Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Q & A with Susan Richardson | Poet & Blogger at STORIES FROM THE EDGE OF BLINDNESS

Susan Richardson is living, writing and going blind in Hollywood. She was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa in 2002 and much of her work focuses on her relationship to the world as a partially-sighted woman. In addition to poetry, she writes a blog called STORIES FROM THE EDGE OF BLINDNESS.  Her work has been published in Stepping Stones Magazine, Wildflower Muse, The Furious Gazelle, The Hungry Chimera, Sheila-Na-Gig, Chantarelle’s Notebook, Foxglove Journal, Literary Juice and Sick Lit Magazine, with pieces forthcoming in Amaryllis and The Anapest Journal.  She was also awarded the Sheila-Na-Gig Winter Poetry Prize.

Literary Juice: After learning of your condition, Reitinitis Pigmentosa, and reading your blog, "Stories from the Edge of Blindness", one can see you possess a deep perception of life around you. You notice beauty, or magic, in places most people tend to overlook. Has this always been a part of you? In what ways has RP influenced your insight?

Susan Richardson: Wow! This is the loveliest thing anyone has ever written about me and asked me. Your questions are so thoughtful and I hope my answers will do them justice. I have always been drawn to the beauty of things that are overlooked or perceived as unusual, and having RP has definitely played a part in enhancing my perception of the world. When I was told that I was going blind, I spent a long time thinking about loss and how losing my vision would change what the meaning of loss looked like. I had experienced loss in the death of loved ones and in difficult rites of passage, but going blind, slowly as most of us with RP do, thrust me into the minutiae of loss; losing my vision wasn’t something I could tuck away and come back to later when I was ready or feeling stronger, it was happening in every moment of every day. I began to look at the world with more care, patience and compassion. I started writing "Stories from the Edge of Blindness", which is, in essence, about what I see on my journey into blindness; the irony of which is not lost on me. Having RP has helped me write, live and look at the world more honestly than I ever have; I look beneath the layers more fearlessly and with new understanding. I love that you use the word magic; I believe it applies to so much in life, and that it is what you get when you look beyond the surface of things, when you choose to stop and truly see rather than step over what might make you feel uncomfortable or afraid.

LJ: Are there days where RP challenges you as a writer? What strategies do you employ to overcome those obstacles?

SR: Living with RP presents me with an array of challenges every day, and some of them are definitely connected to my writing life. One of my most severe RP symptoms is light sensitivity; this includes sunlight, bright indoor lighting and the glare from computer and tablet screens. My writing environments have to be lit in very specific ways, or my eyes begin to ache and sting within minutes; if it’s too bright, I can’t see, and if it’s too dark, I can’t see. I am fortunate to be able to work from home where I have created a good working space for myself. As for the computer, luckily, there are accessibility options on devices that allow me to invert the colors on the screen; looking at a black screen with yellow text is much less painful and enables me to write for longer periods of time. However, I still need to make sure to take frequent breaks; over- use of my eyes, even in less harsh lighting, can result in a day of extreme pain and the inability to use my eyes for anything. I also have trouble focusing and have to increase the font sizes on all of my documents and emails; this can be time consuming when revising or submitting work, but it isn’t difficult. I can remember the days when I wrote all of my poems long hand, but my inconsistent focus makes that impossible. I can no longer read bound books, newspapers or magazines comfortably, but in the RP world, I am lucky; with the help of technology, I can still read and write without the use of a screen reader because, for now, I have relatively good and usable central vision.

LJ: Tell us about how you develop each poem. Are they inspired from within? From the world around you? What does your writing process look like?

SR: I know it sounds cliché, but I really try and allow my writing process to be as organic as possible. My poetry happens in a variety of ways. Some of my poems begin with the language; a word or a line will come into my head, and from there I look within to find the emotional origin for the words. Some of my poems are sparked from memory and some from visceral responses to the world around me. I have also recently gotten into Ekphrastic challenges; I love the idea of art inspiring art, and I have been incredibly surprised by what an image can bring out in me and in my writing. Perhaps, because I am going blind, the act of seeing takes on new meaning and I translate that into my poems that are inspired by paintings or photographs. I have always felt that subjectivity is a big part of what makes art exciting. When people ask me what (or who) a specific poem is about, my tendency is to leave them wondering; I am much more interested in what my writing brings up for the reader, what it makes them feel. There is one constant in my writing; I have always lived my life from an emotional place and because of that, everything I write is, in some way, a reflection of my emotional responses to being alive.

LJ: What do you think is the most difficult part about writing poetry? Do you think there is such a thing as writer’s block? Why or why not?

SR: A couple of years ago, I finally developed a true writing practice; I write every day. The writing isn’t always good and I don’t always feel inspired, but I do it anyway. I realized that being a writer is in the act of writing, not just in the love of language or in moments of inspiration. If you had asked me this question 2 years ago, I would have had a different answer, but now I don’t buy into writer’s block. I used to use it as an excuse for not writing, but I believe there is always something deeper that keeps us from our creative selves. Writing can be scary and isolating; we sit down with our demons and let them unfurl themselves onto the page. In my experience, poetry, more than other forms or genres of writing, is a dissection of the self, and that can be terrifying. The art of poetry is exacting but also requires fluidity; I find this incredibly challenging, but ultimately exciting and fulfilling. 

LJ: What do you want to be remembered most for? What will be your legacy?

SR: I always wanted to be remembered for being a writer whose work inspired people to see beyond the surface of things, to look at themselves and others more fearlessly and with more honesty. I still feel this way, but RP has changed the way I look at the world and now I also want to be able to leave people with my honest account of what it is like to go blind. I think that the fear of vulnerability is a human condition, and that is why blindness is so terrifying to so many people; I want to give blindness a face and a heart. My legacy will be one of words; words that I hope will make a difference in the way people see.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Q & A with Anju Gattani | Author

Fiction author, international freelance journalist, and former news reporter, Anju Gattani has been published in leading publications in the U.S., Singapore, Hong Kong, and India. Her debut novel, DUTY AND DESIRE, was published in 2011. Anju is represented by Bob Diforio, D4EO Literary Agency, and writes fiction to bridge cultures and break barriers. She is currently at work on her third novel in the WINDS OF FIRE series.

Literary Juice: According to your biography, you were first published at the age of seven. At what age did you know you wanted to be a writer? Do you remember what it was that commenced this desire?

Anju Gattani: I will never forget that moment, the thrill of seeing my poem with my name and age printed in Hong Kong’s English leading newspaper, South China Morning Post!!  Yes, I was seven at the time and I continued to write poems, submit entries and win essay competitions too. But I didn’t realize I wanted to be a writer, a professional writer, until much later… in my early 20s. I enrolled in a journalism / creative writing course in Australia, began to get real feedback on my assignments from published authors along with a lot of encouragement. And that’s when the real journey began.

I was published and received my first check by an English language women’s magazine in India for short fiction in 1994. I also began freelancing for New Woman magazine in Mumbai, then added two more (Singapore Women’s Weekly, Motherhood) in Singapore and an expatriate magazine in Hong Kong to my list. I was juggling the freelancing while raising two boys and globe-trotting (because of my husband’s job) from India to Singapore, Australia and the U.S.A.. 

LJ: Your debut novel, Duty and Desire, is unique in the sense that its story has rarely been done by anyone else. Not only that, it has been well-received on Amazon, and lauded by New York Times Best-Selling Author, Haywood Smith. When did you first realize this story needed to be told, and why? How have your own experiences helped shape its narrative?

AG: The story and characters actually found me… back in 2000 / 2001 shortly after we moved from Singapore to the U.S. I was taking a nap one afternoon (an exhausted mom of a then 2 and 6 year old boys) when I woke up sweating, my heart ready to burst from my chest. I’d had a vivid dream that felt like a movie in real-time. I had never seen or experienced anything like this before and knew it wasn’t another article or short fiction story waiting to be told. This was different. Something bigger and definitely more complex. I had no clue what I was dealing with but since the scope of the visual was colossal, like a movie, I figured it might be a bigger story. After much research on ‘writing the novel’ I realized it might well be a fiction novel. However, when I started writing the manuscript that’s when the novel grew more complex. The story didn’t fit in one book or two… I learned I was dealing with a series.   

LJ: Who is your target audience? What is it you hope to convey through the pen?

AG: I’d say women from 18+ since the books fall under cross-cultural women’s fiction. However, at previous book club meetings I’ve had a few men attend the event and the topics and discussions have widely piqued their interests. That has been such a welcome surprise… to know that what you are writing touches the hearts and lives of men and women from diverse cultures and backgrounds.

I hope readers will enjoy Sheetal’s story and realize never to give up. Sometimes we feel trapped, boxed-in with no way out of a situation, but there is always a way out and forward. You just have to take a different approach… a new perspective.

LJ: What does a typical day writing look like for you? Do you ever experience writer’s block, or any obstacles that impede your work? What are some strategies you employ to help overcome these obstacles?

AG: I also have a part-time day job so I try to fit the writing in chunks of pre-allocated time. However, life has a tendency of throwing surprises and that means a lot of juggling. I’m also huge into fitness and working out so I usually begin my day with a 1-hr workout at the gym - this also helps get the creative juices flowing and ideas running. Once I’m showered and dressed I sit down and write. I’ll take a break for lunch and then continue writing again. But ‘writing’ can also diverge into re-writing, revisions, edits or research. So it can be a combination of several different factors and no 2 writing days are the same.

Research can slow down the momentum of the story if I haven’t sufficiently tackled it or don’t have a good enough handle on the issue I’m dealing with. I’d like to ‘knock on wood’ when I say I’ve not yet experience writer’s block. What I continue to battle however, is finding the right word or combination of words to say exactly what I mean. It can really be frustrating!

Strategies that have worked for me can range from dark chocolate to coffee breaks to simply taking a break. Breaking off from the pressure of the moment, getting out of the hot-seat and doing something else for a while is usually the best remedy.

LJ: Are you currently working on any new projects? What can readers look forward to from you in the future?

AG: I’ve just signed a 3-book deal with Scarsdale Publishing, NY, and we’re moving full-steam ahead with the Winds of Fire series. I’m currently working on the third book and all 3 are slated for 2018 / 2019 releases. 

Publisher: Greenbrier Book Company, LLC
ISBN-10: 193757301X
      ISBN-13: 978-1937573010
About this Book: How Can Happiness Survive When Duty Clashes With Desire? Sheetal Prasad has it all: youth, beauty, wealth, and education. But when this modern Indian woman surrenders love for honor and marries into India's most glamorous "royal family," those very advantages turn against her. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Q & A with Jack e Lorts | Poet

Jack e Lorts, ex Southern California suburbanite, fled to Oregon in the 1970’s to teach in rural schools. His poems have appeared infrequently since the late 1950’s in a wide variety of literary magazines. Much of his recent work, particularly his “Ephram Pratt” poems, appear on-line in Haggard and Halloo, Elohi Gadugi, Literary Juice, Locust, Poetry Breakfast, Dead Snakes, etc. He is the author of three chapbooks including “The Meeting-Place of Words” (2010) from Pudding House Publications. Lorts has been married 56 years, and has 3 daughters and 21 grandkids.  

Literary Juice: You have been published before in Literary Juice (January 2016; Ephram Pratt Sings from the Word Box). Who is Ephram Pratt? How is he important to your poetry and everyday life?

Jack e Lorts: I first met Ephram Pratt in a poem back in 2008; I didn’t know him previously & he is not related to a minor historical figure I’ve since found on the Internet. He is in all likelihood of the Tribe of Ephram in the book of Numbers, and I also think he may be an alter-ego or doppelganger of mine who talks about things I may feel somewhat reluctant to deal with in my poems. Since meeting him, he has assisted me in writing something short of 800 of my “Poems of Ephram Pratt.” I have been writing seriously since the 1950’s, but the past several years Ephram seems to be monopolizing the bulk of my writing time.

LJ: What does a typical day of writing look like for you? Do you have a set routine?

JeL: The day after I graduated from college and started teaching in 1962, my wife and I had twin daughters, add another daughter 18 months later, and our life for the next quarter of a century became teaching school and raising kids—my writing taking a back seat for many years. However, over those years I did find time to continue some writing and had poems appear infrequently in various obscure places as well as magazines like English Journal, Kansas Quarterly, etc. In those earlier years, my writing took place late at night when the rest of the house slept; now in more recent times, my writing & reading time begins 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. and runs through mid-morning. For the past 15-20 years I’ve written primarily on my computer, whereas earlier it may have been in longhand or on the typewriter. There’s a well-known story told about Ruth Stone, how her poems chased after her and it became her challenge to capture them before they were gone. In similar manner, my poems come when they come, and I need to be ready to nab them.

LJ: According to your biography, you have been published since the late 50’s. When did you know you wanted to be a poet? Do you remember the moment specifically?

JeL: I began writing poems during my high school years in the mid 50’s. I found I loved to play with words, I returned to Mother Gooses, then found Robert Service and Sandburg, and in 1957, I came across Allen Ginsberg and the beats. Ginsberg blew the top of my head off, and I’ve never been quite the same since. As obvious, I live a very different life-style than Ginsberg, but admire his values and the great power & playfulness of his language. I’ve inherited much from him.

First published in the late 1950’s, in one particular issue of Nomad, the LA based avant garde journal, I appeared alongside Ginsberg, Cid Corman, Larry Eigner, Russell Edson, Marvin Bell, Denise Levertov, Gael Turnbull, Ron Loewinsohn & Clarence Major, also appearing about that time in Ron Padgett’s White Dove Review. I often wonder what happened to me, when many of those poets went on to become among the most significant poets of the era.

LJ: What do you feel sets a good poem apart from a bad one?

JeL:  What a difficult questions! A good poem for me must have a musicality of joy, which makes me want to read & read & read it, over & over & over again, sheer joy in its sound.  It also must admit to some kind of insight, a great insight as in Dover Beach or Anecdote of the Jar or an insight so slight that it floats lightly on the thin skin of a bubble, thin as air, but real as the rings of a tree.

LJ: Are you currently working on any new projects? What can readers look forward to from you in the future?

JeL:  Although all kinds of poems chase me down from time to time, as I mentioned earlier, most of my time the past several years has been spent with my Ephram Pratt poems. I consider my Ephram Pratt poems an extended surrealistic sequence, also being influenced somewhat by the “language school.” In most cases, the poems come unbidden, they just begin to happen and they flow in an almost automatic writing manner. They touch on strange, esoteric and unrelated subjects and have almost exclusively been arriving in unrhymed couplets. I love to wallow in them, not knowing what or where or when or why they are going where they’re going, but loving every minute of them.  One of the last projects Jennifer Bosveld of Pudding House was working on for me before her untimely death was a chapbook selection entitled “The Love Songs of Ephram Pratt.” The book is again seeking publication in an expanded version, as is a kind of a retrospective of my 60 years of poetry, “A Space of Ignorance.”    

Monday, November 28, 2016

Q & A with Allen Forrest | Artist

Born in Canada and bred in the U.S., Allen Forrest has worked in many mediums: computer graphics, theater, digital music, film, video, drawing and painting. Allen studied acting in the Columbia Pictures Talent Program in Los Angeles and digital media in art and design at Bellevue College. He currently works in Vancouver, Canada, as a graphic artist and painter. He is the winner of the Leslie Jacoby Honor for Art at San Jose State University's Reed Magazine and his Bel Red painting series is part of the Bellevue College Foundation's permanent art collection. Forrest's expressive drawing and painting style is a mix of avant-garde expressionism and post-Impressionist elements reminiscent of van Gogh, creating emotion on canvas.

Literary Juice: How long have you been creating art? Is it something you would define as inherent?

Allen Forrest: For almost 10 years I have been drawing and painting. Art was inherent, but I had forgotten my need for it. After going through Orgonomic (Reichian) therapy, I found I had to get involved in creating art. During the therapy I started thinking about art until it was on my mind so much of the time I was compelled to do something about it. I drew and painted naturally as a child, but lost my way as I grew up. For many years I searched in different creative arenas. Thanks to the therapy, I got back in touch with art again.

LJ: What is it that influences or inspires your work? What excites you the most as an artist?

AF: Other art inspires me, whether it is painting, music, film-making, photography, writing,  sculpture, any art form can light my fire. I get the most excited when I see something I am working on – work. That moment when it jumps off the canvas at you and says—here I am!

LJ: How, and where, do you work? Are there any techniques or methods that you practice?

AF: I work both in my room and in my art studio, depending on the size of the work or the medium. Large paintings are done in my studio, whereas smaller works on paper are done at a table in my room. I try to draw every day and work in different mediums. I like to work fast at first, then study the piece for awhile. I especially do this when I paint. The initial fast sketch, then I slow down and study the canvas, wait and see when I feel I can do more to it. Step by step I dial in the completed painting, in stages, getting to know each stage and feeling when it’s time to move forward.

LJ: What is your least favorite kind of art? Why?

AF: Well, I wouldn’t say that I have a least favorite kind of art, but let’s say art that I don’t examine and consider as much as I do others. For instance, I don’t look at pop art that much. I don’t feel there’s much depth there. Even the photographic representational art style I find more a technical accomplishment than a creative one. I’d rather spend more time studying Expressionism in its early forms all the way to its abstract works.

LJ: Is there anything you are currently working on that excites you?

AF: I have been pushing my drawing style into different avenues for the last couple of years, and I am now getting a look that I like very much. I am using this new style to create different series work, some of which is for books and magazines, some just for myself. I have also taking this looser chance-driven style into my painting.

**You can find Forrest's works in our December '16/January '17 issue here.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Q & A with Addie Scoggin | Poet | Author of CURIOSITY

Addie Scoggin, age 24, is an adjunct English instructor in Southeast Missouri who enjoys all levels of adventure across the globe. She finds her greatest pleasure when teaching English collides with exotic travels; thus, in her downtime, you can find this avid kayaker floating down the muddy, spring-fed rivers of the Midwest.

Literary Juice: “Curiosity” is your first poem published with Literary Juice. Can you tell us about the inspiration for composing this piece? How long did it take you to develop its form? What techniques, if any, did you employ as a guide? 
Addie Scoggin: Liz Gilbert, definitely. When I wrote “Curiosity” this summer, the initial draft came out in the form of a two page short story. It existed as my response, or rather my knee-jerk reaction, to Liz Gilbert’s book, Big Magic. The concept behind her book was this: in order to live a creative life, we must repeatedly “choose curiosity over fear.” I had never heard creativity defined in this way. Through her book, I developed a metacognitive awareness of my own creativity, especially in terms of my writing and my way of life. 

In reaction to her book, I immediately compiled my short story narrative, capturing my feelings and former creative limitations, and in a mad rush, I tossed the piece in my Master’s thesis the night before it was due. But it didn’t stop there. 

I kept re-reading my short story, frustrated with it. It wasn’t complete. So there I sat, cross-legged on my couch until at 4 a.m.; and finally, the finished product. I “smashed it,” (as I like to say), into a poem.

Now structuring the piece—considering line breaks, stanzas, punctuation—that was more of a happenstance. When it hit me, I had been sitting on my couch for a couple hours, and hanging up on the living room wall in front of me was a map of the world. It just happened. That was it. 

I could make this into a map, I thought. 

Considering the subject of my Master’s thesis, a travel memoir, this poem harmonized with the rest of my work. But honestly, I haven’t created anything quite like this before, especially format-wise. Thus, in order to perfect the form, I chose a digital outline map of the Americas, allowing the text of my poem to lay on top of the image, and I shaped the words, line breaks, and punctuation within the boundaries of the map. The biggest struggle was shaping North America, as it looked disproportionate to South America. 

LJ: How long have you been writing poetry? Do you remember how it began?

AS: This is a fun question. I wish I had a more impressive answer, but I had never written poetry until two years ago. 

I remember it well. It was two years ago when I started graduate school, and I was thrust into an advanced poetry class. Sitting in the corner, downright terrified of the infinite brilliance of those warming the seats next to me, I attempted my first poem. They were laughable, mediocre at best. 

About the fourth or fifth poem I wrote for this poetry workshop, I edged out of my shell. I wrote a daring piece on the topic of “American Exceptionalism” and how it relates to my two year relationship with my Muslim boyfriend. The poem was meant for those who reduced and rejected my association with Tareq, my boyfriend, largely due to American Islamophobia. And to my surprise, I received some volatile and explosive reactions from fellow students in the class. This allowed me to put my counter-cultural views into perspective and reflect on my lifestyle in the rural Midwest. From this moment on, I decided to play it “safe” for the rest of my poetry writing in the class. 

It was the worst thing that I could’ve done. 

I’ve since written one poem, and that was “Curiosity.” Thankfully, I feel I’ve somewhat regained my voice; after all, I remind myself often that curiosity trumps fear.

LJ: What do you do to prevent writer’s block?

AS: I like to detach myself from the public and, in some way, that produces better thoughts, better work. Isolation works, followed by more isolation. 

If I linger in that mental jam, I remind myself that it’s not about what I’m writing or how I’m writing, but why I’m writing. I write to tell truth, Addie. Often, when I have writer’s block, it’s a direct result of my fear to be original and creative. I’ve noticed, as writers, we’re afraid that we have no talent. We’re afraid that we will be rejected, mocked, or misunderstood. But I simply remind myself to accept that writing is scary, and I don’t let it petrify myself. Instead, I write to satisfy only myself.

LJ: Are you currently working on any new projects? What can we look forward to in the future?

AS: My largest, most recent project is the aforementioned travel memoir. Since my thesis was accepted, I’ve added more pieces to this on-going project. I cannot wait to finish this massive piece. 

For me, however, writing is the unscratchable itch. It hits me in the most unexpected moments: driving, waitressing, showering. And naturally, the inspiration is fleeting; if I don’t capture the thought right then, it’s gone forever. Occasionally, I only record half of it and lose the rest. Therefore, I have several piles of unfinished poems. I’m completing them slowly but surely.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Q & A with Sun Yung Shin 신 선 영 | Poet & Author | Author of UNBEARABLE SPLENDOR

Sun Yung Shin 신 선 영 is the editor of A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota, the author of poetry collections Unbearable Splendor, Rough, and Savage, and Skirt Full of Black (all from Coffee House Press). She is a co-editor of Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption and the author of bilingual illustrated book for children Cooper’s Lesson.
Literary Juice: When did you first realize you wanted to be a poet? Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote?
Sun Yung Shin: I wrote a poem in graduate school; I was getting my teaching license. It was a response to an assignment in an education course. The poem was kind of an imagistic lyric that included a goldfish! My professor and his wife were very encouraging and then from there I started reading poetry and writing poetry and fell in love with it.
LJ: You were originally born in Seoul, South Korea, and raised by a Polish-Irish-German Catholic American family in Chicago, according to your biography. How has your background influenced your identity as a poet?
SYS: A major strand that influences my identity as a poet is being an immigrant. I have always been more or less on the outside of the nationalistic discourse of who and what America has been. For example, going to the bookstore or the public library and going to the “Asian History” or “Asia” shelf, “Korea” might have half a shelf and most of the books, up until recently would have been Korean War books written from a white U.S. military perspective. There are more books now, but very few that are translated from Korean, if any, in any mainstream book space.
LJ: Do you tend to incorporate a constant theme in your poetry? Why is that theme important to you?
SYS: Metal is an important motif in my poetry, that is something that came out unconsciously early on and I haven’t been able to suppress it; it is a major medium, a language, of human innovation and evolution--which includes wealth and war and mechanization.
LJ: What do you hope to inspire in others through your poetry?
SYS: I suppose if anything I would hope to inspire, or at least share my love of language as well as share my own perspective, my “subjectivity,” which doesn’t exist anywhere else in American culture. The values that are important to me are freedom of speech and ideas, freedom of the press, democracy, feminism, peace-building through justice building, and liberation, in particular of girls and women; but really anyone who is a victim of systematized, historical oppression and marginalization. But I also don’t want art to be propaganda. Just exploring the complexities of the human condition honestly is an act of freedom and an affirmation of the individual. I guess I would also like to honor the collective aspect of life and human solidarity... and explore how we are interdependent, and not just human beings, but all life forms and matter, if at all possible. That all sounds lofty, but I think when it comes down to it all artists need to follow their curiosity and try to do their best work and also understand that all work is political in nature...
LJ: Recently, you have published a collection of essays called, A Good Time for Truth, which includes contributions from sixteen writers from Minnesota. Alexs Pate, author and president, Innocent Technologies, LLC, states, “You will not be able to read this book without changing. Minnesota will never be the same.” Can you tell us a little bit about this book? Also, what did you look for in a contributor before publication?
SYS: I was very frustrated with, and anguished by, all of the discourse around race in Minnesota being mostly by white media and white speakers with other white speakers. Those impacted the most brutally were not at the table of these conversations, and not at the leadership tables of so many major institutions in Minnesota. I was certainly inspired to increased urgency by the ongoing, and now highly and instantaneously recorded and visible, epidemic of violence against black and brown bodies--people. I knew that many amazing writers of color had things to say that all Minnesotans could benefit from; I am a believer in anthologies because I believe my first (co-)edited anthology, Outsiders Within, has had a positive impact internationally on the racial and transnational politics of transracial adoption. I myself have benefited from reading many anthologies that have helped me grow politically--especially in understanding the concepts of intersectionality and global feminism.
What I looked for in a contributor was mostly someone who has been writing smartly and boldly about race for years, someone who has been dedicated to telling the truth about racism even though there’s a cost. They also had to be terrific artists (writers) and be able to bring all kinds of readers in through the power and nuance of their language--imagery, metaphor, etc. (a lot of the writers are poets first). They had to be authentic, they had to be fearless, and they had to be committed to making the world a better place. And I found them. I am so happy, and grateful, and lucky to work with these amazing people.
LJ: Are you currently working on any new books? What can we look forward to in the future?
SYS: I am. My next book comes out in October 2016 from Coffee House Press. It’s a book of essays, fiction, and poems titled Unbearable Splendor. One of the major themes I explore in it is the politics of hospitality. In the book are all kinds of things: The Odyssey, cyborgs, Blade Runner, the Minotaur of Crete, Pinocchio, clones, and all manner of fun things!
I may also be working on a book about clones as well as new poems loosely based on the figure of Blake’s Tyger. I also want to write a book set in the future--maybe with zombies or cyborgs or both.

Collection by Sun Yung Shin
Publisher: Coffee House Press
ISBN-10: 1566894514
Paperback: $14.03
About this Book: "Sun Yung Shin moves ideas—of identity (Korean, American, adoptee, mother, Catholic, Buddhist) and interest (mythology, science fiction, Sophocles)— around like building blocks, forming and
reforming new constructions of what it means to be at home."

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Q & A with Truth Thomas | Singer-Songwriter & Poet | Founder of CHERRY CASTLE PUBLISHING

Truth Thomas is a singer-songwriter and poet.  He is the founder of Cherry Castle Publishing. His poetry collections include: Party of Black, A Day of Presence, Bottle of Life, and Speak Water, winner of the 2013 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry. His poems have appeared in over 100 publications, including The 100 Best African American Poems (edited by Nikki Giovanni).

Literary Juice: As someone who is both a poet and a singer-songwriter, what makes writing poetry different from writing music? How does your background in one influence your composition in the other?

Truth Thomas: Other than distinctions that mark physical differences between writing poetry (perhaps on a notepad, or computer) from the composition of songs on a musical instrument, the creative mindset is not altogether different -- although there are differences. Success in both art forms requires the work of yielding to imagination. That imagination does not exist as an alien in its own body.  I am not the first to say that in music, it often takes a long to time to sound like yourself. The same thing is true for a poet.  Many times your writing will fail. (I can tell you this from experience.) And sometimes, after much hard work, you will be blessed to succeed. Ideally, whatever you write should be unique, allergic to cliché, and reflect an almost holy reverence to the concision of words.  However, when I approach the discipline of songwriting, in contrast to the practice of poetry, I have to be mindful of melodic strength, as well as lyric potency. 

Great poems are complete artistic worlds unto themselves, simply because of their lyric crafting. No musical accompaniment is needed for them “to work.” They resonate with renewed meaning with every reading.  A layering of themes and inaccessibility is frequently valued.  The same craft elements are not required for a song to be great -- nor should they be.  Especially, if you are involved in commercial music, the point that a song makes is something that is intended to be immediately accessible.  Where prose is often considered antithetical to poetry, fresh prose, with poetic elements is the benchmark of many finely written songs. 

Regarding the second part of your question, songwriting taught me to listen well to life, to write honestly about it, and about the importance of playing on time.  In the context of writing poems of witness, and honoring the place of rhythm in my poetry, those music lessons continue to carry over.  Fundamentally, I am a musician. Poetry is just a new instrument that I have learned to play. 

LJ: In 1992, you changed your name from Glenn Edward Thomas to Truth Thomas. Can you give a little history regarding your name, and the part it plays in both your life and art today?

T: Actually, I didn’t completely change my name. I revised it to Truth Glenn Edward Thomas. After that, for spiritual and artistic reasons, I condensed the designation down to Truth Thomas. The inspiration for the shift came in the form a very vivid dream.  There is more about that dream that will have to remain a matter only for my pillow to know, but essentially the change was in response to divine prompting for growth.
Glenn Edward Thomas was completely a musician, and that was cool. Truth Thomas is a father, musician, poet, publisher, and many other growing things. Whatever is not growing in life is moving in the direction of caskets. The post ’92 name -- who I am now -- reminds me of the significance of personal reinvention, and it also reminds me of the importance of ongoing growth.

It bears mentioning that to be called “Truth” is not a matter of being particularly candid, either in relationships or in art -- although, understandably, many people tend to think so. I cannot say that I am any more direct, pious, honest, or holy than I have ever been. However, my determination to be a drum major for those qualities has certainly been more keen since the name change.  

LJ: I’ve noticed that race plays a significant role in your poetry. As an African-American, have you ever been faced with prejudices in your personal life or at any time in your career as a writer? In what ways have these prejudices influenced you as a poet, and how were you able to overcome them?  

T: I write about all aspects of my life, which, as a black man, includes the subject of racism. To be sure, the unresolved legacy of slavery, and its byproduct of ever-expanding race-based hatred, impacts our nation profoundly. The cold fact of that bigotry is as significant to the American experience as was a much storied iceberg to the Titanic. To ignore the reality that race plays in the cultural currents of the United States is not a luxury that I can afford.
Yes, I have been called names far from divine by skinheads on the street. And yes, as it pertains to my career, I’ve have had poems that deal with race rejected by many “so called” mainstream publications -- although they would never admit to this. However, when you take in the thematic scope of what many iconic poetry journals routinely publish, the notable absence of almost any address of racism -- or writers of color -- seems far from accidental.  The white gaze in the editorial world often expects writers of color to either be colorless in their literary work, or write “feel good” poems about race issues that do not challenge the status quo. The pressure to be a "poetic good negro," in order to get published, is not foreign to me. In that way, racism routinely -- albeit unsuccessfully -- tries to repress my voice and make my humanity invisible.

I confront all adversity first by prayer, and then by positive creative action. As long as I know I am writing well, and with forthrightness, modern day Jim Crow manifestations give me little pause.  Some people climb mountains and write about vistas of nature with startling beauty. Those writers have great value and I applaud them. I choose to write about the black experience in America, which continues to confront mountains of "un-trumped" hatred. Poems that document our problematic landscape also have great value -- and I know this.  Consequently, I have learned to applaud myself when no one else will.

LJ: Your midrashic poetry collection, Speak Water, which has won the 2013 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry, is described as being “framed by both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible…” Why incorporate the Bible in this collection? In what ways does the Scripture help communicate the message in your poetry?

T: Parallelisms, rich imagery, and vivid figures of speech abound in both the Old and New Testaments.  Acrostics are striking in Psalms. Beatitudes in Matthew resonate with anaphora.  In a sense, the Bible is a centuries enduring, transformative, bestselling book of poetry. As a writer, you learn to study the masters and to incorporate the lessons learned into your own work in order to grow. I studied the Bible as inspiration for writing Speak Water precisely for that reason -- and as a matter of personal transformation.

One of the key themes in Scripture, particularly in the New Testament, is the idea of overcoming what is disagreeable in the spirit of love. When I considered the composition of Speak Water, I wanted to express similar “overcoming” themes, commenting specifically on racism, sexism, and many other American social ills, by way of midrashic improvisation.  Arguably, framing poems in Scripture imbues pieces with a bridge to the familiar that draws readers in and amplifies their impact.

LJ: You are the founder of Cherry Castle Publishing. Can you tell us about the mission of your company, and what sets it apart from other publishers?

T: Cherry Castle Publishing embraces the work of all people. We are actively engaged in reflecting literary art that mirrors the unfiltered social and political state of contemporary America. What also distinguishes us is that we esteem the work of writers of color, political poets, and writers committed to social justice concerns.

Along those lines, next year, we will be publishing Songs for a Passbook Torch: A Nelson Mandela Poetry Anthology -- which is the first anthology of its kind that I am aware ofThis project is international in scope (and I encourage all your writer-readers to submit their work for publishing consideration by simply emailing pieces to: songsforapassbooktorch@gmail.com). The reverence for social activism embodied in the anthology is indicative of the overall spirit of our press. 

LJ: What is the best advice you’ve ever received from someone on how to succeed in your art?

T: Work hard. Read, study, and listen to the work of the masters. Take what you can use, but keep your own voice. Practice daily. Write daily. Don’t compare yourself with other artists. Be confident in your own uniqueness. Don’t be afraid to take risks in your work.  And above all, cultivate your talents fully. The winning ticket of these efforts is yours alone to redeem.

Poetry by Truth Thomas
Publisher: Cherry Castle Publishing
Kindle: $7.99
About this Book: "Truth Thomas' Speak Water won the 2013 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry. It chronicles the human quest to conquer hate with love, a grand and piercing collection of midrashic poetry, written from an African-American perspective. It is framed by both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, as each poem references some aspect of every book contained in Scripture. This homecoming work, Thomas' third full collection of verses, is the first to be published in the United States, and reflects breakthrough poetry from one of America's finest writers."