1.
Tonight, I trace figures on the frosted windowpane
like fluid lines of cursive
stenciled by the blade of a dancer’s skate.
Or like the stars outside giving shape
to the formlessness that surrounds them.
Their rhythm, shaped by darkness, patterns the sky.
For ten billion years, twisting
even as they’re held
in a single spot in the universe.

It seems everyone I encounter in literary circles has had a Cheryl Strayed moment, a moment in which something Strayed has written, as the author of Wild or as The Rumpus’ dispenser of hard truths – “Dear Sugar,” has deeply resonated. For me, it would have to be this “Dear Sugar” response:

“Writing is hard for every last one of us—straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig. You need to do the same. … So write, Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”

It’s a quote I’d passed along to my creative nonfiction students one semester with my demure modification, “write like a mother fudgsicle.” But that’s what poises Strayed’s work for maximum impact. She doesn’t modify or shy away. She tells it like it is.  And Strayed’s circle of influence is rapidly widening as a result.

Roxane GayYou have two books coming out this year. How the hell did that happen? What are the books about?

Well, I wrote an essay about publishing two books in one year that covers a lot of ground.

An Untamed State, my novel, is about Mireille Duval Jameson, a Haitian American woman visiting Port au Prince with her American husband and infant son. They are on the way to the beach when she is kidnapped in broad daylight and held for thirteen days because her father is reluctant to pay the ransom for fear that he will lose everything he has worked so hard to accomplish. The novel explores her life before, during, and after the kidnapping as well as how she reconciles the country she thought she knew with the country she discovers upon her kidnapping. This is also about how she comes to terms with her father’s betrayal and how she tries to find her way back to herself.

After Terrance Hayes’ “A Gram of &S”

There were never lies.
Just tiny leaps
in detail. Turned soil

dragged in on your boots. Turned your gale
of honesty (out of guilt). Turned the peal
of my alarm. Turned my drunk plea,
and then, the billowing white sail

of your chest. Now silence is an unwinding spool,
its thin wire fence stretching between our sepia

faces. Now, this lapse

of our skin, an infinite aisle.

Gay, An Untamed State jacket art 9780802122513Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones.

They held me captive for thirteen days. They wanted to break me.

It was not personal. I was not broken.

This is what I tell myself.

Bites

By Chris Crittenden

Poem

the stars threw tendrils
into the squints of half-frozen eyes,
as the bay steamed from cold.

streets glinted with stark finalities,
cars more frigid than gravestones,
refrigerators within refrigerators.

williasmburg

 

Who do you think you are? Poets can’t write about television!

Umm, yeah they can. That’s the beauty of poetry. Poets can write about anything.

So, Don dreamt he was an angel.  It’s sweet.  I’ve dreamt about motherhood.  [So what?] Now, it feels all downtrodden.  I wish I knew the crested.  I wish I knew what made the light twitch; what brings the light to the moon so I can carry it inside, and know there is glory in the in-between. That there is something here to be sought or sought-after.  Something to be stared -down-beautiful.

Ronlyn Domingue official author photoYou’re writing a trilogy which can be read “out of order.” How did that happen?

I didn’t intend to write a trilogy at all. I expected my second book to be one huge sprawling novel, but it morphed into something even bigger. A subplot about a female mapmaker, exiled for treason, took on a life of its own and became the trilogy’s first book, The Mapmaker’s War. The rest of the story grew so much that it split into two.

Chronicle of Secret Riven Final CoverChapter I – The Babe Born Evensong Riven

Moments after her birth, three birds swept into the room through an open window. The pigeon, the dove, and the sparrow circled the newborn three times, widdershins, lit upon the wooden sill, and settled their feathers. They turned to one another in conference, or so it seemed to the baby’s father, who saw their heads bob and heard them coo and chirp. He had respect for the uncanny and, believing the birds’ council to be that indeed, watched them come to their enigmatic conclusion.

“between the birthmark and the stain
between the ocean and your open vein
between the snowman and the rain
once again…. Love calls you by your name”

            Leonard Cohen, “Love Calls You By Your Name”


Matt is my man. He helps me to unwind.
Without him I’m a scarecrow people fear.
I pull out slowly, and my back tires grind
The gravel like the saws you sometimes hear.
Seeing Matt’s name carved in the steering wheel,

I lift my razor blade, and start to trace
The jagged letters… Then I turn, and peel
Out like Dale Earnhardt. I can see Matt’s face
That last night we made love: wrathful, unreal.
When I was coming, he jerked from my kiss.

stephen-graham-jonesThe Questions I’m Most Often Asked

 

Do you write longhand or on a computer?

Longhand’s all right for short stuff, like when I’ve just edged around a corner, let everybody else keep walking, so I can write a story down right quick. Used to taxiing in a plane and taking off were when I wrote a lot of short pieces, because I couldn’t have my laptop out, but also because I couldn’t imagine just sitting there staring at the back of the seat in front of me. Keyboards are my preference, though. Ergonomic, black, wired. I can go really fast. I can even forget I’m typing, sometimes. Like my mind’s just pressing letters onto the screen. And I go through keyboards pretty fast, too. But, lately, the bones in my hands are wearing out faster. It’s not ideal. But so far it’s just in my three-times broken hand, with the messed-up finger tendons. So I guess it’s no surprise.

in our lives
we will talk about fathers
in our white wet dresses
with tobacco undernails, handgloves

& beaded mantilla veils
with the posture of a dressmaker’s mannequin

with desert water sprayed thick like the rotting
at the vanity with a soft gilt hairbrush

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I looked at the most common words in my newest book, APOCRYPHAL. It appears that they are “want,” “body,” “wear,” “father” and “Javi.” So I talk about each here.


Want.

My work has always been about wanting—usually, it’s the want of something unnatural: to be abused, to abuse, to want something that one shouldn’t (and I don’t mean someone’s husband, I mean someone’s father, someone’s blood, someone’s death). I spend an awful lot of time in life keeping together my sanity. Sometimes I am prudish. My friends will say, for example, “But you’re Lisa. How could you hate porn?” And secretly I will think, “I love it,” but in reality, I say it’s bad, and desire is dangerous, and the world is soulless. It’s because maybe I am in some ways, and my poetry lets me explore that. 

NotForNothing_StephenJones1She’ll be waiting for you when you walk back from the water station next door. And of course you’ll have the tip of your thumb in your mouth, will only realize it after you’ve stopped walking, when you’re standing there like some animated character trying to blow his flattened hand back up. All that’s left to do then is waggle your fingers before your face in “Hello,” your eyes kind of squinted. Not so much against the glare coming off the storage units, but in apology. For being who you are.

It’s an apology you make more often than you’d care to admit.