We thought you would enjoy hearing from our contributors.
Robin Metz, poet, professor, world traveler, and (I admit) friend, contributed several of his poems to American Writers Review, Summer 2018. His work resonates deeply with readers for his blend of erudition and emotion. We caught up with Robin to get his thoughts about his work.
AWR: Your work has been renowned the world over, including by the award of the Rilke Prize for Unbidden Angel. Do you find that such acclaim inhibits you, or prods you to greater things?
Robin Metz; Well, it's true that I've been honored to share my work with audiences in numerous countries and many US cities, but I don't think of that as anything like renown. Rather, I think that the fame-game, or any of the trappings of celebrity-hood, if you will, is a distraction from, if not utterly destructive to, serious art. On the other hand, I'm not denying that it pleases me when an audience stays engaged, or laughs, or seems to be moved, or...well, let's see..."erupts in thunderous applause" (which is pretty rare at a poetry event). Seriously, though, I think any artist seeks some measure of approval, because that bolsters confidence and belief, and belief is the most difficult energy to sustain, over a day's creation or a career's. So, the short answer is: if you smile, I'll want to write another poem, if not a "greater" one.
AWR: In the pieces included in our issue, you draw inspiration from two very different places – Block Island and the Wisconsin countryside. Did these places strike you with sudden inspiration or did poetry grow from comfort and familiarity?
Robin Metz; I'm more familiar with Buck Creek, Wisconsin because I live there part of every year, but I know Block Island, too, because it was central to my wife's youth, and she's shared the actual island with me. I suppose I should agree with Wordsworth and say that poetry is created "in tranquility," but, truly, I was suddenly inspired one evening in Buck Creek when my wife--the theatre director, Liz Carlin-Metz--and I had been star gazing from our swing beneath the pines and birches. (Oh, and we own about 40 wind chimes, as well!). About Block Island, that was sudden, too--but since I've already mentioned that it was my wife's beloved terrain, I won't go into too much detail about the poem's anatomical metaphors.
AWR: In addition to being a poet, you have been a teacher for, well, a few years. What keeps your classes engaged with you, and you with them?
Robin Metz; I'll answer the easy part of your question first: after decades of teaching, I've rarely felt ground down or wrung out, because there's always a new author, or a different approach, or the next landscape, literally, to explore. I love to introduce new courses--I think I've taught over 30 different courses, many of them with travel components to London (Interdisciplinary Arts), Dublin and Paris (Beckett), Wales (Dylan Thomas), Key West and Cuba (Hemingway)--and, of course, my writing workshops (in nearly every genre) are always sparkling with fresh material even when the students may become familiar as they proceed from beginning to advanced classes.
As for my students' response to me over the years--or rather, year after year--I confess that we have to negotiate occasionally a generational divide, which is both instructive and fun! (They can recite the dramatis personae of THE LORD OF THE RINGS; I can croon--well, rasp--Leonard Cohen.) But perhaps I should turn, with a blush, to an alumnus response published a few years ago:
"Robin Metz combines in one person the ecstatic fascination of a 10-year-old discovering a favorite book with the deep maturity of a grandfather who can fully understand a story about loss after having experienced grief himself. He wants his students to grow, and if they're willing, they do."
I can attest to the last line, and to being a grandfather, and to my experience of grief (see my poem "Night Light" published in this issue). And as for relishing the memories of my childhood--the giggles and the tears--well, sure.
AWR: If you could leave your children only one poem – yours or anyone else’s – what would it be? What prose piece?
Thanks for asking (the desert island question), but I could hardly limit myself to naming a single author or single book, much less a single story, play, or poem. Modern/contemporary authors that I have recommended to my children and grandchildren, however, as they've matured include: James Wright, Mary Oliver, Richard Yates, Jane Kenyon, August Wilson, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett, Rita Dove, Theodore Roethke, Anne Sexton, Galway Kinnell, Sheryl St. Germain, Saul Bellow, Maxine Kumin, Jack Gilbert, Marilyn Robinson, Carl Sanburg, Dorothea Tanning, Dylan Thomas, Louise Erdrich, Arthur Miller, Patricia Smith, William Styron, and anything/everything by Wendell Berry. That's just one shelf from several bookcases full, but it's a shelf that's best kept at eye-level and close to bedside, just to help one make it through the night.
Robin Metz has published poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction in the Paris Review, International Poetry Review, Visions International, Epoch, Other Voices, Abiko Quarterly (Japan), New Welsh Review (Wales), The Wolf (UK), Van Gogh’s Ear (France), Rosebud, Fourth River, Writers’ Forum, and some eighty other US and international journals, as well as numerous anthologies. His book Unbidden Angel was awarded the Rainer Maria Rilke International Poetry Prize, nominated for the London Guardian Book of the Year Award, and cited for excellence by the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Health. He is Director of Creative Writing, Knox College and co-founder/Executive Producer of Vitalist Theatre Company, Chicago.
Wendy Lynn Decker shared with us some thoughts about her adventures while teaching English on a US Navy ship.
AWR: Your piece about life teaching aboard a Navy ship teases the reader with a hint that there may be more to come. Are we going to see “Wendy Decker Takes on the Navy” on our bookshelves soon?
Wendy Lynn Decker: I am working on a compilation of essays that involve my experiences at sea as well as visiting third world countries while travelling with the Navy. In addition, I will be weaving in stories that led me to the journey, which I began six years ago when I started a new life for myself. I’ve titled the compilation, “Walking Sideways.”
AWR: What was the greatest challenge you faced on the ship that didn’t make it into the final piece?
Wendy Lynn Decker: The students’ educational backgrounds were very diverse, and many of them had language barriers, which made writing more difficult for them. However, these students worked extra hard, and I didn’t want them to be discouraged, so I worked privately with those who needed the help.
AWR: What did you enjoy on the trip that you would not have expected to like?
Wendy Lynn Decker: Prior to joining the USS San Diego as an English instructor, I had never left the United States. When I found out my first country would be Vietnam, I felt somewhat disappointed. However, once I began to explore the country and its culture, I had a completely different perspective, and I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to go.
AWR: Are there more voyages in the future?
Wendy Lynn Decker: I would like to teach on a ship again. It’s an unconventional style of teaching, and you really need to be creative, flexible and resourceful toward the ship lifestyle. I’m comfortable in unconventional situations, I actually prefer it. I’ve already been asked to go out again, but it’s not always easy to pick up and jump on board for two months. The timing has to be just right.
Wendy Lynn Decker is the author of Sweet Tea: A Novel (Vox Dei, Serenity Books), which was endorsed by the Middlesex County Chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and The Bedazzling Bowl (Serenity Books), an inspirational chapter book for middle-grade readers, which received the Outstanding Read Award from FaithWriters Magazine. Wendy received her Masters in Creative Writing from Wilkes University, and is an Adjunct Professor for Central Texas College She lives on the Jersey shore. When she’s not teaching, she is a singer/entertainer throughout New Jersey. To learn more, visit her website at: http://www.wendylynndeckerauthor.com
klipschutz is the pen name of a celebrated poet and songwriter, whose work will grace American Writers Review's next issue. We caught up with him recently, and discussed his work.
AWR: You have been a poet and songwriter for a long time. Do you see an arc in your work – a discernible pathway – or have you struck out on tangents?
klipschutz: Poetry preceded songwriting. The tie-in is that I don’t consider rhyme either necessary or dead in poetry. So it wasn’t like emigrating to another country, more like relocating from San Francisco to L.A., part-time. I think my work has gotten less “too clever by half” (a phrase I know by way of Isaac Bashevis Singer). Maturity, however, I continue to see as a curse, the road to Dullsville and creative death. Tangents are us, I’ll leave it at that.
AWR: In your poetry, you have channeled other poets – Edgar Lee Masters and Don Marquis to name two. What was your process? Did you begin with an idea for a poem and choose the poetic shadow of another poet? Or did you begin with the poet, and establish the idea later?
klipschutz: I almost always begin with a line or two and let the voice identify itself to me from there. Masters was an exception (there are others). In that case, it was a matter of turning the tables on him, as it were.
AWR: With Jeremy Gaulke, you were the creative force behind a literary gem, Four by Two. Did being an editor/publisher change your approach to writing and submitting?
klipschutz: I had been writing and submitting for a long time by then – as you say above. So, no, the writing didn’t change. Because of the particulars of the mag, we solicited work, rather than taking open submissions. It was small (physically) and concise. One or two poets per issue, usually (in addition to my own work) with a generous selection of their poems. Taking cold submissions would have been madness. Reading hundreds of submissions is not for me anymore – been there, done that. “Fill your head with noble rhythms,” Pound said. They are few and far between.
AWR: Who is the best poet no one has ever heard of?
klipschutz: Jon Cone, a friend of mine, who lives in Iowa but is from Canada. I was a fan before we became friends. I have published him in a book – ALL ROADS . . . But This One (high-quality, low print run, a collector’s item, and twice in Four by Two. He’s the only one I published twice over 12 issues. His latest is Cold House, available here: http://espresso-chapbooks.com/.
klipschutz has been lauded by the likes of Sharon Doubiago, Barry Hannah, Bill Knott, Antler, Robert Sward, and Carl Rakosi.. Collections include This Drawn & Quartered Moon, Twilight of the Male Ego, and The Erection of Scaffolding for the Re-Painting of Heaven by the Lowest Bidder. A Visit to the Ranch & other poems, mostly set in the Pacific Northwest, was issued by in 2015 by Last Word Press (Olympia, WA). He writes songs with Chuck Prophet, and with Jeremy Gaulke edited twelve issues of Four by Two.
Monique Antonette Lewis, founder of the At the Inkwell reading series and online magazine, offers writers an outlet for reviews and craft pieces. ( Full disclosure: D Ferrara's work has popped up there with some regularity.) Generous and phenomenally energetic, Monique shares some of her insight with AWR readers.
AWR: Your piece for AWR 2018 Looking for Mr. Wrong is witty and touching, in a very contemporary manner. Yet it also raises some pretty well-established issues about women, love and life. How closely do we have to listen to hear some autobiographical overtones?
Monique Antonette Lewis: While I don’t want to point to specifics, the reader would be right to assume that the stories are loosely based on personal experiences, both mine and my friends. Sometimes a story is inspired by a simple statement that I hear and I create a situation around it, while other stories are much more autobiographical beyond a remark.
AWR: As a journalist, you were asked to produce work in a hurry. Does this make flash fiction a natural fit?
When I wrote for newspapers, shrinking budgets meant less space to write, so I was forced to whittle down a three-hour city council meeting to less than 500 words. This meant I had to quickly get to the point. Writing on deadline forces you to tighten your writing and carry a distinctive voice at the same time. As an editor, I look to tighten reporters’ stories even more. I see myself approach my flash fiction with the same focus on brevity. I tend to edit while I write, which works for flash fiction but can be a hindrance to longer form writing like short stories and novels.
AWR: You’ve flirted with many genres. Do you see yourself settling down any time soon?
Monique Antonette Lewis: Although I’ve written essays, poetry and flash fiction, my strongest passion is fiction. I have been trying to finish a novel for much longer than I care to admit. The main reason is because of doubt and page fright; essays and flash fiction don’t intimidate me as much. It has only been in the last year and a half that I have felt more confident in my writing, because of readers’ favorable reactions to my readings and achieving publishing credits in lit zines. I’ve promised myself that this will be the year I finally finish that novel (even though I make this promise every year).
AWR: You are a founder of the wonderful At The Inkwell series and online magazine. Thanks to you, At The Inkwell is an international institution. Do you see yourself as an ambassador of good writing, or the hostess of a terrific global party?
Monique Antonette Lewis: I see At The Inkwell as the former, an ambassador of good writing. When I created the organization, I had just completed my MFA at Wilkes University and realized just how increasingly difficult it is for writers to market their work. I wanted to be part of that environment that gives writers broader access to readers in their communities. It was The Moth international storytelling series that inspired me to expand At The Inkwell to multiple cities. Storytelling series are quite popular under various organizations but it is less common to find a multi-city lit reading series. In 2016, At The Inkwell added the Denver, London, Richmond and Seattle chapters. I’ve slowed down the growth for now but I expect to continue adding more markets in the coming years. It’s been a pleasure to support local writers and connect them to readers who may have never discovered these writers otherwise.
Monique Antonette Lewis, essayist, fiction writer, editor and journalist, is the founder of At the Inkwell, a multi-city literary reading series held across the Unites States and in London, U.K. A former board member of the New York Writers Workshop, Monique taught fiction classes in NYC. In addition to Forbes, The Financial Times and HuffPost, her writing has appeared in literary journals and is forthcoming in the anthology My Body, My Words (Big Table Publishing, March 2018). She has shared her work at multiple readings as well as for two national storytelling series, This is My Brave and Mortified.
Our interview with Christine Gelineau contained a surprise. The renowned poet shared some verse with us in her answers.
AWR: Your poetry shares a very personal path. In the piece we are reprinting in American Writers Review, “Anniversary,” you share feelings about your father. Does re-reading “Anniversary” bring a smile or tears?
Christine Gelineau: I lost both of my parents, I would say, somewhat early, my mother very early. I have friends my age who have one or even both of their parents still living while my father has been gone for twenty years now and my mother for fifty-one. Remembering them, either my mother or my father, is bittersweet but principally sweet, to be keeping some aspect of their memory alive in the world.
AWR: I’ve known you for a number of years: you’re smart, grounded, practical, technically skilled and very much present. Your poetry travels ethereal grounds, exploring pain, loss, God, love and other unknowables. One reviewer called your work “a new cosmology.” Do these spring from the “real” Christine, or a visiting alter ego?
Christine Gelineau: Thanks for the kind things you say here. I don’t experience a duality. I think the ethereal and the practical are one whole and to try to separate them is a mistake.
The cosmology comment was Molly Peacock speaking of my second book, a book that asks the question What were we made for / if not this appetite for the divine? In my essay, “Foal Watch,” giving birth is the central motif and what birth is a motif for in that essay I think gets at your question.
In that essay I ask and answer my own rhetorical question: How can innocence be produced out of birth's struggle of blood, mucus, sweat, and feces, and yet, time after time it is, and then later try to apply that more broadly: I am as wary of claims for special authority for a woman's perspective as I am of the centuries of claim for that authority for the male view, but certain aspects of femaleness do seem to protect against a too easy cerebralness, a too easy disconnection from life's messy mortal implications, the implications of the flesh which, despite centuries of denial in much of the Western tradition, persist in being our connection to the sublime.
It is an illusion that the cerebral, the ethereal, the sublime can be separated from the mortal, the corporeal, the bodily, an illusion that walls us off from much of the holiness that is there in life (the holiness that is left us, as the book Appetite for the Divine names it).
In at least partial reply to your question, I would offer this section from Appetite: .
.The solidity dailiness
appears to possess
is a quality we amass
scrubbing the toilet sorting
trousers from underwear lifting
our child down from the swing idling
at the intersection reading recipes
filing reports pushing carts
down grocery aisles making
love to our spouse,
washing those sheets
then drying them in the sun .
time enough we at last realize how
it must come to this
gradual putting off of gravity
how even the skull, the bones
hollow out of their density
like light rising
AWR: Who is the best poet – or writer of any sort – that we’ve never heard of?
Christine Gelineau: I do not think of writers, of poets and poems, in this kind of hierarchical “best” sort of classification but I realize what you’re after is to bring some little ray of light onto worthy work that is being overshadowed. So, much good work out there. The names that came first to mind today:
Corrine Clegg Hales, Vern Rutsala, Maurya Simons, Randall R. Freisinger, Christopher Bursk, Meg Kearney, Suzanne Cleary, Enid Shomer, Joe E. Weil, Yehoshua November, I could go on . . . . and on . . .
Our next interview is with Gary Fincke, a prolific writer of poetry, short stories and other genres. His non-fiction piece, "Museum of Essential History" appears in our 2018 issue.
AWR: Your work spans genres – fiction, long and short, poetry, non-fiction. Do you begin with a genre? Or does the subject choose the genre?
Gary Fincke:The subject usually choose the genre, but it doesn't necessarily confine me to it--I've shifted dozens of pieces from one genre to anther because doing the writing has triggered a discovery that demanded a shift, for instance, from the confines of a poem to a full-blown short story.
AWR: The piece in American Writers Review takes the reader to China, and it is a marvel of subtlety. You describe a fairly regimented tour, and your prose has a tight quality that echoes the constraint of the tour. Can we look forward to more about your trip - maybe inspired by exploring on you own?
Gary Fincke:The part of that tour I think will become a longer personal essay has always been based in the situation where one of the students stole a painting when we made a stop in a very rural area near the Great Wall. A few other students told me about it later that day. They were disgusted and wanted me to know. A day after that, when we stopped at the same site as we headed back toward Beijing, I volunteered to return the painting to the artist. It was a moment, for sure, but I want to do it justice beyond simply recording it.
AWR: What do you like to see in travel writing? Any advice for emerging writers?
Gary Fincke: I want to hear a voice. I want to land somewhere other than a tour stop. I want a sense of place that somehow seems singular because of who is observing and what and how they choose to see. My advice to emerging writers is to risk yourself on the page so that whatever is being shown feels fresh because some part of it belongs solely to you.
Gary Fincke is a poet and author of short fiction and nonfiction. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Fincke earned his BA from Thiel College, his MA from Miami University, and his PhD from Kent State University in 1974. He began his literary career that same year and has published over 20 works.
Fincke is the recipient of multiple awards for his poetry, including the Wheelbarrow Prize for Poetry, Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry magazine and the Rose Lefcowitz Prize from Poet Lore. His collection Writing Letters for the Blind (2003) won the 2003 Ohio State University Press/The Journal poetry prize.
The winner of our 2017-18 Contest, Douglas Hall, shared some thoughts with us.
AWR: A Bright Shining Thing touches a lot of different fields – it’s set in a very specific place in Massachusetts, it deals with crime and (maybe) punishment, sin and forgiveness. It seems to have a strong, autobiographical core. How closely does it follow parts of your own life?
Douglas Hall: Small New England towns are both a challenge and a canvas for me. Although it is not my hometown, Ipswich assuredly has its own pattern of crime and punishment. My characters maintain their own reservoirs of sin and forgiveness. These are not necessarily mine, but they do provide conflict appropriate to the story and worthy of consideration.
The only blatantly autobiographical element is that a large tree in my own back yard did fail to leaf one spring and found its way into “A Bright, Shining Thing.” Perhaps I do resemble a cantankerous old man wandering about his property, but that is another story.
AWR: You’ve had other crime fiction published – Murder (Redux) in Paradise. Do you see yourself primarily as a crime writer?
Douglas Hall: I do not. My short stories tend to be character sketches, which develop into action, conflict and resolution. A Bright, Shining Thing from one of my favorite writing prompts: What if? I enjoy creating characters and asking the question. The characters mature and the story evolves as I provide answers to the question.
AWR: Would you like to say a few words about Marianne’s War, your novel in progress?
Douglas Hall: Marianne’s War concerns a young woman who moves to a rural area in central Germany before the First World War. Her husband is called to arms, leaving the inexperienced and pregnant Marianne isolated on their small farm. Her trials and small victories, her hope and despair parallel the death and devastation manifest on the Western Front. After four years of conflict, armistice—the laying down of arms and the perseverance of life—brings Marianne’s war to culmination.
AWR: We’re always looking for good writers. How did you happen upon the American Writers Review contest?
Douglas Hall: I maintain a growing list of publishing venues for short fiction. There are hundreds of possibilities: anthologies, literary journals, popular magazines, contests, on-line sites. Your competition was cited in one of the several listings that I receive periodically. I believe it was Masters Review Monthly Deadlines. I researched AWR and noted its connection to the earlier San Fedele Writing Conference and the editors’ intent to re-introduce the journal.
Douglas Hall lives in a large, purple antique house in a coastal town north of Boston where he is completing his first novel, Marianne's War. He has a Ph.D. in German History from the University of California at Berkeley. An earlier short story, Murder (Redux) in Paradise, appears in Rogue Wave: Best New England Crime Stories.