Seattle and Beyond: An Interview with Natasha Kochicheril Moni

The Careless Embrace of the Boneshaker contributor Natasha Kochicheril Moni chats with Jane Ormerod.Natasha Kochicheril Moni's first full-length poetry collection, The Cardiologist’s Daughter, was released by Two Sylvias Press in 2014. Her writing has been published in journals including Magma, Luna Luna, PANK, HobartRattle, and Indiana Review.



JO:  Okay, our curiosity is killing us. What's the story behind your poem "Easter and I Take What You Have Given Me" that appears in our anthology?

NKM:  After growing up in the Bible Belt, in an area called Witch Duck Point where they truly ducked what they believed to be heresy, I was amazed to see what the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence arrange annually in Dolores Park. All those grown men scantily clad for the Hunky Jesus contest. Women dressed as topless Easter bunnies handing out chocolates that weren't likely for the children. And that was only the beginning…

JO:  You are a first-generation American of Dutch and Indian descent. Born in the North and raised in the South, you find home in the Pacific Northwest. What is the influence of this varied background on your work?

NKM:  Growing up in the South, especially in a mixed family, was such a harrowing experience. I write about this openly through my blog, essays such as "A Ringing in Your Ears that Will Disappear By Morning" (The Rumpus), and poems in The Cardiologist’s Daughter (Two Sylvias Press, 2014).

Whether addressing my Dutch/Indian, North/South, East/West Coast, or allopathic/naturopathic roots directly or indirectly, they are always present. I don't believe I have to pepper my writing with visuals of windmills, curry, butterfly needles, red finches, cottonmouths to justify or honor my cultures—though these do often find their way into my writing, because I happen to love pepper.

In short, there isn't a piece of my writing that doesn't address my cultures, because they all occupy (and in some ways compete for) space within me. For this, and other reasons, you will often see me play visually with spacing.

JO:  What are your thoughts on the current poetry scene in the Seattle area? What reading series and venues do you recommend a visitor should check out?

NKM:  When I returned to the Seattle area in 2012, I felt completely outside the poetry scene spare my connections with local writers, publishers (Kelli Russell Agodon, Jenifer Browne Lawrence, Lana Hechtman Ayers, Ronda Broatch, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Holly Hughes, Janet Norman Knox, and Annette Spaulding-Convy). I had just moved back from the Bay Area, which boasts venues such as City Lights Books, San Francisco Motorcycle Club, and Writers with Drinks. I felt lost in my favorite city, so I began to do my research.

First, I found Easy Speak located at the unassuming Wedgewood Ale House. Soon enough, I realized that I had actually published the host, Peter Munro, while acting as an editor for Crab Creek Review. Through Peter, I met Duane Kirby Jensen who hosts not only the successful weekly series Everett Poetry Nite, just north of Seattle, but passes around a hat for the featured poet, treating the writer more traditionally like the musician.

Through Duane, I met poets Von Thompson-Wynn and Pamela Denchfield who hosted the Duvall Poetry series (which also, incidentally offers a stipend for reading).

Thus began my quick re-introduction to the Seattle poetry scene. Beyond what I've already stated, I think that this is a very exciting time to be writing in the Pacific Northwest. Historically, Seattle has been known for its literary contributions and more recently I am seeing this reflected in our growing category of emerging writers.

Still, Seattle can be myopic. Hopefully, after much conversation generated last year over underrepresentation of Seattle's diverse writers (whether it be genre, ethnicity, race, LGBTQ, gender), we are beginning to make this a priority whether by publication or invitations to teach, present, and read locally.

Recommended Reading Series/Venues:

Seattle: Beacon Bards (transitioning to Third Place Books at Seward Park), Cascadia Poetry Festival,Couth Buzzard Books (open mikes, variety shows, etc), Duvall Poetry, Easy Speak Seattle, Elliott Bay Book Company,Hugo House (has hosted anything from book launches to Works in Progress to Ask the Oracle to Cheap Wine and Poets), Lit Crawl, Lit Fix,Margin Shift (presently located at Common Area Maintenance), Open Books (Beyond events, they're an all poetry bookstore!), Ringside Slam, Seattle Arts & Lectures, Seattle Poetry Slam at Rebar, and Third Place Books (Lake Forest Park, Ravenna, and Seward Park locations).

Surrounding Seattle Area:

Bainbridge Island: Eagle Harbor Books

Everett: Everett Poetry Nite

La Conner: Skagit River Poetry Festival

Port Townsend: Northwind and Centrum (Port Townsend Writers’ Conference)

Tacoma: King’s Books, Tacoma Poetry Festival

JO:  As a poet and also an editor, what is your experience of working with small presses? Any tips for writers starting out?

NKM:  As a writer, my experience working with small presses is varied and mostly positive. I've had poems, fiction, essays, and reviews published in around fifty-five journals/magazines/anthologies (print, online, national, international). There are the super supportive smaller mags, such as Toasted Cheese Literary Journal who are a delight to work with and support their authors by nominating them for best of awards, Pushcart, etc.

Fourteen Hills, although they have a revolving door of student editors, are incredibly fun and consistently host excellent readings.

A fairly new publisher, Brightly Press, has been making a tremendous commitment to support writers from an assortment of styles via their gorgeous, annual anthologies that contain such talent, I am thrilled to be included. Beyond the upcoming release of their third anthology, Kelle Grace Gaddis, the publisher is celebrating her debut full-length poetry collection, My Myths, just released by Yellow Chair Press.

Lisa Flowers and Lisa Marie Basile have been hugely supportive, publishing fiercely honest women writers via Luna Luna.

[PANK] sweetens the publication with a crisp $20 and an adorable t-shirt that is quite catchy as it keeps people asking, "What exactly is [PANK]?"

The Rumpus, specifically Patrick Boyle, has been one of my favorite editors to work with. If you write a feature piece you have the chance to opt in for payment.

Mostly, these small presses offer payment via publication. While I get the desire (says the poet/doc who is in a small house worth of debt, herself) to be paid for your efforts, I also understand the very real struggle of sustainability. When I took over the journal, Crab Creek Review in early 2007, I had just enough money to publish the issue that was going to press and some incoming grant money (if we could figure out how to satisfy the requirements, which weren't straight forward). Working 4-6 part-time jobs, depending on the week, I assembled an entirely new volunteer crew of editors and assistants, and learned how to not just operate a non-profit literary organization (also as a volunteer), but bring it back onto the local and literary map, while raising funds. It required a team.

I don't think this story is unique to me. So, that might be the bit about advice for newer writers—consider that most editors have an equally challenging job to not just maintain, but launch their magazine all the while paying rent and, hopefully, doing their own writing. I've actually written some tips on how to submit and will link to my blog here to avoid the need for reprinting.

In terms of small book presses/publishers, I've had the fortune of working with the incredibly innovative, encouraging Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy at Two Sylvias Press. They have been more than generous with their time, energy, and investment that they made in me by publishing The Cardiologist’s Daughter as their first full-length collection. Beyond the stunning lineup of authors, who I am happy to call my press mates, Two Sylvias has launched forward into the literary world by offering The Poet Tarot. Working with a local, small press has also made my first book publication simple in terms of connecting with my publishers, participating in Two Sylvias open houses or associated readings/events. The authors Two Sylvias supports are so diverse not just in background, but also in the way they approach their poetry.

JO:  Which writers do you love? Any lesser known names we should check out?

NKM:  I studied Ilya Kaminsky's Dancing in Odessa, Richard Siken's Crush, and Carolyn Forché’s The Angel of History for about a year each, putting them down and returning to them, frequently.

I have often returned to the poem "Song", it for its bravery and its deftness. I'm sure we are all saddened by Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s passing.

It was all over, when I found Claudia Rankine'sDon’t Let Me Be Lonely. Having had the honor to hear and meet Ms. Rankine at her Seattle Arts & Lectures event, I stand amazed not just by her writing, but the way she is living her life in accordance with what she is teaching. If you haven't picked up Citizen, you must.

Poets You May Not Know, But Should: Jasmine An, Krista Franklin, Nikkita Oliver, Michael Schmeltzer, Mia You and all of the poets listed in earlier sections of this interview.

Poetry Presses That Consistently Promote Exceptional Work: YesYes Books is doing a stunning job with publishing distinct voices, many of whom are people of color. Some of their latest releases include Raena Shirali's forthcoming full-length collection Gilt, Fatimah Ashgar's chapbook After, and Aziza Barnes's i be, but i ain’t.

MoonPath Press and Concrete Wolf are two other small presses that I highly recommend. They are both operated by the same industrious publisher, Lana Hechtman Ayers.

Nonfiction Writers/Memoirists: Kim Barnes, Sonora Jha, Caitlin Myer,Putsata Reang, and Megan Stielstra. All of these writers exhibit grace in handling topics that may not be rendered easily, often doing so with wit and always with candor.

My taste in fiction tends to be traditional though it ranges from Flannery O'Connor to John Steinbeck to Jeannette Winterson to Ann Patchett to Edward P. Jones.

I highly recommend the short stories of emerging writer Linda Bernal in the category of fiction. Her work is skilled and reads so easily, as though you were being invited into the conversation with the author, herself. Kim Barnes and Sonora Jha would also fit equally well here, as they span both nonfiction/fiction.

JO:  Finally, what's coming up next for you?

NKM:  Poetry-wise, I've been shopping around my second full-length collection, Sweetness Wasted. It is much more visual and playful with formatting. It explores everything that looked like love, but ultimately wasn't, along with the Buddhist concept of hungry ghost and how we might be inclined to go toward something external in a way that can never quite fill an internal need. Other than that, I'm working on some poems here and there.

Perhaps more pressing for me right now is the new project I began at Hedgebrook. Returning to fiction, after so many years of concentrating on poetry, has been rather thrilling. How will this all fit with my medical practice? I'd be lying if I said I knew exactly, but I do know that it will shake out. It always does.

Infinite thanks to great weather for media for being such a supportive host in print, online, and in person!


Submissionsfor great weather for MEDIA’s anthologies are open October 15  to January 15.

The Careless Embrace of the Boneshaker is a fearless and dynamic collection of contemporary poetry and short fiction by established and emerging writers. This is essential reading for everyone looking for the innovative, the reflective, and the fearless.  The anthology also contains an interview with musician Thurston Moore.