Interviews

Hila Ratzabi- Poetry & Space

How would you describe your design aesthetic?
IMG_5268
My design aesthetic involves lots of bright colors and artwork. We can’t paint our walls because our house is a rental, but if we could, I’d go wild.

 

How do you decide what goes in your space. How is that different from what goes into one of your poems?
I am always editing my space like my poems. The house can get cluttered and it requires deciding what to leave out, which is challenging. This can happen in poems as well.

What are you working on creatively right now?
I’m working on a manuscript of poems related to climate change. It is pretty close to being done, but I’m revising and editing and still may be adding new poems in, so perhaps not as done as I’d like to imagine.

What is your favorite object in your home?
My big red sofa, which inspired me to create The Red Sofa Salon & Poetry Workshop. The sofa is huge and comfy, and ideal space for workshops.

What is your least favorite object?
The cats’ litter boxes… There never seems to be a perfect place for them.

What poetry books have you been reading recently?
I just read Claudia Rankine’s Citizen which blew me away (she was also my professor in undergrad).

 

What design elements have you been crushing on recently?
I’m obsessed with anything coral.

If you had unlimited time to create, what would you make?
I would do a lot more oil painting, which I used to do, and kind of come back to every other year or so.

 

What is the oldest object in your home?
We have an antique bookcase that we got for free from a place I used to work at. Not sure exactly how old it is, but old. And beautiful.

What do you love about your work space? Why did you set it up that way?
I love the little corner I set up with a colorfully patterned chair next to the blue typewriter my husband bought me when I was having writer’s block. I used the typewriter as a way to physically get back into writing, to feel it in my fingers. It worked. Now I don’t use it as much but it’s become more of a symbol and reminder of how to find new ways to enter my creative process.

 

Hila Ratzabi was selected by Adrienne Rich as a recipient of a National Writers Union Poetry Prize and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is the author of the chapbook The Apparatus of Visible Things (Finishing Line Press). Her poetry is published or forthcoming in The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry, Narrative, Alaska Quarterly Review, Drunken Boat, About Place, The Normal School, H_NGM_N, Cortland Review, and others. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, and lives in Philadelphia where she founded the Red Sofa Salon & Poetry Workshop.

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Interviews

Something Strange in the Everyday

 

Christine Rothenbeck sat down with us to talk a bit about her design aesthetic and her poetry. This is the first in a series of poetry & design interviews. Enjoy!

 

 

bed

How would you describe your design aesthetic?

dining nook

 

I’m a grad student (I’ll be finishing my PhD this summer!), so right now it’s a combination of thrift store furniture dressed up in slipcovers and sentimental family hand-me-downs. I have the afghan I napped under as a toddler, the mirror that used to hang in my parents’ bathroom when I was little, a rocking chair that belonged to my aunt, and a chair that I used to sit in when I visited my next-door neighbor when I was in preschool. I have a lot of sentimental connections to furniture for some reason, but since I’m a thousand miles away from my family, it’s nice to have things that remind me of home. I also have lots of strange things I’ve collected over time and visits to thrift and antique stores, like a piece of coral, a lot of old bottles, and the ceramic animals that used to come in boxes of Red Rose Tea. So, eclectic cozy thrift store oddities?

How do you decide what goes in your space. How is that different from what goes into one of your poems?

I have some magpie tendencies in both decorating and poems. In decorating, I find weird old things at antique markets or thrift stores and bring them home—and then I try to find a place to put them. In writing, I tend to find interesting pieces of conversation and text, or ideas that I get excited about/obsessed with, and then I try to link all the pieces together into something different and new. I also do a lot of work with found poetry, which makes sense given my love of found objects. I’m always trying to find something a little strange in the everyday.

 

night light

What are you working on creatively right now?

I am working on finishing my first full-length manuscript, Quarry, trying to fit the poems together into a a coherent whole. I’ve been writing a lot about hunting lately. I’ve never actually been hunting, but I’ve been reading about the medieval traditions of the hunt, and I’m interested in the ways I can bring that into play with the rural New Jersey/Pennsylvania culture I grew up in—my dad and many of the other men I’ve known are hunters and trappers, and I grew up around antler trophies and talk of deer stands—and the language and ideas of relationships, the pursuer and the pursued.

 

red rose tea animals

What is your favorite object in your home?

I have so many favorite things that it’s hard to pick one, so I’m going to tell you about my most newly acquired favorite thing: my 1950s Remington manual typewriter. I won a gift card to a local Hattiesburg antique and craft store called The Lucky Rabbit, and the typewriter was just begging to come home with me. I like that it’s so much harder to operate in terms of typing than a computer keyboard, because I have to really concentrate on striking the keys and it slows me down and makes me really think about every word I put on the page. And I like the idea of being able to type even if the power were to go out—a distinct possibility in Southern Mississippi during storm season!

typewriter

What is your least favorite object?

Because I live in Mississippi, central heating isn’t a requirement for houses. My least favorite object is the wall-mounted gas heater that supposedly heats my apartment. Basically, when it gets cold out, I have to live with an open flame on my living room wall, which is terrifying, and also pretty inefficient, since it faces away from my bedroom. The heater itself is temperamental—it’s so hard to light that when I manage it on my first try, I feel like The Fonz with the jukebox on “Happy Days.”

What poetry books have you been reading recently?

living room from the other side

 

I’ve been reading Monica Ferrell’s Beasts for the Chase, Sarah Rose Nordgren’s Best Bones, and Caki Wilkinson’s The Winona Stone Poems. They’re all on my reading list for my comprehensive exam in contemporary feminist poetry, and I’m so lucky to have a reason to acquire so many fantastic books by women writers.

What design elements have you been crushing on recently?

living room from the front door

I’m obsessed with pallet furniture. I like the idea of building my own things, taking what has been thrown away and making it beautiful. I’m hoping I can build a pallet platform bed for my next apartment, wherever that may be.

If you had unlimited time to create, what would you make?

bedroom bookshelf

I’d like to build the aforementioned pallet bed, and this great bookshelf/coffee table I saw that was made from a cable spool. But I also love collage, and I would love to have more time to devote to making collage art/erasure poems. And maybe finally knitting an entire afghan. But first of all, I really, really want to finish this manuscript.

What is the oldest object in your home?

 desk space

I think it’s probably a three-way tie, actually. The chair I sit on at my desk belonged to my great-grandmother, I keep my linens in a chest that dates back to probably around the same period, which my mother got from her first mother-in-law, and I use my grandmother’s Hoosier cabinet as a sideboard/desk overflow storage/craft station/cookbook holder (I live in a really, really small space).

 

Grammy Redgate's Chair

What do you love about your work space? Why did you set it up that way?

I love that it gets natural light from windows on pretty much every side, and that I can look up and watch the squirrels and birds in the oak trees next door. A lot of my poems start out with me feeling some kind of way and looking out the window to see what catches my eye, so it’s good that I can look outside from my desk. The situation of my desk also turns my back to the rest of the room, so I can’t see anything I should be cleaning or working on (I’m a terrible procrastinator). I set my desk up here because it’s the only available outlet that would accommodate my electrical needs, but it’s also a very fortuitous placement. I also love my wall collage of poems and pictures, especially the print my friend Natalie gave me for Christmas a few years back—it’s a character from a Weakerthans song (“A Cat Named Virtute”), and its collar says “I know you’re strong.” I like that it’s there to stare at me both encouragingly and a little creepily every time I sit down to write.

 

Christina Rothenbeck is a PhD candidate at The University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Writers. Her poems have recently appeared in Reunion: The Dallas Review, Bone Bouquet, Sugar House Review, and Switchback. She is the author of two chapbooks: Girls in Art (dancing girl press 2012) and Erasing Innocence (forthcoming from dancing girl press). She lives in half of a tiny pink house in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
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Poetry Blog

How to Get Rid of Writer’s Block

Get Rid of Writer’s Block Fast

Writer’s block can be a terrible thing. Some people suffer from writer’s block for five days, and some of us are over here in the year to five-year mark. Sometimes we just can’t shake it. Sometimes our own insecurities block us from writing. Sometimes the pressure is overwhelming. In honor of my online writing class How To Beat Writer’s Block I came up with a short list of tips that might help you resolve your writer’s block issues.

 

TAKE OFF THE PRESSURE
When we feel pressure to perform, we fail. To lift some of this pressure. you have to start thinking about your normal routines in different ways. Don’t do the same thing every day. Move somewhere else. If you normally write at your computer, write by hand. If you normally write by hand, type on a typewriter. If you normally use the typewriter, write on the computer. Changing the way you write might help you begin to write. The pressure will be gone. You won’t be at your normal desk at the normal time with the familiar sensation that you have to write something immediately. This activity can be freeing.

 

DON’T THINK ABOUT WRITING
Sort of like the first exercise, this is an attempt to trick your brain. For a set period of time (one day, one week, etc.) don’t think about writing and don’t write. Don’t worry about the fact that you aren’t writing. Don’t worry about any previous goals that you had set for yourself. Just don’t write. Do something else. In this period, you should be reading and scouring magazines and going to museums and sitting outside and listening to people talk and staring at plants trying to decide what kind of plants they are. You want to come back to your writing desk with a wealth of information to start from.

 

WRITE ABOUT SOMETHING BORING
In an attempt to reduce the pressure and make it easier to write, you want to start with a topic you don’t care about or a topic you already know a lot about. What are you an expert in? It could be anything from sleeping to building toy cars, but you are an expert at something. Think about your expertise and write a timed 5-minute how-to article about your area. Try to be as clear and boring as possible. When you’re finished, you can take that information and change it to imperative mood. Or, if it’s already in imperative mood, switch it around and write in third person. Once you understand the basics of this activity, you can apply it to stories, poems, or essays that you’ve already written.

With these three tiny tips, you might be able to start making larger strides in writing. Writing can be hard when a million other things deserve our attention, but you have to decide what’s important and what’s necessary for you to live a full life. If that’s writing, then write! If that’s something else, then go do that.

 

 

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Interviews

Daria’s Reading List

After doing that interview with GIRL CANON, I started to think about reading lists. What do you currently have on your reading list? Below is mine:

 

Words for Empty and Words for Full- Hicok

Selected Poems- Ruefle

Dream Barker- Valentine

The Fact of a Doorframe- Rich

Madness, Rack, and Honey- Ruefle

Come, Thief- Hirshfield

 

But more importantly, here are some books that MTV’s Daria Morgendorffer read or talked about:

1984-Orwell

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest- Kesey

The Dharma Bums- Kerouac

Being and Nothingness- Sartre

The Bell Jar- Sylvia Plath

Moby Dick- Melville

Howl- Ginsberg

The House of the Dead- Dostoyevsky

The Prince and the Pauper- Twain

War and Peace- Tolstoy

Babbit- Lewis

Angle of Repose- Stegner

 

 

 

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Interviews

Interview with The MFA Years

Caitlin Neely, the founder of The MFA Years, talked to us about the MFA Years and her goals for the site.

  • Why did you start The MFA Years? I wanted to create a space for creative writing students to share their experiences and advice. As I was researching programs last year, it was hard to find articles and books about the actual MFA experience. I think that’s something that’s important to make available. When I saw that The MFA Chronicles had not been updated in a few years, I knew I wanted to help fill some of that gap.
  • On your website, you say that you started The MFA Years after being inspired by The MFA Chronicles, a now-defunct blog. What was it about The MFA Chronicles that inspired you? I started reading The MFA Chronicles much later in the season, after I’d already been accepted into a couple of programs. The blog got me excited about being able to actually study poetry at the graduate level. I was able to read about the ups and downs of studying at an MFA program, and the entire process I’d just put myself through suddenly felt a lot more real and tangible. I think that “excitement” is what initially inspired me to create the website.
  • How do you find students to interview for The MFA Years? I’ve posted on a couple of MFA Draft groups and one other creative writing group on Facebook. I’ll probably be contacting a few people I know directly, but we rely mostly on students finding our website, perusing the submissions section, and contacting us themselves.
  • So how does The MFA Years work? You find students who are interested in submitting blog posts about their workshops, classes, and submission information The MFA Years is broken up into two sections: the original idea for the blog was to follow 12 creative writing students through their first year of grad. school, so that’s our main focus. The second section came a little later on and that includes all of the guest submissions and interviews. As I said above, most people have reached out to us on their own, and I’ve also asked some people I know to write guest posts.
  • Are you currently attending an MFA program? If so, what was the best advice that you received about applying? I’m a first year poetry candidate at the University of Virginia.The best advice I received from multiple people is to send in your strongest work. At one point I was considering adding a couple of form poems and long poems to my sample because I kept reading about how showing “range” is important. But I dumped them at the last second after my undergraduate mentor told me it made more sense to send in the poems I felt were the best. All of the poems in my sample ended up being very short (that’s mostly what I write) and pretty similar thematically and aesthetically. I got into some awesome programs and I don’t for a second regret sending in the work I was most confident with.
  • What are your post-MFA plans? I’m not sure. I know I’ll end up applying to post-grad fellowships. Applying to PhD programs in either rhetoric and composition or creative writing will be on the table too. The only thing I know for sure is I want to move back to Cincinnati at some point.
  • What are some MFA programs that you’re crushing on right now. (Can you crush on an MFA program? Is that a thing?) You can definitely have a crush on an MFA program. Right now I’m in love with a lot of the programs I applied to this past application season. Of course, UVA is a the top of my crush list. I had great experiences with: UIUC (specifically Michael Madonick), Miami University in Ohio (Cathy Wagner is awesome) and Saint Mary’s in California (Brenda Hillman and Matthew Zapruder are great). I love West Virginia University because they have Mary Ann Samyn. I really like UW-Madison, though, I wasn’t able to apply there.  As you can see, I have a lot of crushes.

 

  • If you had to give one piece of advice to a student who is just starting their MFA program, what would you say? Well, I haven’t technically started my MFA program yet so I don’t have too much advice at the moment. But right now I’d say—arrive with an open mind. You get to focus most of your energy for the next however many years on your writing. Have fun, experiment, take risks, write bad poems and/or stories. You never know where those risks and experiments will take you. And hopefully you’ll learn something from them!

 

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Interviews

Interview with Books and Shovels

 

booksandshovels

Jeremiah, the founder of Books and Shovels, a traveling bookstore and publisher, sat down to give TellTell the ultimate scoop. Ya dig? (Ah. I couldn’t help myself with that one!)

What exactly is Books and Shovels?Books & Shovels is a traveling bookstore and publisher I’m launching at the 2014 NYC Poetry Festival with UndergroundBooks and Nostrovia! Poetry.  I’m Jeremiah Walton, founder of Nostrovia! Poetry.  I’m 19 y/o, and from N.H.. Some friends and I are going to be living out of Books & Shovels, a station wagon loaded down with chapbooks, street books, paintings, all forms of art that exhibit passion, and distributing the materials as we travel cross country hitting open mics, festivals, slams, and street corners.

How and when (and what were you eating/drinking) when you guys came up with the idea for Books & Shovels? Books & Shovels was initially a frame pack full of N!P and UB titles.  I distributed them while hitchhiking after I graduated high school.

What do you think Books & Shovels can offer that traditional bookstores can’t offer? How many bookstore can set up shop on a street corner, or move their place of distribution from city to city at a moment’s notice?

How do you guys feel about digital publications? The 21st century is an amazing time to be an artist.  We can hit the eyes of 1000s of readers and supporters in a day.  Nostrovia! Poetry receives over 15,000 hits per month.  It was built from the ground up, with minimal start up costs.  That’s amazing.  This is the best period of time to be an artist, a poet.  Hell, most of my books are available free through Scribd and embedded onto webpages.  We’re pretty into it.

What do you need to make Books and Shovels a success? We need pledges to jump start the journey.  This way we don’t end up stuck and homeless right off the bat, which is a very potential outcome in the long term picture.  If we end up stuck and broke, we’ll simply work through traditional channels / run Books & Shovels locally until we have enough money to migrate.

Is there a list of places that you’re going to stop? How do you decide? There’s no concrete plan.  The road has a habit of fucking those up.

What kind of soundtrack are you going to have on your drive? Ramshackle Glory, Rail Yard Ghosts, Days N Daze, there’s a lot of wonderful music we’re going to be blasting as we shoot down a sunrise highway.

Can you tell me a little bit about how Books and Shovels will work? Are you selling books? Collecting books from authors? Are you soliciting? What’s the deal? Books & Shovels is nonprofit.  All funds acquired are sunk back into the project, or purchasing books from independent publications and artists.  None of the money goes into our pockets.  We are selling books at a suggested donation price, but ultimately, the price is up to the buyer.  We are collecting donations of publications from authors and publishers currently.  

Why are you doing this? To murder apathy.  To encourage others to be willing to bleed for their dreams.  Too many folks are scared to dream. This isn’t for artists.  This is for anyone who is afraid to cut themselves open for what they love.

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Interviews

Interview with Girl Canon

The founder of GIRL CANON sat down with Tell Tell to talk about Harriet the Spy and her favorite GIRL CANON list.

TellTell: Why did you start GIRL CANON?

A few friends and I read n+1’s book No Regrets, which is a book of female artists and intellectuals talking about their reading life, and it really spoke to us. All of the women in that book had to deal with the Western canon at some point–to come to grips with works that didn’t depict their lived experiences or were hostile to them. They managed to find ways of reading that fed them intellectually–cherry-picking their way through the canon and supplementing with other books they heard of from their friends. Carla Blumenkranz, in her interview, talks about the idea of a “secret canon”: within any given group of people, there’s a secret list of books that everyone’s read. Blumenkranz talks about this as an intellectual measuring stick, a way of seeing who knows what’s up. Sady Doyle, in her write-up of No Regrets, “The Perils of Reading While Female”  (in In These Timestakes the idea of a “secret canon” and revises it a bit: arguing that women need to cultivate these canons, these female ways of reading, in order to create space for themselves in literature. She calls for “the public claiming of formerly secret canons” and that’s what gave me the idea for GIRL CANON. A public space where women can share the books that have fed them intellectually. No shame, no requirements: just, a celebration of reading while female.

 

 Why is your email “grrrlcanon.” Was “girlcanon” already taken?

“Girlcanon” was already taken, but I’m a big fan of the Riot Grrrl movement that began in the 90s, that formed as a way of interrupting traditional notions of punk rock as a very male space. The message is similar to Girl Canon’s–there are female ways of being in the world that disrupt misogynist messages and create space for women. I like to think that Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl” would be a Girl Canon participant and reader:

I love the idea behind GIRL CANON–it’s the website that I wished existed when I was fifteen, but I’m so happy that it exists now–what would be included on your girl canon?

Thank you! I love it too. This is a hard question. A friend and I were talking about personal lists of books that are canonical for us vs. the idea of books that are just deeply pleasurable to read. Is there a difference between books that are perfectly readable and books that are good medicine? I think, for me, there is.

Anyway, here are some books that make my list:

From my adult life:
On the Kitchen Table From Which Everything Has Been Hastily Removed Olena Kalytiak Davis
Music Like Dirt Frank Bidart
The City in Which I Love You Li-Young Lee
Games Vasko Popa
Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway
Michael Cunningham’s The Hours
James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God
Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady
Heroines Kate Zambreno
 

From my childhood:

Loose Woman Sandra Cisneros
Brian Jacques’ Redwall series
The Golden Compass Philip Pullman
Maniac Magee Jerry Spinelli
Judy Blume’s Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself
Harriet the Spy Louise Fitzhugh
E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

 

Why not boy canon? Do you think we even need a boy canon? Or is the regular canon a boy canon? 

 

I think the Western canon, is, largely, a boy canon: culled and cultivated by men, and largely written by men.

 

I love the Sady Doyle quote you include in your “about us” section: “…the  right of women to reject that line of thinking and to believe that they are qualified to decide what literature should be.” Why do you think women don’t believe they are qualified to have a voice in what good literature is?

 

In No Regrets, some of the interviewees talk about reading Bukowski (or the Beats or whoever) and feeling like the writing was hostile towards or even hated women. If the literature you’re reading doesn’t write you well, that can be terribly silencing and demoralizing. Not to say that those aren’t good works of writing, but if those texts are the only kinds of texts held up to you as examples of what “good” literature does, this forms your perception of what’s considered classic and perpetuates a canon where different kinds of voices are invisible.
I hope that GIRL CANON troubles the idea of “good” literature is and messes it up a little, making more room for queer voices, writers of color, female voices. Similarly, I hope it encourages women to look at their own lists of favorite books and consider them “good”–not just personally comforting, but good works of literature.

 

Do you have a GIRL CANON list that you feel particularly close to?

Yes! I love Ella Mouria Seet’s because she writes about punching a pillow and crying and making grilled cheese after being devastated by The Age of Innocence. I really connect with that type of…physical reaction to a book.
Kimberly Southwick’s canon is also particularly servicey and lovely: she writes about books that saved her during particular periods in her life.

They’re all very wonderful, but those are two that stick out to me.

A few more spectacular ones: Tasha LeClair’sKristen Gunther’s, and Carmen Maria Machado’s.

 If you could live inside a book, what book what you choose and why?

My child self wanted to live in a Sharon Creech novel, where all the heroines are smart and funny and independent. My adult self prefers to read in an oversized t-shirt in her big bed and do my traveling into literature from there. Fiction is too gruesome and stressful to live inside of.

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Interviews

Happy Poetry Month

Happy National Poetry Month everyone! This month, I’ve already done the following poetry-related activities:

I interviewed Heavy Feather Review for American Microreviews. You can read the interview here!

I memorized half of “Ode to a Nightingale: “My heart aches and drowsy numbness pains my sense…”

I looked at Poetry Madness and I want to try to read poems by every single poet on that list.

I read this poem by John Donne.

I read this poem by Albert Goldbarth.

What have you guys done for National Poetry Month?

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