An Interview with Luanne Castle #MondayBlogs #poetry #flashnonfiction

Hello, everyone, I have a guest today: poet, family historian, and fellow cat hoarder lover, Luanne Castle.

Many of you might already know Luanne from her blog, Writer Site, or her website, Luanne Castle, or perhaps you’ve already read her first book of poetry, Doll God, winner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award.

I’m excited to tell you that Luanne has a new chapbook coming out, this one with poetry AND prose AND women’s history.

Kin Types is available for pre-order from Finishing Line Press and you can read a wonderful review by Carla McGill here. Carla blogs at Writing Customs.

Luanne and I thought it would be fun to lob her a few questions about poetry writing, something I’m always fascinated by but wary of trying.

How did you decide to make Kin Types a collection of poetry and prose? Why not just poetry?

The mixed genre came about because a couple of paths I was on coincided.

My first book, Doll God, is a collection of lyric poems, the type of poetry I had been writing for years. Then you and I took that flash nonfiction course from Apiary Lit with Chelsea Biondolillo. I had signed up so I could try out a new genre. The experience took me to the border between nonfiction and poetry—and when I saw the border, I realized that it was a movable, even erasable border. We wrote prose poems and lyric essays. We experimented with embedding documents into our own writing. I felt so free to be able to move freely and spontaneously between two genres I love: poetry and nonfiction prose.

Since 2012 I’ve written the blog The Family Kalamazoo showcasing family stories, the results of genealogical research, and antique photographs from my family collection. Although I had worked on this research off and on since college, the blog gave me a connection to strangers who held information to what I was researching. And as I wrote up stories for blog posts about various ancestors, neighbors of my ancestors, and others, I loved making the connections between documents–such as census reports, death certificates, and newspaper articles—and the shaping of story.

After taking the Apiary course, the work I had been doing for The Family Kalamazoo began to inform my writing. I wrote poems, prose poems, and flash lyrical essays based on my research. The stories of these people—especially the women–who had been long dead began to come alive for me. They lived in my dreams and my waking thoughts; they informed my conversations and decisions.  When I began to compile the pieces into a chapbook, I couldn’t leave the lyric essays behind just because they weren’t technically considered poetry. To me the prose and the poetry were the same thing: imaginatively informed, lyrically described stories of real people who lived before us.

How do you write poetry? I took an online poetry class a few years ago and was fascinated by the different ways poets wrote. One poet described how she would start with one word and then build word associations until a poem emerged. Others were more interested in form, like how can to describe a sunset in a haiku.

I usually write a poem after I notice something beautiful or strange or an oddity I am curious about. This new image strikes against something I already know. Maybe I see a mother quail pushing a newly hatched chick out of the nest and wonder why. I might do a little research, and my mind starts receiving lots of images and it’s as if a match has been struck and the flame leaps from its tip. That’s the beginning of the poem. If I push it too soon, it doesn’t work, but when the time is ready I might add in another essential element. I might mix elements of a traditional fairy tale with scientific theories from astronomy or physics. It’s the juxtaposition, the balance, the fight between disparate parts that make some of the best poems.

I want to explain what I mean by my mind getting images from research. I don’t record dry facts very well. My brain converts information into images. In this way, science and nature are gifts to me because what scientists think of as facts, I process as sights, sounds, smells, touch, and taste. Poems crave images, not information or facts.

In many of the Kin Types poems, the juxtaposition or fight that produces poetry comes from the interrogation of supposedly factual historical documents with the nuances of complex emotions and hidden and unrecorded human dramas. In one poem I took an early death of a mother and studied what happened to her young son after he and his siblings were orphaned. I wrote the poem from her perspective as if she could see from beyond the grave what had happened to her children. Who could feel more about their paths in life than their mother? In Kin Types I converted fact into image to create what the reader feels from a poem.

Although I have worked with form as a writing constraint, that process is not how I usually come to a poem.  A writing constraint is always helpful. It can be arbitrary: write a poem in 10 lines of 10 syllables each and include the word orange. Or it can be specific: write a Shakespearean sonnet. But the point is that by hitting up against the boundaries of the constraint the poet doesn’t have the whole world from which to create a poem. It focuses and helps the poet shape the poem. Form is the typical way to create constraint. A sestina, a villanelle, a sonnet, these all are an aid. For me, however, I find that my best work doesn’t come from having to adhere to a certain form, but letting the poem find the form that is most suitable for it. So some poems want to be prose poems. Some want to be skinny and long free verse. But I could change my mind tomorrow and start to write in a particular form. The variety is astonishing, and I don’t want to settle into a familiar old groove.

How do you know when a poem is complete, finished, ready for prime time? Prose seems to be relatively easy to figure, especially, of course novels and short stories. Even flash fiction often has the expected beginning, middle, and end. But poetry is different. Or is it?

That’s the big question! It even warranted a poem written about it by Naomi Shihab Nye. It’s called “How Do I Know When a Poem Is Finished?”  In the most practical sense, as with any writing, only the editor has the final say on when a piece is finished. I’ve had poems and stories published with no changes made and others where an editor has several eager ideas—sometimes fabulous, sometimes mysterious. I’ve also published a piece with changes by an editor and then reprinted the same piece and the new editor has different ideas for changes. At least once, the advice was contradictory. Feeling a piece is finished is the same for me whether it’s a poem or prose. When I’ve let it gel for a couple of weeks, if not longer, and have revised as much as I feel I can, I either need a second opinion or I feel good about the piece. If I feel that I want to share it with readers and not an editor, it’s a go. But, still, occasionally I’ll read something I’ve published and want to reach into the letters on the page or screen and snatch some, re-arrange, or add a few.

***

Many thanks to Luanne for answering questions I’ve always wanted to ask a poet! I hope you, Dear Reader, have enjoyed this and are eager to pre-order your copy of Kin Types. If The Finishing Line doesn’t get enough pre-orders, then Kin Types won’t go to press so waste no time because the deadline is April 28, 2017.

Click here to place your order.

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Explaining Myself Standing on a Soapbox #MondayBlogs #TheResistance

The last few months have been a crazy roller-coaster of emotions. Most, if not all of you, know why. Thank goodness, someone has a sense of humor.

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I totally get why people would want to tune all out politics. What’s going on in our country right now is an effing fiasco; a train wreck of epic proportions; a depressing, dismaying, infuriating, shocking clusterf**k of authoritarianism, fascism and isolationism. Who wouldn’t want to bury their head in the sand, or in a book, or behind a mountain of yarn and two flying knitting needles?

It’s not in my DNA to look the other way. At times it’s a blessing. Often times it’s a curse.

Granted, much of what is happening has little to no direct or immediate effect on me. I am white. I am way beyond reproductive age. I have a job that pays well by Florida state government standards. I have a good HMO. I own my house. My husband and I tend to be fiscally conservative so if I happened to lose my job, we would still be fine financially. Except that my husband has a serious back problem, one that will likely require surgery, and so health care coverage is not something we can take for granted. At least, not in the way that #45 can or Paul Ryan can or Rand Paul can. Any one of them can have a catastrophic illness and not worry about how they’ll pay for treatment and recovery. And, yet, they would accuse me of feeling entitled.

You know, I wasn’t born into a wealthy family. Hell, I wasn’t born into a middle-class or lower middle-class family. My mom was one of 12 born to a so-so farmer (her words: “he wasn’t progressive”). My dad’s family was even poorer. Both my dad and his sister had mental health problems that plagued their lives. My dad couldn’t keep a job so eventually my mom had to take on minimum wage work to support her four kids. And we got Social Security because of his disability. Yes, the very Social Security program that the GOP Congress seems hellbent on destroying was the difference between my family living in a house (that my mom finally paid off when I was 16) and living god-knows-where. The very Social Security program that enabled me to go to college, to aspire to a more secure life than what my mother had known. And let’s not forget the PELL Grant and the other grants that enabled so many of my generation to get our educations without having to go into a sinkhole of debt. Compare my current income with what I would likely be making without my college degrees and I think you could say that the country has benefited from its investment in me.

The GOP Congress wants to totally destroy Planned Parenthood. When I came of age, I started going to Planned Parenthood for my yearly checkups. And, yes, for birth control because, no, I didn’t want to have children. When I was a young adult going to a Planned Parenthood in Oakland, California, the nurses tried to counsel me to use something other than birth control pills. They made a point of providing me with the lowest estrogen pills possible because they knew that we women were simply guinea pigs for Big Pharma. I didn’t have a boyfriend then but the pills were convenient and they regulated my menstrual cycle. I had my priorities.

The nurses at Planned Parenthood tried to warn me. Eventually I did go off the pills, opting to have a tubal ligation in 1988. Too little, too late. Fast forward to 2001 and I’m diagnosed with endometrial cancer, developed no doubt because I had so much estrogen in my body. Menstruation at nine. Birth control pills for roughly ten years. No pregnancies to deplete some of the estrogen. So when people demonize Planned Parenthood, I can only think of how much foresight they had compared to my HMO doctors of later years. Planned Parenthood was looking out for me, so I feel compelled to look out for them.

I’m white, but I wasn’t born into privilege. I wasn’t born onto a level playing field. I can’t imagine what it must be like to not be white, to have to work even harder just because of skin color. Oh, please, there is racism in this country. #45 is evidence of that. Sadly, our country has been built in part on the distinctions we make between ourselves and others on the basis of what we see. And the first thing we see is skin color. I saw it in my small town growing up, where there were only three black kids in my high school. I can’t say for sure that any of them were treated badly, but I believe the one male teenager was pretty damn lonely. You see, they were all cousins so at 15, 16 years old, when everyone else was dating, he wasn’t because no parents wanted their white daughter going out with a black boy. Nothing personal, they would say.

I can’t forget my own history. I can’t ignore my sense of “there but for the grace of God …” because, frankly, much of what I was given, I took for granted. I never thought that Planned Parenthood might someday have to close its doors to me because there was no longer funding for it. I never thought that the grants and Social Security I received might someday not be there because Congress wouldn’t think I was worthy enough. But that is what is happening to young people now. They already have fewer advantages than I had. And what few they do have, the GOP Congress and #45 want to take away. Add to that, the racism and sexism and xenophobia in this country. The “shining city on the hill” is tarnished.

I know people (some I’m even related to) who would say, “I don’t care” when issues like immigration or racism are raised. They would argue that they had had it tough too so why should they give an inch to anyone. I don’t argue with them. It’s a waste of time. I just know that I have to live with myself. And I don’t fight to protect the rights of others in order to ensure that they might in turn protect my rights. I do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Excuse me now as I step off my soapbox and attend to the bright spots in my life:

My boys

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Cover Reveal of Kin Types

I’ve pre-ordered Luanne Castle’s newest chapbook of poetry and more. How about you???????

Writer Site

Finishing Line Press has revealed the new cover of my chapbook Kin Types. They put it on their website with my headshot, taken by my friend Renee Rivers.

PRE-ORDER HERE

Release date: June 23

A little background on the cover image: this is a tintype from my family collection. It was handpainted, and the jewelry was painted in gold leaf. We don’t know exactly who the photograph is of, but believe it is of the Remine (Remijinse) branch of the family. My great-great-great-grandmother was Johanna Remijinse De Korne, born in Kapelle, Netherlands. I love how the Dutch spelling conjures up the word “reminisce.”

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Wordless Wednesday @MomsRising #KeepMarching #ShePersisted

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Announcing the re-launch of My GRL by John W. Howell

My GRL

The cover is new and the book edited once again to enhance the experience. What is really nice is the price has been cut for the introduction. You can buy the kindle version for a special introduction price of

$0.99

John J. Cannon, a successful San Francisco lawyer, takes a well-deserved leave of absence from the firm and buys a boat he names My GRL. He is unaware that his newly purchased boat had already been targeted by a terrorist group. John’s first inkling of a problem is when he wakes up in the hospital where he learns he was found unconscious next to the dead body of the young woman who sold him the boat in the first place. John now stands between the terrorists and the success of their mission.

Here is the link to Amazon for the Kindle version

Here is the link to Amazon for the Paper version

Check them out and read the first few pages on Amazon.

Also, you can check out John Cannon’s other two adventures as well as the new My GRL at John W. Howell’s Author Page

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Author Bio

John began his writing as a full-time occupation after an extensive business career. His specialty is thriller fiction novels, but John also writes poetry and short stories. His first book, My GRL, introduces the exciting adventures of the book’s central character, John J. Cannon. The second Cannon novel, His Revenge, continues the adventure, while the final book in the trilogy, Our Justice, launched in September 2016. All books are available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

John lives in Port Aransas, Texas with his wife and their spoiled rescue pets.

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A Traditional Kind of Book Review: Bird Light by Elizabeth Cohen #MondayBlogs #bookreview #poetry

Poetry is like pornography: I know it when I see it. Or read it if you want to be picky. Or maybe it’s an acquired taste, something you have to be trained to learn to like. Gin martinis might be an acquired taste, but in my case, I took to a gin martini the way a thirsty cat takes to a water fountain.

In any case, for most of my writing life, I’ve avoided poetry, especially poetry that rhymes. Although I do like musical lyrics and most of those rhyme. I’m hedging here because I read a slim book of poetry not too long ago and I want to review it. The problem is, I’d rather just share the poems. But I can’t afford to send each of you a copy so you’re stuck with my attempt at a review. I hope you enjoy it. Even more, I hope you buy this book.

***

Bird Light is a collection of lyrical meditations on birds and things like birds, like life. The poems are by Elizabeth Cohen, whose collection of short stories, Hypothetical Girl, I reviewed last year. The lovely line drawings are by Aliki Barnstone, a woman of many gifts.  The combination of Elizabeth’s poetry and Aliki’s drawings make Bird Light a transporting, transformative experience.

I am a bird lover, particularly of raptors, and so a poem like “The Red Tailed Hawks of Colesville New York” moved me with its simple play of joy and sadness: joy of seeing a couple of hawks christened Spunk and Spike, their closeness and playfulness; the sadness when one day only one is sighted and then, later, neither.

Intermingled with poems about peacocks, red-tailed hawks, bluejays, owls, cranes, red-crested flickers, and many other birds, are poems that read like mini-memoirs, a life spent and described by area codes and zip codes, from being a daughter to having a daughter. I am transported, almost literally it seems, from the red dust and mesas of the southwest to the Flickers and grackles of the northeast.

In particular, I felt transformed by the utter beauty and vulnerability of “Bluebird”: a tattoo of a bluebird to mark a broken heart at 22, except the tattoo is slightly off being on the right breast and not directly on the heart. And yet,

It hovered over the death beds of each of my parents,

And for nine months it glided over the soft,

unconnected bones of my daughter’s head.

Bluebirds are very special to me, being the favorite bird of my deceased stepfather and the favorite bird of his son who died in his early 30s from cancer and who sighted a bluebird once from his window and told his father that God must have wanted to keep him alive a little longer just to see the bluebird. Now I can’t see a bluebird without saying a little prayer for Ken and Tim. And this poem, “Bluebird,” by Elizabeth adds to that pleasant pang I get whenever a bluebird flies in front of me.

The title poem, “Bird Light,” makes its appearance almost halfway through the volume. She starts with,

When my marriage was over

the birds began

and I think to myself that she must have been writing these poems all along, probably refining them a little bit each time until there was nothing left to add or take away, until they were contained and perfect.

One thing ends inside your life

and there is an opening for something new

Your eyes start over, widen toward a periphery

I cling to these three lines and think, this is Bird Light, the “something new” that comes when you allow an opening. Studying birds, sorting your life by area codes and zip codes, a pattern seems to emerge suggesting that everything goes on as it should, or as it will, toward “The Yes”:

had a glass of chilled maybe

with some toasted perhaps

***

I highly recommend Bird Light by Elizabeth Cohen. Pick up a copy from Amazon and enjoy some time with the birds and Elizabeth and Aliki.

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Where am I? #giveaway

No, not me, but Jill Weatherholt! Her debut novel, Second Chance Romance, is now available on Amazon.com (yay, Jill!). Link on through and you can enter a giveaway for her novel. Congratulations, Jill!

Jill Weatherholt

coverHappy Friday! Today I’m blogging at www.inspyromance.com. Feel free to pop over if you’d like to be entered to win a signed copy of Second Chance Romance which releases next Tuesday, February 21st.

Have a great weekend! xo

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