Category Archives: Interviews

The Dance Interview Series with Yena Sharma Purmasir

In When I’m Not There, Yena Sharma Purmasir sheds her skin so wholly and so truly that you forget her fingers are the ones holding the pen. Purmasir steps away from herself and into her dead father to look back at the world she has existed in without him. She peers into the shadowy corners of her own life and, through her father’s eyes, floods them with light. If this seems sad, be sure that isn’t the only thing it is. It’s also funny and beautiful and so devastatingly human that you almost want to look away. You almost aren’t used to such unwavering honesty. This collection peels grief apart layer by layer and stands unflinching in its glory and horror.

It’s easier to think that this is all my fault, my absence. 

That this never would have happened if I was still alive. 

But the truth is that even if I was there, 

I couldn’t protect you from a day like today.

Purmasir plays tug-of-war in these poems, unsure of what winning in a game like this looks like. In this collection, there is a central question: when someone you love dies, what is the right way to live without them? Purmasir pulls readers into moments where the living feels okay, if only for a second and others where even existing in a world without her father is a betrayal. And, in this way, this collection sees the truth of grief and love and loss: there are days when you can’t breathe and there are days when you can. In these poems, you will find blinding moments of each. 

After reading this collection, I was lucky enough to speak to Purmasir about her writing process, the reaction of her family, and the act of peering into 15-year old memories to write this gorgeous, aching book.

Fortesa Latifi : Your most recent collection, When I’m Not There, is written from the point of view of your deceased father. Was this a conscious decision you made before starting the writing process or did it occur organically somewhere along the way?

Yena Sharma Purmasir : I wish I could say that that this book was the result of a great deal of thought and introspection. Instead, like much of my work, this idea happened to me. It was a Thursday in late January. I was on my way to work. I was sitting at the end of the subway car and I looked out the window, at the connection between my car and the next. Suddenly, I had the following lines in my head: “I imagine what you must look like now/like my mother maybe/another woman I never got to know.” Those lines were from my father’s perspective. He died when I was eight years old. Almost instantaneously, I thought about what it would be like to write a book from his perspective. I realized that his 15th death anniversary was a few months’ away. So, I started outlining the topics I wanted in the book. I knew I wanted about 30 poems and I wanted to address events chronologically. I gave myself about a week to write the poems. That meant that I wrote many of these poems on the same day.

Fortesa Latifi : What was your first thought when the idea of this book occurred to you? Were you scared? Nervous? Excited?

Yena Sharma Purmasir : My first thought was complete surprise. I never thought I would write something like this. My father died when I was in the third grade. He had been suffering with multiple illnesses in the years before that. I consider myself a deeply private person. Growing up, I was so ashamed of my father’s death. I used to feel like it was reflection of the kind of person I was, that if I had been better or kinder or stronger, this awful thing wouldn’t have happened to my family. I hardly talked about him. Even when I was in high school, there were friends of mine who had no idea that my father had died. Writing this book meant that I was going to have to talk about him, about the experience of loss and grief openly. It felt like a huge leap for me – but once the idea took shape, I wanted to show it to the world. This is my second book, but in many ways, it felt like my first project, like I was finally writing something only I could write. Fifteen years is a long time to miss someone, to love someone. I’ve done that. I finally wanted people to know this story. More than that, I wanted people to know my father.

Fortesa Latifi : How did you tell your mother and brother, who are mentioned multiple times throughout the book, about what you were writing? What were their reactions?

Yena Sharma Purmasir : I called my mother literally an hour after I got the idea. I live at home with her and my brother, but I wanted her input immediately. My mother and father were soulmates. In general, her opinion carried a lot of weight for me, but for something like this, I desperately wanted her to be onboard with the idea. I’m very lucky to have her in my life, someone so willing to embrace eccentric thought. She said it was a great idea, that I had to follow through and produce a product. I asked her if it was morbid. My father was a hilarious, charming man. The last thing I would want to do is tie his memory to something depressing and dark. It doesn’t have to be, she said. You can write funny things. He would have written some funny things. My brother  is 21 years old. He found out when I came home that night. He joked that he should have received some kind of payment, for being mentioned throughout these poems. The acknowledgement for When I’m Not There is actually the acknowledgement page from my father’s manuscript – he had been working on a book before he passed away. I burst into tears when I found it, in the midst of all his things. It was a sobering moment for our family. It was a reminder that this thing I was working on, this fake thing, goes back to someone who was real. Someone we all loved. Someone we all lost.

Fortesa Latifi : You were eight years old when your father died. While writing, did you find that there were things you weren’t aware of about his life and his death? If so, where did you go to find that information?

Yena Sharma Purmasir : Oh man, I was an inquisitive child. In the months following my father’s death, I dug through all his materials, his books and journals and manila folders. I knew everything there was to know about his life. I was greedy for that information. When I was a kid, it was so easy to remember how my father would speak, what he would say. But we all forget things. As I’ve gotten older, I have looked through his things less and less. In order to write this book, I had to remind myself of his voice. I had to read his journals again. I found this poem that he wrote, about a year before he died. It was about my mother, about her love and care. The poem ended with “but I owe my life to no one.” I shivered when I reread that poem. My dad was sick. I mean, he was really sick and it must’ve been such a painful time for him. What I remember of that time was mostly laughter and jokes and silly adventures. But that wasn’t the only truth. Rereading these deeply personal poems and diary entries made it easy for me to find his tone of voice: serious, vulnerable, honest. Someone loving, someone hurting.

Fortesa Latifi : Your father died 6 months before the terrorist attacks of 9/11. You grew up in New York City and were living there when the attacks occurred. Are these two traumatic events linked in your mind? How did it feel to see your country mourning something so public as you mourned something so private?

Yena Sharma Purmasir : 2001 was a very difficult year for me, for my family, for my city. I remember vividly the morning of September 11th. I was in the fourth grade. My science teacher wrote the word TERRORISM on the blackboard. He was trying to explain this concept and then the principal announced that the World Trade Center had been hit. There was a flurry of confusion. The World Trade Center in Canada? No, one girl piped up, it must have been the World Trade Center here, in New York, in Manhattan. Almost immediately, the entire class started asking about their parents, almost all of whom worked in Manhattan. As the day went on, children started getting picked up from home. My brother was in kindergarten. I saw him at lunch and told him that our mother had called to talk to me, that she was okay. But, she hadn’t called. I hadn’t heard from her. I had no idea if she was okay, if she was alive. By the time the school day ended, I was one of four students on my bus. My aunt, my mother’s sister, was waiting for me when I got off the bus. She said that she saw my mom on the news, as one of thousands of people crossing the bridge to get into Queens. I didn’t believe her. This was before cellphones were commonplace. The more time that passed, the more I thought that my mother had died. I replayed in my head this terrible possibility. I worried about where we would live, what would become of our lives. It seems now like a crazy jump, a wild conclusion, but I was nine years old, my father had just died, something terrifying was happening in my city. I was so full of grief and pain. When my mom finally did come home, I was relieved, so unbelievably relieved. But this awful thing was still real for others. A boy in my school, his father died in the attack. He was a firefighter. The guidance counselor asked me to talk to him. And I did. I was so so sorry for his loss. What happened to us happened for different reasons, but the result looked the same. We both lost our fathers. When I think about the 9/11 attacks, I always think of how real it felt, the sick thought that I was going to lose my entire sense of family, my experience of parental love. I was only nine years old. I was too young to be scared of something like that.

Fortesa Latifi : Did you have any hesitations when it came to publishing this book? If so, what were they and how did you let them go in order to move forward in the publishing process?

Yena Sharma Purmasir : Ultimately, I was nervous that I was going to do a disservice to my father’s memory. That this book would be morbid and dark and sad. I was scared that no one would like it, that it wouldn’t feel real to them. That was probably the worst fear, not just because of the book, but because I really feel like my father is there, sometimes. The idea that he isn’t, that he’s really gone forever, is terrifying to me. I didn’t want anyone to read this book and feel sorry for me. I worked with the themes, with each topic, to make sure I was capturing the complex experience of growing up. Were there funny poems? What about scary poems? Do I have some happy poems? What does a happy poem look like? I thought about the kind of relationship I have with my mother, how close we are. I imagine that if my father was still alive, I would be as close with him. In that way, I was able to address some of these concerns.

Fortesa Latifi : Was writing from your father’s point of view difficult? What challenges did it present?

Yena Sharma Purmasir : Once I started writing from my father’s perspective, it was surprisingly easy. I refused to write anything else while I was working on the book. I didn’t want to lose his voice. I thought about the way he used to speak, even the way he wrote his sentences in his journals. My father was an older man and his sense of language was different from mine. Once I got the hang of his voice, it felt genuine and effortless. Writing in his voice meant that I was constantly referring to myself in second person. I became a character. I had to look at my own life, my own memories, from this other angle. Even moments that felt private were open to reinterpretation. I wrote a poem about getting my period in school. That might feel like a strange thing to write in a book like this, but if my father was alive, I would’ve come home and told him about this giant humiliation. He was my father. If things were different, he would have known everything about me. So, I wrote everything about myself. I didn’t hold back.

Fortesa Latifi : One of the profound accomplishments of this collection is how it steadies a microscope on the smallest moments of a life. For example, there is a poem called “Dream Deferred” where the narrator tries to ease your anxiety about a deferral from a college by equating it with having to wait for the bus at the zoo as a small child. How did you choose which small moments to include? It seems as though it must have been harder to choose the small moments than the big ones- i.e. graduations, first loves, and ceremonies.

Yena Sharma Purmasir : I’ve always had a really strong sense of memory. My first memory is from when I was two years old. My memories of my childhood are so special to me. Maybe even then, I had some sense or feeling that these moments would be important. Some things are documented in photographs, like us waiting for the bus before that trip to the zoo. But other things are contained nowhere. It was harder to choose those smaller moments. Our lives are made of small moments, because of the way they add up. The big moments, the milestones, are easy to identify. I was writing this book in hindsight though, and in hindsight, even some small moments stick out. Now, I can say why that bus ride to the zoo made it into the book: because my family was together and I was happy.

Fortesa Latifi : In reading this, I found so many haunting moments but I was mostly struck by how deeply human the entire collection is. It’s funny and it’s sad and it’s complicated. One of my favorite lines is:

I’ll be dead for the rest of your life and all the lives thereafter.

What you miss about me, you’re going to have to find in someone else.

Was this collection about coming to terms with the grief of those statements or was it about cracking them wide open?

Yena Sharma Purmasir : To be honest, I think this book was trying to do both things. I don’t remember when I realized this, but at one point, I had to acknowledge that nothing was going to bring my father back. I could try to be the smartest, kindest, funniest, best version of myself, but it wouldn’t change things. That there is nothing I can do that will have the power to undo this truth. I really struggle with this truth. It’s hard to accept. For most things, it’s not something we have to accept. Change is generally possible. Here is something I cannot change. Here is something no one can change. I wrote an entire book about my father’s death and he’s still dead. I know that sounds sad. I know it sounds painful and hard. But I wanted to acknowledge these feelings. Loss is a part of life. My father is not the only person I’ve lost. I know that as I get older, I will watch other people I love die. Someday I will also die. Accepting death is hard. People have grappled with this concept for centuries. I don’t expect my book to address everyone’s experience with grief. But I hope it can start a conversation about grief. Losing someone can be such a lonely experience, but it doesn’t have to be. When my father died, I remember wondering if my life would ever be good again, if I would ever really laugh again. It’s been 15 years since I lost one of the best people in my life and I have laughed plenty since then. What I miss about my father, I really did find those things in someone else. I found them in myself.

Yena Sharma Purmasir is a 23 year old poet and author from New York City. Her first book of poetry, Until I Learned What It Meant, was published by Where Are You Press in 2013. When I’m Not There is her second book of poetry. Purmasir graduated from Swarthmore College in 2014 with a major in Psychology and a double minor in English Literature and Religion Studies. She was the recipient of the Chuck James Literary Prize from Swarthmore College’s Black Cultural Center. She served in the New York City Civic Corps program, dedicating 10 months of service at Hour Children, a non-profit supporting formerly incarcerated mothers and their families. Purmasir currently works at the Louis August Jonas Foundation, helping organize and implement their international scholarship program, Camp Rising Sun. She believes in the power of hard work, second chances, and, above all, love.

Contributing Editor

Fortesa Latifi is a 22-year old poet. Her first book, This Is How We Find Each Other was published through Where Are You Press in 2014. She hopes you find something good here. She knows you will.

The Dance Interview Series with Iona Lee

Jade Mitchell : If you could begin this interview, what question would you ask yourself?

Iona Lee : Fancy a pint?

Jade Mitchell : When did you initially begin writing poetry?

Iona Lee : Hmmm. I think I started writing poems when I was around seven. I’ve always loved stories and the different ways they can be told and so I was always writing, creating characters, reading and making plays that I would put on for my long-suffering parents. I once created an opera to the soundtrack of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, which is over an hour long I believe. Not sure how my parents made it through that one. Being something of a jack of all trades I perhaps contented myself with being a master of none. Time passing has led to greater specialisation however, so doing the poetry thing predominantly is a recent development. At my first tentative foray in to performance poetry there was amongst the audience an established performance poet, Salena Godden, who was kind enough to encourage me and become something of a mentor. This spurred me on to greater efforts and attempting to improve and write more and be generally better.

Jade Mitchell : How did you get into performance poetry, particularly in the Scottish scene? Would you say that performance poetry has influenced your writing processes and if so, how?

Iona Lee : I used to be a dancer and had just suffered a hope-of-a-career ending injury and was somewhat lost for what to do next. I was taking a year out, not to “find myself” in South East Asia or do anything particularly helpful, but to earn some money and work out what I might want to do with my life. I can’t really remember what exactly made me sign up for the open mic slot at Inky Fingers in Edinburgh, but I did, and here we are. I was seventeen at the time and was pleased to discover that you don’t get your age checked in pubs if you are there to read poetry. Aside from booze, everyone is very welcoming and I felt at once part of something. Becoming what one might call a performance poet has certainly changed my writing process. It’s slowed it down for one. Before, I wrote entirely for myself, for my own amusement or my own satisfaction. As one gains some kind of reputation one feels a duty, not only to one’s own expectations but to those of one’s audience. I try my best to not let it affect my writing but I must admit I do have a few more insecurities now. I worry about coming across as clichéd and not being fresh or honestly “myself”. Everyone is their own worst critic of course. You discard something in a self-indulgent grump and rediscover it in a drawer a few months later, and it is never as bad as you had decided that it was.

Jade Mitchell : Speaking of performance poetry, you recently won the Scottish Slam Championships of 2016, with poems such as “It Was Summer Outside” and “A Nice Quiet Life”. How did you find preparing for the slam and are you looking forward to competing in Paris this year?

Iona Lee : I had a rigorous routine of jogging, cold baths and summoning the ghost of Henry Irving. No, to be honest I just kind of turned up. I had no expectations having only done one slam before. I was very nervous though, not least because my poetry is not typical of the sort of thing you get in slam competitions. The standard was very high, there’s a lot of great poetry being written in Scotland right now, so to have won was a lovely honour. I’ve not been so very confident about my work of late and so winning was a nice “It’s okay, you’re doing okay”. Very excited for Paris, but I am full of trepidation.

We were women

and women were

cocaine, jazz,


We were the new craze.

And there was so much

still to find out,

out of my mind on love

for that room

and that moment

and that you.

—from “It Was Summer Outside”

Jade Mitchell : Not only do you perform poetry, but you are currently within your second year at the Glasgow School of Art. Is art a major influence of your poetic work?

Iona Lee : Probably the other way around. I use poetry in my art a lot and illustrate my own stories whenever I can, but as I said earlier, I have tended to be a jack of all trades. I don’t see that this is necessarily a weakness; to be able to write, perform and illustrate my work across a variety of media might well be an ambition. I should probably write about art more; write about literature and politics and society more. I’m still pretty young however and so I find it much easier to write about myself as a means of talking about more universal subjects. I’m very aware that I don’t really know much about anything yet and I still have so much of life to take in and experience and I always want to be honest so I write about what I know that I know.

Click here to watch on Vimeo

Jade Mitchell : Do you believe that you have evolved within your own creative processes as both a poet and an artist since your origins?

Iona Lee : Of course, but as the creative type you are never content. You are constantly striving to be better and do better and do more and do it persuasively. As an art student one is always subject to criticism, as a performer one is always offering oneself up for criticism. It can feed one’s self doubt, but encourages one’s attempts to improve. I have a lot of ups and downs. I have amazing insight and talent on Monday and then wake up to find that I am William McGonagall on Tuesday. To use a big word, it is Sisyphean, but very good fun.

Jade Mitchell : What would you believe to be the biggest achievement so far of your poetry career?

Iona Lee : Writing poetry.


Ripped untimely from her mother’s womb, Iona has been late for most things ever since the 23rd of February 1996 though she has managed this deadline. An only child, she would often create and draw characters that she might spend the day with (she still does it, but now it’s a bit weird because she’s technically an adult). Currently an illustration student at the Glasgow School of Art, her poetry is a distraction from her studies. She recently won the title of Scottish Slam Champion. She does not know yet exactly what she will end up doing, but looks forward to a life of general creativity and little money. 

Contributing Editor

Jade Mitchell is an 18 year old poet / writer who resides near Glasgow, Scotland. Her work has been featured in The Grind Journal, Inky Paper and Ink Scotland. Aside from working on her writing and poetry, you can find her listening to Lorde and reading every poem she can find in sight.

The Dance Interview Series with Sierra DeMulder

Photo by Michael Gröessinger

Sierra DeMulder is a reigning champion in slam poetry- and I mean that both in the figurative sense of this girl is a total badass and in the literal sense of she’s won the National Poetry Slam twice. Her poetry soothes and stirs, shakes and shelters. When you search Sierra’s name on Youtube, the first video is of her reciting her poem “Today Means Amen” where she looks straight into the camera (and your soul, let’s be honest) and says: “You are both hiding in the dark and walking through the door, this moment is a hallelujah. This moment is your permission slip to finally open that love letter you’ve been hiding from yourself. Do you remember the moment you realized they were watching, when you became ashamed of how much light you were holding, when you first learned how to unlove herself?” We were lucky enough to peer inside the mine of the brilliant woman behind these words. Here’s what we found.

Fortesa Latifi : If you could begin this interview, what question would you ask yourself?

Sierra DeMulder : Hmm…I’d probably ask myself why I don’t start my taxes earlier. Come on girl, get on that!

Fortesa Latifi : When did you start writing poetry? Did you ever think it would become a full-fledged career? What was the first step in your career?

Sierra DeMulder : I started writing poetry in high school. At the time, I considered myself mostly a visual artist. I created a lot of 2-D art and majored in painting and art therapy in college. However, once I discovered spoken word, it was like my creative energy redirected completely. It sounds a bit cliche but I say that poetry is my heart’s truest language and visual art had just been a placeholder. To be honest, I never really anticipated making a career out of writing. I just followed my passion, worked hard, kept putting myself out there, and was luckily/thankfully rewarded. My first “professional” step was probably submitting to a book contest which led me to publish my first full-length manuscript The Bones Below (Write Bloody, 2010).

Fortesa Latifi : What does your writing process look like?

Sierra DeMulder : I write at home, either in my office or in my bed. I tend to write out loud and dictate to myself, which makes it hard to work in public. Like many other poets, I write best when inspired but try to always produce work regardless of my emotional state. Writing is work after all and sometimes you just have to clock in, even if you don’t feel like it.

Click here to watch on YouTube

Fortesa Latifi : Tell us about your poem “Today Means Amen” and what inspired you to write it.

Sierra DeMulder : “Today Means Amen” is the title poem of my most recent collection. It was written in response to the hundreds of messages I’ve received from people who found solace in my poem, Werewolf, about my struggles with depression and self-harm. In “Today Means Amen,” I’m not attempting to conceal or hide this difficult history but instead celebrate how far I’ve come. I want those who find comfort in “Werewolf” to know that they’ve made it through something, whether it was just last night or last week or last year. You’ve made it to this moment and that’s worth celebrating.

Fortesa Latifi : I recently read your book We Slept Here and was so struck by how personal and raw the writing was. (Also, small secret: your book’s minimalist title inspired the title of my second book.) I don’t know if that book is based on personal experiences or not but if it is, or in your general writing, do you ever worry about people being upset about what you write about? Have you ever had negative reactions from people reading something you’ve written about them? If so, how has that affected your writing?

Sierra DeMulder : Honestly, by now, I think the people closest to me kind of know what they’re getting into. Don’t get me wrong, I am wary of the effects of my writing and how incredibly personal it is. Before sharing a piece, I contemplate whether I am sharing too much or something too private. There have been a handful of poems that have never seen the light of day or, better yet, a YouTube channel or publication. My general rule is to write it out first and then censor it for world if needed. I try to be sensitive and respectful but remember that my experience of something is mine to process.

Fortesa Latifi : I know that you’ve collaborated with To Write Love On Her Arms on multiple occasions with your “Today Means Amen” video and $1 from each pre-sale of your most recent book Today Means Amen going towards TWLOHA. What has been your favorite part of collaborating with TWLOHA?

Sierra DeMulder : My favorite thing about collaborating with TWLOHA has been working with their wonderful team (they have an incredibly kind staff) and witnessing the powerful merging of art and mental health advocacy. Self-expression has always been a tool of self-empowerful and social change. Poetry saves lives–I’ve seen it and it’s been privilege to engage with both sides of this intersection.

Fortesa Latifi : When was your first slam poet performance? How has your style changed?

Sierra DeMulder : My first slam performance was about 9-years ago. I was terrified! I was shaking and reading really fast and bouncing up and down on my heels. But…I was instantly hooked. It would not be hyperbolic to say that day changed my life forever. (Eventually, my first spoken-word mentors made me practice reading in high heels to take away my bounce!)

Fortesa Latifi : Which writers inspire you?

Sierra DeMulder : Sharon Olds will forever be one of my favorite writers. She was the first poet I truly loved to read and recite outloud. Other writers that inspire me include Danez Smith, Hieu Minh Nguyen, Kim Addonizio, Fatimah Asghar, Rachel McKibbens, Jason Shinder, Matt Rasmussen, Amy Gerstler, and all of the youth poets I’ve encountered EVER. This list could really go on forever.

Fortesa Latifi : What is your favorite novel?

Sierra DeMulder : The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich. I named my dog after one of the characters. Beautiful, poetic, bittersweet. It has taught me so much about storytelling.

Fortesa Latifi : You’re one of the founders of the Button Poetry. What inspired you to found Button Poetry? What was your original mission? How has that mission grown?

Sierra DeMulder : Button Poetry started almost five years ago. Our original mission was to just act as a distribution company between local and national spoken-word communities. We had no cameras or YouTube channel, but instead, would host recording parties at which poets could record a poem or two for free for professional distribution later. At that time, it was hard for a performance poet to really market themselves. Although I have since stepped away peacefully from the inner workings of Button, I still do various contract work with them. Their mission–to create an effective system of production, distribution, and promotion for performance poetry–is comparable to what we started with.

Fortesa Latifi : What is your favorite part of being the curriculum director of Slam Camp at Indiana University? What is your favorite memory from slam camp?

Sierra DeMulder : My favorite thing about running Slam Camp is watching a terrified young person read their very first poem out loud! I cannot stress what an honor it is to be in the room at that very moment–when the poet shares a piece of themselves with a room of supportive and encouraging peers. Slam Camp is place of growth and self-empowerment. Witnessing this continually fuels me to do better and work harder. One of my favorite memories will always be from our second year. At night, we circle up and share our favorite moments of the day. One girl, a fantastic, kind-hearted ball of joy, shared through tears that she didn’t get many opportunities to feel powerful but she felt powerful here. I will carry that with me for the rest of my life.

Photo by Hillary Olson Photography

Sierra DeMulder is an internationally touring performance poet and educator, a two-time National Poetry Slam champion, and a thrice-published author of The Bones Below, New Shoes on a Dead Horse (2010, 2012, Write Bloody Publishing), and We Slept Here (Button Poetry, 2015). A 2014 McKnight Fellowship recipient, Sierra’s work has been featured on NPR, Huffington Post, The Advocate, and more. In addition to performing, Sierra is the curriculum director of the Slam Camp at Indiana University, an annual writing summer camp for high school students, and one of the founders of Button Poetry, the largest digital distributor of spoken word in the world. Her latest full-length collection, Today Means Amen, was released early 2016 by Andrews McMeel, publisher of Calvin and Hobbes, The Oatmeal, and NY Times bestselling poet Lang Leav. Sierra lives in Minneapolis with her dog, Fidelis.

Check out more of Sierra on her website, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & you can buy her new book here!

Thank you, Sierra!

Contributing Editor

Fortesa Latifi is a 22-year old poet. Her first book, This Is How We Find Each Other was published through Where Are You Press in 2014. She hopes you find something good here. She knows you will.

Interview with Jennifer Hudgens + a Review of Girls Who Fell In Love With War

$10.95 | 86 pages | order here

SaraEve Fermin Reviews Girls Who Fell In Love With War by Jennifer Hudgens

Some books of poetry welcome you in. Some promise you hope, some are a declaration of war. Some are rolling landscapes, are promises of rebirth, are dark carnivals revealed after all the patrons have gone home. Some are a scream, a cry, a kiss or a consolation.

Girls Who Fell In Love With War is all of those and more.

Jennifer Hudgens brings her first full length anthology to life and holds nothing back. A book born in the fires of trauma, mental illness, body image and death, the Oklahoma based poet speaks with a voice that transcends pain and reminds you that yes, there is another side to the gutting. 


Thank you for teaching me charm, grace-
for showing me what it means to be so human

even when it feels similar to breaking.

—from “Wild World”

More than anything, this book is a tribute to her father, who passed from cancer in 2015. His memory is painted across the manuscript, twirling many poems into childhood memories one could pluck like jewels and hold to lips, like sweet strawberries. In “Ostriches”, Hudgens manages to tell the story of disappointment turned ritual turned coming-of-age–

Forgiveness was the Grand Canyon.

Every summer Daddy made

promises he was never able to keep,

the best salesmen anyone had met.

—from “Ostriches”

The book delves into the politics of the body, centering on eating disorders and self-harm. Hudgens is open and blunt in her poems, a refreshing read into a topic that can often be fraught with metaphors. 

The trick was to swim,

not flounder,

not tarry,

not drown.

—from “Cutter”

Hudgens demands her space. She demands to be taken seriously, demands to be seen, demands to her own self worth—something that is so hard in a time when people will do so much to take that away from a survivor. She demands not to be seen as the actions that made her, but as the person she has become. 

Stop telling me I am broken.

Stop telling me I have to ‘let things go’.

Stop telling me how to heal.

When you left- you took your fool mouth,

and left me to my bravery at dusk.

—from “Let Go”

Girls Who Fell In Love With War is available from Swimming With Elephants Publications as well as from Hudgens site, where you can get a signed copy. Pick up one today. Fall in love with your own wars. Find the courage to win.

SaraEve : If you could start this interview, what would you ask yourself?

Jennifer : Honestly? I’d ask, “Why do you do what you do?” When I ask, it means, why do you ‘do’ poetry? I’ve had people ask me that a lot. My answer: is because it is a huge part of who I am. I think and breathe poetry. I cannot function well without writing. I turn into this bitter, angry person that I don’t even recognize anymore-especially if I’ve not written enough.

SaraEve : How do you begin writing a poem?

Jennifer : Usually, the poems just hit me. I could be driving in rush hour traffic or trying to focus on homework. Hell, I could be dreaming about mermaids and zombies, then I wake up, and there’s a poem. My poems are very organic. Rarely do I just decide to write about something and it happens the way I want it to. I sit down to write, and let whatever comes-comes. Editing comes in very handy once I’ve gotten it out. I want to say my poems are magic, they find me, just when I need them, and sometimes when I wish they wouldn’t.

SaraEve : Thank you for Girls Who Fell In Love With War, it is both beautiful and tragic, glorious in the story of triumph, a Girl who is constantly becoming. You address eating disorders, depression, trauma and abuse. You talk about losing your father to cancer—I’m sorry. Can you talk about how this had an impact on your writing?

Jennifer : No need to apologize. All of these things that have tried so hard to break me, have made me who I am. As cliché as that sounds, I wouldn’t be here right now if I hadn’t found poetry as an outlet. I used to write poetry so thick with metaphor that nobody could understand it. I even go back and look at my first chapbook and have no clue what the hell I was writing about. At one point, I decided to stop hiding behind my words, and come full force with them. My life has been an uphill battle, always. Every time I get kicked, I find strength to pull myself back up. I guess it’s the stubborn Irish in me. Losing my Da less than a year ago was the hardest thing I’ve ever lived through. I’m still not sure I’ve managed to live through it. I think I’m just kind of floating along. When you lose a parent, people either try to console you by saying things like, “At least he’s in a better place,” or “At least he’s not in pain anymore.” Those people are the ones that haven’t lost someone particularly close by. I’ve had people tell me to get over it, or that it’s been long enough. I’ve lost friends who have no clue how to be around me anymore. The roughest part is, I just want my friends around. I don’t have to spend time talking about my Da, but if he comes up in conversation, I’d like it to be okay to tell stories about him. I’ve never experienced this sort of heartbreak. It’s managed to fuel some very powerful poems, one of which people love to hear, “Tiny Bones and Dust.” Every time I read it, I sob. It makes people cry, but it’s honest. Sometimes, I wish I could just write funny poems, or pop culture poems, and not write so much about pain. I had an older poet once tell me that she didn’t understand how someone could turn pain into art until she met me. I was floored by it. 

SaraEve : You are an editor at Wicked Banshee Press, and your work has been featured at several presses. Can you talk a little about your submission process, and how it has helped you amass a manuscript’s worth of poetry?

Jennifer : Editing for WBP has been a joy. I love helping new voices get exposure they deserve, solely on their merit as writer’s, publishing through presses has been great. I don’t submit as often as I should, but when I do, just like all poets, I try really hard to not have any expectations. Some people think I don’t get rejection letters. I do. Usually from places I’ve forgotten I even submitted poems to. The majority of places I’ve been accepted in have been really awesome. I know not every poem is a masterpiece, and all we can do is try, right? I’d like to make a book of blackout poetry with my rejection letters.

I write (usually) every day. I write as often as I can manage. I have specific folders for edited poems, whether for submissions or chapbooks, or some other project I want to do. I will every-so-often take around 10-15 poems, and just sit with them, editing and shaping them into something I like a bit more. I think it’s important to step away from things you’ve written, and edit later, always later. It’s too close, you’re too raw, and the poem will end up butchered because of that. Give it a week or two. Give yourself time to pull back so that when you “kill your darlings” it won’t be so difficult. Oh, and always keep multiple files with different versions of the same poem. You never know when you might want to go back to a previous version.

SaraEve : Who are the poets that you keep going to?

Jennifer : Melissa May-Dunn, Sierra DeMulder, Ai, Dominique Christina, just to name a few. I wish I could just eat all of their poems, maybe I could become a poem.

Jennifer E. Hudgens was born and raised in Oklahoma City. She has always danced to the beat of her own drummer, just ask her mom. Using poetry as a means of expression and survival, Jennifer lives poetry. She watches the sky the way most people watch television. Jennifer is terrified of clowns, horses, and animatronic toys. She is convinced that damned Snuggle bear is secretly trying to steal everyone’s souls.

Jennifer is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing at the University of Central Oklahoma with plans to teach high school students after graduation and pursue an MFA in Creative Writing. She is a pretty rad substitute teacher.

Jen genuinely hopes you like her poems. If you don’t, that’s okay too.

For more information on the author:

Contributing Editor

SaraEve Fermin is a performance poet and epilepsy advocate from New Jersey. An East Coast heart jumping circus trains, she is the editor-in-chief of Wicked Banshee Press. Nowadays can be found volunteering at National Poetry Slam Events. She is a Women of the World Poetry Slam Competitor and her work can be found in GERM Magazine, Drunk In A Midnight Choir, Free Verse Magazine and Transcendence among others. Her second book of poetry, The View From The Top of the Ferris Wheel, will be published by Emphat!c Press in 2015. She believes in the power of foxes and self publishing.

Influences Interview Series with M Lynne Hayward

M. Lynne Hayward

As a light refresher, the Influences Interview Series focuses on how what you’re reading shapes what you’re writing. It’s a poetry recommendation followed by a less established poet to keep your eye on.

This week we’re cozying up with M Lynne Hayward. She’s picked Russell Edson as a writer who has personally influenced her style, and chose the poem “Counting Sheep” as a prime example of what he did with words that she finds so affecting.

Appears in The Tunnel: Selected Poems of Russell Edson available on Amazon.

Trista Mateer : So… Russell Edson? How did you come across his work and what particular elements of his writing would you say influence your personal writing style?

M Lynne Hayward : I was in an intensive creative writing program in high school. Russell Edson was one of the first writers we encountered who strayed away from traditional verse. Until I read his work, I appreciated the craft of poetry but I wasn’t impassioned by it. It wasn’t until I saw how he flattened magic and injected wonder into the mundane that I felt like I wanted to write poetry. I don’t emulate his form directly, but I was deeply informed by his blend of poetry and prose. He gave me permission for fantasy to flourish in my work.

Trista Mateer : He weaved fantasy and poetry together expertly. I could just be reading the wrong things, but I really don’t see that much in contemporary poetry. Was there anything about “Counting Sheep” specifically that spoke to you or was it just a poem you thought portrayed his specific style well?

M Lynne Hayward : The imagery still sticks with me and I read it almost 10 years ago. I still think of “He wonders if he shouldn’t rub them into a red paste between his fingers” every time I fire up the rice cooker. The simultaneous distance and curiosity of this poem is also something I identified with. I have bipolar disorder, so I have a dual perspective of everything depending on the time of the year. Both tend to get captured when I examine something in writing.

Trista Mateer : I feel like that simultaneous distance and curiosity is something you’ve achieved in the poem you’re about to share with us. Is there anything you’d like to say about it before we press on?

M Lynne Hayward : I wrote “Natural Disasters” as two separate poems. As I was going through my worst manic and depressive episodes respectively. As I worked on it, I kept thinking “what’s the worst thing that could happen to me” and the answer was “this.” So I started playing with the idea of the world falling apart in grand sci-fi fashion while the greatest problem in the universe was still my micro-drama. I really tried to transfer my dissociation into the words, so I’m glad that came across.

Natural Disasters by M Lynne Hayward

Last week…

Some drunk asshole dropped the moon
and it shattered all over the earth:
pox-marked glass shards from sea to shining sea.

The tides will recover
after Cthulhu rises,
but it fucked up everybody’s horoscope.

I press my ear to your wan stomach,
coy bubbles the only proof
you didn’t descend blonde from the heavens
to seduce me in my sleep.

The stars are due to fall on… Wednesday?
I’ll try to take the day off
to lay on the beach with you
and watch Aquarius pour into the ocean.


You kicked me in your sleep.
I kicked back.
You rolled over.

An even NPR voice called from the radio,
“Fire has consumed the Midwest
and we are next.”

I looked out the windows.
Asteroids and looters littered the streets.

I went to the kitchen and
dug through the freezer until I recovered
my cache of gin
the good stuff.

I thought of the lie I’d tell my sponsor,
“Don’t you think the end of the world counts a special occasion.”
I choked when I laughed
and the liquor wet my shirt.

I took the bottle to bed with me like baby.

Calm voices had given way to riot horns.
You snored
and I laughed again
and I couldn’t stop.
As the drizzle of meteor showers
gave birth to hell fire
I hiccuped and giggled
while you were consumed by sleep
and we were burned alive.

M is chronically bored. She cuts her ennui with internet addiction, screenwriting, spoken word poetry, flash fiction, game design, food, irregular sleep cycles, and lazy activism. M did a handstand once and almost fell off her bed. She never attempted to do that again. Last spring, M published a personal chapbook filled with lies (BAD TOUCH). She’s publishing a book of passive agressive odes before the end of the year.

Connect with her on Tumblr and BLK Proverbs.

Contributing Editor

Trista Mateer is a writer and poet living outside of Baltimore, Maryland. She believes in lipstick, black tea, and owning more books than she can ever possibly read. Known for her eponymous blog, she is also the author of two collections of poetry.

Spotlight on Hidden Tumblr Writers: 5 Questions with Elijah Noble El

Order Elijah’s book here: paperback | eBook

Meggie : Tell us a little bit about your first book and the process of self-publishing.

Elijah : The Age of Recovery is a collection of poetry and prose written from 2009-2015. It touches on love, bravery, loneliness, grief, abuse, and the dark and light sides of hope. It’s about the human condition in a way. It’s about not letting your pain define you and the long journey that takes. It shows how the people you come across in life shape you forever, in one way or another. It’s about purpose.

Self-publishing has been something that I feel has been looked down upon for a while. It’s got a lot of stigma attached to it, but lately there’s been a well-deserved spotlight on high-quality, emotionally charged pieces of pure art that have emerged from the scene. The decision to self-publish is a tough one, because you know what you’re giving up if you do as opposed to if you traditionally publish, but you have so much creative freedom in self-publishing. In the process of writing it, I was having difficulty picking a title that best suited the essence of the book. It was first called A History of Being Alone for a long time, and I think it was that when I was sending it to presses, and then it was called Kiss the Girl for a short while.

And about sending it out to presses, I sent it out to a few and in the process, I took the time to deconstruct the work and rebuild it over and over, and in doing so crafted something infinitely more intimate and personal than it ever was. It was a blessing in disguise going through all that work. Also in doing all the publishing myself, I was able to release it on my sweetheart’s birthday and dedicate it to her. She has the first, original copy. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Meggie : How has your use of tumblr as a creative platform affected your writing, for better or worse?

Elijah : The Tumblr writing community is thriving, and it’s doing so because it’s marinating in talent. It’s like I said previously with the self-publishing, there’s been a well-deserved spotlight on all this raw, passionate work. A lot of the more popular work coming out of there isn’t so much self-publishing anymore since a few different corners have started up small presses, but nonetheless most of the work is outstanding. There’s always some really amazing quote or piece that goes around, and you find who wrote it and you discover them from there. It’s like this giant well of inspiration for me because, like a bunch of other people I’m sure, I’ve discovered my favorite writers there, from professional, well-known writers like Richard Siken to writers more connected to this community like Azra Tabassum and Shinji Moon, all of which have inspired me and my writing. You read them and there’s no coming back from that. You’re bleeding and you don’t know from where.

It can get to be a problem though, as I remember a long time ago where someone brought up that everyone’s starting to sound the same, and then my attention was brought to it. Everyone was starting to sound the same. It became formulaic, and for poetry or any kind of writing that’s dangerous. Safe is dangerous when it comes to poetry. I’m not sure if that problem’s passed yet. Hopefully it has.

Meggie : Give me 5 of your favorite quotes by writers on tumblr.

Elijah :

“I feel like a part of my soul has loved you since the beginning of everything. Maybe we’re from the same star.” – Emery Allen

“I want to love, but my hair smells of war and running and running.” – Warsan Shire

“I sit in front of maps and measure with my fingertips the distance between us. In this space, I tell the ocean to make itself smaller, we argue. I tell it please, I am in love, and it allows me to palm it in my hand and hold it tightly there. I wish the roads away. I grab the forests by the handful and plant them elsewhere, plant them in our backyard ten years from now. Like this, I slowly make the spaces between us smaller until I can walk across them. I take the ground by its edges and pull it until it’s gathered like a rug beneath my feet. I bundle the sky under my arms and don’t mind that the clouds are raining on my feet. I can walk the inches to your door and knock the wood and see you standing there in all your shocked silence. The question of the sky and the ground and the oceans all piled up around me. I can say ‘hello, look, it’s me, I love you, I’ve brought the entire earth for you.” – Azra Tabassum

“I didn’t fall in love with you. I walked into love with you, with my eyes wide open, choosing to take every step along the way. I do believe in fate and destiny, but I also believe we are only fated to do the things that we’d choose anyway. And I’d choose you; in a hundred lifetimes, in a hundred worlds, in any version of reality, I’d find you and I’d choose you.” – Kiersten White

“I pray that we are written for each other.” -bcxm

Meggie : What is your best tactic for picking yourself back up after your writing is rejected, or when you feel as if your work is not at its best?

Elijah : I tell myself that eventually it’s going to find its home somewhere. It’s important to remain humble, but it’s also important to recognize your talent and your worth. You can be discouraged, but you can’t base your worth as an artist on whether or not a publisher/press accepts it. You can fall, but you have to pick yourself back up and tell yourself that you can do it. Nothing happens if you don’t do anything. It’s as simple as that.

Meggie : Finally, can you tell us what projects you currently have in the works, either writing or acting-wise?

Elijah : Writing-wise, you and I actually have something in the works! Acting-wise, we’re close to wrapping up a show called Stage Door, playing at Michigan State University. It’s a comedy-drama chronicling the lives of aspiring actresses living together in a boarding house, The Footlights Club, in 1930’s New York. Almost 1,000 people have seen the show so far and from what I can tell it’s been a success. It’s been a long process but it’s also been rewarding.

Connect with Elijah:
Tumblr | Book | Society6

Elijah Noble El is a 20 year old actor and writer from Livonia, Michigan. The author of The Age of Recovery, a debut full length poetry book, he is also a poetry reader for the lit magazine Persephone’s Daughters, a magazine aimed at empowering women. His short story, “Oblivion,” received the Award for Excellence in Literature from the Michigan PTSA Reflections contest. His poetry has been published in Straylight Magazine, Hooligan Magazine, Persephone’s Daughters, Exist Magazine, Soul Anatomy, Eastern Michigan University’s Inkstains Anthology, and in Stevenson High School’s Spectrum.

Contributing Editor

Meggie Royer is a writer and photographer from the Midwest who is currently majoring in Psychology at Macalester College. Her poems have previously appeared in Words Dance Magazine, The Harpoon Review, Melancholy Hyperbole, and more. She has won national medals for her poetry and a writing portfolio in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and was the Macalester Honorable Mention recipient of the 2015 Academy of American Poets Student Poetry Prize.

Interview with William James + a Review of rebel hearts & restless ghosts

$12 | pre-order here

SaraEve : If you could begin this interview, what would you ask yourself?

William : Why do you always wait until the last possible moment to do things, like check your email, or reply to interviews? Answer: because in my 33 years of life, I still haven’t managed to figure out proper time management.

SaraEve : You’ve titled your book Rebel Hearts and Restless Ghosts, a line that comes up in the book. From reading the notes, I understand this is an homage to one of your favorite bands, Modern Life is War. Would you like to talk a little bit more about how they have influenced your writing and the shape of this book?

William : There are two pieces to why & how MLIW came to be a huge influence on me, and they’re somewhat intertwined. I’m from a very small town in PA that has a population of less than 500. It’s a town that seems to have utterly nothing to boast about, except for perhaps its insignificance. It’s a struggle to find anything to take pride in when you live in a place that stifling; it’s even more difficult when every day it seems like people from the coasts (or just from cities hundreds of times bigger) dismiss everything you do as being valueless because it doesn’t come from a major population center. The thing about MLIW is that they’re from Marshalltown, IA…and not apologetic about it. Jeff [Eaton, lead singer] wrote lyrics that spoke to the experience of being “just a factory worker’s son from a railroad town” and the frustration of knowing that “there’s something happening somewhere, and we know we know we gotta get there” – themes that spoke to me much more deeply than some song about the hard streets of New York, or wherever. It was inspiring to hear someone speaking about experiences I shared, as though they mattered. When I started writing the poems that eventually would become the book, I knew that I wanted to write my own experiences without fear or apology, to represent where I came from rather than where I thought I wanted to be.

SaraEve : For the past two years now you have been aiming to submit 100 poems for publication, regardless of your acceptance rate. This is an admirable feat and your commitment to the craft is something that should be celebrated (high fives to you!) How has this practice helped to push your writing?

William : It’s become a part of my editing process. If I ever think a poem is done, or rather that I can take it easy and not put the work into a poem 100%, there’s nothing like getting told a dozen or more times that the poem isn’t good enough yet to make me go back to the notebook and keep working. Of course, the inverse of that also applies – I tend to sit on a poem forever, telling myself that it isn’t good enough to show anyone yet. Having the goal of 100 rejections has kind of forced my hand, and made me be more vulnerable with sending out work that I might otherwise have hidden under a bushel forever because I didn’t believe it was as perfect as it should be.

I guess it keeps me always striving for the balance between accepting the inherent imperfections of being a human artist, while also never settling for any less than the best I am able to do at the time.

SaraEve : Thank you so much for your dedication to suicide prevention and mental health. It is a serious topic that needs to be addressed and I find that more and more poets are speaking out about their experiences with mental health. Can you talk about how you start a poem when dealing with some of these darker issues?

William : I’m not really sure there’s a conscious process in that. Most of the poems I have that speak on my struggles with mental health and suicidal ideation never really start out as poems, at least not in the sense that they’re meant to be shared with an audience or a reader. I have a poem in the book titled “Letter To Myself Following A Second Failed Suicide Attempt” that is just that; a conversation with myself, trying to work through the things I need to allow myself to believe. Eventually, I come to realize that I might be saying something that a younger version of myself would have needed to hear, and that if I needed those words then maybe someone else does too…so I start crafting them into a more purposeful poem.

SaraEve : Who are the poets that you keep going back to?

William : Ryler Dustin’s Heavy Lead Bird Song was the first book of poetry I ever bought, and I’ve often gone back to that one. Philip Levine is someone I discovered late, but his work definitely strikes a fire in me. Of course, I continue to draw water from the well of punk rock & hardcore – Jeff from MLIW, Aaron Bedard from Bane, Pat Flynn from Have Heart/Sweet Jesus/Free, Sean Murphy from Verse, George Hirsch from Blacklisted, etc. A lot of these guys, I read their lyrics the same way one might read a collection of poems.

That all being said, the people who most excite me are the people getting up to read their first poem ever on the open mic, the people who don’t know “how” they’re supposed to be poets so they just write, recklessly, fearlessly, without any preconceptions about proper form, structure, line breaks…all the stuff that we all tend to get caught up in the further down this rabbit hole we go. The kid who’s reading a poem at the open mic because they literally can’t help but share their art with anyone who is willing to pay attention – that’s who I truly believe is the future of poetry, and who I keep looking to for reminders of why I want to do this in the first place.

Poem from rebel hearts & restless ghosts:

Letter To Myself Following A Second Failed Suicide Attempt

Hey kid, what the fuck were you thinking? Did you honestly believe
the lie that was fed you that life will never get any better than this?

Did no one ever tell you that you shouldn’t listen to ghosts? What
could something dead possibly have to teach you about the fine art

of staying alive? You’ve put too much belief in whispers, given
credit to the chains they drag over your body. When you try to count

enough reasons to want to wake up tomorrow, do you not realize
the scraping sounds in your chest are merely the cheapest product

of the oldest crime? There is a reason those eyes, candle burning in
your haunted sky are glowing green. You still suck breath between

gritted teeth in spite of the ghouls’ most dedicated efforts. I know
right now your wrists are spitting crimson. I know right now,

you are trying to dry-swallow one more pill. Believe me when
I say even at your most embarrassingly awkward rock bottom,

you are still a fucking thunderstorm tucked beneath your breastplate.
The hypnotic rhythm of pulse in your temple represents

one thing all the wraiths hovering above your bedside cannot have.
Too cowardly to bloody their hands trying to remove it by force,

they instead resort to a weaker form of warfare. This black hole
you are so desperate to drown in is nothing more than a chemical

siege they have laid on your mind. Remember this: you are
not bottle rocket, but pipebomb. Not train derailment,
but slow-burning fuse. You are not knife wound. Not sword-
swallower, not fallout. You are sky. When tomorrow spills

from your poison gut like shards of broken crystal, do not bother
picking up the pieces. It is not you who has shattered, only the glass.

Click here to read “Reclamation” from rebel hearts & restless ghosts.

Review of rebel hearts & restless ghosts by SaraEve Fermin

May our songs carry voices over lifetimes.

May our screams pull God from the sky.

—from “Liturgy for the Underground”

William James isn’t saying he is the Punk Rock Poet Preacher we need. All he is asking is that we honor the voices that carved us into our truest selves, the grief and joy and fear and hope and kaleidoscope of experiences that make life worth sticking around for.

When I was 22, bad chemicals in my head

caused me to believe death had forgotten I existed,

and would perhaps need my helping hand.

—from “Greet Death”

This is depression, stripped down to its bare bones. As a person who lives with major depressive disorder, this statement cried out to my bones. James does a brilliant job of describing the stark aloneness of depression, but also hope. The hope of survival, of making it through, of knowing it might not exactly get better, but maybe different.

…Call me

restless. Wanderlust. Call me getting the hell out,

call me escape. City life. Streetlights, lock your doors,

call me restart. Call me not dying in your

hometown, call me 600 miles away from high school.

Call me success story. Call me happiness is

a new life in a new world. Call me living free

instead of dying. Call me home-

sick. Call me home.

—from “Reclamation”

The book is divided into eight sections, each section marked by a Modern Life Is War lyric. The hardcore punk rock life shows up several times in the book, both as memories of days past and thoughts on being the “old fuck” at the show. A contributing editor at Drunk in a Midnight Choir, James has written several pieces on how music has influenced his poetry, as seen here-

The microphone becomes

a cube of sugar dropped on an anthill – enveloped by voices 

eager for their chance to share in the sorcery of the night.

—from “Homesong”

This book also contains a kick ass not generic poem about pomegranates, a love poem that breaks ribs, a persona poem about the Golden Gate Bridge and poems with supplemental link. It is 80 pages of beauty and sincerity, of New England determination and a commitment to suicide prevention. A Timber Mouse book, you can preorder rebel hearts & restless ghosts at

Photo courtesy of Lauren Elma Frament

William James is a poet, punk rocker, and train enthusiast from Manchester, NH. A contributing editor at Drunk In A Midnight Choir, and a Pushcart Prize & Best of the Net nominee, his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in various journals including Word Riot, SOFTBLOW, Radius Lit, Atticus Review, and the Emerson Review, as well as the anthologies “Again I Wait For This To Pull Apart” (Freeze Ray Press, 2015) and Best Indie Lit New England: Vol. 2 (Black Key Press, 2015). His debut full-length poetry collection “rebel hearts & restless ghosts” is forthcoming in 2015 from Timber Mouse Publishing.

Contributing Editor

SaraEve Fermin is a performance poet and epilepsy advocate from New Jersey. An East Coast heart jumping circus trains, she is the editor-in-chief of Wicked Banshee Press. Nowadays can be found volunteering at National Poetry Slam Events. She is a Women of the World Poetry Slam Competitor and her work can be found in GERM Magazine, Drunk In A Midnight Choir, Free Verse Magazine and Transcendence among others. Her second book of poetry, The View From The Top of the Ferris Wheel, will be published by Emphat!c Press in 2015. She believes in the power of foxes and self publishing.

The Dance Interview Series with Blythe Baird

Chances are that if you love poetry, you’ve heard of Blythe Baird. Blythe is a superstar of slam poetry whose poem “Girl Code 101” has amassed over 500,000 views on YouTube and with lines brimming with fire like “male kindness is so alien to us we assume it is seduction every time” and “this is not female privilege / this is survival of the prettiest”, it’s no surprise that her performance went viral. Her first book, Give Me A God I Can Relate To, was released this fall through Where Are You Press and she represented Chicago in 2014 at the National Poetry Slam in Oakland as the youngest ever competitor. This girl is a force and when she steps up to a microphone, you just know you’re about to witness some poetry magic mixed with feminism and dazzling descriptions of growing up as a girl in a patriarchal society. Oh, and did I mention she’s only 19?

Fortesa Latifi : If you could begin this interview, what question would you ask yourself?

Blythe Baird : I would ask myself about how I feel about poetry slam as a game, just because I love to geek out over strategy and my philosophies on why slam matters in a competitive format.

Fortesa Latifi : When did you first start writing poetry? On that same train of thought, when did you start sharing it online?

Blythe Baird : I started writing poetry at Slam Camp when I was 16, almost 17, the summer going into my senior year of high school. I started sharing it on Tumblr later that year in April 2014 for the 30/30 national poetry month challenge.

Fortesa Latifi : You’re 19 and you’ve already accomplished some incredible things in the poetry world- in 2014, you represented Chicago at the National Poetry Slam in Oakland and were the youngest ever competitor,  your poem “Girl Code 101” has gone viral on the internet and spread across the globe, and your first book, Give Me A God I Can Relate To, is being published this month through Where Are You Press. Which of these accomplishments are you most proud of?

Blythe Baird : Thank you! I appreciate the recognition. All of those things were such powerful and meaningful experiences for me. Being the youngest competitor felt like a dream. When “Girl Code 101” went viral, it was immensely validating as a young artist to see something I scribbled in the back of my notebook during high school study hall utilized in academic settings or speech competitions. But I have to say I’m proudest of this book. Some mornings I wake up and I’m like, fuck, I’m 19 years old and definitely still count on my fingers doing basic math. Other mornings I’m like, damn girl. You’re 19 years old and wrote a book.

Click here to watch on YouTube

Fortesa Latifi : How do you feel about being considered a feminist poet? Is this something you aspired to do in your work or something that occurred organically?

Blythe Baird : It definitely occurred organically. I was introduced to feminism through spoken word poetry, so I feel like my writing and my feminism have always been naturally intertwined. When feminism came into my life, I was able to see the connection between my personal experiences and the greater power structures and -isms at play. I understood that I wasn’t catcalled when I was 9 because I was a particularly seductive 4th-grader; it was the result of a misogynistic culture. This realization shifted the lens I saw the world through. It allowed me to think about my poetry as a tool for social awareness and change.

Fortesa Latifi : Your friendship with Sierra DeMulder (a fellow slam poet goddess) is well-documented on social media. How did you two meet?

Blythe Baird : When I was 15, I went to rehab and bullshitted my way through all of it. I was hell bent on going back to starving myself the minute I got out. My first day back at school after treatment, Sierra DeMulder just so happened to be performing for this event called Writers Week. One of the lines in her poem was, “Your body is not a temple; your body is the house you grew up in. How dare you try to burn it to the ground?” and that line just rocked my shit up. From there on out, I started taking recovery seriously. All because of a poem. I was initially enchanted with poetry because I saw it as a radical form of healing. It was empowering. I wanted to make someone feel like Sierra made me feel- like they were capable of changing the world AND themselves.

The summer going into my senior year when I went to Slam Camp, Sierra was one of my camp counselors. We’ve had an indescribable bond since then. I got my first tattoo with her. When I had mono, she took care of me. When I got my heart broken for the first time, she was there. She’s always there to remind me I’m unstoppable. I couldn’t be prouder to be her little sister.

Fortesa Latifi : What do you do when you can’t write? What’s your favorite comfort food? Where’s your favorite place to rest?

Blythe Baird : When I can’t write, I usually don’t. If I truly can’t write, it’s generally because something else has my attention. I have to deal with the situation in front of me before I can write at all. My comfort food is chicken fried rice, avocados, dried fruit, and cheeseburgers.  All day. My favorite place to rest is on balconies, in rocking chairs, or on porch swings.

Fortesa Latifi : What does your writing process look like? Is it messy? Is it quiet? Is it loud? Does it scream or whisper?

Blythe Baird : I don’t really have a consistent process. After Slam Camp, I started finding the poetry in everything around me. I couldn’t ignore it. I would look at the word divorce and see a half-made bed. I would watch my mother refuse to leave the house without makeup and see the reason she still keeps her wedding ring on. I began to look at situations in my life as components of a story. I rarely sit down with the intention of writing a poem. It happens when I’m in line at the grocery store, during class, while I’m falling asleep, when I’m babysitting. It sounds strange, but it’s like suddenly I can see the poem with features as clear as a person. I see its little legs stretch out. Until I literally stop what I’m doing and write it down, I can’t focus on anything else.

Fortesa Latifi : Who are the writers that inspire you?

Blythe Baird : Sierra DeMulder, Siaara Freeman, Clementine von Radics and everyone from Where Are You Press including YOU, Rachel McKibbens, Hieu Minh Nguyen, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, Muggs Fogarty, Sasha Banks, Danez Smith, Rachel Wiley, and Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib.

Fortesa Latifi : What is your favorite novel?

Blythe Baird : Bluets by Maggie Nelson.

Fortesa Latifi : Do you have a pre-show ritual that you go through before you perform spoken word? If so, what does it look like?

Blythe Baird : It depends on if it’s a big deal slam or not. If it’s something like nationals or qualifiers, I will literally go stand outside the venue or go face the wall off to a corner in the room and run my poem over and over and over again. I’ve never dropped a poem on stage, but I’m terrified that one day I’ll just totally blank out and embarrass myself. So I run it a million times right before to get myself warmed up. If it’s a minor or low-stakes slam, I don’t do anything. I just go up there and do my thing.

Fortesa Latifi : Tell us about your first book, Give Me A God I Can Relate To.

Blythe Baird : The book is a collection of what I’ve been working on since I started writing a few years ago. It’s kind of messy and scattered, like a teenage thought process.  I wrote this majority of this book when I was 17 years old (I’m 19 now.) I touch on five major themes/storylines: developing anorexia after growing up as the fat kid, sexuality and coming out as a feminine lesbian, my strange high school experience, feminism and combating rape culture, as well as recovery and self-love.

Check out more of Blythe on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & you can buy her new book here!

Thank you, Blythe!

Contributing Editor

Fortesa Latifi is a 22-year old poet. Her first book, This Is How We Find Each Other was published through Where Are You Press in 2014. She hopes you find something good here. She knows you will.

Influences Interview Series with Jones Howell

Jones Howell

To be a writer of any kind, easily one of the most important things you have to do is read. Read everything, but most importantly read your genre. Read the greats. Read your contemporaries. Read what your friends and peers are reading. Find out what works. See how to do it well. Observe the craft to understand it.

In this new Words Dance interview series, we’re going to be talking to some less established poets about how and why they threw themselves into the ring and what works inspired them to do so. We’re going to be taking a look at how what you’re reading shapes what you’re writing (specifically as a poet). Consider this series as a poetry recommendation followed by a budding poet to keep your eye on.

To begin, we’re having a brief chat with Jones Howell. She’s picked a poem by Clementine von Radics titled “For Nikki” as one that has personally influenced her writing style.

Appears in Mouthful Of Forevers available at the WAYP store or Amazon.

Trista Mateer : First, I just want to thank you for reaching out to participate in this little interview when I put the call out. Now, you’ve chosen Clementine von Radics as someone who was most influential to your own style of writing. How did you come across Clementine’s work? And what were particular parts of her style that attracted you to her writing?

Jones Howell : Thank you for including me! My introduction to Clementine von Radics came in the form of a printed copy of her poem “Mouthful of Forevers” that hung outside the elevator in Annenberg Hall at my alma mater, Northwestern University. I read that poem every day for at least ten weeks before deciding to find more of her work. I had just completed a year-long workshop in writing fiction the year before, where I learned that my blunt, aggressive style of writing wasn’t working–at least, not as prose. Clementine has a way of telling an entire story in just a few lines. She’s very selective about her poetic devices. Before her, I didn’t know it was possible to do that and still call it poetry.

Trista Mateer : What do you find about this particular poem of hers (“For Nikki”) so appealing? Why did you pick this poem as a major influence of yours over another one of hers, such as “Mouthful of Forevers”?

Jones Howell : “For Nikki” encapsulates everything I’ve wanted to do as a writer and, frankly, everything I’ve been as a person. Both “Mouthful of Forevers” and “For Nikki” are love poems, but I have never been a “Mouthful of Forevers” kind of lover. I am not delicate and neither is my language. I want to be the backhand across the face or the shot of whiskey on an empty stomach: whatever knocks you on your ass and makes you remember my name. In eight lines and two curse words, Clementine does all that and leaves you begging for more.

Trista Mateer : Out of curiosity, is the title of the poem you’ve selected to share with us today (“Sentimental Bullshit”) directly influenced by Clementine’s poem? And is there anything else you’d like to say about it before we share it?

Jones Howell : Absolutely. The title is taken directly from her poem. “Sentimental Bullshit” began life as one of those poems where you just can’t stick the landing, no matter how many different words and phrases you try. It was one of the first poems I wrote when I decided to turn away from prose. It hung out in a Google doc, ‘finished’ but still grating on me, for weeks. When I finally figured out how to rewrite it, something shifted for me. I’d done it. I’d written something I was proud of, that I would never apologize for. I think Audrey Niffenegger said it best: “I feel a tiny pang of regret, as though I’ve lost a secret, and then a rush of exaltation: now everything begins.”


i live in the south and in the spring
everything smells like honeysuckle.

as a little girl i used to pick
the yellow flowers and pinch
the ends off with a fingernail, to drink
the nectar. maybe a drop;
two if i was lucky.

a tiny secret just-mine kind
of pleasure.

you’re kind of like that.

Jones (Jo) Howell is a 22 year old poet with an engineering degree. Her parents have stopped asking too many questions. Raised in the mid-Atlantic, educated in Chicago, and now setting down roots in Georgia, she recklessly dives headfirst into the open wounds of love, abuse, and family. She is a graduate of the Northwestern University creative writing program. Humor is her best coping mechanism.

Connect with her on Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter.

Contributing Editor

Trista Mateer is a writer and poet living outside of Baltimore, Maryland. She believes in lipstick, black tea, and owning more books than she can ever possibly read. Known for her eponymous blog, she is also the author of two collections of poetry.

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 /

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.