The Internet. For all of its (as of late) perceived inherent darkness, it is still a beacon for those who, at their heart, hope to do some good in an ever shrinking world. When drawn into this exponentially growing ganglia of human driven neurotransmitters, it allows us to create, connect, collaborate, share and offer support to artists living beyond our local circles. I've been lucky to have "met" scores of writers and artists from the microfiber'd comfort of my recliner, spending many an evening immersed in their work, viewing their creations and following their travels. One such person is Shane Manier, a painter, poet and social activist out of North Carolina. Her recently released book Fallen Heroes of the Awful Waffle (Main St. Rag) explores the lives of people she has encountered in Waffle Houses while traveling between North Carolina and Georgia.
Each one of the poems reads like a short story. Manier is able to show the humanity in the subjects of the poem, shedding light on their frailties and strengths and giving a unique view of all too familiar struggles. She is able to draw from the wide spectrum of behaviors people put on public display and create a tapestry of language that sets the scene, sometimes strikingly so.
Take the opening stanzas of her poem “When Waffles Collide”:
I didn't know they were real.
Rich hipsters who thought being poor was cool,
Until I saw it for my own eyes.
There's a booth of four of them, so sheltered
you can still see the shine of their crowned heads,
where their parents kissed them to bed.
Manier perfectly captures the opposite of these affluent kids looking for the grittier side of things by writing about those that live it, as in her poem “Holy Whores”:
The same alleyway
I see a hooker wash
her mouth out with soda
after business brought her
another plate to warm
the leftovers of her conviction.
In “Tall Black Coffee” she tells of a taxi driver burning time and resources trying to save a nephew from the same fate his own mother found.
It was his momma, who liked the pipe too much
to let her son go on to college.
Now his nephew is following the family tradition,
and he's been adding up his milage
trying to find him and pull him off the streets.
There is plenty to like about this book, and Manier was kind enough to correspond with me so that more can discover her work and all she does.
Fred Whitehead - Have you always lived in North Carolina?
Shane Manier - Not always. I actually grew up traveling on the road.
My father built glass factories and when we weren't at a job site, we were at our farm in Chuckey, TN.
My mom's parents were living in Kannapolis, North Carolina, so when it came time for mom to take care of them, we moved to NC.
F.W. - Where is Kannapolis?
S.M. - Kannapolis is right next to Concord. It's a small town, but I like it.
F.W. - How is the poetry scene there?
S.M. - Well...there's not much of one. Hahaa. Our group got contacted a few months ago requesting we start an open mic for youth in the area, so of course we did, even though we really didn't want to take on a third open mic. We've done a few so far and they have been beautiful. We get a really diverse crowd, some poets, some rappers, some folk singers, we even had a cool magician. And the people are diverse, too; (tends to also happen with our other open mics) different ages, backgrounds, cultures and beliefs. One thing I have noticed in Kannapolis is people are so loving and giving. We have been accepting donations for local shelters and people have brought stuff each time! There are a few musician open mics in the area that have come and gone as well that sometimes poets can go to, but it's hard to get the crowd listening at the venues when they are eating, conversing, etc.
F.W. - We are lucky here in Buffalo in that we have a few really cool independent bookstores that support local poetry. Are there many in your area?
S.M. - There was one called Book Buyers but it closed down. There is a new one opening up however called Editions.
F.W. - When did you start writing poetry?
S.M. - I started at a very, very young age, as soon as I could write. I think I was seeing so many fantastic things both on the road and off, just what that life was like, and since I grew up around mostly construction workers and bikers, I didn't have many other kids to talk to, I was trying to express so many things I saw and felt. My father was very encouraging too, just in his ability to see the world around him and he encouraged me to write.
F.W. - When did you start performing?
S.M. - I started doing poetry out loud and as an art form about 13 years ago, but didn't really understand its power till about 2012, which was 5 years ago.
F.W. - You post a "poetry doodle" nearly every day. Are they drawn from experiences you may have had that day?
S.M. - They are! Some are reflections too. Memories that have stirred up that day from something.
F. W. - Would you consider your poetry doodles as a form of journaling?
S.M. – I suppose so. I think baring witness and channeling it into a type of language of communication can be considered journalism. I feel a lot of poetry is just that. A purer language that goes beyond a historian at times.
F.W. - What are some of your writing habits?
S.M. - I like to try to write everyday and also express myself through art. I feel like art is one of the closest forms of pure language we have. Sometimes our language hurts us, but metaphor has a way of connecting us all on a human level. I think that if you can pull art from anything around you, you can be unstoppable. That's the key, to use the senses. If I were to offer any advice on art in any form it would be practice "seeing," "hearing" and "feeling", use those senses.
F.W. - So true, great advice. You just published a book. Is this your first?
S .M. - It is my first, though I have been published before. I wanted to do my first few books proper. Like go through an editor and submit to be published by a real publisher instead of self-publishing. Most of my poetry isn't edited a lot, so this was the first time I actually sat down and really worked and worked on the poems that went into the book.
F.W. - Any plans for a book tour?
S.M. - Indeed I do! I have a few places booked already. My plan is to start in Kannapolis and spiral my way out as far as I am able.
F.W. - Do you read at many places outside of your area?
S.M. - I do. I tend to be visible a lot in Charlotte, but sometimes I even hit up Salisbury and surrounding areas.
F.W. – We have to get you to come north one of these days. What are your thoughts on the effect social media has had in giving poets a larger audience?
S.M. - I think it's wonderful for inspiration and for connectivity with others to touch and inspire them through our poetry. The only problem is a lot of poets feel they don't want to share which I understand if you are trying to get something published, you shouldn't because some publishers won't take poems that have been posted. They see it as a form of "self-publishing." I think things like writing exercises though, and just communicating through poetry, or maybe even previously published poems posted is a great thing.
F. W. - Do you submit to many journals?
S.M. - Not as often as I would like. I kind of stopped submitting, but plan on starting back soon.
F.W. - When did you start the Guerrilla Poets?
S.M. - I started the group in 2012 after a reading at The Witches Brew (a small cafe coffee shop that was in Lincolnton, NC). I was reading a poem called "Sitting with Death Beside the Fence with a Pack of Cigarettes." An older man had come up to me, crying, threw his arms around me and said he didn't know there was an open mic that night, he had just come in to get some food to go and that he had planned on going home and committing suicide, but after hearing that, said he wasn't going to and that moment right there I found out how powerful poetry could be for other people. There was nothing else I wanted to do but help others through the arts.
F.W. - What is Guerilla Poets?
S.M. - Guerilla Poets is an activist/outreach art collective whose main goal is to touch others lives through the arts. Our mission is to empower, uplift and inform.
F.W. - Was it your idea?
S.M. - It was, though when we started, there was a hard core of 4 of us that ran it. The original members were myself, Foster Cameron Hunter, Morgan DePue and Solomon Sasscer.
F.W. - It is not just in the U.S., is it? Where are the other chapters located?
S.M. - There is one in the UK, and they are some fantastic poets with some big hearts, too. Some of the members that way are Deke Dobson, Jerry Snod a.k.a. Mole, Paul Read and Mike Orvis.
F.W. - Are they independent in what they try to accomplish, or is there some sort of central planning committee that decides on areas to work on?
S.M. - We do collaborative projects, meaning we do videos and tracks of collaboration poems and there is also a traveling poetry journal we pass between us and around to others until it is filled. We plan on publishing that as well. They do events mostly on their own, but we are revamping this year and assigning leaders to help it grow further.
F.W. - How has the public response been to the work Guerrilla Poets has been doing?
S. M. - Very supportive. We get a lot of love at most places, which I am thankful for, as their support helps in turn the people we reach.
F.W. - What is your involvement in social activism, meaning, what areas are you trying to bring awareness to?
S.M. - Our group tends to go where the need is, which sometimes can be overwhelming between causes and also organizations where funding gets cut (we try to fill in what they lack). We've done so many things, from flash mob for awareness and uplifting message of hope and strength, to art, clothes, hygiene and toy fundraisers for homeless. We do art, music and poetry workshops for low income neighborhoods, homeless, elderly and youth. We've done art shows on the destruction of human intelligence, to fundraising shows for our friend Yongo in Africa that does permaculture in small villages. We're also in the process of a continuing series called "Save the Humans," which is all about self-sustainability and helping others to be less dependent on corporations in America, to stop some of the effects of mass demand and damage done to our resources (as well as ourselves, both mentally and physically). Our long effort goal with “Save the Humans” is to turn some property I own into a permaculture and artist learning retreat and seasonal eco-village.
F.W. - You sometimes do speed paintings at the readings and events you attend. What got you going with these?
S.W. - I was at a venue for an open mic in Kannapolis called “Vino Hops” a few years ago, it used to be our hang out place before it closed down. I met a lot of wonderful people and musicians there. One night after I had been there a few times, I asked David Domingo (who was hosting the open mic at the time) if I could paint because I was getting so inspired from the music, and he said sure! It unfolded from there.
F.W. - Did you go to school for art?
S.M. - I went to college for Graphic Design and Art, and I also spent some time in Europe in high school through my art class with Ms. Hardin.
F.W. - Do you work in other mediums besides painting?
S.M. - I do some ink, pastels, oil pastels and colored pencil as well. I actually have been meaning to get back to some other mediums lately.
F.W. - Are there any other writers or artists in your family?
S.M. - My father encouraged me to write, and he wrote some short stories with me when I was very young. Other than that, my grandmother wrote gospel music and was also one of the people who wrote "May the Circle Be Unbroken." Her name was Hortence Manier.
F. W. - Where can people find your work?
S.M. - I have been published in various anthologies and online journals; I am googleable and have a website where my art, a blog, and my facebook can be found. It is: http://guerillapoets2012.wixsite.com/shanemanier/about
I also have my first chapbook available through Main Street Rag "The Fallen Heroes of the Awful Waffle" that is also googleable (I just like saying that word "googleable" hahaa). You can find it here: https://mainstreetragbookstore.com/?product=the-fallen-heroes-of-the-awful-waffle
One of Buffalo’s hardest working and most talented musicians is singer/songwriter Grace Stumberg. Learn a bit about her, the bands she plays with and where you can find her work.
Fred Whitehead - When did you start playing music?
Grace Stumberg - I started in 7th Grade by teaching myself guitar out of a box called "Quick Start Guitar Kit." I was singing since I could open my mouth.
F.W. - What got you interested in music?
G.S. - I just loved the way music made me feel. I wanted to create it and feel those feelings! Also make those sounds.
F.W. - Was guitar always your instrument of choice?
G.S. - Guitar was always my instrument of choice. I didn't learn that I preferred voice until much later.
F.W. - When was that?
G.S. - About ten years ago.
F.W. - What was your first time playing live?
G.S. - My first show was for a small scholarship competition. I sang “Angel from Montgomery” by John Prine in front of an auditorium of people at Sweet Home High School. I lost to a yodeler, but I won in overcoming stage fright!
F.W. – Sweet Home? That's my alma mater. I don't remember many yodelers though. When you started out, who would you say influenced you the most when it came to songwriting?
G.S. – I wanted to make songs that people could relate to and be inspired by, which is why I always loved Sheryl Crow. So melodic and meaningful, except for the radio pop hits. [laughing]
F.W. - For me, early on, it was John Prine, Townes Van Zandt, Dylan. I heard Jason Isbell for the first time when he released “Southeastern” a few years back, and —on that album— he's the closest thing to a poet/songwriter that I've heard in a while. I've always had the opinion that the closer a songwriter was to being a poet, the more I found myself drawn to their work. How do you feel about it?
G.S. - Dylan is exceptional when it comes to music. His poetry and sarcasm and clever lyrics always inspired me. I love good lyrics that make you think.
F.W. - Whether writing a song or listening to others, it was always the lyrics that I focused on first and the music after. Is it the same in your case?
G.S. - I always focus on words first. In fact most of my songs start out as just journal entries and then transform themselves into lyrical form and by the end, the music is set to it, already ringing in my head.
F.W. - What is your songwriting method like? What I mean is, do you typically come up with the lyrics first, the music, or both at the same time?
G.S. - Lyrics mostly always, always come first.
F.W. - They are two completely different dynamics, so this may not be a fair question, but, which do you enjoy more, playing solo or in a band situation?
G.S. - I enjoy playing solo because it is more intimate and there's more room to "breathe," if you will. However, I also love getting up there with a band and rocking the heck out!!!!
F.W. - Small venues or big?
G.S. - I prefer smaller venues. Such as Babeville’s 9th Ward. That is my favorite place to perform by far.
F.W. - Any particular reason?
G.S. - I like small venues because they are more intimate, I like to be close to the people!
F.W. - When did you form The Grace Stumberg band?
G.S. – I formed The Grace Stumberg Band in about... 2013, as many venues were reaching out demanding a full band sound.
F.W. - You just released a new album. Can you say a little about it?
G.S. - The album is self-titled and was released March 11th, 2017. It is extremely raw. No auto tune, only a few mics were used, and is themed along the lines of "loss."
F.W. - How is the response so far?
G.S. - The response is incredible. Many people have remarked that this album is deeply moving, spiritual and wholesome.
F.W. - How many albums do you have out?
G.S. - I have four albums out, the first three are band based and the last is mostly all acoustic.
F.W. - Studio work, though tiring and frustrating at times, can be a blast. Where did you record it?
G.S. - I recorded this album in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.
F.W. - Who did you work with on it?
G.S. - I worked with Dirk Powell and Grace Lougen.
F.W. - How hands-on were you with the production?
G.S. - There wasn't much production needed because I wanted the songs to stand up on their own. Dirk Powell did lend his talents on banjo, some guitar and mandolin throughout. Grace Lougen also contributed to the guitar tracks.
F.W. - There is such an amazing amount of different styles of music available for daily consumption now. Do you try to introduce many different sounds into your work?
G.S. - My latest work was super organic and raw. I wanted the voice and guitar sounds to be untouched and just exist in a natural state as instruments. So much of today’s music tends to be over cluttered with computer sounds. However, I am an not discrediting that those things sound cool or work for certain styles of music. I just like to keep it simple and natural.
F.W. - You are on the road quite a bit working with Joan Baez. Seems like a pretty cool gig. How has the experience been for you?
G.S. - The experience working for Joan has been incredible. I grew up quickly on the road and have learned and seen things that have changed my life permanently. I've also had the privilege of meeting some stars along the way such as Robert Plant, The Indigo Girls, Snoop Dogg and more.
F.W. - Have any of the musicians you've met, the ones that have been in the business for a long time, given you any advice?
G.S. - The only advice I was given is that if you're going to succeed you're going to because of your natural talent, the rest is up to the universe.
F.W. - You also get the chance to sing with Joan from time to time, is that right?
G.S. - I've been singing with Joan consistently each tour for about three years now. I mostly think of it as singing with my friend that just happens to be a legend.
F.W. - Buffalo has a pretty tight musical community, at least from what I've seen and experienced. What other bands or musicians have you worked with?
G.S. - I love working with bands! I love collaborating and having a crossover between listeners and followers. Some bands I have worked with are Dirty Smile, Freight Train, Tina Williams, Sara Elizabeth and many more.
F.W. – Collaboration may not exactly include writing songs with someone else. Do you do much writing with any other local singer/songwriters?
G.S. - I haven't written with anyone in years. Writing with someone is a very intimate relationship that’s hard to find.
F.W. - Where can folks find your albums?
G.S. - I have all albums on itunes, my latest release is self-titled and called "Grace." I am also on Spotify, and Apple Music!
F.W. - What are your plans for the rest of the summer?
G.S. - For the rest of the summer I will be going on a brief tour with Joan Baez, The Indigo Girls and Mary Chapin Carpenter. It's called “The 4 Voices Tour.” I will be working backstage and tech-ing. After that I have so many exciting shows that I can't list just one. But they can be found at www.gracestumberg.com on the "Shows Page." I encourage all readers to check it out!
F.W. - Hey! You stole my line! So, I encourage all readers to check it out!
Fred Whitehead - You're not originally from the area. Where were you raised?
Gene Grabiner - The Bronx and Yonkers.
F.W. - What brought you to Buffalo?
G.G. - I was hired at UB in the Graduate School of Education to teach the Sociology of Education.
F.W. - When was the first time you tried your hand at writing?
G.G. - Wrote some pretty sophomoric and teenage angst poems in high school.
F.W. - You were a professor at Erie Community College for quite a while. When did you start there?
G.G. - Despite having written many scholarly articles, and after seven years there, I was denied tenure at U.B. because it was said that my work was "not published in recognized, refereed journals in the field.” Of course, the relevant questions are: whose recognition counts?, who are the referees? Academic freedom is a sometime thing. Fortunately, I got hired at ECC, where I taught for 30 years.
F.W. - Have you taught elsewhere?
G.G. - UB, Everett Junior High, San Francisco Berkeley High School.
F.W. - You attended Berkeley, I believe. What was it like when you were there?
G.G. - The university was terrific. My professors were excellent and very supportive. Along the way to getting my PhD, I did a Master’s in criminology—not in a mainstream cop program, but in a program that asked the basic questions about crime, theories of crime causation, and how to reform the criminal justice system. I worked in two student-founded journals, was in a building occupation and, along with a few thousand other students protesting the Vietnam War, was tear-gassed from the air by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department.
F.W. - Is that when you started to think about politics and the effect they have on people?
G.G. - Actually, I started thinking seriously about politics in college. But even before that, I was opposed to nuclear weapons and to war.
F.W. - I'm pretty sure I know the answer, but where on the spectrum do you fall politically?
G.G. - These are questions you are asking of poets?
F.W. – Ha! I've been known to.
G.G. - I am a socialist.
F.W. – I lean a bit that way myself. I feel we are entering a very unstable period in our history. How important is poetry in getting the word out in respect to making people aware of the wrongs in society and how we can get back on the proper heading?
G.G. - I don’t think that poetry changes anything. It can inform, educate, and illuminate the issues of our times and our lives. Whether on the personal, societal, or global levels, and not always in a conscious or deliberate way, poetry, (and art, music, and dance), becomes part of the broader cultural struggle— which, itself, is an aspect of the underlying political-economic struggle. In a certain way, poetry can become the voice of history.
F.W. - You have written quite a bit for journals and publications. What are a few of them?
G.G. - Among other journals and anthologies, my work has been published in: Comstock Review, Slant, Connecticut River Review, Passager, Jewish Currents, Rosebud, Blue Collar Review, and J Journal.
F.W. – I don't submit much to journals, going a different path for now. Do you submit your poems to many?
G.G. - I do.
F.W. - You just published a book of poems. What is it called and who published it?
G.G. - My chapbook, There Must Be More Than Trigonometry, was just published by Foothills Publishing.
F.W. - Mike Czarnecki does a great job with Foothills. Is this your first collection of poems?
G.G. - Yes.
F.W. - Buffalo has always had a strong poetic community; what do you think of what seems to be a pretty good uptick in activity in the local poetry scene?
G.G. - It’s terrific. And it’s vigorous and flourishing. I will say, however, that there’s plenty of teenage angst floating about. Also, in my opinion, since the Beats are done, I don’t listen much to the neo-Beats. I think that poetry is hard work; so, I wish more poets would work harder at their writing.
I think that rap is very important since it brings us back to poetry’s origins: the metrical, spoken word. I have heard some excellent rap poets. I would like to see their words on the printed page. There seems to be a few divisions in the Buffalo poetry community: academic/extra-academic; white poets/poets of color; older poets/younger poets. But in general, and just because they are poets, there is also a lot of unity.
Still, I would like to see much more multi-racial, multi-ethnic poetry. Inasmuch as we need that sort of unity in society, particularly to confront the issues we face, I would like to see that unity in poetry. That does not mean that different groups and traditions lose their identity. It just means that we have solidarity, and learn from one another’s traditions and voices.
F.W. - Who were some of your early influences. Not just as far as poetry goes.
G.G. - Langston Hughes, Lucille Clifton, Zora Neale Hurston, Leopold Senghor, Anne Sexton, Bertolt Brecht, Randall Jarrell, Gary Snyder, Alan Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Marge Piercy, Robert Bly, Ruth Stone, Herman Melville, Robert Herrick, Christopher Smart, Otto Rene Castillo, Pablo Neruda, Frederico Garcia, Lorca, Henry Roth, and the Chinese mountains and rivers tradition of Ch’an Buddhist poetry. Of course, there are too many more influences to mention.
F.W. - Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing with your free time?
G.G. - I have been working on police reform in Buffalo for the past year and a half with The Partnership for the Public Good, and I remain an active Central Labor Council delegate. I also like to fish with my kids, and spend time with my new grandchildren whenever possible.
F.W. - Getting some traveling in?
G.G. - Just returned from giving a reading in Bath, NY. I may be reading soon in NYC as well as out west.
F.W. - And many more around here, I hope. Thanks Gene!
Here are some of Gene’s poems as well as links to a few of his published political essays.
Once, a man wrote a strange book
full of prophecies & thwartings.
It was so odd it might have
wanted to be a book
about white whales & doubloons,
brassy still seas & survivors afloat.
But it was its own
book of desires & losses,
of almosts & nevers, hot skin
on skin for yearnings
Really, a book of women
what they needed & men
who did not know themselves.
Reading it, you would think it
was written yesterday; or maybe would
be written tomorrow.
The narrator was in the book but never
there himself until he left & someone
else told that tale. This strange book was
lost in small towns in early Ohio;
the sadness of its truths
was discovered in the cities.
Conversation with Seamus
He’s got some fused vertebrae, long-haired orange
cat I found under the cabin,
being hit on the road as a farm kitten.
He wheezes like me
maybe from being abandoned in forest-winters,
scrounging in the deep freeze.
We discuss leaving this life. We concur.
That is, I assume his not paying any attention
is concurrence. We both stand
in the same gold field on the balance beam between
getting out of the here and now, or hanging around.
When the slim disease came to Sing-Sing,
the hacks would shove in dinner
on metal trays with brooms:
a quarantine shuffleboard.
He had blotches on his face, or his teeth rotted
or maybe he was queer, with a strange cancer--
worked in the kitchen.
So when other cons
burned his cell, he got administrative segregation,
was sent to the hospital--
out of the narrow alleys
of their lives.
One time, this lifer met with the counselor,
filled out a form,
handed back the pen.
She just sat there,
pen untouched on the table.
When the slim disease
came to Clinton, hacks in the yard
wore goggles, gas masks, gloves.
In the beginning,
AIDS fingered eight thousand
when it came inside.
All Eyes Are Upon Us
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
...then they stomped
as he lay on the sidewalk
hands cuffed behind his back
who was on his way that fall to college
Stop and frisk
Stop and frisk
and used a chokehold to kill
who sold cigarettes one-by-one
on the street in Staten Island
and punched again, again
in the face
as she lay on the ground
then they stood around while
an angry bartender
down the stairs to his death;
maybe helped hide
the security videotape
then it was
in Salt Lake City, and
and Darrien Hunt
in Saratoga Springs, Utah--
how about that grandmother
shot to death in a SWAT team raid
then it was
unarmed, homeless, mentally ill
clubbed to death by three Fullerton cops
left with pulp for a face
in ‘73 in Dallas
was marked by officer Cain
who played Russian Roulette
with the handcuffed 12-year-old
in his cruiser--
till the .357 fired ; Santos’ blood
all over his 13-year-old handcuffed
and those cries of
19-month-old Bounkham Phonesavanh
in whose crib
the flash-bang grenade exploded
Shelter in place
Shelter in place
or 41 police gunshots at immigrant
in the doorway
of his Bx. apt. Bldg.
and that cop who shot and killed
as she slept
and those Cleveland cops who shot
who had a BB gun
and gave him no first aid--
watched him die
all those police
with gas masks and helmets in
telling the people
don’t be on the streets after sundown
Ferguson— still a sundown town
maybe soon like a town near you
with M-16’s, MRAP’s,
armored personnel carriers--
in this war against the people
Spare a Dime?
Vast urban anacondas of the unemployed
ripple muscular down sidewalks, around corners, under neon,
past decorative awnings, window displays; past
last click of that office door, final
clang of a locker
at the plant after the
abandonment of that woman
on the line since her teens: where she met her boyfriend, married,
kept house with him, raised three children,
pledged the flag,
was a church regular. She is left
with a stack of address labels for
mail that now will never again
leave that neat, small suburban house,
deftly taken by the bank.
In that back corner of the zoo, hyena
remembers & remembers
the savannah, river
flowing golden about her chest.
The call of memory shudders
from deep in that gristled throat.
It rings in all our afternoons of
gray drizzled rain. In this
humid night, her awful jowl drips.
Even in the muffled silence
of deep winter,
she calls & calls for her sisters.
& in the heat of still summer
hyena call bounces off the concrete
zoo enclosure, caroms around
the neighborhood. Howls that
suffuse the air & hunt
in our alleys, behind convenience stores,
snaking around barber shops,
stalking us in darkened theaters.
She’s no laughing matter.
jaws, checkered rough fur--
a checkered past. She longs
for the return; when we were not
the protectors we fancy.
Now, in my sleep-fogged memory,
that primordial throaty voice
floats across thick veldt air: terror
that keeps me close to jungle
when I climb down, stand
take those first tentative
steps away from trees.
The spectrum of poetics in Buffalo is wide indeed. Any style, flavor, and genre can be, and is, found nightly at the many venues that now showcase this city’s poets. It was at Rust Belt Books, back when it was on Allen Street some four or five years ago, that I first heard Jeffrey Charles Naish read his work. Poems that pushed back moth eaten curtains to reveal some darkness, perceived or otherwise, that churns in whoever or whatever resides behind them. I wanted to ask him a bit about himself and his work. I hope this article gives you an idea of what he is about, but it is best, of course, to go and listen for yourself or pick up one of his books.
Fred Whitehead - How did you first come to poetry?
Jeffrey Charles Naish - I wrote a lot in my teens and stopped for about 10 years after graduation, in the period I call "The drug years."
F.W. - Times like that, if one survives, tend to be a good source for material. Your work seems to draw from that and there seems to be a Bukowski-esque bent to your poems. Would you say he is an influence?
J.C.N. - Indeed. I believe Bukowski is the greatest poet of all time because he wrote about real life, real experience. He didn't write for scholars, he kept the language simple yet genius.
F.W. - Who else do you think had an influence on your writing?
J.C.M. - I'm influenced from any of the poetry books I've read. From Li Po to Jim Carroll, and even you Fred. Poetry is like music to me there's so much amazing stuff in the world, you'll die before you get to it all. There's a lot of shit out there too, but you'll find something you can relate to.
F.W. - Are you from Buffalo?
"Poems that pushed back moth eaten curtains"
J.C.N. - I grew up in Lockport but left after school to be in the city, closer to the clubs where my band could play.
F.W. - When did you get interested in playing music?
J.C.N. - My parents always had music playing and they had different tastes so I was exposed to a lot of great stuff from rock to soul and was fascinated by my father's record collection, so by 16 I was bugging them for an instrument.
F.W. – Were you always a bass player or did you play other instruments as well?
J.C.N. - Always the electric bass, though I wanted to play drums, but bass was cheaper and the volume is adjustable. No turning down a drum kit.
F.W. - Did you write songs with the band?
J.C.N. - Since the first day I ever picked up the bass, I strove to write my own original music. Cover songs didn't interest me; it was about creation.
F.W. - Did you write lyrics as well as the music?
J.C.N. - I've always kept my words and music separate; why, I'm not sure. I guess to give whoever was singing at the time some creative freedom as well.
F.W. - What genre did your bands play mostly?
J.C.N. - I love any music I can feel, so I've been a part of a variety of great projects over the years. I've been in rock, metal, punk, funk, jazz and hip-hop groups.
F.W. - Are you still in a band?
"Cover songs didn't interest me; it was about creation."
J.C.N. - I just stopped playing last year when I turned 40 after twenty years of playing on and off. I still love to entertain, there's just not as many egos to deal with in poetry.
F.W. – Who would you say is your favorite band?
J.C.N. - Again, this is tough because I love so much music so I'll just say three of my favorite artists of all time that made several brilliant albums: Miles Davis, Peter Tosh and 311. I chose those three only because of their completely different styles, but at the end of the day, it's all just great music.
F.W. - How many books have you published?
J.C.N. - To date I've published six poetry books and self-released one chapbook, which I'm in the process of re-releasing in a little better looking second edition soon.
F.W. - What is your latest book?
J.C.N. - The latest book is titled Experiments in Expression and is exactly what the title says. This is my only book that doesn't have an overall theme, but is divided into three chapters, each with their own theme and as always, the last poem generally ties it all together, Naish style. I would like to add that the "Experiments" cover design is based on your book Orbs, how the entire book itself is a piece of art with the painting on the front and orange wrap around background completely canvassing the back, no writing. I said something like, "I want it to be a piece of art like Fred Whitehead's Orbs," haha.
F.W. - Thanks Jeff! Do each or any of your books have a theme?
J.C.N. - This is my only book that doesn't have an overall theme but is divided into three chapters each with their own theme and as always the last poem generally ties it all together, Naish style.
F.W. - Where can your books be found?
J.C.N. - I have an author page on Amazon.com, and various other online distributors. I don't do social media any longer, though I do have a blog on Wordpress, just to post poems in appreciation for those who still enjoy literary arts in this, the digital dark age. ...also if you see me at a literary event, I usually have books with me as well.
F.W. - What kind of process do you have when it comes to writing your poetry?
J.C.N. - No process really, I just don't force it. It comes like transmissions from the cosmos.
F.W. - Any daily practice or particular space you like when writing?
J.C.N. - Wherever it comes to me, could be at a job or driving, or just staring at the wall in deep thought. I keep pens and notepads everywhere.
F.W. - What are some of your favorite venues for readings?
J.C.N. - Anywhere the vibe is good and the people are receptive, not playing with their phones. I like your spot at Dog Ears Bookstore and Rust Belt Books on the West Side . I've also read at a couple bars, obviously that was a cool experience.
F.W. - Okay, let's say the apocalypse is about to hit and you had to choose one book to take into the bunker, which would it be?
J.C.N. - The Tao Te Ching, philosophical and poetic, probably the greatest book of thoughts ever put together and probably the book I've read the most.After that, probably Bukowski's Last Night of the Earth Poems, of course.
Here is some of Jeff's work.
Possibly the worst way
To ensure a life of misery
But convincing others of this
Is quite difficult
Because most people need labels
To identify themselves
As something special
Above and far more learned
Than the rest
Herein lies the problem
By creating and segregating oneself
In these categories
You’re basically destroying
Everything that was achieved
In the battle against inequality
And organizing your group
To help only one another
Identified by their labels
Unconcerned for the rest
Is perpetuating the prejudice
You’re preaching against
Nothing will be achieved
Lest we can learn
To relinquish the labels
We wear like armor
And be the best
The decline of western civilization
Is more evident every four years
During the overly televised campaign season.
Stupidity is thrown at you
From every direction, unavoidable.
The candidates or lack thereof
Make up a small portion
Of what’s gone wrong here.
The vanity and ignorance
Of the sleepwalking people
Supply the rest.
Now, with social media
When not taking pictures of themselves
Can show everyone
They’re a political Plato
And make a poor attempt
To prove their party right.
I don’t get excited, nor worried.
I’ve been through many elections
And I can tell you first hand that
Not a congressional tongue,
Not a rapist's hand,
Not a killer's conscience,
Not the emptiness in your wallet,
Nor your stomach,
Don’t Bring the Drama Club to a Knife Fight
Blunt force drama
Like blindly stepping
On the end of a shovel
Dirt-encrusted rusted metal
Taste of decay and
Dangling flesh dripping pus
To turn at the sound
Of footsteps closing in, a target
For misdirected misery
I tend to disappear
I don’t pretend to care
“Surviving 8 hours” he said
…but I know I will
That’s how I’ve scraped by
For nearly 2 decades
Of tyrannical Dukes
In occupational hazards
Grinding through the gears
Of a faulty program
A means to an end
Because nothing lasts forever
On the material plane
And I pray a learned soul
Shouldn’t have to return
Meanwhile, I await the call
For the week’s ending
As it echoes from the mouth
Of an empty bottle
Buffalo has been a city for The Arts from almost the time of its inception. We are lucky to have a city that continues to produce artists and writers of the highest caliber. One of those is playwright and poet Justin Karcher. You can catch him doing a set at any one of the many readings around town or see one of his plays now and again. In this interview Justin gives us a little insight about himself and his work.
Fred Whitehead - Your latest book, When Severed Ears Sing You Songs just came out. Where was the book launch?
Justin Karcher - We had the launch party for When Severed Ears Sing You Songs at Alley Cat, located in the tremoring heart of Buffalo blackouts – Allentown. Allen, I should say, as I’m not from the burbs or from out of town. It was, to put it mildly, a rusty bacchanalia. The bar was packed;the News was there and everybody seemed to have had a great time, except toward the end where, predictably so, some of us were swallowed up by hungry whales. In a way, I was like Jonah and the night was filled with a kind of Old Testament angst – all the skeletons came rushing out of closets. Some of us were punished. Some of us were raptured. How poetry should be, I suppose.
F.W. - Stylistically, did you try to go in a different direction when compared to Tailgating at the Gates of Hell, which came out last year?
J.K. - Stylistically, there are a lot of differences between Tailgating at the Gates of Hell and When Severed Ears Sing You Songs. The main one being that I am much more in control of my voice in the latter. Tailgating was a youthful explosion, not to undersell it or anything like that; what I mean is that the poems in Tailgating are the first rumblings of me being confident with my voice, with what I want to say – want being the operative word there. I was discovering myself, beginning to bloom, learning how not to be swallowed up by my streams of consciousness. Thematically, that collection is all about falling into addiction, willingly steamrolling toward self-destruction. When Severed Ears Sing You Songs is more deliberate, what I need to say – a small collection of poems about being addicted in Buffalo and the desire to overcome it – rather than drown in language, the poems are more precise – manifest destiny, let’s say, that doesn’t derail at any point.
F.W. - Do you have any particular formula when putting a book of poems together?
J.K. - So, yeah, When Severed Ears Sing You Songs was terribly thought-out. I had a lot of poems published in 2016 – some are about life in Buffalo, some are not. I wanted another book that was specifically about Buffalo, so I took all the Buffalo poems I had published in 2016 and noticed that there was a narrative thread connecting them all – addiction, demons, overdosing. I focused on those three things and built a story out of them.
F.W. - When did you start writing poetry?
J.K. - Oh man...when did I start writing poetry? This always seems like a copout answer, but it does seem like I’ve been writing as long as I can remember – but I really started to take the whole being a poet thing seriously in high school when I was crippled by my first dance with depression. I got really into the Romantics – Byron, Keats, Shelley – and of course it sounds cliché, maybe even cheesy, but that’s where my whole addiction (there’s that word again) with poetry started: a West Side cerebellum flophouse evolving into a Winchester mansion where there are stairways leading nowhere, where doors swing open and you’re suddenly standing on your tippy toes at the edge of the abyss. What isn’t poetry but a way to acknowledge and then overcome the abyss? Something like that, I think.
F.W. - Your readings, to me at least, seem to fall somewhere between a spoken word performance and what could be called a traditional reading. Are there any poets that you would consider an influence as far as how they present their work or is your style one that came naturally?
J.K. - Thanks for noticing the fine balance I try to strike between spoken word and a more ‘academic’ styling – I think there are merits in both styles, so I try to incorporate both of them when I read/perform. It’s very much a conscious decision on my part – I guess first and foremost, I want poetry in all its forms to be more aggressive. I felt this way before the Trump administration and I’m certainly more passionate about it now, considering DC’s looming shadow that strangles daylight. In other words, we can’t have the arts be forgotten – especially poetry – so I think any performance/reading needs to be theatrically-charged, like a charismatic Sherman Tank of stanzas steamrolling through people’s eyes and ears until it burns and breaks down somewhere in the middle of their taint-y cardiac-land. I want the words that we write and say to stick to souls. At poetry events, I want to be able to hear a pin drop, everybody hung up on words, so, yeah, it’s important to grab attention by any means necessary – and sometimes that includes heavy doses of charm, swaying, hand gestures, plucking petals off flowers you just bought at the intermission of the reading from someone on the street – language is beautiful on its own, but sometimes you have to steroid it up a little bit to make it like a mountain. Of course I’m influenced by the Beats – Ginsberg, Kerouac, Corso, etc. – and how they read/performed – just listen to any of their old clips on YouTube and you can feel their barbaric yawps crawling out of anything – I might be more influenced by musicians/singers – and how they craft charisma into something that is living and breathing – I’m a huge Tom Waits fan and his stage presence is incredible. Then there are singers like Cedric Bixler-Zavala of At the Drive In who heavily influenced what I do and how I do it. I don’t know…there has to be an unstrung theatrics when it comes to poetry. Poetry has a hard enough time living from day-to-day. At the very least, it shouldn’t be boring – but that’s my opinion.
F.W. - I've heard your poetry described as being on the dark side. I would say it does lean toward exploring the human condition with sardonic humor. How would you describe it?
J.K. - Ah, I'm so glad you've mentioned the sardonic humor; like that aspect of my work. Humor is such an important part of my work. It really is the backbone, the foundation from which I can build that poetic Winchester mansion I was talking about earlier. Now that I'm thinking about it, I wouldn't say it's really humor that backbones my poetry, but rather self-deprecation - a surgical knife that I turn on myself. We must meet everyday life head on and put autopsies in our eyes, look all that death square in the face and declare, "I'm not perfect, but the abyss is a sitcom these days, a laugh track that we mustn't let beat us into submission. That's what I try to accomplish with my writing. I don't know...everyday life is beautiful and we must acknowledge the raptures that happen every second, the ones that hide out in the shadows and in these absurd times, we must grasp significance wherever we can find it and sometimes that involves breaking yourself down to get to the truth. Poetry isn't about alternative facts.
F.W. - What poets are you currently reading?
J.K. - There is so, so much happening in the Buffalo poetry scene that much of what I read is from local poets. Big shout outs to Ben Brindise, Aidan Ryan (co-founder and co-editor of Foundlings, a great local lit mag that everyone should check out), Megan Kemple, who all have books coming out in the next few months. Love what the Cringeworthy crew is doing and that includes Nathanael William Stolte, Julio Montalvo Valentin, Misty Khan-Becerra and Jen Skelton. Then there's all the exciting stuff that Rachelle Toarmino and Peach Mag are putting out.
F.W. - Do you submit to many journals?
J.K. - Absolutely! I try to submit to 3-5 journals every week.
F.W. - Which ones have published your work?
J.K. - Who hasn't? But in all seriousness...some recent journals that have published my work are 3:AM Magazine, Zombie Logic Review, Devise Literary, The Honest Ulsterman, The Literateur and more.
F.W. - Where can your books be found?
J.K. - Tailgating at the Gates of Hell can be found at Talking Leaves Books, Rust Belt Books, Dog Ears Bookstore and other fine local establishments. You can also order it from Ghost City Press, https://gumroad.com/l/tailgatingatthegatesofhell. I always have a couple copies in my car. As for When Severed Ears Sing You Songs, well, only 100 were made – so they’re kind of special. You can obtain copies from either myself or the Cringeworthy crew. Basically, check out some readings or open mics and any book your heart desires is typically available.
F.W. - You are a playwright also. When did you start writing plays?
J.K. - I started writing plays in college. Basically, it’s all poetry’s fault – one night at some party, it slipped too something nasty in my drink – then it whispered, “People talk in your poems now.” When I came to, it was morning and I was a playwright.
F.W. - Where have your plays been performed?
J.K. - All over the city, including Road Less Traveled Productions, American Repertory Theater of WNY, The Subversive Theatre Collective, Alleyway Theatre and more. I’ve also been slowly stretching my writing prowess into other cities all over the country. My one act play When the Skeletons in Our Closets Choke on Candy Corn premiered in October at The Players Theatre in New York City.
F.W. - Do you have any plays set to debut soon?
J.K. - Yup! I have a one act entitled When Blizzard Babies Turn to Stone that’ll be part of Alleyway Theatre’s Buffalo Quickies. It opens February 23, 2017. About the play: A world premiere. In his drunken stupor Mike believes the love of his life is Medusa... but will his dream turn to stone?
F.W. - Do you write your plays with any particular actors or directors in mind?
J.K. - Not really. I fly by the seat of my pants with a lot of this stuff – for good and for bad.
F.W. - Have you directed your own work?
J.K. - I try not to. It’s nice to have another voice, a fresh set of eyes looking at your words, especially for the stage.
F.W. - Have you acted?
J.K. - Ah, um, yes? I have no range. I’m basically me – and that puts a strange smile on my face from time to time. Then that smile turns into a frown sometimes. Acting!
F.W. - Was it in your own plays?
J.K. - Some monologues here and there, but nothing special. Remember – I have no range!
F.W. - What is your "day job"?
J.K. - Insurance...moving on. Seriously though, I was adjunct teaching, but it's depressing that no institution, it seems, is hiring full time. Oh well - it's mercenary work these days anyways.
F.W. - Are you from Buffalo?
J.K. - Born and bred. Sometimes it feels like I was Frankensteined out of dead Buffalo parts - like my tears are old Canalside water and maybe my eyes are made out of electric chairs and pacemakers. Maybe my heart is the headstone of Rick James. Maybe I'm a superfreak, but I'm all Buffalo - and maybe when I sweat in that nonexistent winter sun, it smells like chicken wings and maybe when I snore, it sounds like the lip smacking of two drunk kids making out at The Pink when the vampires are out. Who knows. My umbilical cord is somewhere out there - I don't know...dangling from the Peace Bridge like mistletoe...sometimes you just gotta make out with your demons and hope for the best. That's Buffalo.
F.W. - Do you do any collaborative work with any other Buffalo Poets?
J.K. - All the time! That's what makes this scene so compelling and invigorating and utterly on the rise. During election season, for instance, myself, Ben Brindise, Aidan Ryan, Megan Kemple, among others, were on the Whistle Stop Poets and Comics ’16 Election Tour. We performed in Buffalo, Rochester, Fredonia, Syracuse and Toronto. It was a resounding success, using poetry as a platform to discuss politics, which isn’t anything new, but we added a frantic grain elevator feel to the words and they went up and down in people’s heads until they busted out the backs – words with wings ready to deliver divine justice.
F.W. - Can you say a few words about Ghost City Press?
J.K. - Wow, well, Ghost City Press. What can I say? I love them. They put out Tailgating at the Gates of Hell and really helped build my momentum. They also brought me on to run and edit their literary journal – and that’s been an absolute blast. More importantly though, Ghost City Press is creating a community of up-and-coming poets and writers, sprinkling their words like pollen into the air and then it’s like they hire these voracious honeybees to carry that vowel-covered pollen to all corners of the country. Kevin Bertolero, the founding editor, came out to the launch of When Severed Ears Sing You Songs – and that meant a lot. He’s passionate about what he does – I guess we all are. Ghost City Press is passion – plain and simple. Kevin sums it up best, “I started Ghost City so that I could publish authors who I loved, and to publish work that I thought needed to be shared.” Poetry that needs to be shared is something that we can all agree with.
Here is a little of Justin's work.
*These poems are from a forthcoming chapbook entitled When Your Life Is Falling Apart, You Turn Your Facebook Statuses into Poetry." ~Justin Karcher
Elegy for 2016 and Maybe the Death of America
New Year’s Eve
And the man on the car radio tells me,
“Good news: you might not be fat;
You might just be bloated.”
Dead bodies are often bloated,
So it seems that being dead
Is better than being fat.
I did eat, like, hundreds of pierogis last night.
I also slept for ten hours.
If anything, I’m bloated on dreams
And if that makes me dead or dying,
I’m okay with it.
I go get a peppermint mocha
Before heading to work
And as I’m smoking in front of Starbucks on Elmwood,
A wave of optimistic nausea hits me:
Despite us living in an age of dead princesses,
We still have the power to be like royalty.
Despite us living in an age
When all our favorite musicians
Are washing up on beaches,
We still have the power
To walk along shores
And find severed vocal cords like seashells
Buried in the sand.
We can still hold them up to our ears
And hear quiet hallelujahs.
Is still beautiful.
The New Year Will Gentrify Us into Better People
The only decision I question from last night
Is why I ate so much shrimp and cheese –
And as I smoke this cigarette shirtless
And the air of a brand new year
Is gentrifying my chest hair,
All I can say is I think everything
Is gonna be okay.
In fact, this might just be the greatest year
Of our lives, because there are cradles
In our hearts and the things inside them
Are sniffling and sneezing. There’s a love
Inside us all learning how to walk
And maybe, if the chips fall where they should,
That love will walk into our lives
And change us for the better.
Self-Destructive People Have a Leg up on Life
Leaving for work today,
I had to brush snow off my car.
There was this woman across the street
Brushing the snow off her car.
However, suddenly I heard her scraping ice off
And I thought, “There’s no ice on my car.
What gives?” Then it hit me:
I got home, like, two hours ago.
I was out. My car never had the time
To dress up in ice.
Stay out late, experience love,
Have fun and maybe the mornings
Won’t be so brutal.
Maybe you won’t be so cold.
There's No Christmas in the Afterlife
On the corner of Summer and Elmwood,
A taxicab driver waves me over,
Because he needs a light.
I ask him how he's doing.
He tells me he's trying to make some money,
So he can be Santa for his kids –
How sad though:
Being a taxicab driver in Buffalo,
In a city where we all drive drunk,
Where we don't believe in death,
In being ferried by a boatman
Across a river of memories.
Santa Claus won’t be coming this year.
In the heart of what was a sprawling leviathan of industry sits a small red diner. On the wall are photos of the place before it served the workers and truck drivers going in and out of Bethlehem Steel in its heyday. The plant (though some of the buildings are still there) is nothing but a memory, yet, the diner stands. Sara Ries’ parents ran the place for three decades. It was there that Sara started a reading series. A great deal I must say – a featured reader, open mic, and a home cooked meal for a more than reasonable cover charge. Sara was kind enough (truth be told, I've never known her to be anything but kind) to tell a little about herself, her poetry, and the diner.
Fred Whitehead - The poetry reading series at the diner was one of the first series I attended. When did you start it?
Sara Ries - It was December 1, 2009, and I featured that day. George Grace was the second reader in January, Lisa Forrest read in February, followed by too many other great ones to name. By now, we've featured around fifty poets, mostly from Buffalo but some from places like Boston, Pittsburgh, and Hamilton, Ontario.
F.W. - What gave you the idea to have a poetry reading there?
S.R. - Well, I have to say it was more my father’s idea than mine. We were working at the diner that day. It was an exciting time. I was still fresh out of grad school and figuring out how to make my way in Buffalo, and I had recently received a call that my book would be published. On that lucky day at the diner, my dad and I were tossing around ideas behind the counter and he said something like, “Why don’t you have a dinner here with poetry once a week, on a Friday or something?” and the idea was born. That whole afternoon we collaborated excitedly between serving customers until we had something concrete. We figured out quickly that the poetry nights would be way too labor intensive for a weekly event, especially since food is involved, so we decided on one every six weeks or so, except summers. It’s a team effort and my parents and Tad, my husband, do so much to make the event possible. Since 2014, Tad and I have spent most of our time teaching English in Colombia, South America, so lately we’ve had them once a year around December. It’s heartwarming how it doesn’t matter if six weeks or one year has passed, it’s always a grand reunion.
F.W. - It was your family's diner at the time; when did your folks start running it?
S.R. - Their opening day was on February 19, 1985 and in October of 2015, they sold it to a woman who’d sit at the counter behind the grill. Her dream, like my parents, was to own a small place like the diner. Her name is Melissa Jenkins, but we call her Missy.
F.W. - The response to the series has always been phenomenal. The pairing of a great meal with some of the area’s finest writers has more than a little to do with that. How do you go about choosing the featured reader?
S.R. - Thanks, Fred! It means a lot that so many people enjoy the series. I’m always keeping poets in mind that I’d like to headline, and I also keep a list, but the list is always bigger than the number of events. I also ask the poet who feels appropriate at the time. Most recently I had Rachel Robles Saeger read because besides really admiring her work, I wanted to hear a poet who weaves Spanish so beautifully into her poems, and living in Colombia has really awakened my love for the Spanish language. In addition to featuring many excellent local poets like yourself, Janna Willoughby-Lohr, and Ann Goldsmith, who read at our two-year Poetry & Dinner Night anniversary celebration, I try to bring in new voices. Carolyn Whelan and Angela Parker are two examples, and we were in an MFA program together at Chatham University. Roy Hartwell Bent featured and drove from Rochester, Elizabeth Glenny from Fort Erie, Ontario, and Colleen Michaels came all the way from Boston, MA.
F.W. - And there is an open mic portion to the evening as well?
S.R. - Yes! And it’s always interesting. Mostly poets and poetry lovers come to the events, but a few diner customers attend as well. Some of them have never warmed up to poetry before this series. It’s great to see them there and occasionally they’ll even read at the open mic. It’s a really supportive crowd, too. Poetry is for everyone. It’s like medicine, and it nourishes us all, like the food, which attracts the people who wouldn’t otherwise attend.
F.W. - Your book Come In, We're Open is about life at the diner and some of the regulars. I found, in reading it, a real connection with the people you wrote about. How much did growing up there influence your writing, and does it still?
S.R. - Oh, good question. Yes, spending a lot of time at the diner has influenced my writing tremendously, and still does. I try, even with poems that take place in Ghana, India, or South America, to record the intimate details of the ordinary, until the ordinary becomes a kind of dance, and even more beautiful than the reality. In a diner, the hiss of the coffee brewing and scraping of plates are mundane, but they can be music and grace, if written that way. I like poems that make ordinary life appear magical. Ted Kooser is wonderful at that. In my poems, I strive to create small personal scenes where the readers really meet the characters and connect with them in a way that reminds us we’re not so different, whether the characters are diner customers, Colombians, or whoever. I learned this at an early age because the diner was one big diverse family, and everyone, even the couple who reeked of urine, belonged, ha ha. I have a poem about that incident titled "The Urine Couple" in Brigid’s Fire, the anthology that you compiled, Fred. Let’s just say my mom is the kindest person I know.
F.W. - You won an award for the book, what was that?
S.R. - Yes, shortly after graduating from the MFA program at Chatham, I was flipping through a newly purchased Poet’s Market, and I stopped at the 2009 Stevens Poetry Manuscript Competition. I had a good feeling about it, so I decided to submit Come In, We’re Open, my book of diner poems that I wrote while in grad school.” It was my first time submitting the manuscript and the judge, Ralph Burns, selected it! I remember receiving the call shortly after my 27th birthday and saying to the kind, patient lady on the other end, “Are you serious?” over and over, because I just couldn’t believe it was really happening. And in 2010, the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (NFSPS) Press published my book. It was amazing to win a cash prize and travel to Memphis to read at their annual convention, where I saw my book in print for the first time. Tad and I even visited Graceland while we were there.
F.W. - Who are some of your influences or poetry heroes?
S.R. - I found poetry through song lyrics, so my first poetry heroes were songwriters. Growing up, I would read lyrics as I listened along, and if a CD didn’t come with a booklet, I’d press pause repeatedly as I wrote the lyrics down. This is how I fell in love with language. I adored the Smashing Pumpkins, and listened to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness constantly. Ani DiFranco has been a huge inspiration as well. I began to write my own song lyrics which eventually turned into poems. One of my earliest poetry influences was Celia White, a local poet from Buffalo, and I was particularly attracted to the lyrical quality of her work. My biggest influences from my Chatham days were Pittsburgh poets like Jan Beatty, Jim Daniels, and two phenomenal poets who were also my teachers: Sheryl St. Germain and Heather McNaugher. Other influences include Pablo Neruda, Ilya Kaminsky (Dancing in Odessa is one of my absolute favorite books), Kim Addonizio, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Sharon Olds. And then there’s Rumi and Mary Oliver, who always speak to my soul, and Lucille Clifton, who, when a much younger me hesitantly handed her my first handmade chapbook titled Spill at her poetry reading, asked me if I signed it, and when I said no, she put her hand on her hip, smiled and said, “Well, sign it!” I’m positive my face was beet red!
F.W. - You taught at E.C.C South for a while and now you and your husband Tad teach in Colombia. What prompted you both to choose that route?
S.R. - It was my fifth semester teaching at ECC when one night, Tad and I were at the Essex Street Pub and we bumped into our friend, Anna, who announced she’d be returning to Colombia with her boyfriend, Diego, because his visa was running out. It was like a light bulb went off in my head and then she said, “You and Tad should come.” When I mentioned it to Tad, he exclaimed, “That’s the best idea I’ve heard yet!” I’d been wanting to explore more of South America and we were ready for a change, so it seemed right. I took a semester off from ECC, not knowing Colombia would be our country of many returns. We left in February 2014 to backpack around Colombia for three months but at the end of our trip, we needed more time. We had fallen in love with the gorgeous landscapes and the openness, warmth, and generosity of the people. So, during our last week there, I carried around my hoja de vida (CV) and went to all the schools around Villa de Leyva with a script I had memorized in Spanish to explain to school officials that I was interested in teaching English in their school. My Spanish was terrible at the time so I couldn’t really carry on a conversation (haha) but that’s part of the beauty, isn’t it? One school led me to another, and another, until I met a woman named Shirley, who taught for SENA, Colombia’s public university. She gave me the director’s contact information and the rest is history.
F.W. - Where in Colombia have you taught?
S.R. - We taught in Cali for six months, then in the charming town of Villa de Leyva for ten months at the school where we met Shirley, the woman who told us about the organization. Most recently, we worked on a seahorse-shaped island in the Caribbean called San Andres. It’s referred to as the sea of seven colors or El Mar de Los Siete Colores. It really is as magical as it sounds.
F.W. - What do you teach there?
S.R. - We teach ESL (English as a Second Language) and in Cali, in addition to ESL, I taught literature and creative writing to the English teachers and that was a lot of fun!
F.W. - Tad is a musician and will play trumpet while you read your work. Do you plan anything out in advance for a reading or is it more of an improvisational kind of thing?
S.R. - Usually we pick a poem that we think would work with trumpet and decide which parts would be accented well with horn. Tad will throw something together quickly and we’ll practice a couple of times before the event, and once in the diner’s garage just before performing. It usually works out. So, our performances are somewhat planned but there’s room for improvisation, which is Tad’s specialty. Tad is awesome at joining any band and improvising. He often carries a pocket trumpet when we travel, so he’s used to playing with bands he’s meeting for the first time.
F.W. - What kind of poetry are you working on now?
S.R. - I am currently working on a book of poems titled Marrying Maracuyá. It’s a book of poems about my experiences as both a backpacker and teacher in different regions of Colombia. I have also been working on a sequel to Come In, We’re Open for a while now.
F.W. - Even though your parents no longer own the diner, I'm pleased that you have readings there when you are back home. Do you think that you will continue to do so?
S.R. - Yes! We hope to have a couple before we leave in July because if everything goes as planned, we’ll be joining the Peace Corps in Costa Rica to teach ESL and teaching methodologies. These days, whenever we have a poetry night at the diner, we wonder if it’ll be the last, but we’ll keep them going for as long as we can.
You can find out more about Sara at her website:
Here are some of Sara's poems.
American Cheese Family
"LABOR: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas"
Dad always brought food home in buckets
from our diner. My brother and I grew up
in that diner. We ate between customers;
our clothes were napkins—we got the job done
sometimes. Because when I ate meat,
Dad would show me his shiny bare bones, point to mine
and say Still good meat on yours. That’s why I quit meat.
I couldn’t clean the bones. It was like rummaging
through the top drawers of the deceased.
I was jealous of other kids’ lunches.
They came in ironed brown bags, everything
so tidy in baggies or Saran wrap.
The food I carried in plastic grocery bags
slouched in bunched up wax paper.
I couldn’t help it. We were an American cheese,
chicken a la king, pork & sauerkraut family.
I never tasted brie until my address was no longer theirs.
I brought some home for Mom to try. She said
Shit Sara, this is good and began buying her own,
which she hid from my father.
Because if Dad saw, he’d say Joan!
How much did that dinky thing cost?
During a visit home, Mom pulled the brie
from under the pale green lettuce and whispered
Look what I got, and we ripped a piece
for every secret my mother kept,
for my own wilted words that never leave lips.
We shoved, even the mold, into our mouths
until Dad’s black truck grumbled up the driveway.
Between the curtains, I watched him unbuckle our dinner
from the passenger seat. It was spaghetti
and sure, Mom and I had some
but when our eyes met across the table
all we tasted was brie.
for Sunshine Woman
I think of you in Bogota when I see
pigeon feathers fastened to an old man’s cap.
On a street corner shared with a violinist,
he is unshaven and his clothes are in shreds
but he rummages through bags of trash
to serve the pigeons lunch.
You’ve written about Old Magic,
your Sassy Grandmother who sits crossed-legged
with gin and tonic. She wears ruby lipstick and flicks
her cigarette into an ashtray from an island
where wild horses roam. At dusk,
she settles on a rock by the Ancient Lake
to invite the gulls to supper.
The people sipping mochaccinos, café tintos,
and cappuccinos on the Juan Valdez patio,
the Starbucks of Colombia,
do not look up from their screens.
Their hands are circled around Juan Valdez,
the made-up mustached farmer featured with his mule,
Conchita, on cardboard cup holders.
A feather flies from Pigeon Man’s hat
as he sets some scraps on the concrete’s faded tablecloth
of day’s old sidewalk chalk.
even with an ocean between us,
you and Old Magic were there,
Independent Living Class, Eleventh Grade
Ms. Redder with a blonde bob and rosy cheeks warned
our 'gum smacking, note-passing, too cool for school' class,
Living with somebody can be difficult.
Suppose you like the toilet paper to hang
the way that your roommate can't stand.
I've waited for this conversation.
Thirteen apartments, eighteen roommates, the closest was,
Your turn to buy it. I'd ask myself which way I prefer to hang it,
Like this, and my hand brushes the wall
but that way doesn't look as neat.
Then, after seven years of sharing bath towels,
grilled cheeses and water glasses layered with lip impressions,
Thaddeus holds up the roll and says
So the toilet paper: You put it on the holder this way
but it should really go like this so the paper's easier to tear.
Here, in this apartment on another continent,
wooden beams across cathedral ceilings,
dogs howling in our backyard lumberyard
I see the eleventh grade Me,
wide-legged jeans, chipped nail polish,
hair frizzy from cheap perms:
She is sitting on that hard chair, two legs mid-air,
wondering, hoping, that someday
this topic would come up.
Fred Whitehead - I've got so much I'd like to ask you, it's hard to find a place to start. So, I guess we can begin with a little about yourself. Where are you located?
Michael Czarnecki - Since 1984 we have lived on Wheeler Hill, in the town of Wheeler, Steuben County, NY. Our house was built by our Amish neighbors in 2012, after our first house (also built by them) burned to the ground. We live off-grid on 50 acres, which consists of a 25-acre organic hayfield, 10 acres of mixed hardwoods, two five-acre fields we’re letting grow back to woods and a beautiful pond which I swim in as much as I can.
F.W. – I know you are originally from Buffalo. What prompted a city boy to move to a place like Wheeler Hill?
M.C. - It was the experiences I had during those thirty-thousand miles over three years of off-and-on hitchhiking. Prior to that, I always enjoyed getting outdoors, out of Buffalo, into the hills to fish or hunt or hike. But the experiences I had on the road, staying with people who lived simply in the country, people who had gardens and animals, heated with wood, etc., had a major effect on me. I realized that maybe I didn’t need to stay in the city. Maybe I could live in the country, have a garden, heat with wood. So, when the hitchhiking period was over, that’s what I did, moved to the country in late 1974. I’ve been a country person ever since.
F.W. - Nature and living in the country play a big part in your poetry?
M.C. - Yes they do, because they play a big part in my life. I try to make my poetry and my life all of one piece. There is no separation. Most of my poetry comes from my life experience.
F.W. - What got you interested in writing in general and poetry in particular?
M.C. - The first poem I ever wrote was in English class, my junior year of high school at Hutch Tech. Mr. Kerr, my English teacher, after going over song lyrics as poetry for two days, gave us an in-class assignment to write a poem. I didn’t know what to write but then came up with an idea and when I finished the poem I remember saying quietly to myself, “Wow, I wrote a poem!” I haven’t stopped since. Mr. Kerr saw my excitement and encouraged me to keep writing.
F.W. – Did you continue your education after high school?
M.C. - After Hutch Tech I attended UB for a little over two and a half years.
F.W. - Did you major in writing while at UB?
M.C. - I didn’t major in English, but was pursuing Philosophy, History, Political Science. I quit the second semester of my junior year because I still didn’t know why I was going to school. But I knew what I wanted to do, and that was to buy a backpack, tent and sleeping bag and go on the road with my thumb. So, that’s what I did.
F.W. – Yes, you've mentioned your "hitchhiking days". How did that factor into your writing?
M.C. - The hitchhiking days didn’t directly factor into my writing. But, those 30,000 miles, off and on over three years, had a major influence on me, on who I became. So, in that way, it did affect my writing. I always went east because everyone else then (1971) was heading west – to the Rockies, to California. I backpacked in the mountains, arrived at Acadia National Park for the first time, stayed in peoples’ houses a third of the time without ever asking. And, some of those houses were in the country, which was a new experience for this east side Buffalo boy. After the hitchhiking was over I left the city for country living and have never looked back.
F.W. - You still log a lot of miles doing poetry tours. You are one of the few touring poets I have met. How do you go about setting up tours and are there any 2017 tour plans?
M.C. - It’s been almost 23 years since I stopped doing other work and devoted my life to poetry. There’s been a lot of trial and error along the way. It’s been quite a learning process.
I’m presently working on booking a tour for next spring and then will be working on another for autumn. Having been doing this for so long, I’ve built up a nice following across the country. A friend asked me recently how many of my venues are repeats. I wasn’t sure so checked back on the last 60 venues – 40 of them were places I had previously been to!
So, like the spring tour I’m booking now, I often start out with booking some venues that I’ve already been at. Then I work on contacting places that are new to me. Also, because this is what I do for a living, 90% of the readings I give and workshops I facilitate, I receive an honorarium for. Public libraries are my main venue. Almost all of them have some kind of programming budget.
I’ll be doing two month or so long tours this year, one in spring, the other fall. Both of these will take me out west to California and Oregon, with readings along the way. In spring I start out in Coldwater, Michigan and will end up in Pasadena before heading to Northern California and Southern Oregon. I’m still booking readings and workshops for that one. In fall, or maybe starting in late summer--possibly to see the full solar eclipse (August 21) in Eastern Oregon. I’ll book readings out west and then on the way back home. Those are yet to be set. In between I’ll do other closer to home mini-tours. A few days in the Adirondacks--I’ve been going to Indian Lake for 20 years now, facilitating an annual workshop and giving a reading. Tupper Lake nearly as long. Then maybe a short New England tour and possibly a couple of weeks in the Midwest. I enjoy touring and hope I can continue to do so for some time to come.
F.W. – My grandfather had a home on Tupper Lake for a while. Beautiful area. How do you go about booking new places?
M.C. - When I’m approaching a new venue, I always check the library’s website first. Find out who the director is, see what kind of programming they present. Then I make a phone call. If I can’t reach the person I need to talk to I almost never leave a voice mail. I’ll just try again until I get to talk to the person. I then let them know I’m booking a tour, and I’ll be in their area and wondered if they would be interested in hosting a literary program. Besides poetry readings, I also can do multi-media programs with words and my photos, oral memoir performances and also present a Palm of the Hand Memoir workshop, a method I developed over 13 years ago and which has been highly successful. Usually they are interested in considering booking but it very soon come round to what I charge. I have a standard response to that. “I usually get paid anywhere from $150 to $1,000.” Often there’s a little comment about how they can’t do $1,000, and I respond saying I wish that there could be more of those. But then I say that libraries are one of the wonderful institutions in America and whatever would work for you would work for me. More often that not lately, I book two programs – a Palm of the Hand Memoir workshop and a poetry reading.
F.W. - What goes into deciding where you might take your poetry when you hit the road?
M.C. - Various things. Where do I want to explore? Who do I want to see again? What venue do I want to return to? When I set up a tour, I keep three things in mind. I realized a few decades ago that I have a triangle foundation for my base. It’s a fluid triangle, where sides can change length. The three sides are creativity, nature and human relationships. Life-wise, I try to keep those as much in balance as possible. When booking a tour, I do the same. Obviously, it being a poetry tour, creativity is covered. As far as the other two sides of the triangle, in planning a tour I consider what places I want to get out and hike in, what new geographies I want to explore. Besides bartering books for someone’s couch or spare bedroom, I also do a bit of camping. In the last year I’ve incorporated tours with hiking/camping in places like the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, Yellowstone National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Redwoods National Park, Northern California and Southern Oregon, pacific coast, etc. As I mentioned earlier, there is no separation between poetry and life for me. It’s all intertwined.
Also, having been doing this for so long, and returning to venues repeatedly, I have met a lot of people throughout the country and a number have become good friends. That plays a big part in deciding where I want to tour. I’ve realized in the last couple of years that the people side of my triangle is maybe the most important side. So, I try to make it back to places regularly where those friendships have developed, where those new friendships may emerge.
F.W. – As well as giving readings around the country you are also a publisher. Tell us about Foothills Publishing. When did you start Foothills?
M.C. - The first book released by FootHills was in 1986. Susquehannock: A Literary Anthology of the Upper Susquehanna Watershed, co-published with Walt Franklin’s Great Elm Press.
F.W. - What was it that got you interested in publishing?
M.C. - I was hearing good poets at Poets Theater, a monthly poetry series in Hornell, NY started by Bea O’Brien, who didn’t have books out. I felt that was something I could help out with, and meeting Walt there, who was already publishing poetry chapbooks, was a big influence.
F.W. - Do you take submissions or use other means to pick the poets you want to publish?
M.C. - FootHills has not been open for general submissions for a long time. When we have in the past, I would get overwhelmed and just couldn’t keep up. For years now, the new poets we publish are either poets I’ve met along the poetic road or poets who have been recommended to me by other FootHills poets. There has been no difficulty acquiring good manuscripts. Also, once you become a FootHills poet you have an open invite to submit again.
F.W. - I know that you do small runs, about how many books do you produce of a given volume?
M.C. - For chapbooks, we look at a 200 run. Spine books, 300. If we sell out of those we’ll do a second run and more if need be.
F.W. - All hand collated and stitched?
M.C. - Yes. Chapbooks since the mid-90s, spine books since 2000.
F.W. - How many people, if any, help you with the process?
M.C. - My wife, Carolyn is the production person. At times someone else will help out--our boys, my daughter, a friend.
F.W. - Do you find your process to be guided by a more personal connection with the poets that you are publishing?
M.C. - Yes. I feel we have a good relationship with our poets and have had many wonderful responses from poets we have published. I love when I go out on the poetic road and meet one of them for the first time. A number of the people we’ve published have become good friends over the years.
F.W. - You are involved with the Cloudburst Council. I had the opportunity to sit in on one of the meetings when the group was in Buffalo in November. Can you tell us what that is and give a brief history of the council?
M.C. - The Cloudburst Council is a gathering of poets initiated by Alan Casline and Jennifer Pearce. The first Council occurred in the spring of 2012 at the Gell Center, near Naples, NY. It’s a Friday through Sunday event with 30 or so poets. Readings, panel discussions, food, drink and camaraderie. Last May was the fifth annual gathering. We have also started having smaller seasonal gatherings in various locations. This summer we had one on Wheeler Hill, coinciding with our Wheeler Hill September reading. The November meeting in Buffalo at Dog Ears also included an open to all round robin reading.
Each spring Cloudbust Council Gathering is centered around a certain theme and partially directed by a reading from the I Ching. Two years ago the theme was the Beat Generation. What’s really important though, is the camaraderie afforded poets with these spring gatherings. They are serious, but playful. Scheduled, but loose. Intense, but light.
Cloudburst Council is also fluid, in the sense that this is what has gone on so far, but who knows what form the Council will take as we move forward. Bottom line though, is that it has been a wonderful exchange of life and energy of the poets who have attended.
F.W. - What kind of business were you in before or have you always been a working poet
M.C. - I’ve written poetry since 1967 but never thought you could “be” a poet for your life’s work. I never had a career. Mostly worked in various retail positions, including some management. The last “job” I had, before devoting my life to poetry, was selling wine for a local Finger Lakes winery. I quit that work in 1994 and have never looked back.
F.W. - Can you say a little about the Rt. 20 book and the possibility of a film about it?
M.C. - Yes, my “Twenty Days on Route 20” book, a haibun account of a journey I took along the longest US highway, from Boston to Newport, OR is being adapted into a movie script. Sandra Campbell, a screenwriter I met nearly two years ago at an AWP conference in Minneapolis, was fascinated with my life as a poet and then was completely taken by my book. She read it a few times, sent me a 14 page outline of the script and presently is finishing up the first draft. She’s very excited about the possibility of having a movie made from the experience. Once she’s finished the first draft, I’ll go over it, then she’ll revise and start getting it out there into the places you get movie scripts out to. Worst case is that we self-produce it. But that’s a last case scenario. She feels good about the possibility of finding someone who wants to take on the project. We’ll see what happens down the road, but it’s been a real honor for me to have her be so excited about my book that’s she’s put a good chunk of her life into getting this script done.
F.W. – I'm looking forward to seeing that happen. Thank you.
Follow the links below to learn more about tithe Cloudburst Council and Foothills Publishing.
Michael also posts a new spontaneous poem each day on his Facebook feed. Here are a few for you.
Daily Spontaneous Poem #687
in front of wood stove
I soak up fire’s warmth
gaze out through dark window
into an early autumn night
thoughts reach out to find you
somewhere beyond dark hills
though many miles distant
I hope they come right through
Daily Spontaneous Poem #711
somewhere further on
in time, in space
that moment longed for
will it actually occur
will it be passed by
a missed opportunity
what could have been
that one sweet moment
where life might change
forever, forever gone
Daily Spontaneous Poem #722
thousands of miles traveled
another twelve hundred to go
diverse landscapes experienced
so many people connected with
yet, night walking Pacific shore
camping in North Dakota Badlands
standing in motel parking lot
leaving friend’s house in pre-dawn dark
same stars shine in clear night sky
everywhere I happen to be
Daily Spontaneous Poem #749
“Woman in the Dunes”
memories of a month ago
hiking with friend
over dunes to ocean
two different times
once in end-of-day light
once as stars shone above
dunes, ocean, friend
now, all so far away
Daily Spontaneous Poem #763
thick fog settles in
over snow covered fields
I think of ocean shores
Acadia part of my life for decades
California only last few years
so many miles away, how many
more chances will I have
to scramble along rocky coastline
slowly amble over Pacific dunes
lose myself in thick seacoast fog
Daily Spontaneous Poem #767
this morning we tilted
as far away from sun
as we ever will
from here on out
slowly at first
a few seconds per day
in two weeks
a whole minute more each day
nearly three minutes a day
eventually light will overcome
Daily Spontaneous Poem #696
when will I see you again
time flows on so swiftly
there is so much else to do
you are only miles away
you are only time away
yet miles can be barriers
time can be prohibitive
our last time together
will there be another
,There are not a lot of things I can say with much confidence these days. There is one thing, however, that I will put good money on. Once you hear Eve Williams Wilson read her work you are going to want to hear more. I know I did, after hearing her read with her father and sisters at Dog Ears back in March. After seeing her at Just Buffalo recently, I asked her if she would like to share a little about herself and her poetry.
Fred Whitehead - When was the first time you read at a slam event?
Eve Williams Wilson - Hmmmm…. I think the first time I competed was when I was 15, and I was pretty active in the New England/ North East scene, performing in Boston, Washington DC, NYC, and other cities. I stopped competing completely in 2006, I think, as I felt poetry had left me.
F.W. - Was that the first time you shared your work?
E.W.W. - Ha! My sister tells me I used to tell her poems before I could write, and she would keep track of them…It’d be fun to see those. I had elementary school teachers (Bennett Park Montessori) who got some of my poems published from the age of 7. The first time I went on stage, as a more mature poet, was when I was 14 and performed both poetry and rap in the Buffalo underground hip hop scene.
F.W. - You've mentioned that you suffered a brain injury in a vehicle accident. When was this?
E.W.W. - Yes, I was rear-ended by a bus in January of 2015.
F.W. - Did you find, after your injury, that your writing was different?
E.W.W. - I can’t really remember the beginning except that I had vision issues and problems concentrating on everything. BUT I do remember writing a lot… because it's all I felt I had / could do. Write, exercise, and take care of my son. I probably only wrote 2 or 3 poems over the previous decade but had maintained a routine of writing 3 pages every morning for 15 years. After the accident, that writing, which I called "free-writing” or "stream of consciousness", just exploded. It was hard for me to communicate with people verbally… to get across my thoughts and feelings, or even listen. However, I was still taking in everything. I would just process by writing without actively thinking.
Then in March, these writings gained more recognizable form and all of a sudden I was “birthing” 3-10 poems (sometimes more) daily. It's also different because my work is more raw… I don’t always know what I’m saying or what I meant when I read it later but know it speaks to what I felt /needed to do so. I let it be. My brain injury also makes active editing / processing nearly impossible. Ummmm, I also write about pretty much everything that pops in my head when I have my pen. If I don’t get it out, it stays in my head and hurts more.
F.W. - Have you had any of your poetry printed?
E.W.W. - I haven’t had anything published since I was much younger; although I have typed up a few of the pieces on my Facebook poetry page.
F.W. - Do you find performing your poetry as rewarding as having it in print or more so?
E.W.W. - I am actually terrified that my poetry in print would suck! At least most of it… I guess I’m so accustomed to Spoken Word that I feel like people won’t understand / hear / feel it as much if it is print. Its something I’m trying to get over…
F.W. - Do you think the two forms should be looked at as completely different animals or, at least as far as your own work? Do they (and should they) compliment each other?
E.W.W. - Um, I think they have the potential to compliment each other but, as I mentioned before, I question the power of my work written. I’m just scared people won’t be able to hear me if they can’t hear me, if you know what I mean?
F.W. - You have traveled to do volunteer work in other countries. Where are some of the places you've been, and what kind of work did you do?
E.W.W. - As an adult I lived, worked, and studied in Cuba, Nicaragua, Guyana, and Uganda. In Cuba I taught English and worked in a church kitchen cooking. I was sent to Nicaragua to teach English, but because of racism in the mountain community where I lived, locals wouldn’t send their kids to me; so I did Oral histories of former Sandinistas instead. In Guyana I created and instituted a literacy program in a primary school, and in Uganda I was a Rotary Club scholar studying Peace and Conflict Studies at a local university.
F.W. - What do you make of the poetry scene in Buffalo?
E.W.W. - I love the poetry scene in Buffalo! It is sooooo diverse. I love that nearly every week there are spoken word/ slam events as well as open mics and reading showcasing a variety of forms of poetry
F.W. - Concerning poetry locally, if there was anything you would change, what would that be?
E.W.W. - More poetry? Haha. Seriously though, on a more selfish note, I would just love if there were more resources for publication readiness… workshops, lectures, mentorships, counseling, etc. I see a lot of people spending their money on publishing chapbooks and journals, but it would be nice to have more guidance about publishing. I will admit that since I am new to the scene and don’t have the capacity to be as involved as I like, this may exist already.
F.W. - Who are some of your influences?
E.W.W. - Saul Williams is definitely my number one. I fell in love with the movie “Slam”, memorizing each poem and watching it more than a dozen times. I am also a big fan of Walter Mosley and Octavia Butler.
F.W. - Do you have any of them in mind when you work?
E.W.W. - Not consciously, but certainly I’ve had experiences that remind me of their books. Then I write about what happened, and, voilà!, they have sci-fi elements. My poem “Mammy Fantasies” is one of the most recognizably inspired by Butler’s work. Mosley’s work is beautifully blunt, complex and straightforward at the same time, and I aspire to write like that… Since I was young I noticed how language shifts from school and home and across cultural, racial, economic, and regional lines. As a multi-racial child, I traversed these cultures and languages somewhat seamlessly, then grew frustrated as different authority figures tried to determine and place value on my person based on the language I was using or to whom I was using the language. As I went into higher education and then travelled the world, my understanding of the power of language grew. It has always been one of my highest priorities to make my language accessible-- either written or verbal, to a diversity of people. (GOSH! I can’t get that out as clear as I’d like.)
F.W. - It makes a lot of sense to me. I find it is sometimes hard to find or make time to write . How do you handle a busy schedule and work writing into your day?
E.W.W. - I always have my notebook and write nearly every free moment. I wake up at 5 most mornings, one to two hours before my son, so that I can do my “morning pages”. He respects my writing time… usually… because he understands that I can’t function if I can’t write when I need to.
F.W. - Are you from here originally?
E.W.W. - Yes I was born in my father’s house on Highgate ave. I left Buffalo to attend a Quaker school on a farm in New Hampshire when I was 15 and moved back permanently in January of 2011.
F.W. - I've heard that you work with refugees trying to start a new life in Buffalo? What kind of help are you providing?
E.W.W. - I decided to stay in Buffalo because of the refugee population. After traveling for so long, it was wonderful to find a place that had so much diversity. I started working at the International Institute (IIB), coordinating their employment program for refugees and immigrants. IIB is a state department sponsored program that is really on the cutting edge of refugee resettlement and programming. I’m not sure I would’ve left that work unless I found a position where I thought I could’ve done more/ had a larger impact. Unfortunately, I have a traumatic brain injury from my accident and have been disabled since February 2015.
F.W. - A fair amount of your work speaks to social injustice. With the outcome of the election recently, do you see yourself addressing these even more?
E.W.W. - No... I don't. I mean of course I'm writing about it a lot because it's a serious current event--but so is mass incarceration/ the school to prison pipeline, the North Dakota Pipeline, police shootings of minorities, systematic discrimination and oppression... This is just the reality of America, heck the world. I think the only thing that's changed is that people who weren't overtly oppressed or attuned to oppression can see it more clearly now...which is also annoying. I mean I really don't enjoy saying "I told you so" when we're talking about more bodies being assaulted. Dying. So maybe the biggest difference is that I'm using trump as a verb a lot... And it's annoying.
F.W. - I've come to know your father (poet Scott Williams) over the past couple of years and I'm a big fan of his writing, and I have met your mom. Were they supportive in your chosen art form when you were young?
E.W.W. - Definitely! My mom was my number one fan since the beginning, always helping me edit anything I wrote. In addition to supporting my poetry / writing, I took art and music lessons.
F.W. - Do you continue to do any other kind of art?
E.W.W. - I took a painting workshop last year, which I enjoyed--but then I viewed the whole set up and clean up process as time I could be writing. Haha. But I would like to get back to it, perhaps when I have a larger living space and can dedicate a room to visual art.
F.W. - Have you written anything besides poetry?
E.W.W. - I wrote a few short stories last winter… that was fun. I never did that before, but when I shared them I found that they needed a lot of editing, which is nearly impossible for me.
F.W. - Your video channel Unfiltered has a pretty good following. When did you launch it?
E.W.W. - I believe I started it in April… recording poems with my iPhone as I wrote them in the car. Haha, I can remember in the beginning I just recorded what was outside my window because I hated seeing myself. I’ve gotten over that though because getting them out / sharing them, is nearly important as writing for me… at least with some of the pieces.
Until you get the chance to hear her live, visit her Unfiltered page.
I first met Mark LLoyd about five years ago. I'm not entirely sure, but I believe it was at a reading he had organized at Rust Belt Books when the store was still on Allen Street. Since then I’ve attended a number of other events he’s put together, saw a couple of his plays and, currently, share the same local publisher. I was able to get him to talk a little about his writing.
Fred Whitehead - I know that besides writing poetry you also are a playwright.
How did you get into writing plays?
Mark C. LLoyd - When I was about twelve or thirteen I would listen to the radio show
“The CBS Radio Mystery Theater.” It came on after eleven in the evening. I’d curl up in bed with my small transistor radio near my pillow and hoped my parents didn’t hear it. I was intrigued by how much my mind could imagine when all I could hear were the words. It was around that time I had a few dollars in my pocket, and on one very boring snowy night I walked a half a dozen blocks to the drug store. I bought a black felt-tip pen and pad of paper and went home and wrote a three-minute radio play. It was awful. After several years of trying to write radio plays I went to writing stage plays. I had absolutely no courage to show anyone what I was writing except my parents and a few friends.
It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that a local theater lady by the name of Shari Posey introduced me to another theater lady, Ida Scott, who asked to read one of my one act plays. No one asked to read my plays in the theater community before. Finally, someone listed. Ida liked it. She gave me suggestions. Ida was a part of the Amherst Players theater company, and she not only got them to do the play but let me direct it!
FW - When was your first play produced?
MCL - My first play was produced was around 2000.
FW - What was it called?
MCL - My first play was a very quirky play titled "The Bench." A one act play about a man and a woman on a bench. He talks to the audience about his love for her. The woman resists his love.
I wrote it as a part of a workshop. I tried to write a love real love story. My mind took me to other places. It took me to love, sarcasm, absurdism and humor. I found my niche ... for awhile.
FW - Where was the production?
MCL - Harlem Road Community Center, for the Amherst Players Theater Company.
FW - When you are writing a play do you start with a basic story line and build from there or try to establish characters first?
MCL - I am very unorthodox. I can start with characters, ideas, setting…even a piece of music can spark me. I don’t suggest people do it my way. It isn’t the easiest way.
FW - Where do the ideas for your plays come from?
MCL - Many ways. I can overhear a conversation, see something. The one way that seems to be an ongoing theme for me is music. I tend to get a piece of music in my head. I will play it over and over and write as I listen to it. Many music soundtracks influence me. Music and the rhythms are a great inspirational source.
FW - How much editorial control do you turn over to the director?
MCL - That’s a tough one. I have directed ninety percent of my plays. The first time I let someone direct one, she did a terrible job. It was a play full of cheap jokes. The director had been around awhile but was not a person with a good comic timing. She also didn’t understand the quirkiness of the play. It was disappointing. I thought maybe I was too critical because it was my work. I waited a few years; another director did a show of mine. It was very good. Since then, for the most part, the plays have come out well with someone else directing.
Writing plays can be a very controlling process. A playwright creates a whole world and then someone comes in and puts it on stage with their own vision. Not always easy. I’m still working on that.
FW - You have recently started to co-host a radio show on Thinktwice Radio. How did you come to start this latest project?
MCL - I was doing Celeste Lawson’s Think Twice Radio show. We had fun. The very cool Richard Wicka runs Think Twice Radio. Richard and I chatted a bit and I asked him if I could have my own show, and he said absolutely. It really was that fast. At this point I have done four. One a month. I have a co-host Keirra (who also known as Goddess). I was going to do it on my own, but I knew it would work better if I had someone opposite of me that could help book guests, share opinions, and brain storm ideas.
FW - Is there any particular way you go about choosing the guests for your show?
MCL - It’s been working this way, I choose guests, and I have Keirra choose as well. They need to have a sense of humor. I am a little eccentric at times. I like to have fun with them. I’m not out to hurt anyone. There is no editing. If I say something wrong it stays in. That can be dangerous, with my mouth. I have been very lucky. Every guest I’ve had has been a blast. They seem to get what I’m doing. I want guests who are serious about their work but understand they need to enjoy their art and have fun with it as well.
FW - You've organized a number of well-received poetry readings in the past; any plans on doing more?
MCL - Yes. I have a chapbook coming out soon. I’ll need to promote it. Let’s face it…Poetry isn’t always an easy sell. If the poet doesn’t promote who will?
I enjoy setting up the occasional readings. I like to have experienced and very new poets all in the same night. After several years of doing it, I tend to only book poets who I like. I also like to give new poets who have never read before a chance to read. I don’t want anyone with an over inflated ego. I’ve been very lucky with the poets who have read at my events. I remember what it was like when I first started reading. It’s important to make a new reader feel welcomed and comfortable.
FW - All writers suffer from writer’s block from time to time. I know I have. How do you go about getting over it when it occurs?
MCL - That’s an ironic question. I’ve been dealing with it for a year. First time in at least fifteen years I’ve had this issue. It’s not easy. I find it actually stressful. I have things I need and want to say but something stops me from saying them. I can’t put them on paper. I’m blocked. I’m still working my way out of this block but it hasn’t been working.
FW - Besides your plays and radio show, you run a couple of poetry groups on Facebook. When did you start them?
MCL - A little over five years ago I came home from a reading. I was really pissed off at the cliquey behavior I ran into at that reading. It happened a few times. I wasn’t a new poet but not out there as much as many. New poets need to be made to feel like they are wanted at events. Fred, you are fantastic about that at your Dog Ears Readings.
FW – Thanks, Mark.
MCL - It doesn’t mean I actually like you (Insert sarcastic laughter). I would go to some readings and felt like I was an outcast. I’d go outside with other new readers who would say the same thing. Many saying they won’t be coming back. I knew it wasn’t just me and my ego.
FW - Why did you want to start the groups?
MCL - On one particular night I was just pissed. It was midnight and I decided to start my own group. The group would be a positive group. The members could only post positive critique.
You would think that a positive group would be a good thing. I heard through many poet friends that there were many poets out there ripping the page to pieces. I had some poets who didn’t like the “no critique” rule. My response was they should start their own. They much rather be negative about mine. The funniest was the poet who actually said to me that the page was a danger to poets. Danger to poets? He may have skipped his meds that day. There are so many poetry pages, why can’t I run mine like I want to? I was upset at first then realized some people live to just complain at what they cannot do. It now has over one thousand members. Since then I created “Love, Lust and … Erotica” for erotica and “The DarkRoom” for the podcast.
FW. – You also do interviews for print.
MCL – Yes, I interview artist for Broadwayworld.com. I was originally asked to do reviews for theater, but I have too many theater friends. Plus, I am not comfortable putting to print a review on something I didn’t enjoy. I much rather promote the good this city has; so, I tend to interview established and new artists.
FW - Who are some of your biggest influences for poetry?
MCL - Robert Lowell, Billy Collins, Delmore Schwartz, and this little hairy bastard named Fred Whitehead.
FW - Ummm…and what about playwrights?
MCL - John Patrick Shanley, John Patrick Shanley and John Patrick Shanley. His book, “13 by Shanley,” is my guide to playwriting.
FW - Have you dabbled with screen plays for television?
MCL - When I was a teenager I wrote a television series idea called “Everett’s Place.” It took place in a bar and was centered on the characters who visit it. Now, since I had never been to a bar at that time it didn’t go much further than the idea. I have written a couple screenplays. They were not good experiences when being filmed. Next time I do that, I will have to have total control of it. There I go with the control thing again!
FW- What was it that brought you into the genre of erotica?
MCL - I actually grew up wanting to write one of those Jacqueline Susann and Harold Robbins potboilers. They were such a blast to read. Then Jackie Collins came along, and I lost interest. In my forties, I got back into it. Instead of prose, I did erotic poetry. I read one at an event. It was a good reaction, so I did it at several other events.
FW - A lot of your poems have at their core a feeling of loss or depression. Do you find writing a good way to get through hard times?
MCL - I have dealt with my share of death in the last several years. Grieving needs an outlet. If we don’t release the loneliness and pain, it can be dangerous. In 2004, I lost a very important person in my life. I began writing poems about her. It was extremely difficult to work up the courage to read these poems in front of people. I finally did it. Now the fear has gone. I write a lot about my feelings. I have no issue with what people think. I find for every person who doesn’t like my poetry, there is someone who does.
Writing is an important outlet. It doesn’t matter if the writer shows it to others or puts it in print or stores it on a computer or reads out loud. It has to be released in some way.
In many cases I have poems that are of the dark nature that have nothing to do with me. I’ll write them for someone I know to help them with their tough times. I also attempt to end each of these poems on a high…life isn’t easy but in most cases we can bounce back from depression and grief. We just need to keep pushing. I have to admit that isn’t easier as I get older and lose family and friends.
As writers we can be our own worse editor and are afraid to express ourselves fully. It’s my opinion once you forget what others think…write for yourself first…writers become better.
This question also relates to the question above on writer’s block. I have no doubt a few of the life stresses I’ve dealt with the last few years has made the block more intense. I’m my own worst enemy, and I put too much pressure on myself to break through the issues and write.
The wall will be knocked down eventually. In the meantime, I try to keep as busy as possible. I tend to over commit myself to personal projects. In the end, I want to be like all writers when they drop dead…I want it to happen halfway through writing a book. Make people wonder what I was going to say.
Here are some links to Marks radio show, poetry pages and books as well as a couple of poem.
Western New York Poets
Love, Lust and … Erotica
To contact Mark C. Lloyd:
“This Room Keeps Telling Me You’re Not coming Back”
It’s been three days since you died
and this room keeps telling me
You’re Not Coming Back
The lonely desk
and it’s uncomfortable
You felt like Alice
in her wonderland
My sweet poet
your old wonderland is now
lost to me
But this room still speaks
sometimes too loud to listen
I can still smell your perfume
and Thursday nights wine and cigarettes
and hear yesterday’s voice
You speak in whispers
and in laughs
This room is too full of memories
and memories can be cruel
And at times your laugh
and poetic charms
push away my fears
But this cruel room
And it keeps telling me
You’re not coming back
Mark C. LLoyd
“Black Satin on Elegance”
So, I stared at you
Have you ever looked at yourself?
Have you ever really looked at yourself?
Have you looked in the mirror?
Those wonderful mythical eyes
The sway of your walk
The arch of your back that runs to your neck
The lips so full I could drink them
I can only imagine how soft your shoulders must be
Your skin is more precious than silk
Black satin on elegance
but what I couldn’t help but notice
seem not to
I stare at you
Do I hide it?
Cannot help myself
I will stare at you at sunrise
I will stare at you at sunset
If it rains I will still see that glorious smile
The stunning beauty
So, I stare
If it snows I will stare at you
in snow boots and a parka
So, I stare
I stare and I stare
So, now I close my eyes
I close my eyes and stare
I stare from
and I still
see the stunning beauty
I still see
Black Satin on Elegance
-Mark C. LLoyd
One thing I have enjoyed about poetry in Buffalo is the number of reading series and workshops that are offered here. Every few months it seems one or both pops up. Some lasting only a few weeks, others, like the ones hosted by local artist and poet ryki zuckerman, last for years. Recently I was able to get ryki to tell me a few things about herself, poetry and the programs she has had a hand in.
Fred Whitehead - You have been hosting poetry readings in Buffalo for quite a while now. When did you start?
ryki zuckerman - I programmed and hosted readings in the 1980's for Niagara-Erie Writers which held meetings and performances at St. John's Grace Episcopal Church (and where, strangely enough, I read Sept., 17 for someone else’s series, and where, strangely enough, Robin Willoughby's ashes are interred. Connections.)
I started the Gray Hair series about 10 years ago, after Robin Kay Willoughby, a long-time editor, passed away. We did an issue of her poetry & writing and then I planned a reading by writers who had known her, each reading her work. That took place at the Just Buffalo Hibiscus Room in the Tri-Main Center, where Just Buffalo was headquartered back then. After hearing the various writers reading, Kastle Brill and I talked about how wonderful they were and about starting a reading series for older writers who were not being featured in other series much at that time. I followed through on that and approached Mike Kelleher, after a Gary Snyder reading at the Albright-Knox, about creating a series for older, "established" local writers. He was amenable. However, I got waylaid by starting to teach college classes. At the celebration for Robert Creeley at "Babeville" in Asbury Hall for what would have been Creeley's 80th birthday, I spoke with Ed Cardoni about my idea. At the time, Just Buffalo used an assortment of venues for performances. I wanted a space that we could use for each reading. Ed said, "Let me show you this room we have downstairs." (Yes, oh yes, oh yes.) Afterward seeing it and jumping at the opportunity to use it as the venue, I went back up to the main hall, where people were still schmoozing after the Creeley event, and started talking to various writers, poets. At the end of the evening I had five months of readings programmed (more connections, inter-connectedness).
I started the "new/reNEW" series a year or two after that, wherein I could program writers not yet established and/or younger, pairing them to read with an established writer. The venue, run by volunteers, that was hosting that series became untenable. Then Peter Lisker, at the time the head librarian at the Crane branch of B&ECP library, invited me to start a reading series there. (I remember sitting with Lisa Forrest and David Landrey and some others after a reading somewhere, having coffees at Caffe Aroma, and I asked for their feedback on possible titles for my series at the Crane.) The Wordflight series continued for years, but after cut-backs, shortened hours, and staff changes at the Crane, I moved it to Pausa Art House, a beautiful venue, suggested by David Landrey, where it continued for a season. However, they were opening up one day a month just for us - when they were not regularly open- and it stopped being financially viable for them. Then I read about Parkside Lutheran Church's new Pastor wanting to program lots of community events in the church. He welcomed the Wordflight Series, now Wordlfight at Red Doors (an architectural feature of the the church). Opportunity.
F.W. – The finale of the Gray Hair Series was really good. It was one of the finest gatherings of local writers under one roof that I've had the honor of hearing in quite a while. Why did you decide to end The Gray Hair Series?
r.z. – Thank you. At a certain point in our ten seasons run, Hallwalls wanted us to start paying rent for use of the space. Two years ago I wrote a grant for the series 9 (with assistance from Kastle and Joyce Kessel, two other E.D. editors), and we were able to pay the rent (kindly reduced for us), but last year we did not get the grant. We could not afford to do the series. Also, and very importantly, so many of the older writers we had featured and wished to feature again had passed away or moved away. Our attendance at the series had intermittently declined as well, though not this past, last season. I also had personal reasons for curtailing my curating/hosting activities.
F.W. - I know that you were an art teacher. How long were you a teacher in the Buffalo school system?
r.z. - Too long [ha, ha]. I had a career spanning decades in various different schools as over the years. Art classes/services for students of different grades were removed or added back in addition to various schools buildings closings. I've taught every grade level in the system. Then I started teaching for ECC.
F.W. – Do you still do any artwork?
r.z. – I dabble in collage, sketches, drawing, but not to the extent I would like to do. Planning on doing more in near future.
F.W. - Where are you from originally?
r.z. - Valley Stream, NY
F.W. - Where did you go to school?
r.z. - VSS High School and State University College at Buffalo
F.W. - Were your parents artists or writers?
r.z. - They were both amateur artists, they were both intellectuals. My father was very well-read. They both sculpted. My mother also painted. Together, they were a "Durass" (see Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.).
An aside: I was once at a party at Jim Sylvia's loft on West Ferry, probably after a poetry reading. Jim was photography prof at Buff State, and I believe he was a member of N.E.W. Anyway, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., to whom I had written a letter in college after a rumor that he would come to UB to teach. He wrote me back, but taught at Harvard instead. He was apparently in town and crashed the party to see his old friend Leslie Fiedler. I asked Vonnegut why he had never come to UB. Guess what? He had decided the weather was better in Boston. How did I have Kurt Vonnegut's address when I was in college? I tore the page with his address out of a Barnstable, Mass. phone book in a telephone booth when in route to the Newport Folk Festival. (Opportunity.) And to think there are some who have never experienced a phone booth nor consulted a phone book in this age of smartphones and internet….
F.W. - When did you start writing poetry?
r.z. - Hmmm. When I was a child, my older sister suggested I write stories instead of sentences for grammar school vocabulary lessons, which I did. In high school, I started writing poetry. I have never taken a poetry class. My best friend from high school invited me to attend the bi-annual Dodge Poetry Festival about 12 years ago and that has introduced me to many poets' work. However, I did attend some workshops many years ago, and I have learned a lot about poetry from preparing lessons for my adult learners from Gilda's Club the last twelve years and from my own reading. After Gilda's (which later became Hospice and then Life Transitions after the financial melt down) closed, the group was adamant about continuing to meet with me weekly for classes, and we did that. I eventually, more recently, reduced the meetings to once a month. For five years I have gone to the Cloudburst Council, a retreat for poets, where ideas and poetry are explored, coming back with exposure to the work of poets I hadn't known about and inspiration. While I am not an academic and can not speak easily about poetics or criticism, I am, I guess, a life-long learner.
F.W. - Who are some of your biggest influences, both in art and poetry?
r.z. - A long list, that has changed over the years. Traditional poetry and later the Beats when I was in high school. And I remember liking John Ciardi's poetry then and the Impressionists since grade school. I would take two buses and a subway into Manhattan (a long schlep, but I couldn't afford the LIRR) every chance I had from the time I was 14. I would visit Tchelitchew's "Hide-and-Seek" at the MOMA, and Klee, Miro, Mondrian, etc. At the Met, I would see new exhibits, catch the Impressionists, and stand in front of Bastien-LePage's "Joan of Arc" for long periods of time. And I would go to the city and the village for folk and rock concerts and hanging out (Greenwich village). Today I would have to add Wm. Carlos Williams, Olson, Creeley, Jane Hirshfield, Martin Espada, Billy Collins, Yusef Komunyakaa, Joy Harjo, Mary Oliver, Patricia Smith, Natalie Diaz, Rita Dove, Irving Feldman, Dorianne Laux, Seamus Heaney, W.S. Merwin, Galway Kinnell, Sylvia Plath, and many more.
F.W. - Do you try to make a connection between the art world and that of poetry when you write?
r.z. - I don't, but I have written a bunch of ekphrastic poems. Maybe the left-brain/right brain similarity.
F.W. - When did get involved in Earths Daughters?
r.z. - In the very late 1970's. Marion Perry, who was an editor at that time, invited me to join, after meeting me at a UB radio station show on air, for which we were both reading our work, hosted by Janice MacKenzie, whom I had met in a women's poetry workshop through my friend, the writer (poet, back then) Becky Birtha —Becky, whom I had met because we both had no car and got a ride to work with a guy named Sandy, whom I met from a ride-board notice at Buff State in the last century and rode to LI with over some vacation. I explain it this way because "One thing leads to another." Connections.
F.W. - How long has the publication been in existence?
r.z. - This is Earth's Daughters’ 45th year of publication. Who were the originators of the journal? Judy Kerman, the late Lillian Robinson, Judy Treible (whom I hadn't seen in years but saw again when she came to the Dodge Poetry Fest two years ago with Buffalo writers Irene and David Sipos, whom I didn't even know knew her: connections) and Elaine Rollwagen Chamberlain (an early E.D. editor, whom I tried to find for years, to invite her to read for the Gray Hair series, and then there she was at Sara Ries poetry series one day, now married to Sara's [now] husband's father: connections). When I joined, the editors were Kastle Brill, Marion Perry, the late Joy Walsh, the late Jimmie Canfield (Gilliam), the late Robin Kay Willoughby, the late Bonnie Johnson.
F.W. - How do you think Buffalo holds up as a poetry town compared to some of the other places you have been?
r.z. – There is a lively poetry scene here, but some other cities draw larger audiences — NY, NJ, Philly. It's a thrill to be sitting with hundreds or thousands of other people listening to poets reading (like at the Dodge Festival). "Rock concert effect." Many other cities and towns all over the US have active, vital poetry scenes. Thus, someone like Michael Czarnecki, poet and publisher who grew up in Buffalo, can travel the country annually giving readings for months. Of course, there are also places that are deficient in opportunities for poets to meet and gather, to read. Publishing? Does location matter for that now that there is connectivity via the internet? [I brought Lyn Lifshin to John Roche's RIT class to speak with his students several years ago. He asked her to talk about the process of getting published. She has been published in probably every small press journal for the last 45+ years and has more than 140 books out. I mentioned to his class that whatever it was like in her day, it's different now.]
F.W. - Do you have any particular way of going about your writing? Any daily practices?
r.z. - There was a period of time, for a dozen or so years, when I would write daily, usually a new poem, or several, because sometimes exploring info about something in the content of one would lead to a new discovery and a new poem. Or I would work on revising daily and, often, also writing a new poem. I had slowed down from that now. However, I sometimes feel a small panic about not having written recently, and then, soon, something emerges from the deep recesses of my cobwebbed brain.
F.W. - What are some of your own books and do you have any coming out in the near future?
r.z. - My books are: Looking for Bora Bora (Saddle Road Press, 2013), full-length volume; and 3 chapbooks —the nothing that is (Benevolent Bird Press, 2015), a bright nowhere (Foothills Publishing, 2015), and Body of the Work (Textile Bridge Press), and a micro-book from Destitute Press, suite of six. I am currently working on a forthcoming volume that a local small press publisher will be putting out. No title yet. Half new and half unpublished older work, I'm a bit behind on delivering it. My own horn is now touted.
F.W. - What are some of the organizations you've been involved with other than Earth’s Daughters?
r.z. - Working on issues of ED (reading mss., sequencing accepted work, finding cover art and arranging for its use, proofing each issue before printing, distributing the magazine at local bookstores, etc.), running two reading series, teaching a writing class, writing my own poetry, doing readings, attending periodic conferences or festivals have all required plenty of my "spare" time.’
One must leave time for posting on Facebook.
In the past I was involved in Niagara-Erie Writers, Peopleart Art Gallery, professional teacher organizations, gardening organizations. CIA (no, just kidding)
Facebook is where you can find out, on pages for each, about the reading series that ryki runs and, also, you can check on the Just Buffalo website calendar of events and the News Poetry column listings on Sundays.
I recommend you pick up her books.
In the meantime here are a few of ryki's poems.
(joan of arc exits the painting afterhours)
the hem of her sackcloth skirt
trails the ground;
barefoot, lightly treads
on a carpet of century-old leaves;
at night, she steps out
from the canvas,
pads along on the cold
she exhales a memory of flames,
her arm tired
from holding a branch
day after day,
standing under the tree
where she heard them;
the voices bade her
raise her sword against the british,
but, later, fell silent,
to the whims of bishops,
men inflammed by the simplicity
of her spiritual purity;
or was it the whims of saints?
tracing a path from the leaf in her hand
through the arches of the trees behind her
we see saints catherine, margaret, and michael
hovering in the air above,
luring her from her spinning
with urgent mysteries.
she is poised to leave,
rapt with grace
and angelic vision,
and something more
than the exquisite breath
the artist imbued into her flesh.
her spirit burns, incandescent,
warming the tone of her skin,
flickers with life, so long ago stolen by fire.
she sighs in my ear
and i hear the heartbeat of eternity.
(Jeanne D’Arc, by Bastien-Lepage, 1879-80,
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY)
in the green memory
of plant time
i've seen it all.
how charming my leaf form,
my singleness --
such a gorgeous gymnosperm.
a living fossil from jurassic days,
dinosaurs grazed amongst
my ancestors long ago,
millions of millennia before
the hairless apes
in the green memory
of plant time
i've seen it all,
but, rooted, did nothing
here by the muddied shores
of streams where
a bunch of girly-flowers took over,
grew into a thick canopy,
and tried to blot out the sun
to kill me off.
here i am, wolf-back weed,
here i am, collydoll flower,
and all the rest of you
who morphed into garden blooms.
i am a ginkgo, indelible.
growing wild in the mountains
of china, springing up near rivulets,
looking the same as ever,
still aloof, never to flower,
guardian of mesozoic memories.
it is not the wind you hear
when you visit me,
it is the sighs of the gingko.
(for jimmie margaret gilliam, priscilla devantier bowen, and gabrielle burton)
here is what it is:
first the one leaves
and then another,
same day, on the other edge
of the same country,
from the same malady.
when you see the third,
bidding adieu to the second one,
she exudes the wraith
of her end as well.
faint shimmer in the air,
the dark thought that it is the last time.
here is what is clear:
the essence remains long after.
in each of them was this:
the whorl of her attention
centering on you,
in her presence, a calm center,
her graciousness, her smile,
the many gifts of her self she
shyly bestowed on you.
a breeze brushes your ear,
as if she is whispering her secrets
so you will keep them also,
more for counsel than consoling.
the clouds are wisps now,
lingering, wrapping you
with the determination
to remember her by your
next kindness to another.
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