Banango Lit

Banango is a literary blog that talks about exciting literature. We like to read stuff. We are also Banango Street, a literary journal. You can email us at banangolit (at) gmail (dot) com if you would like to send us stuff to look at, or you can send a link in our Ask box. We will try to look at it but we have learned to avoid making too many promises.

If you have questions that you would like answered in our monthly mailbag, email us at the above email address as well.

Also, email us if you feel like you would like to be a contributor for Banango. We would like that also.

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The moment you’ve been on the edge of your seat for: submissions have reopened for Banango Street and will be open indefinitely! Click here to send us your work.

In addition to the normal poetry and art categories, we’re pleased to announce we’re opening our doors once again to fiction and creative non-fiction. Say hello to Banango Street’s new readers: Justin Brouckaert (fiction), Zachary Doss (fiction), and Katie Jean Shinkle (creative non-fiction):

Justin Brouckaert’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, Passages North and Gigantic Sequins, among other publications.He is a James Dickey Fellow at the University of South Carolina, where he serves as fiction editor of Yemassee. Find him at or on Twitter @JJBrouckaert.

Zachary Doss lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the fiction editor for Black Warrior Review and Banango Street. His work has appeared in Hobart (online), mojo, and is forthcoming from Caketrain. 

Katie Jean Shinkle is the author of one novel, Our Prayers After the Fire, (forthcoming, Blue Square Press) and four chapbooks, most recently Baby-Doll Under Ice (Hyacinth Girl Press, forthcoming). She is the Associate Editor of Denver Quarterly and co-Assistant Poetry Editor of DIAGRAM

Send us things! Reblog this post! We are so excited to read your work.

Banango Street


We’re so stoked to announce the launch of a Banango e-chapbook arm, Banango Editions. Banango Editions will allow us to extend our publishing efforts into longer-form collections of poetry and prose of the same outstanding caliber as the work found on Banango Street.

Here’s the important part: we’re running a flash reading period for female-identified writers through Tuesday night 8/12, midnight CST. We welcome chapbook manuscripts of up to ~35 pages from women, queer, and non-binary writers.

Is it weird to reblog your own post? Whatever, I’m about it. Just 8 more hours left to submit yr echap manuscript for this:

We’re so stoked to announce the launch of a Banango e-chapbook arm, Banango Editions. Banango Editions will allow us to extend our publishing efforts into longer-form collections of poetry and prose of the same outstanding caliber as the work found on Banango Street. 

Here’s the important part: we’re running a flash reading period for female-identified writers through Tuesday night 8/12, midnight CST. We welcome chapbook manuscripts of up to ~35 pages from women, queer, and non-binary writers. 

We’ve all got files sitting on our hard drive that we chip away & away at. Here’s your chance to set all that aside & just send it in. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Normal Banango Editions submissions will have a nominal fee attached, so here’s your chance to avoid that as well. 

We are especially interested in works that fit together narratively, thematically, or conceptually, not just collections of random poems. We want words that leap off the page and root around our insides, kicking up dirt. Work that creates a micro-atmosphere unto itself and tugs you into it. Show us your best.

Send in your manuscript through Submittable by midnight CST on Tuesday (that’s at the end of Tuesday because time is hard):

and *please* pass this announcement along to the many wonderful women writers in your circles!

Rachel and Justin

Write because you want to communicate with yourself. Write because you want to communicate with someone else. Write because life is weird and tragic and amazing. Write because talking is difficult. Write because it polishes the heart. Write because you can. Write because you can’t. Write because there is a blackbird outside of my window right now and oh my god isn’t that the best start to the day? Write because you’re trying to figure yourself out. Write because you might not ever figure yourself out. Write because there still aren’t enough love poems in the world.
Dalton Day, interviewed for Banango Street (via bostonpoetryslam)

Review by Candice Wuehle 

Carleen Tibbetts’ “a starving music will come to eat the body” (winner of the Five Quarterly e-chapbook contest) often reads to me like Roland Barthes and early Alice Notley attempting to collaborate on a valentine to theory itself. This effort produces dream words (“gurgleprettied,” “mothervoiced playmouth antigen,” “fuguethroated,” “softboundaried” and “night-purr”) but also as a stanza that can declare: 

so find the metric
eat around the bad parts & pay as you go
love that perfect kind of rot
the high monotony of –ologies
the doublecross of body
anyway, in real time, dance

It is a weird kind of energy to state that branches of knowledge themselves (“ologies”) are the “high monotony” and it grants this book—which is itself steeped in structures, theories, the idea of the void and voided “thing”—lift and flight. “a starving music will come to eat the body” asks how the body comes to history and life through it’s “ologies” but also insists context itself is corrosive. This notion is implied through epigraph by Christian Bök (“delicate words simply dissolve when immersed in their meaning”) as well as through the speaker’s own insistence that “utterance is just another word for corrosion.” What is so intense for me about these poems is that for Tibbetts, it seems there is little division between the body and the words that encompass it; the language is all possible expression when it is on the page and thus it become necessary at points to rupture into disarticulation, hyper-articulation, or the compressed articulation of neologism. At one startling point in the poem “shame makes all the warm sounds”, Tibbett’s writes “I made my body a comma” and while this clearly indicates pause, stoppage, and any of the other grammatical indicators of “comma” one might think of, I was instantly inclined to imagine the selfhood of the speaker as transfigured puncture, or punctum in the Barthesian sense. The act of writing had performed its dissolve—this is often the acknowledged work of poetry and the unacknowledged work of theory: to recognize what by its very nature cannot be articulated, in turn producing a language of intimacy which teaches a style of sensual knowledge.

            One of the ways “a starving music…” achieves this sense of intimacy is through a resistance to overstate metaphor. Instead, the diction of these poems, frequently invested in the kind of sparkling glitter that becomes at once a blinding violence akin to the work of Chelsey Minnis or Lisa Robertson, is a gnawing diction that eats at the words of the poems themselves as opposed to suggesting parallel quality between object or idea. If a “starving music” is coming to “eat the body”, Tibbetts acknowledges the creepy ouroboros of her poems as music machine and music murderer. This is apparent in the semantic drift of “you’re okay with this ravenous system if we call it a charmed structure”:

        how to sorrow: make a home in a fuguethroated syllable 

                                misdial some light (a lushy lux charge in the air)

& rifle through the mica of miracle                 softboundaried anatomy of salvation

             encrusted with the sweet ANTIgen of praise wrung from the hymn

RIFLE through not as in search as in CUT
spiral grooves within as in a cannon
with such grooves as in gun as in GUN
ning for yr mineshaft orifices
yr landmine hands

Or the defiant voids built into a poem like “something darkling”:

i recall each
little howling
___is the new night, another essential for___
you sieve your heart as you’d
separate grain from the chaff
the implications of an open window
undeveloped film canisters
the impossible crawl toward____
like cotton anticipates the combing

There is a precise instability or a very specific misdirection achieved by the ease through which words transfigure into other words in “you’re okay with this ravenous system if we call it a charmed structure”. “Misdial” slurs “mica” drifts “miracle” until we arrive at “cannon” “gun” and the spliced “GUN”/”ning” which in turn enact the “softboundaried” and “fuguethroated qualities of the poem itself. By the final effort of the poem’s ending on “yr mineshaft orifices/ yr landmine hands” the subtle conflagration between the personal possessive “mine” of “mineshaft” slipped into the underlying telluridic qualities conflated with the overly violent essence of the word “landmine” expands to  asks how language can be introduced to the body before the body is itself languaged. The          of “something darkling” insist that language can and should be expelled at the points when it becomes a device of limitation or boundary. A line I especially love from the book’s very first poem, “let’s start with traps”:

the sister-feeling of______
this rusting from the inside

is simply such a generative refusal of boundary, as are all the points of void or blankness in “a starving music…”. In part, this refusal is achieved exactly because at points the poems resist through void Bök’s dictum that “words when immersed in their meaning dissolve” by simply refusing immersion; in the above selection, there seems to be only “sister-feeling” and no root feeling, all “inside” and no body. In the lines “___is the new night, another essential for___” and “undeveloped film canisters/ the impossible crawl toward____”, the “essential” or orientation is again omitted. It’s in this manner, I think, that Tibbett’s “softboundaried” poetics opens up and allows for a confidence with the poems which creates a multiplicity of your own “sister-feelings”, your own “impossible crawl toward” within the distinct aura of the thing-music these poems play on their spindly thumb orchestra.

As I’ve read and re-read these poems, one of the qualities of the chapbook as a whole which has most struck me has been its harmony as a suite of poems which grows, begs both questions and demands of itself and arrives at a site upon which it can sustain its own sense of being. The final poem of “a starving music…” is titled “disarticulation”, medical terminology which means to separate two bones at their joint. However, it occurred to me that to “disarticulate” in speech would be something very different than to “be inarticulate”—it would indicate not lack of cogency or an occultism of unclear speech; rather it would herald a movement of “dis”: away, asunder, and apart. An articulation of energy both within and without, as, I think one reads within this selection from that poem: 

should velveteen as does shine culled from light
should swan into spangle sounds
should night-purr
should hum [a bonesound slow-dancing through this soul suit] like marrow
utterance is really just another word for corrosion

While this poem spreads the bones, disarticulates them with utterance itself, it also suggest arenas for coming back together in nature, the soul and sound itself and speaks in an energetic litany of indicative tense. Perhaps the last idea I need to emphasize about this book is its relentless lushness, its compulsion to speak about scale, theory, the body, violence and the ability of language itself to function in perpetual vibrancy.  This vibrancy which, for me, suggests the “spangle sounds” of language are larger, more generous, than the logic which can encompass them.

Candice Wuehle is a confident, articulate & inaccurate tarot reader. She will divine for you anytime. She is also a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City, Iowa, holds a Masters in Literature from the University of Minnesota and is a PhD candidate at the University of Kansas.

Some of her poems can be or will be found in “The Volta”,  “Inter|rupture”, “NOO”,  “Boaat”, “Fairy Tale Review”, “BlazeVOX”, “SOFTBLOW”, “Smoking Glue Gun”, “Similar:Peaks::” and “The Sonora Review”. 


Banango Street Issue 8

Featuring: Laurie Saurborn Young, Michael Mlekoday, Kimberly Ann Southwick, Tyler Cain Lacy, Caitlin Scarano, Brandi Wells, Sally Delehant, Mary Biddinger, Jesse Donaldson, Portia Elan, Jill Khoury, Franklin K.R. Cline, Adam Boehmer, Joshua Ware, Ellene Glenn Moore, Olivia Kate Cerrone, Justin Lawrence Daugherty, Zeke Hudson, Blythe Baird, Emily O’Neill

With artwork by: Josh Pinson

Interview by Sarah Carson.

Joyelle McSweeney writes in all the genres, and her new books include Salamandrine, 8 Gothics from Tarp Sky (Prose plus a play) and Percussion Grenade from Fence, poems plus a play. She teaches at the University of Notre Dame du Lac, Named for Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, Star of the Rust Belt.

Sarah Carson’s poetry and short stories have appeared in Columbia Poetry Review, Diagram, Guernica, the Nashville Review, and the New Orleans Review, among others. She is the author of three chapbooks, and two full-length collections, Poems in which You Die (BatCat Press, 2014) and Buick City (Mayapple Press, forthcoming 2015). Sometimes she blogs at

Welcome to “How Did You Do That?!” a series of conversations with those writers we admire/are jealous of. You know the ones—people who are always doing amazing things and make it all seem so easy.

An accomplished poet and hybrid writer, Joyelle McSweeney’s résumé is full of just those types of amazing things—from a sci-fi novel to a gothic poetry collection to a play retelling of a Grimms’ fairy tale, she seems to never run out of energy or ideas.

In 2013, McSweeney’s experimental play Dead Youth, or, the Leaks was awarded the inaugural Leslie Scalapino Award for Innovative Women Playwrights, which honors “exploratory approaches and an innovative spirit in writing for performance.”

As if winning such a title wasn’t enough, McSweeney wrote the play in just a few weeks, a feat deserving of a “How did you do that?!” if there ever was one.

McSweeney was gracious enough to answer just that question and more.

Abduwali Muse, the inspiration for Dead Youth, or, the Leaks

Sarah Carson: What was the impetus for this play? What made you choose this content matter + this form for communicating it?

Joyelle McSweeney: This play germinated from learning that Abduwali Muse – the teenage Somali ‘pirate’ who was tried in NYC a few years back—is imprisoned in a federal facility in Terre Haute, Indiana—the state where I live, the Rust Belt state whose name vaguely refers to a genocided people. That’s how misery moves around the globe and always finds its Target ™. Like many citizens of the Internet, I remember Muse for the movie-star grin he flashed at the cameras upon arrival at trial in New York. The charisma of that moment floods all through this play. I wrote it as a spell for his protection and an effort at occult communication.

In my play, a benevolent  Julian Assange has hijacked a containership full of Dead Youth, a plural character made up of (un-)dead, saucy, track-suited teens who have died all over the planet from contact with violence: gang warfare, pharmaceutical industry predation, environmental toxicity, drones, suicide, johns, etc. He is steering them to his childhood home Magnetic Island where he will reboot them/upload them to the Internet.  Muse and a female Saint-Exupéry (representing The Law) board the ship and attempt to wrest control from Assange. Their fortunes are all controlled by a female deity played Henrietta Lacks, the African-American cancer patient whose cells, harvested without her consent, at Johns Hopkins in 1951, have led to many important medical (and consumerist) discoveries and are used in research settings all over the globe.

This may sound like heavy stuff, but it’s actually a farce, given the many political figures who collide in this inside-out Tempest. There are  many press conferences, song and dance numbers, show trials, etc, and lots of campy banter. The farce form makes your belly shake and then sticks you with its blade. Yikes!

SC: What was your process like? Where did you begin? How long did it take you? How did you know you were finished?

JM: I forced this out over just a few weeks to meet the deadline. I knew what I wanted to write about and why—as a play of advocacy for Muse and Assange, and a chance to elevate Henrietta Lacks to a position of absolute power. I had a lot of urgency driving me to write. But I also wanted to write a real play, not just a shorty poet’s play of 10 or 15 pages. So I went back and made every draft longer. This also allowed me to carry certain motifs (bees, computer code, cancer, green) from section to section.

SC: I’ve read in some of your interviews that you were a fan of Leslie Scalapino, for whom the award you won is named. Is that how you came to submit to the prize?

JM: Yes! I wouldn’t call myself a L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet in terms of aesthetic affiliation, theory or technique, though I admire how they pulled off the impossible and forced American poetry to let them in. At this point I’m just an old-school early Modernist think. But I am a big Leslie Scalapino fan. I love the ballsy way she turns genre conventions inside out, her total commitment to the occasionally inscrutable, her denial that it was inscrutable, her conviction that her writing belonged in newspapers, her political commitment, and especially her technique of ‘housing’ one character inside another character, one genre inside another genre. That knocked me out in her book Dahlia’s Iris: Secret Autobiography + Fiction.

SC: What was it like to hear that you’d won such an important award?

JM: Bonkers. I had driven to Chicago for the Marble Room Reading Series, and I could barely give the reading, or drive home. I could not believe it. I felt like I was falling through the earth.

SC: What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into writing experimental plays like yours? Are there any authors you’d recommend?

JM: My advice is just to read like hell and write that which gives you perverse joy and which you are somewhat humiliated to present to the world. That’s a sign you are writing stuff no one else but you could write, which usually makes for the most delicious and devilish work. To write my play, I really drew on an array of plays and performances I love: Langston Hughes Scotsboro, Ltd.; Amiri Baraka The Dutchman; Suzan-Lori Parks America Play; Shakespeare Tempest and Merchant of Venice; Soyinka, From Zia with Love & A Scourge of Hyacinths; Durenmatt The Visit; Genet, entire body of work; Jack Smith, entire body of work. I researched Assange and Lacks and, to the extent I could, Muse. I made up the Exupérystuff. I had also read CLR James The Black Jacobins earlier that year and became obsessed with this short note written by Toussaint L’Ouverture, in (I assume) James’s translation here:

Brothers and friends. I am Toussaint L’Ouverture, my name is perhaps known to you. I have undertaken vengeance. I want Liberty and Equality to reign in San Domingo. I work to bring them into existence. Unite yourselves to us, brothers, and fight with us for the same cause.

The self-announcement of this note stops the show and initiates revolutionary time. I have used its tone, syntax, and cadences in all of my plays because they are works of revolution and vengeance. When Henrietta Lacks says her name in this play, it is a declaration of war. When Julian Assange says, “Hello, I’m Julian Assange”, it continually resets the play’s clock. I recite this letter to myself while driving around South Bend or whenever the spirit wavers. 

Banango Street Issue 8
Coming July 15th

Featuring: Laurie Saurborn Young, Michael Mlekoday, Kimberly Ann Southwick, Tyler Cain Lacy, Caitlin Scarano, Brandi Wells, Sally Delehant, Mary Biddinger, Jesse Donaldson, Portia Elan, Jill Khoury, Franklin K.R. Cline, Adam Boehmer, Joshua Ware, Ellene Glenn Moore, Olivia Kate Cerrone, Justin Lawrence Daugherty, Zeke Hudson, Blythe Baird, Emily O’Neill

With artwork by: Josh Pinson


Mason Johnson is a writer from Chicago who currently works full time writing and editing articles for CBS. You can find his fiction at Also, he pets all the cats.

I was surprised when Jason Pettus of the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography approached me at a book release I’d read at and asked me if I had anything CCLaP might be interested in. Though I did readings and wrote plenty of prose, I’d always considered what I performed at readings and the novel drafts and short stories at home to be different and separate entities. I didn’t really expect my performances around Chicago to have any substantial effect on me ever getting a book published, but it was those readings that caused Jason to hear about me in the first place.

I guess this makes sense in hindsight. 

Excited, I sent Jason a few things I’d been working on.

He didn’t like what I sent him. Welp.

He suggested I try to take a piece of my Sad Robot Stories e-book, which some people liked and a decent amount of people definitely did not like (shrug), and try to make it into a serious novella. 

I hated this idea, but I said I’d try it out. After two weeks of thinking that I’d never be able to do what he asked (and that I really had no desire to do it), I started getting ideas. They were mostly scenes in my head. Scenes that would theoretically work well in, say, a Sad Robot Stories novella. It got to the point where I knew I’d write the damn thing regardless of whether CCLaP wanted it, so I started writing the damn thing.

I had miscalculated. I thought I’d be able to finish this in the same amount of time it’d take College Mason to finish it, which was a huge mistake. I wasn’t College Mason anymore, I was office Mason, working 9 hour days (minimum) in a cubicle. And it didn’t matter how much time I spent in front of a computer screen attempting to write this damn thing after work, my mind was too jellified by the day to get a lot done. Still, I sat in front of my computer every night and got a tiny bit done at a time. 

What I ended up doing was writing most of the book in notebooks. Every free little moment I had, be it at home, work, on the train, waiting at a bar for a friend, I’d write a sentence or two. Eventually, I had a few notebooks with a bunch of jumbled scenes that weren’t in any order whatsoever. I’d made an outline initially, to help get me going, but hadn’t stuck to it whatsoever. A lot of the initial editing was just getting shit in the right order as I typed it.

After a few months of crazed writing and reordering, I had half of the draft finished in a word document, which I sent to CCLaP. Having read this, CCLaP finally agreed to publish the thing for realzies.

From there, I was given a date to finish the book by, and I missed it. I missed the next one, too, and the one after that. What we initially thought would be a January release, got pushed back to August after I missed goddamn date after date (I still thought I was College Mason, whelp).

To my knowledge, Jason never cursed my name (over me constantly missing deadlines, at least).

Eventually, I got the book in the correct order from beginning to end. After that, I read through it and saw what stuck out and what didn’t, theme-wise (I had no real “authorial intent” before this, I just kinda wrote). The themes that stuck out the most, I emboldened a little, the themes that didn’t, I let fall to the wayside. I can’t remember exactly what got lost from that first draft, but I do remember looking at the draft and feeling very… certain about a few of the themes: gender/sexuality, loneliness/hope in nature, etc. So I sorta used those as tentpoles to hold the story up, I guess.

Photo by Don Solo, above design by Troy Palmer of Little Fiction.

Finally I sent a full draft to CCLaP. Jason Pettus, Robert O’Connor and Allegra Pusateri then read it and, while getting coffee, assaulted me with questions that might help the editing process. I don’t remember what they had problems with (I don’t think there was a lot), but this has less to do with their contribution (which was great) and more to do with my terrible memory (for example: I’ve probably forgotten key elements of the book itself, despite having written it, because I’ve got a shit memory).

After that, they edited the book chapter by chapter, sending me a chapter every few days. Robert and Allegra would pass on their comments to Jason, Jason would add his comments/tweak theirs, then send the comments over to me. Most of this was about individual sentence structure, we were making sure that the thing sounded how we wanted it to sound. We weren’t focused on grammar or punctuation yet; that was for the copy editing stage. We just wanted to get the voice right.

I remember as this was happening, I was also rewriting the end extensively, because I wanted to be a pain in the ass, I guess. So I was always slow getting back to them about edits. I have no idea what I changed in the end, but it changed pretty significantly (actually, I’ve got a slight idea, but it’s sort of a spoiler).

The biggest change Jason demanded for the book was to take out a very short chapter. In the middle, there was an interlude that was a couple of pages. I was adamantly against removing it, most of my motivation coming from the point-of-view that it was MINE and no one else could touch it.

Jason said something along the lines of, “it’s a HUGE fucking mistake” to leave it in.

After about two weeks, I realized it was more my ego that wanted to keep the damn thing, and found I could look at it a bit more objectively. Though Jason told me I could keep it if I wanted to, I saw that it was a huge fucking mistake to leave it in, and decided that, yeah, we should take it out.

Good thing Jason was so adamant!

From there, we copy edited it for about two weeks (I must of read the book a dozen times during the editing process, yet mistakes still remain, guess I’m a shit CE), then it was finally ready to be published…


Before Jason approached me about the book, I’d been thinking a lot about the forms books can/should take. I wondered: Should I even bother to attempt to make something I write into a physical novel? Should I just make ebooks? Should I find a group of humans willing to let me tattoo my gender bending, hardboiled alien-sex-romp-detective novel all over their bodies?

CCLaP’s want to publish my book kind of temporarily answered that question. Their “thing” was totally in line with what I wanted.

CCLaP had started by publishing their books exclusively in a digital format. Eventually, they moved on to making handmade books. The physical being of their books was beautiful, something I noticed with Lauryn Allison’s solo/down.

Years before, I’d make my own zines and comics the old fashioned way, folding and stapling them myself. At first, I hated this; I just wanted to write. But as writing became more and more of a job, I longed to fold and staple things, which became a sort of Zen activity that allowed me to pull my mind away from my writing. CCLaP’s hand bound books were light-years ahead of my stapled creations, a dream come true for anyone who wants care to not only exist in the words on the page, but in the entire physical creation of their book. That, combined with my preference of reading digital books over paperbacks and hardcovers (digital books weigh a hell of a lot less than real books, though I’ll purchase the physical form of a book I absolutely love), made me excited about the prospect of having both the beautiful handmade book CCLaP makes, while also having a convenient digital version. 

Of course, it’s not easy to do this. By the time Sad Robot Stories had come out, CCLaP had several books that were being handmade. For an indie press, the time and work it takes to make what CCLaP calls their “Hypermodern Editions” is immense. Also, it was primarily Jason making the books. So as CCLaP became more successful, with more and more book orders coming in, it became harder for Jason to keep up. Not too long after Sad Robot Stories came out, with more book orders than ever, Jason became sick, delaying any books people had recently ordered.

Needless to say, CCLaP was becoming too successful to continue like this (not the worst problem to have). 

Now, they publish their new books as paperbacks. They get the job done. You can still buy their “hypermodern Editions,” though they’re a bit pricier and seem to come in limited printings. For all I know, they may soon stop doing the “Hypermodern Editions” altogether. 

Which just makes it that much nicer to see something I wrote exist in that form.

I have no clue how I’ll publish my next book, but I’m glad this is how my first was published.

Gale Marie Thompson is the author of Soldier On (Tupelo Press, 2014) and two chapbooks. Poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Colorado Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Better, Denver Quarterly, Volt, Best New Poets 2012, Guernica, and others. She edits Jellyfish Magazine and writes, teaches, and lives in Athens, GA.

We interviewed Gale about her Elizabeth Bishop cover poem, [“Cal, have you ever gone through caves?”], in Banango Street’s recent Covers Issue. You can also read two of Gale’s poems, “No Heart" and "Explorer in the Classic Mold,” in Issue 5.

RH: Most all of the pieces in the covers issue are after a particular poem or poet, but judging by the title and some Googling, [“Cal, have you ever gone through caves?”]  appears to be inspired by a letter that Elizabeth Bishop wrote to Robert Lowell, paraphrased by Lowell. How did this particular cover come about? What was the process of writing it like?

GT: I love that you followed the title’s history—it makes me so happy! Well, I’ll say it came about through a kaleidescope of things. I took a seminar in my PhD program last year based entirely on Bishop, whom I just adore. We read all of her poems, prose (short stories, travel writings, etc.); then, we went through One Art, her collected letters, which I’d read in college and could never get enough of. The collection of letters between her and Robert Lowell were put into a book called Words in Air that came out in 2008. She called Lowell “Cal,” which is my favorite nickname for anyone. (Speaking of nicknames, here’s a little factoid: a young Robert Lowell used to give his friends “bear names,” and that’s how you knew whether he liked you or not.) Their relationship is one of the deepest for me, despite its serious issues—it’s how I view my relationships with my own, close, poet friends. It is a love deeper than most, accepting faults and defending to the death. It’s a platonic, idealistic love, a la Mulder and Scully (and yes, I know, they ended up non-platonic, but you get my drift).

The letter to Lowell including the lines, “Cal, have you ever gone through caves?” and so forth, which Lowell pretty much used verbatim in his poem, was written in February 1970. This was three years after her longtime love Lota’s sudden death. Bishop was desperate. She had worked for years on an elegy to Lota, drafting over and over again this replaying of her death. She never finished. Reading these drafts in Edgar Allen Poe and the JukeBox is haunting—it’s painfully obvious she’s having a hard time “mastering disaster,” as she says in “One Art.” And here’s a gut-puncher: One of the lines in the poem is, “No coffee can wake you no coffee can wake you no coffee can wake you.” As you can probably tell, that plays a little part in the poem. So all that comes in when I think of the letter. And, that horrible thing called optimism, where you really just wish you could give up everything, but instead you have this nagging hope that if you just hang on for a little bit longer, you’ll come out of the cave.

So, I’m a PhD student at the University of Georgia, specializing in “the poetics of memory,” for lack of better words—and the way Bishop’s work deals with loss is a big part of my interests. I am obsessed with, and have written about, the unique way Bishop views memory, and the art(ifice) with which she portrays it. I won’t go into too much detail, but her poems end up resulting in both a recognition of loss and an acknowledgment of its persistence—a continual mourning. That the work of grieving and attempting to fill in for that loss can never be completed. And all of this leads to me writing the poem. 

It started out slowly—I thought it was a failure at first. I just played with some Bishop imagery, some things I’ve written about Bishop, and then sort of faltered. Then at some point, whatever it was that was supposed to bit, bit. I suppose it had to do with a recent personal loss as well.

RH: The poem deploys repetition at key moments—”where others won’t wake up they won’t wake up” and the “diver”/ “please dive down” towards the end. We also see this in the two poems of yours we published in Issue 5. Can you talk about the role of repetition in your work?

GT: Haha, I guess it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? I never noticed all of this until recently, and then was pretty insecure about it. But now I’ve gotten both used to it and fulfilled by it—I do repeat often, and for a couple of reasons, I think, both practical and otherwise. Part of it, I’m sure, is just a tic I have to keep going, to work out a thought or emotion without having to disconnect or pull away, or feel the pressure to fully complete and connect what I’m trying to say right away—I can just keep going, and work it out in my own way.

I’m thinking also that it has to do with that obsessive compensation for loss, maybe—I’m reminded of Freud’s “fort-da” case study in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. (If you don’t know about this case study please go look it up now because it’s so strange and necessary!!!!) So, basically, in this case study, a young child ends up obsessively repeating these  words in a game (“fort” means “gone” and “da” means “here” in German) in attempts at substituting the loss of his mother. Peter Sacks’s The English Elegy includes the “fort-da” incident as an example of “successful mourning,” in which the child compensates for this loss by substituting language in for her absence. Except, I’m much more interested in that mourning that cannot be easily made redemptive or easily whole again. It’s what my brain does—what all our brains do to some extent—it replays and obsesses and tries again and again to master trauma and rebuild the walls that were torn down during the traumatic event. I can see this happening during the “they won’t wake up” part, and Bishop’s “no coffee can wake you” lines.

RH: In this poem, as in the two from Issue 5, you have these ending lines that just blow me away (and the repetition plays a part in this). It’s like the entire poem builds up to an ending that just…creates this space of silence and gravity that echoes out. How do you usually arrive upon the endings to your poems?

GT: Oh wow, thanks so much for all of these really thoughtful, kind questions, and I’m sorry I am babbling on and on! For this poem in particular, as I mentioned before, I was having some trouble getting through until something bit. Once it bit (which I think was around the time of the “it won’t quit”), it was a pretty big rush. I began to put things, a lot of repeating things, in italics, and…well, I lost my breath. I almost typed “I lost my shit,” but I’ll say “breath” and call it a day. I had a good three minutes of getting out the remaining things I wanted to get out in the poem, then I had to, well, abandon it. I didn’t finish, I just had to get out of the moment, and I suppose repetition helps me, perhaps, settle the score before I can leave.

Although in recent poems I’m doing a similar feeling but the opposite of repetition, really—where I sort of just take little steps out of a poem with either a fragment or small piece of something dropped so that it doesn’t seem like I’ve just run away.

RH: Let’s turn this issue’s concept on its head. If you wanted to see someone cover your work, which one poem of yours would you choose? And who would you ask to cover it?

GT: Hmmm…it’s really more series of poems that I’m working on right now, and am desperate for other voices for it. So, I started writing a long serial poem about 3 years ago called Observatories, that deals with the construction and survival of memory using Joseph Cornell ephemera, space, snow, World War II, food, bodies, etc.—that’s it in a nutshell—and have never really felt finished with it. Then, earlier this year I started writing a pretty deeply personal long poem called Helen or my Hunger. I actually started writing Helen for my Adrienne Rich seminar—I was trying to explore her use of the serial poem, together with issues of trauma, memory, the female body and its experience, being an identified woman in the world. I ended up taking some parts from Observatories and blending them into Helen because they seemed to grow into each other—in actions or images occurring both infinitely far away (deep space) and intimately close up (the body); they both exist in the feelings of both awe and utter terror when we consider the infinite.

So what I’m trying to say is that I’m lost in these two worlds of poems, which may in actuality be the same poem, and what I would want more than anything is to swim through these worlds with another voice echoing back to me, letting me know how far I’ve gone, where we’re going, or even just to let me know—we’re okay, I’m here. Is that super corny? I feel like I need to keep calling out, “are you still with me? are you still here?” all the time. 

Here’s a little bit:

dear Helen, our dead names are on your tongue

my space in this seat of language, patient

as the teardrop shape of a hand

as it dances through the other hand

I can’t change that: I wait until the hunger

returns, ever small this loss of canopy

That it is difficult to settle this hollow,

that I bleed above my lip and don’t mind

the mechanism: that I deserve this riddled hunger 

So, okay, who I would like to help me with these poems. My poet-loves, Anne Cecelia Holmes and Caroline Cabrera, yes yes. They’re already ones I call out to a lot. Anne’s poems have such a fierce language and hearty/hardy voice that I’ve rarely read one of her poems without having my hand involuntarily on my heart—I called her the Barbra Streisand of poetry one time. Inside joke. And the Justin Timberlake of poets is Caroline Cabrera. Her poems just “say the thing,” as my creative writing students and I call it. You know how we live in this mundanity and see so many patterns in the mundanity, but can’t seem to just get down to it and say the thing, like it’s a poem? That’s Caroline. She does that. Seeing patterns in the everyday and blowing them up to mean everything. Also, Russ Sara Woods, and Carrie Lorig, with their bellowing, throaty love for the world—although very different writers—are both voices I’d love to have call back as well. RSW and I have in particular talked about this sort of sprawling, specifically female voice in poems, re: Stevie Nicks, so I think she and my poems would get along just so well. <3

RH: And finally, because we ask this in every interview: why write?

GT: For me, poetry is a way of working through emotions, obsessions, and events that don’t necessary need a narrative right away. That can come later. I think that’s why I’ve never been much of a fiction writer. My ADD brain can’t/won’t put information into an immediate logical, narrative order, and poetry allows for that overlap, that displacement of time and separation of body and experience, and lets me say what I need to say in a way that is impossible otherwise. I think in blips, and here I can arrange and figure out the blips on my own terms. And I feel like I have to make meaning and find pattern, and poetry is historically a type of meaning-making. Poetry has taught me more about myself, my experiences, the way I interact with people, the way I love and hate and mock and obsess, much more than I think could happen in any therapy session (Obviously I’m exaggerating. Therapy is good for everybody!)

And, I’m just going to quote a little bit from Dan Chelotti over at Huffington Post: “Read poetry because birds, honeysuckle, lit windows, new shoes, walking outside, donuts, lipstick, fresh peaches, cocktails, kisses in the rain produce in you a feeling that you never want to lose, but you will, and the only thing you can do is pay better attention when the feeling comes again. And here it comes. And there it goes.”