**Monique Quintana** is the author of Cenote City(Clash Books, 2019), Associate Editor at Luna Luna Magazine, and Fiction Editor at Five 2 One Magazine. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from CSU Fresno and is an alumna of Sundress Academy for the Arts and the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Her work has appeared in Queen Mobs Teahouse, Winter Tangerine, Dream Pop, Grimoire, and the Acentos Review, among other publications. You can find her at [moniquequintana.com]Read More
BY VI KHI NAO
in conversation with CHRISTINE SHAN SHAN HOU
VI KHI NAO: How would you describe your poetry and your art (collage)? Do they seem similar to you? How close do you feel to Dadaism? Is there a particular literary movement or artistic movement you wish had been invented?
CHRISTINE SHAN SHAN HOU: I look at both my poems and my collages like miniature worlds—each filled with their own characters, tastes, textures, and elements of strangeness and love. However, I actually feel like my poetry and collage are quite different from one another; my poetry—specifically the process of writing poetry—feels heavier, darker, whereas my collages feel lighter and more directly pleasurable. Writing poetry is hard. Collaging is fun. I don’t feel particularly close to Dadaism. I remember studying them in college and being very excited at first, but now I look at them and think: Look at all those old white men! Now that we’ve seen the first image of the black hole, I wonder: What would movement look like in a black hole?
VKN: Your collection, Community Garden For Lonely Girls, shows that you have a natural linguistic impulse to produce words/thoughts that mirror each other—as if you were trying to use the rhetoric of repetition to create content by allowing it to erase itself through doubling. For example, lines such as “my ancestors’ ghosts have ghosts” (p.3), “my split ends have split ends” (p. 4), “If I lay here, how long will I lay here?” (p. 18), “Act without acting out” (p.54), etc. Do you prefer sentences/lines that never look at each other or always look at each other?
When you write these lines, I think that your poetry uses symmetry as a way to acknowledge the lexical self they haven’t been able to access; when a particular word repeats itself in the same context, it brings something out. What do you hope to bring out? In each other, meaning poetry and yourself.
CSSH: I love this question, this image, of two sentences/lines looking at each other. It brings to mind an artwork by the Korean artist, Koo Jeong A. She made this one piece called Ousss Sister (2010) where two projections of the full moon are facing each other within a very narrow space. It is so bewildering, this concept of a self without eyes looking at one’s self. Is this still considered “looking” if one can’t see? Does one have to have eyes in order to have a face? I prefer sentences that look at each other, even though my sentences don’t always have eyes. Meaning arises from the act of looking. Repetition ensures its existence. Where there is existence, there is possibility bubbling beneath the surface. When I repeat words within sentence structures I am suggesting a possibility. A possibility for what? I don’t know.
When people read my poetry their hair grows a little longer.
VKN: That is a mesmerizing image from Koo Jeong A. It reminds me of a pair of lungs. If your collages and your poems were to arm-wrestle each other and the yoga instructor/practitioner in you was forced to be the ultimate referee, who would win that tournament? And, ideally, which two aesthetic competitors would you like to see compete with each other in a match? Would you prefer to be the cheerleader or the umpire? If the winner between the two mentioned competitors (collages & poems) is the one who is able to break a reader/viewer’s aesthetic heart the fastest, which one would it be?
CSSH: My collages would definitely win! My visual art feels lighter and not so bogged down by my past, by my thoughts, or by the heaviness of the language in the air! When I make collages, I am often listening to a podcast, or music, or have a tv show on in the background, all of which feels good for my brain, whereas when I am writing poetry, I can’t have any other distractions. I have to be very in it. One could argue that this extreme awareness of the present when writing poetry seems more mindful than the multitasking of collaging, but ultimately for me, the collage process is much more enjoyable, and the yoga instructor in me will lean towards the direction of joy. I think my collages would break the reader/viewer’s aesthetic heart the fastest.
I would love to see film go head-to-head with any form of live art.
VKN: Why do you want your readers’ hair to grow a little longer? I would hope it would grow shorter, to defy the law of gravity or the law of expansion.
CSSH: Honestly, I don’t know why! It was just an image that floated into my head. I think it’s because I equate growing hair to growing older, which also means growing calmer.
VKN: You are currently a poetry professor at Columbia. Do you enjoy teaching? Would you ever play a prank on your students? If so, what would be one prank that would bring out your impishness? What collage of yours or poem of yours would be a great example of a prank? What poem or collage of yours (or someone else’s) would be equivalent to this prank? And, what is the best way for a student of the arts or in general to express rebellion?
CSSH: I do enjoy teaching. It is very invigorating to be in a room with young people who are as excited by poetry as me! However, to be honest, I prefer teaching yoga over teaching poetry. I’m not much of a prankster, but the poem that is closest to a prank is “Masculinity and the Imperative to Prove it” in Community Garden For Lonely Girls
That prank is very funny, but also mean. I think I’m too sensitive for pranks. I realize that makes me sound a little bit like a wet blanket, but I am ok with that. I think the best way for a student of the arts to express rebellion is to pursue the practice outside of the academic institution and at one’s own pace, whether that pace is a sprint or a crawl.
VKN: I view pranks as one way or a tool an artist can use to express him or herself creatively in a comedic fashion. My brother sent me that prank at a sad point in my life, and it cheered me up and made me feel closer to him. I do not view it as a gesture of meanness, as in: shampoo is just shampoo and irritation is irritation and water running down one’s face excessively once every millennium is a divine act of profound charity.
Speaking of visual or kinetic creativity, one can view your visual works on your Instagram: hypothetical arrangement. Can you talk about the piece below? Can you walk us through the process of how you created it? From seed of conception to final product?
How often do you make your collages? I know you have one daughter, but in terms of sibling rivalry (how many of you are there, btw?), has poetry ever fought with you for creative space because you devote more time to one discipline or art form rather than another? You must understand scissors and surgical knives very well. Do you ever feel like you are a surgeon? Have you ever created a collage where you feel like you are performing a heart surgery and the life of this art piece heavily depends on how well you incise? Have you ever cut through the artery of an image and felt lost or lonely or regretful or sorrowful or overjoyed?
CSSH: This collage is called “Self-actualization (in recline).” When I make collages I go through old magazines and start cutting out images that speak to me. I have several categories for images and three of them are: food, women, and seascape/landscape. I don’t remember how I arrived at this final image, but I remember liking the way the red flowers contrasted with the dreary, soft slices of bread and then the ease of the woman’s posture. I like her shimmering periwinkle outfit and her pet bird in the background.
I try to make at least one collage a week, but that doesn’t always happen. I tend to make many collages in a short period of time, or even in one sitting, and then occasionally mess with them for a few minutes every few days, until I feel satisfied with them.
I am one out of four siblings. However I do not see any “sibling rivalry” between poetry and my yoga and/or collage practice. I think they all work in harmony with one another and give each other the time and space to breathe.
Yes! I definitely feel like a surgeon when I am making collages. I use an x-acto knife so I can really get into the details. And there are so many pieces I’ve considered “ruined” or “dead” because I was too impatient with the cutting of a very precise detail. But then I immediately let it go. I try not to get too precious about paper arteries.
VKN: Will you break down the poem “A History of Detainment” (p. 72) or (“Masculinity and the Imperative to Prove it,” or why this poem may feel pranky to you) from your collection, Community Garden For Lonely Girls, for us, Christine? Can you talk about the process of writing that poem? Do you recall writing it? What was it like? Where were you emotionally? Intellectually? Were you preparing a meal? On a train? Or what piece of writing/art inspired it? Did it take you long? And, could you talk to us about this line: “While navigating the meadow of hypotheticals, I tripped and broke my arm” (p.72). If you broke your arm, what one line from a canonized poet would you want to scribble on your cast?
CSSH: “A History of Detainment” is so long and heavy and my brain is so tired after a full day of running around with my kid. But I can say a little bit about “Masculinity and the Imperative to Prove It”: When I was a child, my grandparents owned a Chinese restaurant called Oriental Court inside of a New Jersey shopping mall. Every Saturday night my entire paternal family—grandparents, all of their children and all of their children's children—would eat dinner after the mall's closing hours. After the meal, me, my siblings, and my cousins would run around like crazed little people in the empty mall and play all sorts of games including: "Red Light Green Light," "Red Rover," "What Time is it Mr. Fox?" and "Mother May I."
However, the golden rule was that we had to wait at least thirty minutes after eating before engaging in any physical activity, or you would get sick. When I was a young girl, I was often ashamed of my body. I used to wish that I were white so that I could fit in with the popular crowd; I would make myself throw up because I thought I was fat; and because I was sick a lot as a child, I would view my medical issues as a reflection of moral shortcomings. In other words, I was a very sad child. But at the end of the poem, the sad child is actually a fish. And we all know that a salad can be both a curse and a blessing.
VKN: That’s a very beautiful story, Christine. I understand your tiredness. Perhaps this last question then: What do you think is the best way for one poet to feel at home in a poetry collection by another poet?
CSSH: Poetry collections are like homes unto themselves. I think the best way for a poet to feel at home in someone else’s poetry collection is by taking their time while reading it and listening closely, attentively, to what it is trying to say.
Christine Shan Shan Hou is a poet and visual artist based in Brooklyn, NY. Publications include Community Garden for Lonely Girls (Gramma Poetry 2017),“I'm Sunlight” (The Song Cave 2016), and C O N C R E T E S O U N D (2011) a collaborative artists’ book with Audra Wolowiec. She currently teaches yoga in Brooklyn and poetry at Columbia University. christinehou.com
VI KHI NAO is the author of Sheep Machine (Black Sun Lit, 2018) and Umbilical Hospital (Press 1913, 2017), and of the short stories collection, A Brief Alphabet of Torture, which won FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize in 2016, the novel, Fish in Exile (Coffee House Press, 2016), and the poetry collection, The Old Philosopher, which won the Nightboat Books Prize for Poetry in 2014. Her work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. Her stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in NOON, Ploughshares, Black Warrior Review and BOMB, among others. She holds an MFA in fiction from Brown University.
As the senior managing editor at Luna Luna and the founding editor at Yes Poetry, you could say writing is important to me, especially poetry. For me, it’s vital to highlight poetic voices in order to support literature, activism, and expression.
Here are three of my favorite poems I read recently.Read More
Annie Finch is the author of six books of poetry including Eve, Calendars, and Spells: New and Selected Poems. Her books about poetry include The Body of Poetry and A Poet’s Craft: A Comprehensive Guide to Making and Sharing Your Poetry. She lives in Washington, DC. More information at anniefinch.comRead More
BY LYDIA A. CYRUS
Here is a list of books written by brilliant women in non-fiction, poetry, and fiction — inspired by this past Women’s History Month.
User Not Found by Felicity Fenton
This book is actually a tiny essay. Think: A powerful essay about the intricacies of social media and womanhood that fits in your pocket! Fenton writes about her life in social media (and out). If you’ve ever wondered about the color of apps, been sent a dick pic, or just wondered about the profundity of existing digitally in present day, this essay is for you. Fenton wonders at one point if anyone is thinking about her. This thought leads her to the realization that she is, “just a human mammal amongst billions of other human mammals. I’m dander in the corner, the buzz in the background.” Fenton’s lyrical work is biting and honest and I’ve been keeping her little book on my nightstand for those nights when I’m up too late, window shopping on Etsy and checking Twitter every five minutes.
Goodbye, Sweet Girl by Kelly Sundberg
Sundberg’s memoir centers around the physically and mentally abusive relationship with her husband. She chronicles the life of a woman from a working-class background who aims to not only exit an abusive marriage but to also gain an education and return to herself. The memoir is a fast read, lyrical and endearing. Sundberg writes the truths that are hardest to say and quite frankly doesn’t give a damn if the truth reveals the brutality that others have hidden. She reminds the reader all along the wild, highly intelligent woman she was before the abuse never left the room and will always triumph in the end.
Heartberries by Terese Mailhot
Mailhot, a First Nation Canadian writer, weaves together the story of her life revealing the trauma and silence that clouded her. Her memoir welcomes the reader into the scenes of her early life with her mother and leads the reader to the revelation that perforates her story. The truth, she writes, is essential and the most powerful thing to unleash. She writes about her diagnosis of PTSD and bipolar II, the bitterness of loss in relationships, and provides insight into what the pathway to after looks like.
Excavation by Wendy C. Ortiz
When I saw the cover of this memoir, a stunning photo of a young Ortiz at the beach, I felt compelled to look further. Excavation explores the relationship between a young Ortiz and her teacher, a man fifteen years older than her. He fuels her passion for writing and helps her to access a powerful sense of self as a teenager living with her alcoholic parents. Ortiz does the daring task of unraveling preconceived notion of what a predatory relationship is and what a victim looks like. She proves that the world and the relationships we create within it is made up of uncertainty and nothing is what it seems to be.
Boyfriends by Tara Atkinson
Atkinson writes about a young woman whose journey from first boyfriend, to college, to second boyfriend, and beyond. She reminds readers about what it feels like to have your first kiss, first real crush, first everything. And how, as you get older, not only do you change but your desires and wants change too. She explores what it means to be a single woman in 2019, searching in person and online for connection. It’s sweet and nostalgic in the best ways, and will make you think about what it means to be in a relationship not only with others, but with yourself too.
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden
I have patiently awaited the arrival of this book for months. Admiring Madden through my phone screen and awestruck by the glitter on the cover of the book (it’s seriously a beautiful cover). Madden’s memoir takes you to Boca Raton, Florida where, growing up as a queer, biracial teen, her concepts of right and wrong, beauty and ruin live together. Her parents are battling their own addictions and realizations as she tries to navigate the spaces around her. Madden, an acclaimed essayist, wields her language fiercely and writes fluidly, stitching together the warm, sometimes heartbreaking, answer to the question, “what do you want to know?”
Starvation Mode by Elissa Washuta
I picked Washuta’s book My Body is a Book of Rules last summer and loved it so much that I read most of it in the bathtub. Washuta’s prose is so illuminating and honest that it feels like conversation between the reader and a close, trustworthy friend. In Starvation Mode, she writes about her complicated relationship with food. When nothing is in your control, how do you cope? Washuta struggles to create her body in the image of her longing while also experimenting with the genre of creative non-fiction. Both of which creates a work that stands elegantly and surely as an essential read for women who have complicated relationships with their body, their sustenance, and shattering the traditions of appearance.
The Underneath by Melanie Finn
Follow the trail of unsettling memories and the uncanny, as Kay, the protagonist, as she slowly unravels. While trying to reconcile a tumultuous marriage, the heaviness of motherhood, and a traumatic past event, she begins to wonder what really happened to the family that lived in her house before her. Finn’s novel is a true modern day haunting that deals not with ghosts but with the possession of the demands of being a woman. The novel investigates the things that plague Kay as she tries to solve the puzzles of her life.
The Word for Woman is Wilderness by Abi Andrews
If you’ve ever read or watched the countless narratives about men traveling to Alaska to blow up their lives, you’ve probably wondered why it is there are so few narratives of women doing the same. Women seeking out the natural world as a means of personal growth. Andrews does just that in The Word. The protagonist is nineteen year old Erin who leaves the safety of home behind in order to discover. She questions the history of everything from nuclear warfare to birth control. Andrews tackles the old archetype of the adventure always belonging to a man.
Brute by Emily Skaja
The highly anticipated first collection from poet Emily Skaja deals with remains of an ended relationship. Skaja carves survival and redemption into the landscape of what a women grieving looks like. She writes of pain that begins as internal and seeps into a physicality that beckons her to scale and defeat it. The universal truth of what it feels like to be abused and to move on leaks throughout the poems and enchants the reader. Skaja’s book begins with the same Anne Carson epigraph as T Kira Madden’s and positions the reader to prepare themselves for the journey. Skaja twists the plight of hurt into a weapon that strikes out as beauty and has the potential leave readers in both tears and smiles.
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
This collection of essays considers the possibilities of what it means to care. Is it ever really possible to feel the pain of others? Over the course of several essay, Jamison depicts curious events such as the story of an actor who presents to medical students as someone with symptoms that the students must identify in order to learn. She also writes about the sense of voyeurism the plagues the pain of women in literature. This collection is an essential piece of reading for those still learning how to balance self-love and love for others too. It doesn’t ask, can you pour from empty cup? but instead defines what that cup looks like and what rests within it and why.
Abandon Me by Melissa Febos
Febos’ first memoir Whipsmart detailed her life as a graduate student working as a dominatrix. In Abandon Me she writes about the difficult reality of longing for connection with others. What happens when you drown yourself in another? She visits relationships both romantic and not and the ways in which abandonment can strike and wound at any time, with anyone. As with Whipsmart, Febos isn’t afraid to have conversations about the elements of her life that both built and seemingly destroyed her. She writes about the longing of belonging. Seemingly asking, what does inclusion look like and how do we achieve it?
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang
One of the most talked about books of 2019, Collected, is a collection of essays telling about the life of a woman who suffers from mental illness and a chronic illness. Wang slices open the examination of what her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and examines the chaos of coping. She attests to the incredible resiliency that endures recovery and shapes the future of the diagnosed through her own experiences. When it comes to balancing a debilitating reality with the hopes of a promising future, Wang constructs an important conversation not only about mental health but also about the possibilities of life for women whose lives do not fit into one box or even two.
Animals Strike Curious Poses by Elena Passarello
In this collection of essays, Passarello meditates on the fascinating nature of animals and performance. She discussed what it means to be an immortal animal, placed into history by humans and how their fame came to be. Humanity commodifies the bodies animals both living and not and Passarello presents this with careful prose. She is aware of the ways in which humanity must always somehow have the position of authority over others and spares the reader nothing. She goes so far as to highlight the aftermath of the death of Cecil the Lion in 2015 by repeating the notion that the doctor who killed Cecil did not know he had a name at all. This repetition begs the question: Do we have to name an animal, give it celebrity status, and attempt to mythologize in order to respect it?
Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods by Tishani Doshi
In her third collection of poetry, Doshi aims to rebuke the history of silence surrounding women who have survived. She pulls apart identity and trauma in order to create a space in time where silence is no longer synonymous with womanhood. The poems are constructed with careful detail and attention to movement and sound. As the title suggests, women are no longer hidden but are now returning to their lives with power and the capability of anything.
Lydia A. Cyrus is a creative nonfiction writer and poet from Huntington, West Virginia. Her work as been featured in Thoreau's Rooster, Adelaide Literary Magazine, The Albion Review, and Luna Luna. Her essay "We Love You Anyway," was featured in the 2017 anthology Family Don't End with Blood which chronicles the lives of fans and actors from the television show Supernatural.
She lives and works in Huntington where she spends her time being politically active and volunteering. She is a proud Mountain Woman who strives to make positive change in Southern Appalachia. She enjoys the color red and all things Wonder Woman related! You can usually find her walking around the woods and surrounding areas as she strives to find solitude in the natural world. Twitter: @lydiaacyrus
BY LIV WALTON
Curated by Nicola Maye Goldberg
You will feel a flash of orange and then something new. You will feel, maybe — that it is your birthright to have tangerines in a bowl on your counter, and you will be correct. The stars have aligned above a tear in the earth and you should dress in sienna, paint your nails rust; lie with your shoulder blades against a cool plot of ground and recall that without gravity, the flame of a candle is round and blue.
We can’t say for certain, but if you were to wear blush on Friday something nice might happen to you. We can’t say for certain, but if you pause to buy lilacs at the bodega on the corner a beautiful stranger might know you. We can’t say for certain, but if you come across water you have gone the right direction.
You are in motion — the burn of your lungs, the length of your spine; you are running and itching and spilling this springtime. You will outgrow something that was once a comfort; you will replace it with a song you hum in the soft parts of yourself.
Taurus, you might always be on the strange side of tender but someone has given you a secret that tastes yellow. Have you seen the phosphorescence in August? You will be that wild light to someone who loves you.
Suggestions: write the words you need on the back of your hand. cry on an uptown train in the odd hours of morning [there is awe to be considered]. look at the photo you haven’t forgotten. the number 27 will be important.
So far you have seen every type of sunset, but you miss the way light casts blue in those slow hours before dawn. Of course there are strings, but you will know how to weave together what is wanted when it calls you. Make the motion that feels natural, then make it again with your other hand.
In general, you should pet more dogs. Place yourself in green surroundings and put down what can afford to be left behind. Midweek you will spill an important thing, but you will find it again in some unexpected way. We wish we could tell you more, but we’ve already forgotten —
Aquarius, you are numbers and numbers but the rhythm of desire speaks in so many different tongues. Be slow with yourself and sit amongst the hidden pages: a message you wrote will reveal itself in those depths. This month your horizons will shift endless and open; you will feel unmoored but not unsettled. Consider the points where you have made contact and the direction of your motions — you move to a frequency others should attune to.
We suggest you write a haiku that has no thread. We suggest that you log off of web md forever. And we suggest that, if you know the words, try to speak them. Be mindful of the bits that smolder.
The good news is that the days have been getting longer for three weeks now. The good news is that the rain has cleared, and tonight there will be sky through the top corner of your kitchen. The good news is that always and always but especially today, when they look down at you the stars say: whatever.
You will learn this year that Instagram fame is rapturous but fleeting, and you will parse the difference between types of stillness (a clue: one will tremble). You will unspool something that spills navy, and minutes will sit heavy, but you will think: moon cycle. Think: fingerprints. Think: unravel.
Virgo, you are a different touch – for you I am new, I am neat and terrible and please; all teeth. (A habit I can’t shake: the unbelievableness of wantingsomeonewantingme still jolts me back to sixteen, delirious).
For you, we suggest downhill and downtime. For you, we suggest Frank Ocean’s brand of forever. For you, we suggest leaving this one up to chance. The good news is that there’s still more to be had
Liv Walton is a Canadian writer based in New York City.
by VI KHI NAO
in conversation with GIOVAN COPPOLA
VI KHI NAO: Will you depict the landscape of Ischia. What is it like today?
GIOVAN COPPOLA: I’m looking out the bedroom window and I see a sliver of the sea between the trees. The sun is setting and the clouds are bathing. And the wind has started. Tomorrow it’s supposed to be windy. I wish I could tell you which wind it is, but I’m still learning their names.
VKN: The way you lovingly and lyrically depict this filled my heart with love for your Ischia. If you were to invent a name or two for that wind, what would you call it? Also, if you had an ideal poet life, what would that writing life look like?
GC: I remember you once told me that ‘eloigne’ was your favourite word. Wait, I don’t think that’s the right word. Do you remember it?
VKN: Eloign. Without the “e”, but I prefer your invention.
GC: I would name the wind Eloign.
VKN: I noticed that you were reading Rabbit by Sophie Robinson, which recently came out. How is it so far? Will you talk about the current landscape of the poetry world? You have read internationally from Brit lit and American. What do you think make a poet great in this Brexit, Trump era? What are some of the criteria or traits for such poets? In other words, what kind of linguistic or lyrical materials seduce your soul the most?
GC: I’ve loved Sophie Robinson’s poetry for a few years now. Her poems make me feel like it’s morning and I’ve just woken up and realised that something has happened to me during the night that has changed everything. Like during the night I was lassoed and pulled to a group of stars that have pumped their gumption into me and I will now become a better braver person in the waking world. Her poems have fish bone teeth and crime. They break open the pain and make something new.
Second question: I don’t know what makes a poet great in this Brexit - Trump era. A poet that keeps writing, keeps wanting to know, I guess. A poet that keeps loving. A poet that takes care of herself and the winds.
Third question: What materials seduce my soul? Poems that live where they want to live. Poems that make room. Poems that love things.
VKN: That is so gorgeously depicted “lassoed and pulled to a group of stars.” She is so lucky to have you as a reader ! If you were to interview her, what would be one question you would like to ask?
GC: Once your poems pull through the pain, where do they lay down their heads?
VKN: Can you talk about the poems or any translations you are working on? What is the process like for you? And, what direction do you foresee your own journey with your work? Would you like your process to be more accelerated? Where it infuses everything you touch and cook?
GC: Thank you for all of these questions, Vi. They inoculate me.
I recently came back from FILL, the Festival of Italian Literature in London, and I did a reading with a group of poets. We were all included in the anthology Wretched Strangers (Boiler House Press) as non-UK poets who contributed to the poetry world in the UK. The anthology was put together in response to Brexit and the current political upheaval making way for powerful responses from the far right against refugees and immigration. Four of the poets that read were non-native English speakers writing in English and also mixed in other languages into their English poems. And I thought how wonderful that was and wondered why I didn’t think I could do the same in Italian? It made me think about how the English language can be a symbol of progress. That you learn English, you move to an English speaking country, you transform yourself in a different language. What does that mean about me moving back to Italy where my parents have come from? Would me writing in Italian be seen as progress? Or is it pedalling counter-clockwise? Or is it turning into a seed?
I want to write in Italian or mix English and Italian. I think my poems, at least when I read them out loud, sound tough, like hard cheese rinds before you throw them in the soup. And my New York accent comes out. <dawg> I’d like to see what happens in Italian. I’d like to dissolve in Italian. I don’t think I’d have to dismantle anything, but I think it means when I go for walks I would have to push myself onto people. Linger and talk to them. Even to the Jehovah Witnesses, although I don’t want to talk about Jesus.
You know one thing I noticed that I really liked? When I was in London for the Italian Literature Festival, I sat next to a lady. She was an academic that studied post-war Neapolitan literature written by women. At one point she gave me a candy. A few days later, I took one of my cats to the vet and the vet offered me a gummy worm from a bag. I really love eating candy with Italian women.
VKN: I want to eat Starbursts with Italian women too !What are the poets you read with were like? Are they different from you or similar? Will you introduce us to a few great Italian poets that everyone must read or else their existence on earth would seem meaningless otherwise?
GC: The poets I read with at FILL were really diverse. I wish I could have talked to them more or asked more interesting questions during the Q&A, but I suspect like many people, I’m always shy after readings and there doesn’t seem to be enough time to calm down afterwards and talk. I wish after a reading there was always dinner. Food disarms people and makes people trust each other. You can’t take yourself seriously when you have food in your mouth. Like eating candy with people. The next poetry reading I’m going to bring candy.
But yes, some Italian poets I really love and that I’ve got to meet during poetry readings or have been recommended to me are Carla Mussi, Roberto Minardi, Alessandro Mistrorigo, Chandra Livia Candiani, Alessandro Burbank, Andrea Inglese, Giovanni Asmundo, Fabia Ghenzovich, I want to know so many more.
VKN: I am not familiar with these poets. Will you please give me a little introduction to one or two poets you mentioned? Are they contemporary? Old-fashioned? Dead? Alive but obscure? Alive and gregarious? Dreadfully enticing in their form, but wouldn't take a dog out for a walk?
GC: They are alive and contemporary, some I’ve met, some I’ve just read. Some are young and shy and delicate and others are robust in their sexuality. Some are travelers and some like to stay home. There are so many people to know about and read! I’m still learning about what’s out there and letting things carry me to where they want to go. Carla Mussi’s latest book of poetry is Sconto di Pena (Puntoacapo, 2016) roughly translated as ‘Reduced sentence’ and it’s about a murder trial of a woman who has killed her husband from the woman’s point of view. Each poem is like a holographic statement, phrases that cut, the woman is like a genius wild animal.
Then there are Roberto Minardi and Alessandro Mistrorigo. Roberto Minardi’s La citta’ che c’entra (ZONAcontemporanea, 2015) are about living in an urban landscape. There are people, birds and cats, public transportation, sandwiches and dinner in front of the television. The poems give you a perspective of solitude where many things happen. Roberto and I have translated a few poems for each other which was really fun. That was my first time translating poetry and he was lovely to work with, encouraging and patient. Alessandro Mistrorigo’s Stazioni (Ronzani Editore, 2018) were written in various places across Europe and Asia. Characters that all come from somewhere else, temporary people and places and it makes me think about how we become a place, how we can blend into the space around us. Reading the poems reminded me of the Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell.
VKN: What was life in UK like for you before you moved back to Italy? Do you miss the poetry landscape there? And, if you were to create your own here in Italy, a poetry club, what kind of baking or culinary dishes would you make to seduce those who already love the sea to consistently come? Would you ever run or host a regular reading series?
GC: I loved London for many reasons and I loved the poetry landscape there. I met many poets and writers and there were many writers that would pass through to give readings. All kinds of readings to party style reading slam poetry jams to sit down quiet readings to poetry as performance art to elevated academic readings to rock concert style readings, so many kinds so you didn’t have to feel like every single one of them had to have a meaning. I mean you didn’t feel the pressure to have a great time or to even listen. It was okay to be bored because you were still going to get something out of it.
I miss that, but not enough to go back. I like it here and I want to hold dinner party poetry readings in the garden. I want poets to come over and eat and read poems. How do I invite people that don’t know me to come over and eat? A no-pressure environment. If they want to, they could use big words and talk about the PhD they’re working on. And they could also talk about how many times a week they wash their hair. I’d like to read poems where anything can happen and I want to read poems that change you. I want to eat things while reading poems.
VKN: The question you asked Sophie R earlier in our interview, if you were to answer that question on her behalf, how would you reply to it? I don’t know if she would mind, but let us pretend that she wouldn’t.
GC: I think her poems rest on her cat and they watch television together. Maybe her cat is a little wheezy and the poem who has done all the heavy breathing in the lines, can now show her cat how to slow down. They teach each other about the aftermath.
VKN: You are a cat lover. This is obvious on your Instagram posts. Do cats make great poets based on your observation of them? Or they make better ice cream, left too long in the sun and they would melt.
GC: I don’t think cats melt. They imitate their dry little turds in the sand. I think cats are spectacular poets. Have you read The History by Elsa Morante? There is a character Usepe, who is a little boy that suffers from epileptic seizures. He’s a little boy and he’s a poet and he doesn’t write them down, he just says them. Shouts them into the air. He talks to the trees and tells them a poem or tells the river a poem. He’s a lonely boy. I think cats are like Usepe. They say the poems, but it’s not necessary to preserve them. I think that’s why wherever they are it feels like home. That’s why they make home feel like home.
VKN: If you have a dish you made that looks like a walking example of poetry, will you share that pic with us?
GC: Good question. Let me check the files.
I have to find a picture of it, but maybe I didn’t take the picture of what I have in my mind. I made roasted tomatoes over the summer that I loved. I had bought an electric oven because my gas oven is shit. So the tomatoes were the first thing I made. I think I roasted them for two hours. I set up the oven in the garden so it wouldn’t heat up the house. I sliced the tomatoes, sprinkled fresh thyme on them, some salt and olive oil and then I put them in the oven. I sat in the kitchen while they roasted outside, keeping an eye on the cats in case they toppled over the oven. They were still kittens then and I anticipated constant trouble. I wore a green striped house dress and sweated my guts. The tomatoes were delicious. Carmelised. I put them on top of bread.
VKN: You take amazing photographs, Giovan! And, I just want the world to see through your eyes. Will you share one that you are able to access? So that we have some sense of your aesthetics?
GC: Let me look for one. What would you like to see?
VKN: Photos of Ischia? Or places you went for your morning, afternoon, or evening walk? Maybe some pictures of your cats, languishing like supermodels?
GC: See below
VKN: How are your cats? Some were ill the last few times I spoke to you. Why do you think they fall ill? Which one is potentially most poetic? And, what is writing poetry for a felinic entity? If they had to work like us homo sapiens, which profession do you think they would excel in? Oraclers? Philosophers? Dancers? Bartenders?
GC: My cats are wonderful. I love them more and more every day. Indy has had a bad cough that she’s been taking medicine for. I even put her in the cat carrier, wrapped it in plastic, and stuck in a tube that steamed out a medicinal vapor. She didn’t like that. So then I decided to leave her alone and now she’s getting better. I think she got sick because I went away to New York and she got sad. All of them are poetic, some days one is more poetic than the others.
If cats had a human job, I could see Sesto as a garbage collector and have a lot of fun doing it. He looks like he’d enjoy a union. Indy would be a research scientist. Rose would be a talk show host, she loves to gossip. Mucca would be a creepy neighbour who collects cans. Pippo would be a basketball player and have a large sneaker collection.
VKN: My god! Their profession so wild ! There was one project about stinking nuns you were eagerly and excitedly pursuing. How is it going so far? Are these nuns really stinky like durians? Or different stinkiness? Is your project a collection of essays or poems? Or a combination of personal anecdotes of your post-nomadic life or something else? How would you like to work or rework on this?
GC: That’s funny you asked Vi. Now that I quit my job, I want to work on the stinking nun. My poet friend Ariadne Radi Cor, who lives in Blacksburg, Virginia is starting a writing group. It is a collection of 6 of us and we will have a monthly deadline to share work with each other and then do a skype call where we can both talk about shit and serious things. So my plan is to use the writing group to work on the stinking nun and let it be whatever it wants to be. Right now it’s like a poetic novella, but I’d like to write some parts in Italian and see what happens.
VKN: You have made so many life-altering changes in the last year or so, can you talk about the emotional thoughts or intuitive courage that drove your soul to make these transformative paths?
GC: It’s been almost exactly a year since I moved to Italy and if I remember myself a year ago, I was terrified and I ate a lot of burgers and fries. One week I ate McDonalds two days in a row and then the third day I ate 5 hot dogs for a snack.
So many emotions and so much fear. I had never been as terrified doing something because it felt like there was no way back. And I imagined all the terrible things that could happen. I felt like I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing. Like I was making my ancestors angry by going back to Italy, doing the impossible, going back to live in the place that they had to leave. I could hear their voices and voices of other Italians in London, like it was a bourgeouis american expat fantasy, that my desire to live where I wanted to live was invalid.
But I kept pushing through and the burgers and hot dogs gave me temporary relief. And each step that I took, it was like someone smiled back at me. Like at the airport check in the airline person let us go through without paying for our overweight luggage. And slowly, even if there were difficult times and frustrating moments, things were okay. Neither of us were punished or yelled out or threatened to get kicked out.
But if I think about what kept me going was that I was doing what I wanted and then as soon as we moved into our yellow house, a pregnant cat showed up and decided to move in. And she had her babies. And then once my residency permit was ready (after 8 months of waiting) a little abandoned kitten showed up in the garden. And then, as soon as I decided to quit my job and work on the stinking nun, another little kitten showed up in the garden.
That cats make me feel like this is home. And also that I can’t leave that we need to take care of each other now.
VKN: You are so brave, Giovan! Thank you for sharing your process with us. If there were an omelet or a piece of fruit or a poem to depict you today or a famous actor or actress in the black and white era who could cat-ure (capture) your emotional composition today, what would that object be?
GC: Hm, let me think. Anna Magnani they say was a gattarda, meaning a cat lady, someone who loves cats. She would feed the stray cats in Rome. But she wore her scars like a dress. I’m not sure I’m as strong as her. Her fury was smoldering.
I think I would be broken clementine peels on a powder blue table today. A diaphanous dress. An eloign wind. Smack face down on the couch, lazing like wax.
VKN: You are currently in Ischia, Italy and I am in Iowa City when this interview takes place, if you could teleport one cat who could pretend to be my secretary for a day, which one of your cats would you deploy for this service? I would pay your cat naturally. One poppy or peony to his/her owner per hour.
GC: Hah! I would send you Pippo. He could help you organise your receipts.
Giovanna Coppola (New York, 1979) is a poet and writer. After living in London for 10 years, she recently moved to Naples, Italy. She has performed at events and poetry festivals in the US, UK and Italy recently including the Festival of Italian Literature in London (FILL 2018), La Palabra en el Mundo Venesia (2018) and the European Poetry Festival (2018). Her work (poems, short stories, essay) have been published in Crab Fat Magazine, The Stockholm Review of Literature, Journal 69, JSTOR Daily and in the anthologies Millets (2017, Zeno Press) and Wretched Strangers (2018, Boiler House Press).
VI KHI NAO is the author of Sheep Machine (Black Sun Lit, 2018) and Umbilical Hospital (Press 1913, 2017), and of the short stories collection, A Brief Alphabet of Torture, which won FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize in 2016, the novel, Fish in Exile (Coffee House Press, 2016), and the poetry collection, The Old Philosopher, which won the Nightboat Books Prize for Poetry in 2014. Her work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. Her stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in NOON, Ploughshares, Black Warrior Review and BOMB, among others. She holds an MFA in fiction from Brown University, where she received the John Hawkes and Feldman Prizes in fiction and the Kim Ann Arstark Memorial Award in poetry.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams, The Gods Are Dead, Marys of the Sea, Sexting Ghosts, Xenos, No(body) (forthcoming, Madhouse Press, 2019), and is the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault. They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes Poetry and the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Them, Brooklyn Magazine, BUST, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets. joannavalente.com / Twitter: @joannasaid / IG: joannacvalente / FB: joannacvalente
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
Wild Words is an everyday, accessible, friendly series of how-tos around publishing, writing, and creating. It’s a response to the many inbox queries we get around writing (a lot of our readers come here for the literature, and also want to write!). There is no way these entries can be totally comprehensive, but it’s aimed to provide a general overview of any given topic. Feel free to leave questions (and additional advice!) in the comments below or tweet us at @lunalunamag.
Discussions around the publishing industry can feel somewhat elusive, like a secret society to which you’ll never get an invite. And sometimes, even when you’re in the club, you feel invisible. And that’s partially because writers generally keep quiet about their deals, advances, and agents. It may also come down to internalized elitism; some people protect their knowledge as if hoarding it will ensure they stay successful.
I think the more we help one another out, the better the book industry does as a whole. (One piece I really liked about one writer’s book publishing experience is “In Praise of the Starter Book,” by Alex DiFrancesco.
So, here’s what I’ve learned before and during the process of publishing my first nonfiction collection. Know that I offer up this information not as gospel but as my experience, in the hopes of breaking down some of the mystery.
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Thank you to @window.syl for this dreamy delectable shot of my little babe, Light Magic for Dark Times! I have good and bad news about the book. The bad: it’s basically out of stock at Amazon (which means the price is a bit higher there and if you get it there, it’ll take a month or so to deliver). The good news? The book was so successful it’s going into its second printing! If you would like to get your hands on the book I suggest getting it in local stores (check indiebound.org to see where by you), or going to or ordering from @barnesandnoble, hitting up @urbanoutfitters in NYC or ordering it online. You can also get the ebook! UK, Canada, NZ, and Australia; your major retailers has it for purchase online! You can always DM me for help finding her 🖤🙏🏽 thank you endlessly. Love you.
Indie or Commercial publisher? It’s your choice, and yours alone
There are pros and cons to both! People like to say that you don’t have creative liberty with a big press or that small presses won’t support you as much. But these are generalizations. These are also reductive ideas. There are lots of commercial publishers who give authors a great deal of say in the creative design while there are tons of small presses that work their asses off to support their authors and book lists.
I published my first non-fiction on September 11, 2018, although I’d published several books of poetry with indie presses before then. My nonfiction book was published with a global publisher. It was distributed in several countries, and stocked in just about every store you can think of — from a Barnes and Noble in Florida to an indie shop in North Dakota to an esoteric shop in Scotland. Funnily enough, Australia seems to love the book (thanks, Australia!).
The process was entirely different from what I’d experienced in poetry. For one, I was given an advance (which is rare in poetry) and worked with a large team of people — from designers and copy-editors to marketing managers and sales managers. And because the book would have a global release, the publishing process focused heavily on the business elements: There was an expectation to get hundreds of preorders, attain media coverage, and push the book after its release.
I’m so happy that the book has done well; it’s already in its second printing, and I'm working on a follow-up with my publisher. That said, poetry and indie publishing is where my heart is at, and I will never leave it behind. With indie presses, you really get to collaborate at an intimate, beautiful level; plus, there is a different kind of pressure when you don’t have global distribution. It becomes more about the art and less about the numbers. That’s always, always a win.
You don’t need an agent for every book deal
I found out through a good number of friends —and I’m talking about nonfiction here — that they didn’t pitch their books to agents or publishers/editors. In fact, it was their body of already-published work that resonated with the acquiring editor, publisher, or agent, leading them to being contacted about writing a book.
I didn’t have an agent when negotiating my first book. How did it work? I wrote a few articles for Luna Luna that an editor ended up reading and liking. She then reached out to me about writing what would become Light Magic for Dark Times, as she was seeking someone with a dedicated background in the wellness and magic areas. We went back and forth for a few weeks ensuring we were aligned on our visions.
It’s important to note that I had a website with a clear ‘contact me’ page, and that I was running Luna Luna, which is pretty visible in certain niche communities. In short, get out there: Edit a blog others submit to. Or keep a blog for yourself. And create a path of least resistance for opportunities to come your way.
Do your publishing research and read your contract line by line
During the contract process I learned that it’s extremely important to validate whether or not an opportunity is legitimate and fair and transparent. Ask questions, see if anyone you know has worked with the person or the publishing house, and make sure that other books published by the press are ones you’d want to read. Is the press about to go under? How are its sales? Are its other books any good?
My publisher had worked on great books, and my editor was very transparent the whole time. Of course there were some contractual things I wish I could have changed, like escalating royalty amounts (your royalty may change after a certain # of books are sold) or keeping certain rights (and perhaps would have with an agent) but overall my experience was good.
I was able to negotiate my deal myself, and I did a lot of research in order to do this — both through asking people things and using the Internet. I researched advances, royalties, payment schedule, and other details. My advice would be to do your research if you do get a contract, and to consult with an agent if possible — even if it’s not your agent.
Getting a literary agent or editor
There’s no hard or fast rule here. You can email an agent or editor when you’re done with your work (most want to see finished work) or even if you don’t have a book ready. Maybe you just want to introduce yourself. Maybe you meet at a literary conference. Maybe you ask friends who have agents to send you contacts. Maybe you cold-tweet an agent or editor and tell them you love their work and that you’re working on a proposal for them. In today’s world, you’re ultra-connected. Take of advantage of that but know your boundaries. And don’t expect responses. (Sorry, but it’s true).
There are a lot of agents out there, just as there are a lot of publishing houses and editors. You’ll find agents soliciting new writers’ work via Twitter, but you’ll also see agencies listing specific calls for types of queries (here’s an example of a literary agency call for submissions.) And here’s a customizable list of literary agents you can reach out to.
You’re going to want to personalize your queries enough to speak to why you’d like to work with that agent or agency. Most agents want to see finished work, along with a synopsis (here’s a checklist for novelists, although much of this applies to any writer).
When it comes to editors, many will only accept agented work, which means you can’t just send them a submission. However, there are plenty of presses that do accept unsolicited or unagented work. Look for independent presses, many of whom are very open.
The most important piece of advice I have is to be respectful and authentic when contacting agents and editors. You need to be able to explain the core root of your work, along with its relevancy, immediately. Show that you know something about the editor or agent; you wouldn’t believe the amount of bland “Please consider my book for publication” emails these people get. Show a little color. Be personable but professional. Why do you love that editor, that agent, or that publishing house? Ultimately, your talent and voice is what gets the deal, but your personality can help you get in the door.
Here’s an examination of the pros and cons of working with an agent.
Do you need an agent for poetry?
I’ve published several books of poetry. All of them have been with small presses or literary organizations. I simply submitted directly, without an agent — and this is the case for 99% of poetry. Poets usually quite simply submit their work directly to a press for publication. For some larger institutions or major presses, this may not be the case, but for any poet who wants to publish a book, there are thousands of great independent presses that will publish you without an agent.
My advice would be to get single poems published first, and then consider submitting your work for book publication. This helps book editors get a sense for who you and what you’ve done, and it lets them know you have an audience. I’m sure there are other poets who have not done it this way, though, and that’s fine, too.
When working with an editor, find a balance between respectful deference & self-advocacy
As a new author, you will find that it's harder to ask for what you want. For one, you might feel as though you have no right to ask for more money, to demand your book's cover color, or to argue against the publisher's title ideas.
In general, the publishing process is a collaborative one — which is something that will prove illuminating. I'm grateful for that collaborative spirit. However, when you are a new writer, you have to learn to read the room a little. This means learning when to defer to the editor, who likely knows the market and the business side of things better than you do, and it means standing up for your vision when appropriate. You know your work, your voice, your market, and your vision. The book is yours. The book is literally your creation.
Use your voice when you have a gut reaction to your publisher's choices. If you hate the cover color or font, make a stand. I cannot understate this more. My book was late to the printer because I refused to sign-off on the cover, which was designed three times.
When we'd finally settled on a general cover, my editors fought for a dark blue cover. In my mind, I saw my book in a light shade, like pink or ivory. Thus began a slightly uncomfortable back-and-forth, but I stood firm, un-moving — all while being respectful. Luckily, my editor went to bat for me in tremendous ways. In the end, I think the book’s color greatly contributed to its success. It stands out amongst a sea of darker covers, and the marbled pink communicates my vision, that the book is friendly, caring, and kind.
Don’t let a book deal change your relationship to writing
The issue with getting a book deal is that you feel somewhat like you’ve reached literary heaven, and in many ways you have. That same passion that you felt about your work can easily be lost to the editing, promotion and the worry-anxiety-imposter syndrome fest that inevitably follows suit. Be mindful to keep your relationship with writing. When I am not, it’s like I train my brain to say "publishing is the end goal," when really, it's about the writing. Writing is always there for you; she is your original home. She is beautiful and generative even when everything else feels still, heavy, or scary.
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Some (maybe useful!?) #writingadvice: One of the things I consistently am messaged about here on Instagram and also on Facebook is how someone can become a poet (& a published poet). I believe there is an element of mystery, a sort of occult silence, surrounding a poem and the poet’s work. I love that, and I’m in love with that as well—but there are many who feel frightened by this, or feel put off by it. Lean into that, embrace that strangeness. Poetry is a shadow state, but it’s not exclusive to anyone. You can write poetry too. . I also believe that poetry can be a tool for wellness, intentional living, and ritual. Poetry has long been used in all sorts of magic and its musicality and rhythm is meditative, transformative. It can be confessional. It can be bilingual. It can tell the story that ordinary language cannot. Poetry is what happens when you are both looking at and looking away from something. For many, it’s about sharing or expressing some truth, some in-between, some intangible which cannot be otherwise expressed. . I suggest starting by reading poetry as much and as often as you can. Don’t just read the people everyone suggests you read, go to a poetry bookstore and browse until your heart falls into something authentically. Note what you like and what you don’t. Write and write and write. Don’t give into cliché. Right honestly and don’t pay attention to bestsellers or popular voices. Emerge of your own. Find a few literary journals online—@lunalunamag is one!—and send them your poetry. Make sure you format each poem to a single page and follow closely the journal’s instructions. You will be rejected many times. You will also be published. Focus on your craft and not rushing yourself. Focus on your voice and what truth you want to tell. Don’t listen to any rules about what makes or does not make poetry. When you finally do share it, share it because you want to. Not because you think it will give you accolade or fame or money. It likely will not. But it will become a holiness. . 📷 This picture is my newest baby, “Nympholepsy” sitting there being beautiful. 🖤
Imposter syndrome is natural and potentially inevitable
I’ve talked with so many writers about imposter syndrome. This little beast is natural, and there’s almost no way past it but through. You will feel you don’t deserve a book, your voice doesn’t matter, that you cheated someone or something, that no one will like your work, that you’re not nearly as good as your peers, and every little thing in between. The reality is that there’s no solid advice here; you simply must accept that these thoughts are normal, most people have them, and that they will pass. All that said…
Take note of your hard work
You are a writer for a reason. Your passion, your drive, your vision, and your dedication is what brought you to this very point. That’s enough. That’s more than enough. The rest is just politics and bullshit you internalize about yourself and success, and the disease of elitism teaching you that you’re not enough.
I like to create a gratitude board where I pin photos or arrange words that celebrate my successes and projects. (Remember success looks very different for each of us; sometimes it’s finishing a paragraph or a chapter, and sometimes it’s finishing your book).
Be ready to promote your work
This is the best advice I can give you: Be ready to promote your work. I don’t mean post about it once a month on Facebook. I mean make spreadsheets of people you want to reach out, reviewers you’d like your work to be reviewed by, magazines you want to be interviewed by, and stores who might want to stock your book. Even if you work with [insert-fancy-name-press-here], you will be the one generating book sales. Your publishing company can help, yes, but there’s nothing like an author’s touch. Don’t be afraid to promote. It’s literally your job.
Quadruple the output if you’re on an indie press. Yes, this might sound scary — but if you want the book to reach readers, it’s a necessity.
You will lose people when you succeed, but you will gain so much more
In artistic communities, there is always a small percentage of people who let ego and jealousy run rampant. This makes it hard for them to congratulate you, support you, or even recognize you. Sometimes, silence speaks loudly. Don’t be surprised if your peers, colleagues, and even friends act differently toward you.
We’ve all been working toward a goal of being seen and validated; many people aren’t given the opportunity to bloom — whether it be because of a lack of access, a lack of money, a lack of time or childcare, illness, or a lack of drive.
What we can do is continue sending the elevator back down. Continue supporting people by sharing their work. Continue sharing our knowledge. Continue creating a space where other voices can shine. But what we can’t do is change the way people feel about our success. And, you know, it’s not really about you; it’s about them. Take comfort in that.
When you publish your first book, it can leave you with all that imposter syndrome, yes — but it also gives you a dose of confidence, a sense of accomplishment, a new set of skills, and insight as to how this all works. You will likely meet new friends, join new communities, and even be offered new opportunities. Revel in that.
I asked Luna Luna readers what they’d like me to answer in this column, so here are their questions:
Q: What is one piece of advice that is passed on less of the time that helped you break through to being published?
I think there’s this idea that you need to spend money on expensive residencies, get published only in the big journals (like Tin House, Paris Review) or attend the best MFA programs. I did attend an MFA program, and I can say that while it gave me the credentials to teach, all of my opportunities came from sending my work to indie journals, connecting with writers in digital spaces and at free literary readings, and working hard to hone my craft. With a full-time job, medical bills and other necessities, you do what you can. Do your best work, and don’t let elitist or reductive ideas and opinions get to you. The literati is a small contingent.
There is not one path to publication.
Q: Does it matter if you write into a genre or ideology that happens to be trendy or popular? Like I feel like nonfiction memoirs are coming out all the time now, should we all be writing memoirs? (No shade I read and love them).
Definitely not, but hey — you do you. I know someone who made very good money writing paranormal erotic ebooks when Amazon ebooks were booming. But look, you probably want to write what feels right to you. If it doesn’t feel authentic or natural, the writing probably won’t be very good — and the message won’t resonate. I’m aware that others might disagree, but that’s definitely my stance.
Light Magic for Dark Times came out during a boom in mind/body/spirit titles — and while the genre was trendy, it’s never really been not trendy. People are always interested in self-development and magic and personal power. Not to mention, it gave me a chance to create something new in the genre. I am in love with it.
Q: Where can I find information about publishing?
There are some super helpful resources out there (here, here, here, here, and here, for example), including Facebook groups and Twitter accounts dedicated to opportunities and writers supporting writers. Some of my personal favorites include Entropy’s Where to Submit column and Poets & Writers Magazine.
Lisa Marie Basile is the founder of Luna Luna. She is the author of Light Magic for Dark Times (Quarto, 2018), a modern grimoire of inspired rituals and daily practices. She's also the author of a few poetry collections, including Nympholepsy (Inside the Castle, 2018) and Andalucia. Her work encounters the intersection of ritual and wellness, chronic illness, magic, overcoming trauma, and creativity, and she has written for The New York Times, Narratively, Grimoire Magazine, Sabat Magazine, The Establishment, Refinery 29, Bust, Hello Giggles, and more. Her forthcoming work can be seen in Catapult, the Burn It Down anthology, and Best American Experimental Writing. Lisa Marie earned a Masters degree in Writing from The New School and studied literature and psychology as an undergraduate at Pace University.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams, The Gods Are Dead, Marys of the Sea, Sexting Ghosts, Xenos, No(body) (forthcoming, Madhouse Press, 2019), and is the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault. They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes Poetry and the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Them, Brooklyn Magazine, BUST, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets. joannavalente.com / Twitter: @joannasaid / IG: joannacvalente / FB: joannacvalente
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams, The Gods Are Dead, Marys of the Sea, Sexting Ghosts, Xenos, No(body) (forthcoming, Madhouse Press, 2019), and is the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault. They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes Poetry and the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Them, Brooklyn Magazine, BUST, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets. joannavalente.com / Twitter: @joannasaid / IG: joannacvalente / FB: joannacvalenteRead More
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
You don’t need my voice girl, you have your own
We were living in a poor neighborhood on the border of Elizabeth and Newark in New Jersey. I took packed “dollar cabs” to school when it was too cold to walk. We used food stamps at the little mercado downstairs, so I only went when my friends went home and I wouldn’t get caught.
On the third floor, our little apartment had two small bedrooms. Mom slept in the living room, on the couch. My mom was always either at the mall working, or out. She was working hard to overcome an addiction, and no matter how big and beautiful her heart was — the monster was winning. When she was out, I would, like a cat, keep an eye or ear open. Hearing the door knob late at night meant I could finally rest. She was home, and my body could wilt. I could sleep.
My brother and I slept on mattresses on the floor; his room got even less light than my did, so he would sit on the floor playing video games for hours in the dark. I could feel the house’s sadness all the way from my bedroom, but I didn’t have the language to manage it. The translation was lost in the heavy air, so I’d shut my bedroom door and ignore him, seven years younger than me. I’d blast my music and pretend to be somewhere else — in the woods, at the sea, wherever I could be free.
My room was my heaven. There was one long window, and that window looked out at a yard where I could watch a neighbor’s dog lounging or chasing butterflies in the summer. In the smallest of ways, everything felt fine. I could siphon that normalcy and try to press it into my chest like a lantern. I’d light it up when I couldn’t sleep.
A room is a sanctuary, an ecosystem, a confessional.For me, it was a place where I transformed from wound into girl.
Tori Amos happened to me during the summer of 1999. I’m not sure how it happened or who recommended her to me, but when I slipped the little Under the Pink disc into the CD player and sat on my bed, I grew a new organ. I was capable of metabolizing the trauma.
When my mother was out, out, out — wherever she was — or when she was in a screaming match with her violent boyfriend in the next room — I was etching Tori’s lyrics, sometimes over and over, into a little notebook.
I couldn’t possibly have understood all of it, as most of the language was either too adult or too cryptic or simply too Tori, but it spoke directly to the wound in a way that needed no translation or filter.
It was the line, You don’t need my voice girl you have your own, that I distinctly connected with. I wasn’t aware of what feminism really meant, not at all at that age or in that era, but I could feel the surge of electricity that came with being validated by a woman. I was suddenly her little cousin, and Tori was my cool older relative — all jeans and red hair exuding some strange, beautiful warmth. Or maybe she was my stand-in mother. My goddess. It was one of my first glimpses of what it could mean to look up to a woman who was full of space and light and hurt, like me, and who, through some digital osmosis could also heal and love me. Who tapped into the small dark pain and cradled it.
My mother was sick. My grandmother was dying. I had no one else I could turn to, but Tori found me in my bedroom and inhabited the space as nightlight, as cool sheets, as framed photographs of possibility.
Is she still pissing in the river, now?
Another element that struck me: the odd narratives. At this point, I was existing in the height of teen melodrama. A word could mean a million things. A lyric could mean anything I needed it to be. And an album could be the digital imprint of my entire life. I didn’t try to dissect the words, as an adult would. Instead, I fell, backwards into her words; it didn’t matter if I didn’t ‘get it’ or if I had no idea who the fuck the grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia was. I hung onto every word because my life was small and broken and dirty, and Tori gave me everything and more. Continents and ghosts and heartache I wouldn’t experience until I was older.
So, of course I’d borrow a computer at school to Ask Jeeves the Duchess, and I’d print out about 28 pages describing the whole history of her life and death. With my newfound Tori knowledge, I’d walk around the halls at school clutching her lyrics and all the weird shit the Internet said about her work as if they were holy texts. I had the secret. I had a bigness in my pocket. I had possibility and potential and the mouth of the piano whispering into my ears.
Really, as long as I had double-A batteries for my disc-man I could move through my day cushioned.
It was around this time I started writing poetry. I often borrowed themes and topics from Tori’s music, becoming obsessed by her stories of sneaking sexual acts and rebelling against religious morals — getting off, getting off, while they’re all downstairs — or her not-so-cryptic words about God — God sometimes you just don't come through/Do you need a woman to look after you? My poems might have been bad, but they turned my sad, small little bedroom into a palace of courage.
Her bravado and bravery asked me to confront things I’d been afraid to think of. For one — god. Raised in a Catholic family of Sicilian descent, the idea of God and morality and shame was stamped into me since childhood. Even if I wasn’t at church every Sunday, I’d never really heard anyone so thoughtfully critique god. (Pretty soon I’d stumble on Tool’s Aenima, but Tori got to me first).
Also round this time I was making out with bad boys who smelled like cigarettes and pulled fire alarms. I was skipping class to hang out with girls I crushed on. I was *69ing calls in the hopes it was a boy. But talking about sex with any seriousness was not the norm. Tori talked about it from the woman’s perspective, and not just in relation to getting fucked by a guy. Her frankness, especially around masturbation, positioned sensuality as something that wasn’t dirty or bad, but sacred and empowered. Reclaiming, exploratory, rebellious. Hers.
Because I started with Under the Pink, I quickly moved on to Little Earthquakes and found out quickly that she had some powerful words around sexual assault. Yet again I was able to confront the massive, festering wound that I’d been carrying around since pre-adolescence, when I was assaulted (repeatedly) by a man in his 40s.
For me, Tori Amos allowed me to inhabit myself. And myself was a place which was always kept burdened by realities far too heavy for what a teenage girl should have to carry.
Tori, for me, was like an early archetype of Hecate, my goddess of night, of ghosts, bringing me into realms where I could confront the dark. She lit the way through my journey.
The strangeness and complexity of her music, the choir girl influence, the jarring juxtapositions, her softness of anger and brightness of disappointment — it was a new language. Between those first and last tracks, an angel’s wings unfurled, alighting a bleak space.
She taught me that words — stories, poems, or lyrics — could be nuanced and odd and nonlinear, rooted in magic and not saturated in a sugary shell for easy consumption.
But most of all Under the Pink taught me that in self-truth, no matter how messy or imperfect or grandiose or weird, a whole spectrum of color could unfold. There I was in yellow, in blue, in lilac. I experienced a shadow life in color. There I was stepping out of my own dark, even for a few moments.
You don’t need my voice girl, you have your own, she said. And I believed it.
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These @vanessamooney earrings are my favourites. 😈 In all honesty, although I do not practice Catholicism — nor am I religious — I do find some small comfort in my memories of ritual and childhood at church and at catholic school, especially feeling like I maybe had a God. My feelings about spirituality have changed totally (if this isn’t obvious) as we all evolve, and I find comfort in new things today. Still, I so adore that catholica aesthetic—Monica Bellucci style. Do you experience anything like that?
Lisa Marie Basile is the founding creative director of Luna Luna Magazine—a digital diary of literature, magical living and idea. She is the author of "Light Magic for Dark Times," a modern collection of inspired rituals and daily practices. She's also the author of a few poetry collections, including 2018's "Nympholepsy."
Her work encounters the intersection of ritual, wellness, chronic illness, overcoming trauma, and creativity, and she has written for The New York Times, Narratively, Sabat Magazine, Healthline, The Establishment, Refinery 29, Bust, Hello Giggles, and more. Her work can be seen in Best Small Fictions, Best American Experimental Writing, and several other anthologies. Lisa Marie earned a Masters degree in Writing from The New School and studied literature and psychology as an undergraduate at Pace University.
Brandon Amico is a writer whose debut collection of poems, DISAPPEARING, INC., is forthcoming in March 2019 from Gold Wake Press. He is the recipient of a North Carolina Arts Council Regional Artist Grant and the Hoepfner Literary Award for poetry, awarded by Southern Humanities Review. His poetry can be found now or soon in journals including The Awl, The Adroit Journal, Blackbird, Booth, Copper Nickel, The Cincinnati Review, Diode, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Hunger Mountain, Kenyon Review, New Ohio Review, Sixth Finch, Slice, Waxwing, and Verse Daily, and his reviews have been featured by 32 Poems, AGNI Online, The Los Angeles Review, Mid-American Review, The Rumpus, and Southern Humanities Review.