Arkana Blog

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.
Book Review

Review of Savannah Slone’s Hearing the Underwater

Review of Savannah Slone’s poetry chapbook Hearing the Underwater, available now through Finishing Line Press.

By Melinda Ruth, Poetry Editor

In Hearing the Underwater, Savannah Slone’s first chapbook, the speaker invites you to immerse yourself with her, to linger and listen to what the water tells you. In this collection, sound is synonymous with submersion, and concerned with the truth beneath the surface. Each poem is a key to unlocking the reflective power of water in the world and in the body of the speaker.

We begin with leaving.

In the opening poem, “Venal Exodus,” or the corrupt evacuation, we are splashed with sharp sounds from the first lines, “Chalkboard paint. Bruises. / The Midnight Cousin,” and “Three sizzling ticks, pulled/ loose,” sounds that amp our adrenaline with the speaker’s to ride the fast pace of growing up in a broken home where everything ends, but also begins.

In this poem we are shown the underhanded leaving of the mother’s boyfriend in the lines, “Bang./ Mom’s boyfriend stains field// crimson with self-inflicted farewell.” Here we have the first leaving of childhood and possibilities. Here, the stanza break prolongs the experience, keeping the reader poised to fall with her. Yet the poem ends by undermining this exodus, in the lines,

Are you crying because he did this to your family
or are you just mad that now you won’t ever

get to take
this
option
out?

This ending slows the reader down and sets us up for the stagnation, this wading in place the speaker must fight against.

The second poem, “Cynicism and Other Synonyms,” continues the slowing ending of the first poem, forcing us to linger with the speaker, treading in the foggy waters of depression. By manipulating line lengths, Slone speeds us up and slows us down like the drifts of ocean waves. In the lines,

and my name
with cynicism
and other synonyms
because
here I am

                              here.

We see the effect of “Venal Exodus” in which the speaker is still here because she can’t choose the other way out.

But not all of Slone’s poems focus on the farewell. In the prose poem, “Ode to the Uterus,” the speaker takes on a more political tone and addresses the issues of reproduction and sexuality, in which another kind of water pools. Here, the speaker states, “shoreline mirrors sex mirrors making me a mother mirrors making my mother’s mother a mother mirrors.” Not only do the mother and the men became a reflection of the speaker, like the smooth surface of water, but also a reflection of history: of the speaker’s family, and of the world.

In this, and many other poems, the speaker grapples with the power of life, of men, of sex, of birth, of being a woman. This power is much different from the power of death that opens the book, and acts as a point of tension between the past and the now. The fluctuations of power become central to the speaker’s perception of life.

Further in, Slone ties the theme of the mother’s boyfriend’s suicide to the modern day gun rights debate. In the poem, “Within Your White Picket Fence,” the speaker states that,

your erasure tongues don’t
decompose your rags
don’t fill the dying bullet
holes of those whose throats are running raw.

In this instance, the poem acts as Aletheia, disclosing the truth trying to be concealed in which gun violence intrudes on life, both her own and others, and is another kind of power.

The speaker asserts that in this America, there is no way out alive.

Similarly, in the poem “hollow lungs, eyes, kazoos, and fingernails,” the speaker addresses the brutality of power, asserting that this is on all of our hands. In the lines,

we bury disassembled
rag dolls, pouring the nectar of humanity
over top the neglected
handcuffs.

The nectar of humanity acts as that water that encompasses us all, through tears, through body and blood, through that shared genesis of the world in which we were all once ocean.

In this poem, the deliberate choice to refrain from capitalizing becomes a commentary on power and subjugation in which the power of the gun, of the inherent violence of police oppression is enacted through form. As lowercase has no power over uppercase, the speaker has no power over life. The poem also incorporates shorter lines that are cut off before they can finish, contributing to the narrative.

In the penultimate poem, “The Table Where We Sat and Sit,” signals the emersion, the slow rise of the speaker. In the line, “I gifted my mom an orphaned quarter…” the quarter is integral because it returns to the theme of money, of growing up poor, but it also signifies the beginnings of the patchwork needed to quilt the past with the present, bringing mother and daughter together again. In this quarter we see the mercy the speaker needs to learn to show herself, as well as the powerplay of currency.

The collection closes with “Muzzled Magic,” a prose poem that grounds the reader in the real and now, closing off the magic of water and reflection. Through the lines, “yarn scrapes against cracked palms. Playground of ghost tongues […] the other forgotten, fossilized teeth,” we can see the cyclical nature of death and life, in which the speaker must figure out how to begin the long slow process of sewing herself back up. In this sense, the poem takes on the final form of water, a tool used as divination, as the speaker is still seeking that last exit strategy, that final farewell of death, that is our ultimate, and prolonged, ending.

Hearing the Underwater is a poignant commentary on the depths in which power and pain dwell inside the heart’s ocean. Amid the unsettling conditions of growing up and living in today’s America, Savannah Slone invites the reader to drown with her, to wallow and listen to the slow siren song of life, death and regeneration in which we all must follow. Grab a copy at Finishing Line Press today!


Melinda is a Baltimore transplant who is currently a graduate student at the University of Central Arkansas, seeking her MFA in Poetry. She has pieces published in Pleiades, The Emerson Review, Red Earth Review, and more. When not writing, Melinda enjoys good coffee, expanding her artistic tastes and late nights with her dog.
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.
Series, Uncategorized

Exquisite Corpse Poem

An exquisite corpse poem from lines written on Poet-Tree leaves at the 2018 C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference.

By Melinda Ruth, Poetry Reader

Poetry, the migration of blood
through veins pushing thoughts
from head to pen-held hand. It took
my sister saying “that was rape”

for me to realize because the first
thing we are taught is not to call
it that. And so we beat on—

boats against the tide—borne
back ceaselessly into the past. I am
bowed and hang heavy with late

snow. There’s a snapping along
my spine. I am soft wood and very

poplar. And we will never know
our mothers.

                               Letting go as sweet
and sad as salutations. You’re falling now,

you’re swimming. This is not
harmless. You are not
breathing. There’s a place between

bone walls of the brain and the colors
of reality where I float
in the shadows of fake

memories, so far under water light

can’t find me. The rain
gives brief relief.


Melinda is a Baltimore transplant who is currently a graduate student at the University of Central Arkansas, seeking her MFA in Poetry. She has pieces published in Pleiades, The Emerson Review, Red Earth Review, and more. When not writing, Melinda enjoys good coffee, expanding her artistic tastes and late nights with her dog.