Category Archives: Donna-Marie Riley

Poetic Correspondence: A Collection of Tumblr Asks & Answers (Vol. II)


It’s a glorious and dismantling thing when two strangers can confide in and confess to one another with only a couple of keyboards with which to reach out. Here are a few more of my favourite exchanges with people who have come incredibly close to me without ever closing any physical distance.

1.

Q: How? How can I be merciful with myself?

A: Take long baths. Read more. Eat good food. Apologize to yourself for all the years of self-medicated abuse. Sleep in. Go out. Unless you don’t want to. Then stay inside watching bad TV and not feeling guilty at all. Mollycoddle your heart. Mollycoddle your emotions. Weep with wild abandon. Think about those things that happened that hurt you ‘til you were sore inside. Think about them for as long as you need to and then put them away. You are only human, friend. Which, despite my saying ‘only’ is an awful lot to be. You are allowed to make mistakes. You are allowed to have bad days. And good days. And days you are cruel and cold and detached. And days you want to braid daisies into the hair of strangers. You are allowed to hate yourself. But god, what if you didn’t?


2.

Q: How do you stop loving someone who can never love you back?

A: You stop by stopping. You do it slowly. You force yourself out of their company. You create distance. You release memories. You are iron in your resolve. You shut the door on them. You shut every door, every entry. You avoid contact. You consider the relationship retrospectively, and you realize you deserve more. And sometimes, none of this works. Sometimes, you keep loving them. God, do you keep loving them.

But you love yourself more. You do what’s best for you. You choose to be loved, not only to be the one loving. And you wait. For someone or something else to engulf you.


3.

Q: How does one get rid of fear?

A: One confronts it and it loses its power.


4.

Q: How do you define your sexuality, personally?

A: I gravitate towards pansexuality, but if I really had to describe it, and had the liberty to take my time, I’d say:

I like people. I am attracted by the way people treat me. If you treat me with kindness, care, delicacy – I will probably be attracted to you. Of course there are physical attributes that get my hands sweaty (dark hair, heavy eyebrows, mouth like the ribbon on a Christmas present), but most of my sexual attractions stem from my emotional attachment to a person. Which explains why I have become enamored by petite girls who wear red lips and vintage dresses and forty year old stout women with grey cropped hair alike. Pale boys with self-assured voices and those handsome people who do not like to adhere to the male/female binary. Why I’ve found myself clutching at the hips of a writer and the shoulders of a computer scientist at different points in time. I like people that interest me. I like passionate people. I like people that talk with their hands and kiss with all their trembling bodies. I like people that understand me and people who make the effort to, even if they never will. I like quiet people, pensive people, hopeful people, sad people, lonely people, lovely people, love-me people, LOVE-ME people. I like anyone that takes the time to consider me, to reach out, to reach in. I like people that remember me against the odds. People that remember themselves, in the midst of the dozen personas we all switch between on any given day, I like people that remember who they are at the centre. I like people that want what I want, which is mostly to love and be loved back in equal measure, which is a lot of people, which is sincere and beautiful and oh so very human.


5.

Q: I am going on my first ever date on Saturday, to dinner, and I’ve been reading your poems in the hope that I can be a woman like you.

A: Don’t be a woman like me, love. Be a woman like you.


6.

Q: I have a scar on my body I was born with and it means I am too embarrassed to be unclothed in front of men. It’s the only reason I’m still a virgin. It makes me ache.

A: Believe me, if you are standing completely naked in front of someone who really likes you, they will not even be seeing your scar. They will only be wondering where to put their hands first.


7.

Q: I love a man. But I feel so delicate that I’m sure he would rip me if we were to pursue a relationship. What do I do?

A: Give your bones more credit.


8.

Q: I want to die and I don’t know what to do.

A: Stay away from sharp things and wet roads.



Contributing Editor /
SOCIAL MEDIA ASSISTANT


Donna-Marie Riley currently resides in the South West of England. She is author of the poetry collection Love and Other Small Wars, published by Words Dance, and also featured in Between Sentiment and Sensation: Vol I, published by Red Paint Hill. She romanticizes cold coffee and bitten nails and she likes her poetry shaken, not stirred.


Sway This Way | Anne with an E by April Michelle Bratten | Review


Anne with an E by April Michelle Bratten
$7 / order from Dancing Girl Press / review by Donna-Marie Riley

Here’s the problem: the more I like something, the less I feel able to articulate what it has done to me, what the effect was and why and wow and wonder. There is something deeply rich about this collection, something dense and rippling and luxuriant.

Anne with an E
is a collection based on L.M Montgomery’s novel Anne of Green Gables and its subsequent sequels. I have never read Anne of Green Gables, don’t know even the general plot of it, couldn’t tell you a single one of its characters beyond Anne for whom it’s named and yet, despite all of that, despite my stunning lack of context, April Michelle Bratten’s Anne with an E took me by the wrists and held me flush against the wall, panting. That is to say: this collection unapologetically seduced me. There is a girlishness to these poems, yes, a young implacably sweet voice, and yet it is constantly interjected by something deeply erotic and half perverse. Something straining against the misjudgements that have been made about it. Something desperate to prove it’s not quite as innocent as it has been mistaken for.

Bratten is a poet who seems to know poetry, seems to have studied it before beginning to speak it. The language is hypnotic, rolls like the hips of a woman who knows her own power. Shows up to the party showing just enough leg and meets the eyes of anyone looking.

I am thrilled by these poems, so much so that anything I say on them doesn’t match up to the feeling they instil in me. I sing the praises of Bratten and Anne alike, and I thank them both for having caught me so off guard. Do not miss out on this. Let it stir your blood.

○○○

A few of my favourite quotes include:


…then I know he loves me, no-words-deeply.

—from “Matthew, a conch shell”


○○○

I could tell you about leaving, about sinning,
about swinging little boys from my hip, or what happens
when a man does not receive his afternoon sandwich
in a timely manner, what happens to his penis after he is taken
to drink, but I will not. I cannot complain. I have a home
I can return to.

—from “To Write a Letter When There is Too Much to Say”


○○○

For you, I only write
a cluster of birds, a crushed blossom in echoes to home,
and I fear how much I long to hear them say, welcome back,
welcome back.

—from “To Write a Letter When There is Too Much to Say”


○○○

“You wouldn’t know it by simply looking,
but her head is a museum. It houses many beautiful aches.”

—from “Marilla is a Museum”


○○○

“Then you were shadow, never-played violin, empty kitchen, you flimsy
woman squeezed into the body of an elegant child.”

—from “Ruby, sucked in”


And finally:

“I do not feel sexy this week. The clock is tired, its endless wandering. Are you abhorrent? Are you worse than death? I can afford to show a little leg. I fold my dress up above my knees. I speak less these days, I told you, I can afford to show a little leg.

—from “A Bird Called Grief”



April Michelle Bratten’s latest book is the Anne of Green Gables inspired chapbook, Anne with an E (dancing girl press 2015). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Southeast Review, Zone 3, Gargoyle, decomP, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Thrush Poetry Journal, among others. She is the editor-in-chief of Up the Staircase Quarterly, and a contributing editor at Words Dance Publishing where she writes the article “Three to Read.” She currently lives in Minot, North Dakota.


Contributing Editor /
SOCIAL MEDIA ASSISTANT


Donna-Marie Riley currently resides in the South West of England. She is author of the poetry collection Love and Other Small Wars, published by Words Dance, and also featured in Between Sentiment and Sensation: Vol I, published by Red Paint Hill. She romanticizes cold coffee and bitten nails and she likes her poetry shaken, not stirred.


Highlighter Series: War of the Foxes by Richard Siken


Copper Canyon Press | 2015 | 96 pages | 978-1556594779

There was a ten year wait between Richard Siken’s Crush and this, his second collection of poetry, War of the Foxes. If I’m honest, I’ll admit I was terrified to read War of the Foxes for longer than is strictly reasonable. Crush had such an overwhelming effect on me, threw such a magnificently dirty punch, that I was unsure War of the Foxes would be able to match it, in my eyes at least. As it happens, Crush is still my favourite poetry collection, of Siken’s of course, but also of… anything. My heart is loyal to it. Having said that, I was ridiculous to doubt War of the Foxes for even a moment. It is mesmerising, intense, and painstakingly crafted – a real treasure.

Here are some of my favourite snippets:


And finally:



Contributing Editor /
SOCIAL MEDIA ASSISTANT


Donna-Marie Riley currently resides in the South West of England. She is author of the poetry collection Love and Other Small Wars, published by Words Dance, and also featured in Between Sentiment and Sensation: Vol I, published by Red Paint Hill. She romanticizes cold coffee and bitten nails and she likes her poetry shaken, not stirred.


Poetic Correspondence: A Collection of Tumblr Asks and Answers (Vol. I)


One of my favourite things about poetry is that it has never seemed like a thing that requires form to me. Only a language that knows how to dance, a language fluid as water that flows simultaneously from everything and to everything. Recently, trawling through my Tumblr archives, I began to notice a vast collection of responses to questions I had been asked and how they seemed to exist on two planes; how so often it seemed that yes, I was answering a question, but also, I was writing a poem. On the off chance that these poetic exchanges might be of interest to anyone else, I have begun to document them. Here are a few to start.

1.

Q: What do you do the moment you realize the love will not work? That maybe it’s turned sour, maybe you love them more; maybe it wasn’t never meant to last much longer. What do you do with yourself then?

A: be truthful and fair to yourself. learn to navigate loss. get enough sleep. eat your greens. keep well hydrated. above all, be tender in your handling of yourself. be forgiving of the past. and be open to right now, however difficult. be open to each moment.


2.

Q: Do you ever worry that true happiness will never come? And if it does, could it linger for a while? I’m so scared it will never happen for me, not even fleetingly.

A: what is “true happiness”? stop aspiring to happiness. it is unrealistic. aspire to contentment at best. to being comfortable in your life. to having accepted your many flaws and having stopped beating yourself up for them. what are you after? you want to spend every day laughing on a front porch drinking iced tea from a mason jar? you want to always have someone to kiss below the navel? you want to always be lucky? to sidestep all of life’s potholes? to always make it home before the rain? you can’t have it all. the worst thing we do to ourselves as humans is to set happiness apart from all the other emotions and expect it to have some permanence. why? we have angry flashes. sad bouts. silly hours. these all are temporary, and happiness too. so no, i don’t worry about happiness. in fact, i worry about the opposite. i worry that the expectancy for happiness, the constant waiting around for it, the trust that it will one day show up with the intent to stay, will keep me from enjoying the brief spells of it. i am thankful for each rush of joy, though few and far between. i am thankful they ever come at all.


3.

Q: I am falling in love with someone who is falling in love with me and we only get to see each other two days, once a month. Life feels heavy and impossible. How can I make it stop?

A: The only way to make the heaviness stop is to give up the love in this case. But oh, love is such a delicious burden to carry on your back through the desert.


4.

Q: Can you be in love with two people at the same time?

A: I’m never in love with less than half a dozen people a day.


5.

Q: I think I love being the other woman. I’m not always sorry.

A: I’m not either. Oh, to be dark, mysterious, and above all, desired.


6.

Q: I hope one day you’ll find the courage inside yourself to discover you’re so much more than sadness.

A: I already know that. I am not only sadness. I am hope and curiosity and belly-laugh and silence. I am wishful thinking and easily pleased and “sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.” I am pink in the cheeks and soft at the hips and sometimes blue at my extremities because my circulation is so bad. I am kind, to others, and more recently, myself. I am bad with money and full of passion. Full of fury, too. Sometimes angry. Sometimes lonely. Sometimes funny. Sometimes false. Authentic. Self-deprecating. Self-preserving. Gracious, proud, needy, silly, interesting, childish, small. Brave even. On the rare occasion. I know I am more. Thank you for knowing it too.



Contributing Editor /
SOCIAL MEDIA ASSISTANT


Donna-Marie Riley currently resides in the South West of England. She is author of the poetry collection Love and Other Small Wars, published by Words Dance, and also featured in Between Sentiment and Sensation: Vol I, published by Red Paint Hill. She romanticizes cold coffee and bitten nails and she likes her poetry shaken, not stirred.


8 Songs to Feed the Poet in You (Part III)

1. 8 AM Departure – The Perishers

An anthem for anyone in a long distance relationship, if you ask me.

Noteworthy lyrics:

  • “I wish I could stay, you could call in sick and we could make out all day.”


2. Bloom – The Paper Kits

Noteworthy lyrics:

  • “Oh, you fill my lungs with sweetness and you fill my head with you.”


3. I Was Just Thinking – Teitur


Noteworthy lyrics:

  • “I think about long distance rates instead of kissing you, babe.”


4. You Are the Moon – The Hush Sound

Noteworthy lyrics:

  • “You don’t see what you possess, a beauty calm and clear. It floods the sky and blurs the darkness like a chandelier.”


5. First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar


Noteworthy lyrics:

  • “I’m a goddamn coward, but then again, so are you.”


6. Recessional – Vienna Teng

Noteworthy lyrics:

  • “In the terminal she sleeps on my shoulder, hair falling forward, mouth all askew.”


7. Boys Don’t Cry – Plumb

Noteworthy lyrics:

  • “You turn the TV on and tune me out again.”


8. You Had Time – Ani DiFranco

A song that speaks to my dream of a girl to love, a cottage in the woods, and a red pick-up truck.

Noteworthy lyrics:


  • “You will take the heavy stuff and you will drive the car and I’ll look out the window and make jokes.”

Contributing Editor /
SOCIAL MEDIA ASSISTANT


Donna-Marie Riley currently resides in the South West of England. She is author of the poetry collection Love and Other Small Wars, published by Words Dance, and also featured in Between Sentiment and Sensation: Vol I, published by Red Paint Hill. She romanticizes cold coffee and bitten nails and she likes her poetry shaken, not stirred.


Spotlight on: Shane Koyczan


Connect with Shane:
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

In a world where spoken word poetry seems to be receiving more and more recognition, if there’s one poet I think people keep missing out on their lists of the bests, it’s this guy. It’s Shane Koyczan. Koyczan is a conductor of hope. That’s the only way I know how to say it. Despite the heaviness of many of his subject matters, there is always an underlying promise that the past is a place we can choose to stop inhabiting. That every tomorrow is a source of unlimited potential, and that good things will happen if we just allow them to, if we just give our permission for life to stop beating us up.

When I’m scouting spoken word poetry, I’m usually looking for whatever’s going to hurt the most, whatever will pack the biggest punch, whatever’s going to leave me feeling all the awful things that need to be felt. Koyczan doesn’t do that. Not to me, at least. For me, Koyczan’s poems don’t live in the hurt. They live in the space that comes after it. They live in the looking back. In the surviving. The healing.

Here are my favourites:

1. Instructions for a Bad Day

Favourite quote: “Admit to the bad days, the impossible nights. Listen to the insights of those who have been there, but have come back. They will tell you: you can stack misery, you can pack despair, you can even wear your sorrow – but come tomorrow you must change your clothes.”


2. Remember How We Forgot

Favourite quote: “Remember how we used to bend reality like we were circus strong-men, like our imaginations were in shape then, like we were all ninjas trained in the deadly art of, ‘did not!’ Like, ‘I TOTALLY GOT YOU!’ ‘Did not.’”


3. Tomatoes

Favourite quote: “When I was a kid I was fascinated by space, and I learned that time slows near a black hole. Inside a black hole time stops altogether. Whether or not this theory will ever be proved, I am moved to believe this would be the perfect place to love someone.”


4. To This Day

An animated version of this poem can be found here, but I prefer the TED talk version because it has a small speech (for lack of a better word) that prefaces the poem, and strangely, in this case, my favourite quote comes from this rather than the poem itself:

“I will love myself despite the ease with which I lean towards the opposite.”


Contributing Editor /
SOCIAL MEDIA ASSISTANT


Donna-Marie Riley currently resides in the South West of England. She is author of the poetry collection Love and Other Small Wars, published by Words Dance, and also featured in Between Sentiment and Sensation: Vol I, published by Red Paint Hill. She romanticizes cold coffee and bitten nails and she likes her poetry shaken, not stirred.


To-Read Poetry Books

I often find myself wishing I utilised the site Goodreads more than I do. A site where you are free to keep track of what you’ve read, are reading, and want to read, I feel I ought to give it more of my time. The only problem is that I have an incredibly short attention span and a memory like a sieve, which means I forget to take advantage of it. And which in turn means that so often, I will read a few poems of a poet and make a mental note to buy and read whatever collections they might have available, but nearly as soon as I’ve made the mental note, my mind gobbles it up until the next time I stumble across some of their work again. Also, even when I remember to buy the book, I still often neglect to read it. When I’m intending to read a poetry book, I like to have a need for it, an urgency that makes me the reading sweeter. The urgency isn’t always there though and so even books I am floored to have looking out at me from the bookshelf can sit there for months, unread. This is a list of the books I need to make the time for, a reminder to myself, yes, but also a list for you, of books to invite into your own library. Without further ado:

1. War of the Foxes – Richard Siken

Siken’s first collection Crush is the only one that has had such a dramatic effect on me in recent years. When I was younger and easily-impressed, it was more often that a poet would rein me in. Nowadays, it’s infrequent, and when it does happen, when a book guts me like an animal, that’s it, I’m won forever. So naturally, when Siken’s long-anticipated second collection was announced, I was psyched beyond belief. I was ready to feed myself whole to the teeth I knew it’d have. I even got myself a signed copy. And then I got scared. Because what if War of the Foxes is not on par with Crush for me? What if it can’t be because Crush is now too high of a standard. I’ve skimmed through its pages briefly, and I already know it won’t have the same power over me as Crush, but nonetheless, I know it’s still a worthy read. And it’s first on my list to take the time out to grapple with.


2. Said the Manic to the Muse – Jeanann Verlee

Here’s the thing with Said the Manic to the Muse, I had this book on pre-order from Amazon the moment it was available, and yet, after waiting weeks to be told, “your order is on its way,” instead I was told they were out of stock. I have not been able to get my hands on it. If anyone knows of some secret place I can get hold of a copy, do let me know. But I mean, come on, it’s Jeanann Verlee! Did they not know to print all the copies they could?! I’d buy all the spares if necessary. Verlee is one of the few spoken word poets for me whose work reads as well on the page as it sounds when performed. I know this from reading her earlier collection Racing Hummingbirds, which incidentally, though I’ve read it, I do not own, so that’s two from Jeanann Verlee that I need to make space for in my little library.


3. Wine for a Shotgun – Marty McConnell

I know little about Marty McConnell and have read little of her work beyond the pieces that show up occasionally on my Tumblr dashboard. But damn, when they show up, I am always left winded. And always left pressing the ‘add to wishlist’ button on my Amazon account. I’ll be getting Wine for a Shotgun as soon as I can and I’m so excited to get to know and come to appreciate a new poet.


4. Facts about the Moon – Dorianne Laux

I was introduced to Dorianne Laux via the poem “Facts About the Moon”. I read it once and that was it – it’s one of my all-time favourite poems. And look, I love poetry, but there are only a handful or two of poems I fall in love with as quickly and unsuspectingly as I did with “Facts About the Moon”. The collection, named after its title poem, is another I’ve had sat on my shelf for some time, but haven’t yet gotten around to giving my full attention. Soon to be remedied!


5. Faithful and Virtuous Night – Louise Glück

Louise Glück is another one of those poets I keep getting blindsided by on Tumblr. I’m scrolling through my dashboard, half shut off, and then one of her poems comes up and I start screaming internally, “HER, READ HER. REMEMBER THAT NAME.” It doesn’t work because as I’ve already mentioned, I’ve a memory like a sieve, but now that I’ve got this list, and have her on it, I’ll be bringing Faithful and Virtuous Night Home soon.


6. [insert] boy + Black Movie – Danez Smith


After his poems “Dinosaurs in the Hood”, “Dear White America”, and “Alternate Names for Black Boys”, I’m going to get my hands on anything Danez Smith ever releases, and I’m going to eat it like the holy bread that it is.

Links: [insert] boy + Black Movie


Contributing Editor /
SOCIAL MEDIA ASSISTANT


Donna-Marie Riley currently resides in the South West of England. She is author of the poetry collection Love and Other Small Wars, published by Words Dance, and also featured in Between Sentiment and Sensation: Vol I, published by Red Paint Hill. She romanticizes cold coffee and bitten nails and she likes her poetry shaken, not stirred.


The Dance Interview Series with Ashe Vernon


Ashe Vernon is a 22 year old day-dreamer from Houston, Texas. She recently finished a cross-country poetry tour and is readjusting to the kind of adult life where you don’t get on a microphone and cry in front of strangers every other night. She has published two books of poetry–Belly of the Beast and Wrong Side of a Fistfight. Ashe is a tiny person with very small hands and a whole lot to say about it.


Donna-Marie Riley : Okay, to begin, what I always wonder when it comes to writers is — was there ever an aha moment? A moment when you wrote and felt, “yes, I’m going to keep doing this.”

Ashe Vernon : The thing is, I’ve always been writing. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t writing. It’s as much a part of my body as a limb. So there was never really an “aha” moment because it always felt obvious – that this was something I was going to do forever. I talked about being a novelist when I was barely old enough to hold a pencil. It’s the only part of my life that’s stayed entirely stable. I’ve always wanted this.

I suppose in a way there was an “aha” moment for poetry in particular, because I’d always sort of purposefully steered away from poetry until about two years ago. I typically wrote long-forms: books and plays and that sort of thing. But college was an extremely tumultuous time in my life and between 16+ hours of classes and working on 4-5 theatre productions every semester, completely long-form work was absolutely exhausting. I turned to poetry because it meant that I could have something and have it feel FINISHED without having to put dozens of hours into it. I didn’t expect to stay with it in this way originally. At first, it was meant to just be a good way to exercise my writing muscles while I was crunched for time and energy.

But for the first time in my life, poetry made sense. I don’t know if I was just looking at it from a new perspective or if I just needed the life experience behind me, but three or four months into starting my poetry blog, I realized that I loved it: in that deep, painful, earth-shattering way that we love the people closest to us.

Donna-Marie Riley : It’s so interesting to me that you say you turned to poetry out of necessity, not having the time for lengthier pieces. Do you still regard poetry that way? Is it a form you turn to when the need to produce something immediate comes or has it developed into a form you turn to with intent?

Ashe Vernon : Definitely not. Poetry is a part of me; it completely changed my life and I honestly can’t believe that there was a time when I wasn’t writing it. Especially after going on tour, I felt positive that I am where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I feel like poetry has become the clearest way for me to express what goes on in my head. I think that poetry, more so than other writing forms, lets you put words to the kinds of feelings that no one (myself included) knows how to talk about.

Donna-Marie Riley : Speaking of being on tour, how does it feel performing those poems which refer to “feelings no one knows how to talk about”? What changes for you when sharing your words verbally as opposed to only on the page?

Ashe Vernon : I think what really changes is specificity. When you’re reading something off a page, it’s largely up to the reader to interpret things like mood and intention. Sure, you as the writer can tweak the wording and rhythm to inspire certain ideas, but at the end of the day, the control is out of your hands.

When I perform my poems, I’m able to draw attention exactly where I want it–punch certain words, gentle over others.

I think both experiences are important when it comes to poetry by people who do spoken word: what you feel reading it on the page is just as important as what you feel listening to them speak. But there’s something unique and thrilling about watching someone carve out their hurt in front of you. I’m not sure anything has ever made me cry as hard as watching someone perform poetry.

That open-faced honesty is what I really strive for, in my own performance. I want to be able to unpack all of myself in front of the audience. I want to be unflinching.


Donna-Marie Riley : I completely agree. There is such courage in spoken word poetry. Especially because the majority of it is self-confessional, meaning people are up there roaring their throats hoarse so they can relay to an audience their traumas, their so-long-buried secrets. It’s a vulnerable act.

Which leads me to this next question. I’m always interested in how some of my favourite spoken word poets manage to access the emotion (which is often triggering) attached to the subject of their poem without letting it completely overwhelm them on stage. How do you stay safe? How do you tap into the emotion enough to impart your experience, but just shy of living directly in the emotion that you become too vulnerable to perform? So far, I haven’t heard anyone else voice this struggle so I’m on a mission to find someone who can relate!

Ashe Vernon : I’ll be honest, I don’t always manage to do it safely. I’ve written poems that hurt me more than they helped me, and I’ve had nights where I left the stage in tears.

I remember, very distinctly, the first time I ever performed a poem from my second book – The Dead Dad Poem. It [as I’m sure you can guess from the title] was achingly personal, but oddly enough the writing process had felt very cut-and-dry. In writing it, it wasn’t about expressing trauma, it was just – “here’s how it was.” Very factual and clean. It didn’t hurt at all to write it. But then, up in front of people, letting myself really FEEL the poem for the first time, I got to the last verse and my voice gave out. Suddenly I was sobbing instead of speaking. My best friend in the first row looked like he was about to jump out of his seat. I gasped the last few lines through tears and practically fell offstage into my best friend’s arms.

But the thing about the poetry community, is they always have their arms out to catch you. No one wants to see you break apart and stay broken. Everyone wants to see how you took your trauma and pushed yourself back together. They want to celebrate with you just as much as they want to cry with you.

And that’s what gets me through the hard poems: that this group of strangers, for this one moment, really and truly cares that I make it out the other side of this poem. And they’ll carry me there themselves, if they have to. It’s really, unbelievably beautiful. There’s nothing else like it in the whole world.

Donna-Marie Riley : Do you find therapy in that? In not only expressing your traumas, but in sharing them? Is self-confessional poetry a cathartic act for you?

Ashe Vernon : Absolutely. Especially because it’s a good way of finding out you’re not alone–some of my most personal (and, I originally thought, unrelatable) poems have had some of the biggest responses of understanding.

Donna-Marie : Okay, let me get a bit more specific to you. Is there a difference between your first and your second book? In terms of theme, circumstances, experiences, even ability?

Ashe Vernon : Both books look at a lot of the same themes–self-discovery, recovery from trauma, etc–but from very different viewpoints. They were written when I was in drastically different points in my life and my personal development.

Belly of the Beast is all about weaponizing softness and learning to befriend your dark parts. It’s sharp and cutting–biting back at the things that hurt you. In lots of ways, Wrong Side of a Fistfight is a complete undoing of that. It’s about looking critically at the parts of yourself you sharpened for the sake of survival and learning to unclench your fist.


Donna-Marie Riley : Wrong Side of a Fistfight – where did the title come from?

Ashe Vernon : The title was actually the first part of the book that I had – I built the rest of the book around the title. I’m not sure I can explain it in a way that would be concise but you know those movies where the hero gets all torn to pieces and beat up and someone sees them and is like, “Oh my god, what happened to you?!” and the hero just grins and goes, “you should see the other guy”?
In a way, it’s kind of about perpetually being the “other guy” – the one who never seems to win their battles but keeps picking themselves back up to fight the war.

Donna-Marie Riley : You know what, I would never have even thought about it like that. And I really liked the title before, but now I like it even more! So if you’re the other guy – who’s throwing the punches your way? Life in general?

Ashe Vernon : In the book, I wanted to cover all different types of battles – family, relationships, friendships, life, depression. I think depression plays a huge part in this book. But despite being a book about being on the wrong side of the fight, I really strived to also inspire hope: the idea that you can be the guy who always loses and still get up to fight another day. That someday you won’t be the one who always loses anymore.

Donna-Marie Riley : Well, I think you did just that. To end, my favourite quote of yours is, “I am a cathedral of almost-lovers.” What’s your favourite of your own quotes?

Ashe Vernon : Ooh, that’s a tough one. I was going to pick a different quote from that same poem – that piece has always felt like a manifesta of my own survival. I like the last line: “My body is a temple and my gods drink vodka and gin.” It feels like a triumph, to me – after a poem that’s largely about being someone else’s burial ground, the end is about taking your body back and I think that theme is present in a lot of my poetry.



Check out more of Ashe on Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook & Instagram!

Thank you, Ashe!


Contributing Editor /
SOCIAL MEDIA ASSISTANT


Donna-Marie Riley currently resides in the South West of England. She is author of the poetry collection Love and Other Small Wars, published by Words Dance, and also featured in Between Sentiment and Sensation: Vol I, published by Red Paint Hill. She romanticizes cold coffee and bitten nails and she likes her poetry shaken, not stirred.


8 More Songs to Feed the Poet in You

1. No Angels – Bastille ft. Ella Eyre

A cover of TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’ mixed with Ella Eyre’s ‘No Angels’ with added doses of eeriness via excerpts from the movie Psycho, and my noteworthy lyrics are actually movie quotes, but run with it.

Noteworthy lyrics:

  • “We’re all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out.”


2. Broad Ripple is Burning – Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s

Noteworthy lyrics:

  • “If my woman was a fire, she’d burn out before I wake, and be replaced by pints of whiskey, cigarettes and outer space.”


3. We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off – Ella Eyre

I’m a sucker for slowed down songs sung in husky tones by beautiful people, sue me. This one is originally a song by Jermaine Stewart, but if I’m honest, I never cared for it much ‘til this cover.



Noteworthy lyrics:

  • “I’ve got needs, just like you, and if the conversations good, vibrations through and through.”


4. Hello My Old Heart – The Oh Hello’s

Noteworthy lyrics:

  • “Oh, don’t leave me here alone, don’t tell me that we’ve grown for having loved a little while.”


5. Missing Parts – Daniela Andrade

I mean, I warned you about the cover thing… This one’s originally by Jeff Pianki.



Noteworthy lyrics:

  • “Who’s gonna love you now that gravity brought you down? Now that I’m not around, who’s gonna love you now?”


6. Why You – Joe Purdy

Noteworthy lyrics:

  • “Why you always looking so sweet? You walk into the room and it brings me to my knees. Yeah, so why you always looking so sweet?”


7. Pink Rabbits – The National

Noteworthy lyrics:

  • “You didn’t see me, I was falling apart, I was a television version of a person with a broken heart.”


8. We Don’t Eat – James Vincent McMorrow

Noteworthy lyrics:


  • “Never once has any man I’ve met been able to love so if I were you, I’d just have a little trust.”

Contributing Editor /
SOCIAL MEDIA ASSISTANT


Donna-Marie Riley currently resides in the South West of England. She is author of the poetry collection Love and Other Small Wars, published by Words Dance, and also featured in Between Sentiment and Sensation: Vol I, published by Red Paint Hill. She romanticizes cold coffee and bitten nails and she likes her poetry shaken, not stirred.


Highlighter Series: Gentleman Practice by Buddy Wakefield

I was first introduced to Buddy Wakefield via his spoken word poem Hurling Crowbirds at Mockingbars. Arguably his most well-known poem, there is not a line in it that goes astray. No words wasted. It is a poem that packs a punch both on and off the page, but I personally prefer listening to Wakefield’s performance of it. There’s a deep vulnerability to the way he delivers the poem, along with a quiet confidence that he is saying something that is worthy of being heard. Hurling Crowbirds at Mockingbars is not the only poem that tricks me into a chokehold, but it is the poem that led me to Wakefield’s collection Gentleman Practice.


Write Bloody Publishing | 2011 | 152 pages | 978-1935904106

If I can be honest, Gentleman Practice is a strangely formatted collection. Separated into sections, it follows each section with a set of notes about who and what inspired certain pieces or giving due credit to people from whom certain quotes originated. It’s also less a collection of poetry, and more a collection of excerpts. It has poems, yes, but it also has exchanges of dialogue, one-liners, quotes by his friends and peers and even a few photographs thrown in. If you’re looking for a straight no-bullshit poetry collection, Gentleman Practice is perhaps not for you. But if you’re like me, and find yourself fascinated by the minds of your favourite poets, their interactions, their sense of humour even, then it’s perfect. It’s a very alive collection, which without over-explaining, I mean to say, it is buzzing with experiences.

Here are some of my most-loved parts of it:


And finally:



Contributing Editor /
SOCIAL MEDIA ASSISTANT


Donna-Marie Riley currently resides in the South West of England. She is author of the poetry collection Love and Other Small Wars, published by Words Dance, and also featured in Between Sentiment and Sensation: Vol I, published by Red Paint Hill. She romanticizes cold coffee and bitten nails and she likes her poetry shaken, not stirred.