Experience is like shelling peanuts- interview with Kashiana Singh

Thank you for spending time with me today to answer some pivotal questions. Let me begin by asking how difficult for you is it to find your audience? What role do editors and publishers play in helping you discover who that audience is?

I am about writing for writing sake. I write because I am, I am because I write and the two keep each other in balance. My facebook, twitter, and wordpress blogs serve as delivery channels to place my work out in the ether – from there as you know many factors come into play towards building a consistent and committed audience. Overarchingly, I think of my audience as a set of concentric circles expanding outwards. Like the rings around Saturn – iridescent, ever present, together yet separate.

Within the innermost circle, are a few readers who sustain by just reading – they are eyeballs to ink that every writer needs irrespective of whether they understand the craft or the context, they understand what that written piece means at its very basic level. They care because they value finding expression to what they also are touched by, moved by, care for, are angry about but do not go about stringing into words  – watching a child smile in sleep, a squirrel in the yard, a caricature of a neighbor, unspoken pain or debilitating illness, a shared meal, unequal conditions of hunger, etc.

Then there is the active middle ring in the circle usually formed by meaningful communities that nourish by critiquing, reading and offering their own work to read; in the process growing each other’s audience as well as honing each other’s craft – this is both online as well as in person. I have a few of these forums and stay aligned to them, grasping at every learning and teaching moment.

The largest, most difficult and most detached section of the audience circle is where editors and publishers play a pivotal role for writers. Without this there is a limitation to how far a writer can reach in and unravel who the audience is. This could mean finding mentors like yourself who take the time to listen, read and react to a new author’s work. This is also where the end to end supply chain becomes critical and where a gap exists for eager voices who may not have the resources to go full throttle towards building an audience. I don’t understand the full spectrum of the publishing industry but clearly there needs to be better coupling, and understanding of the joint responsibility between the poet and the publishing community. The poet being responsible for getting their work out, reading, writing, submitting and the publishing community ensuring an engagement with new, global, diverse and experimental voices.

Lastly, someone said this to me many years ago and it is great advice that I took seriously, develop a hobby of collecting rejections.

Denied Stamp Showing Rejection Or Refusal Stock Photo - Image: 25153430

What is the significance of the title Shelling Peanuts and Stringing Words? Does this connect to an overarching theme of your collection?

Thank you for asking this question. The title does have a significance but let me tell you that it was definitely not the first choice. For many years I always thought my first poetry collection would be called, Just by the way. But that was not to be. As starters, Shelling Peanuts is the first poem in the book and it fitted well into the need for a title that was going to be difficult to ignore when heard or seen. The warps and wefts of the poems across the 8 sections of the book are like peanuts – conversation starters, easily relatable to a global audience, layers of human connections, plain enough that they are just there. Shelling and eating peanuts is ultimately a very basic but a satisfying, an almost addictive food act. I thought that all of these associations made Shelling Peanuts and Stringing Words an ideal title for the book. Literally speaking, the poem, Shelling Peanuts references a family gathering around the fire place, shelling peanuts and stringing words. This book was written for my dad and he has a special love for peanuts, in particular peanuts in shells!

In your poem “RAPE”, you write “to be your excruciating self / and never a / cookie cutter version / to cater to perspectives / that pretend / to prevent pain.” Have you struggled with identity in this sense?

Have we not all struggled with identity in some shape manner and form during the course of our lives? Is the self-identity war ever won and done?

There is no question that I have walked the fine line of questions about identity in many ways – Who am I? is a question I ask all day every day and the answer is never consistently the same. Not sure it should come back same as then I would not find my poems, would I?  A management professional, corporate slave or a free-spirited poet? A teacher or a manager? A mother or a daughter? A daughter or a daughter in law? A wife or a lover? An Indian or American or global resident?

It is in the astonishment of identity that we find our poems – at least I do.

What role does that struggle play in your writing? Do you think it is a difficult task to be oneself in this day and age? Why did you choose this acronym for the poem?

Poetry is not really distant unlike what many think; it is actually very present – I always attempt to bridge that gap between the genesis of the poem, myself, the poem and ultimately the reader.  RAPE is that kind of a poem. This poem was born of an anger, fear, insecurity after an infamous gang rape incident in India that everyone who is paying attention to the global arena is aware of. That was followed by a disturbing crescendo in the US and then all the noise with the me-too movement.

With that as the backdrop, RAPE specifically was something (along with many others in the Section Pedagogy of Permissions) I wrote during the phase and as my teenage daughter was getting ready to embark on a life of her own as a young woman, leaving home and going to college.

What duty do today’s feminists have? In what ways do you believe feminism is achieving its aims? Do you see a different struggle today than during the initial phases of feminism?

I know there is an entire debate about feminism vs womanism vs humanism – and I will stay away from venturing into that because it really does not matter to me personally. It is semantics, what matters is that we change the experience and help own what we can to enable the change. So, to your question –

There was a feminist wave in the 60s and 70s and then we have had a feminist rush in the recent past driven by some of the external factors but also due to the emergence of some great voices across the globe and being heard, listened and replayed through social media. I often reflect if due to the technology bias of consumable poetry, there is a missing presence of incoming and outgoing connection of poetry with women who are on the outskirts of this social media consumer group. Just like the global workforce dynamic needs to adapt to cater to 6 generations, the voice of feminist poetry must remember to meet the female voice across these 6 generations. Now add to that layers of how color, race, land, gender, economics as pivoted over the years. I will put it this way – While the role description of a feminist poet has not really changed, and will not change the success measures have evolved considerably and as poets we will need to continue to check and adjust these measures if we want to ensure the collective feminist voice remains upstream in the social sequence and not an afterthought.

File:Feminism symbol.svg - Wikimedia Commons

My personal favorite poem of yours is “Nocturnal Flame.” Can you discuss what the essence of the poem expresses?

Oh, I am glad you like it. It was one of those that came to me – a view of the moon from my window on a full moon night as it shone bright behind the branches of the trees in my backyard. It suddenly came in the clear and I was able to take a picture of it. I wrote the poem that night, in a lover’s voice. You can call it a romantic ekphrastic written in response to nature’s most beautiful form of art – the moon across the night sky teasing the poet with it’s changing pallor and moving gaze.

How does religion factor into your work? Do you see Sikhism factoring into your poetry?

Two statements followed by how Sikhism plays into my life and therefore my poetry.

  1. I am not religious.
  2. Sikhism is embedded within me as my inherent self.

It is a part of my lexicon and makes me who I am across all my identities. Now that you ask the question, I think it manifests into my poetry in two ways. One, the Sikh prayers and hymns that I have grown up organically imbibing as read or recited by my grandparents and parents. It is important to understand that the Guru Granth Saheb, which is the holy scripture of the Sikhs is really a compilation of approx. 4000 hymns that are both exhilarating and uplifting. Second, I have had an ever-present influence of Sikh values – speaking for the truth, a keen awareness of the larger order, and work as worship. So, Sikhism does factor in organically into my writing in terms of the inherent traditions of both oral and written forms of poetry, poetry as a source of healing and the philosophical attributes of being a Sikh.

As for writing about Sikhism, I have written two or three poems about the Sikh Guru’s and prayers but find myself hesitant – I do not think I can do justice. At least not yet.

How does your broader worldview inform your poetic sensibilities? Does poetry resolve certain tensions for you? As a process of self-discovery, what has poetry taught you?

My worldview completely and absolutely informs everything I write. I would like to believe that everything I say through my poems transcends boundaries because I am nothing if not a fusion of sensibilities and geographies. The stories, language and words I bring into my poems from my India is inherent to my poetic refrain. Combine that with a relentless broadening of my geographies and you now have poems that are sometimes coherent and often incoherent as they continually focus and refocus towards a center of gravity. I cannot ignore my skin color, my accent nor my Indian descent but I think of all of these as enablers to my poetic output. The other thing that I have been reflecting on is that because I started from a place where chaos is normal, where prayer is ingested, where food is a ritual, I bring to my writing table a larger canvas and a broader range of perspectives. Whether that is an advantage or a burden depends on the day and the topic at hand but it is a fact that differentiates me.

Free stock photo of activism, feminism, freedom

How does crafting a new poem make you feel? What is your process in editing and revising?

I let a poem happen most times, but am more deliberate about the editing and revision process. As for the actual process of writing, I adopted the discipline of writing every day around six years ago and have been fortunate to have maintained it. Remember, I am a management professional by the day – and intuitively tend to develop a system. The system for my writing is a combination of making notes through out my daily rituals and work day as ideas, words, moments pop that could be poems. I then organize them and classify them into themes and save them away as a tool kit to use if and when needed. It is when the night falls that the poetry happy hour begins – I mean it in a literal way. It is the happiest hour of my day – Mostly the output is trash, sometimes it is vulnerable, rarely it is inspired. But that hour is the most blessed hour of my day. Sustaining a regular writing practice alongside the relentlessness of daily existence has been my biggest challenge and has also offered me the strongest anchoring.

Reading poems out loud brings the words to life for me and gives me a lot of joy. I try to do this as often as I can by recording myself or participating in readings.

Outside of poetry, are there other writers who inspire you to think deeper? Who are they and does their wisdom find their way into your poems?

Many Many Many – All and everyone. I am not a reader snob. I am a sponge for reading other writers – of course the classics always stand by.  I am going take the liberty to give you these are a few of my favorite writers list, those that I keep turning to for help, inspiration and wisdom –

  • Khalil Gibran for painting with every syllable
  • Toni Morrison for her passion for stories and people
  • David Wallace for his stories about being a human being today
  • Aravind Adiga and his White Tiger
  • Yanagihara’s Little Life
  • All of Haruki Murakami for how simply he probes a complex question
  • David Whyte’s Consolation for teaching the language again
  • Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan and all Indian and Pakistani writers, for whatever they say about the struggle for independence, and its festering wounds. Shauna Singh Baldwin, for her choice of creating from those wounds.
  • Meena Alexander and Anita Desai for opening the door to duality, conflicted identity and feminine solitude
  • Tiffany Pham for her grit as a Mogul and owning the day!
  • Nissim Ezekiel for synthesizing sights and sounds so beautifully
  • Mary Oliver for her attention to things around her – Wild Geese
  • Joy Harjo for her ability to turn the personal into a universal prayer – Perhaps the World Ends Here
  • Naomi Shihab Nye for writing about attributes that define a global citizen – Kindness
  • Anne Sexton for the ability to be badass – Menstruation at Forty
  • Bernadette Mayer for her cheek in jowl style – Chocolate Poetry Sonnet
  • John Ashberry for stumping us with his open endedness – Poem of Unrest
  • Ocean Voung for his absolute genius, he has my heart – everything!
  • Tracy K Smith for The Slowdown podcast and for unsettling – The Body’s Question
  • Layli Long Soldier for allowing a poem to take as much time it needs – Dilate
  • Ada Limon for her celebration of imperfections – We’d Like the Conversation to be Bilingual
  • Kaveh Akbar for being a survivor – Gloves
  • Natalie Diaz for the precision and courage in her writing – No More Cake Here
  • Arundhati Subramaniam for the way she traverses boundaries – All her work
  • Sumana Roy for teaching to pause – Trees, snails and watching the sunset

File:Kahlil Gibran signature.svg - Wikipedia

We live in deeply troubling and strange times. What role does the writer play in notating the global crises?  How do you see yourself coping with the stress?

We do. But these troubling times are also the times that offer us hope, reflection and human will. Think of the story of the 90-year-old woman who refused a ventilator in a hospital because she had already lived a beautiful life and asked for the nursing staff to provide that ventilator to a younger patient instead. She passed, in peace and beauty. What a poem her life is, isn’t it Dustin?

I will quote Meena Alexander from one of her interviews here – “In a time of violence, the task of poetry is in some way to reconcile us to our world and to allow us a measure of tenderness and grace with which to exist.”

Finally, do you have any words for the future poets who will look back to our world and its difficulties? What advice can you offer them?

Pause. Assess. Act – There is a poem in daily existence, it is waiting to be written.

Let us end on a lighter note and I will share what my children hear from me all the time. Quoting from Salman Rushdie’s East, West – “Trust my grey hairs.” Muhammad Ali urged her. “My advice is well tempered by experience. You will certainly find it good.”

Interview with Jessica Goody: celebrant of the difficult


  • Your poetry contains a miraculous amount of detail. How do achieve that and balance it with poetic sentiment?

I tend to think visually, so the challenge is to describe in words the images I see in my head. I do a lot of research to make sure I describe the exact species of bird or the precise colors of a sunset. I don’t think of my poetry as sentimental; I strive for honesty in everything I write, whether exploring an emotion or finding just the right word to get my point across.

Phoenix Style Colourful Free Stock Photo - Public Domain ...


  • Some poems have a balance of mind and body. Phrases like “calculating sensuality” in ‘Bitter Tea’ invoke both a sense of reluctance and hesitation. What are you trying to accomplish in this poem?

“Bitter Tea” is about an affair; a wife who watches her husband flirting with another woman and hides the pain of his betrayal behind a stiff upper lip and simple everyday courtesy.


  • Your poems frequently use environment to reflect human emotional situations. What aspect of yourself perceives things in this way? How does situation enter into your poetry?

I think of my poems as stories written in stanzas, and plot, or situation, is key to any story. You can’t separate environment, emotion and plot; the places we live in and the things which happen to us affect how we feel and the way we see the world.

Public-Domain Pictures of Planet Earth (page 2) - Pics ...


  • I notice a cosmopolitan sense in your work. Have you traveled overseas at all? In what ways have your travels influenced your perception of the world? How has that perception entered your poetry?

I have yet to travel overseas, although there are plenty of places I plan to visit someday. I love watching documentaries about unusual locations, wildlife, and historical sites. My perception of the world is definitely colored by the places where I have lived–Long Island, New York; Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and most recently the South Carolina Lowcountry.


  • In your poem ‘Tigers’ you use the phrase “xylophone of vertebrae”. Do you know how you made that association? Odd associations seem to be the pivot of your work.

As a poet, I think in metaphor, and these associations come naturally; they seem obvious to me. In this case, writing about poachers, I thought of the tiger being stripped of its pelt and the bone structure underneath.

Tiger Free Stock Photo - Public Domain Pictures


  • The poem following “Tigers’, ‘Foraging’, says, “Elephants move through the darkness like smoke…” Is your use of “smoke” parallel to the central meaning of the book?

Light and color are central to the book, so I suppose smoke is its thematic opposite–creating a picture by obscuring the view. More literally, elephants are grey, like smoke.


  • In the poem ‘Another Storm’ you describe a state which sounds like an anxiety attack. Is this related to your disability? Also, in this poem the animal symbolism seems to come to a climax. How did you order your poems to suit this? Were you careful and deliberate in choosing what poem went where in the collection?
  1. Yes, I struggle with anxiety disorder, and anxiety attacks aggravate the spasms caused by my cerebral palsy.
  2. I arranged the poems in sequential sets, and each set is thematically linked. For instance, “Discoveries” and “The Edge of the World” are both set in Antarctica.



  • How much does the theory of evolution inspire your thinking in Phoenix: Transformation Poems? Are you interested in quantum physics as well? How does that level of thinking enter your work?

Charles Darwin Portrait vector file image - Free stock ...

While I find their ideas fascinating, I didn’t set out to write the poetic equivalent of On the Origin of Species or A Brief History of Time. I think these subjects influence me subconsciously–I write about things going on around me, and the processes that govern the universe are eternally in motion.


  • Your poems reflect a holistic view. How did you attain this view? Do you believe it was by inspiration or careful study?

I do my best to authentically capture a specific scene by observing the natural world. Inspiration plays a part in my work, as it does for every artist, but I strive to constantly improve my writing by reading every day, experimenting with different poetic forms, and seeking out sources of stimulation, including paintings, films, photography, and biographies of interesting people.


  • What plans do you have for future works?

I hope to have a long and successful career publishing my poetry for decades to come. I also plan to write a play, a novel, and a children’s book eventually. Maybe more than one!

Defense Mechanisms Cover
Available here
Phoenix Cover
Available here
  • How do you select publishers to submit work to? What do you look for in a publisher?

I have been lucky enough to work with two wonderful publishers, Christopher Dow of Phosphene Publishing for Defense Mechanisms and Kevin Walzer of CW Books for Phoenix. They were patient, thorough, and supportive throughout the entire process, from revisions to layout to cover design. The truth is, they chose me, not the other way around. I had submitted both manuscripts to dozens of writing contests and publishing companies before Chris and Kevin expressed interest in my work.


  • What was your experience like with Christopher Dow and Phosphene?

My debut poetry collection Defense Mechanisms: Poems on Life, Love, and Loss was released by Phosphene Publishing in 2016. I live in the same town as Jan Henson Dow, an accomplished playwright and the mother of Phosphene’s founder, Christopher Dow. I met Jan when she was staging a piece she had written for our community theater. I ended up performing in several of her plays, and during a rehearsal she mentioned that Phosphene had just released a collection of her work. I had submitted Defense Mechanisms to forty publishers by then, and been rejected by all of them. Jan not only put in a good word for me, she acted as a beta reader for the manuscript, and reviewed Defense Mechanisms when it came out. Basically, the Dows launched my career, and I owe them a lot.


  • Lastly, do you have advice for other writers on how to attain a vision for their poetry?

I don’t have a particular vision for my poetry as a whole, beyond making each piece as well-written as I possibly can. Once I find the story within the pages, it is ready to become a book. Then the cycle of submissions and rejections begins again, with many revisions and alterations in between. Success is about perseverance; stubborn bulldog persistence despite thousands of let-downs, rejections, and wounds to your pride. If you are truly meant to be a writer, or any kind of artist, that is the first thing you must learn. It is never easy, but it is worth it!


Mathematician and Poet, Iris Orpi

I found Iris through Twitter where she followed me. I asked her where she found me and she replied she noticed I had a lot of tweets on writing. I followed her in return and sampled her work, sharing some with other publisher friends. I caught Iris between moments to discuss her poetry and all that she finds inspiring.

Iris Orpi’s book Golden and Rampant can be purchased by clicking the image

Thank you for agreeing to this interview. My first impressions of your work were that you write of beauty, rage, revelation, sexuality’s bridge to sacredness, and place. Would you mind sharing a few words about how you employ those themes and where your remarkable ability to interweave them comes from?

First of all, thank you for seeing what you saw because that is exactly how I would describe my work.

Now for the first part of your question. Those five motifs you mentioned usually manifest in pairs or groups in each piece. I’m a sucker for pretty, ebullient imagery and can rarely resist including metaphors involving oceans, storms, big cities, and skies – those are the things I personally find the most beautiful. But those images would trigger or flow into the other things, like  maybe I’ll use the sea as a metaphor for the soul being deep, then follow it up with a line about furiously crashing waves. Or maybe I’ll wax rhapsodic about Chicago’s skyline, then use it in parallel with a young woman’s initiation into passion.

Image result for public domain images of chicago skyline

I believe there’s an inherent feminism in most if not all of my written work, and I am always aware of that, and that awareness tells me I should balance all the elements of woman – myself as woman, to be precise. So if there’s light, there should be darkness, and vice versa. So on the one hand, yes, look at all these phrases invoking pretty pictures in your brain; but on the other hand there’s more to the aesthetic than a Baroque painting in words. Being a woman means creating, defining beauty, but it also means being angry, trying to expose a deeper truth, trying to rise above the patriarchal construct that people outside of us could determine our worth based on what we do with our bodies, and being acutely aware of where we stand, no matter where, and how does my surrounding interact with everything inside me?  It’s like I’m pointing at the symbols then they point back at me.

We Can Do It Poster

Now that you’ve pointed it out, I feel like no matter what I write, that’s the path that my thought processes walk. Except that it happens subconsciously, and in the space of a few lines.

You are a math instructor. Does mathematics inform your work at all? I notice a lot of references to geometry, algebra, and mathematical formulations. In what way do you see math as part of the creative process, both in the natural world and in your poetry?

I’m a romantic, and I honestly believe mathematics is the most poetic thing in the world. It’s the closest I’ve come to proof that there is a God, that a “grand plan” exists. So yes, it informs my work in that I believe I can’t escape running into some mathematical concept if I want to hint at perfection or order. Even the way I cut the lines in my poems, I think I am adhering to internal concepts of randomness and balance. Mathematics is a big part of me, so reaching for a word or reference with a math background is as natural for me as, say, using the moon or the rain as a metaphor.


The following lines are from the poem “Weight of Beginnings”:


It’s not the snow, but what is
snow-like about it: six-sided, beautiful,
unconditionally bound to the locus of the
wind, that makes that first day an irony and a
microcosm, by superstition, of what the future
has in store.

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They are intriguing and complex. The symbolism wraps around the mind but what are you ultimately alluding to?  It hints at a sense of intelligent design or a shift from general to particular qualities of definition. Something in the poem evades singular interpretation.

I think the idea I was reaching for, but taking creative liberties about it, is the Chinese superstition that whatever you’re doing while the previous year ends and the new year begins would determine your luck for the rest of the year. I grew up in the Philippines and that country takes a lot of Chinese traditions; in this particular example, people prepare feasts for the last day of each year, business establishments are open past midnight (with enticing promos to make sure people come and fill the store up) – in hopes that the rest of the coming year would be marked by abundance and vibrant business. My first big disappointment after moving to the US was that this custom isn’t followed at all (except in neighborhoods with a heavy Asian presence): restaurants close at the regular time on December 31st; New Year’s resolutions aren’t too big of a deal.

Year Of The Pig 2019


Taal Lake

In “Encounter as Portent” you write these splendid and intelligent lines:


The day I saw you
is the center,…

What good
is measuring the distance between
knowing you and not loving you?


Again, the interplay between sexuality and the sacred. Love here plays the role of sublime transformation. Did you intend for this poem to address the nature of illusion as it seems to do?

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I write a lot about unrequited love and forbidden love. It’s the kind of poetry I grew up in, mostly, so it’s hard to kick the habit! And after all those poems, I still feel like I haven’t exhausted all the possibilities. I like to portray the imaginary place where all the “un-loved love” actually happens, and actually “gets loved”, as infinite, and full of potential beauty worth exploring. I think that’s the thing you meant when you said “illusion”? The things that are on our minds when we imagine what could have been. So I might either be trying to analyze an illusion, or giving a math problem (a question of abstract distance) so that it triggers illusions in the reader.

“Black Friday Might Affect These Hours” –Google is a neat piece for its dimensions. I think this work speaks about the nature of truth, revelation, and prophecy more than other poems of yours bearing this in them. Is revelation and truth a frequent theme that appears as you write or is it something you meditate on and the thought bubbles up?

I think it’s more of a subconscious thing that I do, something that inevitably shows its face when you look hard enough. It certainly wasn’t intentional in this piece. I was trying to describe my immediate environment after going through the yearly harried and claustrophobic Thanksgiving family reunion (hence the title). So I was drawing symbols from what I remember of the festivities and chatter that were just there the day prior, and the mess that everyone left behind, may it be a physical mess or emotional turmoil from something someone said or revealed that I was still processing the day after. So I guess in a broader sense it’s a poem about dealing with some truth, some revelation.

What is your creative process like? What is your state of mind when you decide to create a poem? Are there triggers, particular types of events in the world, or memories you revisit?

I had been more fastidious about my creative process before I became a mother: I would usually write as soon as I woke up—and this means my creative process required a lot of napping throughout the day, and yes, I’m serious; please don’t judge me, haha—I would brew coffee and write as I drink, and usually some form of water would be involved, like picking a table next to a water fountain or if I’m lucky, the beach. I literally wrote my entire novel, The Espresso Effect over a period of weeks, sitting at the same table in Greenbelt 3 in Makati, that overlooks the water fountain. I’m also very visual and get triggers from browsing photographers’ portfolios, especially portraiture of women. So I visit the website 500px dot com a lot, waiting for a phrase or a metaphor to leap out at me from the photographs.

But after I gave birth I have relaxed a lot of those self-imposed “writing rules” or I wouldn’t get anything done. For example, I exclusively breastfed my son from birth to 20 months. It didn’t take me long to figure out that when I drank coffee, my breastmilk would get tainted and my newborn son would be colicky and cry all day. So I had to give up coffee. I had to learn to summon my muse, so to speak, on kitchen counters while sneaking a bite of lunch, or lying in bed in the middle of the night while holding a smartphone, or while stuck in traffic, or at the clinic while waiting for the pediatrician. For me, now, there is no creative “process”. I just have to know that I’m a writer. And when it’s time to write, no matter where I am, I should be ready.

Baby And Dad Sleeping

I still love my coffee (my son is four years old now) and am still partial to watching water flow and fall. But now it’s more like a personal treat to write with those at hand, not a requirement.

I write through all sorts of states of mind, anger, grief, depression, loneliness, desire. I have two confessions though: (1) it’s harder for me to write when I’m happy—you know that adage that a poet should also know when it’s time to live and savor the moment and put the pen away, and (2) I have written my strongest pieces when I am in a state of defiance. I mentioned Greenbelt 3 in Makati earlier; it’s a high-end mall selling luxury brands. I would usually go there wearing my drabbest clothes and no makeup. The patrons in their designer ensembles would openly look at me like I didn’t belong there. And somehow I would write my strongest poems while surrounded by that feeling of being scoffed at, as if I need to do something amazing in order to prove my worth.

File:Hlinka Guardsmen humiliate Lipa Baum.jpg

On the theme of revelation again. Let’s visit these lines from “Young Woman at the Met Cloisters, NYC”.


There’s a hierarchy to things,
much like the crossing
of colors as messages
through a photograph:

-“Young Woman at the Met Cloisters, NYC


The poem indicates that life is composed of desire. Do you intend to reflect that thought?  These lines designate the structure of our reality, how it can be both real and illusion—the metaphor with photography is most striking. How did that come to mind?

I never thought to put it that way, but you have said it nicely. Yes, life is composed of desire. There is a little trattoria I love that has the following words printed on their tablecloths: “Passion is a blessing we ask God never to take from us.” I think it’s such a bold and true statement, and it comes very close to my own philosophy as a writer. As for the poem, it was actually inspired by the image that accompanies the post. I used to tutor this young woman, named Rees Colayco, in maths and writing, when she was in high school, and we have formed a really meaningful bond. She has since gone to college, graduated, started her own business, and won awards internationally. When she posted that photograph of herself, taken at the Met Cloisters in NYC, I was specially struck by how far she has come—and, consequently, how far I have come—from those afternoons where we would spend hours working on her calculus homework and improving her college application essays. Reality has layers of the actual and the possible. And the way Rees has evolved and blossomed, I wanted to express that. The photograph is deeper because I know the subject, and I wanted to complement the image with another photograph of sorts, made of words.

Would you like to discuss your already published collections? What drives the momentum of your creative output? How do you go about seeking publishers who appreciate your writing and aren’t using it as a money sign or to gain reputation?

My 2010 novel, The Espresso Effect is a work of fiction illustrated by the coffee painter Sunshine Plata. It’s actually a metaphysical dialogue between the universe and a young woman addicted to coffee. It’s presented in a blog format the way you would read a blog on a computer screen, and also includes street photography by local hobbyists. Ambitious, I know! I have been very proud of it and I still am. My agent Adee Caluag, based in the Philippines, has been working her magic to turn the story into a film, and it would hopefully have a similar aesthetic as the book. The project itself was funded by individuals and businesses who believed in my ambitious idea. It was published by Data Access Publishing of Manila, which I found through Sunshine. The day we launched that book, which included an exhibition of the coffee paintings in one of the hippest coffee chains in the Philippines, and attended by family, friends, and art enthusiasts, remain one of the greatest nights of my life.

So far I have four books of compiled poems; from oldest to newest they are: Beautiful Fever (2012), Cognac for the Soul (2012), Hand Painted (2018), and Rampant and Golden (2018). All of them are self-published. The first two working with a printing press in the Philippines, and the latter two with Amazon Createspace. If you notice, I publish poetry collections in pairs, and that’s not a mistake. One book is always PG and the other book is always rated R. Those are the two sides of me as a person, if you will. Half of the total people I know, I know through the church I belong to, and it’s a very conservative church. It is a big part of me, and I want my church brothers and sisters to be able to buy my books and enjoy my work without being scandalized. But of course, there are other topics I simply must write about, like sexual assault, domestic violence, drugs, mental illness, self-harm, protesting the patriarchy, even my inner darkness. I publish those in separate volumes, for readers who can appreciate them.

There is a great feeling of liberation in calling the shots in your own books—fonts, paper type, cover design, etc. But I am also very much aware of the stigma around self-publishing especially by the literary “gatekeepers”. I still intend to one day put together a manuscript that I would be thick-skinned enough to peddle to publishers.

Right now I’ve been doing a lot of research on independent book publishers, and there are two or three that I’ve found so far that I feel could see the potential in my work, who might agree that the world deserves to see me. And the prestige of the publisher or how financially successful it is, really plays little to no role in my favoring it. I’m much rather drawn to the kind of other books they’ve put out and the diversity of the authors they support.  I’m still a far cry from getting that “golden manuscript” finished, much less submitting one. But I’m happy about where I am, my recent victories, and my progress as a writer. I know I’ll get there someday.

Thank you Iris Orpi. Keep writing!

Opening Night: Spokes of an Uneven Wheel by Colin Dodds


The first reading I did from Spokes of an Uneven Wheel, the printed book, was in Austin, Texas. It was raining hard when I arrived on an early flight from New York after a bad night’s sleep.

What am I doing here? I thought, fifteen hundred miles from home. I’d already started to miss my wife and daughter. The view of the city from inside the Holiday Inn shuttle was a melting gray blur.

I’m a poet in my forties. Writing is one of the few things to survive the wrenching personal changes of the last few years, which included a handful of job changes, a move and starting a family. The last few years also saw a handful of very close friends leave New York.

Two of them were one reason for the trip – old stalwarts, former collaborators, guys I’ve known for around half my life. They’d moved for new opportunities, and just because New York dropped one too many unfriendly hints. I hadn’t seen one in four months, the other in two years. We were all older, slower, heavier, knowing more sad stories, offering more mild well wishes.

What am I doing here? The thought caught me off guard. I’d been setting up the reading for months, coordinating with friends, emailing bookstores, promoting it wherever I could. Unlike so many situations I found myself in, I couldn’t say I was there by accident.

What am I doing here? The idea that I’d break even on airfare and hotel on book sales was, I think, mathematically impossible. To be honest, I didn’t do the math. But I did pack about thirty pounds worth of copies of Spokes of an Uneven Wheel in my bag, just to make it close in the unlikely event of runaway sales. The book pile baffled the x-ray technician at JFK, who had my bag searched.

Image result for Malvern Books photos

Malvern Books in Austin hosted the reading. It’s a lovely place – spacious and idiosyncratic, staffed by people who know and love the books they stock. In a way, it’s the antithesis of the usual bookstore: Full of books that someone might offer if they had an inflated opinion of who you are and what you care about. They posted my name on the illuminated sign in the window.

While we waited for a crowd to filter in, I browsed the shelves and folded down the pages I thought might be nice to read. Once we got to the magic fifteen minutes past the posted start time, we began. My buddy read first, a bunch of new poems that started with a really funny one in the form of a guided meditation.

Then it was my turn. Reading poems in front of people is nothing new to me, but something was different. My what-am-I-doing-here? doubts were new. And the afternoon with old friends, grown visibly older, put a different tint on things. Still, it felt good to read the poems. I’d last given the poems in Spokes an edit six months before, so they held just enough surprise as I went. At the same time, they were the words that I’d consciously committed to, over the course of 32 months of writing and rewriting.

Poems are supposed to be revelatory, but I was surprised of what seemed to sneak out as I read. The word fugitive kept popping up. Maybe it was only two or three times that night. But it’s an uncommon enough word for it to seem to tip my hand in a way I generally try to avoid.  I’m not eager to be seen as a person who flees or tries to escape. That would, obviously, make escape that much harder. The poems in Spokes talk of “fugitive eroticism” and “fugitive nations,” all half-hiding or surviving in a state of shifting legitimacy or comprehensibility. Those submerged threads finally emerge in a statement of quasi-criminal tactics, if not intent: “The fugitive will take an opportunity where an invitation would be suspicious.”

In the world, making a living, I generally pass for a reasonable guy. But here I was, saying what I supposedly really mean, and I heard it all: The megalomania, the hostility, the (perhaps purposefully) obscurity, and the sound of not winning. It was strange to hear it in my usually genial voice.

“Maybe the poems in Spokes of an Uneven Wheel are doomed by the indelicacy and contradictions of its author, and his failure to be wholly honest or dishonest. The poems consistently promise what they can’t deliver, or deliver something people simply don’t want,” ran some of the doubts that assailed me while I announced them. The kind folks at Malvern Books filmed it so you should be able to see what it looked like from the outside at some point.

When it was over, I thanked and was thanked. I signed a few copies and loaded a big pile of unsold copies back into my bag, then thanked everyone again. The thanks felt like they were getting to be excessive by the time we left for dinner.


Book for purchase at Main Street Rag website


I sold maybe a dozen copies of Spokes, probably fewer. I had another half-dozen stolen when some skell bashed in the back window of my buddy’s Subaru while we were having a late dinner the following night. They took my bag, and probably expected a laptop. They got poetry books, and some small gifts I’d purchased for my wife and daughter.

I think of those guys, fugitives in their own way, brushing the broken glass off their prize to find it full of un-pawnable poems, and their bitter consternation on a cold sidewalk. And I smile, even laugh a little, the way you laugh at a joke you don’t completely understand.


The two part video of the reading is here:



In Defense of Kurt Cobain: a prayer for ignoble death by Dustin Pickering

Kurt Cobain in 1993.

In this compartmentalized world of eternal repetition, a rare individual arose to tribute his love of freedom. This individual struggled to express an ideal, to delineate a purpose and goal for human beings like him. These human beings were outcasts without a clique and their only hero was him. They had no gods, no accepting peers. They were victims who faced a responsibility few generations face with as much endurance. They were his bones buried in the earth and the trust between them never broke.

These outcasts cried at his death, were saddened deeply by losing him. He was their Christ on a cross. Although he committed suicide, his devotees knew this was his ignoble death and their own also. He was their son and father. He was truth and the individualist ideal.

Yet we see in his death the rebirth of anarchism, and a man driven to the brink by betrayal—betrayal by mainstream society, corporate reality, and his own family. Every great individual experiences this tragic crux to a degree.

Kurt, we feel your pain, your throbbing heart against our skin, your loss and despair, the truncation of your life by forces beyond yr control.

When  Jesus bore up Golgotha was it not to also die an ignoble death? Wasn’t he betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter? Did he not ask the Father to take his libation as a symbolic expression of his own doubt and fear? Yes, Kurt triumphs in the end and is resurrected in his final song “You Know You’re Right.” We hear his song straining through our radios like we read Christ’s parables as they were remembered and recorded by his apostles.

But we are closer to Kurt than Christ. Why? Because he suffered for the world’s stupidity and haphazard sense of justice, bore his shame with a brave conscience & yet thirsted for something more than the pain and tribulation. The Pharisees and Sadducees of the corporate world thwarted him through media criticism, authoritarian clamps on freedom to create, and by tarnishing his family image. He began to realize why he despised them.

Yes, every so often the good Word must be renewed. It is a timeless story. The presentation does not matter. The form of this life-giving poem does. Like a change in the seasons, his death was our Autumn and our renewal is his Spring.

We see a brilliant man determined to be true to himself in spite of adversity. We see his dice stumble from the betting table onto the floor. We see his potential raped and ruined; we see him starving for freedom & justice; and, we see him struggle in world of shameless animosity. In short, we see him die.

We thirst for another symbol in this strained poetry of life; the flowers of liberty are dry to their roots. We suffer from a drought of the soul. We cannot see the sun for we are blind and the strings of King David’s lyre have snapped. Where shall we now seek the light?

Anton Corbijn in The Work of Director Anton Corbijn (2005)

Those who claim his name shall be washed away give little credit where it is due. Kurt’s hell and heaven were his path and glory, and his stumbling block was inevitably divorce.

His songs defied elites to speak to all and for all, containing the passionate bliss of a seed bursting its shell. He reminded his fans and followers that the movement he created cannot die. His loneliness was next to his greatness. Today, he is still close to his fans and they are still close to him.

His only crime was his passion. Every great man inspires death. It is not a fault.

The only immortality on earth is of the will, the passion and suffering of unique individuals. These individuals preserve a time, an age, and reveal the symbolic nature of life. Kurt was such an individual. He purchased the nineties with the gold dust of his soul.

Those who avoid exploration will never understand this sailor from the land of the dead.

File:Godfried Maes - Illustrations to the Metamorphoses of Ovid, Juno in Hades.jpg






No Matter How or Who It Hurt by Dustin Pickering

the ways Langston Hughes employed the truth





It has been said that poetry concerning current events or political causes tends to lose its sublime characteristics. Coleridge, for instance, wrote, “No object of the Sense is sublime in itself; but only as far as I make it a symbol of some Idea.” One voice stands out firmly in the tradition of protest poetry as accomplishing this. Harlem Renaissance poet and playwright Langston Hughes wrote hundreds of poems of protest on subjects ranging from exploitation of tenants by their landlords, the African American experience within the American idiom, love and grief, and poems rooted in jazz music.

Something of Hughes’ poetry not only reverberates, but it dives into us as readers. Perhaps it is that aesthetic sense of the sublime as defined by Edmund Burke. Sublime characteristics inspire fear, awe, terror: the grandeur of an object fills the viewer with deep reverence. If we examine Hughes’ poem “Scottsboro” for instance:


“8 BLACK BOYS IN A Southern JAIL .


8 black boys and one white lie.

Is it much to die?

Is it much to die when immortal feet

March with you down Time’s street,

When beyond steel bars sound the deathless drums

Like a mighty heart-beat as They come?”


These lines reflect a sense of beauty and sublime horror. We feel fear, unity, and hope. How does the poet accomplish this feat in eight opening lines? He appeals first to “Kantian fairness”. We are immediately told what is at stake. Yet these eight boys serve as the catalyst for larger, universal struggles that are signified by figures such as Lenin and Christ. Hughes is able to appeal to our most innate and natural human quality while expressing an urgency that cannot be dismissed.

This is essential to understanding Hughes’ poetry. It is not to be balked at as propaganda—no state machinery imposed this specific set of values. He is not speaking strictly as a Communist. He is appealing to the human wish for justice and his call shakes the reader and speaks on an elevated level. It is not base emotions he approaches. It is humanity’s most universal dream to see good prevail.

In this case, the Communist Party helped get these eight boys a fair trial.

Another major work by Langston Hughes is Montage of a Dream Deferred. The work uses jazz idioms to explore the thing it suggests. Read these lines:


“What happens to a dream deferred?


Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

like a syrupy sweet?


Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.


 Or does it explode?”


There are two senses exposed in this poem. It is stylistically bebop which gives it a jumpy, unpredictable music. The purpose is to expose the doubt and rage inherent in the content. You are meant to be uncomfortable, to sense sugary decadence on one hand and rotting wasted meat on the other. The juxtaposition asks you to imagine the city of Harlem as such a state. Harlem, Hughes himself wrote, is like two cities in one. One side is fantastically wealthy and the other is suffering dire poverty. The use of metaphor as a response to the opening question jolts the reader into confused rage. The state Harlem is in is unacceptable.

Yet there is also disappointment. What has this decadence offered the world? “It just sags / like a heavy load.” Finally, a desire for annihilation—wishes that such conditions were not present. The final line tells us just how desperate Harlem is.

In Montage of a Dream Deferred, Hughes still employs a search into the human heart. He continues to use laden metaphor and distressing language to tell us what injustice is. In this poem, we are prying into the heart of social inequalities.

In Fine Clothes for the Jew he employs his most dangerous critique. He turns the mirror on black culture and puts the reader face to face with common problems within African American communities. He faced severe criticism for telling it like it is, especially from black folk themselves. Granted, a writer’s first duty is to himself. His second duty is to his community. He wrote poems and plays to tell the story of systemic black oppression and its effects on black people. He didn’t stop at playing the violins. He exposed the underbelly. He revealed that blacks can’t blame everyone else if they aren’t willing to make a move for themselves. He reminded them that every person has moral duties and failing to fulfill them has consequences. Malingering at a bar wastes time better employed in more fruitful tasks.

This is Hughes’ most salient feature to me. He risked a reputation he worked hard to attain to tell the full truth. He spared no stone. This is what sets him apart from other poetic voices. He took a risk and faced the consequences. He understood the moral peril of African Americans, and bent to instruct them.

We have discussed how the poetry of Langston Hughes becomes sublime by appealing to greater propensities within current events, and how most poems of this kind fail as literary works. We further discussed how Hughes diagnosed and described the realities faced by black people and how those issues affect other communities as well. Finally, we completed the discussion by noting that Hughes’ bravery in showing black people what they can do on their own to improve their lives is unsurpassable.

Hughes’ work will be read and re-discovered by generations because of its depth of perception, celebration of humanness, transformational qualities, and freedom of expression. The attention Hughes gave to current events especially relating to African American plight in America gave him a keen political sense. He employed this sense to speak the truth no matter how or who it hurt.





Wandering Soul with Coffee: An Interview with Alyssa Trivett

First, please tell me about yourself and your relationship with poetry? What draws you to it and when did you begin to think of yourself as a poet? 

I’ll paraphrase my bio. I’m a wandering soul from the Midwest, and I scrawl lines when I’m not working two jobs. My relationship with poetry started with my love for music lyrics, and from reading poetry. I’m drawn to poetry by the challenge of piecing lines together. I became more of a poet after my first piece was officially published in Fall 2015. In total, I’ve been writing for about thirteen years. Being single also helps with time, I have a little more time to write.. not that I’m looking for a husband right now.

I note a specific diction in your poems. It is a fine sort of terse and yet gives a sense of hurrying along to the next line. Is this something you developed or is it perhaps rooted in your location?

It has developed over time. I spew lines too fast in my head sometimes, so getting them down as quick as I can is necessary.


Do other poets you know have a similar style and approach as you?

I have yet to meet anyone with the same style. To be honest, I think we’re all different….as cliché as that sounds.

Among famous poets, who are you most comfortable with? Is there a poet you just get restless over? Why does that poet inspire so much energy from you?

I read a lot of contemporary poetry; mainly just random poems here and there. Billy Collins is up there.  For famous/classic poets, I’ve read a lot of Plath’s work lately. I’ve always enjoyed Frost and Cummings, but I burned out on Frost years ago. I was trying too hard to mimic the famous poets. I had to realize it was more about developing my own style. The mentioned poets inspire energy from me because I try to keep a puzzle-piece from each poem I read, whether it is a favorite line or a word I find interesting which I can carry with me.

What is your educational background? Has it pushed your writing at all?

I completed my studies and worked in Television Production for a little bit. Let’s just say it wasn’t in the cards. The industry wasn’t steady. I took a few classes in Television Writing also. I used more descriptions instead of dialogue in the scripts. I figured that’s how some of the poetry was born.

What kind of knowledge do you think books convey, and poetry specifically?

I think books convey to us that there is another world aside from the one we live in. Sometimes it’s good to visit another world, even just by reading a few words, regardless if it is ten minutes, or an hour; it is a temporary place for our mind, a breather. It sparks creativity and gets us out of our heads, and away from the mundane things that we do every single day. Poetry books have shown me that there are other ways to view everyday life, mainly by being more observant of my surroundings.


Have you had any experiences that broadened your view of poetry and life?

Yes; mostly dealing with numerous relatives, friends, and pets passing on in my lifetime, and currently, illness (not mine). It put things into perspective and it makes you realize how strong you are. Also, attending more open mics has become a positive influence, and I met two very good friends from poetry; props to them. I also attend a very small poetry group, which I always look forward to.


Do you like other writers besides poets? Who are they? Can a poet learn to hone his/her skill reading other works?

One of my favorite non-poetry books is ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’ by Dave Eggers. I believe a poet can learn to hone their skills by reading other works. I can’t pin my writing down to one influence. Sometimes it is by things I see, or maybe it is from a quote, or events from my childhood. I’ve also written a few poems as a direct influence from reading poetry books written by friends; two (poems) of which have been published.

Finally, coffee is always present in your poems. Is coffee your Muse?

I wouldn’t say it is a muse, I’ve just always enjoyed it, and it helps kick-start my long work days.

The Facets of Creative Writing: An Interview with Miriam Sagan

What kind of experience did you from creative writing instruction as a student? How did that compare to your experiences as an instructor yourself?


I studied at Harvard and Boston University. Although I had some strong mentors—Robert Fitzgerald and John Malcom Brinnin—instruction was pretty casual. Creative writing wasn’t really “taught” back in the 1970’s—you just sort of found your own way.

When I teach at community college, I tend to be very craft oriented. I teach structure, tropes, forms—in all three genres. But I don’t emphasize being a “professional” or academic literary writer. I’m too much of a hippie, and I was taught more by immersion in reading and writing than anything else.


What do you think a student in creative writing courses can expect to learn? How many students enter your classes and see improvement in their writing? What sort of comments do you get from students after they have taken one of your classes?

At minimum, to learn simply from having some time and intention. At best, how their own individual voices combine with traditional techniques. People seem very happy with my teaching, including on-line classes, but I think any teacher who gives true attention and compassion can move a student forward.


Do you think writing poetry is different from writing prose? How so?

Well, Paris is different than Chicago. I think different in every way. Poetry is fast, driven by feeling, momentary perception. Fiction has that nasty engine called plot.


Is there such a thing as natural talent in this field? What could a person who is naturally inclined to write learn in a course on writing? Do creative writing courses help young students learn discipline in their writing?


Of course, but like all natural talent, it really isn’t that important. A lot of teachers rightfully emphasize elbow grease and mastery as opposed to talent—years of work. But that takes a certain kind of talent too. Maybe the greatest talent is to love what you do.


What can creative writing teach a person in regard to other aspects of living? Is there anything practical learned from creative writing that can be brought to the “real world”?

Well, maybe empathy and self-awareness. Also, observation. But really I think writing just grows writing. Some excellent authors might be pretty poor human beings. I don’t think the insights necessarily translate from the page to life.


What qualities do great poems have from your own reading experience?

Transcendence. Transport. I also like it when the little hairs on my arm stand up. Insight, and the beauty of language and Aristotle’s catharsis. But mostly I like getting that rush.


I read advice from Benjamin Franklin concerning learning to write recently. His advice was extremely helpful because it suggested methods. Most advice is “read more, write more” but there is no practice of writing suggested. Do you have suggestions for the practice of writing?

Yes, I do. I studied for a while with Natalie Goldberg, who proposes writing practice. This helps a lot, as does The Artist’s Way’s (Julia Cameron) advice on morning pages. I suggest writing raw every day, using one of these techniques. Then, try working your way through a book of forms or prompts. Essentially you are trying to build writing muscle and flexibility. I once heard the critic Helen Vendler say the best thing a novice writer could do was make a lot of mistakes quickly. Read every day—but as a writer. Keep notes. Imitate.


I sometimes suggest teaching in ways that encourage thinking outside of the daily box for creative writers. When someone asks me how to workshop, for instance, I suggest they give an exercise that will lead students away from commonplace thinking. Then edit, edit, edit. What way would you approach editing? Do you have editing methods or specific ideas on how and what to edit?

I hate editing. Allen Ginsberg said—first thought, best thought. This might not really be true, but for me sometimes it’s just—first thought, no other thought! That said, I suggest editing organically.

What is the piece? It’s shape, theme, purpose? Edit towards that shape. Take out the extraneous, add in detail.

Then get someone else to read it!


Tell me about your own books. What inspired them? How long roughly did each take to complete? What obstacles did you face in writing them?

I’ve published about 30 books, and written probably close to 30 more, that will mercifully never see the light of day. I’m 62 years old. At thirty, I set myself an impossible task—to publish a book or chapbook a year, or to complete some kind of big project annually. So each book had its muse, meaning, purpose. My novel Black Rainbow took 30 years to write. I have a chapbook forthcoming from Red Bird that took about fourteen super intense days to write (I was in a writer’s residence on Lama Mountain north of Taos, NM).

Actually, I think the books might be one giant project. They feel very interconnected and range from a tiny lovely print out from Origami to a hardback from a university press. They truly are a record of where I’ve been, and who.

My major obstacle was just that often I was learning on the go—my vision vaster than my level of skill. But I don’t begrudge that!


James Baldwin said once that any writer will probably think the world conspires against his or her talent. Czelaw Milosz said in his Nobel address that there is a “conspiracy of silence.” In what ways have you felt this yourself? Why do you think writers are inclined more to this thinking than others?

Fight this way of thinking with every fiber. I feel the world doesn’t care about me one way or another. And that’s fine!


In your opinion, what separates a great writer from a mediocre one? Do classic writers have anything in common?

Poetry is more of a narrow range. An OK poem just isn’t that interesting because it usually doesn’t quite hit being a “poem” yet. Mediocre fiction can be quite readable—non-fiction too, if you’re reading for plot or subject. “Great” writers might have reputations that come in fads. I’d go for “good”—and here again, if literature takes me out of myself, I’m content.


Could you say something about style? What is style? How is style developed? Do writers change styles? What do you think sparks those changes?

Style is an expression of personality—like hair or clothes or cooking. It’s sort of an extended set of accessories of the self. I used to think it was set—like adult height or certain character flaws and virtues. But I had a shocking (to me!) change of style a few seasons ago—so still exploring this question.


Does a writer’s worldview have an effect on their use of language? Why are semantics important to a writer’s work?

I really don’t know. It’s a cool question, but I don’t have a strong feeling about it. I almost wonder if language doesn’t affect worldview. Are semantic patterns fixed? Do they come from an individual rather than a language group? I do know that if I curse at something I feel more hostile—the opposite if I bless it.

Finally, there is a lot of talk of kinds of censorship the universities practice today. By this, I mean safe spaces and trigger warnings. I also mean how political correctness is used to silence ideas. What has prompted this movement toward hypersensitivity to certain topics and ideas? Why are students choosing to impose this on their learning experience? Although these approaches begin with a noble and thoughtful aim, they seem to lead to distrust of personal judgment and cultural repression. What effects does language have on culture? Do you think political correctness is censorship or could be used as censorship, or is it useful in some capacity? Will it have an effect on literature and the way it is written?  How do we adapt to its demands?

I have little first hand experience with this, as community college settings don’t tend to grapple with this much.

I did have an opposite experience in 1972. At Harvard, my roommates were taking Anthro 101. The professor announced on the first day that the women could expect lower grades than the men because they were biologically less well equipped to study! Of course the women students were completely freaked out. So, I think for those of us with long memories, this emphasis on safe space may be because we remember very unsafe space.

I do agree with what you say—Although these approaches begin with a noble and thoughtful aim, they seem to lead to distrust of personal judgment and cultural repression.

To be honest, I doubt very much if art and literature should or could give in to any ideology, including political correctness. Art under Stalin or Mao isn’t what we’d consider a genuine expression of the artist or writer.

Academic approaches come and go.

The true pursuit of writing does not.

Combat the State: Interview with Scott Thomas Outlar



In your interviews, I notice an optimism concerning the future of art. What does that optimism stem from?


My state of optimism arises from the need I sense for there to be a counterbalance of energy to combat the negativity and nihilism that so many disillusioned people project in this modern culture. There is no doubt that society is currently weighed down by the regressive, oppressive, fascistic institutions that have been gradually gaining more and more undo power and control over the past several decades. When citizens begin to feel that freewill and personal decisions are no longer available due to the centralized structures of the Beast System continually eroding sovereignty and liberty, they lose touch with the most important aspect of what it means to be a human being blessed with consciousness and self-awareness. Which is to say, they lose their individuality and are swallowed by the mechanical, hive-mind forces of collectivism. It’s only natural that angst, anger, and apathy will soon follow, and the deeper a person falls into the trap of feeling powerless, the more they will concede what remaining control they have over to the very systems which feed on them like a parasite.

At a certain point, people seem to just throw their hands in the air and give up hope, either joining along with the decadence through the misguided thinking that they can regain power by serving the Beast, or simply losing all desire to care which leads to a different, more pervasive, type of depravity. I harbor no Pollyannaish illusions about some sort of miracle soaring down through the heavens to save the human species. I know damn well that the only way to correct the course we are heading down is for those who do still have a fighting spirit to lift their voices on high and shout encouragement into the world for those who might still have the ears to hear such a positive message. All is not lost. Yet. But changes are desperately needed, and quickly. Civilization has entered into a stage of chaos, but if we play our cards correctly, we will emerge on the other side in a state of higher order. A muscle must first be broken down before it can be built back up with stronger tissue. This is a basic natural law which applies to all matter in the physical plane of existence. As Nietzsche is well known for having said: That which does not kill you only makes you stronger.

We are facing great trials and tribulations, it is true. But I respond to that by saying: Thank God! I choose to align with the energy of adaptation and evolution. Survival of the fittest, sure. But, in this day and age, it is also a question about survival of the wisest. Survival of those who keep their heads screwed on straight atop a swiveling neck while refusing to play into the victim mentality which leads only to a further sense of feeling downtrodden. I’m not here to heal the world. I’m not here to snap my fingers or twitch my nose and make all the problems magically disappear. I offer no guarantee that there will be success, but I swear on the grave of billions of years of ancestral DNA which courses through my veins that I will do everything I possibly can to espouse the values born from out the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States of America, and Bill of Rights, along with the Enlightenment and Renaissance cultures. Our forbearers fought off the grip of tyranny and terrorism that once choked them. That vice grip has returned around our necks tighter than ever. I enthusiastically and optimistically believe in my heart of hearts that there are people on this earth alive today who will help play key roles in chopping such a villainous hand off for good.



Do you feel there is a cultural renaissance emerging? Often renaissance develops from world decay, especially turmoil in nations and the natural order becoming unsustainable. What signs do you see of this renaissance?




Well, as the old adage goes, sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before being able to begin the rise back upwards toward salvation. Humans can be a rather stubborn breed, so it takes a while for lessons to sink in sometimes. Mistakes are often repeated, as if spinning in an eternal loop, before the light bulb starts flashing with an electric eureka! This, unfortunately, applies on the macro scale as well concerning civilizations. Morality has been drained from the body politic, and we are now a withered, fragile nation. However, the end is never truly the end, but only a new beginning in the constantly unfolding process of life’s continuation.

My forthcoming book, Chaos Songs, from Weasel Press is dedicated to the chaos that must first be experienced before a higher state of order can emerge. We’ve admitted there is a problem; now, we can begin to work on solutions.

Yes, there is a cultural renaissance taking place. Artistically and spiritually. One of the most positive signs I’ve noticed has to do with communities returning to the land to produce clean, healthy, natural foods. Healthy gut bacteria helps to create a healthy mind, and so the importance on what we put into our bodies cannot be stressed enough. The rise of pharmaceutical companies and their propaganda of symptom-suppressing allopathic modalities of Western medicine has led to an untenable situation. Polluted blood leads to fuzzy thinking. Burnt out adrenals leads to sluggishness and depression. Glands polluted with toxins leads to a scenario of the living dead. The remedy for this zombie nation is a cleanse, a baptism, a purification from within. Raw, living, electrically-charged, enzyme-rich, nutrient-dense foods are the wave of the future. That which is old shall be made new again. I am not anti-science nor anti-technology by any means, but I am willing to decry and call bullshit on modern-day snake-oil salesmen and pushers of synthetic poison. The truth is found in the fresh fruit hanging ripe from the tree, not the isolated compounds cooked up in laboratories to cash in on big bucks.

There is a time and a place for all things in life, and so I’d be a fool to espouse a belief that there is never a need for “modern” medicine. Emergency situations and extreme circumstances absolutely assure us that opioids, anti-depressants, and anti-bacterial drugs are beneficial in some cases. These cases are in the extreme minority. A majority of medications nowadays are writ from a position of ignorance, and these almost always exacerbate the original condition. All that being said, I salute EMTs and physicians who do good work.

Where the hell did that jag come from? Who knows? I’m just glad I didn’t start blasting the field of oncology. This is neither the time nor place. Anyway, moving right along…

Another key aspect that gives me heart and helps to steel my will in this battle for a peaceful future comes from the modern day shamans who are tapped in to the holy spirit. The role of the artist in society is to serve as a reflection of the shadow aspects of the collective consciousness, while also shining light on solutions at the end of the tunnel. Being immersed in the contemporary lit scene during the past two years, I can say unequivocally that there are enough good people on the job to get this runaway train turned around. There will soon be a quantum leap, and then growth in a positive direction will become exponential and unstoppable.



Where do you think the best poetry is being created today?



I can, of course, only speak from my subjective experience, but I do feel that my finger is at least partially placed upon the pulse of the contemporary scene. I’ve made it a point over the past two years to immerse myself deeply in as many communities of independent, small press poetry publishers as possible. The global connectivity allowed for by the internet and social media has allowed me to discover great work from across the world. I can speak, first of all, about different pockets here in the United States, chief among them being The Southern Collective Experience. We in the group are doing our best to spread the good word about poetry’s viable path into a bright future.

There is also excellent work coming out of India, Nigeria, and across Europe. I regularly read poets from Albania to Australia, from Pakistan to Canada, from the coasts of Asia to the shores of Antarctica (well, OK, maybe I’m stretching it a bit there when it comes to the frozen tundra). I think that in this modern age we live in, it is not so much a matter of where geographically the best poetry is being written because the art form itself is representative of a specific state of mind, and so it can flower and bloom in just about any locale, whether near a pristine beach or under the scorching sun in an arid desert. The best poetry is found in any atmosphere where awakened, self-aware, highly conscious beings live. Those type of people who are infused with passion burning through their souls, and who are in direct communion with the source of life itself. It has always been this way. It just so happens that we are now blessed to be alive at a momentous point of time when such voices are able to come together via the world wide web to make new connections. This is just one of many reasons why I am so high on the spirit of an artistic revolution being able to energetically alter the wave that humanity rides into the future.



Sometimes the most culturally backwards places create the conditions necessary for revolutionary thought and art. Do you find a parallel in America today for this tendency?



I may have jumped the gun a bit in an earlier answer when I spoke to this general idea. But to reiterate, yes, when an individual or a collective group gets pushed into a corner and is facing untenable circumstances, the basic human will toward freedom and liberty is ignited. Governments, along with the international, above the law banks and corporations which said governments sponsor, are completely out of control at this point with their methods of tyranny. The natural course that this ultimately leads to is revolt. We see it in the streets as anger foments. But the violence such a course creates only begets further violence, and revolutions born of such base emotions oftentimes lead to even worse conditions. The only true revolution is that which takes place within an individual’s own consciousness. It is a type of paradigm shift which must be undertaken internally, which then leads to an uprising of spirit. Basically, it is a return of common damn sense. It is a renaissance of humanity signified by seizing back the reins of control from crony capitalist systems of fascism. We live in interesting times to say the least.



What are your thoughts on Brexit? Is this another sign that the natural order is changing directions?



The referendum put forth recently in which the British people voted to leave the European Union has the potential to be one of the most important political shifts in a generation. Of course, there will likely be a years-long interval before the official separation is ratified, and so politicians, who have been known to occasionally ignore the will of their citizens, could still figure out a treacherous way to weasel out of the exit. But the message has been sent, loud and clear, across the world. The majority of people prefer to keep the power over their lives in local government, not international systems where unaccountable technocrats rule through some type of neo Divine Law.

The European Union, whatever its original intentions might have been, has developed into a dangerous, authoritarian political machine. My opinion is that it should suffer the same fate as the Soviet Union, and the sovereignty of individual nation states should be returned to the people where it belongs. There have been recent murmurings about an EU army being established. To hell with that. Dismantle the Beast now before it gets any larger. I fully believe this process is underway after the Brexit episode showed other nations that there is a viable path out of the union.

The bigger the giant is, the harder it will fall. So, of course, there will be some precarious financial situations created as the deconstruction process begins. So it goes. Ripping off a Band-Aid stings for a moment, but after the wound is exposed to fresh air it can heal more readily.



Although you are a poet and not a political analyst, what are your thoughts on decentralized and centralized governance? What strengths and weaknesses do you perceive in both?



Because I am a man who unabashedly, even brazenly, rants and raves against collectivized forms of government in an effort to rouse the rabble toward the imminent cessation of such systems, I’m not sure that I can provide an unbiased answer here.

But I do wholeheartedly support the free association of people, and I fully believe that communities and organizations which are formed out of individuals’ desire to work together can bring about incredible results. Thank God for charity!

Social systems have the ability to provide food for the hungry, clothing for the poor, and housing for those who have hit hard times. Such systems can also help to educate children, protect the environment, build roadways, create gardens and co-ops, fund art programs, and do almost anything else conceivable in the hearts and minds of humanity. All without needing to first steal the resources of a certain class of people to fund a bloated bureaucracy that doles out the dough.


What 20th century poets do you think carry the strongest voice for today? Who seems most prophetic in their vision?



I’m going to take a dive on this one. I would be talking out of class if I pretended to have a scholarly understanding of twentieth century poetry. I’ll leave such a conversation to more capable minds. In a few years from now, after I’ve had a chance to study some of the past voices that many of my readers have compared me to, I’ll be able to give this question a go. As for now, I am too focused on the contemporary scene and how it can bring about the type of future that pulses in the back of my mind 24/7/365. I know that might sound like a bit of a copout, but I’d also suggest that there is such a thing as the old rope-a-dope…



What are your feelings about Songs of a Dissident? I, as publisher, was drawn to the political perspective and its precision. It is defined and provocative. When I ask for feelings, I refer to the process of writing it, the results, and the experience of seeing it published.



The process that Songs of a Dissident has gone through, from originally compiling and structuring the collection of poems to the current day where it has now been out in the world for around eight months, has been extraordinary.

The poems themselves were written in late 2014 and the first two months of 2015 during a period when I was watching and listening to documentaries, interviews, and recorded performances of Charles Bukowski. Some of the pieces are heavily influenced by his straight-forward, brutally honest approach to writing without pretense or fluff. The title of the book was inspired by the social justice newsletter, Dissident Voice, where I began my publishing career two years ago. To this day, I still contribute a weekly piece to the Sunday Poetry Page at DV. When I began putting the chapbook together, I was consciously looking to create an overall theme centered around the darker aspects of modern-day political and social institutions.

The process of getting the collection accepted was, thankfully, quite smooth. Transcendent Zero Press was the first publisher that I submitted the manuscript to, and they turned out to be the perfect fit. Working with Dustin Pickering has been an excellent experience; he helped guide the publication along at every turn with true professionalism, and I felt confident from the beginning that he understood the direction I was aiming towards with the material. Dustin wrote a generous introduction to the collection, and the Greek artist Christos Karapanos provided the front cover image of a fiery phoenix. The cover design was expertly polished off by Glynn M. Irby who put together a nice finished product.

Since the book’s release in December of 2015, I’ve been well pleased with the response and feedback from readers. There have been strong reviews published in Tuck Magazine, Indiana Voice Journal, Section 8 Magazine, Adam Levon Brown’s site, Ragazine, and Asian Signature. I’ve had an opportunity to read poems from the collection at several events, including the radio program Dante’s Old South which is hosted by The Southern Collective Experience in coordination with NPR/WUTC in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

I have two new collections that have become available in 2016 (Happy Hour Hallelujah through CTU Publishing and Chaos Songs through Weasel Press), but my enthusiasm for Songs of a Dissident is still growing, and I plan to continue promoting the work as much as possible. There are a number of opportunities coming into place on the horizon, and I’m hopeful that word concerning the collection will continue to spread as it is introduced to a wider audience.



Are there any statesmen you draw inspiration from? Do you ever doubt your vision of the political arena?



The statesman that I’ve found to be the most honorable in the fifteen years since I began following politics is Ron Paul. His message resonated with me during the 2012 Presidential campaign, and still does today, although I admit to not following his work as closely as I once did. His son Rand inherited the grassroots movement that his father helped grow during his decades of dedication to the Libertarian/Constitutionalist cause, but, sadly, the Judas-son has tossed in his lot with the establishment of the RNC, and now the Campaign for Liberty has been swallowed by the machinery of the two-party system.

I am constantly questioning my understanding of the political arena. I’d be insane not to. There is massive disinformation spewed from all directions, no matter where one turns to find a semblance of truth. Every media outlet has an agenda, and many of them are anti-American. I view corporate “news” channels such as CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC as being globalist mouthpieces. I watch them as a way of monitoring the enemy. That being said, I also view FOX, Breitbart, Daily Caller, Infowars, WND, and Drudge Report with the same amount of skepticism that I do Huffington Post, Salon, Think Progress, Media Matters, and the New York Times. Or, for that matter, RT, Young Turks, and Al Jazeera. The point is, however, that I do at least monitor all these outlets, along with several other less-known programs, on a regular basis. My angle of perception is constantly being adjusted to try and decipher just what in the actual hell is going on.

One of my favorite games these days during the current political season is to scroll through social media newsfeeds and try to determine which propaganda source different people are getting their talking points from. It is usually not too hard a tail to pin on the donkey. Sadly, critical discernment is not a big issue amongst the blind cult members of the major political parties in America. Cognitive dissonance runs rampant, and it’s one of the major contributing factors as to why the situation has reached such dire straits.


On a final note, I once wrote that religion offered no hope but politics can change the world and inspire movement. In recent years, with promises in elections and still seeing a lack of real lasting change, I have forgotten that tune. Now I see action as doing what inspires action, competing with yourself for betterment, and forgetting Washington’s antics and drivel. Perhaps religion offers personal perspective, unity of thought, and hope to continue your endeavors even in opposition. I treated politics as a religion in my twenties but see that for the most part voting and activism is limited in scope. An individual must find hope somewhere. Please offer your thoughts on this perspective.



I can certainly relate to this question, as my own philosophy concerning both religion and politics has gone through several transformations over the years. In fact, I would say that my views have shifted nearly 180 degrees on both subjects. During my late teens and most of my twenties, I believed Judeo-Christianity and all the Abrahamic religions to be, perhaps, the most wicked and vile institutions ever established in the history of humanity, infecting the hearts and minds of billions of people. Further, because of a lack of self-love coupled with my disgust for the species (severely influenced by my perception of Nietzsche’s work at the time), I was suffering from the misbegotten ideology that the government should be used to control and dictate the lives of those I felt to be fools.

All of this thinking was turned on its head when I reached my early thirties. Through a regiment of meditation, exercise, healthy dietary practices, extensive research on any number of subjects, and the cultivation of mindfulness, I was able to experience an epiphany (I will refrain from referring to it as an enlightenment) of self-worth, inner peace, and love for my true purpose as a man. With this love for the self, a love for the species as a whole was also born within my spirit.

This is when I came to the realization that religion, while it has certainly been used by those in power to commit heinous and wretched acts, is still, in the final equation, a matter of freewill. In America, at least. I understand that there are many places on earth where religion is still a controlled and oppressive force, and I stand opposed to any system of this kind. But, in those territories where it is a matter of choice, I no longer take issue with any individual who finds strength or comfort in their particular belief of God. I respect their right to worship freely as they see fit, even if, in some cases, I don’t necessarily happen to agree with them.

Government, however, I now realize to be fundamentally antithetical to freewill. It is a system forced upon people using the threat of violence, imprisonment, and execution. I love humanity, and I love the concept of personal responsibility. When individuals are allowed to blaze their own trail in life, they are able to reach toward their highest potential. Success is not guaranteed, of course, but it is at least possible. The larger a governmental system becomes, the more stifled the will of individuals becomes. I no longer harbor those extreme, control freak traits that led me to favor a centralized power apparatus controlling the masses. Now I, without hesitation, openly sing the song of voluntaryism, the right to self-defense, the non-aggression principle, and true anarchy (which, despite all the hubbub and hype, is actually just a philosophy advocating the absence of rulers). Let each individual manifest his or her destiny upon this glorious paradise of earth. The paradigm shift is well underway already. I only seek to catch the high wave and ride it as long and as far as possible.

To speak directly to the idea of hope, I believe that the more freedom a person has, the more hope they will sense for the future. Finding inner peace is the single greatest quantum leap of consciousness that can be experienced. It is the ultimate game-changer. Every shaman, prophet, guru, and true spiritual guide throughout history has echoed the same basic sentiment, and I, certainly, could not possibly say it any better than Christ did when he put forth these ideas in the Gospel of Thomas: “The Kingdom of God is found within. If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” Amen. Selah. Hallelujah.

Why Be an Arbiter of Literature? by Z. M. Wise


C. P. Cavafy


“Literature is only for those who are too frightful to speak their own mind,” said absolutely no one…ever. For ages, many have disproved literature and made the creators look like imbeciles who have been previously living under the cavernous rocks we so daringly speak of. Why does the human race constantly feel the need to be entirely defensive when the matter of written creation pops its head out of the gopher-sized hole of insecurities?

The title of this book includes two acronyms, ‘A.O.L.’ and ‘L.O.L.’ the former stands for ‘America Online,’ while the latter stands for ‘Laugh Out Loud,’ a form of netspeak. However, what those acronyms should read are, ‘Arbiter of Literature,’ and ‘Lovers of Literature.’ Dearest readers, why must we over-establish ourselves to the regal rank of arbiter? Why can’t we just create, escape, and love?

Stephen King and Anne Rice: King and Queen of Horror. Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats. C.P. Cavafy: The Finest Modern Greek Poet. These are status symbols. They are nothing more. We have inadvertently granted these honorary recipients the right and have given them these majestic titles without considering certain invisible ramifications. While these literary figures deserve such recognition and honor, these monikers should remain hidden in the ruins of judgment. This can easily be compared to a couple of modern situations.

The first analogy that comes to mind is a singing competition. Although the judges are critically-acclaimed and have received an assortment of accolades, the results are still based on the judges’ opinions. They are still ordinary people; they are not emperors of music and vocalization. The second situation that should be brought up is a literary contest. Writers from around the globe bare their souls on parchment (and digital screens), submitting their ink children to be published on the page. As we all know, whether the work is performed or read, the creator automatically becomes naked (in the metaphorical sense, naturally). That nakedness involves vulnerability and judgment. This is similar to futuristic performers who belong on the stage. They are judged by some of the most commendable people who have contributed and dedicated their lives to this craft. Unfortunately, the fact remains that they are still people. Many would desire a title with the words, ‘Queen, King, Goddess, God, Mistress, Master, etc,’ but do we really deserve it?

One poet is not better than the other. Superiority may go straight to the bowels of Hell. If one poet is better than the other, then it is based on the opinionated mouths, not the factual points. A fellow poet and friend said in plain and simple terms that the arts are all about perspective. Instead of putting writers in a dead set category, why don’t we bask in their words and see them for who they truly are? Though certain factors may be implemented in what is considered as great literature, music, visual art, theatrics, the culinary field, or virtually any other subsection of the arts, they do not change that the progression of an individual’s gift is what takes precedence over every other matter. Arbiters, nothing! We are all arbiters in our own way.

The aforementioned people do deserve the endless amount of praise, as well as the millions of others who are not in this composition. As long as the masses and standouts continue to spread their love of the written word, Gaia will be in stellar hands. Read on. Write on. Let the creative fluid flow through until its electricity hits the ink-bearing utensil’s tip. When letters and syllables become words, it is only the paper’s overture.

December 30, 2015