Pushcart Prize nominations

It’s always so difficult to pick among our wonderful work each year for Pushcart Prize nominations, but we’ve finally decided. Our nominees for 2018 are:

“Robbing Pillars,” a short story by Sheryl Monks

“Write to Save Someone,” a poem by Terri Muuss

“Asha in Allston” a short story by Chaya Bhuvaneswar

“Science and Survival,” an essay by Virginia Chase Sutton

“Teeth,” a flash by Joe Mills

“Going Places,” an essay by David Marchino

Congratulations to those nominated and good luck!

Interview with Tina Cane

Photo by Michael Salerno

Jude Marr: Tina, I have so much enjoyed reading your new chapbook, Once More With Feeling. You pretty much had me at New York—my favorite place to be in the world—but then I became immersed in a new experience of the city, scenes that feel like gifts from a true New Yorker—detailed, complicated and compelling.

These poems feel rooted in the negotiations of childhood, adulthood, and the time between seem to me to negotiate also the neighborhoods of the city. I am reminded of the architectural construction—and anchoring detail—of New York poet, Frank O’Hara. Can you say something about your relationship with, and your work’s connection to, the city?

Tina Cane: I realized after this collection took shape that New York City exerted a presence in my life like that of a parent. I even allude in one poem to “the streets that raised me up.” This revelation shed light on my connection to the city, which I’ve always felt was molecular. Its streets were my playground and, like any child, I learned through play.

I love Frank O’Hara and it gives me joy to have my work mentioned in the same sentence with his. O’Hara captures a different New York from the one I lived, but he paints it with an exuberance and feeling of possibility that I recognize. He enjoyed a glorious New York whose creativity and caprice made making art seem as natural and reflexive as breathing.


JM: Childhood memories, in particular—images and emotions that are, to quote “Wish List,” the collection’s introductory poem, “intricate and entirely plausible”— feel pinned in time and place by details of cultural ephemera, honestly recalled. Do you have a debate with yourself about the use of pop culture references? And, in light of the intricacy and plausibility of the family dynamics you explore, how do you feel when readers conflate poet and speaker?

TC: Conflating the poet and the speaker is a mistake all readers make, including writers. It stems, I think, from a yearning to connect the voice to some “truth.” It’s a function of mistaking “truth” with fact. Once More with Feeling refers to my biography more directly than a lot of my other work, but it’s life shot through the prism of poetry—which means images refracted and distorted by what the poem requires, freed from fact.

I don’t hesitate to use pop culture references because those details paint a period. I mean, “Roland’s Fried Pork Rinds,” has a lot of information built into it, as does Tosca. I am a big fan of the “high” and “low” meeting up in the same place. As in life.


JM: Speaking of your introductory poem, “Wish List,”—I love that you begin with an aspirational ars poetica that becomes also as an index of achievement. The first wish, “To be the Mary J. Blige of poetry,” suggests a showbiz vibe, as does the collection’s title, Once More With Feeling. What part do you feel performance plays in these poems—and why, specifically, Mary J. Blige?

TC: Hahaha…I am pretty skeptical about showbiz. My dad was an actor for a while and he rarely had a kind word for the impulses behind an actor’s need to perform. That rubbed off on me, in that I can be pretty cynical in that regard—like discussions about getting into character and craft. I mean, I hate it when poets do it, too. In fact, poets can be the worst. And yet, here we are…

Once More With Feeling, as a title, tries to capture a return to the past with a (re)newed capacity to see it and feel it for what it was. It’s a little tongue in cheek, but also meant in all earnestness, if that’s possible.

I’ve always admired Mary J.Blige, even in her cheesy periods. Mary is a survivor. She is fierce and talented and unapologetic. It’s rare for me to revere a pop star—except for David Bowie, who I think is a genius—so the reference is also me poking fun at myself. But Mary, I love her.


JM: You make careful use of space in these poems. Can you speak to your decisions about space and form, and how they inform your work?

TC: I abandoned punctuation a long time ago, because I felt marks injected too much static into the line. I use space as punctuation, pause and breath. I like to write landscape-wise, so that I can spread out my lines and accommodate the need for space. I like to give phrases, images and sounds room to exist as units of meaning on their own—unencumbered. At times, I see small group of words in my poems as micro-poems and space allows me to do that.


JM: You live and work in Rhode Island now. How—if at all—has that move affected your view of New York and/or your writing about NYC? Do you think there’s any sense in which you might be “in recovery” from the city—or what it represents? 

TC: I’ve never thought of myself as “in recovery” from the city, but absolutely. There is a thread of violence and survival in this book that I am able to see more clearly from here. Moving to Rhode Island was tough in the sense that I had to cut the cord from New York. That distance spurred me to see the city differently. New York, however, has changed greatly from the one portrayed in my book. When I miss New York, I miss the New York of being fourteen years old. On a bike.

Funny, I’ve been reading an interview from 1961 between Studs Terkel—whose book, Working, I have been dipping into over the past couple of months—and James Baldwin whom I’ve always revered. Baldwin speaks of a stint he spent in Switzerland and how that rupture of landscape, and the resulting isolation, released him to write of his childhood in Harlem. Obviously, he is addressing a different set of circumstances and a different era, but time and distance always affect perspective. And for writers, it affects our writing. I imagine, he was “in recovery,” too.


Interview with Karin Aurino

Karin Aurino cropped

Cathleen Young: Model. Teacher. Business owner. Hollywood producer. How did all this lead you to writing?

Karin Aurino: I began writing as early as elementary school. I would hide under our staircase at home in Amherst, NY and spy on my two sisters. I wrote stories about them, often portraying them as evil villains, though their only offense was the role of ‘older sister.’ My mother encouraged my sisters and me to keep a diary then, and I have been journaling ever since. I have also sporadically written short stories and song lyrics over the years, most of which, fortunately, I did not keep.

Before working in the talent department at ICM, I began writing screenplay coverage for Brillstein/Grey. I was told my coverage was much too long, but the exercise was so rewarding, that I felt there must be a place for me in the entertainment industry. As a television producer, I did a good deal of writing, whether I was developing someone else’s material or creating my own original work. I found the writing process gratifying, whether I was able to sell the project or not.


CY: What came after producing in terms of the type of writing you are working on now?

KA: By my early 30’s, my husband and I agreed that I would take a break from working so that I could focus on raising our two children. That has been one of the best decisions of my life. Yet, even as a full-time mom changing diapers, breast feeding, taking my kids on park runs and play dates, and volunteering an outrageously excessive amount at their schools, I never stopped writing. I have always found the process therapeutic.

As my children grew, I wrote bad poetry, short fiction and essays, as well as two screenplays. These things I kept to myself. After I blinked twice, my kids were suddenly in upper elementary school and middle school. In 8th grade, my oldest began to exert her independence, which sent me into early panic mode—my children would one day leave me. I had to do something! I began to write a novel. I used one of the screenplays as my outline, and today I am working on the final draft before the submission process begins.

Magic Cure

CY: You’re a mother of two children. Do you ever worry about being “too honest?”

KA: I do, which is why I suppose I focus on fiction for publication. My personal essays tend to be heavy hearted, and I have shared some of them only with my writing group. I recently began submitting short stories, including “The Magic Cure,” and I feel this need for them to convey a positive message. This is important to me because I have children—and a husband, a mother, a father, five sisters, friends… I want them to feel uplifted in some way. I believe my children have made me a more empathetic and responsible writer.


CY: How does “The Magic Cure” tie into a positive message for your children, and everyone else?

KA:The Magic Cure” is about a high school girl with abandonment issues. She makes bad choices when no one seems to be watching. Her parents started out as strong, attentive role models, but that fell by the wayside, as sometimes happens when teenagers become more independent. Some parents don’t think their kids need them as much anymore. Yet the truth is, teenagers need their parents more than ever, and I wanted this good family to learn this lesson and reconnect in the end.

What I hope my children will take away from “The Magic Cure,” is that even though parents make mistakes, and their children may make bad choices as a result, that is not the end of the story. Life is trial and error, and if you take the time to open your heart to those who love you, in this case the whole family, the rewards are immense. Happily ever after will still require maintenance and care, as it does in this story, but it is best acquired with the love and support of one’s family.


CY: You’re a member of the WOOLF PACK – a group of 75 Hollywood writers. The group was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s book, A Room of One’s Own. What challenges do you feel women writers have to deal with in particular?

KA: According to VIDA, Women in Literary Arts, in their 2015 VIDA Count, women are still underrepresented in many publications. The question is, why? There are many reasons, but believe it or not, in some cases we have ourselves to blame. I have read that women are less published in journals than men because we tend to give up more easily. I’ve discussed this with many of my female writing friends and they agree. After a few rejections, we actually believe our work may not be good enough. What a fallacy as well as a tragedy!

Instead of giving up, I suggest women turn to their writing communities for support. If you don’t have one yet, start with friends, public library groups, or websites such as Poets and Writers, Writers-Network, Book-In-A-Week, or Writers Café, among many others. In my case that would include my intimate writing group of four accomplished women, my writing residency friends, my non-writer friends and family, Women Who Submit-LA Chapter, or the Woolf Pack, which consists of humble writing, directing and/or producing superstars, whose advice and support often astounds me in the most valuable manner. Ask your writing community honestly how your work can be elevated. Then do the work. Then submit again, and again, and again. Keep writing and enjoy the process. And most importantly, keep reading, because so many of our successes often come from the inspiration of others.



Cathleen Young is the Executive Director of HUMANITAS. In her 20-year television writing career, she wrote 13 two-hour network movies for ABC, NBC, CBS and Lifetime. Young won the HUMANITAS Prize and a Christopher Award in 1995 for her ABC Hallmark Hall of Fame Presentation A Place for Annie, which was a WGA Award finalist and nominated for an Emmy. Recently, Young secured a deal with Wendy Lamb Books for her middle grade novel, The Pumpkin War. Publication is scheduled for 2018. Young lives in Santa Monica, California with her husband, Patrick DeCarolis, and their twin daughters, Gemma and Shaelee.




Interview with Ron Tanner

Ron Tanner

Mary Akers: Hi, Ron. Thank you so much for agreeing to talk with me today. I loved your short story BOOM! for so many reasons, especially the point of view, which is that of a Marshallese young man with big dreams and hopes for how (he believes) love intersects with those dreams. I was a big fan of Jeton in both this story and in your wonderful novel MISSILE PARADISE which it was my great pleasure to read. Jeton plays a big role in the novel and gets into trouble a lot, but you do such a fine job of taking us through his thought processes that we really root for him to succeed. Would you like to say anything about your relationship (as creator) to Jeton?

Ron Tanner: Thank you, Mary. I have great affection and sympathy for Jeton. As I have worked with Marshallese teenagers, I knew something about the world he inhabits. To make him a viable character, he had to have agency—an agenda, a dream, a stubborn streak to follow. He couldn’t simply be a victim. To curry the reader’s sympathy, Jeton had to make mistakes as he followed his agenda. I knew he’d get into trouble but I wasn’t sure how bad it would get for him.
MA: I also loved your rotating points of view. I’m a big fan of that style of writing I guess because I feel like all of my life I’ve been aware of the fact that each story has many versions. Or, perhaps better said, each principal character in a story has his own convoluted take on that story. Cooper is a great character. I feel like I’ve seen people like him so many times in my life–the expat who leaves his country looking for excitement and challenges and runs smack into a brick wall–or a wall of water. There’s a really wonderful passage on page 265 that I keep returning to because it speaks so well to the American dream as it collides with the American experience.

“Cooper thinks of peasant factory workers in China punching out golf balls, five thousand a day. What is that work compared to his own? Is his work–despite its many acronyms–any more useful? He suspects that it is not. In fact, it may be less than useful, like selling parachutes to people in high rise buildings in the expectation of another 9/11. Do you really think that, when and if they hit your building, you’re going to have time to dig out your chute, strap it on, brace yourself at the window (assuming your window opens) and then bail yourself into the city traffic fifty stories below?

“There will always be crazies, there will always be bombs. Everybody knows that much. What nobody knows is how to live with this uncertainty. The work at USAKA must make some people feel more certain, especially at the Pentagon, he imagines. Never mind that the fruits of this labor have been decades in coming. In the meantime, year after year, the engineers, technicians, and programmers like himself burn billions of America’s dollars on their computer screens and in their finely drawn schemata. In many ways, it’s no more or less than alchemy, Cooper decides, everybody looking for the formula to make gold.”

That passage is so great. Tell me something about how you came to understand and write Cooper’s point of view.

RT: Thanks. Cooper is young enough to be a big-time dreamer—the world hasn’t beaten him down (yet). But he’s beginning to see that all isn’t as free and easy as it once seemed. Specifically, the American presumption of superiority unsettles him. Now, he finds himself doing work that, despite the hype, seems to be useless. It’s making his head spin. This is what happens to many, if not most of us, as we mature. Or so it seems to me: Growing older is mostly about managing disappointment. Cooper is just beginning that journey in earnest.


MA: I really love Art, too. His cranky take on Americans especially speaks to me. He tells Cooper,

“Americans are just bauble-dazed peasants. They’re doing what anybody would do after stumbling into Ali Baba’s cave. Forty years ago, before I left for the Corps, the most popular show in the States was ‘The Beverly Hillbillies.’ That’s us. We’re eating supper around the pool table thinking it’s a fancy dining room. And we’re hemorrhaging money to live like that. It’s tragically hilarious.”


Tell me something about who Art is to you.

RT: Art is based on a Peace Corps washout I met in the 1990s when I visited Kwajalein. He still had hopes, still wanted to fight the good fight but knew, too, that his day was pretty much done. He’s the conscience of the novel and my favorite character.

Missile Paradise by [Tanner, Ron]

MA: I love the cover of your book–could you describe the process of designing it?

RT: My publisher came up with two designs. This one hit the mark dead-on. I had nothing to do with it but was grateful that had found a talented designer. The cover conveys a jaunty, almost comic spirit, which suits the book.


MA: It definitely does! Can we talk a little bit about self-publishing? I’m really fascinated by the process and I’ve been considering going that route, after two consecutive novels failed to ignite the minds of any editors. What are some of your favorite and least favorite aspects of taking control of the end product in this way?

RT: The great thing about self-publishing is that it gives voice to writers who have been silenced or shut out of mainstream publishing. The bad thing about self-publishiing is that it encourages everyone to publish when many of these writers aren’t ready to publish. I worked recently with a college sophomore who proudly told me he had self-published three novels. I advised him to proceed with caution—to slow down and give his writing more time to test itself.

In this student’s case, rushing to publication very likely undermined the advantages that drafting and editing would yield over time. For example, ten years from now, he may discover that he didn’t quite get that first novel right: it was a great idea but poorly executed. But he can’t re-publish the same book. Worse, no publisher in the business will be interested in anything that has already been in print (there have been a few, rare exceptions).

The first version of Missile Paradise—over ten years ago—got me a big New York agent who was convinced the book would sell big. She shopped it to the major houses but no publisher would take it because none of them knew how to market it—the novel didn’t fit the categories they thought would sell. So the agent dropped the book  and me too. I was devastated. After re-drafting the book for years, I considered self-publishing it because I was convinced Missile Paradise was a good book. (By the way, the American Library Association named it one of the “notable” books of 2016.) Fortunately, I found a small-press publisher that was enthusiastic about the book.

I say “fortunately” because self-publishing is not easy. Not only is it expensive (though you can save upfront costs by doing print-on-demand), but it can also be exhausting: it’s hard enough to promote a book published by a small press. It’s ten times harder to promote a book all on your own. Studies have shown that self-publishing works best when the writer already has a following he/she can draw on. Self-publishing from a cold start—with no readership behind you—can be most daunting.


MA: Agreed. Can you tell me a little bit about how your interests in the Marshall Islands came about? And about the organization you founded to help tell the stories of the Marshallese?

RT: As a teenager, I lived on Kwajalein, the missile base I write about in Missile Paradise. It changed my life: Living among the Marshallese made me aware of the wider world, the privilege of Americans, and the profound differences rooted in social and cultural diversity. At bottom, my time in the Marshall Islands made me politically aware. When I returned to the states, I got politically active and motivated to bring about social change.

I returned to the Marshall Islands in 1993 to teach. Then, in 2008, I applied for and won a grant from the National Park Service to pilot an educational program that would teach Marshallese college students how to write better English and learn other real-world skills by 1) doing field work to collect tales from their elders (to preserve their oral culture), 2) translates these tales into English, and 3) make a website to broadcast these tales to the world. The program was a great success and can be found at www.mistories.org


MA: I feel like we have a somewhat similar approach to writing and life. I’ve traveled, lived in many places, been a potter, a military wife, a writer, co-founder of a marine ecology school, co-author of a book, I like to build and renovate, I like to re-envision spaces, I like to learn new things. I feel like you have a lot of parallel sorts experiences and interests in your life–making things and learning and taking on challenges. It definitely keeps life interesting, but sometimes I wonder if this breadth of experience has made the depth of my work suffer. Do you ever feel this way? If so, is it a source of comfort or discomfort? (Maybe like me it depends on the day.) If/when you feel this way, what do you tell yourself to make it feel right?

RT: Let me congratulate you on the breadth of your interests: you are living large. That said, I do admire those people who have singular passions that take them deeply into their one interest. But that’s not who I am (or who you are either, apparently). In order to be true to myself, I pursue many interests—that’s what makes me happy. But it has its costs.I am often stretched too thinly. Had I not done so many things, I might have written more books, for example. Currently, I am restoring an historic farm: it takes up almost all of my free time. Should I be writing instead? Yes and no. I am the writer I am, for better or worse, due to my varied interests. Much of my writing occurs when I’m not writing.

Which brings me to this: one of the big myths of writing is that you’re supposed to do it every day  . . .  and all the time. Not true. We are often writing—working through the problems of a story or an idea—when we’re not in front of the screen (or pad of paper). Obviously, you have to have discipline to write: that is, at some point, you have to sit down and make it happen. But that doesn’t mean you should feel guilty if the act of writing does not dominate your days.


MA: I like that answer. And finally, because we are a recovery themed journal, what does “recovery” mean to you?

RT: I think most of us are familiar with the process of recovery. In great part, it’s about getting back the best of yourself. Each of us strays at one time or another, in one way or another. The hallmark of maturity is that we realize this—and it humbles us. Which is to say: I don’t presume half the things I presumed when I was younger. That’s a good thing.

Announcing our July Illustrator: Pam Brodersen!

Brown Days_King of the MarshWe are thrilled to announce that Pam Brodersen has graciously agreed to allow us to use her beautiful photographic images to illustrate our July issue.

Birds on a Line (Requiem)




Pam worked for years as a freelance photographic illustrator in her Chicago studio creating images for national print campaigns. These days, she uses digital tools to capture the world around her and creatively alter the images to express their deeper beauty and resonance.

Sanibel Surf (Words Like Rain)

We are so fortunate to have her donate her time and talents to illustrating this issue. Thank you, Pam!




Interview with Jackie Craven

Jackie Craven

This spring, Jackie Craven met with four poetry friends in Johnstown, New York for an informal afternoon of feedback and discussion. The poets, who have been meeting regularly for more than a decade, listened to Jackie read “White Lightning” and asked her about the poem and her writing processes. A short bio of each poet appears at the end of the interview.

Sandra Manchester: Your poem reminds me of “Ego Tripping” by Nikki Giovanni. It’s an oral poem, and has powerful images spilling out, one after another.

Jackie Craven: Welcome to my strange, quirky world! My mother was an artist whose work explodes with surreal images— an old man grows angel wings, an angel sprouts a mermaid’s tail, monkeys wear human faces. Growing up with her paintings, I guess it’s natural for me to dwell in the realm of the fantastic. My fiction chapbook, Our Lives Became Unmanageable (Omnidawn, 2016), follows characters who grapple with otherworldly compulsions and dilemmas. “White Lightning” continues that theme, but the voice is different from anything I’ve attempted before. Writing this poem really was an adventure.

Catherine DeSalle: I can’t imagine what I’d be thinking of to come up with the images you used—lips like an iron gate, a tongue curled like a slug. Did the poem come from a memory? A dream?


JC: It’s hard to know what stew images bubble up from—maybe they’re just a part of me, like the images in my mother’s paintings. However, I do credit fellow writers (you guys!) and my teachers for helping me bring the strangeness to the surface. Several years ago, I took a workshop with Tim Seibles at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival. Tim encouraged us to experiment with metaphors and to seek unexpected juxtapositions. Whenever I read Tim’s work, I come away with a sense of shock and awe. Check out these lines from his poem “First Kiss”:

…her mouth pulled up
like a baby-blue Cadillac
packed with canaries driven
by a toucan…

The images are insane, but they overflow with emotion. I can hear a young, love-sick narrator grope for words as he struggles to describe sensations he doesn’t fully understand. I wanted to achieve something like this in “White Lightning.” Using Tim’s poem as a model, I filled pages with ideas, rooting around for the kind of outrageous statements that might be spoken by someone who is reeling out of control.


Virginia Bach Folger: As you wrote, did you imagine the words rushing up from the printed page? Or did you see this as a poem that you would recite to an audience?

JC: Both! I’m in awe of poets who have a flare for performance. I could listen all day to Tim Seibles, or the gorgeous, rolling voice of Yusef Komunyakaa. And I love the rhythm and energy of Danez Smith, who has won many poetry slam awards. I wish I could perform like that, and I’ve been participating in a lot of open mics to build confidence. But, I’m truly an introvert. I hope that my printed words will convey sounds and emotions, even when the poem isn’t presented aloud.


Catherine DeSalle: But you read it very well just now!

JC: Thank you. “White Lightning” is a persona poem—to read it aloud, I need to step inside the skin of an entirely different person. The narrator has his own experiences and his own vocabulary for expressing those experiences. He says things that would not occur to me naturally. So to read this poem aloud, I have to summon some acting skills.


Catherine Norr: Your speaker mentions several mythical gods and legends. I love these! Did the mythical references pop naturally into your mind, or did you need to do research?

JC:   Some, like Götterdämmerung and Jabberwock came automatically, but I doubt I would have thought of Nithhogr or Smaug without digging. I wanted my speaker to compare his experiences to grandiose events, so I searched for allusions from mythology, sci-fi movies, and Dungeons and Dragons lore. I selected Nithhogr and Smaug because I loved the sound of their names and the associations they stir. If you asked me specific details about the tales, I’m not sure how much I’d remember—I’m just taken with the sounds.

White Lightning

Virginia Bach Folger: That’s fascinating, and opens up permission for the rest of us. Tell us about your writing process. Do you find you’re more productive when you stick to a routine, or when you’re more flexible with time and places?

JC: My life is as chaotic as the situations in my stories and poems. I have no routine. There are periods when I do little writing, and then—without warning—stories and poems come in a gush. The funny thing is, some of my most productive writing times are when I’m also extremely busy with other activities.

Virginia Bach Folger: The title “White Lightning” gave me the impression that this would be a sexual poem. On first reading, I imagined something bright and flashing—like a climax—rather than about drinking.

Catherine DeSalle: I thought so, too!

Catherine Norr: White lightning is a kind of alcohol. I think the double meaning adds to the poem. I love the layers of meaning and the shifting images– “squeezing music / out my pores till my skin stretched to cellophane…”

Catherine DeSalle: I was reminded of a stream-of-consciousness story by George Saunders. As you read, I didn’t think too hard about the literal meaning of the words. I was caught up in the sound of your voice, and the rhythm.

Virginia Bach Folger: How happy are you with the title?

JC: True confession? I’ve changed it. After “White Lightning” appeared in r.kv.r.y., I decided to include the poem in my collection, Secret Formulas & Techniques of the Masters (forthcoming from Brick Road Poetry Press). The collection is about the thirst for magic potions and the desire to alter reality. Many of the poems are based on paintings by my mother, so I gave “White Lightning” a name that corresponds with that theme. The poem is now called “The Absinthe Drinker (Egg Tempera & Oil).” It’s probably a good thing Secret Formulas will be in print soon, or I’d never stop rewriting the poems.


Virginia Bach Folger: How do you know when you’re finished?

JC: You should see my cabinets—overflowing with half-finished manuscripts, work I’ve tinkered with for years and can’t let go of. I just hope that the old poems don’t crowd out the new—there are so many ideas clamoring to get out.



Catherine DeSalle is a visual artist who writes poetry and essays.

Catherine Norr is the author Return to Ground (Finishing Line Press, 2014). Her work has also appeared in Avocet, The Evening Street Review, Oriel, The Sun, and other journals.

Sandra Manchester studied with Robert Pinsky at the New York State Writers Institute. She writes poetry and memoir based on her life growing up with itinerant farmers.    

Virginia Bach Folger has recent work published or forthcoming in Constellations: A Journal of Poetry and Fiction, The Fourth River, Lumina, The Bacopa Literary Review, and The Virginia Normal.


Interview with Susan Cole

Susan Cole

Lauren Kettler: Susan, this is a rare treat for me because you and I have been comrades in writing more than a decade now, and our friendship spans even longer than that. I feel privileged to have perused the gamut of your writing, all of it nonfiction and personal. In addition to an array of smaller autobiographical pieces, your manuscript Laughing Goat: A Sailing Memoir chronicles your life cruising the Caribbean with your husband John and daughter Kate. There are so many ways to tell a story. Tell us a little about why memoir and who’s influenced you most in this genre.

Susan Cole: I began writing the story of our three-year voyage a few years after we returned. Our sailing adventure was a transformational experience—leaving our home and roots in Fairfield, Connecticut behind and setting out to sea. I wanted to understand why I went on the voyage and how it changed my life. Two memoirs that influenced me: Abigail Thomas’ Three Dog Life and Lee Martin’s Such a Life. Thomas’ frankness about living with her husband’s brain injury helped me to realize I needed to put myself in the center of the story. I loved Martin’s strong sense of place.


LK: Below is one of my favorite Laughing Goat passages:

“Some time after John moved in, I had a dream in which I was sitting in a crowded train station at night. I was on a bench with other passengers, next to a broad plate glass window that reflected the high arched ceilings and glittering glass chandeliers inside. The window overlooked a busy downtown thoroughfare. Waiting for my train, I was alert yet absorbed in the book I was reading. Suddenly, a giant bare foot crashed through the window and a big laughing bearded man popped through.”

The above is for me a seminal description of John’s footprint, pun entirely intended, on your life. In a smaller piece you said, “Bashert, soul of my soul. I fell into your dream and you awakened mine.” I think more than the cruising, John was the adventure of your life. How did and does his presence continue to shape your writing?

SC: As you know, John died last summer of lung cancer. I wrote “Harbor Lights” about those last months (r.kv.r.y, April issue). John and I were together 44 years. We met at work in our twenties. He was a sailor from Connecticut; I grew up in landlocked Ohio. He talked me into buying a leaky 50’ 1903 Fire Island ferryboat and living in Long Island Sound—our first boat, which later sank. When I met John, I was in psychoanalysis and beginning to come to terms with the deep love I’d had for my dad, who died when I was ten and about whom I never spoke. John burst through my reserves. He had tremendous vitality. He remains my inspiration.


LK: Kate was seven when you and John set sail with her for a cruising life in the Caribbean. You say in your sailing memoir:

“Kate bounded in from her cabin. She showed me a poem she had just written about having to wear shoes again. She stood next to me while I read it, peering over my shoulder. In the poem, she imagined going back to the States and wrote about shoes that pinch, that make you sweat and slow you down. … I realized how much I loved the wildness. I had loved watching her shinny up the mast and seeing her lead children and dogs into crazy tropical adventures where she hadn’t known what the outcome would be. I hadn’t wanted to stuff her or us into tight shoes that pinch– that slow you down.”

What did it mean for you as a woman to take your young daughter on this adventure?

SC: During the voyage, Kate operated the dinghy by herself, swung on the halyard in long graceful arcs over the water from bow to stern, wrote two novels and befriended “boat kids” from around the world. On the other hand, when there were no kids around, she was lonely. Peeking into her cabin one day when she was reading aloud, her stuffed animals arrayed attentively around her, pierced my heart; another time in Belize, when we were stuck on an island waiting for a part, Kate said, “This is no way to raise a child, moving from place to place!” Although I was torn about ripping apart the secure life Kate had in Fairfield, I was glad that she could experience the freedom of blue-water sailing.

Harbor Lights

LK: A riveting aspect of your sailing memoir is that the places you encounter are as central as the characters themselves:

“I swatted back branches and vines that crept over the dock and screened out the hot afternoon sun. Lizards scurried across the dock and butterflies fluttered in the still air. Something–a bird? an iguana?–clicked from the bushes. On the river, we passed fishermen in cayucos casting their nets. Flocks of birds rose, silhouetted against the pale dawn light. We were back on the Rio Dulce.”

Talk about your seduction with exploring the new and seemingly uncharted.

SC: John and I first read about the Rio Dulce, a lush river in the heart of Guatemala, twenty years before we left on our voyage. The Rio Dulce is a “hurricane hole” where boats take shelter during hurricane season. After arriving at the river, we sailed through a narrow green canyon where red-tailed hawks swooped and spider monkeys raced along the treetops, into an isolated world of boaters thrown together in a remote jungle—grizzled old loners, romantic young single-handers, scammers on the lam and families who crossed oceans to get there. At a dilapidated marina in a lagoon, Kate and I weathered Hurricane Mitch while John was on a business trip in New York. Despite the dangers, the Rio Dulce filled my senses and empowered me.


LK: At one point in the manuscript, you say:

“Yet that time in our lives, the time we had together on Laughing Goat, was like a warm beating heart.”

In your writing, how much of this traversing the seas is the recounting of real life and how much, in your personal journey, is metaphor?

SC: While voyaging, we faced adversity together–a sudden squall, water in the diesel tank, a sheared coupling on the engine shaft. I learned to engage in what was in front of me, to listen and to move quickly. This differed from my life in Connecticut, where I could lose myself for hours (most likely, in depression) after just a phone call from my unstable mother. Learning to navigate the seas helped me navigate other challenges, like John’s cancer.


LK: French writer Francoise Sagan once said, “If I didn’t live well, I couldn’t write well. And if I didn’t write well, I couldn’t live well.” Paraphrase that for yourself.

SC: “I shall write so I may learn to live.”

When Kate was in college, John and I moved aboard Smooch, a catamaran, and sailed between Fort Lauderdale and the Bahamas. After we found out about John’s cancer, we stayed put in Florida so he could get treatment. He remained relatively robust but not strong enough to sail. During those years, I awakened at 4:30 in the morning, made coffee, settled down with our golden retriever at my feet, listened to the water slapping gently against the hull, and worked on the Laughing Goat manuscript. While my actual world involved chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, I imagined myself on Laughing Goat with John and seven-year-old Kate. Remembering my hopes, fears and uncertainties on the voyage, recalling John’s tenacity, helped me through the day-to-day challenges of living with his illness.


LK: So what did you leave out? And what haven’t you written yet?

SC: I attended a writer’s workshop at the University of Iowa two weeks after John died. Although I’ve taken writer’s workshops in Iowa for about ten years, I’m now stunned that I went so soon. I learned in the workshop that while it was too early then, I wanted to write in some way about the experience we had been through during his illness, either in essays or a book. As for what I’ve left out, in nearly every piece of writing, I dabble at the edges of the darkness and dysfunction in my original family. I’ve never tackled it head-on.



Lauren Kettler is a playwright and sometime journalist who moonlights as a copywriter in her day job. Her full-length plays have had readings and/or productions across the country, including “Good Night, Mrs. Bernstein” featured in the OPEN Festival at the 14th Street Y, Manhattan, and “Knock” which took 1st place in both Stage 3 Theatre New Play Festival in Sonora, CA, and the Florida Playwrights Competition. Lauren, an inveterate New Yorker, has been temporarily living in Florida for the past twenty-six years.


Interview with Kyle Laws

Kyle Laws

Juditha Dowd:  Your poem in this issue of r.kv.r.y, “Into the Fire,” starts with the line, “Around a Philadelphia piano bar sweaty with beads/off glass…” Years ago you moved to the Southwest from the Philadelphia/Jersey Shore area, where you still have close ties and visit often. What prompted the relocation, and what has kept you there?

Kyle Laws:  I was born in Philadelphia and grew up on the Delaware Bay side of the Jersey shore. I suppose you always want what you don’t have. In high school, a friend and I plotted to go west. We wanted to experience the desert.  She went to Tucson and I ended up in Pueblo, Colorado, a town on the Arkansas River, the old border with Mexico up until 1848. I came there with another friend at the time.  The first stay was short, six months. Then we moved back to Wildwood, NJ, and stayed in the area for four years. I lived down the road from Town Bank, an old whaling community. I had first met the friend, a Colorado native, in Wildwood.  He became my husband. After four years, he wanted to move back to his hometown of Pueblo. I followed him, somewhat reluctantly. Before leaving, I did a big research project on the historical whaling community for a South Jersey history class I was taking at the time. It was a form of good-bye to the landscape I loved. I still use the research in my writings. In many ways, being away from that landscape deepened my appreciation for it while I was becoming rooted in the Southwest. I have written about both in poems, the dichotomy and the sameness. That area of Southern New Jersey on the Delaware Bay remained largely untouched for centuries, and what people experienced when they came west in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a wide open primitive land, is what I grew up with. It was like spanning time and space. Pueblo has what was—at the end of the nineteenth century—the largest steel mill west of the Mississippi. People came from all over the world to work there. Guggenheim’s first foundry was in Pueblo. My father was a machinist at the same factory in Philadelphia for forty years, retiring from the plant in his sixties.  The similarities are interesting. The ethnic mix in Pueblo is broad because of the international labor force. Many of the ethnic neighborhoods still exist. It’s an unusual place to live and relatively inexpensive. The art scene is lively. And I was able to make a living independently, working out of a Victorian house that is also my residence in one of the historic neighborhoods for thirty years now. Because of the independence, I could concentrate on writing and go back to New Jersey and Philadelphia for research and retreats. My sister lives in South Philadelphia in a brownstone she inherited from our mother. She’s very willing to share it.

So Bright to Blind frontcov-01

JD:  In your book So Bright to Blind you tackle the subject of Los Alamos, giving voice to scientists, like Oppenheimer, and others involved in the project or someway affected. What drew you to this subject?

KL:  The time of the development of the atomic bomb was the same time as the early years of the marriage of my mother and father. So much was happening in the world at that time that directly impacted them, which ended up impacting me even though I wasn’t born until the 1950s.  I wanted to understand that part of history in order to understand my family. The dilemmas and decisions that the scientists faced were huge. One of the interesting books I read in my research was Oppenheimer’s The Open Mind, a book of essays on the shelf next to Marilyn Monroe’s bed at the time of her death. The cultural foresight he showed in those essays along with the apologia for the bomb ranks only after Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis written while he was in jail. Both are gripping emotionally and philosophically. And the development of the atomic bomb happened not far from where I live, in a landscape very similar, an isolated high desert that had been captured on film for decades in Westerns.


JD:  I admire the way you braid historical events, geographies and lives that intrigue you.  Where does inspiration typically begin—in the personal or the external?

KL:  It begins in both. But often it is the external that prompts a response, something I read or see or hear. And because my natural inclination is to place it in history and landscape and within my own frame of reference related to my family, the personal comes in. I will often physically place myself in a historical setting. In late 2015, I took a studio a block from the river walk in what had been a commercial building beginning in 1891with furnished rooms on the second floor. There was a tremendous need for housing at that time for steel and railroad workers because both industries had grown so quickly. The remodeled building purchased by the Pueblo Arts Alliance for artist studios kept the basic layout of rooms. I’m in Suite A at the top of the stairs, an L shaped room. I did research on the residents and commercial tenants. Out of that came a series Woman in Suite A about a writer who came west and took a room in the building in 1922. She contributes to magazines that popped up after World War I about her life in the bustling steel town. And she befriends a steelworker from Luxembourg and a saddle and harness maker in the shop below. Both are based on historical people. I didn’t start out taking the studio to do that, but my curiosity led me there and the narratives started popping into my head. That series is coming out this year in collaboration with a photographer who integrated the poems into her photographs of Pueblo and the surrounding area.


Into the FireJD:  Many poems set a fragment of your own history against a desert landscape. I’m thinking now of “Roving,” “Over the Precipice” and “Running of Blanco Sol” from So Bright to Blind. Place seems very important to you, both as concept and daily reality. Do you find the desert geography particularly evocative?

KL:  The desert is a diverse place geographically. In Pueblo, we’re in the high desert at 4,500 feet. And Pueblo is in a bowl useful for agriculture. We’re surrounded by mountains on three sides and to the east is land that was part of the Dust Bowl.  For a number of years I used to walk that landscape in spring and fall, the only time it’s hospitable for hiking. From the highway and even walking, it seems entirely flat and then you come to a precipice of a canyon carved by a river. The Purgatory River is one I’ve descended a canyon to walk along. Its historical name is El Rio de Las Animas Perdidas en Purgatório, River of Souls Lost in Purgatory, named by the Spanish, first whites through here. The name gives you an idea of the desolation. Yet there are people who settled along the canyon bottom happy for the water. Electrical wires were strung on cut trees. And you can find petroglyphs carved in the canyon face from earlier peoples. The orioles that you find nesting there in late spring are visually stunning in their orange and yellow against the pale rock and tracks along the river. I never came across another hiker. That is the landscape that was used in “Roving.”  “Over the Precipice” was in Canyon de Chelly in Arizona when I camped along the bottom with a Navajo guide and two photographers. “Running of Blanco Sol” was on La Veta Pass. Because we’re in a bowl, most of the ways out are over passes so they show up repeatedly in poems. All three of those poems, along with other poems in the book were part of a series I did in response to Zane Grey’s Desert Gold. He is one of the historical writers who beautifully captured the western landscape.


JD:  Some poems take opera as a subject, others have a theatrical feel, like mini dramas. Does the poem initially come to you visually, as a scene? Or aurally, as music? Or … ?

KL:  Many poems come to me visually as it’s a reaction to what I see. And then something strikes a chord emotionally based on experiences and the beginning of a narrative starts to take place. And as the narrative develops, it moves forward into an idea that I’ve been thinking about.  And the idea could be rooted in history in this place or another, and it springs into something more universal that you can understand whether you are in that place or not, but you have the feel for where it began, an image you can take with you. Some poems do come aurally as sounds influence me, the simple call of a bird out the window, but also because there are a number of musicians in the building my studio is in. There’s a violinist across the hall. And musicians and singers practice for performances one studio down. I will hear the same song over and over, and the repetition brings thoughts of the background of the song. I hear a lot based in rhythm and blues and soul. I’ve worked with experimental musicians to give joint performances with poetry, gone to a number of concerts at their house and written while the musicians are performing. The poems that took opera as the subject were largely written while the music was being played. And if poems have a theatrical feel, that is most likely based on the storytelling I grew up with, my mother a wonderful teller of tales. Most of our experiences were bracketed into what could be considered short plays that highlighted some element of human nature. Even into her eighties, she could keep a corner of a restaurant entertained.


JD:  Your interests are far-reaching, and you spend considerable time on research. Where might you take us next?

KL:  I’ve written a novella in poems about Fishing Creek, the original name of the town I grew up in on the Delaware Bay. Unknown to me until ten years ago, each lot sold until 1958 contained a covenant restricting it to the white race. It’s told from the point of view of the husband and wife who were the developers, trying to come to terms with what would have been their motivations. I spent quite a bit of time for that project in the county office where the deeds are kept. The employees were quite nice to me, even though at times I would get really upset at how long the injustice had gone on, even after it was outlawed by the Supreme Court in 1948. I would ask over and over how could they have let it happen. I kept on waiting for the sheriff to show up and escort me out of the building. No one ever did.



Juditha Dowd’s poetry has appeared in Poet Lore, The Florida Review, Ekphrasis, Spillway, Kestrel and elsewhere. Her most recent book is the full-length collection Mango in Winter. She is a member of Cool Women, an ensemble that performs poetry in the New York-Philadelphia area and on the West Coast.


MARANATHA ROAD: The Story Behind the Story by Heather Bell Adams

Heather Adams

When We Could See But Did Not Know” is based on my debut novel, MARANATHA ROAD, which releases September 1 from Vandalia Press, the creative imprint of West Virginia University Press. Set in the fictional town of Garnet, North Carolina, the novel tells the story of two women—Sadie Caswell, whose son dies shortly before his wedding and Tinley Greene, the young stranger who shows up claiming she’s pregnant with his child.

Although Garnet is not a real town in western North Carolina, it bears some similarity to Hendersonville, where I was born and raised, and nearby places where I’ve visited grandparents and other relatives: the town of East Flat Rock; and, closer to the South Carolina border, the communities of Zirconia and Tuxedo along Green River. I don’t know of a road in the area named Maranatha, but the name, which roughly means “our Lord comes,” seems to fit the character of the place.

Our house in Hendersonville was on Kanuga Road. Follow the road in one direction and you soon reach a charming downtown filled with antique shops and host to North Carolina’s Apple Festival. Or take it the other way to arrive at summer camps with rock walls and long dirt driveways, not too different from the camp called Emerald Cove, which appears in the novel.

Growing up, our dad took me and my sister to the annual Henderson County Gem and Mineral Show, where we learned about the area’s history of gem mining—especially rubies and emeralds—and the more modest garnet, which seems right for Sadie and Clive.

Years later, this story came to me first as the image of a girl, sheltered from the rain in a dark shed, waiting for her parents to return—an image which now makes up the first chapter.

Like Tinley, my childhood was marked with a memorable time of anxious waiting. When my sister and I were in high school, we waited for our mother to return home from Winston-Salem where she was undergoing treatment for leukemia. And like Tinley, what we hoped for didn’t happen—our mother died.

Now that I’m a mother, I’m often struck by the fierce desire to shield our son from harm and unhappiness, especially knowing how arbitrary life can be. The character of Sadie first appeared to me as an older woman who sees that her adult son is headed for disaster, but she is powerless to stop it. I love Sadie because of her limitations and her conviction that she is bound to make mistakes, whether it’s by speaking up or staying silent. There might be a little something of her in all of us. Or maybe it’s just introverts. Or maybe it’s just me.

In any event, I knew these two women would have good reason to be angry at each other, but that in the end they would need to make their way to one another.

The bridge in the story is inspired by—although different from—the Peter Guice Memorial Bridge. At 225-feet high, it is the highest bridge in North Carolina, spanning the Green River Gorge, where there might be countless gems buried underground. According to family gossip, my parents on one of their first dates toured the site while the bridge was being built. Now, when I drive across the bridge with my husband and our son, that’s one of the stories I like to imagine. The other is a story about two strong, Southern women who find a way to bridge the gap between them.

Interview with Penelope Breen

Penelope Breen

Mary Akers: Hi, Penelope. Thanks for agreeing to talk with me today about your wonderful photographs. We were so fortunate to have you offer up your talents for our April 2017 issue and I had a lot of fun matching the words to the images. I’m inspired by how your close attention to objects, people, and the natural world makes the ordinary seem extraordinary. All artists spend time in composition and also time in creation, but I’m curious, which you feel takes more time and effort in your case? Do you prefer the composition and capture phase? Or the processing and selection phase?

Penelope Breen: Without a doubt the composition and capture phase is the most enjoyable. I tend to get lost in it more often than not. Being dreamy, focused and in the moment at the same time–the so called zone–is the best part of being an artist. Processing and selection provides the opportunity to see the concept completed but feels much more technical. It has its creative moments as well but takes more time and effort.

Magic Cure

MA: In terms of “image hunting,” do you go to a certain place looking for specific things that catch your eye? Or do you set out with openness to the process and assume that interesting objects are everywhere and your job is to discover them?

PB: While I do capture numerous images close to home there is always the “pull” of my garden, books, films and chores. If I am traveling and working on a project I am able to put all my energy and focus on that one thing. The freedom to do that is essential to creativity for me. Invariably, film and the influences of favored directors are referenced. Books play a significant role as well. Sometimes a sentence alone or a phrase provide a spark. My work for the last several years has not been random. There is intention.

I have been working on the notion of thematic purpose within the structure of a photographic project. I explore a set of ideas (inspired by films, books, poetry, etc.) and photograph scenes. An artist’s statement accompanies the project, which enables the viewer to have an understanding of my intentions. Engagement of the viewer, exploration of themes and interpretive conflict are my primary concerns.

A Rose Named Gary

MA: I feel as if the images you choose become something more than the thing that they already are, by virtue of your focus and composition and I would imagine this leads to emotional interpretations specific to the individual viewer. I know some of our contributors contacted you about your work. Did any of them interpret your images in ways that surprised you?

PB: I am always surprised by the interpretations of my work. An effort is made on my part to create a moody cohesiveness, however, I am interested in exploring ambiguity and interpretive conflict. Each viewer is encouraged to read the image and use their imagination. Cinema is always a strong influence. So, yes, the interpretations produced by some the writers were surprising but welcomed. I am in awe of their work.

COVER image

MA: And finally, because we are a recovery themed journal, what does “recovery” mean to you?

PB: Honestly, aren’t all humans recovering from something? The website pieces offered a multitude of interpretations. It was a pleasure to be a small part of that effort. Writing is a gift. One that I admire immensely. When writing an artist’s statement it is a slow process and agonizing for me. I am in awe of all the writer’s ability and congratulate them. My preferred way of expressing recovery entails using a camera and a lens. Artists are all subject to tools, aren’t we? Pen and paper, canvas and paintbrush and so on.