Thursday, August 4, 2011

Writers Talk - Nancy Krygowski

Happy Thursday, everybody!  We’re here with the latest installment of Writers Talk, which is an interview with Robert Frost’s Banjo’s newest contributor, Nancy Krygowski.  I’m excited about this one!

Poet Nancy Krygowski is an adult literacy instructor and was co-founder & poet booker for the Gist Street Reading Series. Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, River Styx, Southern Poetry Review, 5 A.M., and other magazines. She is the recipient of a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Individual Artist Grant and awards from the Academy of American Poets and the Association of Writers & Writing Programs.

In addition, Nancy’s book Velocity won the 2006 Starrett Prize & was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press.  The University’s press release stated, “Poet Nancy Krygowski is a fresh, surprising voice that speaks for the intelligent heart in each of us,” while poet Gerald Stern, who selected Velocity for the Starrett Prize, described Nancy in this way, ““This is a wide-eyed, assertive, wild, well-read, street-smart, edgy, loving, suffering, heaven-crazed poet. It’s a joy to find her.”

If you’re a regular Robert Frost's Banjo reader, you know that Nancy Krygowski has stepped in as the blog’s “Visiting Poet” while L.E. (AKA Dani) Leone is off on a series of jaunts.  Based on Nancy’s first poem, “Moving Van,” (which you can read at this link) & this interview, I have to agree with Stern’s assertion that “it’s a joy to find her.”  I’m very happy to have Nancy participating in the blog even on a temporary basis.  Don’t forget: next poem by Nancy will appear next Tuesday, August 9th, & her poems will appear every other Tuesday alternating with regular contributor Barbie Dockstader Angell, for the next while!

& now—the interview!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

I grew up in a big, practical, Polish family, and though lots of reading happened in our house, I never thought that actual people wrote what we read.  In college, I started to hang around people who identified themselves as writers, real live writers.  This was a huge deal for me.  I had written poems for myself since I was young but never even thought to show them to anyone.  When I found these poets and fiction writers (Robert Frost’s Banjo’s Dani Leone was one), my world started to shift. 

At first, hanging out with writers affirmed my identity as a reader—I thought of myself as an appreciator of their work.  Then I got up the nerve to show my poems to my writer pals, and things started to change.  They liked what they read, and I liked that.  I was in graduate school in New Hampshire at that time, not for creative writing, and I brazenly showed some poems to Charles Simic to see if he would let me into a workshop.  He did.  That’s when I started to feel like a poet. 

I struggle with my identity as a writer. Yes, I’m a poet, I know this, but writing poems is still, at least initially, something I do for myself. I get personal satisfaction from writing a poem that I like. I feel way more at ease identifying as a teacher because teaching is something I do for others. (I teach English as a second language, mainly to refugees, and specialize in teaching reading skills.)  I get a larger, social satisfaction from that.

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc.  

The most fascinating writing process for me was putting together the final draft of Velocity.  I had gathered up poems and sent them out to book competitions and even got good responses, but I knew they weren’t working as a book.  The poems weren’t bouncing off each other, speaking to each other enough.  I showed the collection to a smart poet friend, and he asked the simplest question I hadn’t seriously considered:  What is the book about?

I don’t usually think of poems in terms of about, like you do with novels or books of non-fiction. So I got on my living room floor and started making various stacks of poems.  I stacked poems by content, by emotion, by length, by whether or not they contained swear words, anything to try to see the poems in new ways. I kept asking myself, What is it about?  After many stacks, I made a conscious decision to use my sister’s death as the book’s backdrop, which meant cutting poems I liked, digging up and breathing life into some older poems, and writing new ones.  I made the more intuitive decision to order the poems to recreate the feeling you have a few years after someone you love dies—you go on with life, but the death is always on your mind, sometimes staring directly at you, sometimes hovering as a feeling of loss that permeates how you see the world, that sense that something is always missing. 

When I finished, I didn’t show the manuscript to anyone; I sent it off to competitions.  I felt like the book would either be taken or I was going to give up (I had been at the process of sending out the manuscript for about 4 years), and at that point, I thought either end would be okay.  I’m really, really happy things turned out as they did. 

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process? (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)  

Damn. I know this sounds unprofessional, but honestly, I feel pretty disconnected from the publishing process.  I’m awful at sending out poems to journals.  It feels too impersonal, too distant, like I’m depositing little drips of thought into a very large and hard to find bucket.  Publishing a book was much better—I felt a huge sense of accomplishment—but it made me confront the fact that part of publishing is self-promotion, which I suck at.  I’m essentially an introvert.  (See below.)  Nevertheless, my favorite kind of ‘publishing’ is doing readings.  I have a strong belief that poems should be heard, and though I write with an emphasis on sound and hope that readers can hear my poems on the page, I really like the immediacy of reading to listeners, of having the poems in my voice filling a room.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

Writing has brought a lot of great people who are writers into my life:  Dani Leone, Aaron Smith, Sherrie Flick, Neno Perrotta, Terrance Hayes.  But writing makes me a pretty serious introvert.  (Or being an introvert made me a writer and trying to get the work of writing done makes me more of an introvert?)   In either case, because I am a slow, often unfocused writer, I need lots of time alone to create anything.  I need silence.  I need to read and stare and listen to people on buses.  I need to take walks by myself.  I go interior and I don’t want to talk.  I have months of not seeing my dear friends.  Writing hasn’t helped my social life. 

I’m married to an engineer—a very eclectic, wonderful, engineer—and writing plays a very small role in our relationship. Tom seems to like the idea that I’m a writer (I can’t say for sure if he’s ever read my book) maybe only because that gives him time alone to read whatever geeky stuff he reads.  The truth is, I like having the perspective that writing is simultaneously hugely important and not important at all. My marriage helps me remember that.  My husband’s at work making decisions that will affect whether or not people get clean water, and I’m spending some mornings wondering if I can use the word giggle in a poem.  I never want to take myself too seriously as a writer; this helps.

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any?  This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community. 

Right now, my main community is my dear, old friend Dani Leone (see her sweet response to this question) and my wonderful poetry students at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.  Dani and I write for each other each week (though she’s behind).  I love her wild, sturdy, beautiful writing and am committed to our pact of making sure it comes into the world.

My poetry students inspire me with their joy, their willingness to be pushed and to share, and with all they have to say in their poems and to each other. They make me happy about poetry. (In fact, I’m using my RFB posts to showcase what I create from the prompts I give them.)  Also, I’m lucky to have great poet friends like Aaron Smith and Lois Williams to turn to when I need smart poetic eyes and serious edits, plus other writing and visual artist friends who I can talk to about creating in general.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

I’m working on another manuscript, and my goal is to have a draft done in the next few months.  I’m just about at the point where I want to start making stacks on my floor, and that excites me. 

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?

The metal slide you put on your finger and wiggle around to make those soulful, eerie steel guitar sounds. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Two Poems by JoAnne McKay

From The Fat Plant

Diamond People

There was a shooting once in Bristol
on a brilliant shining august day.
Unsurprisingly, I can remember
the name of the killer: Crackhead Trevor.
The man who died?
His name? His name I have forgot,
but not his roles: jewellery shop manager,
victim, nor the golden hair still gleaming
on the remaining side of his head –
it was a shotgun job, you see.

And there were others too that blinding day
whose names… whose names I have forgot.
The woodentop, recently excised
from collator’s office where he had sat
amongst paper shadows and bad men’s names
for far too many informing years,
he had the brains to grab the witness
and drive her straightway to St. Pauls
to tour the area to see if he,
the suspect (name unknown then) could be found.

And that witness was a youngish woman
with a daughter dressed in sparkling blue
who she gave away to a passer-by
older woman, but stranger still
trusting child’s life to an unknown other
to seek the killer of an unknown man.

She found him, by the way, and I was there.

And we chased Trevor in our escort
and knocked him down and he got up
and we jumped out and ran and got him
and as I held him, found I was holding still
the cigarette lit as we left the scene
tiny comet trail sparks on bloody jeans.

Once he was safe at the station and swabbed
I returned to shining Park Street,
where the sunlight bouncing off the stone
made the whole rising street heavenly.
When another woman walked up to me
and handed over an eternity ring
worth fifty-seven thousand pounds, 
and she looked so sad that a man had died,
so she did her bit, for this could be
important, unsoiled, evidence.

Trevor had been emptying his pockets as he ran
and in the following hazy days
many others, nameless now
handed us precious, shining jewels
whose glints made hard certain that we’d found
the route Trevor ran down to get to ground.
All these people, these good, good people
and the only name I can now recall
is that
of Crackhead Trevor.

JoAnne McKay
© 2009-present

From Venti

The Magdalene Fleur-de-Lis

Call me Iris. Call me Lily. Your flower.
I’ll keep the boys’ chins up in wartime,
French letters and kisses a lover’s mime
that only costs them three francs for an hour.
It’s memory of me that lends them power,
yellow flag on an azure bed through time
of all the symbol whores I reign sublime;
meanings bloom with every passing shower.
Bas-relief in Babylon, carried by kings,
my spear-head as sceptre shines divine right,
the splayed sepal structure inside me cries
to the Three-In-One whose salvation sings
from within to those who can hear the light:
I split as prism before your rainbowed eyes.

JoAnne McKay
© 2009-present

Writers Talk - JoAnne McKay

Please be sure to check out JoAnne McKay's Writers Talk interview on Robert Frost's Banjo!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

House of Exile – James Weeks

House of Exile

My address is Oliver Ave, Oakland CA 94605; I welcome cash, money orders, credit cards and flowers. Do not send ill will or personal problems—we strive to get our troubles locally. Several years ago, for example, an elderly woman in my neighborhood, who might be en route to hell, called the Oakland authorities and claimed I (of all people) was raising chickens in my backyard– something that immigrants and rural folks have been known to do. These days, I get my eggs from the supermarket just like everybody else.

Chickens are not welcome in Oakland. Neither are goats, roosters, ducks and pigs–the very creatures that remind me of home. Chickens played an important role in "Operation Breadbasket" –my ambitious project to become somewhat self-sufficient in food production. Besides chickens, Operation Breadbasket also called for growing organic vegetables and raising New Zealand rabbits for meat.

But "Operation Breadbasket" was about more than just food. Deep down, I think, I was trying to reconnect with my Caribbean roots. Chickens strut in and out of backyards back home, without a care in the world. And one of the things I miss the most about home is the sound of roosters crowing. Shouldn’t all beings awaken to this concert of nature?

My neighbors don’t seem to think so. We live on the same block but in different worlds, and sometimes these worlds collide. And when one isn't clashing on the outside, one clashes on the inside –often it's rooted in nostalgia but sometimes it's prompted by plain old guilt.

"When are you coming back to live?" asked the mother of a close friend the last time I went home to visit. "Are you going to stay away while outsiders come in and take over the island?" She wasn't joking; she was visibly upset and wanted an answer.
This badgering went on for several minutes. I felt like I and other expatriates were being blamed for the islands' woes. I didn't know what to say. "I'll be back," I finally said sheepishly. But honestly –I don't know when. I'm married, and I have a family. When making decisions I have to think about the welfare of five people. Maybe I'll return to live when I retire or when the kids are in college, I sometimes tell myself.

Nostalgia, however, has to be weighed against economic, political, social and cultural realities, and sometimes the realities conspire against you. The Virgin Islands are in dire economic straights, salaries are low and we have mounting social problems just like anywhere else. Yet I still feel the ancestral pull....and the years passing.

James Weeks
© 2008-2011. All rights reserved

Writers Talk - James Weeks

Please check out the Writers Talk interview with James Weeks on Robert Frost's Banjo!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Two Poems by Barbie Angell

the meeting.

i bumped into Truth on the subway,
his clothing was ragged and torn,
and he looked with dismay
at Hatred and Rage,
and with pity at Anger and Scorn.

it seems he had left with the world in this mess
and had given up trying to try.
and he gazed up at me,
with this look so serene,
and the tear of Fate caught in his eye.

he had hidden himself in the details
by sealing up all of the doors.
he retreated inside,
just a new place to hide,
far from the violence and wars.

he had lost all his faith in Humanity
and Humanity lost faith in him,
as he started to fear for his sanity,
seeing children abused
and the face of Love bruised
while Ignorance lied on a whim.

’cause he needed a decade to think
and mix it around in his brain.
the Hurt we inflict,
the Evil, the Sick,
the Torture, the Horrors, the Pain.

he returned with a sense of frustration
that no one could help him defeat.
quite unable to find
a Peace in his mind
that would aid his attempts in the street.

see he couldn’t abide by Injustice
and he didn’t find Racism fair
and he just couldn’t see
why someone like me
could’ve found any reason to care.

i bumped into Truth on the subway
and our meeting just doesn’t seem real.
to encounter blind grace
in such a chance place,
that’s made up of concrete and steel.

barbie dockstader angell
© 1995-2011

She’s Come Undone.

I saw her today
and she’s still unraveling.
She twists her hands in her lap,
as if she could somehow knot the ends.
For a sense of closure maybe,
or to keep herself together.
Either way, it doesn’t seem to be working.
Pieces of her scattered across the coffee shop floor.
They mixed in with the stray cigarette butts
and empty sugar packets finally released
from the confines of their ceramic caddy.
And I stared at her.
Wanting to talk to her and let her know that
I was certain that a glue would hit the shelves of
some tiny, little environmentally friendly store for
$29.95 an application and she would be saved from
the daily chore of reassembling her jigsaw self.
But before I could decide just how to correctly
phrase all that was swimming furiously through my
brain, she was gone.
She left behind quite a bit of herself that afternoon.
And it took the bus boy a half an hour to clean up the mess....

barbie dockstader angell
© 2011

Writers Talk - Barbie Angell

A happy Thursday, dear readers!  As advertised, today we have Writers Talk, & this is someone with a refreshing & to my mind, quite unique take on the writing biz. 

As has been the case with several of the writers involved in this series, I’ve gotten to know Barbie Angell on Twitter, where I find her humor & her perspective on the world & its quirkiness to be both compelling & entertaining.  As I came to know Barbie a little better, I began exploring the poetry on her blog, & was delighted to find a fresh & unique voice, chockful of wit & demonstrating a sparkling facility for rhyme & rhythm— undervalued skills in "poebiz" these days.  Here’s a brief writerly biography:

It has been said that if Shel Silverstein & Dorothy Parker had conceived a child, the result would have been Barbie Dockstader Angell. Razor wit & simple rhyming verse combine to create an innovative style. Barbie has named it “poetry for the common man.” (Although she does have plenty of women readers as well.) Bitter, satirical, humorous & sometimes brutally honest, her portfolio contains everything from rhyme to free verse, children’s and adults, as well as short stories.
Barbie was raised in Illinois & has lived in the Asheville area since 1999. She has been writing since 1986 and has won awards both academically and artistically for her poems & short stories. Barbie has been published in small press books, magazines & newspapers throughout the years & has performed her work for audiences small & large around the country.
& yes, she does have an odd obsession with Alice in Wonderland.

Barbie Angell says: “my life is in progress….constantly seeking renovations but unable to find an affordable contractor.”

I know you’ll enjoy this interview, & please check out a video of Babrie Angell reading her "Ode to Shel Silverstein" at the end of this post. Then you can read two more of her poems—“the meeting” & “She’s Come Undone”—in the post just below; these poems are also posted or on the Writers Talk blog!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer? 

from the time i was 6 years old, my dream was to be a lawyer.  i had seen the t.v. show “paperchase”and desperately wanted to make that my life.  while i was living in the children’s home “Mooseheart”my english teacher Miss Ruch encouraged me & i won the only award that the school gave out for writing; the memorial day award.  i met Jerry Dellinger my senior year & he convinced me to turn down my acceptance to harvard & instead attend lincoln college where he taught theater.  by my second semester freshman year, he had become such a force in my life that i didn’t hesitate to follow his advice.  he assured me that i was a writer not a lawyer and he encouraged that up until his death in august of 2010.

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc. 

a great deal of my pieces begin with one line.  typically it’s something that i say in conversation or post on a social media site.  there are poems which i have been revamping for years and ones which took only a few hours.  i am constantly editing & revamping my work.  mostly i try to look at anything from a new perspective.  of course, this becomes difficult when the perspective i’m trying to steer away from is my own.  there is a piece entitled “the meeting”which i began writing in 1995.  it starts with the line, “i bumped into Truth on the subway”  i was hanging out with my friend michael horn at denny’s after seeing the movie “mr. holland’s opus”and for some reason i spoke those words.  at michael’s urging i wrote them down with the intention of using them in a poem.  it was a full year before i ever was able to continue that thought.  the poem was originally “completed”in 1996 and went on to help me garner much attention, multiple publications and achieve a 12th place out of 1400 poets in competition.  last year i gave it a complete overhaul and i still don’t know if i’m done with it.  at times i write while listening to favorite music for this is Peter Gabriel....but other times all i need is a place to sit and ideally be uninterrupted.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc) ?

my poems are normally not accepted in the world of academic poetry.  rhyme goes in and out of vogue and most publications do not even finish reading a work in that style.  i consider my writing to be “poetry for people who don’t know they like poetry.” because of this, i typically get passed over in publications geared toward “traditional”verse and instead find opportunities in places where one does not normally find any type of poetry.  i currently publish my own books as it is difficult to find an entry into the world of publishing when one has an untapped area in the world of literature.  the bias in literary circles doesn’t bother me however.  if one is so close-minded that they will not accept rhyme as a viable art form just because it wasn’t written 75 to 100 years ago....then that is obviously their own issue to deal with.

Has being a writer affected your relationships? 

absolutely.  arguing with spouses in the past, the thought of, “are you going to write about this?’or “was that line or piece about me?”has come up.  when i was living in bloomington, illinois i was incredibly well-known as a performing poet.  this caused quite a large problem with my boyfriend at the time since i was garnering more attention than he was a musician.  we simply couldn’t go anywhere without my being recognized & asked to sign something or recited a piece.  i’m far less well known here in asheville, nc but it never bothered me at all.  i think that it’s really only an issue because i’m a performer and not just a reader or writer. 

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any?  This may be a “real”or “virtual”(in more than one sense) community. 
most of my community is online.  i’ve found them to be predominantly supportive, even if my style of work isn’t what they believe is the “correct”way to write poetry.  i get a lot of messages and critiques from people who attempt to convince me that i shouldn’t rhyme.  they seem to not notice that i do write in a variety of styles including micro-fiction, prose and free-verse.  but, as i’ve said, the anti-rhyme perspective doesn’t concern me at all.  if i painted my house green and green was someone’s least favorite color then their dislike wouldn’t bother why should a dislike for rhyme be an issue for me either?

What are your future goals in terms of writing? 

literary world domination.  : )  i’d like to get a literary agent and ideally be published with Grand Central Publishing.  my goal used to be Harper Collins because they published Shel Silverstein, but Grand Central publishes two of my favorite authors....Rachel Simon & Steve Martin.  i’d also like to have work in The New Yorker.  Dorothy Parker and Steve Martin were both regular contributors and i feel that my work would be well-received by the magazine’s audience.

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?  

the violin.  it’s an instrument which can be used both as a violin or a fiddle.  the versatility of it is reminiscent of my variety of styles and genres. as i understand it, a slight change in pressure and tempo can change the same combination of string, wood and space into an entirely different instrument.  that appeals to me and is precisely what i attempt to do with my words.  recently a theater company in illinois produced some of my poetry for the stage.  i wasn't involved with any part of the production, not the choice of poems, order of pieces or how they were performed.  i was happily surprised to see that some work, which i had always thought presented itself as comedic, came off well as dramatic or vice versa.  i was honored to discover that not only was my writing far more adaptable than i had imagined, but also able to be enjoyed as a performance even without me being onstage.

it is my habit online to type in all lower case unless i capitalize to illustrate respect or for emphasis.  this being an online interview i chose to continue this practice....i hope that it has not interfered with your understanding of my responses. : )  thank you for reading.