Erin Hoover

Pinch contributor Erin Hoover (35.2) has a book releasing today, October 01, 2018. We were able to catch up with her and get some insights on the life of a very busy poet.

How has life been since you were published in The Pinch?

In 2016 Edward Hirsch selected my poem “Girls,” originally published by Crab Orchard Review, for The Best American Poetry. It was life changing for me because I didn’t have many poetry publications at that point—The Pinch had been one of my first “bigger” publications. About three years ago I began to assemble all of my poems into the manuscript that became Barnburner. I went through at least six full revisions (in many cases revising every poem) before I received a phone call from Dana Curtis at Elixir Press, and then I revised it again. 

 The title of your book is Barnburner, what are some of the things that inspired or influenced you in writing these poems?

I like to write poems by drawing connections between events or concepts that seem unrelated. For instance, in the poem published by The Pinch, “Reading Sappho’s Fragments,” I write about speech and the absence of speech, words as they are used rhetorically and words as they can be used intimately, either between two people in a relationship, or between writer and reader.  In addition to Sappho, Joan of Arc, quilting, Eric Garner, and a meat freezer appear in the poem.  Similarly, I wanted to make a book that would cohere despite having a variety of subjects. In many ways, Barnburner is concerned with what it means to be human when so much about how American culture is built denies our humanity. For instance, I come from the Appalachian part of Pennsylvania, and I’ve done some thinking about how class and environmental concerns have historically intersected there.Barnburner also includes feminist poems, poems about addiction and drug economies, poems about digital and physical communities, and poems that try to address whiteness.

 There is no literal “barnburner” in the book, but the epigraph points to tonal similarity between the poems: “According to an old story, there was once a Dutchman who was so bothered by the rats in his barn that he burned down the barn to get rid of them. Thus a ‘barn burner’ became one who destroyed all in order to get rid of a nuisance.”

 Could you give us a quick glimpse of your writing process? 

I’m a slow writer and a perfectionist. I almost never give up on my ideas, and I’ll keep working on a poem for as long it takes, which in one poem’s case was more than a decade. Because I mostly write narrative poems, I have to captivate the reader with story and offer lyric surprise, and it’s unusual to get that right quickly.

 Do you have any hobbies that help refill your creative well?

I have a toddler and I work full time, so I don’t have any hobbies. But my current profession, teaching, gives me the opportunity to think and talk about ideas with students. And I consider myself a full participant in my own life—I want the daily interactions I have with other people and with my environment to provoke questions.

What are you reading now?

I’m rereading Lynn Melnick’s Landscape with Sex and Violence. Melnick and I have both written about sexual assault, and we both draw connections between psychic and physical terrain. I’m also studying the way her poems construct a multifaceted and rhetorically interesting first-person speaker.

Martin Ott

Former contributor Martin Ott (32.1) has a new book of poetry coming out this week. In our latest interview, we talked with him about the collection's inspiration, his other new projects, and what's next on his writing journey.

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Besides your upcoming book, what are some projects you’ve been up to since publishing with The Pinch?

Since 2012, I’ve had the good fortune to publish a collaborative book of poetry on TV-based poems with John F. Buckley called Yankee Broadcast Network, Brooklyn Arts Press, a book of poetry Underdays, which won the Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press, a book of short Stories Interrogations, Fomite Press, and a speculative novel Spectrum, C&R Press. I’ve also been working with Paradigm and a producer in developing a TV pilot and pitch to studios for my first novel The Interrogator’s Notebook

Your new collection is titled Lessons in Camouflage. Can you tell us about the book’s inspiration (and maybe some of the lessons within it)?

The definition of “truth” is the engine behind Lessons in Camouflage. We hide so much of ourselves in the courses of our lives. In Lessons in Camouflage I explore these personas: the patriotic ex-soldier, the happy-go-lucky friend, the unflappable workplace alter ego, the patient parent and spouse, the writer passionate about social issues. Meanwhile, the world itself attempts to gaslight us in an overwhelming 24-hour news cycle. Lessons in Camouflage is my attempt to make sense of it all and the lessons are for me as much as for readers. 

You’ve written several collections. Have you noticed any changes in your writing style/focus since the first two? Similarly, is there anything you try to keep consistent throughout your poems?

My first three books of poetry Captive, Underdays, and Lessons in Camouflage I’ve come to realize are a trilogy. All of them struggle with the definition of “truth” and stylistically are very similar. My work has become less straightforward over the years, perhaps, as I’ve grown to enjoy letting a poem dictate what it wants to be versus moving in a linear direction. While all of these books incorporate formal style and free verse, I also begin to weave multiple narratives in poems in my later books, in a dialogue between myself and the world. My most recent poetry manuscripts Fake News Poems – 52 Weeks, 52 Headlines, 52 Poems and Prison in the Middle of Nowhere, prose poems disassembled into verse, are less personal with a lens on the world more than on my own life. 

What’s next in your writing adventure?

A novel Dream State (I’m halfway through a draft), a book of LA-based short stories, and a new thematic poetry project.

What is your favorite a) music genre b) book, and c) midnight snack?

  1. Indie rock (which the older I get the more I hear on classic rock stations)
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird – it works on all levels (heart, mind, spirit)
  3. Life cereal – my “go-to” childhood favorite breakfast food is in rotation late at night.

Caroline Sutton

We talked to Caroline Sutton, whose new book, Don’t Mind Me, I Just Died: On Time, Tennis, and Unforgiving Motherswas published in December of 2017. 

What was your process for compiling your essay collection? How did you choose which order to put the essays in? 

I wrote the essays that appear in Don’t Mind Me, I Just Died over a period of about fifteen years.  During that time I wrote a number of pieces related to travels in Vietnam,  China, and elsewhere, which I originally intended to include in my first collection.  My earliest vision of the book projected a here and there dichotomy—narratives about family and relationships, followed by narratives about places far afield. At the suggestion of my editor, Ed Myers, we decided to focus the collection on the former for a more cohesive whole. I kept “To Arrest the Phases of the Moon” because although about wildlife in South Africa, it touches on themes of motherhood, which are central to the book.

Clearly it would have been logical to clump all the pieces about my mother’s decline and death together and to sequence them chronologically. But that organization didn’t reflect the quality either of my experience or my attempts to recall it. I decided to frame the book with my mother, starting with her death and the history of her family coming to this country when she was three, interspersing my struggles with her over the years, and ending with my final connection to her--her dog that I inherited and came to love. In between, stories weave back and forth in time, as memory does, deal with a range of subject matter, and fall into four sections loosely organized around themes of marriage, imagination, time, and loss. My hope is that when reading the essays, a reader feels a sort of organic rhythm and patterning similar to ways we experience things and perhaps years later take another look at them. (“Recovering Time” concretizes this idea pretty explicitly through the portrayal of parallel experiences over generations.)  What I didn’t foresee as I wrote the individual stories is the possibility for a collection to be more than the sum of its parts, (just as an album can be more than a group of songs) and that can occur through inner reflectivity of themes and motifs, which is ultimately expansive.  

Do you have any new writing projects in the works?

Yes, I’ve completed a full-length memoir about growing up on Philadelphia’s WASPy Main Line and my not entirely successful attempts to escape it. I hope to publish the book this year or next.  I’m currently working on a new collection of nature-based essays. I’m having fun researching such incredible creatures as horseshoe crabs and flying squirrels, but each essay takes a journey to the human, be analogous behaviors, implications of our treatment of or interaction with the natural world, effects on our perception, and so on.

What is your typical writing process? Do you write every day, or more sporadically?

Once I’ve started a piece, the computer is a magnet. I can’t stay away.  But since there is lag time between ideas, you could say I write sporadically.  I also teach high school, and grading papers makes me use an analytical side of my brain, which usually isn’t conducive to starting a new narrative, but shouldn’t be an excuse. Over the past two summers when I wrote the memoir, I wrote every day, starting first thing in the morning--my preferred time when coffee is kicking in, energy highest, mind not yet cluttered.

As for process, it varies. At times I start with an idea that almost propels itself.  If I start with an image or situation I may not be sure what the theme is, or even if I’ll find one. Those stories can be frustrating, enlightening, or both, depending on how the journey goes and if I find a thread.  Each time I sit down to write, I read from the beginning to get back into my own voice; I’m what you might call an aural writer in that I hear the rhythm of sentences as they go down.

What advice do you have for other writers now that you have a book out?

My advice to other writers: persist.  Keep writing and divorce yourself from the publishing process.  To gain credibility for possible book publication, I sent my essays out to a huge range of journals.  The process was laborious (especially before one could do this digitally), response time was aggravating, selection process a mystery, close calls frustrating.  You need to numb yourself to rejection, as if you were marketing someone else’s work. Eventually, I established a working relationship with a few editors at these journals, but it took time, and first I had to navigate the anonymous labyrinth of Submittable and the like. I teach creative nonfiction to high school seniors, but I discourage them from starting this process since it can be defeating, especially to young writers.

Thanks for the interview, Caroline, and congratulations on the new book!

Carrie Green

We chatted with poet Carrie Green, who won our contest in poetry in 2013!

What are you reading right now?

I'm currently reading Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday and listening to The Giver on audio.

What is the most "pinchy"  (kinda weird and cool) thing to happen to you recently?

The coolest thing I've done lately is visit the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden in Bishopville, SC. I highly recommend it if you're down that way. I've wanted to go ever since I saw the documentary A Man Named Pearl.

Anything you're working on now that you want to hype?

"Abandoned" appears in the poetry manuscript I'm just starting to send out. Recent poems from the manuscript have appeared in Terrain.org, Poetry Northwest, and Beloit Poetry Journal.

Why should people enter The Pinch's contest?

Because you can be assured, win or not, that your poems will be in fine company.

We agree with that, Carrie! And not only your poems, but your fiction and nonfiction, too! Make sure to submit. The deadline is March 15th!

Molly Beer

We talked to Molly Beer, winner of the 2013 Pinch Literary Awards in creative nonfiction.

What are you reading right now?

I am at work on a historical character piece, so I am re-reading (but not really reading-reading) JCO’s Blonde, Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, and Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. (Yes, I am a nonfiction writer who uses fiction for models.)

What is the most "pinchy"  (kinda weird and cool) thing to happen to you recently?

The other day, on my way to work (think Michigan, pre-dawn winter morning), I passed a panhandler hollering “Go Blue or go home!” outside the Espresso Royale. I went inside and bought him a coffee (he wanted a mocha with whip, naturally). When I left campus (think mid-afternoon dusk), he was still out hollering. I fell in behind him as he wandered, hoping we wouldn’t intersect again, and I was in luck: just as I was about to have to pass him if I was going to make my bus, we passed another panhandler, this one standing in the gray snow, holding one of those white seeing sticks. Mocha-with-Whip veered over to the blind man and dropped a loud fistful of change in his cup.

I don’t know what it meant, but it was clarifying anyway. Anything you're working on now that you want to hype?

My prize-winning piece in The Pinch was about carrying a newborn into the mountains of Mexico to see some butterflies and then thinking about migration. I’ve had another baby since, this one in Canada, where I expected to feel all safe but ended up witnessing more tragedy than I had during Mexico’s worst year of war. So I am still writing about birth and place, politics and place, displacement, and so forth, but it’s not yet hype-ready.  

Why should people enter The Pinch's contest?

Journals select (and reject) work for reasons that usually remain opaque to the writers who submit to them. Contests are more neutral. Author celebrity doesn’t play in. Nor do the needs of the overall volume (but we already have two Mexico stories!). If you want your work to be appraised all on its own, independent of what you have or have not accomplished previously, submitting to journal contests such as The Pinch’s is a good way to go.

Thanks for the chat, Molly! 

Readers, don't forget to submit to our contest! The deadline is March 15th! Enter in creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry!

Kate Gaskin

We talked to Kate Gaskin, winner of the Pinch Literary Awards in poetry in 2017 with her poem "What the War Was Not." 

What are you reading right now?

Right now I'm reading a million things at once, which is what I always do. Here's a selection: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, The Evil Hours--A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by David J. Morris, and Ursula K. Le Guin's book of essays The Wave in the Mind. To my 6-year-old, I'm reading Curious George most nights.

What is the most "pinchy"  (kinda weird and cool) thing to happen to you recently?

The most Pinchy thing that happened to me recently is that I marched in a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans as a baton-twirling Princess Leia! My friend is overlord of the science-fiction-themed Krewe of Chewbacchus and a cofounder of the Leijorettes, a sub-krewe of marching Leias. She invited me to twirl with them in the parade, something I had not done since high school. I did so many high kicks my boots fell apart!

Anything you're working on now that you want to hype?

Right now I'm sending out my first full-length poetry manuscript. It's not terrifying at all. Haha. Hahahahaha.

Why should people enter The Pinch's contest?

You should enter The Pinch's contest because it's an easy way to support an excellent literary journal. Also, you don't have to have an already-long list of publications or accomplishments to win. (I didn't.)

Thanks for chatting with us, Kate! 

Don't forget to submit to our contest! The categories are fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry, and the deadline is March 15th!

Joseph Rein

 

Joseph Rein, contributor in issue 33.2 of The Pinch, has some exciting news this March. Not only is his first feature-length film being released, but so is his first short story collection Roads Without Houses. We spoke to him about his upcoming works, his writing background, and which fictional world he'd choose to live in.

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How has everything been going since you published with The Pinch? 

Great, and mostly hectic. In the last four years I’ve gotten tenure, had three (of my four) children, taken up biking, published a good amount, and cut back on spicy foods. I’ve also started writing screenplays; my first feature-length film, Stillwater, will be released March 13. I’ve also attended quite a few Daddy-Daughter dances, gymnastics classes, county fairs, and Halloween costume parades. I’m sure, somewhere in that timespan, I’ve had time to relax. I just don’t remember when that was. 

How does it feel to be publishing your first short story collection? And how does the title Roads without Houses reflect what readers will find inside? 

Publishing the book is in some senses indescribable (which is a terrible evasion for a writer!). Having my own book of fiction has been a major life goal since I was young, so there’s definitely a lightness that comes with accomplishment, a fullness, an out-of-body feeling that sneaks up on me at odd moments and says, This is real. But then there’s the side that says, Okay, nice job and all, but what next? The creative appetite is insatiable. Every piece is new and frightening and exciting and challenging and terrifically frustrating. And it always feels like it will be the best, because if not, why write it? 

The title Roads without Houses comes from one of the stories (actually one of the shortest in the collection). The idea behind the title stems from a road’s basic purpose as a straightforward path for one person to get to another. It’s about connection. So when roads have no houses, they in some senses lose that essential function—they become aimless, purposeless. That is a thread my characters share. They’re on the wrong road, but they don’t always know how or why they got there. 

How and when did you first realize you were a writer? 

I have a story similar to many others: I was praised for my writing at a young age. A fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Boelter, enjoyed a story I wrote about a gazelle escaping a cheetah attack. In ninth grade, Mrs. Goffard encouraged me to submit a story to a local magazine, and it won a prize. I was good at other things, but writing gripped me more. I read stories that impacted me and thought, Wow, I want to impact someone the same way. And my teachers—and especially my parents—were wholeheartedly supportive. 

How often do you write? Take us through your ideal writing workday. 

I would love to say every day. For three-plus hours after morning coffee. But unfortunately my life doesn’t allow such freedoms. I have a large and growing family, who get first dibs on my time and attention. And then the professorial job, which is omnipresent during the semesters. Thankfully, during winter and summer breaks, my wife understands my need to write and generously makes time. While working on Roads, for example, I wrote for eight-hour days, something I didn’t know I was capable of. But then this past week, I barely got in a few hours here and there. I think many of us need to make such concessions; we need to forgive ourselves when life takes precedent, as it so often does. Overall though, I still feel better on days I can write than on those I cannot. It’s an itch that intensifies until scratched. 

If you could live inside the fictional world of any book, which would you choose and why? What would you do first? 

Every answer that comes to mind places my life in immediate danger. And so since I’m going there, I would have to say Italy with the characters of Catch-22. The hypocrisy, the absurdity, the nonsense-as-sense atmosphere. There’s never a dull second there. Though at the first sign of danger, I’d likely follow Yossarian right into the hospital. At some point though, I would find a good way to goad Colonel Cathcart into a reaction. I hope he would chew me out.

Eliza Smith

We're well into the 2018 Pinch Literary Awards! We spoke to Eliza Smith about her experience entering the contest in 2017. Eliza's piece, "All These Apocalypses," won our contest in creative nonfiction last year! 

 

What are you reading right now?

Abandon Me by Melissa Febos and This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins—both as incredible as you've heard. 

What is the most "pinchy" (kinda weird and cool) thing to happen to you recently?

On my way to Ireland in December, I was mistakenly detained in Toronto and made to get an emergency passport (that I didn't end up needing). But Toronto was great, especially the Rex Jazz & Blues Bar, where I got a room and fell asleep listening to live jazz. I look forward to going back on purpose sometime. 

Anything you're working on now that you want to hype?

I'm working on an essay collection about womanhood and loss and all those lives we never lived but are still ours. It won't see the light of day for some time, but I'm hyped to keep working on it. 

Why should people enter The Pinch's contest?

A chance to work with a wonderful staff, have their work read by incredible judges and potentially featured alongside talented writers. I entered on a whim, and am so glad I did. 

 

Thanks for the interview, Eliza! Don't forget to submit to the contest. The deadline is March 15th. You can submit in fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. 

Janet Buttenwieser

Former contributor Janet Buttenwieser has just released a new memoir, GUTS, available for purchase from Vine Leaves Press. The memoir hits upon chronic illnesses, loss, and resilience; we spoke with Janet about the process of writing such difficult subjects, as well as her go-to journals, and what's next for her writing. 

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Your memoir reveals a very personal experience of a rare intestinal illness. This is an intimate subject that not many people talk about, specifically when it deals with their own illnesses. Why did you choose to write about your experience with this illness?

In part I wanted to write about this illness because I wanted to make it less uncomfortable for people to talk about. The more we can talk to each other about “taboo" topics, the less taboo they become. I think the more honest you can be in a memoir, the more relatable the story. Many, many people have some kind of chronic intestinal illness. And everyone has experienced intestinal distress at least once in their lives. It really shouldn’t be so embarrassing to talk about. Writing GUTS was also an act of solidarity with the millions of people with invisible illnesses. Educating those around you about your illness can get exhausting. Perhaps my readers with chronic illness can give GUTS to their friends and family and say “read this, and then you will understand my experience a little better."

As all writers know, the blank page is daunting and more often than not, mocking us writers. For some, staring at the blank page is the hardest part of writing. What are you writing routines that help you get your writing down on the page?

I’m a big believer in Anne Lamott’s “short assignments,” and focusing on the one-inch picture frame as she discusses in her wonderful craft book, BIRD BY BIRD. When I am working on a longer project and I get stuck, I give myself a short assignment. I’ll find a prompt online or make up one based on something I’m reading and write a short piece. While I was working on GUTS I did this often, and the short pieces were great “palate cleansers” between segments of the book-length memoir. I often tricked myself into thinking I was writing about a totally different subject, only to have those short essays morph into chapters of the memoir. Any lyricism that exists in GUTS is due to those short pieces I wrote while I “wasn’t working on the memoir."

You were published with The Pinch Journal Online in 2014 and with other well-known journals. What are your go-to journals and literary magazines where you submit your work? 

I’ve only been writing and publishing in journals for a few years, so I don’t have a go-to list per se, but I can speak to how I decide where to submit. Any magazine that has sent a personalized reaction is the first place I submit new work, and nearly everywhere I’ve been published is a place that rejected me before they published me, including The Pinch. I look in the back of Best American Essays and Facebook writers' groups where I have membership and see where writers I admire are placing work. I always aim high to begin with, and only submit to publications that I would be proud to list on my bio.

You are a published author! You have a book published! What advice would you give to us hopeful writers trying to do what you have accomplished?

Persistence pays off. It’s what everyone says, but it’s really true. Write the story you want to write and make it the best that you can. And then make it even better by putting it aside and by getting lots of feedback. Publish short pieces, whether they are excerpts from the longer work or not. When the manuscript is super-duper polished, send it out, and be patient. Remember that agents and editors are inundated with queries, and that, just as with publishing in a journal, it’s a matter of fit with a particular agent/editor/press. Someone out there is going to fall in love with your book. It will happen.  

In your opinion, what does literary success look like to you?

When a reader I’ve never met before contacts me to say they were moved by something I wrote.

We have to know, what is your favorite book of all time, and why?

That’s impossible to answer! Instead I’ll say the best memoir I’ve read in the past 10 years: THE TENDER LAND by Kathleen Finneran. The subtitle is “a family love story,” and it is indeed, a love letter to her family and her brother Sean whose suicide at the age of 15 is the main (but not the only) subject of the book. It’s a perfectly sculpted work of art. Every sentence is gorgeous. Finneran weaves together past and present masterfully. I’ve read it at least 10 times, and I learn something new each time.

Editing is a huge part of writing. Were there any sections of your memoir that you regret having to completely cut or change? Was it difficult to edit your work since it is your life story?

It took me 9 years to write and publish GUTS, and in that time I had several excerpts published as essays. Some pieces of those essays did get cut from the book, but since they’ve had a life in journals, it wasn’t hard to let those sections go from the final manuscript. I think it’s difficult to edit one’s own work, memoir or not. One of the main subjects of GUTS is my friend Beth, who died when we were both 38. I started writing GUTS in the immediate aftermath of her death, and those parts were hard to edit at that time. But one of the advantages of the re-writing and submission process taking place over several years is that I did eventually have emotional and temporal distance from the events surrounding her death, so eventually they were easier to edit.

What was the hardest part of publishing GUTS?

It was hard to be patient through the years of submitting and rejections, and hard to realize I needed to dig back into the work after a lot of revisions. But that work paid off — the manuscript that Vine Leaves accepted was “nearly print-ready” according to their acquisitions editor, and indeed the editing process was smooth and pretty painless.

So, what's on your horizon next?

I’m focusing on shorter projects for awhile, and trying my hand at fiction. After years of writing about the same few people and settings, it’s tons of fun to make stuff up.

 

Sarah Viren

The Pinch is in full swing with The 2018 Pinch Literary Awards, and so is the talented Sarah Viren as she prepares for the release of her book Mine. Sarah was a winner in The 2014 Pinch Literary Awards with her Nonfiction essay “My Murderer’s Futon” which was featured in The Pinch 35.1

We spoke with Sarah about her upcoming book, a tasty dish to try, and some tips on writing Creative Nonfiction. 

We here at The Pinch are excited about your upcoming book Mine. The first segment is going to be “My Murderer’s Futon”, can you describe the process you took in recalling that time in your life?

Thanks. I’m excited for the book’s release, too, and I will forever be grateful to The Pinch for giving that essay a home in the first place. As for the essay itself, most of the writing process involved trying to figure out which were the best moments to use, and by best, I mean which were the most charged, emotionally and intellectually, and therefore which would help open up the essay rather than shutting it down. I’m a firm believer in writing more than you will ever use, and so often I identify dozens of memories from a certain time period—in part by looking at my journals to see which moments I thought were important at the time—and then I let myself relive them on the page until I figure out which moments create the most narrative and intellectual friction. In the case of “My Murderer’s Futon,” I eventually realized that two scenes were key: the one with the police chief and the scene at the end when I discover the strange stains in Durst’s kitchen table. The other scenes in the essay are important for narrative reasons, but those two scenes felt necessary because they were moments in which I could identify movement in the central question driving the essay, which for me was: What relationship do I have to this man whose furniture is now mine?

Your book won the River Teeth Journal’s Literary Nonfiction Book Contest, when you submitted your work did you have a finished collection of essays ready to go?

I submitted the final manuscript, yes, but after Mine won the prize, the publisher gave me three months to make any changes I wanted, and so I dedicated myself in that interim to making it the best book possible. I made a few substantial changes, including removing one essay, rewriting another essay, and adding a coda, and also smaller changes, like adding an epigraph from a poem called “A Guide to Usage: Mine” by Monica Youn, which was published after I had submitted the essay collection to the book prize, but which very much feels in conversation with my book. 

Mine is described as a book about ownership, could you give us your sense of that in a few words?

Sure. In some ways, it’s more a book about the impossibility of ownership, how everything we think we own already is or one day will be lost, which sounds horrible and tragic, but I also think can be freeing. We focus so often on what is ours (and I should know: I have two children under 5 years old) that we end up limiting our ability to see the connections between our lives and the lives of others, my things and your things, etc. And so, for me, the book was a way of exploring that contradiction, and each essay considers a different element of ownership, or the illusion of ownership. Specifically, I wrote about my name, my hands, my wife, my story, my children, and then some random things like my possum (a dead opossum I once found) and my catch (a fish I caught). 

You do a lot of travelling; do you have a favorite place and dish you like to recommend?

Well my wife is from Spain, and she makes what is hands down my favorite meal ever: albondigas (Spanish meatballs) with French fries. She makes her own tomato sauce for the meatballs, and I sometimes joke that the reason I married her is for that sauce. It’s delicious. So, I recommend albondigas y patatas fritas if you go to Spain, but if you do, you should know that they probably won’t be as good as Marta’s. 

Do you have two or three tips you’d like to share about writing Creative Nonfiction?

Creative nonfiction is such a unique genre because it is judged by both ethical and aesthetic standards, which means that as writers we’re asked to think ethically as well as aesthetically, which can be a challenge. So the main advice I have for new writers is to figure out your position on the major ethical issues in creative nonfiction writing, and to do that you will need to read what others have written about those issues, read the myriad of approaches other writers have taken, and then decide for yourself what is right for your work. After that, focus on aesthetics, which is really the heart of what we do, and where most of the important work takes place. Besides that, I recommend keeping a journal and writing up notes immediately after an experience. And in life, pay attention to what Joan Didion calls the “images that shimmer around the edges.” When writing, take Joy William’s advice and create something that will “enchant while it explodes in the reader's face.”

Emily Rose Cole

We recently talked to Emily Rose Cole. She just released her new chapbook composed of persona poems, Love & a Loaded Gun, from Minerva Rising Press. One of the poems from the book, "Persephone Returns," was first published in The Pinch 37.1 (as "Self-Portrait of Persephone Returning").

Keep reading for Emily's fascinating discussion of persona poems, the publishing process, and her own personal connection to Judy Garland.

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This book is made up entirely of persona poems. Why did you choose this form? 

Working in persona was the key to “finding my voice” in poetry. Ironically, my voice is clearest when spoken from the mouths of other people, and as soon as I learned to lean into that tendency, the whole world opened up. I love persona because it allows me to reflect on my own trials and tribulations from the perspective of another person. A question I used to ask myself in choosing a persona was “how is this other person like me” but more recently I’ve inverted that question to “how am I like them?” Empathy is the most important tool for my writing, and I’ve found no more effective way to explore the connections between myself and other people than to inhabit someone else’s voice.

All the voices in the collection are female-identifying people, and writing these poems challenged me (and, I hope, my readers) to re-think women’s roles in the familiar narratives that most people know. Often, even the most famous women are passive agents in their own stories: Leda is raped, Persephone is kidnapped, Rapunzel is rescued, and on and on. I wanted this collection to re-center these women’s agency and give them a chance to reclaim their narratives, and that meant letting them speak in their own, proud voices. 

What was the process like in publishing a chapbook?

I didn’t originally set out to write an all-female collection, I just happen to find women’s stories compelling and, in the larger context of literature, such stories are woefully underrepresented. Because persona poems generally seek to show us sides of characters who are often misunderstood, female voices from myth and popular culture were a natural fit for the form. So I wrote poem after poem and, after a few years, I discovered that there were enough female-centered poems to make up a chapbook. I actually defended a version of the manuscript as part of the thesis for my MFA at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and got a lot of helpful feedback on it from my peers and advisors there.

After I had about 20 pages of poems (20 pages in MS word, that is! The little tiny chapbook 32 pages), I did some research about chapbook presses and curated a list of contests to send to. After many rejections (and one finalist nod!), I was thrilled to win Minerva Rising’s chapbook contest 2016. They did such a beautiful job with the book!

My long-term goal is to repurpose many of the poems that appear in the chapbook into a full-length persona manuscript (one which will include both men’s and women’s voices), but that goal is still far on the horizon. The potential full-length manuscript is more a side project right now.

“Persephone Returns” functions as both a self-portrait and a persona poem. What do you see as the difference between the two? How do you choose when to use which form?

“Persephone Returns” was actually written as a self-portrait (in The Pinch, the poem appears under the title “Self-Portrait as Persephone Returning,” which was its original title). The line between persona and self-portrait is thin, but important. The poet Lisa Russ Spaar has a great essay called “Thoughts on Poetic Self-Portraiture” in which she informs us that self- portrait poems as a “self-conscious literary entity” weren’t really popularized until after 1975, when John Ashbery published Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, after which their popularity exploded. But artists have been invoking self-portrait for centuries, and poets are no exception, even if we don’t often admit it as openly as sculptors and painters.

There is almost always an element of self-portrait in poems, especially poems in the lyric mode, and that’s why I think both persona an self-portrait poems are so crucial: to write a persona poem is to consciously inform your audience that you are about to don a mask (fittingly, the word “persona” itself is derived from the Latin for “mask”), but when you write a self-portrait poem, you only partially invoke the persona. The poet holds the mask in her hand but chooses to keep it lifted partway off her face, telling the reader explicitly “I see myself in this person.”

For me, persona and self-portrait are both useful tools for exploring someone else’s perspective, but self-portrait poems are investigations of the self first, and the persona second, whereas persona poems are investigations of the persona first and the self second.

Speaking of that connection between persona and self-portrait, is there a historical or pop culture figure from these poems that you connect to the most? Why? 

Oh, that’s such a hard question! I connect to all the women in this book on one level or another, though some of their poetic voices were louder than others. But I think the truest answer is that I relate to Judy Garland the most. I am also a singer, and I was drawn to her since I was a child. In my mind, Judy Garland is also inexorably connected to Dorothy Gale and The Wizard of Oz (as the poem’s references show), but the Judy Garland poem was actually far easier for me to write than its counterpart in Dorothy’s voice.

Singing has always been a very important part of my life (and my poetry, for that matter!) and I have always been fascinated by the ways that singers use their voices to assert their power. Though, historically, her story is ultimately a tragic one, it was important to me to present a narrative in which she could reclaim some of the power I always found so magical about her. That’s why the central image of this poem, the bluebird, functions as a way for Judy to find her voice, despite the initial, unasked-for trauma of having the bird sewn into her throat. In a way, that poem is a statement of purpose for the book.

What are you currently working on writing-wise?

So many things! I’m one of those writers that likes to have a lot of work simmering at once, and I sort of flit from project to project like a distractible hummingbird. I just finished the manuscript for my first poetry collection, which includes self-portrait versions of several of the poems from Love & a Loaded Gun. That narrative arc of that collection focuses on my relationship with my mother before, during, and after a long illness. 

My most current project is an investigation of the landscape of northwestern Pennsylvania, where I grew up, and its devastation due to hydraulic fracturing. Concurrent to that project, though, I’m still working on more persona poems (most recently a crown of sonnets in the voice of the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz) and one day I hope to have enough work to fill a whole full-length collection of persona work.

Erin Adair-Hodges

Past contributor Erin Adair-Hodges has a new book out from Pitt Poetry Series. Let's All Die Happy was the winner of the 2016 Agnes Lynch Starrett prize. Two of the poems from the new book, "I Would Have Listened to Rush" and "Ode to my Dishwasher," first appeared in issue 35.2 of The Pinch. 

We spoke with Erin about what she's been up to lately, her inspiration for the book, and her writerly impulses. 

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What have you been up to since publishing with The Pinch?

First, The Pinch was among the first places to publish my poems and the first to ever solicit me for work, so I will always be grateful for that.

Since the spring of 2015, I’ve been fortunate enough to publish a lot of work and in 2016, my first book Let’s All Die Happy won the Agnes Lynch Starrett prize from the Pitt Poetry Series—it was just published at the end of October. I’ve also moved to Ohio to take a position as a visiting professor of creative writing at the University of Toledo. So in other words, a lot.

Can you tell us about your book Let’s All Die Happy and the inspiration behind it?

The book wasn’t something I envisioned before its creation. I respect and even envy “project” books, but I consider mine a collection of poems that weave together an examination of disappointment and yearning. It takes what are presented to women as life-defining events (motherhood, marriage, daughterness, sex) and asks about what happens when we do what we’ve been told will fulfill us and yet feel hollowed a bit by this. Yes, motherhood is awe-inspiring, but postpartum depression is annihilating. Marriage is a great source of support, but it can also be stultifying. I’m interested in flipping over the thing we think we know to complicate our understanding of these roles and relationships.

How did it feel to win last year’s Agnes Lynch Starrett prize, and what did it mean to you?

I was told the news on an early Monday morning, and almost immediately I had to go teach a class of freshman comp. I think this sums up a lot about my experience—it’s tremendously affirming, but then I just have to keep getting work done.

That’s not meant to sound ungrateful; I am, on an almost daily basis, fairly floored by my good fortune to have won this prize. The significance of it will seep in and surprise me. I’d accepted a while ago that my life wasn’t going to look the way I thought it would and that I’d have to find happiness in what I had the opportunities for instead of what I really wanted. At some point, I decided that wasn’t enough. I wanted a life as a poet and I made it. Winning this prize has been affirming in a way that’s hard to overstate.

The business of poetry (separate from the art of poetry) celebrates youth in a way that can make it seem if you didn’t hit it when you were young, there’s no space for you. I’m concerned with supporting those voices, mostly of women, who for varied reasons had to sublimate their artistry and ambitions. I hope to be able to give support and community to those who may not see a way in for themselves.

Where does your general impulse to write come from? And what does a typical day of writing look like for you?

My impulse comes largely from reading. Those days I can write, I begin by reading at least a few poems to become inspired—images, line breaks, surprising language—any and all of it can trigger a desire to get onto the page and do it myself.

I don’t have a typical writing day. I teach a heavy load and have many other responsibilities, so I don’t view writing as a daily practice, otherwise I’d be constantly anxious because of my failure to write during busy times. Instead, I try to listen to my impulses. The past few weeks, my commitment to writing poems as part of the Plath Poetry Project has led to a kind of epic tear, but before that it had been nearly three weeks before I could write. I personally can’t follow the advice that you should write every day, but I also don’t wait for inspiration to strike. If I have time, I sit down and try; if I don’t, I go through the world with a lens open to experience that will find its way to my work.

What is the last a) TV show you watched, b) book you read, c) drink you drank, and d) song you listened to.

a.    Show: “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”

b.    Book: Ordinary Misfortunes by Emily Jungmin Yoon

c.    Drink: Pinot Grigio

d.    “Blue Magic” by Son Little

 

 

Hunter Choate

Hunter Choate's story "Mirror Box" was recently listed as a Distinguished Story in The Best American Short Stories 2017. The story first appeared in issue 36.1 of The Pinch, and it captivated our staff with its flawless writing and powerful storytelling. Recently, we spoke with Hunter about how it felt to receive this distinction, as well as what inspires his stories, and where his writing's headed next.

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Q: What have you been up to since publishing with The Pinch?

I've been working on short stories. I'd like to have enough for a collection soon. Beyond that, I was an opening reader for Lauren Groff at a Functionally Literate event here in Orlando. That was a huge treat. And, of course, there's a novel on the distant horizon. There's always a novel on the horizon, right? I'm a big believer in momentum, so I'm trying to buckle down and make it all happen.

Q: Can you tell us about the process that went into writing "Mirror Box"?

The story originated with the idea of a one-armed kid who wanted to impress girls by making the preposterous claim he was the drummer for Def Leppard. On its own that's little more than an absurdist joke and, while I enjoy humor, I aim to use it in service of illustrating the hard business of being human. So, as is often the case in my writing, the process was accretive. Years ago I'd learned about the use of mirror boxes to treat phantom limb pain, and once that information dislodged itself from the recesses of my brain and made its way into the story, I had the room for added depth. The third person narrator also unveiled himself in the writing process. His role in the story was a surprise to me and hopefully that translates to the reader's experience.

Q: What does it mean to you to have "Mirror Box" selected as a Distinguished Story in The Best American Short Stories 2017?

It's such an honor to have work mentioned alongside stories by so many authors whose work I admire. Writing is a lonely endeavor and it's brimming with rejection—my personal record is five rejections in the span of 24 hours—so there's a certain validation to the Distinguished Story nod that I'm sure will help fuel the writing for a good long while.

Q: Where do you look for inspiration? On a typical day, how long do you spend writing?

Inspiration is everywhere. The key is being attuned to it. I like the David Lynch example of paying close attention as random pieces to your creative puzzle are being flicked to you beneath a door. That said, a few things I look for include ways to balance the oddness and humor of life with its beauty and sorrow, and I’m a sucker for a striking image. I often think in terms of visual mnemonics. In the same way someone trying to memorize a deck of cards will assign visual cues to each card, at key points in my work I look to include images that have the power to linger.

As for the sausage making of getting the actual writing done, I try to wake up early and get in an hour or so before heading to the office. Unfortunately, I’m not a morning person and it takes me a while to get into the writing flow, so most of my progress is made on the weekends when I can steal a couple hours in succession to focus on the work.

Q: Just for fun, which do you prefer: dogs or cats, coffee or tea, rain or sunshine? 

You couch this as being the fun question, but I’m already envisioning sternly worded letters from the militant wing of the American Kennel Club, the Peaceful Tea Ceremonies or Death gang and drought sufferers everywhere. I think I ought not answer. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.

For more on Hunter and his writing, visit his website. To read his story, "Mirror Box," check out our limited edition PDF of 36.1, and for news about our upcoming publications and interviews, take a look at our new blog, The Spark

Brad Aaron Modlin

In 2007, Brad Aaron Modlin won second place in The Pinch's  River City Writing Award in Poetry with his poem, “What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade." The poem recently went viral, so we asked Brad a few questions about his writing, his views on social media, and his connection to poetry.

Q: What have you been up to since publishing with The Pinch?

A: I’m an assistant professor at Missouri Southern (not to be confused with Southeast Missouri/SEMO Press, who run the Cowles Prize and published the book). In my job, I’m lucky to get to talk about three genres of creative writing with great workshop students who give me new ideas. I’ve been reading some wonderful books as well.

Q: How has the writing been going?

Writing keeps us all busy. My short collection of short stories, Surviving in Drought, won The Cupboard’s annual contest and came out earlier this year. I’ve been working on both a nonfiction manuscript and a new fiction one. 

Q:How did your poem gain momentum, and how does it feel to have a poem go viral?

A: I don’t know how that happened. I do know the poet Pádraig Ó Tuama took the original photo of the poem from the book. Then I was on airplanes and in mountains for a couple days—and not plugged in to the Internet much. My social media use didn’t include Twitter, so when I returned, I created an account to get a better idea of what was happening. It was quite a surprise. 

I’m glad this poem seems to resonate with people. I know we aren’t supposed to have favorite children, but this one is important to me. As a reader and a human, there are certain pieces out there that I frequently return to because I enjoy them or because they help me live. A writing goal of mine has always been to pay that forward.

Q: Is this a viable opportunity to bring poetry back to the masses?

A: I used to have, taped to my office door, a bookmark given out by members of our English student honors society (Sigma Tau Delta). It featured a quote from a biopic of C.S. Lewis: “We read to know we are not alone.” I think we sometimes join social media for the same reason. And so it makes sense that folks share literature there. Because social media is a place where we share news—good and bad, personal and societal—it’s a place where we ask a lot of questions. Whatever our questions, literature has a response. Social media gives us a chance to remind each other of that, too.

Brad’s poem can be found in his new book “Everyone at This Party Has Two Names," and for more information about the talented poet, visit his website. Discover other great poems with a back issue of The Pinch, and if you're interested in submitting to The Pinch, click here. Submissions reopen August 15.