Karla Kelsey knows a good poem when she sees one. She also knows a thing or two about writing them. Last year she published her second book, Iteration Nets, (her first book, Knowledge, Forms, the Aviary, won her the Sawtooth Poetry Prize with Ahsahta Press) and she is also the editor of  The Constant Critic. In addition, she finds time to edit Reconfigurations, an online journal of poetry and poetics, and is also on the editorial board of Tarpaulin Sky. She created Imprint Press, a project devoted to book arts, which publishes limited edition artists’ books, and is on the creative writing faculty at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. During spring of 2011, she will be teaching at ELTE in Budapest as a Fulbright lecturer.

Recently, Karla and I found some time to talk via email about her latest book, writing and reviewing, and her experience at Denver University.

AS: Let’s talk about the premise of Iteration Nets. This work is a collection of varied forms (traditional and otherwise) of connected sonnets and prose poems. Tell me how this idea for this structure came about.

KK: The book’s improvisation with the sonnet form traces to several sources. The most immediate source was a course on the sonnet that I took while working on my PhD at Denver. Here we looked at the tradition of the English-language sonnet spanning from the first sonnets in English—which were translations of Petrarch—through the cannon, and out to radical innovations with the form such as Jen Bervin’s Nets, a text that erases Shakespeare’s sonnets. The course opened up the form for me (and, in fact, the whole idea of form), in an incredible way. I realized that, all along, the sonnet, which seemed to embody Tradition (with a capital “T”), had always been a conversation between innovation and tradition—and I wanted to participate. During this course I started working on the first section of Iteration Nets, which is composed of 19 sonnets that weave lines of other writers’ texts with loose sound translations of those lines. While working on these poems I began the second section of the book—19 prose poems which are expansions of the first poems. And then, when these two sections were absolutely complete and revised I wrote the third and last section of the book, which is an erasure of the second section. All in all the process took two or three years and spanned my time finishing graduate school in Denver and then moving to Pennsylvania, which became, itself, part of the book.

A less immediate source, and so perhaps more interesting, is my background in ballet, which I studied ardently from the age of 4 until about 18. I have always been fascinated with the creation and transmission of choreography. The result is something that we feel is fixed—and in the context of ballet we feel the result to be the epitome of tradition. But the process is continual innovation. Ballets often take their source from story, but the way the work develops is in collaboration with a composer (if temporally possible) and with the dancers themselves as the choreographer tries out different patterns, bringing the work into being through the dancers. The way choreography is disseminated is that it is brought to other companies (or brought back within the same company after years—decades—of silence) by dancers, choreographers, and directors who have performed the work before. Ballets are rarely written down, and if they are, the written text is necessarily sketch-like, only a framework. The real essence of the work resides within the bodies of the dancers and directors who have worked with the ballet and the work is passed on by showing, by doing. I feel great kinship with this compositional tradition and like to think of Iteration Nets, in its intertexutal elements, in its tensions between tradition and innovation, in its conversation with form, as a written embodiment of such a process.


Tell me about your research process for this book. What was it that inspired you in terms of voice/style, etc., in terms of influence?

Celia and Louis Zukofsky’s translation of Catullus acts as continuous inspiration for me. Their translation works to render the sound, rhythm and syntax of Catullus’s Latin into English, but also manages to pick up the sense. Engagement with their text not only delivers an unparallel sonic experience, but it also throws into question my assumptions about where meaning resides, for perhaps the anchor of meaning is this constellation of sound, rhythm, and syntax. And if one can anchor English in the same sounds, rhythms, and syntax as the Latin, the meaning then would follow, coming out of the very fibers of the language. This kind of translation is of course an impossible task, which makes it all the more exciting to me. The first section of Iteration Nets takes its engine absolutely from this process.

The other writer who continually influences me is Ronald Johnson. In Iteration Nets it is RADIOS, his erasure of Milton’s Paradise Lost that informs my work. I met Ronald Johnson’s work in one of my very first poetry-writing classes at UCLA. I was studying Paradise Lost when Stephen Yenser, my poetry teacher, brought in Johnson’s erasure. I was astounded at the way in which Johnson had created something completely different in texture and voice than the original text. While Milton’s syntactical and rhetorical work was a revelation to me in many ways, Johnson’s lyric arc was equally as revelatory. And I have always loved the fact that the Milton is there underneath—just as Zukofsky’s Catullus absolutely has Catullus’s Catullus underneath. This feels so resonant to how writing happens, to how being happens—always a palimpsest.

As you can tell from my responses, much of the book comes from reading, from being inside other texts. The path to these texts has most often been dependent on the teachers and peers I have met through writing programs, and now in a broader community of poets, many of whom I would not know about if I had not studied poetry in school. Of course there is always the complaint that writing programs might be ruining poets and poetry, and while there may be ways that this is so, I know that I would never have been able to learn about poetry without my path through higher education (and yes, I am sort of a “pure product” having done a BA with a philosophy and English double major and creative writing emphasis at UCLA, an MFA at Iowa, a PhD at Denver, and now I teach in a program at Susquehanna University that has an undergraduate creative writing major). I think I read one poem in high school (something by ee cummings, surely) and so how would I ever have been exposed to poetry without what people disdainfully call “the institutionalization of creative writing?” In the US we cart our kids to ballet and band but offer no place for poetry. I am currently in Budapest for the semester, teaching creative writing, and you probably know that not many European countries have creative writing classes or programs. But they have poets. How can this be? Well, for one, Hungarian culture includes poetry. In addition, there is a strong tradition of mentorship, wherein older poets form one-on-one relationships with younger poets, teaching them tradition and craft outside of any sort of institution. I like this idea, but it also bothers me that many of these relationships seem based on family connections—on whether or not your relatives are in the position and inclination to know people in the arts. This may be OK if your culture supports the arts and so each creative child is likely to have at least one adult to help her cultivate his or her inclinations. But, I know that in the US, many of my finest students absolutely do not have relatives interested in any of the arts whatsoever. The arts, according to such relatives, are a waste of time and money. What a shame if poetry was closed to these students, because we decided that academia was “ruining” it, and so they never read such a thing as a contemporary poem, let alone wrote one.

Your publisher, Ahsahta, published your last book, Knowledge, Forms, the Aviary. What has that experience been like?

Working with Ahsahta has been remarkable and I could not ask for a better experience. Not only is Janet Holmes a wonderful editor and promoter, but she also has endless patience and genius when it comes to typesetting. The first book has some really long lines and it is important that they not wrap, but rather span margin to margin, creating tensile space. Before she set the book I suggested to her that I would revise the lines so that they would fit into the width of the page. But instead, she was able, with that book, to make the pages wider. The willingness to do this in spite of the extra expense of both design time and money just blew my mind. Iteration Nets was even more of pain to deal with. I thought I was being smart when I wrote the second and third sections of the book using In Design because I wanted the text of the second section to literally underlie the third, which is an erasure of the second. I knew that unless I wrote the book in In Design that margins, etc, would shift, upsetting the spatial movement of the erasure. Despite my good intentions, though, Janet had to reset the whole thing because I really didn’t know what I was doing with In Design. She was enormously patient both with this task and with my endless tweaking after the text was set.

Do you find the process of finding and working with a publisher via a contest different than that of  submitting work to various places for consideration?

Both of my books have been published by Ahsahta and I felt that Janet gave just as much attention to Iteration Nets as she did to the prize-winner. And other than these books, I don’t really have the experience of submitting to various places and working with other editors except with the chapbooks, which came about in a different way. One thing I can say, though, is that winning a prize and having a book published feels like double-affirmation. Not only had Carolyn Forché liked my work enough to select it, but Ahsahta thought it worth publishing. It is really rare to feel such enormous affirmation from complete strangers, and so it was an extraordinary way to have my first book come out.

The structure of this book is of particular interest to me. I am in the process of deciphering order and structure to my first book, so I’m curious to know how you chose the compositional method used in Iteration Nets.

The structure of Iteration Nets was less of a choice, and more a consequence of process set into motion. I began with the first section of sound and translation-driven sonnets. As I worked on these poems, possible trajectories of what might come between the lines and phrases kept announcing themselves. For example, the first sonnet begins: And suddenly we were in it and it was snow. What is this “it”? Life? Love? And what about snow? So suddenly we were in the middle of love, but it is already winter, already over? I began writing the prose poems of the second section out of these trajectories, and worked on the first and second sections together. I don’t know when I had the idea of the third section. I feel as if the idea of erasure just came to me, although when I was working on the first two sections I was always aware that the book had so much density. That it needed a bit of light. This is probably why, when I came to the erasure idea it felt inevitable, that of course one proceeds by addition and then proceeds by subtraction. With both of my books the sense of texture was of primary importance in figuring out the structure of the book, although with Knowledge, Forms, the Aviary the poems were finished before I ordered the book (or, rather, they were originally in a different order). With Iteration Nets, the structure was part and parcel with composing the poems themselves. Attention to density, weight, tensility, space (etc) fundamentally creates a path through the text for readers.

Each movement is divided into three sections. First: Sonic Packet Enclosures–the notes on your process in your book say it’s derivative of Wyatt and Surrey’s 16th century rendering of Petrarch’s Italian into English—into process. What about that process inspired you?

The fact that the sonnet, in the English language, comes to us from a tradition of translation affirms for me the idea that everything we create comes from some place else. As Spicer channeled alien muses, the sonnet channels a series of formal movements and revisions. As we know so very well, there is no such thing as a perfect translation, and so in the act of moving Italian over to English Wyatt and Surrey had to improvise with the form. These innovations infuse their own sonnets and the rest of the English-language tradition. In addition, I find resonance in the fact that both poets translated many of the same sonnets, and so something like Tottel’s Miscellany, the first printed anthology of English-language poetry, in which their translations and original work appeared, had two versions of the same poem. This speaks to an openness to plurality of meaning that I think many people today would balk at.

The second movement, Riven Arc Explosions takes with it the complexities of form in the first movement and opens that up into prose poems. Your narrative expands to incorporate elements of the first movement. When you wrote Iteration Nets, was this your idea from the beginning (in terms of structure) or did it evolve as you figured out how to put all the elements of your book together?

The idea to move into prose poems in the second section came to me fairly early on in the process. Because my first book is also tripartite in structure, I think that I began the project suspecting that the Iteration Nets would also have three movements, a kind of “Turn, and Counter-turn, and Stand.” The content of the second section, however, is very much a product of life as I was living it. In this way the section evolved as I did and includes moments from lived-life: a cousin’s wedding, a grandmother’s illness, a dinner party, the exploration of a new town, a new landscape, and many other small, daily details. The process of writing the second section made me very aware of the value of the daily and I feel huge influence of, for example, Bernadette Mayer’s Midwinter Day. Although, of course, her project is temporally circumscribed, and my project works with very different formal parameters. And so one of the challenges of working on a temporally extended project of place-based writing, and the writing of the everyday, is that your life might change in the middle of the book, as mine did, when I moved from Denver to Pennsylvania. And then, as author, you need to figure out ways in which the project can maintain integrity which is the same as asking yourself what it is about you that has remained the same, even when many of the daily aspects of your life have become completely different. We all take some sort of form or structure with us and we might call this identity. The structure of the book absolutely gave the process continuity, and I know a looser form of prose poem would have lost this.

Your third movement: Fragile Ladder Barques really focuses on fragmented structure by way of blank spaces and leaving out connective tissue of narrative. This section reminds me of Cecilia Vicuna’s style of erasure and maybe even Loy. How difficult was this portion of the book for you compared to the first two movements, if at all?

This association with Cecilia Vicuna actually helps me to explain the difference in compositional experience because making the third section of the book was very trance-like and I felt that I was in relation with language in a different way than I ever had been before. The words became very material in their location on the page and in their sound. The path that I made through the text felt more directed by the language than by me. It made the decisions and drove the poem. My job was to be as clear-headed as possible and to obey. While there is always some resonance of this as I write, the process of writing Fragile Ladder Barques absolutely made me an instrument carrying out some other plan. In many ways working on the section felt close to being part of one of Vicuna’s performances. I remember, in particular, the beginning of one of her performances in Denver. She began walking through the audience, weaving us together with red yarn while softly singing/chanting. As she made her way through us I felt inevitably connected to her and to everyone else in the room. I felt my mind channeled into the energy she was creating.


Talk about your experience at Constant Critic and how you choose the work you review there? How important is a review to the success of a book in your eyes?

On one hand, reviewing might seem to be very generous work: spending time and energy on the work of a book that somebody else has written. However, editing and writing for the Constant Critic is compelling to me in very selfish ways. First, it allows me to engage the ideas and writing of the other critics who write for the site. Jordan Davis, Ray McDaniel, Vanessa Place, and Sueyeun Juliette Lee all have wonderful minds and I have learned so much from them about poetry—and about thinking through and with poetry. So, the main reason I value working with the Constant Critic is that I get to have an on-going dialogue with these writers about writing. Nearly all of our reviews are essays that reach beyond a simple descriptive or evaluative articulation, and this is fundamental to the reason the site offers something different, and much more rare, than much of the review-based criticism being written today.

In terms of selecting books to review, I am also completely selfish in this regard. I review what I am interested in. I review what I am instantly drawn to read but can’t immediately figure out. I review work that I would love to have written, in some capacity, or that troubles me in its mode of articulation. Many people would think this to be the wrong way of going about reviewing: that one ought to select texts one has some sort of immediate authority over, or that the reviewer thinks will be important to the future. And that readers will then value the criticism because such-and-such reviewer, with such-and-such authority, has pronounced X, Y, and Z about them. I reject this notion for myself as critic. I am too skeptical about the role of the “Culture Maker” that this model implies. Also, this mode does not interface very well with the texts that I value—they eschew such authority. I am much more interested in writing and reading criticism that shows the mind at work with difficult and mysterious art—that offers an example of the kind of attention one might bring to a text—than I am interested in reading or writing criticism that pronounces or becomes didactic. I am interested in analyzing the cultural forces that institute gate-keeping, but I am not interested in a position on the patrol.

What was your experience like working for DQ with Bin Ramke? And in general? Do you feel that time as an editor for the magazine helped you have a keen eye as a reviewer? Do you feel like your own work changed as a result of that position?

While my writing and thinking absolutely changed as a result of working with Bin, the transformations and revelations were mostly due to long talks over coffee and to engaging with the community of writers who are drawn to DU for the express purpose of working with someone like Bin. However, working with him on the Denver Quarterly did teach me many things. Mostly the instruction was towards aspects of the “poetry world” such as AWP and publishing—things I knew almost nothing about. Here is an example: when I began at the Denver Quarterly I had the usual tasks of sorting and opening mail, of reading through the slush pile. Bin taught me to always paperclip submissions such that the poems were first and the letter and envelope were last—this way I could read the work for what it was, rather than through the author’s name and accomplishments. He taught me that care should be taken with all manuscripts, even the ones that were clearly (very clearly) not going to be published. As a result of this instruction, I remember distinctly feeling that the poems had value because their writers had written them and sent them off into the world and that this value was something to be honored irrespective of the quality of the work. For a young graduate student, overly-willing to dismiss work that did not align with her aesthetic or uncompromising sense of “quality” (and so young and with much to be learned), this ethic of manuscript care was something that (luckily) impressed itself upon me. I needed to learn that dismissal is easy, but the how and the why is often complex. And, imagine my joy when I read a beautiful submission that was clearly typed on a typewriter and then discovered after reading the poems several times that my suspicions were correct: I was holding Gustaf Sobin’s work in my hands. Through the slush pile. “Just” “like” “everyone” “else.” Though not really, because the poems were luminous. Brilliant. They made themselves distinct from the other work. And so, yes, each of us who makes a poem is engaged in a related act. But, also, there are poems–and there are Poems. And so which kind do you want to strive to write? Which kind do you think are worth sending out into the world, to make their own way?

In laughter, one can cure the restless mind—
bring flushes to those cheeks we would adore,
make magic from the dullest realist find,
take mirth from each hard task we most abhor.

What care have I for those who extend spite
when warmth can be what’s shared here for a time?
Is not the man most happy with his kite
if on some flying string his soul can climb?

Such freedoms don’t depend on counted gold,
for men are not contented by their wealth.
We most fear strolls alone as we grow old,
our pleasures more in company and health.

If we two stay quite close, while joy relays,
your smile can salve the pain of wretched days.


Your smile can salve the pain of wretched days.
This I admit and often do proclaim.
It cures my guilt, my none-may-care malaise
to cast aside the terror of my shame.

For I am one too weary (and too scared)
to take up battles I may fear to lose,
but you reduce once crippling thoughts compared
to how I’d view them with such fear reduced.

You soothe me with the most patient of hearts,
to slow me with the calm part of your love—
each bit of progress made in fits and starts—
where earnest pushing never turns to shove.

Thank heavens for a heart that’s true and kind,
should memory bring to fore what’s left behind.


Should memory bring to fore what’s left behind,
I’ll contemplate each heartbreak I’ve endured,
remembering my yesterdays confined
so lacking in self-worth, esteem injured.

For then were days I lost parts of myself,
heart set adrift when false men harmed my soul,
no laughter heard to add to greater health,
no love for visions others could extol.

And if I heard the sounds of others’ joy,
this left me, all the more, in some strange space.
The mirth they shared seemed only love’s decoy;
I did not feel I dwelt in their same place.

I prayed, just then, to mimic normal’s craze,
my joyful sound to bring back joyful ways.


My joyful sound to bring back joyful ways–
This much and more I’d seen with life explored.
A smile to multiply, one’s fears allays–
much more than hateful acts to be deplored.

So lavish me with willful comedy,
the kind to tear my sides and tear my eyes;
one’s humor is ironic remedy
when pain, full twist, contorts to joy’s surprise.

If only we could share this, hearts’ content,
not just our maladies, but also mirth,
such pleasant histories could foil dissent,
like needs create a tightening of our girth.

A moment’s laughter is a moment’s gain:
What better joy (than to escape from pain)?


What better joy than to escape from pain,
as sun that comes to brighten in wet trees
after the gloomy outdoor graying rain,
alighting golden shine drops hung from leaves?

A clown’s face can be funny as it’s cruel,
so painted with its gross, unnatural white,
a garish slash of lips, the crimson rule–
each motion large to falsify a plight.

But pain and pleasure both ride one same nerve,
so this explains our fusion of the two,
our need to know each one, to judgment serve,
so we may fathom which we’d choose anew.

But if we could love lighter, without care—
we should forget what knowing would strip bare.


We should forget what knowing would strip bare
since, from small knowledge, solely harm begets;
confusion can be prized when memories snare
the pain a thinker’d rather he forgets.

Amnesia is as sweet as it is vile,
depending on how pain has marked one’s path.
A murderer would sooner sit and smile,
or laugh instead recall his former wrath.

If only such forgetting killed the crime
such that the wounding act had not occurred,
rewound the wary, ticking hands of time,
so that a better future be secured.

But nothing harmful rendered won’t remain.
A person never free will oft complain.


A person never free will oft complain
his torturer is other than himself,
a guard or man of law who makes the stain,
the keys to his release up on locked shelf.

But never does he more need self-engage,
for honesty creates a level field,
such that his acts of tragedy or rage
can be accounted for as he is healed.

The bitterest among us craves more joy
that lightest ones do carry close at hand,
still wants to be kept near the light’s envoy,
regardless if spontaneous or planned.

He knows the holes in psyches need repair:
Small sadness marks new onset of despair.


Small sadness marks new onset of despair;
this much is true, but cannot be the end.
What man is not made better should he care
to earn the trust of others he’d call friend?

A friend is life’s best way to raise our flags
up from a solitary half-mast woe—
the better, those accepting of our drags,
with gentle patience lending us their tow.

Two candles lit will ever surpass one,
though not create a harsh and flaming glare;
two candles lit make tabled comfort’s sun,
conjoin communion with their arcing flare.

Though dining may be short, I’d dine in style–
but if, with you, I’m happy for a while.


But if with you, I’m happy for a while
I do not feel the need to compromise;
the pleasures that I’ve taken stay the rile
I feel if other circumstance arise.

With you I learn the heart of laugh and sing,
the heat found in two clasping, closing hands,
the promise known to love, more than the ring,
that best of pairing couples understands.

Two swans are we who make our futures glide,
with ponds of our own making as our fate.
What care have we for what others decide,
if at our side we’ve found our lifelong mate?

When love leads to forever’s asked consent—
I have no call to say my life is spent.


I have no call to say my life is spent
outside of what most men would call divine–
if love grows weak, such travesty seems bent
to rip apart thin cloth once deemed too fine.

Dark shadows all, what’s seen when I feel weak,
consumed by misted wishes for the more.
A fool am I when hazarding the bleak
of apertures dense greed could lay in store.

There is no worse illusion than to think
another love, though distant, better suits,
much like a thief can, with ambition, sink
to arrogant re-robbing homes he loots.

Such waste of now rejects good fortune’s smile
in horror, though I’ve lingered there a while.


In horror, though I’ve lingered there a while,
accursed by misdirection in my blood,
been slave to indecision’s whippish bile,
let trickles of affection seem a flood.

I’ve fallen prey to fantasy’s dark lure,
and while in doing so lost good’s reply;
I’ve thought that such disease might be the cure
so faltered with my none too steady eye.

But, doing this, I nearly lost my gain,
much as flailing oration loses calm,
though only through true love would I reclaim
a stable passion used as saving balm.

For love was patient through those tears I spent.
Sometimes it is the fool who must relent.


Sometimes it is the fool who must relent
from disadvantaged stances to a rule.
My whorish heart seeks kindness gladly sent,
but bonds more strongly with self-ridicule.

Until one walks a mile in self-disdain,
sometimes one cannot know what most is true,
or make the sweet connection with a swain
whose shallow heart is empty or in lieu.

Those deeper things I’ve found with lasting care,
including warmer discourse, hearts aligned–
post-ransacking deep pockets for my share
to find inside one creature comfort, mine.

To stay fulfilled by loving is the key;
it’s those sad ones who must most joyful be.


It’s those sad ones who must most joyful be
for they have tasted deeply of despair–
they know the pain of lies from what they see,
regarding lives that fall to disrepair.

They see the way to soften flaws is hold
each large fault up to bright lights till it cracks,
yet be more gentle with each breaking fold
until a will for change informs one’s acts.

There is no perfect man who will not laugh,
or cry at how he’s tried to change his ways,
who knowing what he’s done, won’t then re-craft
some happy recompense for past delays.

This is the best two lovers can decree:
I’ll laugh for you—if you’ll but cherish me.


In laughter one can cure the restless mind.
Your smile can solve the pain of wretched days;
should memory bring to fore what’s left behind,
my joyful sound to recall joyful ways.

What better joy (than to escape from pain)?
We should forget what knowing can strip bare.
A person never free will oft complain,
small sadness marks new onset of despair.

But if, with you, I’m happy for a while,
I have no call to say my life is spent
in horror, though I’ve lingered there a while.
Sometimes it is the fool who must relent:

It’s those sad ones who must most joyful be—
I’ll laugh for you, if you’ll but cherish me.

So, you’re back here at the Nervous Breakdown, this time with a heroic crown.  Do you enjoy writing them? How long did that this one take you to write?

I think heroic crowns are rather rare these days.  The sequence is long, for one thing.  For another, the fifteenth sonnet is comprised entirely of the first lines of the preceding fourteen sonnets.  When you add iambic pentameter to the mix and a set rhyme scheme, this tends to turn away many poets who haven’t worked much with sonnets.

That said, some people say that, aside from the sonnets’ interlinking nature, daisy chain, the heroic crown’s challenge is to write so many short poems in sequence with connections yet amply nuanced shifts that move forward in a logical or emotional progression. I do enjoy writing them, almost find them like weaving or knitting with words, compose them in a trance-like state, for they are gentle poems, lulling.

Although, I began with standard crowns, which are like the bite-size version, I have written several of the heroic variety.  This one here at TNB, I wrote in one long evening, while taking care of my children.  I remember this because I almost lost an entire sonnet from the sequence due to splashed bathwater, as I literally carried around my notebook and kept adding lines while they bathed.  As an aside, I have terrible hand-writing, so when you add water-blurred ink to already inscrutable penmanship, let’s just say I was glad that this was a rhyming poem so I could later guess at what was meant by various scribbles.

Do you like the anachronism of writing by hand?

I almost never write with real ink anymore, unless on receipts or scraps of paper; you know, compulsively with a desperate need to jot some trivia down for potential later use.  The exception to this is when I’m doing some kind of care-taking or outdoor activities; then I do use pens.  A friend recently found a little notebook on which I had written all kinds of strange animal facts from a Zoo bus tour.  He laughed at them.  I felt kind of violated that he’d read this notebook actually.  Like the facts therein were some sort of guideposts in a diary.  Can you guess my animal?  Which animals would I need to document?  In fact, I’m still feeling shy about that.

This poem is very gentle.  Love, laughter, and cherishing are the themes.  So much of your work is more aggressive.  But there is sadness here, too.  Would you like to speak to that?

I think that hope and desire and love and pain are all inter-related.  How can we value what we have unless we know what we have lost?  How can a person feel joy without the contrast to known sorrow?  This poem was actually quite optimistic for me in that it arose from a sort of inquiry I felt regarding a consideration of strengths and weaknesses in pairings.  For me, it’s like the explanation of a person, who has endured a lot of pain and solitude and grief, to a potential life-partner, about why a loving pairing would be desirable.  I imagine, or imagined both people in this pairing were black swans of sorts; those who knew shame and pain and loss.  In the poem, there are all the standard elements of an intellectual and romantic wooing taking place–the expression of joy at the presence of the other, the admission of a troubled past, the remembrance of the feeling of alienation that proceeded the discovery of the other, the proposal or reminder that togetherness can bring joy, the rapid construction of an argument regarding why joy is necessary in general–and so on–culminating in the final sonnet, which is like a vow or a promise to a beloved, a desire to share and exchange strengths in unity.

How does your fiction differ thematically from your poetry?

My poetry is more naked.  In fiction, especially when you work with surrealist themes or magical realism, you are quite aware that you are constructing characters.  Carefully, you shade and veil these beings.  Even in standard literary fiction, the emotional truth is still present, but fiction is a lot easier for an author to hide behind, to branch away from him or herself.

I think poetry keeps the writer very aware that people will interpret it as personal experience.   There’s the I that keeps popping up.  Whereas fiction has more he and she and you.

Do you have any private poetry that you never share with anyone and don’t submit?

Of course.  Lots of it.  Stories like this too.  They may find it when I die.  If I don’t burn it first.  If my children don’t one day secret it away from me while I’m unaware.  It’s kind of delightful, actually, to imagine being an old woman walking out to a field with a suitcase full of old work and lighting a fire to ignite and expand one page at a time.  Do you think we’ll have paper then, when I am old?  All the good things are vanishing into computers lately.  Well, I will have paper.  I will hoard it just so I can light it up. This will give me great pleasure.

Speaking of stories, your new book of magical realism stories, SUSPENDED HEART, has just been released by Aqueous Books.  Congratulations!  As you mentioned in your earlier self-interview, you plan to donate part of your proceeds to a charity.  Can you tell us which charity and why?  Have you picked the next charity yet?

I selected the San Diego Family Justice Center, which is a facility here in San Diego for battered women and children because I love what they do, which includes providing legal referrals, housing help, and any number of important services to families that they serve.  I have not picked the next charity yet because I am perverse and would like to link the themes in whatever book comes out next, in my awareness, with the idea served by the charity.  Let us hope the next book picked up is not THE MAN WHO WOULD NOT PUT OUT.  I might then have to start researching prostate cancer facilities or other related causes. I’m kidding.  That would be fine.

What are you excited about having written that has either just come out or is due out soon?  What next poetically?

This month, the title story for SUSPENDED HEART, “Suspended Heart,” has just been released at the Winter 2011 issue of JMWW.    Also, I recently wrote a pair piece for Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People” that appeared mid-January at Necessary Fiction’s First Footing project and have another pair piece for Updike’s “A & P” coming out with the fabulous Re:Telling anthology soon to be released by Ampersand Books.  Soon to follow, a traditional literary story about a blind girl will come out in Feminist Studies and an original modern fairy tale entitled “Come, Come Blackbird” is due out in 2011 in a new anthology entitled Rapunzel’s Daughters.  There are other things too, but that’s enough to mention for now.

Poetically, what next?  I’m not sure.  As naked as poetry is, I think that depends upon who next walks deeply into my mental and emotional life and sticks around a while.  I am hoping they will be kind.  Handsome would be good. Brave would be excellent.  Say, The Nervous Breakdown, do you take requests?  I would like to request that I be granted the grace and hope to write more poems like “The Love, Laughter, Cherish Crown”–because that will mean I will be happy at last, or again attempting that pursuit.  But I have no illusions.  A favorite quote from Soren Kierkegaard that I often use as a closer at the bottom of my email messages rather sums it up concisely, saying: “A poet is an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and the cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music… and then people crowd about the poet and say to him:  ‘Sing for us soon again;’ that is as much as to say, ‘May new sufferings torment your soul.'”

I would like to believe he isn’t right, but the quote resonates for me. Let’s just say my jury’s still out.  I’m not sure half the time whether I am singing or crying.

When the first song ended, I began to clap and suffered sharp rebuke at the hands of a middle-aged woman one row behind and two seats to my left.


Clapping is what you do when a song ends.  I wasn’t the only one who screwed up.  How was I supposed to know?  Orchestra Hall–or its audience, rather–sat in silence for the next 45 minutes.

I felt like I was meeting an old boyfriend for coffee. I was nervous.  I was already under-dressed in shorts, a tank top, and flip flops.  Why couldn’t I have at least worn heels?  I should have worn the floral print dress.  It’s Orchestra Hall, for godssakes.

“Yeah, it’s Orchestra Hall,” my husband had reasoned soundly one hour prior as I tugged at the hem of my shorts in the mirror, “but you’re not going to see the orchestra.”

True enough.