Our January Illustrator is Pat Zalisko!!


I can’t even begin to express how thrilled I am to be working with Pat Zalisko on the January issue. I first engaged with her work when we were both fellows at VCCA and I’ve continued to be inspired by it ever since. And the rarest of the rare is happening for this issue–Pat is reading each piece of work and using the work as inspiration to paint and/or choose from her body of existing work. Pat is an avid reader and a prolific artist and we are incredibly fortunate to not only have her work, but to have her direct engagement with the written word. Someone, please pinch me.

Here are some samples to whet your appetite for the upcoming issue, which has a theme of SPARK.


day-of-the-perigree-10-16Pat has wonderful childhood memories of painting intricate Ukrainian eggs, pysanky, one of her first creative experiences. This distinctly feminist art form was developed thousands of years earlier and has ritualistically been taught to Ukrainian girls and women. Born and raised in New York City, she was encouraged to pursue a practical career as an attorney.  She retired from a successful legal career and fully embraced her passion for painting in her new Florida environ.

Pat broadened her innate knowledge by studying in residencies, local universities and with select instructors such as Steven Aimone and Harold Garde, both of whom recognized her talent and commitment to creating art.

Over the past several years, her art has regularly appeared in major private and public collections in the United States and abroad.


eileens-garden-9-16In the artist’s own words: “As I paint, I shift back and forth between intuitive and cognitive states. Intuitively applying paint and drawing elements on surfaces, often rapidly and without analysis, prompts powerful memories and perceptions. It is visceral — pure sensation, emotion, and memory. Then, shifting into the cognitive, I record and explore as I move between the emerging image and the instinctive application of paint and mark. ”


It’s Pushcart Time Again!

This time of year is always tricky. We love ALL of our authors and it’s tough to pick only six pieces out of the more than 60 that we publish each year. But it is also an honor and a delight to be able to make six writers very happy by valuing their fine, hard work.

After much deliberation, here are our 2017 Pushcart Nominations (in no particular order):

  • 1) “Fetal Decision,” a flash by Barry Friesen, published April 2016
  • 2) “The Talking Cure,” a poem by Sarah Fawn Montgomery, published April 2016
  • 3) “Weightless,” a flash by Glenn Miller, published October 2016
  • 4) “Care Packages,” a short story by Jerri Bell, published July 2016
  • 5) “Flame,” a short story by Chloe Ackerman, published January 2016
  • 6) “What to Do On a Day Like This,” an essay by Danielle Kelly, published July 2016

Congratulations all, and GOOD LUCK!

Richard Bader: On “Harmony”


I sing in the choir of my local Unitarian Universalist church, and the seed for what became the story “Harmony” got planted not long ago when I was asked to sing a duet with a woman in the church I didn’t know very well. The song was a sort of Irish sea ballad, an original composition written by a church member who was Jewish. Our church at the time was in a period of conflict over some issue or another, and my duet partner and I were on opposite sides of the conflict. I suspect that much of this—the Irish song written by the Jewish member, the congregation in the midst of conflict—will bring nods of recognition from anyone familiar with Unitarian churches.

I approached our first rehearsal with some not-sure-what-to-expect wariness. Would the conflict spill over into our singing? Would there be lots of judgmental eye rolling when one or the other of us missed a note or mistimed an entrance? There’s a real vulnerability to singing, especially when you’re singing a duet or a solo, and we each had solo parts in the song. With a piano, you can press the key for C and be pretty sure a C is what you’ll hear. With a voice, there’s more room for error, and in our choir—and I suspect in all choirs—error is very much part of the learning process.

What happened surprised me. The vulnerability that I felt carried over into awareness of the vulnerability that my singing partner must also be feeling, and that’s practically the definition of empathy. Through the act of singing together, something had changed. “Harmony” is not even close to being a fictionalized account of actual events, but the story was for me a way to look at what might happen when music brings together two people who have no business being together.

After the story published I had the occasion to talk with a man who has devoted significant parts of his life to exploring the therapeutic benefits of music, in particular its benefits for veterans suffering from PTSD. It’s his belief that at the core of PTSD are three cognitive distortions. One: others are bad. Two: I am bad. And three: the world is dangerous. When you make music together, he said, it’s hard to hang onto the idea that the people you’re making music with are bad. Once that distortion falls away, then “I am bad” starts to collapse as well. And then the world starts to look like a less dangerous place.

He seemed delighted when I told him about singing the duet in church.

Interview with Danielle Kelly

Danielle Kelly

Mary Stike: At the beginning of your essay “What To Do On a Day Like This” you write, “…running was becoming my M.O.” Does this idea carry through the rest of the work? How so? Is this a description that is an underlying theme in your writing?

Danielle: Running occurs several times in the essay. I run from the state then run later to my room. There’s the assumption that the children run at some point as well as the shooter running away from the scene. Running plays a big role in the rest of my work and I attribute it to my Appalachian heritage. Growing up in West Virginia, I’ve felt the desire to stay and leave simultaneously. I didn’t want the label of the region to define who I was as a person, but even more so as a writer. I write what I know. My Appalachia is different than the Appalachia depicted in the books I read when I was younger. When I ran to Connecticut for Graduate School, I was running because of my misunderstanding of the region where I grew up. Similarly, I carry the same notion into my writing. Many of my characters run because they don’t understand the importance of their role in their larger setting.


Mary: You have a great strength of writing details into your work. Idina Mendel’s gritty voice, the naked mannequins, the scent of woodsy-musk and peppermint on your friend, the LORD tattoo on the man at McDonald’s all contribute to the depth of this piece. Do you think the use of this level of detail in a work is important? Why or why not?

Danielle: Detail is important in how the reader sees and interprets a piece of writing. I turned to the details of the piece to help me remember the ordinary on a day that turned into a national tragedy. The details I include are what I remember about my journey home on December 14th; they are things I can name and recognize while surrounded by the unrecognizable. One detail that still sticks out to me are the naked mannequins. When I first drafted the piece, the mannequins were just there in a storefront. As the essay took shape, the mannequins took on more meaning, a foreshadowing of sorts to the events of the day. The mannequins are a great example of trusting first instincts when writing because in later drafts details will hold more meaning than the author originally intended.

What to Do on a Day Like This(Diamonds and Rust)

Mary: In the face of the tragedy, the “arm to shoulder chain” of children seemed lacking in comfort to you. When you arrived home, your dad places his hand on your back when he says “You’re lucky.” Please comment on the strength of family ties and comfort that influence you in the piece.

Danielle: Not only am I a very family oriented person, I also am drawn to reading and researching the types of family structures. I grew up in what is considered a nuclear family structure, where Sundays and Holidays were spent around a dining room table, passing stories between generations. During my time away from home, I grew closer to my family. I called many immediate family members multiple times a day. The events at Sandy Hook shocked the nation and left us reaching out to hold our kids, parents, siblings, etc. As a nation, we were numb; I was numb. I kept revisiting the idea of physical touching between family members because I too spent months yearning for the physical touch from a family member or friend. Seeking comfort in a hand, a hug, or an arm around the shoulder from my family meant knowing I wasn’t alone. Those children needed to know they were not alone.


Mary: How did your chance encounter with this horrific event transform you as a person? How does your writing reflect that transformation?

Danielle: My chance encounter reminded me not to get so caught up in the small stuff. When I left that morning, I was unsure if I had made the right decision to leave Connecticut. For five months I swam in the “what ifs” and how my decision to leave would affect my future. I was lost, stressed, and depressed until I pulled into the driveway of my childhood home. I thought about the elementary school across the street and my dad who had taught in the public school system for 30+ years and suddenly my “what ifs” didn’t matter. What mattered were the daughters whose parents didn’t make it home from work that day. What mattered were the families that didn’t have their children to sling an arm around when they got home from school. What mattered were the children whose “what ifs” never took flight and the parents whose “what ifs” might never cease. I believe this piece, is full of those “what ifs”, giving them flight through small details that add up to a larger whole.



Mary Imo-Stike identifies as an American Indian, and a feminist. She worked “non-traditional” jobs as a rail worker, construction plumber, boiler operator and gas line inspector. Now retired from work-life, she obtained an MFA in Poetry from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 2015, and is currently the poetry co-editor of HeartWood Literary Magazine. Her work has been published in Antietam Review, Phoebe, The Pikeville Review, Appalachian Heritage Cactus Heart and Young Ravens Review, and will be included the forthcoming issues of riverSedge, and Connotation Press.

Our October Illustrator is Dawn Surratt!

I am thrilled to be able to announce our October illustrator: Dawn Surratt!


Dawn attended the University of North Carolina at Greensboro as a recipient of a Spencer Love Scholarship for Visual Arts and graduated with a degree in Studio Art. While working in a gallery in Charlotte, North Carolina she soaked up the work of the many talented artists and photographers working in the surrounding area and spent time at the Light Factory’s darkroom printing images and learning about photography.


When life moved Dawn to Athens, Georgia she spent her time experimenting with other art forms such as book making, collage and paper making while raising a daughter. After her father unexpectedly died in a tragic accident, she found herself gravitating towards working with grieving people and later attended graduate school, finishing a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Georgia. The next 20 years were spent working with hospice patients in rural and urban settings. This very sacred and intense work became the backbone of her photography echoing strong undercurrents of transition and loss in her visual images.


Dawn’s images speak to the realm of imagination and the internal, emotional dialogue that resides in all of us. Although they are simplistic in nature, their complex nuances of emotion are reminders of the effects of time on us all.

We are so very fortunate to have her illustrate our upcoming issue. Stay tuned!


Interview with Lucinda Kempe

Lucinda Kempe

Elizabeth Creith: Lucinda, we met online in the Flash Factory office of Zoetrope. I remember being struck by your fearlessness and energy, by the funny and offbeat things you wrote and the enthusiasm with which you tackled every prompt. The first intimation I remember of something darker was the flash story “Cow and Calf”, in which the ancestral portrait in the child’s bedroom is a frightening presence.

When I began working with you on your memoir, I saw a lot of darkness. These five linked pieces are darker than your Factory flashes, but more hopeful than much of what I’ve seen of the memoir. In “Perseverance” and “On Failing” I see hope, in “On Mothers and Daughters” a realization that you can break the cycle by biting the “matrilineal tongue”. How did you choose these pieces to fit together?

Lucinda Kempe: The micro essays came from my first semester in graduate school. In Roger Rosenblatt’s class we had to write two 250-word pieces every week. The first semester I was afraid to reveal my story and I thought by writing small I could avoid it. In fact, I went to the crux and revealed it all. What I love about Roger’s essays is their brevity. They’re succinct and carry a punch. So I copied that.

I didn’t write the micros in any particular order, but I began where it hurt most – my father’s suicide. Roger pointed out that On Suicide and On Failure belonged together. But they all belong together. These five pieces form a tiny portrait of a family and how it survived. We persevered despite our perseverations.


EC: I’ve never been able to keep a diary, but you’ve kept one for years. In one piece you said that even as a teenager you were documenting your family to write about them later. Why is writing so important to you?

LK: I have been keeping a diary since I was fourteen. As as a little girl I wrote poems and drew pictures with characters’ words in balloons. I don’t understand anything until I write it down. Words on paper soothe. I have General Anxiety Disorder and one of the ways I feel less anxious is by writing down how I feel.

On Perseverance (Triptych of Textures)

EC:You mine your journals for memoir – do you mine them for your fiction as well?

LK: The first memoir pieces I wrote came from memory. In fact, one story called Sam Soss Had Sex, which turned out to be some 5000 words, isn’t mentioned in the diary. I use the journals to get the rest right. My emotional memory is powerful, but the actual events, or the time line, are often wrong. A lot of my early fiction was disguised memoir, which also came from memory and not the journals. Today I write fiction based on things I don’t know. That’s so much more fun. So no, I don’t mine my journals for fiction, but I do steal from characters I knew and drop them in situations they’d never be in in life, which is exactly what Mr. Hemingway said not to do. Ha!

I am finally learning at the ripe age of 57 that I don’t have to tell everyone everything. I asked my therapist once, “Why do I compulsively tell everyone I meet my life story?” “Probably because you’re a diarist and you also assume that everyone is as interested in you are you are in yourself.”


EC: You use the term “laissez-faire” to describe your mother and grandmother, but you don’t have that approach to life at all. In fact, you remind me more of your several-times-great grandmother Mary Humphries.

LK: Oh, she was something. Her husband was Isaac Davis Stamps, Jefferson Davis’s favorite nephew. He was killed in the Civil War, right before the battle of Gettysburg, and Mary was left a widow with two little daughters. A year after the battle, she went to Peach Orchard, had his body exhumed and brought it home to MIssissippi, first by train, and when the train broke down she somehow got a wagon and loaded him onto that and took him home to be buried. And then she packed up her household and moved to New Orleans where she started up a girls’ school to support herself and her daughters.


EC: I see her in you – someone who takes steps to change her life. You write to make sense of things, you go to AA. And you somehow managed to talk yourself into the Academia de Belle Arte in Florence when you’d only been drawing for a few weeks, and into the music program at Loyola College when you didn’t know an instrument.

LK:That’s quite a complement, Elizabeth. Thank you! Yes, and I was kicked out of the Academia de Belle Arte, and didn’t complete the music program at Loyola! I graduated with a BA in Drama and Speech. I smartly transferred from the music school mid-way in college. My real training was with Ivan Uttal. He was a graduate of the director’s unit of the Actor’s Studio in New York and a brilliant director. He cast actors who were playing themselves and he knew how to mine their natural abilities. He even hired my mother as an Italian coach for his production of The Rose Tatoo! I’m a good dialogue writer and that came from his tutelage. He died from AIDS in 1996. He was one of the good guys in my life. I miss him still.

I persevere, I keep writing and I keep reading things to people. And I persevere with the memoir I began after my mother’ death; it’s a work in progress.


EC: Yes, we’ve been working on that together to compress – and to tidy up the grammar, punctuation and so on. I’ve seen you go from a wave-as-you-pass-in-the-street relationship with the technical bits of writing to gradually mastering them.

LK: Ha! Wave-as-you-pass-in-the-street is a hyphenated adjectival phrase! I wouldn’t have known that from a Georgia mule when I first began writing stories. I left punctuation and grammar behind decades ago in my hypergraphic journaling. I have written millions of words and the pressing need to record obliterated everything else. When I first began shaping story I was ignorant. I have gotten better because I am a dogged rewriter, and I have been blessed to have you as a friend and editor. What’s better for a lackadaisical grammarian writer than a dominatrix of punctuation and grammar?

I had an another editor tell me, “I don’t care about your story. All I care about is the language.” I thought that was hard, but it’s true. Writing is language. It’s not painting or acting or sculpting. There is a craft and the craft is knowing the rules so that you can use them to make the story better. I don’t want to just tell a story. I want to write a story, and I want the language to move and to sing. When you give edits is you always include little lessons on my usual stumpers; hyphens and those fiends commas! You believe I will get it even when I don’t.



Elizabeth Creith is a writer and editor in northern Ontario. Her memoir “Shepherd in Residence” won the 2013 Louise de Kiriline Lawrence award for northern Ontario non-fiction. Her work has appeared in The Linnet’s Wings, Old Farmer’s Almanac, Flash fiction Online and many other print and online venues. She’s currently working on a YA fantasy trilogy. You can read her blog at http://ecreith.wordpress.com/


Interview with Cyndy Muscatel

Cyndy Muscatel

Laura Taylor: We all come to the writing life as a consequence of inspiration. Sometimes it’s subtle, and sometimes it’s life altering. Whatever its origins, it serves as a catalyst for the writer. What originally inspired you to write, and do you feel even more inspired in your writing life all these years later?

Cyndy Muscatel: I am one of those people who has written most of my life. There is something that builds inside of me until it becomes sentences in my head that must get written down. That’s why I try to have a tablet, either paper or electronic, within reach. Even during the time period of this essay, “A Fine Line,” I took a notebook and pen with me to the hospital. That, and clean underwear.

When I feel something, I need to write about it. Poetry came first. The story telling started with paper dolls. I’d make up stories for my little sister, who’d watch enthralled as tragedy struck down the fragile figures. I think I learned to construct my dramatic arc from radio. I listened to soap operas like Stella Dallas and Ma Perkins while I was supposed to be napping as a child. I was an avid reader, as well, which teaches you almost everything you need to know on a subliminal level.

In my writing now, I want to reach people. I used to be in love with the words and their juxtaposition on the page. Now, my syntax is simpler and my stories, both fiction and non-fiction, reflect everyday life. I also use humor a lot more than I did in my younger days of Bronte worship.

I have moved into a new phase of writing—I’m not sure if it was inspired by blogging, but I love writing the non-fiction essays about my life. I still like a positive ending, even if not a happy one.


LT: Many writers are prone to creative habits, requiring a specific tone and tenor to their work space and their mindset. You’re a world traveler, by instinct and by design. Knowing that about you, I often wonder if you have an ideal writing environment, or are you able to adapt to most any environment with your imagination and a notepad?

CM: My worst fault as a writer is not giving myself time to write. I’m always multi-tasking and never have enough time in a day to get it all done. Although I’m not particularly materialistic, I want to have everything in my life: fresh flowers and fresh vegetables, good relationships with my kids, grandkids, my husband, friends and family. I want to be fit and flexible, to travel and learn Spanish. All this takes time from writing. I used to be a genius at multi-tasking; not so much anymore.

I ideally like to write at my desk in my office. I have two desk spaces; one for my computer and one for other work. I can swivel from one to the other.

A Fine Line (Vortex #2).pg

LT: Many writers find the observations of some of their colleagues to be particularly meaningful in their writing lives. If asked to name the three writers who’ve most profoundly influenced your writing life, who would they be?

CM: Erma Bombeck certainly is one. I loved her columns and I wanted to grow up to be her. My humor columns are an ode to her. Laura, you are definitely another. You are both a model and a mentor for me. A third is my colleague, Carol Mann Stanfield. She and I used to meet every other week. We’d write for 45 minutes and then read what we’d written to each other. We still bounce stories and ideas off of each other.


LT: You’re an educator from a multi-faceted family background, and you’re surrounded by high achievers in the arts and in business. Do your family members perceive your writing as a reflection of both your life experiences and their own lives?

CM: Honestly, my family barely perceives that I write. I just sent them a copy of this essay, “A Fine Line”. I was shocked that my son had time to read it. He told me he hadn’t realized how sick I was at the time. When my kids were teenagers, I wrote slice-of-life humor pieces for the local newspaper. I had strict orders not to embarrass them. As for my husband? For years he couldn’t understand why I spent long hours at my computer.


LT: Book reviews can be the bane of a writer’s existence, but I believe they can also serve a constructive purpose. What is the toughest criticism you’ve ever received as a writer, and how have you turned it around and utilized it to improve your writing?

CM: This is a multi-faceted question. The toughest criticism I ever received was from a college professor, a well known poet, who was forced to teach a beginning short story writing class. He actually gave me the only C I ever got. He considered me a “Sally Sorority” girl and treated me with disdain. He wrote on the top of one of my stories, “Who would ever want to read this?” You know, that kind of thing stays with you forever. I don’t remember learning anything about craft in his class, and I quit writing for years after it. I learned from him to be careful what I wrote on my students’ papers. When I finally returned to writing twenty years later, one of my first stories was about a character returning to the University of Washington and shooting him.

The Santa Barbara Writers Conference is where I received tough critiques that benefited me. I started learning about story structure, plot development and characterization. I remember coming to one of your classes, Laura, with a story that I thought was finished. When you read it, the group didn’t like the ending. They also felt the main character needed to be stronger. Though I really didn’t want to, I took it home and reworked it, using some of their recommendations. Also, in one of Sid Stebel’s classes, he told me I should change my short story into a play. I don’t write plays. But I kept his critique in mind and changed the voice from third to first person, which brought immediacy to the story. Both stories were published as soon as I sent them out.



Laura Taylor is a Southern California based multi-published writer, editorial consultant, public speaker, and the recipient of numerous professional writing awards, including 6 RT Book Awards and 2 MAGGIE Awards. A long-time faculty member at the Southern California Writers’ Conference, she is an original Founding Member and served on the Board of Directors of Novelists, Inc.  Visit Laura at www.LauraTaylorBooks.com to learn more about the author and her novels.



Interview with Jennifer Schomburg Kanke

Jennifer Schomberg Kanke

Brandi George: I’m always shocked by how much we have in common. We’re both from working-class families in the Midwest, and we’ve both endured childhood trauma. We are the first in our families to graduate from college, and we’re working poets and scholars. And yet, at least for me, this success often feels hollow. It’s tough to write through painful emotions while also teaching, researching, publishing, and competing for academic jobs (what a stressful sentence!). How do you juggle all of these different responsibilities while also writing powerful poems about your past experiences?

Jennifer Schomburg Kanke: I try to give myself the time and space I need for each thing when I need it. There was an old TV show on Lifetime back in the late 90s called Maggie and there’s a dream sequence scene where she’s learning how to spin plates and the secret to spinning plates turns out to be that you don’t have to have your hand on every plate at once. You keep your eye out and see which plate needs your attention and let the others do their thing. And I think that’s how I balance all my responsibilities, just keep my eye out for which plate needs me. Granted though, that’s tough when writing poems about the kind of life I’ve had because opening myself up to certain issues could make me unfit for human consumption for a day or so and you really don’t have that kind of luxury when you have 100 students relying on you. I have a good counselor and a lot of good self-care that lets it happen.

But another part of your question that I wanted to clarify is that I don’t always consider myself to be the first person in my family to have graduated from college (and some days I don’t consider myself to have had a traumatic childhood, but that’s another issue entirely). It all depends on how you define college and first, and even family. Only one of my grandparents was able to graduate from high school, but my father has an associates from a tech school and I always thought of that as “college” until I got to Ohio University and realized that most other people weren’t counting that. And my Aunt Bunky and my cousin Cindy finished their bachelor’s before I did, but they had both taken a lot of time off to have children after high school and came back as non-traditional students. So the joke in the family is that I’m the first non-non-traditional graduate. But according to all the Federal programs for first generation students, I’m a first generation college student because, by their definition, my aunt and cousin aren’t “family,” family is only immediate family to them. And I’m not sure if that definition of family sits well with me. My family is rooted in Appalachian traditions and family is incredibly important to me.


BG: Writing about family members can lead to hurt feelings, conflicts, and often, guilt. We don’t want to hurt the people we love, and yet they have hurt us. How do you hold people responsible for what they have done, while also taking into account their own, often traumatic, lives? What role does poetry play in this process?

JSK: I don’t know if I’m particularly interested in holding people responsible for what they’ve done. It might sound self-centered, but my goal is my own healing and placing responsibility or demanding atonement isn’t a large part of that. Not to bring up TV again, but there’s an episode of Northern Exposure where authorities from West Virginia come looking for Chris and they try him for something he did a long time ago. He’s able to get off by proving that he’s just not that same person anymore and so can’t be tried for the crimes. I can’t try my family for crimes their old selves committed against me. Well, I mean, I can, but I’m not sure what good it does any of us. It doesn’t change the past. It doesn’t change how those things have affected me or how they’ve become part of my own self-perception and self-talk that I have to fight against every day.

What I am interested in being able to do is to have conversations with them about what things were like back then and how those things effect the person I am today and the life I’ve had since then. And that’s where poetry comes in for me. It opens up those conversations in a smoother way than me trying to just brazenly bring it up. Which probably says a lot about my personality that I think it’s easier to write a poem, publish it where anyone with an internet connection can see it than to just say “hey ya’ll, that sucked, let’s talk about it.” Maxine Kumin once said that writing in form helped her deal with tough emotions because it gave her control (or something of that nature) and I think poetry in general also does that for me.


BG: Personally, I’ve found that there is great power in the images that are pulled from traumatic experiences. In your poem, “I Am Not Worth $8.50,” you open with the following image:

The hallway mirror is veined with gold paint,
each square a repetition of the last,
making the distance from the living room
to my bedroom look farther than it is. (1-4)

The image is resonant and unsettling. Would you talk a little about how and why you chose it? Do images do a different sort of work in poems about violence?

JSK: Is it a horrible and unpoetic answer to say that I chose it because it’s just what the end of the hallway looked like? I know, I know, that’s a simplification and there are always layers to any choice that we make. We lived in a three bedroom ranch and the hallway with the bedrooms and bathroom were off the living room area. I spent a good amount of time running from that living room, trying to make it back to my bedroom and get the door shut. That mirror (a sort of ghastly relic from the previous owners) is burned into most of my memories, it was always like I was running toward myself. Safety was my own image. Or at least my own image adjacent.

I don’t really think that images do any different work in poems about violence than they do in poems on other topics. The image’s job is always to give us access to the moment, whether that moment is one of violence or of ice cream and unicorns, or of violent unicorns eating ice cream. The image is like that episode on Charmed when Prue and Piper get sucked into the painting. The image is the magic spell, there to pull us in and not let us go. Or at least part of that spell, the other part being the use of rhythm and sound elements. It can be easy to overthink it all and what those lines are between the image itself and the way the image is rendered, especially when writing violence.


BG: It’s easy to overwrite painful experiences, but “I Am Not Worth $8.50” does a lot of work in a very short space. How did you arrive at the final draft of the poem?

JSK: Would you hate me if I said the poem really only had one draft? There were a few tweaks, mainly with me trying to decide how much a lock cost in the mid-80s and deciding how forthcoming to be about how long it took for the lock to break. In my poems where I’m trying to be honest about what my life was like and how I felt about it, I have to go for shorter because if I let myself think too long or write too long, I start making jokes and referencing pop culture stuff. Which is cool, I love pop culture, especially TV (as I’m sure is probably pretty apparent by my earlier answers), but I use it as a protective mechanism. Which works wonderfully in my fiction ( I think, I don’t know, I guess you’d have to ask editors who are looking at my submissions to get a real answer on that one!), but for poetry I think it doesn’t work as well. It becomes a shield against the pain. And there are days when I really want that, but if I want my poems to do the work I’d like them to, I’ve got to put the shield down and come just with my heart open. My crazy, needy, angsty little heart.


BG: You are one of those lucky, multiple-genre writers. Are there other things you can express in your poetry that you can’t express in your fiction and vice versa?

JSK: I think poetry lets me express things faster. Poetry lets me do a ripple effect thing, it takes five seconds for the pebble to hit, but you’re seeing the disruption on the water for a few minutes after and it’s spreading out over the whole lake. Fiction lets me hide more. And I’m a big fan of hiding. I feel like poetry gives me less wiggle room with the facts. I try to stay as close to the truth as I can with poetry. I know that’s not the way it is for everyone, but it’s the way it is for me unless I’m being very clear that it’s a persona poem. I still honor the lyrical I. I think poetry comes from a sacred place and you defile it by taking too many liberties with the facts of the situation. Those liberties become ways of hiding from the truth and from ourselves. That said, I think a little bit of tweaking (like saying something’s blue when it was really red if that scans better or emphasizes a point or saying it took a month for a lock to break when really it was a much shorter period of time), is okay, but not much more than that. But with fiction I can mix my real memories with other things that are completely made up and no one knows which are which. That makes me feel safe and comfortable and hidden. I’ve been trying to write creative nonfiction and that’s not going so well. I don’t have the “Truth instead of truth” of fiction or the vagueness of poetry to hide behind. I feel a little too exposed in creative nonfiction. I’m also just more familiar with the forms of poetry than with creative nonfiction, so there’s that too.

I am Not Worth (Under the Sea)

BG:I Am Not Worth $8.50” is not written in a traditional form, and yet it has a very strong sense of sound and rhythm, including a few iambic lines. What is your relationship to traditional forms, and what role do they play in your work?

JSK: When I was a kid I was a voracious reader and my wonderful Aunt Jannie, one of my father’s sisters, would take me to the Goodwill Bookstore, which she called “The Day Old Bookstore” (because we’d also usually hit up the day-old-bread store while we were out). There wasn’t a lot of selection for a tween, but there certainly was quantity! For fifty cents you could get a paper grocery bag full of books, but you had no idea what was in the bag before you bought it. I got lots and lots of Nortons and old poetry books that way. So, Thomas Campion was my first poetry love. Not Shakespeare, not even Spenser, nope, Campion all the way. And Campion was also a composer who did music for masque dances and songs for lutes. My parents also loved Steeleye Span, a British folk rock group, and we were in a contra dance band together. The early forms I was exposed to were all musical forms. I don’t think consciously about sound and rhythm too much, I just feel it, I dance it. Of course, I’m also a child of the 80s and 90s, so sometimes that dance is slam and sometimes it’s the pogo and sometimes it’s the Boot Scoot Boogie. But I also love sonnets, but that love came later when I took English classes in college and then studied poetry more deeply in graduate school.


BG: Since you began writing about your childhood, you’ve received messages of gratitude from readers who have endured similar experiences. What poets do you feel thankful for?

JSK: That’s a tough question. I think the answer to that has changed over time I’m grateful to Gwendolyn Brooks because she showed you could take a formal foundation and build something new and powerfully contemporary out of it and also for her poem “a song in the front yard,” which, along with Wordsworth’s “The World Is Too Much with Us,” is one of those poems that just pops into my head when I’m in a bit of a mood. I hear them in my mind and think, “yep, other people were sick of this shit too” and it makes it easier to put one foot in front of another. Catie Rosemurgy’s “The Office Party” is another one of those poems. Her line “I want my maybe back” is pretty much the story of my life and I love her for that line. I feel grateful to Anne Sexton and Marge Piercy because they were the first female poets I read that talked about things I didn’t realize you were allowed to talk about in poetry (because, remember, I’d been reading Campion and Donne, and other members of the Old Bros’ Club).

I’m also thankful for Marge Piercy beyond her work though because she was the first person to tell me that my story needed to be told and that I needed to stop hiding behind poetic craft and just say what things had been like. She, and the other poets that were in her annual workshop in Wellfleet this summer, made me feel that my voice was important and that my story and the story of my family is just as important as others. Because I tend to downplay it. I never became a drug addict or had affairs or did anything all that exciting by the standards of contemporary poetry (I’ve played only in the front yard, in Brooks’s terms). I had a 3.9 GPA in high school and undergrad and went on to get a PhD. I’m the kind of person who people are surprised has had the kind of life I’ve had, probably because I’ve learned to just not talk about it. Marge made me see that that resilience is exactly why I need to be writing about it, to show the variety of experience.

I’m also thankful for Mark Halliday, J. Allyn Rosser, Janis Butler Holm, Barbara Hamby, and David Kirby for not only their great poems, but also for putting up with me in graduate school while I’ve floundered around trying to find my voice. And Josephine Yu,Wendy McVicker, Becca Lachman, Kathryn Nuernberger, Lydia McDermott, and you for being great writing and personal supports as I work on this stuff. The orchestra’s probably about ready to play me off on this question, but believe me, I could go on and on with this. There are so many poets who have made a difference to me with their work and also with their love, support and community. You write poems alone, but you need community to be a poet.



Brandi George grew up in rural Michigan. Her first book, Gog (Black Lawrence Press, 2015), won the gold medal in the Florida Book Awards. Her poems have appeared in such journals as Gulf Coast, Prairie Schooner, Ninth Letter, Columbia Poetry Review, and The Iowa Review. She has been awarded residencies at Hambidge Center for the Arts and the Hill House Institute for Sustainable Living, Art & Natural Design, and she attended the Sewanee Writer’s Conference as a Tennessee Williams Scholar. She currently resides in Hattiesburg, where she is Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Interview with Millicent Borges Accardi


Mary Akers: Hi, Millicent. Thanks so much for speaking with me today about the wonderful, lyrical poetry in your new book “Only More So.” Let’s start with the first things a reader encounters: the title and cover. I love the title and the title poem, especially the lines:

“That now she must survive by owning air,
holding back the red, the full, the bare,
the proud canvases of flat language paper
that once told her everything she needed
to know.

It was like this, only more so.”

Those lines and the title you chose and many of the poems in the book speak to me of suffering, but also of the light that can follow suffering. Or perhaps simply the desire to keep on, despite the suffering, which seems like its own form of hopefulness. Would you care to comment on that?

Millicent Borges Accardi: There are times when suffering seems inerrant to the human condition, as something that is, we try to believe that suffering is apart from us, something that is dumped on us, something we have to endure, to fight, to guard against. When, in fact, suffering is one of the keys of a chord played in life, not good or bad just “there.” Equal to or alongside joy and satisfaction. Of course it is easier to say this from a point of distance and more difficult when you are in the weeds or in the darkness of a painful situation and it is or seems impossible to look at the sky above.

Suffering does not necessarily stem from conflict. But sometimes it is just the hollow sound that the heart can make.

Image result for Only More So Millicent Borges Accardi
MA: And the cover. Beautiful. It feels like an apt image, too, that mandala. Your poems speak to the universe–the vast experience of life–and also, by extension, to the universal (by way of the specific). The phrase “repeated questions” (to the woman from the soldiers) from the title poem sends us back to the mandala for meditation, for consideration, for a way toward peace. Was that your intention? Or am I reading too much into it?

MBA: The book cover was created by Salmon’s graphic designer Siobhán. Directors Jessie Lendennie (Chairperson) and Siobhán Hutson work together at Salmon Poetry to create the beautiful books they publish. The cover of Only More So is a mandala, which seems suited to my work since a mandala is a microcosm of the world and poems are like that, brief moments, or snapshots of a universal truth. Mandalas are used in Buddhism, as spiritual guidance, as well as an aid to meditation, focus and trance. In fact writers may refer to the process as similar to being in a trance. Like the poet Ralph Angel, says,

I always compose in longhand. I will be in my trance and find myself putting down a line or two that jams me up—. . . There was a reason for it if I was in my trance, if I was in a pure place and I was hearing language in a way that wasn’t distracted. It’s just another problem to solve. (Sleet magazine interview March 2012 )


MA: And just a publication-process question: did you have a say in your cover? I have heard so many different stories from authors about the process of finding a cover for their books–sometimes it’s a joy, other times a nightmare. How did that process work for you?

MBA: My husband is an artist and for the first two books he had paintings that magically fit in with the book cover, but this one?  Not so much. Salmon Poetry was wonderful to work with. I sent the designer a few suggestions, and then she came up with the mandala, which suited the book perfectly.


MA: I loved the poem “The World in 2001.” The collective voice works so well in this poem, the voice of the narrator and the father speak as one about perceptions and loyalties, and then it spins at the end into helplessness in a beautiful and moving way. Do you consciously plan that turn in a poem? Or is that a more organic process that the poem itself seems to “want” as you write and revise?

MBA: As many times as I have tried to plan “a turn” in a poem, or to outline an idea, it always seems to be the result of the more organic process. As you say, the poem itself seems to “want.” In stories too, no matter how much time I spend on an official diagram, I always throw them out when I start into the work and the work takes me on its own path. In school I was terrible at the preliminary steps for the Final Paper where the teacher had student prepare a Thesis Statement and supporting ideas. Typically, I would just write the essay, then spend hours building an outline backwards so I could “show my work process.” I did the same thing in logic and math.

So letting the poems grow naturally means I do not have to work backwards to create a contrived outline.


MA:I loved “The Well.” I remember that story in the news of the little girl trapped in the well and it wouldn’t leave me alone for days. Is that what drove you to this poem? Do current events and/or news often compel you to comment or explore them in a poem?

MBA: Like the rest of the nation, I was transfixed to the story of the little girl who had fallen into a well. We all wanted the best for her. It was such an American story. A poor family. A struggle. A very sweet personable child. The firemen were heroes and everyone had their eyes on the tragedy, hoping for the best. We wanted things to work out. We needed it to have a happy ending.

Sometimes a poem can serve as a divining rod, passing over events in life.


MA: Oh, and “Renovation.” Holy cow, that one slayed me. The voice of that poem really speaks to me. It gets inside my head with its PTSD tiles and grout and I hurt as I read, but in a good, cleansing way. What was the inspiration for this poem?

MBA: This poem washed over me too, as it was being written. The imagery fell on the paper, and I really did not see the whole picture until the poem was finished. Sometimes, I fear we trivialize things by discussing the back story, instead of focusing on the end result: the work, the poem itself. An unimportant moment can lead to a multi-layered poem, and it may be a mistake to breathe the beginning, as if that were a key, that when obtained, unlocks the secret to the poem’s ultimate message.


MA: Fair enough. Then let’s talk about “In a Certain Village,” a wonderful allegory that riffs on a fairy tale that we all know well, but then it shifts and we are left to think about the bigger story of that story we think we know so well. In fact, there are many times that the poems in this book take on big but familiar themes. I think that readers will be satisfied by the references and their exploration, but I do wonder if you felt some trepidation at the start when these common themes began to emerge? I know I always do, and it’s something along the lines of Will I do it justice? Or, How can I say anything new?

MBA: I didn’t feel any trepidation, I just wanted to tell the story we all know in a different way, from a wider perspective, perhaps. As if this is one of the most important stories in the world and it is universal. Generally speaking a fairy tale has a beginning, a middle, and an end, How those pieces cling together and grow and connect those three areas may be the same, but the interpretation or moral of the story varies from culture to culture. For example, Disney uses watered-down fairy tales as fun stories for children where as Struwwelpeter (1844), a book of horrific stories by Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann, is meant to frighten and discipline children.

At AWP this year, I was on a panel, entitled Monsters Under Your Bed: Writing from Folklore, Reinterpreting Legend, with Jose Faus ,Maria Vasquez Boyd, Amy Sayre Baptista, and  Miguel M. Morales where we discussed literary interpretations of folklore from cautionary tales to tales of terror. like El Cucui, Los Duendes, and La Llorona. My next book, that I have been working on for many years is a collection of Portuguese fairy tales.


MA: Sounds wonderful! I can’t wait to read it. And now, because we are a recovery-themed journal and because the answers to my last question are always fascinating, what does “recovery” mean to you?

MBA: Recovery does not mean starting over. It is building a momentum with a clean source. It means being significantly changed, re-aligned or evolved. A “new normal,” is not back to the original, a perfect or imperfect or deeply flawed original. Recovery is not back to the way things were or used to be. Recovery itself could be physical, mental, emotional, but  true recovery is a transformation not a return.



Millicent Borges Accardi, a Portuguese-American poet, is the author of three books: Injuring Eternity, Only More So (forthcoming from Salmon) and Woman on a Shaky Bridge. Her awards include the NEA, CantoMundo, California Arts Council, FLAD, Money for Women (Barbara Deming) Millicent holds degrees in English and writing from CSULB and the University of Southern California


Writing is Easy: You just open your veins and let the blood drip out

Kay Merkel Boroff My second husband left me when I brought home an adopted three-hour-old daughter. A male colleague asked, “Were you raised to be independent?” I answered yes, though the thought was buried in my subconscious. The biological mother took the baby back, and I kept teaching.

When I was hired to teach at The Hockaday School, a girls’ school founded in 1913, the headmaster said, “Kay is a role model for our students.” I’d lived in Viêt-Nam where my husband Jon was a pilot for Air America, a subsidiary of the CIA. Jon was killed flying in Laos. I returned to Dallas, a widow with PTSD, and began teaching at Hockaday in 1973. No one knew I lived with PTSD. No one knew I’d suffered a nervous breakdown. No one knew I was learning disabled. No one knew I’d washed sheets in a bathtub and ridden buses in Bangkok, burned a body in a Buddhist funeral, snorkeled off Con Son Island near the Tiger Cages, witnessed Vietnamese strippers dancing in my dining room for my husband’s Captain’s Party.

In 1970 no one knew about PTSD. Gold Star Families weren’t yet created. Nevertheless, my stomach kept hurting, I froze whenever sirens screamed and ambulances and fire trucks drove by. Once a tornado siren was wailing, and I stood frozen on the sidewalk until a neighbor took me by the hand and led me to safety. My internist kept testing me for Asian bugs and found nothing. I finally did biofeedback and starting writing. I had Agent Orange on my legs, my nerves were shattered. After the nervous breakdown my junior year at TCU, I had my father’s words seared in my brain: The first one is free. The second one they cancel your insurance. My psychiatrist lessons apply today: 1.Learn to say no. 2. Tea Kettle Theory: Let off steam. 3. Ladies don’t have much fun.

At school, I found a mentor, the lesbian English Department Chair, who suggested we read WOMEN WHO RUN WITH THE WOLVES (Clarissa Pinkoa Estes). “Be wild; that is how to clear the river.” No encouragement needed. War is fun—unless you get killed. THEY PUT ON MASKS (Byrd Baylor) explained to my sixth-grade students that we separate ourselves with masks of makeup, clothes, cars, religion, politics. I knew about masks. While teaching English to Middle School girls, I defended my thesis and published THE CONSTITUTION OF ADVANCED OBJECTS: A THEORY AND APPLICATION. Reading T.S. Eliot, W.V. Quine, and Melanie Klein, I created a reading paradigm to teach reading using objects viewed in a circular direction rather than in the traditional Fictean graph. Reading with a learning disability is an arduous task. I read from object to object, stringing leitmotif “beads” on a necklace, the topic sentence wrapping with the concluding sentence, as James Joyce FINNEGANS WAKE—

A way a lone a last loved a long the

wraps back to the beginning—the piano recital and the forgotten notes—the nervous breakdown—Jon’s death.

A last loved a lone.

A journey back to Southeast Asia

riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s

from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of

recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

I gain entry to an hermeneutically sealed text—a Gadamerian notion in Quinean terms—by viewing the writing as a seamless web of objects.

Another faculty mentor twenty years my senior gave me a poster with these words—

Writing is easy: You just open your veins and let the blood drip out.

This mentor helped me apply for a grant and attend my first Writing Project. “Enjoy the journey on the ‘write’ track” became my motto: WRITE is displayed on my Texas license plate. My unpublished novel titled Z.O.S., “Zone of Silence,” the acronym for the CIA’s subsidiary, is a personal mantra. I write to know how I feel. I write to quiet my anxieties. I write to keep depression at bay. I write to come home to the Texas red dirt.

Thai temple rubbings Jon made were stolen. Letters of his were lost. I feared one day nothing would be left of my husband. “Painting the Elephant Gold,” originally a haibun—a writing combination of prose and haiku—wrote itself when I dropped the ceramic elephant purchased from Udorn Thailand days following Jon’s death. After being shipped around the world, residing in multiple apartments and homes, moving the elephant one night, my treasure crashed into pieces at my feet. I glued the pottery back together, painted it gold, and wrote the pain away. Kintsugi—like my life—gluing heart break together with American blood and Asian gold.

–Kay Merkel Boruff @KayMerkelBoruff  http://www.writeink.org