Bio ALYCIA PIRMOHAMED is a Canadian-born poet based in Scotland. Her debut collection, Another Way to Split Water, is published with Polygon (UK) and YesYes Books (US). She is co-founder of the Scottish BPOC Writers Network and a co-organiser of the Ledbury Poetry Critics. Alycia received an MFA from the University of Oregon and a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, and she currently teaches on the MSt. Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge. She is the recipient of several awards, including a Pushcart Prize, the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize, the 92Y Discovery Poetry Prize, the Ploughshares Emerging Writer’s Award in Poetry, the Gulf Coast Poetry Prize, and the 2020 Edwin Morgan Poetry Award. Q1: When did you start writing and whom influenced you the most? Alycia: I feel like I was always writing. As a child, I wrote stories for my younger sister and my love for prose writing continued on into adulthood. I encountered poetry a little differently. What I learned in school never really resonated with me, or at least, never compelled me to attempt writing poetry for myself. I actually started writing poetry after joining an online community, a writing forum for teenagers where we’d post and critique each other’s work. This format, seeing poetry written almost in real time, was thrilling and opened up a world of possibility for me. It was basically my first workshop experience, and this is probably why I feel community is so integral to my writing practice itself. My early influences were writers like Bhanu Kapil (who is still a major influence on my work), Richard Siken, Nazim Hikmet, Derek Walcott, and Brigit Pegeen Kelly. I feel like I still learn from the works of these poets even today. More recently, I’ve been influenced by writers like Sandeep Parmar, Julietta Singh, Aria Aber, Diana Khoi Nguyen, and Dionne Brand. I’m actually constantly reading and finding new influences/inspirations, so this is a difficult question! Q2: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer? Alycia: This moment, if there was one, was probably during my final undergraduate poetry workshop. I decided then to apply for an MFA (even as a bio major!) because I realised I was happiest and most fulfilled when writing. I also met some of my very best friends, Nico Lachat and Adi Onita, in that workshop and they are still pursuing writing like I am. It was really special and transformative for a lot of us, I think. Q3: Who has helped you most with writing and career? Alycia: To be honest, I have had so much help from so many people I couldn’t really name them all! It really took guidance, kindness and generosity from so many teachers and mentors and friends. Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced your work? Alycia: I grew up in Alberta, Canada, and I think this has deeply influenced my work. A lot of my poems reflect on and articulate my different formative experiences in cities like Edmonton, and in very small rural towns like Vilna. I also write a lot about the landscapes present in Alberta – some poems follow journeys or experiences in the Rocky Mountains, or meditate on the long stretches of prairie that were so prominent where I lived. I hope that Another Way to Split Water echoes with these different spaces; I hope it illustrates the love I have for the land. In terms of other places influencing my work, I also have an interest in figurative homelands. I’m interested in crafting figurations where physical spaces coexist, where language crosses borders. The environment of Scotland, where I currently stay, is also present in my work. I find myself drawn to writing about bodies of water here, from rivers to the seaside. I also visited Dar es Salaam with my father in 2019; this is where he was born, and though this place/those travels are absolutely an undercurrent in this book, I do find it difficult to write about that experience explicitly still. The poems I’ve written that orbit those travels don’t feel right, or they feel forced. I’m still figuring out whether that means I let them go, or if it means the poems are yet to arrive. Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to you? Alycia: Although I cherish Another Way to Split Water, because it took so long to put together, and so many years of attention and care, I have to say Second Memory is the most meaningful to me. Writing collaboratively with Pratyusha brought out so much more in my work than would have ever happened alone. Responding to her words ignited different thoughts and prompted me to navigate material I might already think about often in new and exciting ways. Also, two publishers, Baseline Press and Guillemot Press, created beautiful physical versions of the work. The book feels like a special piece, an artefact almost. Q6: Favorite activities to relax? Alycia: I love being outdoors and in nature, and especially love camping and hiking. Some of my favourite places include the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest, and I’ve more recently enjoyed visiting the east coast of Scotland. Another thing I love to do, and really miss since moving away from home, is have a really good laugh with my sisters. Q7: What is a favorite line/ stanza/lyric from your writing? Alycia: ‘Faded’, which was originally published in Glass Poetry Journal, and which opens my collection has the following favourite lines: Remind me that I am not a swan — I am a long night of rain with my mother's eyes. Q8: Do you have any recent or upcoming books, music, events, etc that you would like to promote? Alycia: I have a few events lined up in London, Newcastle, and Edinburgh in early October, and a digital event with the Sylvia Plath Literary Festival on the 22nd of October. Also, the US Edition of Another Way to Split Water will be released in mid-November with YesYes Books! It’s currently up for pre-order with 20% off.
Q1. When did you start writing and whom influenced you the most?
Chuck: I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I was always scribbling stuff down and drawing comic books.
Q2. Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Chuck: I don’t think it was ever some conscious decision. I just was always creating something and writing was the one thing that crossed over into all mediums I enjoyed.
Q3. Who has helped you most with writing and career?
Chuck: Obviously I had a massive amount of support from my family and friends. And my friend and fellow writer Benjamin DeVos convinced me to start submitting my poetry, so shouts to him for that.
Q4. Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced your work?
Chuck: I grew up in the shadow of Philadelphia, which is a large influence on me creatively. There has always been a great amount of artistic talent surrounding the Philly area. Everything from murals, to music, to graffiti.
If anyone has read my work they can easily see that traveling and interacting with people is a huge part of my writing. Road stories and the bizarre communities we infiltrate can be the most powerful inspiration.
Q5. What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to you?
My poetry is probably my most meaningful creative work, as it is completely freeing during its process. However, I still get excited like a kid when I see my comic book scripts come to life.
Q6. What are your favorite activities to relax?
Chuck: I frequent the movies and go to as many concerts as my wallet will allow.
Q7. What is a favorite piece of writing you have done so far? Any meaning behind why?
Chuck: This changes every so often. As of today I am going with my poetry collection, Working Title, that was released in 2020 with Unsolicited Press. There’s a lot of myself, my friends, and family in those poems.
Q8. What kind of music inspires you the most? What is a song or songs that always come back to you as an inspiration? Or what is a writer or book you always come back to when you’re needing that extra inspiration?
Chuck: I hate to say it, but I tend to listen to a little of everything. Artists range from Bob Dylan to the Wu-Tang Clan. I grew up surrounded by skateboarding and hip hop so obviously rap is a main inspiration for me.
While I write however, I tend to have on jazz. Some that have been recently helpful are Chet Baker, Charles Mingus, Irreversible Entanglements, and Yesterday’s New Quintet.
As for writing, I always come back to Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the comics of Dave McKean and Howard Mackie.
Q9. Do you have any recent or upcoming books, music, events, projects that you would like to promote?
Chuck: I recently released my newest poetry collection, People Watching, with Alien Buddha Press. I’m extremely proud of this work and is easily what I think to be one of my best as it highly focuses on my more observational style of poetry, used to deal with internal demons and concerns.
Plus that cover is just too sick.
Q10. Bonus Question: Any funny or strange stories you’d like to share during your creative journey?
Many, but none that should probably be printed.
Bio: Chuck is a writer and winner of the Mad Cave Studios 2020 Talent Hunt. In 2021 he participated in Grimm Tales from the Cave anthology from Mad Cave Studios. Chuck released two works of fiction and his fourth poetry collection, People Watching, was released by Alien Buddha Press.
Q1: When did you start writing and who influenced you the most?
Jess: I started seriously writing poetry in December 2021, but I have been a writer for a long time. I began my career as a journalist and photographer in the Marine Corps in 2002, and I’ve been a writer in some capacity ever since. My influences—and I hope they shine through in my poems from time to time—are a mix of classic adventure fiction authors like Melville, London and Kipling, and poets including the Roberts (Frost and Bly) and Dickinson. I also love the New England transcendentalists, Thoreau, Emerson and their ilk.
Q2: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Jess: I’m not sure I ever wanted to be a writer, specifically. I’ve always been a creative person, and that comes through in different ways. In my day job, I’m a graphic designer and video producer. I love photography, and yes, I love writing. I’ve always been in awe of and jealous of painters, and I feel like poetry is my way of painting with words.
There was a specific moment when I knew I needed to write poetry. Last winter, I was watching The Durrells in Corfu with my wife, and the mother recited Dowson’s poem, Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam. It blew me away. Shortly after that, I wrote my first poem which would become Tides (Prometheus Dreaming, May 2022). After that, I was hooked.
Q3: Who has helped you most with writing and career?
Jess: Well, my dad was a very creative person. He always encouraged my writing (and inspired much of it), and he passed down his wonderful/infuriating ADHD brain to me. As a journalist in the Marines, I was fortunate to have two mentors who truly cared about quality writing and my progress as a writer—Ethan Rocke and Scott Dunn. As a poet, I’ve found great help on Reddit’s subs r/OCpoetry and r/poetry_critics, and more recently, I’ve found a wonderful community on Twitter.
Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced your work?
Jess: I grew up in Pflugerville, Texas (for reference, this is where they filmed the TV show, Friday Night Lights). Shortly after High School, I joined the Marines and was stationed in San Diego, then I moved to Rhode Island, back to San Diego, then Massachusetts, then Tennessee, and now back in Massachusetts for good.
I think the way my place of origin influences my work is still unfolding. I grew up in a Southern, white, conservative, middle class family, and as I’ve been out in the world making my own experiences, I’ve been able to look at things I thought were gospel (pun intended) through a different lens. It’s apparent in some of my work. Empathy and open mindedness are ongoing endeavors that require deliberate practice.
Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to you?
Jess: Without a doubt, it’s the current poetry collection I’m working on. It’s deeply personal, technically sound, and I’m incredibly proud of it. Earlier this year, I found my old creative writing journal from my early 20s, and it is just filled with shit (which I thought was quite good at the time). Now, at 39 (or 40, depending on when this is published), I’ve really found my voice. My writing has a clear purpose, and I’ve harvested more life experiences for inspiration.
Q6: Favorite activities to relax?
Jess: Nothing crazy—hanging out with my family. Watching TV, hiking, fishing. I work from home, and I usually like to get up before everyone else and go for a drive in the New England countryside with the windows down and music up.
Q7: What is a favorite line/stanza/lyric from your writing?
Jess: My first couplet from Tides will always be special to me. It’s the first piece of “real” poetry I wrote:
All bones and brains in battered boxes— my father’s ashes lost at sea. A more recent stanza I’m especially fond of is from my poem, Powder Point Bridge: We’re flowing back and back when she flashes teenage eyes from the side of her shades and I go all irresponsible; the kids, the house, the job all vanish for a breath.
Q8: What kind of music inspires you the most? What is a song or songs that always come back to you as an inspiration?
Jess: I’m not sure I find a ton of writing inspiration in music. When I’m out exploring/thinking/brainstorming, listen to a lot of dark classical, post rock and lo-fi hip hop. My ADHD makes it difficult for me to focus on tasks if I’ve got vocals pumping into my ears. When I don’t need to focus, I tend to gravitate toward artists with strong lyrics—the Decemberists are probably my favorite. Their singer, Colin Meloy is a fantastic writer, and I really respect the writing of Benjamin Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie/The Postal Service). Right now, I’ve got Ethel Cain’s album Preacher’s Daughter on repeat.
Q9: Do you have any recent or upcoming books, events, other projects that you would like to promote?
Jess: Yes! My first chapbook, A Break in the Spine (Alien Buddha Press) will be available Oct. 26. If you read it, all your wildest dreams will come true.
Jess Levens lives with his wife, sons and dogs in Holliston, Massachusetts, where he draws inspiration from New England’s landscapes and history. His debut chapbook, A Break in the Spine, is available from Alien Buddha Press, and his poetry has been featured in Fevers of the Mind, The Dillydoun Review, Prometheus Dreaming and Roi Fainéant Press, among other literary journals. Jess is a Marine Corps veteran and Northeastern University alum.
Heels & Caged Minds by Pasithea Chan
You don’t have to wear my heels to know how it feels- to walk in my shoes and be unable to choose. Yet you choose to keep your distance and use- all that I see to maroon me in your desolate sea. I look into your eyes and feel them slice through my heart as you take me apart. I give you my back, but you keep track of all that I despise spicing them with lies. You wear your ambitions like a hat cutting through clouds as you tread my grounds. I collide into you trying to get to you only to realize I’ve lost you not to you. You’ve lost all expression as I have no intention- to change your opinion or seek your affirmation. I’ve made my decision; you are not my redemption. Thank you for your manipulation and oppression. I now follow my passion not your obsession. In your eyes, my kind wear heels to experience your passion as a privilege of being conquered. Today, I wear heels to remind myself how it feels to be happy tipping over your entitled kind. It is my right to live a free life with a free mind free of caged mentalities and cagey personalities. A Poetry Showcase with Pasithea Chan (September 2022) Clouded Vision by Lynn White I knew you were there, out here somewhere. I tried to find you but my vision clouded. With my head in the clouds I could only dream. Now I know I must let you go free. Free with the birds. Poetry Showcase from Lynn White
influenced by “Where the Wild Roses Grow” by Nick Cave & Kylie Minogue.
Listen to the tunes from the willow garden’s dunes. Imagine Ophelia, Millais’ muse posing for patriarchal abuse. Prostitute or virgin are terms we use to justify or glorify violence as we subconsciously react to art for things we want. We use music to permanently reproduce public culture into an aesthetic produce. We embalm women with brushes as an emblem to pass oppression and humiliation below perception. We sing along lyrics that symbolize transgression to justify the invasion of a woman's body in the name of passion. It's okay because if it's a rose, then it's pretty. All pretty things must die anyway. Rose Connelly was a rose that was made to pose long before Elisa rose to make us hit pause. We listened to her lyrics about society’s hysterics- enabled and pedaled by politicians and clerics. They will tell you the rose had thorns and maybe horns but I will tell you the rose never chose those who picked her up and finished her with their paws. Not all animals use their claws, but humans are one of those. Neither Elisa nor Rose and who else knows wanted to be men’s selected rose. How many more do we have to find in the meadows before we start seeing a corpse not a rose? Bloody is not just a color when horror is a demeanor we elusively mirror. So, I ask you, how can scarlet bring warmth to ice from blood let? Wild roses suffer with every cover we subconsciously muster and mutter. It’s about time for the rose to turn into a cause for social justice to end women’s woes. There’s nothing rosy about a tragedy defiling dignity to entertain inhumanity. Author’s Notes: Inspired by Nick Cave & Kylie Minogue’s Where the Wild Roses Grow. https://youtu.be/lDpnjE1LUvE Poetry/Stories inspired by “Elvis Costello-Veronica” David L O’Nan & Pasithea Chan A Poetry Showcase with Pasithea Chan (September 2022) Bio: Pasithea is an impressionist poet who dabbles in art and poetry. She enjoys writing about life and her experiences from different perspectives. She believes in art in poetry as in exploring art to emphasize its role in juicing creativity out of a quill. She enjoys writing poetry in symbolism laced with philosophy and psychology. Combined with varied styles and topics, her motto will always be: poetry is a passionate expression kindled by an impression unlimited by public conviction. To catch more of her work follow her on Instagram @pasitheachan or twitter @pasitheachan and on Ello @ello.co/pasitheaanimalibera where you can find more of her historical fiction and mythological or cultural short stories.