Hawaii, Mortuaries, and Saving Kurt Vonnegut: An Interview with Kirby Wright

The Understanding between Foxes and Light contributor Kirby Wright chats with George Wallace

Kirby Wright was a Visiting Fellow at the 2009 International Writers Conference in Hong Kong, where he represented the Pacific Rim region of Hawaii. He was also a Visiting Writer at the 2010 Martha's Vineyard Residency in Edgartown, Massachusetts, and the 2011 Artist in Residence at Milkwood International, Czech Republic. Kirby is the author of the companion novels Punahou Blues (Lemon Shark Press, 2005) and Moloka’i Nui Ahina (Lemon Shark Press, 2007), both set in Hawaii. Read his "Advice for Preparing a Husband" in great weather for MEDIA's latest anthology The Understanding between Foxes and Light.


GW: You grew up in a well to do home in Honolulu, with a father who was a successful corporate lawyer, and attended the prestigious Punahou School. After college in San Diego you sold cars and worked in PR until "rich and unhappy," you went for your MFA at San Francisco State University. Now in your novels and poems, you examine what it is like to be objectified as a haole in Asian/Polynesian Hawaii; the shifting power dynamics in American families, particularly between father and son; and in work like Advice on Preparing a Husband, the dehumanizing pressures of the American obsession with material success. Could you discuss  Advice on Preparing a Husband, in this context?

KW: Actually, the spark for Advice on Preparing a Husband came from me taking my mother to the mortuary for a final look at my late father before he was cremated.  I kept my mother company while she sat on a bench staring at his body on a stainless steel table. "Daddy looks so alive," she said. It was strange hearing her call him 'Daddy,' as if she wasn't a wife at all but one of his children. We talked story about him and how he treated us. She focused on happy times, such as going to M's Ranch House for dinner and cruising on the SS Lurline to San Francisco. But I knew, deep down, she hated him. She hated Daddy because he destroyed her concept of 'a happy married life' after decades of brutal arguments. I remember her running out of the house yelping, "He’s murdering me, he’s murdering me!" to no one in particular. Daddy wasn't really "murdering" her, but in a way he was by ridiculing her desire to become a singer. He was an expert at assassinating dreams, especially those involving the creative arts. He squashed my big brother Barry's hopes of becoming an actor and wanted me to abandon my love of creative writing. Instead of Daddy being happy that Fox News interviewed me for Punahou Blues, he yelled at me for revealing that my grandmother had Hawaiian blood.

Eventually the Mortuary Man gave me the stink eye from the showroom doorway. It was time to leave. I pried my mother off the bench and we drove through a graveyard sprinkled with plumeria blossoms that had fallen off the trees.

It is true that I grew up in an affluent neighborhood and went to a prestigious school. But there were horrors that went on behind closed doors that I refuse to ignore, such as the "double header" beatings Daddy inflicted on Barry and me. Julie, my kid sister, suffered from the fallout of that abuse. She wept during dinner recently and confessed she feared punishment time would turn into a triple-header and that, one day, Daddy would come for her. A few times I got on my knees and begged him to beat me first because I couldn't stand hearing Barry's screams in the next room knowing I was next. "Oldest first," Daddy always said. After my turn, I searched for Julie. She always had a new hiding place in the house.

GW: Could you discuss this passage from your monologue-style poem "Transformations In Northern California" in this context?

Investments secure us, can transform us from Democrats to Republicans, make us worry as new owners about faded paint, dying landscape, pipes weakened by decades of renters and gallons of Liquid Plumber. Everything’s relative, including my mother-in-law who holds the wedding pictures hostage… I’m wondering if my wife's mother knows her only daughter's Ring isn't a diamond. I’m a fraud.

KW: I’m fascinated how owning something, especially something as big as a home, can affect your political leanings. Home ownership spawns thoughts of equity and maintaining value. I suppose I was suggesting that the more investments you have, the more likely you’d lean to the right. Yet, if you have a starter home and can't afford the repairs, this might sway you back to the left. In Transformations in Northern California, the narrator chooses to invest in a fixer-upper instead of a diamond and must live with the nagging guilt that his bride's ring is a fake as well as the terror that his mother-in-law will find out.

GW: You have said you harken to the idyllic, idealized grandmother figure you grew up with, in part, in Moloka'i—both for her genealogical connection to indigenous Hawaii and for her story telling prowess, particularly the Roaring Twenties era in old Waikiki. Can you discuss your experience of her with us? What does she represent as a touchstone for you? Can you discuss how that experience reflects itself in your writing? How does her influence come out in your poetry?

KW: Going to Moloka'i as a four year old changed me, mostly because of the contrast between the rural east end compared to the burbs of Diamond Head. The roads were dirt and gravel compared to subdivision asphalt and kiawe tree branches formed a canopy over the road. You never knew who would show up at the ranch and that included Uncle Chipper, Gramma's ex. My first night on Moloka'i, he banged on the window above the pune'e I shared with Gramma. "Brow-nie," he moaned, "you gotta tow me out. I ran off da bridge at Puko'o."

Gramma loved reminiscing and I listened to the same stories for seventeen straight summers. Her story-telling ability, plus the ocean and odd/surreal/violent happenings, shaped me as a writer. I remember Gramma talking to her dead mother through the screen door. I saw her crack a bottle of red eye over Chipper's head when he was trying to rape her. I fished from my bed on the lanai, after tethering the end of a kaka line to my bedpost—whenever my bed jerked I knew I had a strike.

GW: How do you integrate her influence in your writing with the influence of other aspects of your experience, as mentioned above?

KW: My love of magic realism and the surreal can be traced back to my Moloka'i summers. It was also the first place I experienced death, when I stood at the fence line watching the ranch hand burn the body of a dead horse. The integration of the tarot deck in The End, My Friend comes from Gramma—she read the fortunes of the Filipino pineapple workers using a regular deck of cards. My dark comic edge is the end result of trying to use humor to maintain my sanity growing up in a dysfunctional family in Honolulu. I've been working on a series of Kafkaesque miniatures dealing with family life, such as parents who routinely dine on their children’s body parts and a boy obsessed with shining a flashlight at his parents while they’re having sex.

GW: You met Vonnegut and Ginsberg while attending school and studying with Maxine Hong Kingston at University of Hawaii. You studied at UC-San Diego with Jerry Rothenberg. You traveled to China to present lectures with Gary Snyder. Could you talk a little about your experiences with those individuals? How have these experiences informed your sense of yourself as a writer? Your writing itself?

KW: Anyone who wants to be a writer should, if given the opportunity, hang out with "real writers," that is, poets or writers who are lions in literature, semi-lions, or published authors. I learned that famous writers are people with foibles like anyone else and this helped me realize reaching their level of notoriety wasn't impossible. The best place to do this is at colleges and universities. I wandered into Maxine Hong Kingston's class at UH only because I needed to add a class and thought creative writing was an easy "A." She had just won The National Book Critics Circle Award for The Woman Warrior and was incredibly humble. That humility made me want to take her class. I was also aching to unlock the stories Gramma had told me about the good old days on Moloka'i, including her love affair with my English grandfather and the myths of Old Hawai'i.

I met Ginsberg thanks to Maxine Hong Kingston. She led us out of the class one day and we marched over to the East West Center, where she snuck us into the Writers Conference. Ginsberg stood in the doorway smoking pot. I knew it was crummy dope by the smell—leaves and stems at best. Skeet, my Japanese classmate, offered Ginsberg North Shore pakalolo. Ginsberg fell in love with the pakalolo and then Skeet. Kurt Vonnegut told Ginsberg to "cool it" but that comment only seemed to excite Ginsberg more.

I met Vonnegut a second time working for the University Events office at UCSD. I developed a rapport with the visiting writers and think they liked me because I didn't fawn over them. I'd already had classes with the poets Jerome Rothenberg and Bobbie Louise Hawkins, so "successful" writers and poets didn't intimidate me. I fetched Vonnegut from Lindbergh Field and drove him to La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla. He invited me to lunch. He told me I reminded him of John Irving. I was in charge of his So, You Want to Be a Writer lecture in the gym that night and served as a sort of MC/bodyguard/guide. Well, after his lecture, about a hundred fans wanted him to sign books, everything from dog-eared copies of Palm Sunday to hardback editions of Deadeye Dick and the newly released Galapagos. All I could see were hands attached to books thrusting out. Those hands punched him from the podium out toward a railing with a forty-foot drop. I knew what was coming next so I summoned crowd control. Linebacker-sized guys in yellow shirts, made a semi-circle of muscle around Vonnegut and pushed the mob back enough to get him down the stairs to a waiting car. That was a close call. Later, I joked with Vonnegut about it over shots of whiskey at a La Jolla bar. Still, I could tell he was rattled. The next morning we drove to the airport and I passed him a copy of Breakfast of Champions. I assumed he'd just written his name and didn't look at the title page until I was heading back.  I reached the Mission Bay exit and flipped open the cover:

To Kirby Wright, who will make it as a writer. I know these things.

Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun, signed off on my MFA thesis at San Francisco State University. Her success reinforced my belief that, through hard work and sacrifice, I could one day be as successful as her.

I didn’t hit it off with Gary Snyder. A colleague told me after our joint-lecture in Hong Kong that Snyder was neither impressed by my presence nor my lecture style. I didn't like how he fawned over a writer getting published by Farrar Straus Giroux and how he diminished the other Pacific Rim writers and poets by failing to ask about their books or unfinished manuscripts. He inspired Lunch with the Pulitzer Winner in Hong Kong, which was published by Pisgah Review and will appear in my 2014 collection of selected poems. Good things are born from bad experiences.

Meeting known writers and poets didn't have much effect on my writing style or voice, although it made me want to write everything from plays to poems to short stories to creative nonfiction. I learned important things from each one of them, whether I liked them or not.

GW: You live in San Diego, very much a button-down conservative town where people have sold their souls for success. How does living in a town like San Diego feed into your poetic inquiry?

KW: Writers should take advantage of their surroundings, if only to trigger memories that juice their writing. I live in the burbs. I took advantage of my life in a subdivision by writing about it deconstructing in my latest novel, The End, My Friend. This is a sort of a prequel to The Hunger Games, that is, what happened to society to get us to there. I wanted to write something for the students at nearby Rancho Buena Vista High to get them to read, so that’s why the novel begins across the street from their campus.


pune’e:  big wide bed that doubles as a couch

kiawe:  mesquite

kaka:  heavy cord line with hook and weight but no pole


Find Kirby's "Advice for Preparing a Husband" in our anthology The Understanding between Foxes and Light.

Involuntary Rabbits: An Interview with Abby Coleman

Abby Coleman chats with Thomas Fucaloro

Abby Coleman is a poet and artist living in Brooklyn. She is an MFA candidate in poetry at The New School and a teacher for Writopia Lab NYC—a national community of young writers ages eight to eighteen. Her poem "Involuntary Rabbits" can be found in our latest collection The Understanding between Foxes and Light.

TF: So Abby, tell us some of your aesthetics of writing and how you apply it to your poetry?

AC: I love writing that creates a world I've never seen. It allows me to exist in a temporary place and think without restriction. I try to apply this to my own poems when I transform the reality of an experience. Writing mostly from truth, I take a piece of an actual event in my life and write it in a different place, or from a different emotion.

TF: In your poem, "Involuntary Rabbits", form seems to be something you like to play with. Why so boxy? Does it allow you a way in that free write doesn't offer?

AC: The first draft of "Rabbits" was lineated and it didn't work at all. I don’t break anything now until I’m satisfied with content. I’ll free write, (well actually I justify the margins, but I’m not conscious of where it breaks) and decide whether or not the lines are strong enough to exist alone stacked on top of each other, or if they need each other, therefore in a box, like a gift for the reader to unwrap. I feel like broken lines need to be powerful alone and I don’t always feel that way about my work because it’s prosey.

TF: “One by one I extract heads or pieces of heads” is one of my favorite lines in this poem. Is this based on a true story, or is it just your mind creating it?

AC: It is based on a true story. The home in which I grew up sits on a trove of skulls I often played with as a child...Okay, that’s not true, but once in high school when I was mowing the lawn, I ran over baby bunnies that had burrowed into the ground. Horrified, I extracted each tiny rabbit to inspect for injury. Luckily, I only gave them a haircut and anxiety problems for the rest of their lives.

TF: You turned me onto the poet Zach Schomburg, and he has completely transformed how I look at poetry. Tell us what he has done for you.

AC: I was fortunate enough to take a class with Zach when I was an undergrad at Hendrix College. It was those three weeks with him and three of my peers that solidified my dream to “be” a poet. He introduced me to contemporary poetry and the absurd, changing the way I wrote, read, and thought.

TF: You are studying at the New School for your MFA. How is that going? Have you noticed a change in your poetry?

AC: It’s going. Not so much a change, but a refinement. I feel like I’m more confident in my voice and style in a way that I don’t think I would have found without the program. Sometimes I can defamiliarize too much, to the point where my poems black out. Thanks to The New School, I feel more aware of how to prevent that.

TF: Who are you currently reading?

AC: Paul Killebrew, Oliver Sacks, and Sam Lipsyte. Zach Schomburg, always.

TF:  What’s next for Abby Coleman?

AC: The Beyoncé concert. And a full-length collection that hopefully will exist somewhere besides my head, my laptop, or my cats’ eyeballs.

 Read Abby Coleman's poem "Involuntary Rabbits" in our anthology The Understanding between Foxes and Light.

Abby will be reading at our book launch at Pacific Standard, Brooklyn, on Wednesday September 4th.

Captivated By This Way Of Being: An Interview With Linda M. Deane

Linda M. Deane discusses identity and hybridity, jazz, and the magnitude of Caribbean writing and poetry with George Wallace 

Linda M. Deane is a British-born writer living and working in Barbados. She'd much rather be writing poems and listening to jazz than doing pretty much anything else. Linda is co-editor, with Robert Edison Sandiford, of Shouts from the Outfield: The ArtsEtc Cricket Anthology. Find her poem "But Soulful (A Premonition)" in the latest great weather for MEDIA anthology The Understanding between Foxes and Light.


GW: You are described as a British/Barbadian writer. You were born in England, did a Comparative American Studies program at the University of Warwick before living and working in Barbados as a newspaper journalist, editor, and independent publisher. Can you fill in the details of that outline? In particular your experience of, and current engagement with, British society and culture?

LMD: There was a bit more yo-yo-ing involved. I was born in England to Barbadian parents who left the Caribbean in the 1950's in search of better opportunities in what was deemed "the mother country." My father joined the Royal Air Force and we ended up living in a number of different countries as a result, although most of my secondary school education (from age twelve to seventeen) was in England.

We came to Barbados on holiday one Christmas when I was eighteen and I just didn't go back! Started training and working as a journalist at a Barbadian newspaper—a whole other education in itself—only to return to England five years later. I continued working as a journalist, strayed horribly into local government PR for a couple of years before going to study at Warwick (which included a year in the US at the University of South Carolina), before finally returning to Barbados in the early 1990's. I've been here ever since. Very deliberately. That whole restless yo-yoing thing gets exhausting after a while. This is where I chose to have my children. And it is in this time that I said goodbye to newspaper journalism and regular pay checks and chose the hairy path of the writer-editor-independent publisher instead.

I smile wryly that you ask about my experience of and current engagement with British society and culture. My experience of England is similar to that of many UK blacks who were born there and who more or less accept Britain as home in that I've experienced the racism and the obstacles and struggles they have. But at the same time I've always felt a little on the outside of it, removed from it, even as I was in it, being affected by those obstacles or as a journalist reporting on it. I think one reason is because I've had alternatives: we lived different places, like I say, my parents took us (my sister and me) back home to Barbados while we were growing up, taught us about the Caribbean, and I continued to travel and experience life elsewhere. I'm thankful I was presented with alternatives (escape?) but at the same time I realize I am estranged from a large part of British cultural life, especially black British arts and culture, in particular the writing.

I try to keep up in a broad manner through the BBC (I am addicted to BBC radio via the internet!) but that is limited and limiting. Increasingly now I find myself reaching out to what’s going on through visiting writers, through formal and informal exchange, and through the literature itself. British poets like Dorothea Smartt and Sheree Mack who have Caribbean roots are a conduit for me and I've had chance to work with both of them.

Caryl Phillips, who is St. Kitts-born, is a respected British writer of renown. I've been following his work since the 1980's and recently finished reading his essay collection, A New World Order. He is very much concerned with cultural identities, borders, crossing spaces, and ideas of home and exile. And he is sharp! His writing, both the fiction and non-fiction, keep me up to speed as it were and I am able to use what he is doing as a barometer for themes and directions in my own work.

GW: You worked as a journalist and creative writer in Barbados for many years. Could you discuss the relationship between the different craftsmanship and perspective required to be a journalist and a poet? How has that relationship played out in your own work?

LMD: Again, you make me smile. My close friend and publishing colleague Robert Edison Sandiford (himself a returnee child of Barbadians who left for Canada in the 1960's) often exclaims how I'm able to switch just like that between the creative writing and the journalistic/PR style we sometimes require for the business end of what we do. I've realized it never leaves you. I enjoyed being a reporter; worked on news for a short while then features before eventually becoming an arts and cultural writer and editor. I've also written on social issues. 

I've been told I'm nosy and can ask the right questions. I observe plenty and love to people-watch and nature-watch. All of this made for some great feature writing (though as a news reporter I was told by many an editor to tone it down!) As a poet, I go for unusual details and descriptions. I take notes, books and books of notes, always jotting down ideas, snippets of juicy overheard conversations or things I notice. And I'm still always asking questions if only indirectly. Robert, who is a fiction author, and others have noted that there is a narrative quality to my poetry (and a narrative thread to the collection itself). I was unaware of this, and unsure if it was what I was even aiming for. Then last year, at Barbados' inaugural Bim Literary Festival, St. Lucia's celebrated Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, conducted a poetry master class that I had the great fortune to attend. After he got through basically lambasting poets (in extremely colorful language) and telling us to come off our high horses, he told us that each poem we write should be able to work as a story and that if our poems could not make good stories then we should just forget it. He was scary and carried us along real scruffy but what Walcott says makes a sense and I can see now, looking back, that my creative writing skills have informed my journalistic writing over the years and vice versa, and that I am a storyteller.

We are all basically telling stories whether we are journalists, poets, novelists, songwriters, historians, etc. And we should be aiming to be the best storytellers.

GW: For at least a decade you've been an organizer and advocate for the arts in Barbados, through ArtsEtc and other means. That includes annual production of an anthology associated with Barbados' National Cultural Foundation's Literary Arts Competition for about six years, including the Winning Words anthology for the National Cultural Foundation; involvement in the Green Readings series; and for many years, production of a literary/cultural guide to Barbados. Tell us about the poetry scene in Barbados. Is there a performance scene, and if so what are the happening venues? Who are some of the contemporary poets we should know about? How has the writing scene in Barbados grown/changed/evolved since you've been involved in it? What's buzzing these days in the poetry world in Barbados? What’s your understanding of the role of the artist as an agent of the arts—i.e, acting as a supporter/sustainer of the arts community while pursuing your own aesthetics?

LMD:  It feels like there is a lot going on in Barbados right now. It is very cyclic. Every couple of years or so, you get this convergence of energies and ideas and things seem to HAPPEN! But if I truly study it, there is always something going on in Barbados with regards to poetry and performance. Sometimes it’s quieter than other times but there have always been movements. In the late 1990's, the performance/spoken word scene was vibrant with very active and productive groups like the VOICES: Barbados Writers Collective which used to meet at the Museum of all places and who produced an anthology. Also, poets and jazz musicians were collaborating on stage at the Waterfront Café, a popular city venue.

The Frank Collymore Literary Endowment Award was also established around this time, with Bds $17,000 (approx. US $8,500) in total prize money funded by the Central Bank of Barbados. This gave writers something real to aim towards and was part of a vibrancy that has more or less been sustained. Add to that the continued outreach of the National Cultural Foundation's Literary Arts desk with its annual calendar of readings, workshops, shows, and competitions and you have a picture of what goes on.

Other groups have sprung up since including those where the focus is more stage and spoken word rather than page crafting. Iron Sharpen Iron and the LXP (League of Extraordinary Poets) have spawned a number of exciting spoken word artists and freestylers like Adrian Green, DJ Simmons and the free-styler Keoma Mallett aka the Rhy Minister, who I think gives some of the spoken-worders a real run for their money. A vegan/vegetarian café called the Good Life on Barbados' south coast and another similar venue on the West coast called Jago's are current hot spots for spoken word and music. I belong to a group called Writers Ink Barbados. Members of that group tend to be more established and/or award-winning writers more concerned with the page and crafting.

Writers Ink stages readings, has produced an anthology and is also responsible for staging the Bim Literary Festival and Book Fair, the next one of which is May 15-18, 2014. ArtsEtc now, well, we do Green Readings, which provides a platform each year for poets, other writers and artists where the theme is all things environmental. Some of the contemporary Barbados poets you should know about are collected in the Green Readings anthology: Mark McWatt—a much respected Guyanese-born writer and teacher but we have claimed him! He is a winner of the Commonwealth Writers prize and the Premio Casa de las Americas, a prestigious Latin American literary award. Esther Phillips, who founded Writers Ink and whose brainchild is the Bim LitFest. Anthony Kellman who is also a novelist and lectures in English Literature at the University in Augusta, Georgia; Dana Gilkes, Margaret Gill, and Philip Nanton are others. Mark Jason Welch who is currently studying film at Howard University is another award-winning poet to watch.

Winston Farrell, who is also a playwright and theater director is a wonderful link between genres and generations; between stage and page craft. He was heavily involved in what we call dub poetry of the 1970's and 1980's. Dub poetry is a kind of rhythm poetry that uses indigenous rhythms. I think a lot of the younger spoken word artists could look to what he does to help balance out what they in turn are doing. He himself is a link to older poets like our celebrated people's laureate Kamau Brathwaite and other exponents of "nation language" and rhythm like Bruce St. John who was a master of what we call "Bumbatuk."

Many of our contemporary poets whether they realize it or not can thread their inspirations and influences back to Farrell and through him to Kamau and St. John. In terms of other exciting poets to watch I would say Kerry Belgrave and Carlyon Blackman (both Frank Collymore award-winners) are doing arresting things with language.

I've found in the twenty years I've been involved that there is a natural divide and snobbery between the two camps, stage and page. It is something ArtsEtc deliberately tries to bridge in its work and I feel personally invested in this since I myself straddle the two camps, or attempt to at least! In some of our events and publications we reach out to page poets and stage poets, encourage dialogue and exchange and for the two sides to share performance space whether its on the printed page or on the Green Readings stage. I think we can only learn from each other, especially since it’s generational, with older poets tending to be in the page camp and younger poets on the stage—or "off page" as we put it!

But what we have experienced in the last couple of years is the emergence of some exceedingly promising youngsters, in their teens who are very much focused on the literary craft. We try to snap them up early before we lose them fully to the spoken word crews! I think writers are also beginning to share their work outside Barbados more than they used to. Before, they would not venture so much beyond national competitions and opportunities for publishing (and there are not that many to begin with) but now with the presence of so many more online journals and publications, I get a sense that more of us are submitting work and entering contests farther afield.

I certainly encourage younger writers who are thinking of publishing to do this first—it's a good way to test drive your material, to sort out which is the strongest, before putting it in a collection and dashing it on Smashwords or Amazon.

Role of writers/poets? I have what I think is slightly old fashioned view—that we are the safeguarders of a society. If you want to gauge any society, look to its poets. I know there are plenty who would challenge that but I'm a romantic and I feel that all word people, not just the poets but other literary artists and artists in general should challenge themselves not only to be guardians and mirrors, but questioners and challengers—agents of awareness and for change. I feel a duty to use my artistic tools to reflect the ordinary and the not-so-ordinary that’s all around us in ways that are extraordinary yet relatable to by the ordinary person.

GW: This year’s African-American Literary Festival at the Queens Library in New York City had as its theme Afro-Caribbean Poets and Writers. School us a little on some of the more meaningful ways, in your view, that the poetry worlds of the United States and the Caribbean, more specifically Barbados, have intersected or informed each other. What has been the trajectory of that relationship? Where do you see it heading? Who are a few key Caribbean writers who, from a Barbadian context, are particularly important for North American poets to know about -- historically, and in contemporary writing? What genre? What particular voices or genres from North American writing have been influential to writing in Barbados?

LMD: First I have to say that my responses here are completely those of a writer finding her way, and learning as she goes, in a small part of the English-speaking Caribbean only. French, Spanish and Dutch-speaking Caribbean territories, and newer Caribbean communities—another saga entirely! Earlier, I mentioned Kittitian-British author Caryl Phillips' A New World Order. It’s a fine collection in which he did a kind of cultural audit of the world as we entered the 21st Century. The book is divided into four hemispheres as it were: North America, Africa, The Caribbean, and Britain, and the chapters in each section deal with a literary or artistic influence that has shaped him personally as a writer or as a thinker or citizen. I found the essays gripping especially since I discovered his path or trajectory towards becoming a writer was pretty similar to my own in that all that existed for him for a long time was black American literature: Baldwin, Ellison, Wright. It filled a gap and satisfied and answered many questions but not all and eventually he had to seek elsewhere for his full story, a search that led him to Caribbean and African literature and then to a career in writing for himself.

For me, growing up in England and under similar constraints of a Eurocentric education and looking to break free, it was those writers, too. Add in Zora Neale Hurston. Toni Morrison. Alice Walker. Maya Angelou, J. California Cooper, a little Nikki Giovanni on the side, and a whole lotta Langston Hughes. (I realize I don’t make so much distinction between the poets and the prose writers—they were all essentially delivering home truths to me and in language that was lyrical and powerful no matter what genre they were writing in, leading me then to search for my own black British and Caribbean equivalents.)

And I think my path and Caryl Phillips’ path of discovery is similar to that of a lot of younger, contemporary Caribbean writers and writers of Caribbean descent. I also think the period of the mid 1960's and early 1970's that saw huge civil rights upheaval and change in the United States was reflected throughout the Caribbean and in parts of Africa in bids for Independence from Britain and an end to colonialism.

The same expressions you would have seen in North American arts and music of the period, you can sense a similar echo in works across the Caribbean in the poetry, the literature, the art and musical developments. There is evidence of a unity of movement and expression. In terms of important Caribbean writers that American poets should know, I would say Barbados' Kamau Brathwaite, and novelists George Lamming and Austin Clarke most definitely. Clarke lives in Toronto and wrote the brilliantly titled Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack among many books.

Kamau, an exponent of "Nation Language" and visual experimentation upon the page—well, he's a cultural icon! As a professor at New York University, he used to bring groups of students with him back to Barbados to literally "walk and talk" his poetry. Lamming's evocative essays meanwhile are required reading for anyone wanting to get a feel for Caribbean history and society.

Jamaica's Olive Senior, Guyana's Martin Carter, Derek Walcott of course, Haiti's Edwidge Danticat, and Trinidad's Edgar Mittelholzer and V.S. Naipaul—all required reading, although Nobel laureate Naipaul is extremely controversial. He's hypercritical of the Caribbean and India (he's of Indo-Trinidadian heritage), so cringingly racial and curmudgeonly at times, he's like the literary equivalent of a street brawl or a traffic accident. You know you should close the book and put it aside, return it to the library or whatever in complete horror, indignation, outrage, etc., but the language is so beautiful and his skill as a narrator so keen that you keep reading and then reach for the next book of his!

Martin Carter died in 1997, but his poems to me remain searingly alive and haunting. He was imprisoned in the 1950's for the outspokenness of his works against Guyana's colonial powers of the day. Walcott is very much in the guise of Shakespeare's Caliban claiming and transforming the language of the colonizer to reinterpret history and recreate myth especially as it relates to his own Caribbean experience. This ownership and weapon-like use of the language thrust upon us is a returning point both in terms of theme and style for a number of Caribbean writers.

Rather than name specific North American writers who have informed Caribbean or Barbadian poets, I'm thinking instead we have been influenced more by the scope, the vastness of North American storytelling. I read Alistair MacLeod's No Great Mischief about ten years ago (in about the length of time it took to fly home from a festival in Ontario, be stranded at Piarco Airport in Trinidad for half a day before arriving home in Barbados.) I was impressed by the "smallness", the parochial nature of the tale which was told microscopically yet telescoped big; ornate yet told simply; self-confident and proud and self-aware but totally un-self-conscious.

I am currently submerged in a stack of Barbadian novels as research for an essay I am writing and I am constantly on the lookout for that sense of vastness in the storytelling no matter how "small" the story; for that self-confidence. I also think many Caribbean writers have been guided by an urgent, deep-seated desire and need to produce against the tide of European and Western influence; against our post/colonial upbringing and educations; to create our own voices and music and mythologies. Rather than write of snow and fall and daffodils, to write of breadfruit and mangoes and carnival, and surviving slavery, and the meeting and mixing of old worlds in the new world of the Caribbean, looking back to Africa (or not)—and then to write beyond all of that.

I am seeing confidence in the new breed of short-fiction writers; a confidence that we, too, can take risks and tell our stories. These younger writers are acknowledging energies and movements from elsewhere, the influences of newer rhythms such as rap and the slam poetry of North America, looking farther afield but also within to produce an exciting newness—that hybridity again.

GW: Along with ArtsEtc co-editor Robert Edison Sandiford you co-edited an anthology Shouts from the Outfield, exploring the Barbadian passion for cricket in poetry and in essays examining the socio-political importance of the sport. Aside from the popular appeal of an anthology like this, what can North American readers—who generally know very little about cricket—learn from the collection?

LMD: The really cool, or maybe not so cool, thing about this collection is that it was put together by two cricket know-nothings. So I will step very carefully when suggesting what North American readers might learn from it! I was born with a love of cricket flowing, literally, through my veins but I cannot explain the game to you. It's a spiritual connection to the sport rather than any actual knowledge of it. Rob, growing up in Montreal, was strictly into what I call ice hockey and what he simply calls hockey. In 2005 or so we were trying to remember the title of something someone had written about cricket and where we could get our hands on it, and lamented that there was no single, handy cricket anthology in Barbados—a place, and part of a region where, for decades cricket was king, especially from the 1940's to 1980's.

We had a light bulb moment (I think we were in the Waterfront Café at the time) and said—“leh we do it!” Because we are NOT cricket experts we called on people we felt were. They were mainly from Barbados but also Trinidad, Jamaica, Grenada, Canada and India, and all of them published or recognized as writers in addition to being cricket-savvy. They contributed short stories, novel excerpts, essays and personal memoir covering topics such as addiction to cricket, cricket as theatre, and how the game can be viewed as a microcosm of any Caribbean society of the time (i.e., it was played along strict racial and class lines, used as a symbol of defiance against the colonizer who introduced the game to us in the first place, it represented a route up out of poverty and disadvantage for some cricketers, and it was a source of regional pride and unity.)

There are also pieces on key players and key historical matches. One of the writers, who fell out of love with the game while still at school, also provides a somewhat jaundiced idiot's guide. It has very complicated rules. We like to think the book has appeal to anyone in a country where cricket is spoken: the Caribbean, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Australia, New Zealand—basically most places the British empire took root, and in England itself.

Anyone in North America who might be interested in how baseball, for instance, mirrored or foreshadowed civil rights advancement, and who might be interested in how other quirky team sports have reflected societal change elsewhere, or who is interested in literary call and response to a sport, would find something to relate to in Shouts. There are pockets of West Indian communities in across parts of North America, and a few places where I understand the sport is being taught and played—we’d love the book to reach those audiences. Our book is on the cricket studies book list at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus here in Barbados. And it does well at tourist outlets. Visitors fascinated by the West Indies' glorious cricketing past seem to love it.

GW: In 2006 you won a Prime Minister's Award and the Frank Collymore Hall Literary Endowment, a rare "double win," in part because your work "best captured a sense of Barbados and Barbadians." Your poem "But Soulful (A Premonition)" in our anthology The Understanding between Foxes and Light  has distinctive qualities which are consistent with that comment, and yet is reflective of a deeply personal vision/recollection. To what extent is capturing the sense of Barbados a goal of your creative work? Is the socio-cultural context something you deliberately attempt to interweave into the other contexts of your poetry? How's that working?

LMD: It was never something I consciously set out to do. I know I wanted to make sense of a new environment that in many ways is still quite exotic and surprising to me. The collection that won the award is called Cutting Road Blues: A Narrative after the street I live on. It’s in an area caught in the transition between traditional, old-fashioned village life and social development. Lots of colorful characters on the street, noisy, nosy neighbors, young men with loud cars, an occasional police presence but at the same time hard-working folk just going quietly about their daily lives and still looking out for each other in that old-fashioned caring, way of the past. People who still knock on your door and bring you a bag of mangoes or avocados from their tree or ask if they can have some of your limes or a breadfruit.

I am totally captivated by this way of being—so different from what I grew up experiencing in England where you largely kept yourself to yourself! That kind of busy environment can make it difficult to find quiet in which to write but its also where I get much of my inspiration. I wanted to capture some of that color and rhythm in my writing in so far as much to create context and motivation for the main character in the collection. This character is surrounded by the blues (who may or may not be living entities) and is also the subject of the "But Soulful (A Premonition)" poem. That character is dealing with personal loss, attempting to come to terms with her new and shifting landscapes, remembering past landscapes.

Much of what's in the collection and what I've written since is environmental in that it records or comments on the changing physical and social landscape in Barbados but I'm also attempting—after years of avoidance—to write more about England and other landscapes be they real, shifting, psychological, imagined. I mentioned Caryl Phillips' work; his concern with cultural identity, borders, spaces, home and exile, interests me greatly. In terms of my own writing, I've been playing with the idea of an extended, multi-layered homelessness, of being caught between multiple worlds and belonging fully to none of them. I am particularly excited to explore this as it relates specifically to the experiences of that generation of blacks who have chosen to return to the Caribbean rather than stay in their European or North American birthplace. These are the children of those West Indian emigrants of the 1940's and '50s (who themselves were already in exile.)

There are quite a few of us; the return has brought its own unique challenges and some of us are beginning to write about it. I realize that what we are producing will naturally be different from what our contemporaries in Britain are doing, different also from what our counterparts in the States and Canada (where it can be easier to reach out to) are doing. Hybridity is such a handy term. I am very much aware that what I am attempting and what other British-Barbadian writers here are doing is very much a hybrid in that we are writing about largely unexplored, new, cross-over territory, but also with regard to the language we’re employing, and maybe even having to invent, in order to describe that experience.

Me, I am quite proud and excited to be a hybrid.

GW: You have said that you like to experiment with different literary forms and are inspired by art across the boundaries but "Poetry & jazz are my favourite ways of being." In what ways are you exploring or have you explored the relationship between poetry and jazz?

LMD: I'd have to say I explore very cautiously! I listen to all kinds of music but am seriously drawn to jazz and its history and mythology, the giants of the form. If ever I get my hands on a Tardis I am landing it in 1940's and 1950's New York or Chicago, right in a jazz club where any of my heroes might be playing—Ella, Dizzy, Bird, Miles, Coltrane. As artists they have all influenced me and I have tried to write about that magic very directly and what it means to me. More indirectly, jazz has inspired me to be freer in my writing (whether poetry or essays), to be more experimental in form and language and ideas, and to take risks. This is whether I'm writing directly about jazz, or using rhythms and the feeling to write about something completely or seemingly unrelated. (The Cutting Road Blues collection employs a mix of Caribbean-inflected, blues and jazz-inspired rhythms and forms.)

Generally, though, I am cautious. There's a line from a Woody Allen movie that stays with me, where one character tells another that writing about jazz is like dancing about architecture. (I live with an architect and I know how he is about what he does so it makes me step even more gingerly when attempting to write jazz-inspired stuff!) Basically, it's the idea that jazz is its own truth: How do you explain, comment on, improve, or even just celebrate a thought that has come out of Miles' horn when he has already brilliantly or boldly been there, done that and got the really cool T-shirt to prove it? What is there left for the writer to do or say except echo off him using words that may be insufficient or inadequate?

I try, of course. I love a challenge and feel writers should always be challenging themselves. I look at what other writers have done: The Beat poets (I confess I have not actually read any Kerouac but have fallen in love with his words nonetheless through the musical interpretation of them by jazz vocalist Mark Murphy); many of the writers I mentioned earlier (George Elliott Clarke's Black and Blue collections, in particular); while Langston's Selected Poems are a reference book for me!

I have enough jazz material for a slim volume and have performed a couple poems on stage but am conscious that right now, that is where they belong, on a stage, performed to savvy, live jazz backing if I’m lucky. I am still not satisfied with how they sit on a page and am constantly returning to certain pieces, wrestling them, placing them in a headlock if necessary.

I find closure or completion elusive compared to that for my non-jazz poems. Some jazz poems I have simply learnt to leave alone and let be. One poem in particular I started writing over 20 years ago—a looking-back piece inspired by something Dizzy Gillespie said and about why we shouldn't try to describe or explain jazz! Essentially it flies in the face of that wisdom. I perform it from time to time. It won't stand still and behave even after all this time.

But then maybe it's not supposed to. That's not the way of jazz!

Find Linda’s poetry in the great weather for MEDIA anthology The Understanding between Foxes and Light.

Nights in White Satin with Red Feather Boas: An Interview with Karl Roulston

The Understanding between Foxes and Light contributor Karl Roulston talks spirit, poetry, and killer harmonica with Russ Green 

Karl Roulston can be found delivering his words and blowing his blues harp in and around New York City. He appears on the Hydrogen Jukebox "poemusic" CD brain ampin'. Recent written works have been published in The Bitter Oleander and the first great weather for MEDIA anthology It's Animal but Merciful.


RG: Karl, you are known for your cool blues cat rhythms in both your poetry and performance. Where does that come from? Who are your influences?

KR: Well, I try to allow the innate musicality of speech to flow freely. I don’t make much distinction between speech and other forms of music. With "speech" I include the written word because, even if you’re not reading aloud, you’re still hearing the words spoken by your inner voice. It's a silent music. That's my experience, at least. As for influences, it's funny, but sometimes we're more influenced by the spirit of things than by the particulars. Every Fourth of July, I'm reminded of how much I love James Cagney performing "Yankee Doodle Boy." To me, and to many others, those are three minutes of just the purest happiness. I should also mention the final episode of Patrick McGoohan's television series The Prisoner. It’s full of such crazy, ecstatic exuberance, it makes me want to jump around the room.

RG: I am, of course, not alone in digging those killer harmonica breaks in your performances that are so integral to your sets. How did that come about?

KR: The harmonica comes from the rock bands I'd see in concert when I was a kid. So many of the singers would pick up the harp for a number or two. Specifically, I remember Roxy Music at the old Academy of Music on 14th Street. Bryan Ferry played a little bit of harp and it made me want to try it. I don't have any formal musical training. It was many years of just messing around and annoying people, trying to find my way. I'm inspired by the great blues artists like Sonny Boy Williamson II, but in the same sort of way that I'm inspired by "Yankee Doodle Boy" and The Prisoner. I don't have any illusions and don't pretend to do what the blues legends did.

RG: Well, you are capturing their "spirit" though. I remember Bob Dylan said his words came from divine inspiration, but the choreographer Twyla Tharp said creativity is ninety percent work and ten percent inspiration. How much do you think that what you do with words and music comes from discipline and experience and how much from that "spirit of things?"

KR: It can be hard work to get yourself into a state of spontaneity. I think Andre Breton once pointed that out. To escape self-consciousness and let the waters flow. To not think. To not try. There's the kind of discipline you employ for careful architectural planning in order to achieve a clear, defined goal, and then there's the discipline of exploration, which requires you to relax and be receptive—which isn't always easy in a world full of stress and anxiety.

RG: It seems like the vibe and rhythm of the city bleeds right through your work. What are your thoughts on how that happens?

KR: I'm a child of transplanted New Englanders, so although I've lived most of my life right across from Manhattan in urban New Jersey, I spent almost every summer of my youth in rural Maine or New Hampshire. We slept on mountains and canoed down rivers. That's still a part of me too. If New York is in my work, it's probably the New York I'd think about as I lay awake in Maine late on a summer night, trying to get WNEW in on the radio, wishing I was back with my friends and that we were on our way to see the New York Dolls at the Gaslight Au Go Go. These days, I lay awake and think about a lake in Maine.

RG: Do you think you will reach a point of satiety where you are happy where you are, and does your craft help to assuage that longing for you?

KR: Is it a longing for a place or for a time? A time that's passed, or one that hasn't happened yet? I really don't know. I'm happiest when I can lose myself in performing or some other creative process. So I guess the craft does help to assuage the longing. My greatest satisfaction comes when I think that I've maybe helped other people to feel a little better too.

RG: That’s incredible that you were able to get WNEW from New York City in all the way up there in Maine! What do you think about how radio has changed since those days of Scott Muni on WNEW?

KR: Getting in a New York station depended on atmospheric conditions. It was a faint and fleeting affair, but I seem to remember succeeding, ever so briefly. I'd spin the dial like I was cracking a safe, hoping to catch the sultry tones of the “Nightbird,” Alison Steele. But I hardly listen to radio anymore. I bailed out a long time ago. Everything became too tightly formatted. But wonderful things could be happening now, somewhere, for all I know.

RG: Tell me about those days at the Gaslight Au Go Go and the music scene in New York City back then.

KR: It was nights in white satin with red feather boas. I mentioned the New York Dolls at Gaslight Au Go Go not because the venue was a regular haunt of mine—I was only there once—but because that was a very special night, the night I saw the Dolls for the first time. The opening act was The Brats and things didn't even get started until the wee hours. This was before the Dolls had released their first record, but they were already legendary. Some of us in the crowd I ran with wrote for the fanzines. Some of us covered music for our school newspapers. We were all pretty young. On nights like the one in question, a certain amount of stealth was required to get out of the house without being challenged and get back in again without getting skinned. David Bowie at Radio City Music Hall comes to mind. That was at 11:30 PM on Valentine’s Day, 1973, and to witness such an event in the middle of the night at Radio City was surreal in the extreme. Previously, I'd only been there on class field trips to see things like the Christmas show. Believe me, it was a very different sort of Santa who descended from the rafters that night.

RG: So, you are on brain ampin', the Hydrogen Jukebox CD compilation of performance poets with the Ne’erdowells that dear friend and great weather co-founder Brant Lyon put together based on his Hydrogen Jukebox reading series. Aside from the fact that that is a scene that is sorely missed—as is Brant, of course—in the NYC poetry circles, tell me your thoughts on performing with a full band versus just you and your harmonica.

KR: The first time I attended the Hydrogen Jukebox series it was one of those rare moments when it’s almost like you’re seeing the future, or like when you meet someone and feel you've known them your whole life. The Ne’erdowells were onstage and Brant was introducing all the "loyalists," as he’d call them. The whole Hydro Juke family of poets. I immediately felt certain that I would come to know these people and share adventures with them. And that’s exactly what happened. As you mentioned, the Hydrogen Jukebox gave me the opportunity to work with a full band on a regular basis, and nothing compares. Then Brant was suddenly gone and it was a deep and terrible shock. His acceptance of me and enthusiasm for what I do was so very, very important to me, and I'll never forget him.

RG: That’s beautiful. I know much of the community certainly share many of your sentiments. So, do you miss working with a band enough to make something happen in that direction and if you so, what form would it take?

KR: I'm on the lookout now, hoping to gather a few players who will gig with me consistently. I acquired some ready-made, royalty-free tracks to use as backing when musicians aren't available, and that's worked out well, but nothing's quite as satisfying as playing with live human beings.

RG: So, I have to ask you about the poems you clip around your neck in your sets. I love it. Where did you get the idea and do you think it adds an effect to your performance or do you do it for purely practical purposes?

KR: I do it because I need to keep my hands free to play the harp. There isn't always a music stand handy and even when there is, I don't like having to adjust it and fumble around. Also, I sometimes move around a lot when I'm performing.

RG: Are we going to see a book from Karl Roulston sometime in the near future, and if so how do you think your words will come across to those who have not seen or heard you?

KR: I'm always very pleased and proud to see the words in print. I can only hope that people enjoy reading them, and that they can hear the music in their heads. So a book would be very gratifying for me. An album even more so. Both at once would be the ultimate. If I can find a way to make this happen, I'll let you know!

Karl will be featuring at our Spoken Word Sundays reading series at the Parkside Lounge on August 11th 2013. He will also be performing at the Parkside Lounge for The Understanding between Foxes and Light book launch on August 28th.

Find Karl's poetry in the great weather for MEDIA anthologiesThe Understanding between Foxes and Light and It's Animal but Merciful. 

Photo of Karl Roulston by Puma Perl

Power, Resistance, and the Mouths of Snakes: An Interview with Mary Mackey

The Understanding between Foxes and Light contributor Mary Mackey in conversation with George Wallace

Mary Mackey is the author of six poetry collections including Sugar Zone (Marsh Hawk Press 2011)—a winner of the 2012 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Literary Excellence—and thirteen best-selling novels. Immersion (Shameless Hussey Press, 1972) was the first novel published by a Second Wave feminist press. Mary’s works have been translated into twelve foreign languages. Discover more at her website and Facebook author page.


GW: You have traveled extensively to Brazil with your husband, Angus Wright, who writes about land reform and environmental issues. You have studied Brazilian literature. And you have demonstrated an impressive ability, particularly in the poetry collection Sugar Zone, to create poems that use incantation to evoke the lyrical space that lies at the conjunction between Portuguese and English. Your poem in our anthology The Understanding Between Foxes and Light, "Solange Encourages A River To Destroy A Dam," seems to be clearly in that zone—a fierce and incantatory invoking of the Xingu, a river in Brazil, to strike out at the harnessing interference of human society with nature, with the visceral force of a holy woman smoking a cigar.

What's the back story to this poem? What are the controversies surrounding building the Belo Monte Dam? Who is Solange?

MM: The back story of this poem is that the Brazilian government is planning to build a huge dam on the Xingu River, one of the major tributaries of the Amazon. Construction of the Belo Monte Dam is already underway despite the protests of indigenous people, farmers, and riverbank dwellers who at this very moment are risking their lives to stop it. If completed, Belo Monte would be the third-largest hydroelectric project in the world and would require diverting nearly the entire flow of the Xingu through two artificial canals to the dam's powerhouse, leaving communities along a 100 km stretch of the Xingu without water, fish, or a means of river transport. In addition the Belo Monte Dam would cause irreversible harm to areas considered of extreme importance for the conservation of the rainforest and biodiversity.

Solange first appeared in the collection Sugar Zone. My poems frequently embrace ambiguity allowing them to resonate on many levels at once. Thus the answer to the question "who is Solange" is: Solange may be a shaman, a goddess, a priestess, an ex-lover, a force of nature or even a manifestation of the wilder side of Mary Mackey.

In this poem Solange talks to the Xingu River as if the Xingu were a mãe-de-santo, which is the name given to priestesses of the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé. Candomblé is currently practiced by some 25 million people in Brazil. When a mãe-de-santo goes into a trance by whirling to the rhythm of drums ("who is that dancer whirling and blind") the gods of Candomblé descend on her and "ride her head" allowing her to speak to her followers in the voices of the gods.

Besides calling the Xingu a powerful priestess who speaks in the voices of the gods, Solange tries to encourage the river by calling her a jagunco (a "hitman"), a jararaca ("a poisonous pit viper") and a boca da cobra  (the mouth of a snake seen just before it strikes)—all images of power and resistance.

GW: What part of your exploration of ‘humans in nature’ is politics? What part is spiritual? Personally symbolic?

MM: In my poems, I rarely make a distinction between the spiritual, the political, and the personally symbolic. Poems that are solely political can work, but they tend to be didactic; poems that are purely spiritual often lack vital connections to the living Earth which we all inhabit. Poems that use only a personal set of symbols can be quite powerful but they can also be diary-like or beautifully obscure (both of which I often enjoy, but which I don’t care to emulate). My goal is to combine the spiritual, the political, and the personal in one seamless, lyrical whole that is both intellectually interesting and emotionally moving.

GW: In practical, social, linguistic and intercultural contexts, discuss how Brazil has become your particular destination of inquiry?

MM: My husband and I have been traveling to Brazil almost every year for the last twenty-five years. I've fallen in love with the culture of Brazil, its music, and the lyrical beauty of Portuguese. Since my early twenties, I have been involved in environmental issues in a very personal, direct way. For example, during the late 60's and early 70's I lived off and on in a remote field station in the rainforests of Costa Rica, 90% of which have now been cut down despite Costa Rica's extensive national parks program. I have personally watched the gradual, unremitting destruction of the tropical rainforests. Brazil is a country where all these interests comes together. When I'm there, or when I recall my time there, my thoughts often take the forms of poems or images that will someday become poems.

GW: Your father was an ethnobotanist. You lived in ‘remote field stations in the jungles of Costa Rica’ in your 20's. You obtained a PhD in comparative literature and married a professor of Environmental Studies. You've been termed 'a feminist who changed America.'

MM: My father wasn't an ethnobotanist. He was a physician. However, when I attended Harvard, I had the good fortune to fall under the influence of Richard Evans Schultes, the father of modern Ethnobotany. I date my interest in the tropics of Latin America from the work I did in the Harvard Botanical Museum Economic Botany Collections under Professor Schultes's direction.

GW: The subject of your prose and poetry ranges from Neolithic culture to the American Civil War, the 60's civil rights and anti-Vietnam war era in America, to the haunts of the goddess Inanna in ancient Sumer. You've written comic novels about Los Angeles and historical novels examining earth-centered goddess-worshiping cultures invaded by patriarchal nomads. What is the common thread that integrates all that?

MM: There isn't a single common thread in my poems and novels, but rather a series of threads or themes that combine to weave different patterns. One is the theme of parallels between the past and the present; one, that of strong women overcoming adversity to take control of their lives and make a contribution to society; one, of the Earth as a sacred, living entity; one, of social and environmental justice; one, of a redefined feminism that goes beyond race, gender, and cultural definitions to view humans as a single species living on this planet among other diverse species; one, of compassion without reservation; one, of friendship and loyalty; one, of play, joy, love, and laughter.

GW: Your novels are published by Doubleday, Simon & Shuster, Bantam and Harper San Francisco, to name a few—a remarkable track record in commercial literature. Yet you remain devoted to something considerably more than a passing involvement in poetry and what it has to offer an imaginative and inquiring mind. How come?

MM:I've never felt a need to choose between writing novels and writing poetry although the process of creating the two is not the same. Novels take years to write and call more on my rational and organizational skills. I experience poetry as more immediate and more intense. Poetry is an art form that doesn't demand compromise. You can experiment, take chances, do unusual things. And then there is the fact that I love writing poetry. I take great pleasure in slowly crafting a poem, considering and reconsidering every word and every line break.

GW: Garrison Keillor reads your poems a lot. Have you met him? What do you think of his effort to get poetry to the segment of the American public he reaches? What is your perception of the possibility of serious and/or experimental literature to reach popular American audiences?

MM: I met Garrison Keillor in person several years after he started reading my poetry on The Writer’s Almanac. I have great respect for him and for his unstinting support of writers. For years he has been bringing serious poetry to popular American audiences in an unprecedented way. When he reads my poems on the air, about 2.5 million people hear them. I am not sure there will ever be a large audience for purely experimental literature, but I agree with Keillor that it's a mistake to underestimate the intelligence of the American public.

GW: What's your family relationship to Mark Twain? How cool is that? How does one make of relationships like that something more than what Kurt Vonnegut called a "granfalloon," and instead a meaningful element in the stream of your existence?

MM: I’m related to Mark Twain through the Clemens side of my father's family. He was my father's grandmother’s cousin. Supposedly we had letters from Twain before the house where they were stored was destroyed by fire. I grew up knowing about this relationship and I think it was one of the primary things that inspired me to become a writer. After all, I reasoned, if a member of my own family could write novels, maybe someday I could write them too.

By the way, Kurt Vonnegut comes from my hometown Indianapolis. I used to shop Vonnegut’s, his family's hardware store. My connection with Mark Twain, which is a blood relationship, is not the sort of imaginary association Vonnegut was speaking about in Cat’s Cradle. But if I tried to associate myself with Vonnegut as a fellow Indianapolisite and Hoosier, that would be a classic granfalloon.

GW: You're said to have grounded your comic novel about Hollywood pecking order, The Stand In, on Twain's Prince and the Pauper. But I think of other classics of the genre, from The Carpetbaggers, Barton Fink, and What Makes Sammy Run to Who Shot Roger Rabbit? Where does The Stand In fit into those and other works in the genre?

MM: Most of your examples are of films. I hope to see The Stand In made into a movie someday, but at present it only exists as a book, so it doesn't fit into the genre. It and my other comic novel Sweet Revenge don’t resemble my other works which is why I wrote both under the pen name “Kate Clemens” (“Kate” for Katharine Hepburn whom I admire; “Clemens” for Mark Twain aka Samuel Clemens). I have a playful sense of humor which I rarely express in my poems and more serious novels, so it was great fun to give it full reign.


Find Mary’s poem ""Solange Encourages a River to Destroy a Dam" in our anthology The Understanding between Foxes and Light.

Mary will be reading at the great weather for MEDIA San FranciscoBerkeley, and Seattle events in November 2013.

Cool as Rock & Roll: An Interview with John W. Snyder

Thomas Fucaloro catches up with John W. Snyder 

John W. Snyder is a poet from Staten Island, New York. Currently an undergraduate at Hunter College, he spends his free time wearing fangs and being the coolest person ever. Find his poem "Here's to Seven Months" in our anthology The Understanding between Foxes and Lightand see him perform at our book launch at Manitobas on July 31st 2013.



John, why poetry?

JWS: Why not poetry? To me it just made sense. It's like the highest form of communication and I'm a sucker for words.

TF: In your poem “Here’s to Seven Months”, what are you referring to and why?

JWS: "Here'sto Seven Months" was written immediately after a seven month period of sobriety. Obviously that didn't work out. At first there was a lot of bitterness about the whole thing but in the end it was a good exercise in humility.

TF: I love the line “Die like a match". Has the light gone out on you already?

JWS: I wouldn't say it's gone out. It might be sputtering.

TF: Was this a free write first? It seems it.

JWS: Indeed! I wouldn't say there's anything not free about this write.

TF: I believe this is your first published poem….how does that feel?

JWS: It's actually my second published piece but I can’t lie, it's pretty gratifying. Art can be its own reward but when someone else recognizes you for it that means the art did its job. It resonated with someone.

TF: Who have you been reading lately and why?

JWS: The last poet I read was Mahmoud Darwish. His stuff is so loaded spiritually, it’s refreshing.

TF: What do you want to happen eventually with your poetry? How do you want it to evolve?

JWS: I want my poetry to be something anyone can see themselves in. When I read poetry I crave most to see myself in the piece. Eventually I want all poetry to be as cool as rock & roll. Like if some chick passed by a poet on the street, she’d have to ask for his signature on her boobs. If I can do anything to help that along I will.

TF: What’s next for John W. Snyder?

JWS: Hopefully I just keep getting myself out there.

John's poem “Here’s to Seven Months” is published in our collection The Understanding between Foxes and Light

John will be performing at our book launch at Manitobas on July 31st 2013 with fellow anthology contributors Mariel Pauline, Puma Perl, and Frank Simone, plus editor Jane Ormerod and special guest Joe Roarty.

"Dying flesh of dreams frightfully beaming from the moon"

"The ghastly chrome crescent moon perched in the pitch black sleep of sky watches time unwind"......I'll give you a second to take that all in.   Mmmmmmm, delicious.  That is a line from the poem by John Clinton called "Lunar Bridges", one of the many eloquent poems in our new collection, The Understanding between Foxes and Light.  This poem has such a sense of dark with just a hint of light that keeps its head above the water.  This poem has a great beat poet feel which sometimes gets lost in todays non-beat poet world.  There is also a crazy oil painting feel here reminding me of Breton or Apollinaire.  In other words, fun for the whole family.  

July 27th and 28th check us out at The New York City poetry festival on Governor's Island.  We have 3 great readers for you, Ngoma, Robert Gibbons and yours truly.  11am the festival starts, 1:50 our show starts.

"It's just a fucking rock"

"People are dying everyday so who really gives a shit?  I'm like a man sitting on a rock in Central Park looking for a provocative thought just because the trees are pretty.  It's just a fucking rock"- John Snyder, "Here's to Seven Months".  One of the many great poems in our forthcoming collection, "The Understanding Between Foxes and Light."  Now as you can tell this isn't the most optimistic poem in the world but it certainly is one of the realist and that is very optimistic.  Like many poems in this book we aren't looking to save the world just to watch it burn, as John so eloquently puts in his poem, "Die like a match."  We just hope the burning produces rainbows.  

August 5th The Understanding Between Foxes and Light will be ready to order from amazon.

"I pray him dead every thirteenth heartbeat, marking the anniversaries since his tongue went on holiday after learning fists are harder to ignore."

"I pray him dead every thirteenth heartbeat, marking the anniversaries since his tongue went on holiday after learning fists are harder to ignore."  

Let us give you a couple of minutes with that line.


That is from Mariel Pauline's poem, "There Are More Subtle Ways for a Body to Rebel" from our new anthology coming out in August "The Understanding between Foxes and Light."  This poem hits on the wickedness of evil and how it sometimes, for some, helps the heart to beat.  It's an aching poem from an aching poet in a time when certain aches are still deemed "not protected by law."  We really can't wait for this anthology to be in your hands.  We really have taken a grand step in a new yet familiar direction (we know that's a BS way of saying that) but there is something so satisfying with this book that we can't wait to share it with you.  It's like this great secret we all whisper.


July 31st...Manitoba's, 99 Ave B (between 6th and 7th) 8:00pm.

It's Animal but Merciful

"An ambitious work, and a risky one, It’s Animal but Merciful finds common ground for a diverse group of poets in excellent craft and fearless voices...Read this book. Stick with it to the end. You will not be disappointed. You will be dazzled."- Emilia Fuentes Grant, The Pedestal Magazine

"It’s Animal but Merciful draws the reader into a page-turning set of accessible, provocative poems and short stories...International poets add a detectable international flavor to It’s Animal, which is also national in its American scope."- David St.-Lascaux, Interrupting Infinity

A collection of fearless poetry and prose from fifty-five writers across the United States, plus Botswana, the Philippines, Denmark, and Canada. This is world writing with a New York flair-no nonsense, no claptrap, ready to spit in your eye or call you lover in a cyberminute. There's brutality, glamour, danger, and glitz...but an unexpected tenderness too.

Contributors: Hala Alyan, Claus Ankersen, Daniel Aristi, Marcia Arrieta, Priscilla Atkins, Paco Brown, Gabriel Cabrera, Patrick Cahill, Billy Cancel, Lauren Marie Cappello, Peter Carlaftes, Jay Chollick, J. Crouse, Sabina Crowley, Marie Dominique E. Dela Paz, Rich Ferguson, Joan Gelfand, Flores, Christian Georgescu, Russ Green, Janet Hamill, Deborah Hauser, Karen Hildebrand, R. Nemo Hill, Aimee Herman, Vicki Iorio, Ted Jonathan, Kit Kennedy, a.m. kozak, Sarah-Jean Krahn, David Lawton, Richard Loranger, Christopher Luna, Catfish McDaris, Kate Marchetto, Kristen Orser, Daniel Scott Parker, Puma Perl, Dan Raphael, Francis Raven, Lynette Reini-Grandell, Karl Roulston, Cin Salach, skoo d foo da bom!, Mary McLaughlin Slechta, Jon Steinhagen,  John Duncan Talbird, Charles F. Thielman, John J. Trause, Bruce Weber, Gina Williams, Theresa Williams, David Winter, Amy Wright, Tina Yang.

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Because I cast myself off as a brave heart built of the straw of a sparrow’s nest.   I cry all night when lilac bushes bend to the ground from rain.   From snow.   From habit.   I cry in the absent arms that brought me.   Warm from phosphorescent sky banks

Though nothing will ever close the distance.    I still cry tied to the ribcage of the moon.   Listening to the foghorns blowing over the seas of the moon.    In rain.   In snow.   From habit I cry because a wanderer tries to break out of my skin

Every night.   Its muscles heave and convulse.   Its spine ripples its eyelids swell.   Its oars dip.   Its body rises and tries to separate with a boat no longer than a drugged horse.   No wider than a channel of tranquilized blood

From mountain stillness.   From sands restrained by carnivorous reeds from rain.   From snow.   From habit.   I cry all night



The Correctors have allowed you to try living in your name again.

Left hand in your mother’s, right hand in your woman’s,

you face glass, you face the man who has come home.

You tell me you learned home from that anti-place

where no drunk mother kicked you out, no father

mocked the accident of your making, where

concrete held you, softly, until anger fell from your body.

You tell me of returning to this world I shakily walk.

As you step from my family home into the open dark,

into our watched American town, I notice what has not changed:

your gait conveys a purpose, a place you mean to arrive,

a naked space, unwalled, unnamed, stripped of air,

not yet witness to the horror we call freedom, or its limits.


It’s Animal but Merciful great weather for MEDIA 2012 ISBN: 978-0-9857317-0-0 $15.00, 7.5" x 9.25" 162 pages

All our titles may be purchased via IndieBoundamazonBarnes and Noble or order in person or online through your favorite bookstore. For international orders, all great weather for MEDIA books are easily ordered through any local online or bricks-and-mortar store.

Our books are also available through the wondrous Espresso Book Machine! “Prints a book faster than you can make a cup of coffee!”

"I am a bone marrow milkshake for the lonely and disenchanted."

Oh my this collection from great weather for media, "The Understanding Between Foxes and Light" is breathtaking.  There are some beautiful poems in this book.  Today we'll be looking at the poem "alkie i no longer speak to in jersey" by Larry Myers.  This poem is very short but very knee-deep in persona.  My favorite line in this is, "I am a bone marrow milkshake for the lonely and disenchanted."  Larry Myers really captures this one brief moment of this New Jerseyian and their possible downfall.  We don't want to give too much away but it is exquisite.  Our first book release will be at Manitoba's, 99 Ave B (between 6th and 7th) 8pm.