Interviews: A New Feature at The Poetry Cafe!

Big thanks to all who have been following The Poetry Cafe Online and reading our reviews of poetry chapbooks. I continue to receive chapbooks from near and far, and am amazed at the quality of what I am reading. I am forever grateful to guest reviewers: Sarah Stockton, Jerri Frederickson, Siân Killingsworth and Lennart Lundh who have written such superb reviews. I’m always on the lookout for new reviewers, so please get in touch if you are interested.

Today, The Cafe is opening a new reading room for interviews with authors of poetry chapbooks. We’re starting with Lauren Davis’s review of Jeff Santosuosso’s chapbook, Body of Water. Take a read and enjoy the winding path through the process and rewards of writing.

This means we are open for your interviews too. Please contact me if you want to pitch an interview with your favorite chapbook poet!

Contact me at: risa@thepoetrycafe.online

A Nation (Imagined)

A Nation (Imagined) by Natasha Kochicheril Moni
winner of the 2018 Floating Bridge Press chapbook contest   

Review by Linera Lucas     

A Nation (Imagined) (Floating Bridge Press, 2018) is a lyric poem about love, grief, nature, and graceful endurance. The format is one long poem bookended by two short poems, and the story is a simple one: a man and a woman love one another, he goes off to war, she stays home, he dies and she continues to think of him. But the way Moni tells this story is anything but simple. Just because a book is short does not mean it is not profound.

The opening poem “And what if everything” makes it clear that this is going to be about death and memory. We are going back in time. First we are in a field of daffodils, and then we are in a minefield. The transition is brief and shocking, as if the reader is the one who is blown up. We start with sex and move to death where,

the pause after love
before love which is
now     You are in a field
of daffodils
– no –                                   
a field of living            mines 

If you bend left, death. If you bend right, memory. This is the prologue, the poem that teaches the reader how to read the rest of the work. Thank you, much appreciated. It’s good to have a guide, even if I’m not quite certain just how much I can trust the poet who is leading me onward. The long poem begins,

Remember the year you forgot to water my jade

and ends with,

Do you remember this?

Next, we are going to have the catalogue of what happened, in poet time, in real time, and in a mix of the two. I feel as if I had been given the chance to open a secret box, to read letters I am not supposed to know about, and I feel a little guilty, but I don’t want to stop reading.

Now the poet writes to her lover, telling him what has happened since he left, how she wishes he would write to her, then I turn the page and she says a letter arrived three years too late, that their tree will be firewood,

 Tomorrow
 our madrona
 becomes a cord
what will keep

                                      (our heat)     

And what will keep their passion alive, now that he is dead? This is a poem about coming to terms with grief, also about not coming to terms with grief. She wants to send him his chickens, tries not to weep, gives him a list of what she saw on her daily walk in the woods. She saved a wildflower from a young girl who wanted to cut and press it.

“They” (the ever present outside world), would like her to do various things, to be more like someone else, to behave in a recognizable manner, but she wants her lover to “enter and with care //   strike the lantern” . . . taste the apricots,

on your favorite plate              your favorite plate

the one                        chipped                       
from too much             loving.              

   

This might be my favorite passage in the whole book.

Then there is the bargain she wants to make at the end of this poem: “unwind your voice / from my inner ear and I will ” not steam open the letter written to him, which started this whole story. What is in that letter? I am not going to find out, and I like that.

And now the final poem, the other bookend, “Letter to a Lover Whose Name Spells Dark Bird.” This is, of course, a letter to Corbin, the dead lover. Corbin is a variation on Corbie, which is another name for crow or raven, birds of intelligence connected with death and messages from the dead. This poem has the kind of bargaining that deep grief brings, past pleading and near madness, but such resigned madness. Here’s how it starts,

Look, when you call – bring the basket

and here’s how it ends,

Meet me and we
will forget our bodies were ever anything but

a little salt, water                                   
waiting to be stirred. 

and in between is,

the year we spent a lifetime
sailing in the boat of our bed.

So that’s the last poem. I have read the story, and have been changed by it. What makes this chapbook so fulfilling is how real the grief and love are, how tender and fierce the poet narrator’s love for her dead Corbin, and then the ending, with the unopened letter. Because at the last, we never really know another person. We can guess at them, follow the clues from how their lives cross ours, but each person contains many mysteries.

Natasha Kochicheril Moni is the author of four poetry collections and a licensed naturopathic doctor in WA State. Her most recent chapbook, A Nation (Imagined), won the 2018 Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award. Natasha’s writing has been featured in over sixty-five publications including Verse, Indiana Review, Entropy, The Rumpus, and the recently released Terrapin Press anthology, A Constellation of Kisses. As a former editor for a literary journal, a panelist for residency and grant award committees, and a chapbook contest judge, Natasha loves supporting fellow writers. She owns and operates Helios Center for Whole Health, PLLC, which offers naturopathic appointments, medical writing, poetry manuscript consultations, and writing and wellness lectures/workshops.

natashamoni.com 
helioswholehealth.com

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published three full length collections of poetry, most recently, “slight faith” (MoonPath Press, 2018).

BOYS

Boys by Daniel Edward Moore

Review by Lauren Davis

“…where a man’s wound is, that is where his genius will be. Wherever the wound appears in our psyches, whether from alcoholic father, shaming mother, shaming father, abusing mother, whether it stems from isolation, disability, or disease, that is precisely the place for which we will give our major gift to the community.”
― Robert Bly, Iron John: A Book about Men

The cover art of Daniel Edward Moore’s debut chapbook Boys will make you instinctively take a deep breath. It warns you that you are about to descend not into flat reality, but further into one man’s psyche with all its spirals and shadows. The cover reminds me of a David Lynch piece—part surrealist daymare, part hypnotic and dark nostalgia. What makes this art even more powerful is that Moore’s wife, Laura Coe Moore—the woman who likely knows Moore best—created it.

It seems fitting, then, that the first poem would be “The Architect’s Son,” a piece where “Leather is the love, you thought was a hand,  /  she said was a dragon’s tail.” An unnerving juxtaposition of rage and fathers and baseball gloves—we have entered the world of boyhood. And this is how we move forward as readers, into the darkness that will show us the light.

It is hard, while reading Boys, to come up for air. This is not a criticism. Instead, these poems create a landscape that so perfectly encapsulates what I can only imagine to be a frightful appointment—to be raised a boy in a society of anger and expectations and “Never Enough.” These are poems where the religions that are meant to give direction create their own trauma and end up leading us further away from our truth.

The universal father, a bloodied Jesus, the boy—together these personas create a peculiar type of trinity. And in doing so, they form a faith more likely to restore the soul, “a cathedral of gnashing teeth.”

The title poem (originally published in Hot Metal Bridge), in its violence and restraint, encapsulates the innate spiritual struggle weaved throughout the entire chapbook. The poem begins:

It sounded like
boys in the woods
kicking a dying wolf.

They called him faggot
and his eyes
rolled to heaven.

They called him hungry
and his face
ate the earth.

Moore’s exploration of queerness against the backdrop of brutality is a long look at “men wearing crowns of bloody tiaras” while “rejecting the soul of a boy.” So when the chapbook closes with the last line, “birds become hymns of smoke,” we are reminded that even in the worst of circumstances there is hope that we can rise above our struggles.

It is apt that one poem in Moore’s chapbook would be dedicated to Paul Monette, author and gay activist who died from AIDS. Monette once said, “Go without hate, but not without rage; heal the world.” Moore’s work exemplifies this quote.

Boys does not deny suffering. It does not deny the gift of anger, “like all religions based on blood.” Instead, it celebrates it. And in celebrating the darkness within us, we have the chance to be transformed.

Daniel Edward Moore is an award-winning poet whose works have appeared in literary journals such as American Literary Review, Columbia Journal of Arts and Literature, Spoon River Poetry Review, Rattle, Mid-American Review, December and many others. His chapbook Boys is forthcoming from Duck Lake Books in December 2019. His full-length collection Waxing the Dents was a finalist for the Brick Road Poetry Prize and will be published by Brick Road Poetry Press in February 2020.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published three full length collections of poetry, most recently,
slight faith (MoonPath Press, 2018).

Jeff Santosuosso

Body of Water Anniversary Interview with Lauren Davis

Lauren Davis: Your debut chapbook Body of Water was published on November 2, 2018. Congratulations on its one-year anniversary! When did you first start to put this manuscript together?

Jeff Santosuosso: Some elements of that book are ten years old, while the most recent, the title poem, is about a year old. That gave me a theme. I generally don’t think in terms of a single-themed work, so that focus was welcome. From there, I browsed my body of work to find similar elements and to tell a story with the chapbook.

LD: In one or two sentences, can you describe the function of a poetry chapbook?

JS: Short story with no overt plot. A flip book of words.

LD: Can you tell me a little bit about how you found your publisher?

JS: I found the publisher via a message board, CRWROPPS and via a referral from another poet. CRWROPPS is a great tool for writers looking for submission opportunities and other things. Clare Songbirds Publishing House is a fine little outfit in upstate New York. They did not require me to presell any chapbooks, as others do, nor did they require a submissions/reading fee. Writers work directly with management.

LD: Your cover is absolutely stunning. Did you provide this image for Clare Songbirds Publishing House?

JS: I love it too! I’ve received many compliments on it and have forwarded them to CSPH. The artist is Angela Yuriko Smith. She did that on her own, presumably having read all or part of the manuscript. In any case, the result is stunning!

LD: What was the editing process like with your publisher?

JS: Easy. Simple email exchange, quickly reverted by the publisher. High marks for that!

LD: And has your relationship to these poems changed any now that they’ve been out in the world?  

JS: Not so much, though I’m fascinated by the feedback I get, what reaches and connects with people. My son read one of them for a college public speaking course and recorded it. Gives me the chills!

LD: That must have been a very special experience, to witness that. Tell me what poem you think best represents this collection.

JS: Probably the title poem and also “The Blue.” The first because it’s personal. The second because it’s universal. I grew up about five miles from Walden Pond, read the book in high school and have always credited it with lasting impact on my outlook. That poem is very introspective, almost a mood poem for me. Separately, I was prompted by the poet and teacher Matthew Lippman to write a poem about the sea/ocean. (What? Yeah, that’s never been done before, I’ve got such a fresh perspective. Uh-huh.) Anyway, that poem is historical and global, a sweep of a piece, if you will. For me, then, the two relate to our personal, internal, finite relationship with water and our universal, external, infinite relationship with it. I’ll always have a soft spot for “New Jersey Nighthawks,” which I wrote on a ski trip when I was reading a lot of Kerouac.

LD: What are you working on now?

JS: Ha! Come to think of it, more than I expected: an adaptation of one of the books of the Bible. A collaborative poetry work with a good friend, inspired by another. A totally killer video collage of Anglophones from all over the world with their luscious local accents reading “Jabberwocky.” Oh, and a novel about tennis, second chances, and redemption that’s finished. What’s the definition of “finished”?

LD: Do you have any advice for poets who are putting together a chapbook manuscript? 

JS: Look for a theme. Look for alignment between your theme and what the editor seeks. Have the book tell a story or have some arrangement, narrative or otherwise. Follow the publisher’s guidelines.

Jeff Santosuosso is a business consultant and award-winning poet living in Pensacola, Florida. His debut chapbook, Body of Water, was published at Clare Songbirds Publishing House. He is Editor-in-Chief of panoplyzine.com, an online journal of poetry and short prose.

Lauren Davis is the author of Each Wild Thing’s Consent (Poetry Wolf Press). She holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and her poetry, essays, stories, and fairy tales can be found in publications such as Prairie SchoonerAutomata ReviewHobart, and Ninth Letter. Davis teaches at The Writers’ Workshoppe in Port Townsend, Washington.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published
three full length collections of poetry, most recently, “slight faith” (MoonPath Press, 2018).

Linera Lucas

Linera Lucas won the Crucible Fiction Prize and has had poetry and short stories published in Boomtown Anthology, Change Seven Magazine, Clover, Crucible, Elohi Gadugi Journal, Pindeldyboz, RKVRY, Spillway, The Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber, VerbSap, VoiceCatcher Anthology and elsewhere. She has a BA from Reed College and an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte, and has taught creative writing at the University of Washington Women’s Center, the Reed College Alumni Writers Workshop, and Hugo House.

Bad Anatomy

Bad Anatomy by Hannah Cohen

Review by Siân Killingsworth

In Bad Anatomy (Glass Poetry Press, 2018), over the course of twenty poems, Hannah Cohen opens a window for readers into a world of isolation, regret, and danger at the edge of the speaker’s self-destructive tendencies. Using a broad variety of poetic arrangements ranging from ragged free verse to restrained couplets to ghazal, Cohen allows herself to run wild with form. Wildness seems to be an underlying drive of this book, as poem after poem incorporates images of monsters, monstrosities, defiant wrongness, and a celebration of imperfection.

Cohen’s poems pull the reader into an already-running engine, a monologue in media res. Readers witness and listen to a speaker who reveals her deepest feelings and worst fears about herself as she recognizes their movements. This speaker is an unreliable narrator who confesses to drinking, making questionable and self-destructive decisions, and laments her own body’s betrayal.

The title poem, “Bad Anatomy,” appears early on and encapsulates the problems the speaker is grappling with. She feels not herself in her body, instead she feels that the “universe keeps me / betting against my conception,” and further admits she’s “unable / to divine the good.” As the poem ends, she claims defiantly that she doesn’t “need help / to empty my chest of its hope.”

The desolation and despair the speaker feels is the water this book is moored in, and the sense of bodily wrong pervades. In one of my favorite poems, the speaker morphs into a monster in “Self-Portrait as Grendel,” revealing,

I myself am half-hell
and half morning

/ / /

A new head, a different name,
but still my skin.

Cohen uses her speaker’s confessions to provide a context for a larger malaise. The book itself becomes a lament on the instability and inconstancy of a life, the missed opportunities due to the speaker’s struggles with pain, isolation, and depression. This speaker is willing to bare it all: to pull back the veil to show the feeling of being on the brink of something even more serious.

But before readers dive too deeply into the pit of despair with Cohen, she pulls us back with humor. A delicate stream of sarcasm or sometimes false bravado sparkles through the book, reinforcing the authenticity of this speaker; it is as if she were in your living room or at the other end of a phone. Witness this skillful play in her poem “Like Someone Driving Away from her Problems,”

even god doesn’t believe
in the rusty jesus-saves
signs can’t save her

The poem “Superficial” is where we really dig into the idea of bad anatomy. Here, the body has gone wrong and seems to be a stand-in for the speaker’s battered and distorted psyche. Opening with the horrified discovery of a specific type of birth defect, the speaker compares herself to babies “born with their intestines / outside their little baby bellies.” This gruesome image of bodies turned inside out serves up a metaphor for the speaker’s sense of self. Her own discomfort with her gut instincts and feelings are out for display, in contrast to the physical way surgery would be used to correct a birth defect. The intent of the poet seems to be to reveal the guts and gore and make us sit with the discomfort of existence.

In a gesture appropriate for this book, the final poem “Body as an Alberto Giacometti Sculpture,” refers to the stretched-out, abstracted human figures created by the sculptor (1901-1966), which are widely recognized as representing alienation, loneliness, and existential dread. This slim poem trails down one page and trickles onto the next with a blunt directive to the reader to see this alienation, the pose held by the speaker so that we may bear witness to it, this “beautiful arrangement / of flesh that isn’t love.”


I thought it would be clarifying to include an interview with the poet herself. Cohen was gracious enough to answer my questions, in this email exchange:

Siân Killingsworth: When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?

Hanna Cohen: Like most writers, I started writing at a young age. I loved writing and illustrating my own stories and sharing my “books” with family members. As I got older, my writing interests shifted from writing stories to poems. I read Poe and Keats and Yeats. I wrote tons of garbage angsty poems as a teen. I still write garbage angsty poems—they’re just (hopefully) better written. I’ve written nonfiction (and am attempting to write fiction) but I primarily think of myself as a poet first.

SK: Where do your poems most often come from— do you use prompts? Do you overhear conversations and springboard off those? An image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?

HC: It’s a mishmash of all the above! Sometimes I’ll hear a weird sentence out in public and write it down, so I don’t forget it. I mostly write based on how I’m feeling. There are certain themes I keep coming back to (identity, family, Judaism, depression, etc.) but I also like to write nonsense for the sake of generating lines of material. I don’t use prompts a whole lot since I don’t like forcing myself to write.

SK: Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?

HC: It’s hard to say who exactly influenced me, but the most obvious answers would be Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, and Robert Lowell. Nowadays, I find myself reading Jewish poets such as Rosebud Ben-Oni, Rachel Mennies, and Erika Meitner. Though his writing style isn’t exactly seen in my work, William Butler Yeats continues to be a poet I return to.

SK: What are you reading now?

HC: I just finished The Book of Joan by Lydia Yuknavitch a few weeks ago, which was all parts amazing, slightly off-setting, and powerful. I had purchased the novel a year ago, so I’m happy I finally read it. The most recent poetry collection I read was Lauren Milici’s Final Girl and Emily O’Neill’s You Can’t Pick Your Own Genre double feature collection.

SK: Tell us a little bit about your collection: What’s the significance of the title? Are there overarching themes? What was the process of assembling it? Was is a project book?

HC: Bad Anatomy takes its title from a poem within the chapbook. I wish I could say I had a thorough process but really, I chose the title because it sounded cool. The book doesn’t have a true narrative but rather an emotional landscape of depression, isolation, lots of self-deprecating humor and even flashes of hope. There are other subjects present (drinking, body images, etc.) but those are the more immediate themes.

When it came to arranging these poems, it was important to have words and feelings “echo” each other. What’s on the surface of the poem versus the interior, and so on. I’m forever thankful to the poets who offered insights and edits into the order of the poems—crafting a collection really isn’t a solitary job.

Most of the poems in this chapbook were written during my time in graduate school. However, those poems didn’t make the cut into my thesis due to the different subject matter. When I learned that Glass Poetry Press was having an open reading period for chapbooks, I basically took those twenty-odd poems and compiled them into a chapbook. The rest is history.

SK: Tell us briefly how your poetry has changed since you began writing.

HC: I think I’ve become more particular about the weight of words, and where to place them within a poem. I’m also challenging myself to write poems about subjects that I hadn’t considered, trying on new forms, and allowing myself space to NOT write. Since I work a day job, writing time is far more precious than when I was in school.

 SK: What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

HC: If you can’t think of a title for your poem, just start the title as “Poem After/About/On [Insert Subject Here]”. It’s simple and direct. My newest poem, “Poem After Reading the Chapter in Stephen King’s It Where the Word “Kike” Appears Six Times” (forthcoming in Cherry Tree), is an example of this.

SK: What a great suggestion! I’ll try this in some of my newer poems. Sometimes I struggle with titles because I don’t want to be too obscure. This will do the trick, I think.


Hannah Cohen received her MFA from Queens University of Charlotte and lives in Virginia. She is the author of Bad Anatomy (Glass Poetry Press, 2018). She is a former contributing editor for Platypus Press and currently co-edits the online journal Cotton Xenomorph. Recent and forthcoming publications include Cherry Tree, The Rumpus, Berfrois, Entropy, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Cosmonauts Avenue, and elsewhere. She was a finalist for Best of the Net 2018 and has received Pushcart Prize nominations.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published three full length collections of poetry, most recently, “slight faith” (MoonPath Press, 2018).

Carry On (elegies)

Carry On (elegies), by Adam Deutsch

Review by Lennart Lundh

“Carry On,” the front cover says, coupling those two words with “(elegies),” and that’s a double-edged phrase, the title poem being about carry-on luggage. Adam Deutsch’s chapbook of twenty-five poems is double-edged throughout. On first reading, it’s very author-personal and self-referential, as elegies often will be, but a later, careful oral reading makes the poems reader-personal, universally affective, and quite rewarding.

It quickly becomes obvious that none of the poems are elegies in the confined, traditional sense. Even “Great Aunt, Winter, & Sun” (p. 15), while written “for Marilyn Adler,” makes little reference to the deceased, and is more about the graveside ceremony that will “never really fill the hole” felt by the family. The bulk are, however, clearly about some form of loss, the sense of loss, or the aftermath of loss.

“The Roads Will Be Closed” (p. 5) swings from a classroom non-incident to the Cold War of the Fifties that now can only haunt but not harm:


I was schooled, too,
and my parents,
their sisters and brothers,
looking at the bomb shelter signs
beside the basement doors.

           

Individually spoken, but perfect for the universal impact of today’s world, “Packing Heat” (p. 6) concerns itself with the loss of principles, saying of a job offer after a year’s unemployment, “I must wrestle down / genuine objection to wearing a gun.”

“What Cuts through the Woods” (p. 8) speaks of urban sprawl’s impact on community, saying, “We all drink from the same well.” in a foreshadowing of the title poem. “Carry On” (p. 20), with the accent on the first syllable rather than the cover’s suggested last, re-emphasizes the “we” to make its lines resonate with truly shared loss:

We’re exiles of an old country’s
long gone century, erased analog tape.

We’re plowing through this life
in our longings so mighty, a bird swoops
up ahead and is creamed by the bumper.

At the physical center of the book’s thirty-seven pages, a pair of poems bring us to the two sides of our elegies and rememberings. “The Center for Personal Growth is Next Door to Cremation Services” (p. 16) describes those who refuse to let loved ones go, ending a short list with the recognition that, “We’re of a people / who keep absence / near. Handy / as duct tape.” This sets the stage for “Strangers, Autumn, & Gray” (p. 18), with its dedication “for those in the City of Ithaca Cemetery.” It speaks, in twelve lines, of those who have let go:

A whole other mass, back in their ground,

/ / /

. . . the monuments
abraded smooth, generations’
worth of runoff, drizzle, and pour.

There are, of course, other things than death to be found here. We’re treated to small, but serious, observations. “Golden Hill” (p. 34) says of preparing food, “Every beet I cut / looks like a heart / on fire in a Mexican / art piece.” and later points to “a flower dealer / watching a woodpecker / with priorities in order.” In “Our Advances Are Not Unique” (p. 24), the subject is how “A sugar maple’s arms built a chest / around the block’s telephone wires . . .”, and the closing “Returning” (p. 37) leaves us with “An incredibly mysterious current event: a garage / door is wide open, waiting for anything.”

We often think of elegies in terms of someone else’s physical death. Deutsch’s work comes to remind us that parts of each and all of us are dying every moment, often unnoticed until later. There isn’t always time or reason to mourn or feel melancholy, not until the speed of life slows, or an absence catches us by surprise. The message, as well as the poems which convey it, are well worth the reader’s consideration.

 [BUY IT!]

Adam Deutsch is the publisher at Cooper Dillon Books, and has work recently or forthcoming in Poetry International, Thrush, The Cossack Review, Ping Pong, and Typo, and has a chapbook called Carry On (Elegies). He teaches in the English Department at Grossmont College and lives in San Diego, CA. He can be found at adamdeutsch.com

 

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published three full length collections of poetry, most recently, “slight faith” (MoonPath Press, 2018).

Siân Killingsworth

Meet Guest Reviewer: Siân Killingsworth

Siân Killingsworth’s poetry has appeared in journals such as Stonecoast ReviewGlass: A Journal of Poetry (Poets Resist),Columbia Poetry Review, Mom Egg Review, Ekphrastic Review, Oakland Review, and Mudfish. She has an MFA in poetry from the New School, where she served on the staff of Lit. She is a current board member of the Marin Poetry Center.


Read more about her at www.sianessa.com.