Friday, October 26, 2007

Charles Simic

Charles Simic (b. 1938) is a great American poet whose influences are easily traced to his European upbringing in the midst of the upheaval during and just after World War II. Simic’s poetry richly draws on the bewildering despair and disorientation of those early experiences, retold in the modern vernacular with hidden treasures to be mined by the careful reader. “I’m sort of the product of history; Hitler and Stalin were my travel agents,” he said in a recent interview. “If they weren’t around, I probably would have stayed on the same street where I was born. My family, like millions of others, had to pack up and go, so that has always interested me tremendously: human tragedy and human vileness and stupidity.”

Simic, born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, immigrated to the United States in 1954 at the age of 16. He grew up in Chicago, received his BA from NYU, and is a professor emeritus of American literature and creative writing at the University of New Hampshire. In many ways a self-made man, Simic, found a voice in the 1970’s in minimalist poetry which inferred deeper meaning from ordinary experience. Simic held a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant from 1984 to 1989, won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1990, and succeeded Donald Hall as the 15th U.S. Poet Laureate, in August, 2007.

Simic’s poetry once received some criticism as being too obtuse, his poems likened to “tightly constructed Chinese puzzle boxes.” However, this opaque quality to his poetry is now almost universally seen as a prominent attribute of his genius. Indeed, Simic himself did not deny the deeper side to his poetry, saying, “Words make love on the page like flies in the summer heat and the poet is only the bemused spectator.”

James Billington of the Library of Congress, on the occasion of announcing Simic’s laureate, said he admired the poet because his poems were “both accessible and deep… the lines are memorable.” Billy Collins has remarked that he often reads a spate of Charles Simic to get him into a mood for writing. It's helpful to read Simic out loud. He doesn't use fancy language or big words, but the images he builds are lasting. You can easily log on to a website and with one click hear him recite some of his poetry: Simic Readings. The following is a striking ending to a poem you can find at this site describing some interesting qualities of a fork:

Fork (last stanza)

As you hold it in your hand,
As you stab with it into a piece of meat,
It is possible to imagine the rest of the bird:
Its head which like your fist
Is large, bald beakless, and blind.

Here’s an excerpt from a poem entitled “My Turn to Confess,” from Simic’s 2005 book, “My Noiseless Entourage (Harcourt). In it one captures the ineffable task of writing poetry, couched in an illusory metaphor of a dog trying to explain why he barks.

A dog trying to write a poem on why he barks,
That’s me, dear reader!
They were about to kick me out of the library
But I warned them,
My master is invisible and all-powerful.
Still, they kept dragging me out by my tail.

One of my favorite Simic poems is Paradise Motel, a haunting commentary on war, undoubtedly rehearsed from memories of his childhood years, but set in the freakish veil of having to view it through the voyeuristic eyes of the television screen.

Paradise Motel (first stanza)

Millions were dead; everybody was innocent.
I stayed in my room. The President
Spoke of war as of a magic love potion.
My eyes were opened in astonishment.
In a mirror my face appeared to me
Like a twice-canceled postage stamp.

Another classic Simic poem is Hotel Insomnia, a telling of an incident that so many of us can instantly relate to, but spoken with such fine language and imagery, that the mental picture captured is one that sticks around for some time. It’s the kind of poem you always want to go back to, if only for it’s powerful visual representation. However, don’t be fooled by the brilliant images. Below the surface is a chilling, powerful and emotionally provocative poem. Here is the closing stanza:

At 5 A.M. the sound of bare feet upstairs.
The "Gypsy" fortuneteller,
Whose storefront is on the corner,
Going to pee after a night of love.
Once, too, the sound of a child sobbing.
So near it was, I thought
For a moment, I was sobbing myself.

The Supreme Moment is an astonishing poem with a curtailed, blunt, and some might say, anticlimactic ending. But I love this poem that speaks of the moment before annihilation, the boot acting and reacting in its own consciousness and consequence, a pervasive metaphor for human action (or apathy); the quaking ant, powerless and futile in its hope, has only a moment to see its frail life pass before itself, in the reflection (quite literally) from a boot. Here is the opening stanza..

As an ant is powerless
Against a raised boot,
And only has an instant
To have a bright idea or two.
The black boot so polished,
He can see himselfReflected in it, distorted,
Perhaps made largerInto a huge monster ant
Shaking his arms and legs

Of all Charles Simic’s poems, the one that has sticks with me the longest is a wry personification of death, entitled Eyes Fastened With Pins. Perhaps no other personification runs the risk of tiring out its own metaphor than that of death, but Simic succeeds where others have failed in the plain speech of the poem, and the detached viewpoint presented. The poem opens,

How much death works,
No one knows what a long
Day he puts in. The little
Wife always alone
Ironing death's laundry.

We’re quickly drawn into the nine-to-five of Death, watching him roam through the town looking for “someone with a bad cough” and finding him bewildered, with the wrong address and even “death can’t figure it out.” The poem ends in a tour de’force of human identification, to say nothing of drop-dead humor (pun intended):

Death with not even a newspaper
To cover his head, not even
A dime to call the one pining away,
Undressing slowly, sleepily,
And stretching naked
On death's side of the bed.

Charles Simic is currently co-Poetry Editor of the Paris Review. He received the Wallace Stevens Award in 2007 from the Academy of American Poets. Below is a bibliography of his published books of poetry.

Bibliography of Simic's Published Poetry Books

What the Grass Says - 1967
Somewhere Among Us A Stone Is Taking Notes - 1969
Dismantling The Silence - 1971
White - 1972
Return To A Place Lit By A Glass Of Milk - 1974
Charon's Cosmology - 1977
School For Dark Thoughts - 1978
Classic Ballroom Dances - 1980
Austerities - 1982
Unending Blues - 1986
The World Doesn't End: Prose Poems - 1990 (Pulitzer Prize for Poetry)
Hotel Insomnia - 1992
Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell - 1993
A Wedding in Hell - 1994
Walking the Black Cat - 1996 (National Book Award in Poetry finalist)
Jackstraws - 1999 (New York Times Notable Book of the Year)
The Book of Gods and Devils - 2000
Night Picnic: Poems - 2001
The Voice at 3:00 A.M.: Selected Late and New Poems - 2003
Selected Poems: 1963-2003 - 2004 (winner of the 2005 International Griffin Poetry Prize)
My Noiseless Entourage : Poems - 2005
Monkey Around - 2006
-from wikipedia-

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Heat in Poetry

What is a poem? What makes a poem a good poem? Mark Flanagan, a contemporary poet and savvy free-lance writer, provides an excellent and concise definition: “Poetry is an imaginative awareness of experience expressed through meaning, sound, and rhythmic language choices so as to evoke an emotional response. Poetry has been known to employ meter and rhyme, but this is by no means necessary. Poetry is an ancient form that has gone through numerous and drastic reinvention over time. The very nature of poetry as an authentic and individual mode of expression makes it nearly impossible to define.” I like this because it makes two points that I have long held to be true of poetry. First, it defies formal description. A poem may have rhyme, and it may not. A poem cannot be simply defined by a set of parameters relating to its form. Thus, it becomes difficult to qualitatively assign value to different kinds of poems. The second point is even more important. Flanagan is careful to stress that poetry has a primary intent that reaches into the emotional perceptions of our consciousness. Robert Frost said, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” This takes into consideration both the fundamental building blocks of poems (words) as well as the “fuel” (emotions) that one might say ignites and allows those words to burn. In writing a poem, we seek to find in the language a kind of expression that is filled with energy. We don’t look to language as a tool, necessarily, but rather work to uncover the beauty, awe, wit, paradox, understanding, beauty… (the list goes on), that already resides in the form and structure of our language.

I like to think of poetry as a collection of words, each with their own potential energy. We seek to group the words in such a way that will increase that energy, like rolling a huge ball up a hill. The higher it goes, the farther it will roll down. Poetry finds a language that is hidden in the vernacular of our imagination. It will have a certain sound (especially when read by the author, with the author’s full intent) that will sound like poetry. As prosaic as this appears, it becomes clearer if one listens to enough poetry recited out loud (podcasts of poets can be widely found on the web, not only by contemporary poets, but also past recordings of great 20th century poets like Auden, Frost, Plath, Bishop, and Dylan Thomas, to name just a few). It is in the hearing of poems read aloud that I have come to appreciate in a special way this dynamic force of building energy in great poetry.

In this connection, Robert Bly, one of our leading contemporary poets (as well as an acclaimed translator, essayist and editor), has much to say concerning what he calls the “heat” often found in great poetry. In his introduction to David Lehman’s, The Best American Poetry, 1999, Bly explains how easy it is to realize when you’re reading a truly wonderful poem full of heat. “We can tell when a poem has arrived by a certain feeling in the gut, as if a dismaying thought had slipped past our defenses. We feel that something has been taken seriously enough that it has hurt the poet.” A poem which he cites as one example, and one that I agree is packed with potential energy that gets unleashed at the end, is a little masterpiece by Ruth Stone entitled, “A Moment,”

Across the highway a heron stands
in the flooded field. It stands
as if lost in thought, on one leg, careless,
as if the field belongs to herons.
The air is clear and quiet.
Snowmelt on this second fair day.Mother and daughter,
we sit in the parking lot
with doughnuts and coffee.
We are silent.
For a moment the wall between us
opens to the universe,
then closes.
And you go on saying
you do not want to repeat my life.

Notice the tremendous and almost simultaneous convergence at the end of the poem of both cognitive recognition and emotional energy. At once you understand that the gulf of separation between the mother and the daughter is paramount, and your emotional pump, if you will, has been well primed in the intense sensations of beauty and simplicity that are found in the scene described before the last leveling couplet. Before you even understand all there is to understand here, you get a jolt, one that gets locked into your brain and your emotions. A jolt you likely won’t forget for some time. That’s a great poem. Further, and importantly, one is not struck here with the details of form, line breaks, rhyme schemes (even though there are none). One doesn’t have time to consider if the poem resembled prose or had a classical “poetry skin.” And this is not say that rhyming or metered poetry cannot have just as much heat. Let’s be clear on this point! What makes this poem wonderful is what it has to say and how it was said. You feel it.

But don’t always go looking for a bolt of lightening or a knock over the head that dumps you off your chair. Heat can affect different people in different ways. It can be subtle. It can be funny. Take Billy Collins, one of America’s most acclaimed living poet’s (and poet laureate) who is known for his profound levity and an uncanny perception of the foibles of everyday life. One example of heat in Collins’ poetry from a lighter side, is seen his poem, “Consolation,” in which he goes to great pains to describe how relieved he is to NOT be taking a holiday in Italy, but left to meander around his own neighborhood. The poem begins,

How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer,
wandering her cities and ascending her torrid hilltowns.
How much better to cruise these local, familiar streets,
fully grasping the meaning of every roadsign and billboard
and all the sudden hand gestures of my compatriots.

The heat is building up here, but not nearly boiling yet. Collins is laying the groundwork for a powerful, if not lighthearted ending, that sticks in the brain and evokes a response. He uses four more brilliant stanzas to fully hammer home the personal benefits found domestically, as contrasted with the headaches of an overseas junket where he might be found, for example, “slouching in a café ignorant of the word for ice.” Finally, the poem ends in a magnificent explosion of heat:

And after breakfast, I will not have to find someone
willing to photograph me with my arm around the owner.
I will not puzzle over the bill or record in a journal
what I had to eat and how the sun came in the window.
It is enough to climb back into the car

as if it were the great car of English itself
and sounding my loud vernacular horn, speed off
down a road that will never lead to Rome, not even Bologna.

I don’t know about you, but I’m nodding my head, grinning and thinking of all the times I’ve felt exactly this way, thanking my lucky stars that my car is taking me home for a hot shower and not to the mall (or anywhere else on the planet).

Elizabeth Bishop’s monumental poem, “In the Waiting-room, takes place in the waiting room of a dentist’s office. What appears to be an orphaned child is leafing through a copy of National Geographic and finding all those graphic pictures of natives in the bush, etc. (who can’t identify with that?) as her “foolish aunt” is being worked on in the next room. The poem is a complex commentary on the discovery of self and early delineations of language and discovery. Remarkably, the act of waiting is nimbly converted into a rite-of-passage experience as well as a startling discovery of her identity. The poem packs this kind of heat like a six shooter:

Suddenly, from inside,
came an oh! of pain
--Aunt Consuelo's voice--
not very loud or long.


. . .What took me
completely by surprise
was that it was me:
my voice, in my mouth.
Without thinking at all
I was my foolish aunt,
I – we - were falling, falling,
our eyes glued to the cover
of the National Geographic,
February, 1918.

I cannot end this short essay on what makes a poem a good poem, without giving you my own personal choice for one of the hottest poems I’ve ever read. It is Gerard Manley Hopkins’ sublime poem, “Spring and Fall,” which, in my estimation, starts off hot and continues to build steam all the way through.

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man,
You, with your fresh thoughts
Care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name
Sorrow's springs are the same:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

That is potential energy mounting in each word, collecting heat with each new line- the heat of a grieving Margaret who mourns for the leaves falling off the trees in her beloved town of Goldengrove- heat building as she is warned that as she grows older, much more “sights colder” will befall… that she “will yet weep and know why.” All this amidst a beautifully strung series of white-hot words that draw you in to the final climax- reaching its atomic detonation in last fateful line, “It is Margaret you mourn for.” This is the kind of heat that I aim for in writing poetry, and only rarely achieve. I believe it is a hallmark of great poetry and a quality that we would all do well in trying to achieve, if only to catch a little of that kind of warmth in our words.
- -------------------------------------------

Monday, October 8, 2007

How to Read a Poem

The poem must resist the intelligence
Almost successfully. Illustration:

A brune figure in winter evening resists
Identity. The thing he carries resists

The most necessitous sense. Accept them, then,
As secondary (parts not quite perceived

Of the obvious whole, uncertain particles
Of the certain solid, the primary free from doubt,

Things floating like the first hundred flakes of snow
Out of a storm we must endure all night,

Out of a storm of secondary things),
A horror of thoughts that suddenly are real.

We must endure our thoughts all night, until
The bright obvious stands motionless in cold.

-Man Carrying Thing, Wallace Stevens

What’s different about a poem? Let’s not belabor the question in this small space. Here’s some improper answers: it uses metaphors, it’s short, it has special form, it has a recognizable rhythm or meter, and the kicker… it rhymes.

I’m squeezing open the pages of my crackling new Best of American Poetry, 2007 and trying to discern a distinguishing poetic marker. Just when I thought I had one, I turned the page and found a stunner that had absolutely no properties close to anything on my ever changing criteria-list. Then I remembered the image I had formed from just a few lines in a poem by Jane Hirshfield, entitled Critique of Pure Reason:

Let reason flow like water around a stone, the stone remains.
A dog catching a tennis ball lobbed into darkness
Holds her breath silent, to keep the descent in her ears.

You can reflect on that thought picture for a lifetime. Granted, it was planted neatly within the context of a powerful poem, but still, the image holds up on its own. It has to. Poetry gives you very little time to make mistakes. It’s got to grab you on an impulse and somehow find a place outside of (or at least alongside) reason and reasoning. As Wallace Stevens writes, it must resist the intelligence almost successfully.

When you come to that three-liner in Hirshfield’s poem, or shortly thereafter, you lose a breath before comprehending the full import of how and why you lost that breath. That’s the power in the stroke, the torque in the engine of poetry. And to fully appreciate it, you have to give in to the temptation of having it all right there on your plate at that very instant: green peas, corn on the cob and a steak, medium rare. You have to be willing to sit there, reading, without any kind of a clue, but anticipating the grand possibility of somehow getting a clue. Sooner or later you just may.

To have a clue, reading very good poetry must be swallowed whole. Don’t sit there chewing away, gumming the food and trying to figure out if you like it (I’m not talking about fast food here, but fine cuisine). Most people know within seconds if they’ve got a really big fish on the line. The pole goes down and you get a tug. The response? Any self-respecting angler will exclaim in glee and start reeling away like a lunatic.

So, I’m suggesting, when you read poetry, do just that. Read it. It’s that simple. Don’t cerebrum your way through it, asking: what does this mean? What does that imply, what is the author trying to tell me? Oh dear, that poet must be in a very dark place… no, that poet can’t be talking about a real life experience, etc. There's plenty of time for that later. Sometimes you just have to swallow before chewing.

There are other similar pitfalls. George Szirtes, in an insightful essay in the latest issue of Poetry Magazine (October, 2007), comments on a popular confusion that ‘bedevils’ the reading of poetry:

"…it [the confusion] involves the reading of poetry primarily in order to find out about the poet as a person in real life. This involves reading the poem as symptom or evidence. Poetry is useless as evidence. As far as I know, no poem has ever been adduced as evidence in court."

I think one begins to see this operating in an online forum. Communities that are organized around poetry on the internet abound. Folks begin to become familiar with each other and suddenly poets are being sympathized with and counseled through their poems. Further, and interestingly, authors in this milieu often morph into a symbiotic relationship with their newfound observers, and begin to write poems that are shaped by the demands and reactions of others. Perhaps this will spawn its own 21st Century variety of fascinating poetry, but for now, it lurks as a danger to creativity for both the writer and the reader.

So what are you to do after you’ve breezed zenfully through a poem? You could ask yourself the following question (just for fun!) How do I feel? Here are some choices, circle at least one: sad, happy, perplexed, exalted, or even apathetic (a valid emotion). But don’t tell me you don’t feel anything. If that happened very often to you, I’d probably have never gotten you past the first paragraph of this essay. After all, we are talking about poetry here, not linear equations.

Some more options. You can always go back and reread the poem to see if your initial impressions are bolstered or amplified or diminished in some way. See if you learn anything new about the poem, or about yourself. See if an image fills out, a thought comes into better focus. See if you suddenly remember an incident or sound or reaction hearkening back to experience. Perhaps a thought sequence is jarred in your recollection.

Do you like the poem? If not, no worries. On to the dishes or a mystery novel. But if you like it, you may find yourself a little more open to understanding why you like it. That’s an interesting proposition and one that matters, I think. Maybe you’ll bookmark the poem and try to find other ones by this poet online or in a bookstore. Maybe you’ll write your own poem with a newfound perspective afforded by this poet’s work (secret: that’s how good poets write good poems!).

After all is said and done, my guess is, you won’t be impressed by the logic of the poem or the didactic way in which it presented in linear, irrefutable arguments (admittedly, there are such poems). Szirtes, in his essay, develops a rather compelling case for jettisoning reason as a primary tool for appreciating poetry (note here, this is not advocating the expulsion of meaning in poetry, quite the oppositie). He makes the following bold assertion:

"[the confusion involves] the reading of poetry as articulated intention; that is to say, imagining that the poet intended to mean some specific bare thing, then sat down to dress it up in pretty, graceful, elegant forms that you could then strip away to find the naked meaning. Fancy talk."

He goes on to make the point that such ‘plain speech,’ if it really existed, is not of much use in poetry. “Tell me what you really mean, the plain-spoken demand,” he argues, “the poet has a broad subject, but he cannot know what line or what word will come next in his poem. The poet listens as intently as he speaks and sings.”

This is perhaps revolutionary to some, and may elicit a knee-jerk reaction in poetry readers who do not want to abrogate meaning in text. I’m very sympathetic. Yet, I don’t think Szirtes is trying to convince us that poets don’t care about meaning! Quite the opposite. Yet, the purpose of poetry is not to convince or prove from premise on through to conclusion. We have other forms for that. I think a poem takes on a fragrance in reading, acquires its own shape and color and texture. To give it a pro forma look, bottled and ready to distribute, would be to kill the poem before it has one minute to breathe.

Poets do care about meaning. However, speaking as a poet who tries to communicate some very discrete ideas in his poems and hopefully identify emotions and observations that convey meaning in experience, I think I can still see the importance of decrying reason as the ultimate arbiter of understanding in the reading of poetry. How many poets, after all, will fall on the sword of their own explication? Not many, I think. That is to say, if pinned down (and I have been… more times than I care to think about), they will spew you their nuggets out of one side of the mouth, then, from the other, on a different day, or in a different mood, give you quite another explanation. This is no secret. And there is no shame in it.

Perhaps even more illuminating, however, is the observation that average run-of-the-mill spectacular poets will allow you to get away with a pretty wide band of interpretation of their vaunted metaphor and argument, if you insist on describing them in those terms.

Bottom line (and here’s where I’ll probably get chopped to pieces and spit out like a bad poem), most poets I know will be very satisfied that you are satisfied with their poems- even if you come up with some fantastic new gem that they never had one inkling of, while writing it (unless it relates to your cat). Life is short, and you write a poem, stick it out there, and hope it makes a splash somewhere. It’s not an essay and it’s not a sermon. Well, I suppose some are, but I’m not tackling that one today!

Thus, poetry is fluid, not static. Poems are water, not ice. They should be read with observation and sensitivity, realizing that they may die tomorrow, then be revived a month later by the taxi driver who reads a haiku waiting for a rider, or the professor trying to explain a bloody Shakespearean sonnet to dumbfounded students with slumping heads. Or, maybe they only live for one ephemeral blinding moment in your heart. For many, that’s enough.

EDN, October, 2007

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

An Interview with Didi Menendez, MiPOesias Poetry Magazine (2/26/07)

Didi Menendez is the creator and publisher of the online poetry magazine, MiPOesias Magazine as well as miPOradio, whose byline “where poetry tunes in,” aptly describes an energetic site where you can listen to podcasts of interviews and poetry readings from accomplished poets. She is a busy woman who has a passion for introducing new voices to the poetry scene. “But what I love most,” she is quick to point out, “is inspiring others.” It is clear she has been successful in this endeavor.

Among many other pursuits, she also hosts MiPO Café Café, a hip meeting room with serious poets critiquing and encouraging one another. This is but one of many sources which she taps for possible candidates to give podcast readings and interviews at miPOradio.

MiPOesias Magazine is a beautifully designed online poetry magazine that greets you with a seductive splash of images and drawings, then immediately ushers you in with a default podcast of a recited poem. Amy King is the Editor-in-Chief and Jenni Russell is the magazine’s Print Editor. Recently, Didi arranged to have Nick Carbo, a prominent author of three critically acclaimed books of poetry, take the reins as guest editor for the Asian-American issue of MiPOesias. The resultant product is nothing short of genius. I haven’t found anything remotely similar anywhere online or in the printed world.

Didi loves certain aspects in the design elements of the MiPOesias Magazine, but wrestles with the technical deficiencies of browsers and incompatibilities of formatting which can often frustrate contributors as well. She relates,

“For example, let’s say someone wants their poems formatted a certain way and they send me the poem attached in the way they think it is going to be seen online. Well, what I get is not what they necessarily are seeing at their end. First, many writers for some reason feel that they need to format their fonts at their end and send me all sorts of funky fonts that are not necessarily in my own computer, therefore my computer is going to default to whatever font I have. This is also the case of other people reading their work and whether it is being seen on a Mac or on Windows or on Mozilla Firefox....etc. This is the part where my head bangs against the monitor and I take my frustrations out on my peaceful editor Amy King.”

Didi (DM), Jenni (JR) and Amy (AK) were kind enough to address some questions I put together with a view toward giving our readers a feel for how one can interface and interact with online poetry magazines such as MiPOesias and miPOradio and begin to benefit from the richness available in this growing web sector.

EN: How did you come up with the name, MiPOesias?

DM: I was trying to write ‘all my poems’ in Spanish. I was searching for the availability of domain names, and mistakenly typed in MiPOesias. It was available, so I bought it.

EN: Do you like the term ‘ezine,’ in referring to online poetry magazines? How would you define that term, and what, in essence, makes an online magazine different from a paper-only printed magazine?

DM: I do not like the word ‘ezine’ and I do not use it. I treat my publication just as if it were on paper. I publish and design it in the same way any print publisher would. I treat the work I do as professional. I have been trying to bring this across from the very start of the publication. I have been trying to educate people and strive each year to make the magazine better than the year before. Hence my production of audio; and also, last year we made the magazine accessible with an RSS feed.

EN: What do you see as some advantages that online magazines provide versus printed?

DM: …since the audience understands this word [ezine] to mean that a magazine is available electronically, then the answer to your question is that MiPOesias, because it is available online, receives more varied readers than your print publications because it is accessible by everybody that has internet access. This gives our contributors a more varied audience and far more readers than a print journal will ever have unless that print journal has now been made electronically available as well. You may check our readership from the stats which are available online.

EN: Where is your time spent in managing MiPOesias? Which tasks do you prefer?

DM: I work on the magazine mostly on the weekends and on miPOradio on weeknights as well as the weekends. miPOradio actually takes up most of my time because it is a radio program which is available on the internet and we have various programs which need to be uploaded regularly. On the other hand, once I have created a template for the issue at hand, the magazine is easily updated (unless there is a format issue as mentioned earlier). I have taken to resolving formatting problems by using Adobe PDF and turning the problematic “submission” into a jpg instead of copy.

EN: How does one submit poems to MiPOesias? What is the acceptance rate?

AK: I really don't keep count, so unfortunately, I can't give you even a rough ratio. On the plus side of the question, I don't feel limited by how many submissions I can accept because Didi updates the magazine quite often, more so than any other online magazine that I'm aware of. We're something of a weekly or bi-weekly production – this allows me to accept good work whenever it appears. Sometimes there might be a lull on the receiving end, which sends me out to solicit work. I like this balance because we can publish a range of people who have never been published before side-by-side with established writers.

[EN} From the website: Submissions are only accepted via email. Do not send work being considered by another editor. Send only new work. Response time is within a four to eight months time frame, not including holidays. If you have not received a reply after 8 months, you may send a query. Once a submission is accepted the recipient will receive further details with the rest of required material for publication including a photo of the author not already online and audio of the accepted work. Publication of the magazine takes place once work is accepted and materials requested are received by Didi Menendez.

EN: Does MiPOesias have a persona or a particular style of poem that you look for? Could you give a general idea of the kind of poems you turn away?

AK: I suppose if I had to generalize the style, I'd use the very abstract word, “experimental.” However, I hesitate because I've accepted many poems that one could also classify as traditional, even formal. I like a range of work, and the foremost facets that I look for are shaped by the common elements of poetry: content and form. Of course, I prefer innovative forms that allow for multiple readings. I also appreciate carefully-crafted poems. These two adjectives, “innovative” and “carefully crafted,” are not always exclusive.

Poems I tend to overlook are those that seem to be striving for some sort of obvious message that one can summarize upon a first reading. In other words, I don't enjoy poems that can be read and digested instantly and attempt to incorporate some sort of romantic notion about life's ups and downs. I tend to think of these poems as “Hallmark-y” and too quick. I want work I can dig into a few times over and still be surprised by. I'm a firm believer in the act of reading, that the reader has a responsibility to participate in the poem's materialization vis-à-vis her own mind.

EN: Can everyone “tune in” to the poetry at MiPOesias or miPOradio? What does your readership profile look like?

AK: Absolutely. Poetry comes in all shapes, sizes, and sounds, just like music, which means there's something out there for everyone. It's my responsibility as an editor to locate an array of quality of work that piques curiosity, and further, gives readers something substantial to delve into. Luckily, our readership and submissions have proven to span many styles of poetry along with a smorgasbord of content. We have some very talented people sending their work in on a regular basis, for which I am grateful. I should add a qualifier here: our audience won't like everything we publish anymore than a person will like every song on the radio – but there's always something you'll find yourself moving to.

EN: I believe MiPOesias has a printing arm where you publish chapbooks. Would
you describe what that looks like? How many poems do you need to assemble a competitive manuscript?

JR: Our publishing arm is quite sexy but also tough. It has a huge bicep and tiny wrist. The manuscript should include 17-25 pages of poetry.
[EN]: From the website: Our print product is located at lulu. Submissions are open from January 1st through April 1st and from August 1st through November 1st each year. Manuscripts should include a table of contents page and a page including your name, email address and mailing address. Please DO NOT send illustrations or an acknowledgements page for previously published poems. We are not interested in where you've been published. Just send us your best work. Poems from the manuscript may be previously published, but the chapbook as a whole should be unpublished. We accept electronic submissions only.

EN: MiPOradio is fascinating. Given that this medium is rapidly expanding on the Web, where would you like to take it, personally? What are the benefits of listening to poetry, versus reading poetry?

DM: I believe your statement about rapidly expanding on the Web is incorrect -- I believe the real answer here is that if your journal does not have some kind of Web presence, you might as well go fishing and call it a day. Regarding the benefits of listening to audio versus reading poetry, I will answer it from a personal standpoint as a listener vs. a reader. If a poem is submitted with audio, I can listen to it while I work on the magazine. I get a better appreciation for it. Again this is a personal opinion on my part.
Regarding where I would like to take the magazine, it all depends on my creativity and resources-, and my study of web trends. Also, I am nothing without the good work of people in the front line such as Amy King, William Stobb, Grace Cavalieri, Bob Marcacci, Jenni Russell, Michelle Buchanan and our wonderful contributors. Plus, let’s not forget the help I receive on cafe cafe's community from Diego Quiros and all the writers who encourage each other there.

EN: Is the vocal recitation of poetry an innate gift, or can it be learned, perfected? What kind of reading style attracts you?

DM: What I have learned from producing audio on MiPOesias is that not everyone can read their poems well. Some people simply do not give the poem the energy it deserves. They actually forget to stop at the periods, to give the commas their time of day and forget why they wrote the poem in stanzas to begin with. Some people should not record their poems. It may actually turn a reader off. I don't know this, though, until I get the audio. Sometimes we can blame the microphone and software they used. I recommend that writers try to read publicly as much as possible. We have a Reading Series in New York every last Friday of the month at Stain Bar located in Brooklyn. Any contributor of MiPOesias or Café Café is invited to read.

EN: What would you tell the serious writer who is exploring writing poetry and would like to develop and hone their skills?

AK: Read a lot of poetry. Read widely. Locate a few poets whose work you strongly admire. Imitate, imitate, imitate their work. Get a book on poetic form and style and toy around with the ideas that catch your eye. Remember that you can enjoy writing. Join a community of writers like the MiPO Café Café forum and practice critiquing others’ work as well as posting your own. Learn the art of editing. Defend the parts of your work you love. Finally, make writing a habit. Set yourself a daily schedule, even if it's just an hour a day, and sit down to write. If you don't write, don't do anything else except sit there and read others' poetry, with your pen and paper in front of you. Stick with the schedule and allow yourself to write badly. Be patient. Don't expect fame or praise when you finally publish. Eventually, you'll be a serious writer.

EN: Can you tell us any “hot” new directions, programs or plans that you personally
have in the wings?

DM: I am always looking for new audio programs. It is very hard to find the right individual for this. I have approached a certain prominent poetry blogger a few times about having a version of his blog available on miPOradio but, again, the technology and time that is involved in getting me the audio and recording the audio and uploading the audio for such a task is limited not necessarily just on my part but on whomever is the one recording. So expanding miPOradio is more in my future plans than the magazine per say, and how to make this process easier, better, faster and friendlier on writers trying to get their work recorded. Then there is the matter of archiving the work on miPOradio. I have turned to PENNSOUND for this. I am not offering PENNSOUND everything at this time, because frankly I have way too much audio out there. However, every year I plan on sending them audio to archive in the University so it is available 100 years from now whereas I know that my publication will someday not be. Hence when I die, the magazine will too.

Recently I published the Asian-American issue guest edited by Nick Carbo. I approached Nick in the spring of 2006 and told him that I wanted to publish an Asian-American issue and that I wanted him to guest edit it and by golly he did and there it is now.

EN: Thanks to Didi, Amy and Jenni for taking the time to answer these questions.
-originally published on, Feb. 26, 2007. Some of the particulars in the above interview may be outdated.

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