wanted make sense while allowing me to learn about an important topic. That’s all I can say about that one right now because it’s still sort of abstract and I don’t want to start committing it to being something that it might not be.

A: What is the job of the (African) American Playwright?

SB: I think the job of the African American Playwright it is to write what’s in their heart and on their mind. I believe that’s the same of any playwright though. Everyone on the planet has different views of the world that comes along with being born into our ethnicity, gender, society, upbringing, family’s income level, sexuality, etc. I think the job of The African American Playwright is to not let people get in their head for being true to themselves and their vision. It’s very easy for someone to tell you what you “should” be writing instead of evaluating what you have actually written.

A: What have you found to be the biggest struggle publishing your work?

SB: I’ve only had one piece published so far. I typically submit to productions, workshops, and residencies though. There is something about a play being published that makes it feel permanent and I definitely enjoy the freedom of changing things up from production to production. I went to a Sarah Ruhl event earlier this year and she also mentioned that a play isn’t finished until it’s published when someone asked her how she knows when a script is done. I’m not saying that I’m not interested in being published but I admit that I’m not putting enough energy into that part of being a playwright at this current moment. I’m still really excited by having a dialogue with production teams, hearing actors make discoveries that influence the next draft(s), and watching audiences respond to my work (which is the most honest feedback there is).

A: What are some of the challenges currently confronting the writing community?

There are a billion writers and a lot less than a billion opportunities. I also think the lack of funding prevents most of us from pursuing it full-time. We have to support ourselves which often means writing gets set on the back burner and/or we’re forcing work that is not our best because we’re tired and only have so few moments to write while riding trains or eating lunch. It’s a hard field we’ve chosen and I don’t think we talk about that enough.

A: What advice would you give to current MFA students?

SB: Take the note and say thank you. I see lots of playwrights argue with every single note they are given and it’s obnoxious. I’m not saying every note you’ll be given should be treated as the gospel, but if you’re defensive all of the time then you’ll miss the notes that are helpful too. The flipside of that is to learn which notes to ignore. Lots of people want to help, and sometimes they seem right, but you know your play at the end of the day and need to know what best serves your script. It’s a balancing act that I’m still learning myself, and being too far on either side isn’t ideal.

My second piece of advice is to make your own writing communities. Having friends who understand what you’re going through, and who are facing the same concerns, is invaluable. I learn from my writer friends every day and like to think that we’re indirectly responsible for encouraging/supporting each other to do better as artists.


Sharai Bohannon’s Words of Wisdom:

On playwriting: Figure out who you are and write from that place. There are enough people trying to imitate someone else. Write about what excites you instead of what you “should” be writing.

On race, class, and gender in writing and MFA programs: You have to be your own advocate. Don’t let anyone tell you what you “should” be writing. I tend to write strong women and some people don’t know what to do with strong women so would encourage me to put more male voices in my work, or want me to attach my characters to men to “give them purpose and goals,” and I rightfully refused. I’ve also had people tell me that they were hoping I would give them “the black scene” when they asked me to contribute to something but were surprised that I followed the guidelines of the assignment. I’m not saying all of this just to end the interview on a negative note, but to sort of point out how easy it is to get outdated/offensive feedback in these situations that makes you just want to give up. These are the situations where having your own writing community, knowing what types of feedback to ignore, and writing the types of stories you want, comes in handy. Focus on the mentors/faculty members who actually get it and learn as much as you can from them because those are the ones who have actual things to contribute to your development anyway.


Jeremy Williams is pursuing an MFA at the University of Central Arkansas. He is the author of Detroit: The Black Bottom Community. In his spare time he records music and watches reruns of Sanford & Son. He was once a member of the Detroit Writer’s Guild.