*NO PHOTOS LISTED BUT WILL BE MENTIONED* Aaron Tanner, Austin Lucas, Paul Gilmartin, Jane Dougherty, Kara Beth Rasure, Jean Kizer, John Jones Jr, PS Pirro, Lucy Whitehead, Tony Brewer, KC Bailey, Ethan Jacob O’Nan (my brother), Nadia Gerrasimenko, Kristin Garth, Jennifer Hibbs, Lilly O’Nan (my sister), Darren Demaree (Sundress Publications) River Dixon (Potter’s Grove), Jennifer Roche, Liam Flanagan, Abdulmueed Balogun, Abuh Monday Eneojo, John Ogunlade, Jesse Falodun, David Ralph Lewis, Sidney Mansueto, Dai Fry (RIP), Samantha Merz, December Lace, Karen Mooney, Jenny Mitchell, Mukund Gnanadesikan, Julie Stevens, Gail Sheridan, Richard Waring, Ediney Santana, Vern Fein, Iona Murpy, Will Davis, Gerald Jatzek, Jason Ramsey (Barren Mag), Mike Whiting, Al Matheson, Ann Hultberg, Ceinwed CE Haydon, Merril Smith, Cara Bovaird, Chris Maxwell, Ulane Vuorio, Gaynor Kane, Ilya Kaminsky, Jack Bowman, Kaitlyn Luckow, JP Meador, Joan McNerney, Stephen Sherman, Rumillineal Poetry, Niles Reddick, Jennifer Criss, J Matthew Waters, Matt Duggan, Cee Martinez, Mike Adams, Scott Christopher Beebe, Attracta Fahy, Christina Strigas, Sarah Marquez, Xerado, Alan Parry, Paul Robert Mullen, Amanda McLeod, Ryan DeLeon, Ellen Kirkman, Matthew Calmes, Shauna McGuiness, Daniel Galef, Kimberly Cunningham, Madisn McSweeney, Greg Santos, John W Leys, Amy Barnes, Pavlina Marie, David Mellor, David Grant Lee, Jesse Lynn McMains, Amanda Reeves, Elizabeth Moura, Michelle Nadasi, Jennifer Reeves, Judge Santiago Burdon, Justin Karcher, Paul Rowe, Eric Valor (RIP), Brunette Glassco (RIP), Anna Nash, George Miller, Robin Ray, Lynn White, Jamie Routley, JDG, Pasithea Chan, David Lunn Millborn, Anne Paulet, Demi Whitnell, David Fladger, Anna Rozwadowska, Christopher Osswald, Helena Fools, CL Belcher, Barabara Avon, Ana Lorenza Jimenez, Doug Polk, Juleigh Howard-Hobson, Stephen Watt, Rachel Cunniffe, Ari Pitt, Colin James, Juliette Sebock, Hillary Behsharam, Abigail Swire, Christian Gould, Ruth Cheruto, Stephen Morgan Woodworth, Guy Farmer, Mary Jones (may soon be on team), Matt Seeley, Benjamin Adair Murphy, Sher Ting, Keely O’Shaugnessy, Tuur Verhyde, Stephen J Golds, Phil Wood, Arthur L Wood, Stephen Guenette, Shaun D Pace, Sadie Maskery, Tova Beck-Friedman, Jennifer Roche, Amanda Crum, Lisa Alletson, Doug Stuber, Amandla Med T Castro, Igor Goldkind, Nadine Vandergriff, Devika Mathur, Carrie Sword, Dunstan Carter, Andy Hunter, Kerry Darbishire, Hema Saju, J.D. Nelson, Frank Watkinson,Stu Buck, K Weber, Ken Tomaro, Gareth Culshaw, Phil Vernon, Janet Beekman, Elizabeth Castillo, Akhila Ek, Lynne Schmidt, Dave O’Leary, Matthew da Silva, Kieran Wyatt, Angelo Letizia, Patricia Walsh, Mike Hickman, Saba Zahoor, Georgia Hilton (may be contributor soon), Bradley Galimore (may be contributor soon), Mark Anthony Smith, Arun Kapur
Bio: David L O’Nan is a poet/writer/editor living in Western Kentucky. He is the editor along with his wife HilLesha for the Poetry and Art Anthologies and Fevers of the Mind Poetry Digest and has also edited and curated the Avalanches in Poetry: Writings and Art Inspired by Leonard Cohen. He has self-published works under the Fevers of the Mind Press & The Cartoon Diaries (2019) & New Disease Streets (2020) Taking Pictures in the Dark (2021) Lost Reflections (2021) & Our Fears in Tunnels (2021) David has had work published in Icefloe Press, Rhythm N Bones Press off-shoot Dark Marrow, Truly U, 3 Moon Magazine, Elephants Never, Royal Rose Magazine, Spillwords, Anti-Heroin Chic, Nymphs Publishing, Voices for the Cure an ALS Anthology, Ghost City Press, and has been nominated for Best of the Net. Twitter is @DavidLONan1 and @feversof for Fevers of the Mind and on Facebook at DavidLONan1
Hillesha O’Nan is a blogger, writer, photographer & marketer. She is co-editor/founder of Fevers of the Mind Poetry & Art. She runs the blog tothemotherhood.com for over 15 years
- What are the origins of Anti-Heroin Chic? When did you first decide to create a literary magazine?
James: I think, in a lot of ways, the origins for Anti-Heroin Chic were born out of a yearning for community. I didn’t necessarily feel part of one at that time, and sometimes the best thing you can do when you feel that way, is to just be the thing you feel is missing, in your life and in the world. My initial vision was for a literary journal that shared a very common core with 12 step recovery meetings, where people from very different walks of life could all sit, side by side, in a circle of caring and sharing. A place where, as a friend of mine used to say; “our differences make no damn difference.” And on the heels of my time spent in Occupy Wall Street, I also wanted to be able to mirror some of the egalitarian ways of being together that I found there, which is why I likened it to the spirit of a commune. You know, honestly, some days it feels like group therapy. It’s amazing how I can be going through something really intense in my own life and then I’ll receive a submission from someone who opens their heart to me in their cover letter, a stranger going through the same damn thing, and in their poem is their heart speaking to my heart, and in some inexplicable way that encounter seems to make a difference in the lives of two people who’ve never even met before. I feel extraordinarily lucky in that way. But I also know we only ever get what we put out on the table. That’s what I was looking for around 2016, and I am very happy to say I found it. It is community, but it feels like there should be another word for it also.
- How long have you been writing poetry? When did you become serious with writing and interest in helping in other writers?
James: I began writing poems when I was around 13. I remember I had come across some poems in a Rolling Stone Magazine, written by death row inmates, who had turned to poetry as a way to cope and make sense of their impossible situation. My household, and my neighborhood, were both very chaotic and violent, and I remember thinking; “if this thing could help them, maybe it could help me too.” And it has. Who can say for sure what saves us in the end, but my bet is that I would not have made it without poetry in my life. As to when I became serious about writing, well, I was institutionalized for two years when I was sixteen, it was a serious moment in my life, where I had little else but the poems, and I think that moment was do or die for me, really. The urge to help other writers began around 2016. But the urge to help people in general, that began in a jail cell at age 16, when I wrote a poem called “The turning of the tables,” and my cellmate cried reading it and copied it down so that he could carry it with him. Sadly, he didn’t make it, and ended up taking his own life. In so many ways I often feel like I’m still writing all of my poems to him. A little light, in a lot of darkness. But that was the moment I realized that I (or the poems, really) had the ability to touch lives, to help those in great pain feel understood and held in it.
- What do you find most rewarding when putting an issue together, what do you find most frustrating?
James: I put together a very special issue on grief and loss a couple of years ago, after my Grandmother died, (I had cared for her in hospice during her final days,) and was completely undone in my grief. Unanchored and adrift, I really didn’t know day from night then. All I knew was I didn’t want to be alone in it. My thought was that a lot of people probably yearned, just like I did, to share their grief as well in a community space. That issue was the most rewarding and meaningful issue I’ve ever curated. That was a real turning point for me as an editor. I realized then that what I was aiming for was a shared and collective healing process over all else. When that’s your focus, the frustrating parts kind of just roll off of you like water. Each issue feels very therapeutic to me, to our contributors, and to our readers. It’s hard work to put the issues together, of course, and before each launch, I am quite literally spent, but the joy, healing, and hope that gets spread around from it, my God, makes it all worth it.
- How often do you put issues out, and do you change thematically between issues?
James: We currently put out 6 issues a year, in the months of February, April, June, August, October and December. The themes are always guided by the contributors, but tend to be about addiction, mental illness, poverty, working class issues, trauma, abuse, recovery, and hope. My co-editors have a big hand in helping to shape each issue also, my main contribution is our poetry category, as I want my co-editors to feel they have complete autonomy in selecting what resonates with them. It’s really astounding, organically the issues seem to always be what they need to be. Often, I just have to get out of the way of whatever force brings all of that together.
- Tell us more about your own work? How often do you write, and tell us about your book/books.
James: Most of my work centers around many of the same themes explored in Anti-Heroin Chic. My first book, This Someone I Call Stranger, was a loosely autobiographical book of poems that delved into my childhood experiences around poverty, abuse, parental addiction, institutionalization, and the ways in which we find our “homes at the edge of the world,” how often our families of choice, much as we would have wanted them to be, are not always our families of origin. My second book, All Things Beautiful Are Bent, forthcoming from Alien Buddha Press soon, is a themed book of love poems which imagines two lovers with deep trauma in their lives, trying to sort out ways to love each other that unburden the past from the present, and go forward in new and more vulnerable ways. I imagine it as a book where two people’s inner children speak to the goodness we all once were, irregardless of all that may have gone wrong along the way. Another collection that I am still sending around to publishers, called Motel Prayers, is a very character driven work that tries to tell the slightly fictionalized stories, in poem form, of the people I have known, who, as Carson McCullers’ puts it; “found it hard to live and therefore had to live a little harder.” Most of my recent poems are centered around addiction, as my little brother battles an intense meth addiction and bouts of homelessness, the only thing that I have in my tool box that helps me move through the ‘living loss’ of that are poems that speak to the fact that, where there is life, there is hope.
- What authors, poets, musicians, artists have helped shape your mind & work?
James: Joyce Carol Oates was probably the first to impact me as a writer, along with the poet Jorie Graham. But long before I was a reader of books I was a reader of song lyrics. I was very lucky to come of age in a time when singer-songwriters ruled the air waves. I learned to write from them, really. Songwriters like Shawn Colvin, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lucy Kaplansky, Dar Williams, Cheryl Wheeler, Julie Miller, John Gorka, Natalie Merchant, Paula Cole and so many more. Folk music is definitely the closest thing to poetry, I think, and having it in my life at such an early age really helped me to fall deeply in love with what words could do. In my early to mid 20’s, outlaw literature was my steady diet. Authors like Kathy Acker, William Burroughs, kathe Koja, Jack Micheline, Miguel Pinero, Samuel R. Delaney, Doug Rice, Lydia Lunch, Pierre Guyotat. My anger probably very much needed these authors to help find ways to ‘scream it out’ onto the page. Suffice it to say though I have mellowed out quite a bit in my late 30’s. I am back to where I started these days, reading mostly Joyce Carol Oates and Jorie Graham.
- What are some of your hobbies, what keeps you creative & interested in putting together poetry & mags?
James: Music and films are my biggest hobbies. I used to love going to live music shows back when the world was somewhat normal. I enjoy photography, though I am by no means a photographer, I do like to capture things that most people might ignore around the city. I began making art collages a few years ago, which I really enjoyed and allowed me to tap back into some of my early and darker influences. It helped me to deal with my depression in ways the poems couldn’t and they reflect just how dark my head was becoming. I’ve also enjoyed putting together interviews for Anti-Heroin Chic, which allowed me to learn a lot about things I didn’t really know beforehand, like the world of comedy and visual art. I was also able to find that I had a real knack for live conversation that I didn’t really know was there. I tend to be pretty introverted, but interviewing people, at least by phone, forced me to improvise and take risks. I learn a lot about myself through others. The interviews have been sort of therapeutic for me in that way as well. They keep me curious, which is probably the main ingredient in staying creative.
- What styles of writing do you prefer engaging in?
James: Confessional, I guess. I used to be much more experimental and Language poetry oriented, but it didn’t allow me to go deep enough really, or to the heart of the matter. Something Jorie Graham says about knowing when a poem is ready is that one should test it against one’s own pulse, and when it matches, there you go. Part of it is that I feel a lot more grounded in my own life today, thanks to a lot of therapy, and so I feel like I’m in this season of my life where I kind of know what I want to say in ways that weren’t always possible for me. I’m still learning what this strange expression known as poetry is. It’s like a conveyor belt of despair and hope. Most days you’re working with both. How do you make room for it? Well, I’m learning to invite it all in. Style is probably just listening to where we’ve been and telling that story.
- Have hometowns, vacations, people influenced your work?
James: Hometowns, definitely. I grew up in the south, in not so happy places. I try to tell the stories of the people I’ve known and been. The people that have influenced me the most though are less poets than they are the one’s in healing professions. Case workers, respite providers, therapists, psych ward staff, art therapists, special ed teachers and guidance counselors; I am a legacy of these people who held me up when I could not walk emotionally or psychically. They were the first people to take real, genuine interest in my writing and encourage me to not give up on it. The biggest debt in my heart goes out to them.
- How has the pandemic and lockdown effected your work?
James: Well, I got Covid last April and the long haul effects of the virus took a toll on me. I’m getting better, but I still have days of brain fog and weakness, and I have some other health issues that have stemmed from Covid that I’m still getting treatment for (but not much answers.) It can be hard to write when all these weird things are happening to your body that no one can seem to explain, but I’ve managed to write some things I’m proud of, despite it all. I just have to know there are days when I can’t function at full capacity.
- Please leave any promotions for your work, social media, blogs, etc.
James: I have a new book, All Things Beautiful Are Bent, coming out soon from Alien Buddha Press, you can follow them on Twitter @thealienbuddha. My first book, This Someone I Call Stranger, is available from Indolent Books and Amazon. You can follow me on Twitter @diaz_james and you can follow Anti-Heroin Chic @Heroin_Chic_Mag. Visit our website for the work that we do there, and my own personal website for more on my work.
Thank you so much David!
photo by James Diaz on his website https://jamesjdiaz.weebly.com
Braids of The Short Dreams
Mamma braids her daughter’s thoughts.
The cuckoo cooing in the back of the brain
sounds shallow and floating between
the weathered Coca-Cola sign and the dog barking.
And the dog barks for hours in this short dream
the way the watchmaker grandpa winds
a long spiral ribbon into a tiny coiled spring.
During the noontime the houses, lanes, half naked
men working on a cancelled project and the trees, all
become the Sun. Mamma has a small and big hand
that screens the eyes of her daughter, and they’re
the Sun; ropes of their entwined hair bounds toward
the hole of the burning maws of awakening.
Flesh of the Republic
Body and flesh float away.
Rivulets. Entire sky
seeks an address, finds
my vein instead.
Where will you lose
the threads that sew a quilt,
Winter comes and goes;
frost never melts;
you know what I mean.
Body and flesh float into
my vein, and I ask them for their permits;
they can inside, but can not permeate;
I won’t let them be the citizens
of this rotten republic.
He records his chitchats
with the cab drivers, not all,
those with the ones
There exist avenues
and lanes of cabs taxiing
and recordings replayed
over and again in his id,
he finds his son working
for an app-cab using
a forged license.
He records his son, as if
his ears metamorphose themselves
into two answering machines,
These annals are better
than any psychiatrist’s,
the father of everything
listening to his killer instinct.
Deluge, the bitching mistress on our backs,
bites our earlobes as
I sent your claim – I can
efface life memorized.
I can. Only mine. The process
involves adding more, not less,
the same way you do most of the days,
except those when it rains
in the excuse of this balcony or
when it shines and you stare downwards,
see the hissing serpent of the traffic
looking up at you, out of reach.
I do not rerun the tapes, listen
to the protest pops from the Nam times.
Rain writhes to arrest my mind,
albeit an antiquated man has his disinterests.
I say, “Just forget.”
I Was as Cold as a Razorblade
In the late autumn winter
whimpers in her oxygen tent,
and we nurse this premature child,
see her wither, bloom, sear, brown, exsiccate.
Hence December surprises us
when she arrives for a date
wearing white sleeveless
and drinks from someone else’s chalet.
The potion was red. The poison bears no effect.
We toss our fedoras, shuffle to dance,
tire out and stroll outside,
our feet disappearing inside
the heart of crushed water.
Our hands in the pockets of warmth
seeks for a tinge of Yes
and finds some forlorn gums
we keep for protection’s sake.
*The title is wordplay on Leonard Cohen’s So Long, Marianne
We sit there, oracling,
drinking for ages; we
chat about different drinking-ages
and different countries;
sun sets in liver tinge;
pigment of the stream cooling,
fibers of our thoughts unreeling,
we sit there, eyes on nil.
We sit there, nothing,
and water pegs down our shadows
as if those will be its
Maypoles and wheel – time will swing by.
Raising The Time
The torn dress from
the fundraising dance
taps some memory cells;
half of you desire to
make a mop out of its residue,
but since you cannot wipe
your hands force it down
against your thighs.
I suggest –
“Let’s raise the time again.
Time and again.”
A GLACIER FOR THOUGHTS
The eye in the pink sky
denies any foresight.
“We have a glacier melting
Himalaya.” Says pop folding his freewill.
This means it will be
the rush-hour of depression
in his ecosystem,
and the day remains naïve native
accepting gifts from our invasions.
A coin decides
whether my sister
will enter in her classroom
shoot everyone or waive this.
“Don’t!” I whisper.
“Yes.” Pop says
on a topic irrelevant.
A crow on the ceiling fan
caws a dream
melting as my pop’s coral reef
corrodes away within.
Love Thy Father
You still love your father,
and do the one thing
that destroys him every day
and rebuild him again
as if he is naphtha or plastic.
His quick silver hand quavers with
the weight of your
nocturnal telephone calls-
“Hello! How are you?”
You always say,
“Talking to you dad,
is a remembrance of my mom’s winter.”
The State of Being During An Autumn Day
Autumnal gloaming, chill-filtered,
retains most of the darkness.
I stare at the pecans a hit-and-run
windy incident has crashed into the yard
I can always trespass leaving no evidence.
The rolled newspaper, asleep, on my table
wets its staple. A shiver walks my spine as if
my backbone recovers from a wheelchair
worthy trauma. Ticks, the Casio clock.
All these state the state of being.
Sometimes, since the outbreak, I hallucinate
my being shrugging off my body and staring,
first, at the mass of flesh, and then, at distance
ever vague and ever everything.
Death And Desire
That night you towel wrapped
the thirst of your partner.
You both died. The butterflies
in a painting behind your head
tried to escape, but the flight was cancelled.
The panes paved a shortcut to winter.
You picked up the towel dropped
around the ankles still wearing black
metal anklets you bought for her,
and wrapped her flesh. You both grieved
the death in the family. One craved for
flesh and the otherness in you sought for
the space where darkness garden blue agave.
An October Murder
“Did you see who shot you?”
“It was October. I opened a door
the size of a bullet hole.”
I whisper from a distance a whisper
can cross in its lifetime
to reach you almost dead. You hear,
and it withers. Withering seems
a garden, silent, and I on my bare feet,
grass appeasing one sensation
to swell me up with another.
“It was October. I opened the door.
It was a muzzle and a flash.”
The way one cleanses his October refrigerator,
without any provocation, without his partner’s hints,
almost as if that moment has been scheduled
or seen in the past, as if his muscle reaction
picks up the bottles and vegetables, packets and tubs,
casseroles and bowls full of forgotten experiments
with vegetables, and the contents of those packets and tubs
and a dram from the bottles’ nozzles, places them on the floor,
dismantles the shelves, sponges them gently and puts all together
I find me in intimacy with you, unknown.
Your hair unlocked by my hands, whisked back by my reflexive fingers
reveals the unknown in the unknown. I disassemble
your chrome and beige dress and unlock the sweat beads.
We could have been talking about the pestilence
or war or patience or the dire dearth of the same.
We could have been pondering over a jigsaw puzzle.
It does not matter. We are intimately unfamiliar.
Famously alone. The quagmire of cold water on the floor,
or our bodily fluids puddled around us evaporate. October.
The mellow songs are served at room temperature.
An Interview with Kushal Poddar
- Please describe your latest book, what about your book will intrigue the readers the most, and what is the theme, mood?
Kushal – This Christmas, my book ‘Postmarked – Quarantined’ shall be published by IceFloe Press, Canada. The highlight of the book is the plague, human reaction, my daughter’s birth, and how a person, vulnerable the way I am, may interact with the rules of the universe he must abide.
- What frame of mind & ideas lead to you writing your current book?
Kushal – As I said, the book encases my own vulnerability, albeit I always endeavor to scriven in a universal tongue. The idea is – write from personal experience, blend with news, and then read and rewrite the poem from a neutral perspective.
- How old were you when you first have become serious about your writing, do you feel your work is always adapting
Kushal – I was fifteen, and although I imitated writing rhymes since I was a six years old child, it was during a summer holyday of my sixteenth year in this world I began to adopt my only identity as a writer.
- What authors, poets, musicians have helped shape your work, or who do you find yourself being drawn to the most?
Kushal – The list may lengthen itself but the salient influence, I must say, oozes from Wilfred Owen, Frank O’Hara, Charles Simic, Franz Wright, Billy Collins, Ted Kooser, Mary Oliver, Graham Greene, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Borges, Milan Kundera, Hemingway, Raymond Carver, Raymond Chandler, Philip Roth, John le Carré, and Neil Gaiman and the music of Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Jethro Tull, Billi Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Nina Simone (as of tryst, and the list drifts).
- What other activities do you enjoy doing creatively, or recreationally outside of being a writer, and do you find any of these outside writing activities merge into your mind and often become parts of a poem?
Kushal – Sketching and painting often clear the cobweb of my mind. I used to take photographs. I often write whisky criticism. These activities add curves to the flesh of my writing (writing includes, poetry, short stories, and now a fragmentary novel).
- Tell us a little about your process with writing. Is it more a controlled or a spontaneous/ freewriting style?
Kushal – Writing is a continuous process. I write in my mind when I am not on paper or computer. I mumble an entire poem or short fiction sometimes to my daughter or to my wife, and then when time permits scribe it down. Is it free-writing? Not actually. The process is curated by years of reading and syllable counting presently made into a reflex.
- Are there any other people/environments/hometowns/vacations that have helped influence your writing?
Kushal – There are all my fellow poets I met online and offline. There are my wife, daughter and a difficult relationship with my parents. There is political news and the news of sports. I deliberately created a fictional hometown for my poems or other kinds of writings. This town consists of elements of East and West, and can be felt as the reader’s own one.
- What is the most rewarding part of the writing process, and in turn the most frustrating part of the writing process?
Kushal – The rewarding part is mental peace attained after writing it down as if I have cleansed a part of my memory, and also whenever a piece is published I receive the thrill of a junkie. The frustrating part is not having enough time to write everything I desire to write.
- How has this past year impacted you emotionally, how has it impacted you creatively if it all?
Kushal – I had many premonitions about this past year. I was living a tale written by Stephen King or Camus. The part that took me by surprise and that made me defenseless was the news of my wife’s pregnancy during this pestilence. I was deeply worried about the safety of my wife and my daughter. I began to write a poetry-journal about the day-to-day emotion that surged inside out.
Author Page Amazon – amazon.com/author/kushalpoddar_thepoet
Author Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/KushalTheWriter/
An author and a father, Kushal Poddar, edited a magazine – ‘Words Surfacing’, authored seven volumes including ‘The Circus Came To My Island’, ‘A Place For Your Ghost Animals’, ‘Eternity Restoration Project- Selected and New Poems’ and ‘Herding My Thoughts To The Slaughterhouse-A Prequel’.
Find and follow him at amazon.com/author/
Please describe your latest book, what about your book will intrigue the readers the most, what is the theme, mood?
Robert: My last book was Audacity of Form (2019). It was published by Ice Floe Press. It emerged out of late-night conversations with New-Orleans based photographer Julia Skop, who was the main caregiver for her sister, a well-known New Orleans dancer, Sara, then dying of cancer. The poem(s) and prose pieces, with a pastiche of Julia’s photos, and drawings by Toronto-based artist (and Ice Floe Press logo designer, Cathy Daley), evolved through 32 transformations. It was published in the summer of 2019 and is composed of two intersecting suites that deal with illness, love, friendship, family history, travel, grief, New Orleans, performance and music, working class economics, the Katrina Flood, and other elements. The book is designed as a series of set pieces and is an amalgam of poetic fragments/narratives.
Currently, I’m continuing work on a multi-sectional, (likely) multi-volume exploration of family histories which will deal with various sides of my family (whether it be Bobby, the carnival-circus performer, junkie, and cousin from Detroit, or reflective landscapes examining my European-Jewish ancestors, the relations between my parents & what I call “Mayhem” poems, dealing with my father etc.). The work is a multitude of voices and image-dense narratives, what a colleague of mine has described as, “a chorus of radical Jewish consciousness and layered imaginings, alternative versions of a Diaspora culture.”
What frame of mind & ideas lead to you writing your current book?
Robert: The work emerges out of narrative and out of fragments. It’s a searching landscape of violence, beauty, and expansiveness of dislocation and alienation, the amplified noise of displacement and its distortions. The historical journey of exile and Diaspora, intimate and intricate in interiority, was persistent growing up in a family where a swirling intensity of mental and physical abuse and illness and marginalization and isolation melded to rich vagaries of attenuated storytelling. Breathless is the search for naming. In geographic wandering, displacements contextualize and make sense of the mournful & the ineffable.
How old were you when you first became serious about your writing Do you feel your work is always adapting?
Robert: Seriously, I have a little flipbook I wrote when I was age 6. It was a story, Horses on Venus, that turned into a wild classroom recess improvisational game with my other outlier pals 😊. When I was about 12 to13-years-old, I was blown away by Allen Ginsberg. I went to see him perform at a local university, and around the same time, I saw an early Leonard Cohen concert, half music, half poetry reading. I used to read at local cafes & hung out with theatre-workers, Vietnam draft-dodgers in the little industrial city where I grew up. In early poems, I wrote odes to the polluted red sky of a town whose economic heart was immersed in the manufacture of steel. I wrote eco-poems about a love affair with a backyard tree, then mourned its death. I’ve always listened and gathered up what’s around me, and my work always changes. Some of the earliest pieces I’ve written, I’m just sending out now.
David, you published a couple of them in the beautiful Avalanches tribute to Leonard Cohen. One of them is “Song of a Healer.” I try different things, and right now feels like a very invigorating time in the world(s) of poetry. I’m very happy and feel grounded, blessed to be part of new emerging communities exploring poetics with an emphasis on discourses of radical change, rooted in vision and emotion. It is another reason I re-animated Ice Floe Press which had an iteration in the early 1990s when I got together a crew to put out Women Writing: An Anthology, a chapbook of NYC-based women poets involved in a curated reading series that included Kimiko Hahn, Cheryl Clarke, Pamela Sneed, Cheryl Boyce Taylor, and many others. We had a great packed launch in NYC at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café. In those early days I also published a book of stories by working-class NYC-based writer Ernie Brill, and a prose poem by then-emerging Canadian poet, Margaret Christakos.
Now, Ice Floe Press Managing Editor Moira J. Saucer and I are publishing amazing poets with world-wide platforms – from Nigeria, Ghana, USA, Canada, UK, Syria, Europe, on and on. I’ve found that the poetry communities on Twitter are rich, vibrant, and totally engaged, and many are carving out expressive spaces, joyful, celebratory, confrontational and aesthetically expansive. These new scenes are doing a great job of breaking down some of the old hierarchies, inducing a carnivalesque energy of DIY that is very exciting, despite the many dire things going on in the world from proto/fascism to the Anthropocene. All of it, of course, being interrelated.
What authors, poets, musicians have helped shape your work, or who do you find yourself being drawn to the most?
Robert: Oh, there are so many. Music encompasses a universe of possibility, joyful to write to. Whether its Texas-swing, ‘free-jazz’, atonal, orchestral, garage, field recordings, Northern Soul, Tex-Mex, African High-Life, No-Wave, etc. I like textured, complicated, beautifully realized, immersive music. Through listening – and at some points, involvement in music-based projects — I access the wonders of lyric, voice, breath, and sound, both recorded and live, soundscapes spark new ways of feeling and understanding; the embodied, kinesthetic, the numinous. In the musical pantheon, my go-tos include John Cale, Velvet Underground, Monk, Ornette Coleman, Count Basie, Louis Jordan, Nina Simone, the Ellington Orchestra, Biber, O.V. Wright, Sun Ra, Louis Jordan, Chopin, Coltrane, Dylan, Willie Nelson, Johhny Cash, the Carter Family, Nono, Billie Holiday, The Roots, The Animals, William Parker, John Cage, Brotzmann, Lighting Hopkins, Mark Lanegan, etc. (I could go on and on and on.)
With regards to writers, again, I don’t know where to begin: whether poets, novelists, essayists, hybrid creators, I like being immersed in highly textured writing. In our lifetime of the modern, post-modern, the apocalyptic, I contemplate the works of Celan, Brecht, Anne Waldman, Ngugi, Bulgakov, Virginia Woolf, Erin Moure, Adonis, Kamu Braithwaite, Don Mee Choi, Phil Hall, Amos Tutuola, Whitman, Olson, Burroughs, Genet, Nicole Brossard and Fred Wah, for starters. Again, I could go on and on.
What other activities do you enjoy doing creatively, or recreationally, outside of being a writer, and do you find any of these outside activities merge into your mind and become parts of a poem?
Robert: There are a range of activities that all seem to be part of a circular returning. Art making, reading, exploring visual art, taking photos. I’m all about gathering, listening, and weaving, the haunted, joyful, the juxtapositions and hybrids. And, when I can, I like to run. It depends on my energy at any given time in the cycle of living with ME/FM.
Tell us a little about your process with writing. Is it more a controlled or a spontaneous/freewriting style?
Robert: I often write in the middle of the night, i.e. two hours uninterrupted by hand on notebook paper. The images develop in narrative and associational patterns. From this process, I’ll engage in a long revision period until the piece(s) acquire voice and story and approximate a kind of musical-notational score. I return to older work, revisit, rewrite, incorporate, scatter, and coalesce. The work is performative – it comes out of body-physicality-and-memory.
Are there any other people/environments/hometowns/vacations that have influenced your writing?
Robert: Wow –I have always been ‘a traveler’. My goal though is not endless ‘movement’ from place to place, but focused and extended time in a locale of choice or circumstance, whether NYC, London U.K., Berlin, Los Angeles, Toronto, Montreal, Missoula, Montana, etc. The idea is also to ‘do’ something else there (work on a project, take some sort of ‘undetectable ‘job’ (ha that sounds like a radioactive half-life) that enables me to survive. There have been actual ‘travel’ writings as well, long cross-continental bus odysseys that are also generative.
People I’ve known and know, participate in the realization of my inner world and the parallels between the creative, the actual and the transformational. I engaged in the kind of ‘transformational’ world idea in my studies in theatre, esp., in the experiences I had studying with the Talking Band and the Wooster Group in NYC, many lifetimes ago. My sense of urgency, that poetry emerges out of witness and coalesces around community, prepares me for the silent and engaged relationship I have with performance. The shape and dynamics of the page and my inspired connection to my ancestors are all intersecting aspects that propel me, always grounded in a physicality, whether of possibility or pain, of rest and meditation. My visual art also feeds into my working process: whether it is drawing, photo-based digital work, VISPO, or painting, at some point, they all ricochet and are centrifugal to each another.
And somehow, I hope, we bring that informed sensibility to our work at Ice Floe Press.
What is the most rewarding part of the writing process, and in turn the most frustrating part of the writing process?
Robert: I have had a few periods in my ‘writing’ life where I simply was unable to write, or I didn’t know what I was writing, where it was going, or why. I guess those are periods of dormancy and transition. That’s not true these days so much. Ever since I was hit by a streetcar in Toronto, in 2014, I’ve been on a more steady roll of focused ongoing production, whether my own personal work, or working to re-centre Ice Floe Press and help create a space for a new generative community, an international family of artists who I hope find an engaging, interactive, non-alienating locale that is inspiring, a proximal zone for sharing and promoting work. You know, speaking of this accident-catalyst, my ‘ancestors’ pulled me ‘back’ from the brink of another world, and the TTC Red-Rocket streetcar formed a new metallic opacity of tautness in my thinking. I was KO’D, but got back up, this on top of a long era of social dormancy due to acquiring ME in the 1990s. After the onset of ME, I spent long stretches in isolation. Illness chiseled away at the foundation of my identity for many years fractured by more than a decade living in a kind of vicarious relationship to the world. Submerged, the external became largely about basic survival. When you are ‘down’, the system kicks you hard. I developed a deeper internal compass.
Even more than before I became ill, marginal, expressive, celebratory voices are the fountain I draw strength and inspiration from. Voices, elegant in expression of pain, rebellion, trauma and struggle most move me. I’m drawn to art positioned outside of the ‘ableist hetero mainstream,’ work where the creator(s) had to travel somewhere very deep, and remerge as witness and documentor. Both in a realist sense, or through expanded imagining and iteration, in the possibilities of fable.
How has this past year impacted you emotionally, how has it impacted you creatively if it all?
Robert: In the beginning of the 90s, my life was completely transformed by ‘a virus’ that was subsequently diagnosed as ME. I spent about a year (solid) in bed with high fevers which left me with a huge deficit of energy and a need to re-investigate what it means to be alive, from learning how to walk again to figuring out ways to make money in the Saturnine Depths of poverty’s marginalization. This year, 2020, with all its pain and variegated ruptures, I think I’ve managed vaguely well. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been in some advanced guard of the despairing and the ache for change that being sick exposes us to: the sedimentary process of sinking into the hopeless grind of capital and its insidious priorities etches into our deepest sensibilities and instinct.
We have been overwhelmed and sucker-punched by the terrifying last four years of dictator-mania, and what it means. Also, the swirling pain, world-wide, of the Pandemic has added new layers of trauma that oddly creates a whole new kind of shared experience (though the inequalities of economic division have been made even more evident as a main complexity/complicity of COVID).
I’m proud of what Moira and I, along with our team of co-editors, Adedayo Agarau, Jakky Bankong-Obi, Ankh Spice, Elisabeth Horan, and newest addition, Khashayar Mohammadi (Kramer) have been able to achieve inside the framed confines of 2020.
Moira and I went full steam ahead with our international year-long Geographies project, followed by the ongoing Dispatches from a Pandemic series, and finally, our triumphant collaborative Mother/Service/Voice project. We invited Jenny Mitchell, a phenomenal UK poet, who in her incisive body of work explores the Middle-Passage, British-Imperialism, the impact of slavery, indenture and institutionalized racism on contemporary UK life (with beautiful and brutal lyricism) to create a prompt for the series. It was our first open-call project with over 75 participating writers and artists.
When I think about it, I’m really pinching myself to realize that we have done so many rich and nuanced projects and attracted worlds of talent whose visionary works tie so sensitively and boldly into what is actually going on in the world(s) we share. I say all this with deep humility and awe, like we have somehow been a conduit for energies that pass through spaces of intention.
So, everyone reading, here’s a plug! Check out http://www.icefloepress.net for some kickass, overwhelmingly fierce, subtle, delicate, experiential, experimental and ruminative works of sensitivity and courage. We have published over 140+ writers and artists from around the globe. We have gathered a convergence of voices who have responded, magnanimously and polyphonically, to our various prompts, and we, at Ice Floe Press, under their formidable wings, have enabled the song, the roll out of daily and weekly anthology projects for the past year and a half or more. I think we are and have been building a reader-writer & art community. I live in wonder and gratitude.
- Please give us any promotional info for your work, social media, blogs, publishing company info, etc that you’d like to shout out.
Robert: Well, as I say, we are thrilled and in awe at the gathering of voices that we have conducted, like electricity, to a ground swell of intersecting, joyful convergence. Ice Floe Press feels like a total blessing, a confluence of generosity of writers and chance elements. Again, to anyone reading thru this, please do come check us out our website.
In addition to our on-line projects, we have recently published books by Nigerian-Canadian poet, Bola Opaleke (Skeleton of a Ruined Song); a full-length vol. of poetry, Boy, Bestiary, a ferocious extraordinary text by U.K. author, artist, musician and publisher of Burning House Press, Miggy Angel. Boy is a complex book about growing up in the estates of South London and ensuing gentrification. My own hybrid volume, Audacity of Form includes my writings and photo-works by Julia Skop, with digital paintings by Canadian artist, Cathy Daley. Upcoming volumes planned for 2021-2022 include: a full-length book of brilliant, edgy, poetic lyricism by Moira J. Saucer; a new chapbook of love and break-up poems from Welsh queer poet, David Hanlon; a hybrid of poems and drawings by Toronto poet and Floodlight publisher, Sam Strathman. A full-length book of VISPO and accompanying texts by Boston-based writer-artist Whiskey Radish is in the queue. Hand Book (Manual) will be a compendium of interviews, film script, misc. texts, art, letters, poems, theory and other surprises by the wondrous writing/directing duo of Lynne Sachs & Lizzie Olesker, exploring the making of and book project re-iteration of a film, Washing Society, about laundry-workers, that toured worldwide in 2019; also, Kushal Poddar’s ‘complete’ Lockdown Diaries in the form of an E-book (our first) is forthcoming. Jaclyn Piudik, NYC-Toronto experimental poet’s new chapbook, poems of mirrors and embodiment and many other projects are currently in development.
Also, check out Adedayo Agarau’s New International Voices series of new works (essays, CNF), and Kramer’s anything goes column on experimental poetics reviews and Islamic poetics, called Subterranean Chatter. We have a bunch of other projects in development from a new web-series to a new e-book series, an Ice Floe Press reading series, TBA, and sundry. We think it’s gonna be awesome.
- How you come up with the themes, and all the artwork that goes into it?
Robert: Themes for our projects emerge from us as individuals and collaborators. Moira and I talk a lot to generate the writing prompts and decide on future book projects. Then we meet as a team to talk over possibilities. This whole working process we have developed began with an invitation to be Guest Editors for the month of July, 2019 at Burning House Press (UK). Eli, Moira and I were deeply honored to be asked to put together a theme, which became Secrets and Lies. BHP is a creative, inspirational ‘monster’ of a site, now in a semi-hiatus, which has archived all of the work by writers, artists and curated projects. A publisher of edgy, innovative, queer and anti-oppressive experimental/political writing and art, BHP has been a catalyst for many creatives for at least a couple of years, if not aeons. It’s worth visiting the site, and I expect it will likely emerge in a new iteration any time soon, under the mentorship of its founder, Miggy Angel.
Thinking more about Ice Floe, when it comes to the art component, the creation of banners, Moira and I talk over visual possibilities and both contribute work. I have an enormous library of generative images that I have made over the years and continue to create. They are the ‘working’ material for manipulation and are largely thematic, atmospheric, non-programmatic. We intuitively select relational art to accompany the curated texts, whether a digitally altered photo, a painting or a VISPO. I believe, between myself and Moira, we have embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime partnership, a form of cross-pollinating of collaboration and energy magic that is so rare, and that I know is a blessing. It is a dream from which I hope to never awaken. 😊
At times, we also ask contributors to provide us with their own images, and there will definitely be further iterations as we move forward into 2021. I also like to ask visual artists whose work I admire such as Cathy Daley or UK photo-artist, Robynne Limoges, and most recently, German photographer Vera Schmittberger to contribute and participate with their own energies and visual templates.
Toronto-based poet Jaclyn Piudik is currently putting together a project on “Bodies” for the online blog for Spring, 2021. Montana based triple-threat MS Evans is also working on a project for the blog. We finalize prompts and choose whom to invite and when to open for submissions in a gentle, collaborative way that I hope provides a sanctuary, a welcoming engagement of energies in a competitive literary/art field. We are interested in moving beyond hierarchies and aim not just for ‘publishing’ for its own sake, but in choosing projects and interrogating them with breadth and interactivity and encouraging writing-as-a-gathering space rather than a zone of stress, competition, and alienation. I think this is why we attract such intense, hard-hitting and personal work, and it is what makes Ice Floe Press, hopefully, a project of merit that shall continue into the future.
The magic that is indeterminate, underground, and symphonic in its scope, concerns, and international contexts feels like a gift to continue to nourish and nurture. To conclude, though I now live in Toronto and Moira is living in Alabama, the focus for Ice Floe Press is international, and collaborative. That’s the mandate.