MY CITY IS GREY – An Impromptu Interview W/ Lois E. Linkens.

A few moons ago, a few glasses of wine decided that Lois needed a spotlight tossed onto her, and so this impromptu (and unprofessional, because I’m not a professional) interview was begun simply for appreciation. Enjoy learning more about her!


 

Q: I’ve been made aware that you’re in Europe somewhere—a marketplace for historical and/or haunted locations—do you have any experience with what you might’ve perceive as the supernatural?

A: I’m from England, specifically, which is obviously quite the destination for ghost hunters. However, while I have been to some places, which might be dubbed as haunted – such as Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds, and the Clink Prison in London – I wouldn’t say I go looking for the supernatural. In my mind, ghosts and demons are like bees; they’ll only harm you if you go interfering. Keep your distance – my mum told me that a friend of hers used to make frequent use of a Ouija board, and its negative influence impacted her life in quite awful ways.

I know I believe that there is something more out there. I have a fairly good historical awareness of the Bible and I do have a faith. I don’t think that the slightly scary side of the supernatural and the spiritual realm, which includes God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit necessarily, has to cancel each other out. Perhaps some of the ways in which people encounter ghosts and spirits are manifestations of the different forces at work. It’s a whole other exciting world that exists essentially over the top of ours, and I would never want to discredit the experiences of others, considering how painful it can be to have my own beliefs scorned at. My general approach to the supernatural is a good amount of caution, a pinch of skepticism, a little courage and an extremely open mind.

Q: Speaking of the manifestation of different forces, do you remember the first poem you ever wrote, and if so, what caused it to manifest? AND DO YOU HAVE IT, BECAUSE HELLO?

A: Yes, I do remember it! Well, I think this was one of the first poems I ever wrote, and I believe I was in the [age] range of 6 to 9 when I wrote it. It was for a school competition, and the winner won a wind-up torch so obviously I was all over that. It went like this:

‘i’m always forgetting,
especially today.
i’ll tell you about it –
what did i say?’

As you can see, I was a comic genius even at the tender age of 6. And I won the competition! Still have the torch knocking about somewhere. I actually still love that poem, because it’s so brief, yet it’s quite funny too. I don’t remember exactly where the inspiration came from, and I know I did enjoy writing poems at the time so there may have been many more like this, but this is the only one I can remember by heart.

I started writing poetry again around 2012, and I do have some early ones, which I could dig out, but I like to think that they are hidden away for the greater good.

Q: That poem’s very, very witty for a young child. It shows an early understanding of humor, which is humankind’s only redeeming quality, that, and the invention of zombie movies. If something similar to ‘Night of the Living Dead’, or ’The Walking Dead’ happened, do you have a plan? If so, what is it? Where will you hide, or, will you run instead of hide?

A: Oh goodness, my plan for zombie survival. See, I like to think I could fight them. I feel like I would be able to create some strength from somewhere if the situation was dire enough. But in reality, I imagine I would go to sea. My dad has a penchant for sailing, so I’d stick with him. I would take everything I could possibly manage and take to the waves. The thing is that when I’m faced with these sorts of questions, I can’t help mourning everything I would lose rather than creating a potential survival plan. I’m very much a look-to-the-future sort of person, and the thought of not being able to live out a decent life does really devastate me. This kind of thing, whether or not it’s possible, would eradicate vast amounts of individual futures and that breaks my heart. Maybe I’m naive, but I see humanity changing for the better in a lot of ways and we don’t have time for a zombie apocalypse to ruin our progress!

Q: I think of that, too. The individual lives. And how much harder I’d have to work in a world with less to do — shoot, run, hide – A horrible world without Google maps.

How did you come to be a member of Sudden Denouement? Also, without googling it, how have you personally been pronouncing “denouement”? I’ve recently discovered I was WAY off.

A: I feel that my own life right now takes enough navigating without having to fear for my life.

I believe that Jasper, who was running Secret First Draft and SD at the time, followed my blog when I had just begun posting poetry at Secret First Draft. I was looking to get some of my work published somewhere, and had reached out to a few blogs without much luck. I sent an email to Sudden Denouement, which I discovered through Secret First Draft, and within a few days Jasper got back to me saying that he enjoyed my work and wanted to have me involved! It was so much nicer to have a genuine, personal email from a real individual responding to my plea for recognition, rather than a bland old rejection email, which didn’t even have a person’s name at by the end. I felt welcome straight away. But yes, I know I’ve been pronouncing it wrong this whole time. I thought it was ‘de-noo-ment,’ with a hard ‘t’ on the end. I even studied French at A Level. It was only when I saw a video of Jasper talking about it that the penny dropped.

Q: I was pronouncing it deh-now-mint. I had to google it and find the YouTube video of the robotic voice saying ‘day-new-ma’

I know you’ve recently been published in the poetical anthology collection concerning mental health, called “SWEAR TO ME” but when can we expect our highly anticipated, Lois E. Linkens chapbook?

A: It was a real privilege to be included in ‘swear to me.’ I did not expect to have my work published so soon. I was entirely happy plugging away at my blog and keeping it at a very neutral, easy level. For that reason and because of university, I don’t imagine there will be a chapbook very close on the horizon, but it is definitely something I would like to do when the time is right. I’m still establishing myself as a writer both among the community and in my head, so I think I need some time to develop my thought processes and really write something that has intense depth and complexity. I have various ideas and projects on the go; one particular novel is bugging me like no mistake. Watch this space, I suppose!

Q: You wouldn’t consider just putting together all your work thus far, into a chapbook? And what’s the novel about, or are you superstitious like me and cant tell just yet?

A: Well, perhaps. But I feel that at the moment, a lot of my work is practice. If you go back and look at some of my really early poems on my blog, my style and clarity of writing has changed, I like to think, a great deal. There are only a few pieces I’ve written, which I really feel accomplish something that has depth and complexity to it. So a compilation of all my work would be a collection of quite shoddy poems written just for writing’s sake, from a 19-year-old up to the slightly more unhinged, yet more politically aware, voice of a 21-year-old trying to figure out what she wants to say.

At the moment, the novel is just a collection of iPhone notes and scrawled plans in my notebooks. Events I want to include, scenes and images, a few character profiles, etc. I know it is going to revolve around one central female character. She will be a bit like me, I suppose – someone trying to figure out what it means to be a woman in the 21st century, and trying to find legitimacy as an artist and integrity as a creative individual. I want to engage with some current events and that’s difficult. It involves a lot of research and at the moment, I don’t have that kind of time! So it is just buried in the back of my mind for the time being, and hopefully will come to light when I’m ready.

Q: [Last few questions!] What’s your process? What gets you in in the mood to write/how do you get in the mood?

And, if you had to marry any classic horror character (Dracula, Wolf-man, The Mummy, Frankenstein, Jason, Michael Myers, etc.) who would it be and whyyyy?

A: My process usually requires some spark of imagination, which might be something I’ve seen in a film or TV show, something I’ve read in another poem somewhere, a person on the street, a situation at the supermarket. As I say, my poetry used to be a great celebration of words and images and I’m beginning to refine that style. That means that I can’t just write about a thing I have seen. I need to say something significant about that thing. I need to explore why it mattered enough for me to write it down – not just, it was quite sweet or it was funny or it was shocking. I need to connect my poetry to my experiences in a way that has substance and intuition, rather than just excitement. At [university], it is harder to find time to ‘get in the mood’ to write. It tends to be just a way for me to have a break from all the other writing I’m doing – an expression of my other thoughts and other ideas that don’t come out in my academic work. I let my imagination and my thought process take the lead, I suppose. If something comes to mind, or something is bothering me, I will write about it. The writing makes time for me, rather than I make time for it.

I am so out of touch with classic horror that this is actually a pretty tough question. I’m going to twist it slightly and name a classic Gothic character – I would pick Daphne du Maurier’s Max de Winter. The murderous husband of the beautiful, manipulative Rebecca; when I read the novel for the first time, I was so intensely frustrated with Mrs. de Winter for not standing up to him or confronting him about his behavior and his secrecy, that I think I would like to try it myself. I’d like to try being married to the man who fell captive to Rebecca’s charms, and figure out what went wrong. Sorry if I cheated – classic horror isn’t really my thing!


Lois picked a classic gothic character, so to me her answer was substantially valid. REBECCA is a classic, and is even a favorite of Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Lois is a thoughtful, talented human being on this splashing rock we’re all spinning on in the airless blanket of the rocky road, dancing in the Milky Way like a pinpoint, searching for individual meaning in an infinitely cold universe. You should keep your eye on her.

– Samantha Lucero

For more information on Lois E. Linkens’ work, visit her blog [HERE]

Jasper Kerkau Interview with Millicent Borges Accardi

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[Jasper Kerkau] Many of our writers and readers are new writers. You are by any metric a highly accomplished writer, having received numerous fellowships, including the National Endowment for the Arts. What advice would you give young writers/poets about finding an audience and perfecting their craft?

[Millicent Borges Accardi] It’s hard to give generic, one size fits all advice since most writers starting out have different strengths, but I would say across the board, two issues that seem to befall people just starting out: 1) they don’t read enough (like carpenters who want to make furniture but have never apprenticed or learned how tables are built), and 2) they have trouble finishing projects. Every new idea is like a brilliant butterfly that catches their eye and turns their head. One day they are super into the movies of Polanski, so they buy a new camera and software for film editing and sign up for screenwriting classes and all they can talk about it pitching their idea. Then, a few days later, they read a poem and suddenly want to be the next Keats. While it is good to explore, on a shallow level, to discover where your passion lies, there is also something to be said for Just, Finishing. Something.

So my advice would be to explore in your reading, read everything from botany textbooks to found poems to SciFi to Shakespeare, but once you find a project, even a mini-writing project, finish it. Even if you get bored. Even if it becomes irrelevant. Just finish it.

Everyone has interesting stories and a point of view, but not as many have the patience and tenacity to finish a manuscript. To follow one idea through to completion.

[Jasper Kerkau]I had this moment, which I speak of often, where I decided that I would begin to identify myself as a writer. For myself, it was a spontaneous event, can you speak to your experience finding your voice and deciding that you were a writer?

[Millicent Borges Arcardi]I cannot say I ever had an ah-ha moment where I was like wow. This IS IT. There was a time when I was a kid and stayed home sick in bed, for over a month, with pneumonia and I was convinced I would write the Great American sequel to Little Women. There were the notebooks and ribbon and pens and I settled them down around me like pillows.
When I got the call from Cliff Becker from the NEA, that was a seminal moment. At the time I was working with a group of IT programmers who knew nothing about my creative interests. I was doing a project where I worked as a Q/A person for a new software package, testing programs all day, running tests, simulations and recording bugs and errors. The call came in, “This is Cliff Becker” and I screamed and started to cry before he even got the rest of the sentence out. I think I ran down the hall and it was not long after that, thanks to the fellowship that I was able to take a year and a half off to write full time, and, since then, I’ve mostly managed to “buy time” to write, whether it is writing in the morning before a day job or taking a couple of months “off” for a residency, I treat time to create as a priority. Also, it helps I can write anywhere. As a kid, I was an only child so I rapidly learned how to focus even amid a party or when I was at work with my dad. Even now, if I am stuck at the airport, I sit down on the floor and start working on a project. The rest of the world fades away.

[Jasper Kerkau] One of the remarkable things about your poetry is the variety of places from which it springs. Your work seems to float between Americana to “the corner of Jilska and Mickalska” and every place in between. Do you feel your diverse background has made you a better writer?

[Millicent Borges Accardi] At a certain point in my life, there are filters, in which I look through to see the world and unless I expand these filters and explore other ways of doing and seeing things, through connections, reading. being in communities different than my own, as well as exploring my own community and communities in new ways, unless I swap up and change out these filters, a creative life and, also, compassion is lost. Filters have a way of ingraining and making life smaller, whereas witnessing and new experiences, new ways to say yes and to see through new eyes, these are avenues to expand existing filters and to take on new ones There is also a value to staying in one’s own lane and exploring in depth your own background and your own unique ethnicity and gender and age and way of being.

If you shut yourself down as a writer, you’re stuck. The wooden shutters are up and the storm windows beneath are solid. People say write what you know, but writing what you don’t know but want to understand it also a valid avenue. Being a better writer, for me, means paying attention to my own biases and listening, being open to conversations and differences and similarities. Being a better writer means witnessing and being able to take note of what is important.
Like the poem mentioned above, “the corner of Jilska and Mickalska” was an incident I viewed from the window outside the place I was staying in Prague. The city had been opened up for a large plumbing project and all traffic had been stopped at that one corner when, in the midst of installing sewer pipes, bones from old graves had been discovered. Archaeologists had been brought in and the area was classified as an official “dig.” All municipal work ceased and the priority was shifted to discovery and discovery.

One of the works that I had the strongest connections with was “This is What People Do.” I found it to be a stunning poem, in which I read some Beat influence. Can you expound on the work, perhaps giving some insight into the genesis of the piece?

Again, this was me staring out a window, this time it was in Venice Beach, where I lived for 12 years, in a white art deco rent-controlled building, that I shared with other like-minded artists, writers and actors. For a time, a friend of mine was the manager and the apartments felt more like a dorm than a building– my neighbor was Pegarty Long, a film-maker and twin sister of Philomene Long, the Queen of the Beats in Venice– she’d been a nun in the 1960’s and, when she left the convent, headed straight to Venice to hang with the poets and the surfers and neo-philosophers. She was Poet Laureate of Venice and married to beat poet John Thomas– whom she writes about in this poem

They are already ghosts
John and Philomene
As they pass
Along the Boardwalk
Where ghosts and poets overlap
As they pass, the gulls
Ghosting above their shadows
Everything’s haunting everything
Already ghosts
John and Philomene
Under the ghostly lampposts
Of Venice West
Their cadence
The breath of sleep
At rest
Lost at the edge of America
Already ghosts
And each poem
Already a farewell
Everything’s haunting everything
The sea is the ghost of the world
–Philomene Long

Through reading Philomene’s work and living in Venice, I guess I adopted the slang and the slants of the beat poets. “This is What People Do” is a collage between what I saw outside my window, the boardwalk, the street vendors below, the characters in the city and each two lines represent one aspect or one character of that one moment in time, as if they all existed, flat and round, together, sharing one nano-second of space-time.

 

Everyone has interesting stories and a point of view, but not as many have the patience and tenacity to finish a manuscript. To follow one idea through to completion.

[Millicent Borges Accardi’s Only More So is avaiable on Amazon. It is an amazing read, and sets the standards for so many of us trying to hone our craft. Please read my review of her book here.]

Conversations with Jasper: Spoken Word Artist Billy Pilgrim

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[Sudden Denouement is interested in all forms of poetic expression. Spoken word is one area in which we are trying to do outreach. I had an opportunity to do an interview with Billy Pilgrim who has a very distinct style of spoken work.

Jasper: I enjoyed your style of spoken work a great deal. I was very engaged by, not only the content, but also your production value. Give us some context about who you are and the evolution of your project.

Billy: Well, asking somebody who they are is a pretty deep question. So let’s start with the basics, we are a Norwich, UK, based duo. One spoken word poet, and one digital music producer. Interestingly we are second cousins, and we spent a lot of time listening to music and sharing ideas growing up. More recently as THK finished his degree in digital music, he was tasked with a collaboration project, this is really when Billy Pilgrim got involved. What started out as university project, spanned into something bigger. Now we produce music together, as well as gathering work from other spoken word poets and creating beat tapes which showcase other styles of poetry too. Really our aim is to put poetry back in the atmosphere and get people talking about it.

Jasper: I have always been a huge fan of spoken word, having worked the scene in Houston in the early-nineties. When I hear your style, I think of Sage Francis, who evolved his spoken work into quasi-rap. What are your influences in terms of spoken word?

Billy: It’s a strange one really, because as far as spoken word goes, I’ve listened to a lot more in since I’ve been writing it than I ever did before. I mean, of course I admire the work of Sage Francis, Kate Tempest and Scroobius Pip as much as anybody else, But thinking about it, my influences come from all over. You know when you put a ‘further reading’ section at the end of an essay, because you don’t have any direct quotes to put in, but those books had an impact on your ideas. Well, my further reading section would be, Johnny Cash, Mike Skinner, The Notorious B.I.G, Kano and so much more, but I guess the link between those musicians is their narrative style. I like to listen to stories, and I like to tell them too.

Jasper: The music seems to be an essential part of your performance. It is amazing. How important is the music to your project, and do you feel that opens your music up beyond a poetry audience?
Billy: The music extends our reach, people who would never give poetry a chance can perhaps have their interest peaked by the music, that’s when the poetry might get them. THK works hard to create a balance with the poetry. It is important that it doesn’t overshadow it, but it can’t go unnoticed either. There is a symbiosis between the forms (we think!) that makes it something brand new.

Jasper:  I do a lot of interviews, and I always ask about to whom you own a debt in terms of writing, for me it was the Beat Generation. What writer’s inspired you early on and helped guide you in your journey?
Billy: Well the first person worth mentioning would be Kurt Vonnegut. I owe him for my name, Billy Pilgrim is the main character in his novel Slaughterhouse Five. In fact, that novel is what got me back into literature, and ultimately into writing and performing poetry. If he wasn’t dead, I would send him an email saying thank you for opening my peepers again. I really enjoy the abstract nature of his work. As for poetry, I like to read the works of Jack Underwood (another East Anglian poet) his poems give a fresh insight into the modern world. THK says his favourite novel is “Less Than Zero” by Brett Easton Ellis, he likes the dark undertones of it all. He gets inspired by themes when he makes music, novels like that effect his mind state, and help create a mood that develops into music.

Jasper: Give us a brief overview of your latest project, where we can find your spoken word, and what plans you have in the near future?

Billy: We recently released a demo, consisting of three tracks. We imaginatively titled it “Three”. The first song “I’m Afraid” (which also has a video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXM7kxi0t8Q) explores heartbreak and control within relationships, but more than that it explores the impact these feelings have on life in the modern world. The second track “Ajar” is heavily allegorical, it follows a journey of discovery and development, the narrative features in this poem attempt to determine what sadness is and where it comes from. And finally, “love Affair” is a response to addiction, a breakup letter to alcohol which doesn’t hold back. Funnily enough when we perform this live, people think it’s about a woman and tell us they feel the same way about their ex-girlfriends, I always think jeez, that must have been one toxic relationship, ha. You can listen to the demo here (https://soundcloud.com/bpthk/sets/three) and download it for free. You can also follow our facebook, twitter, and word press.
https://www.facebook.com/BillyPilgrimwithTheHeartseaseKid/
https://twitter.com/bpwthk
https://bpthkspokenword.wordpress.com

If there are any poets out there who want to get involved in something exciting, we are working on a collaborative project called “words with friends” (https://bpthkspokenword.wordpress.com/2017/09/12/spoken-word-poetry-what-is-words-w-friends/) which is still collecting submissions.
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Melissa Studdard’s I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast Review w/Interview – Jasper Kerkau

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 I am not a poet. Occasionally, I write poetry and find myself feeling defeated, throwing the words back into the void, resigning myself to writing short, personal narratives. I have, no doubt, come to terms with my shortcomings as a poet, which perhaps informs my deep respect for those who have earned the sacred title. There is something inherently special about a person who possesses a power over words, bending them to their will, plucking beauty out of the dust of time, creating concise explanations of their relationship to the universe with ease and grace. Some poets, the special ones, are privy to the secret language, part of a sacred tribe whose words contain clues to the mystery of life. These are the ones who inspire me. My life has been altered by poets from a young age, and I continue to seek new voices, finding myself stunned and mesmerized as I find new writers who meet the criteria of tapping into an emotional place reserved for those with the sanctified tongue. This is the context in which I find the work of Melissa Studdard.

 For my second Sudden Denouement book review, I sought out a book of poetry, preferably written by a Houston writer. Several writers suggested Melissa Studdard and her first book of poetry I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast [Saint Julian Press 2014]. I quickly discovered that the connotation of a Houston poet was not appropriate when addressing the work of Studdard. She had previously established herself as a fiction writer with her book, Six Weeks to Yehidah, which earned her awards and acclaim. The depth of the poetry in Cosmos solidifies her place as much more than a regional poet. Percy Shelley described poetry as such: “Poetry is a sword of lightning, ever unsheathed, which consumes the scabbard that would contain it.” This powerful definition describes the energy with which Studdard writes. She writes poetry where she dances and consumes worlds, co-existing with God, as illustrated in “Nirvana:”

  There’s no mother’s milk
  the second time around,
  just a crescent moon
  floating in a goblet bigger
  than your own head, or maybe
  it’s really the world in the there,
  shimmering and dark,
  ready to be consumed.(pg. 4)

Throughout her work, the reader is given glimpses of the universe rolled into everyday life. She finds God “on a head of wheat” in the title poem. While in “Naming Sky,” she finds a temple, along with “voices lingering in the trees” which can be called “God or sky or self.” Studdard interacts with nature, the self, and cosmos in her work. In “Creation Myth,” she describes God as she brings the world from her womb, the process explained with keen, poetic vision:

  So there God lay, with her legs splayed,
  birthing this screaming world

  from her red velvet cleft, her thighs
  cut holy with love

  for all things, both big and small,
  that crept from her womb like an army

  of ants on a sugar-coated thoroughfare.
  It wasn’t just pebbles and boulders…(pg. 3)

Effortlessly she navigates the world between mundane and spiritual life. She uses her “sword of lighting” to carve out her own mythology, born out of her own experience and understanding, refined with her exquisite, concise language.

 The book I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast establishes Studdard as a poet of the highest order. She displays her understanding of the craft, while she composes her beautiful songs that are at times powerful, and other times quiet. Her work demonstrates great diversity and depth of articulation. In a sea of poetry flooding the internet, one may ask why the work of Studdard is special? My answer is that her work is touched, possessing the power of soul-stirring words not found readily among the thousands of poets baring their souls daily on the numerous writing sites. Her poetry is stunning. She has a distinct and a powerful voice which invokes the same excitement I had as a teenager discovering a variety of works from Arthur Rimbaud to Lawrence Ferlinghetti. She has earned a place on the printed page, packaged in a tangible way which lends itself to having the pages felt as one makes the journey into Studdard’s mythology. I read too much, perhaps I am jaded. My eyes grow weary of mediocre work. This book finds my attention, washes the mediocrity away as I peel back the layers of her poetry . Melissa Studdard has earned the title that so many seek: she is a without a doubt a POET!

Nudge Nudge Wink Wink

[Photo: Clara Bow]

Five Questions for Melissa Studdard: An Interview by Jasper Kerkau

Jasper Kerkau: It seems a natural inclination to pluck out influences from a writer’s work. I discovered Reality Sandwiches by Allen Ginsberg at seventeen years old, and my life was never the same. In your work, Starry Night, with Socks, you write: “Neruda eats gates and barbed wire, absorbs the nails and exhales a borderless world.” Is there a debt of gratitude to be paid to Pablo Neruda in your work? If not Neruda, what writers had a tremendous impact on you and how did they influence your work?

Melissa Studdard: Absolutely yes—I owe Neruda! It’s complex, though. For years I was in love with his work. I studied it the way you’d study the face of someone you love—from every angle, in every kind of light. Because I conflated the work with the man, I thought I loved Neruda too. I mean, he was a diplomat, after all.

But about a year ago, I discovered a passage in his memoir that disturbed me. He’d basically “taken” a Tamil woman despite her disinterest. Further, he glorified it with a romanticized “hard-to-get” description.

In some cases, I can separate the work from the person, but here it was impossible. The passage was written towards the end of his life, and the poetic thinking was interwoven with the incident. How could I trust his language, descriptions, and ideas after that? I’m just starting to get my mind around it all. I still feel the way I always did about my favorites of his poems, but I don’t feel the same way about him overall.

Off the top of my head, other writers and artists I love are Muriel Rukeyser, Audre Lorde, Anne Sexton, Li-Young Lee, Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, Gabriel García Márquez, Yehuda Amichai, and Lucille Clifton. I’m sure there are about a hundred more. As you can see, I tend towards the highly imaginative and figuratively dense.

JK: I had a moment when I decided I would not allow my vocation to define my existence; rather, I would begin to identify myself as a writer. Was there a moment for you where you proclaimed to the world “I am a writer”?

MS: I think my rite of passage was more about claiming time than proclaiming an identity. As a divorced, working parent, it’s been hard over the years to find time to write. So, rather than a specific moment or proclamation, there was a shift that took place over a several year period—a shift in which I sifted out senseless, rote chores and seized the hours back for writing. It felt like a hostile takeover at first, but people got used to it. Now, I block out writing time on my calendar every week, just the way I block out my class periods. I take great care not to schedule anything during that time that is not so important I would not also cancel a class for it. This is possibly the most important thing I have done for my writing—simply prioritizing it in my life.

JK: Often new writers will rush works. In your interview with Catherine Lu of Houston Public Media, you state that the poem “Daughter” was incubating for years before it took form on paper. When you actually put a poem on paper, how much time do you spend revising it before you feel it is ready for public consumption?

MS: One of the most crazy, delightful, gorgeous things about writing is that many aspects of its process remain mysterious even to those who practice it. Though there are some constants, the overall process is not static, and no matter how much I write I don’t fully know what to expect when I sit down to a new piece. There are poems I’ve written in fifteen minutes, with no revision, and there are poems that have taken years to conceptualize and months to revise. And there are many, many poems I’ve thrown out altogether. Sometimes they just don’t work, and that is something to recognize too.

I think the best way to know when something is done, or as you put it, fit “for public consumption,” is to put it away for a week or more and then look at it with fresh eyes. It’s best if you’ve written or are writing something else that you’re excited about in the meantime so that you’re no longer infatuated with the piece you’re about to revise. When you’re excited about a new piece it becomes easy to admit and fix flaws in the previous piece because your ego is not all tied up in it anymore. You know you’re fabulous because you have just written something new that you’re still high on. This is my cycle—working on a new piece, revising another.

JK: How much of a labor of love was publishing I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, and how did that process compare with getting Six Weeks to Yehidah in print?

MS: I was lucky to place both books with small presses run by great people. Both Saint Julian Press (I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast) and All Things That Matter Press (Six Weeks to Yehidah) took great care with the process, making sure to consult me about creative issues, such as design and cover, while handling the labor themselves. Both publishers also offered invaluable editing help and revision suggestions without ever pushing me to make changes. If I did ever feel that I was caged inside a labor of love, it was only at the editing stage, once we were past revision and working to agree on commas and semi-colons and that sort of thing. And don’t even get me started on lie/lay/laid/lain. There were a couple of times I felt like just saying, “Do whatever you want to it. See you on the other side.”

JK: I spend a lot of time talking to writers, and many times there is a conflict with the universe that is being worked out. Your work is replete with spiritual overtones. The poem “Integrating the Shadow” is a playful poem that touches on spiritual duality. Are you at peace with universe? And if so, how did this book help that process?

MS: Mostly, I am at peace. But you nailed the duality issue.

I have a hyperactive superego, as well as a hyperactive id—so oftentimes there are two distinctly opposing choices that feel “right” in different ways—my parent/society/conservative voice tells me one thing, LOUDLY, and my wild, true inner voice urges something else. You can see how this sets me up for failure and guilty feelings. No matter which choice I make, I’m disappointing myself by not making the other one.

Whereas peace asks us to float in its currents, I often swim at an angle alongside it, feeling guilty. Then I feel guilty for feeling guilty.  Guilt is my beef with the universe, my parasite, my one true illness. I can’t help but feel that if I could cleanse myself of it I would be at peace fulltime instead of a peace adjunct.

But yes—writing helps. With writing I can explore my duality, guilt, and other concerns with humor and love. I can see my guilt for what it is—a distraction. And I can put my attention back where it should be—on caring for others and making art.

Bio

Melissa Studdard’s debut poetry collection, I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, was recently released by Saint Julian Press. She is also the author of the best­selling novel Six Weeks to Yehidah; its companion journal, My Yehidah(both on All Things That Matter Press); and The Tiferet Talk Interviews. Her awards include the Forward National Literature Award, the International Book Award, the Readers’ Favorite Award, and two Pinnacle Book Achievement Awards. As well, I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast was listed as one of Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts Best Books of 2014-2015.

Melissa’s poetry, fiction, essays, reviews, and articles have appeared in dozens of journals, magazines, blogs, and anthologies, including Tupelo Quarterly, Psychology Today, Connecticut Review, Pleiades,  and Poets & Writers. In addition to writing, Melissa serves as the host of VIDA Voices & Views and an editor for American Microreviews and Interviews. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence college and is a professor for the Lone Star College System and a teaching artist for The Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative.

 

Interview and Review of S.K. Nicholas’ New Novel: A Journal for Damned Lovers

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Review of A Journal for Damned Lovers by S.K. Nicholas/By Jasper Kerkau

One of the first pieces I wrote for Sudden Denouement was called, “Writing isn’t Going to Save Me.” Over time I have changed my perspective on this; I realize that writing is absolutely necessary to my survival. It is what gets me through all the dark days, the clouds hovering over me as I try to find my place in the universe. Writing is the ointment for my soul, the salve for a heart tarnished by the cold hands of fate. I devour words and regurgitate them in a fury that cannot be contained. I now understand that writing will eventually save me, though it may take a while.

When I started to blog I wanted to write long-winded, Menckenesque social criticism that put my friends to sleep and, of course, failed to find an audience. My works were long, pretentious, lacking heart and insight. I had lost my voice in a life of tedium, married with children, distracted by the quest for the American Dream that eventually left me washed-out, stricken by the devastating reality that was a nightmare. The question was how do I express myself, find the right format to sing the song that was buried in my heart?

In the early, dark days of my divorce, while wrestling with tone and format, I discovered the short fiction of S.K. Nicholas. A lightbulb went off. It had an immediate impact on my writing; I felt less confined by format and more willing to express my thoughts and actions from a more honest place. Eventually, I discovered others who created poems in the guise of short fiction, rife with description intertwined with inner dialogue, though none seemed to possess the power of Nicholas. His work was a revelation for me as a writer. As one who cut his teeth on Thomas Wolfe, William Faulkner, and Allen Ginsberg at a young age, his work challenged me to rethink what and how I communicate with the audience, and I know I am not alone in the influence his work has had on me.

Nicholas calls his first book, A Journal for Damned Lovers, a novel. It is a collection of his short pieces of fiction, originally published on his site of the same name. The novel weaves together a tapestry over a two year period, creating a narrative in which the reader is given little pieces of the writer. The individual works are short, usually only three to five hundred words. In these short bursts of fiction, the reader is given more and more of the writer, who is also the hero of Nicholas’ work, as he lives his life with all of its disappointment and failures. He is going through the motions in Journal, thinking aloud in a sense. In the process, he gives the reader insight to himself with a beautiful combination of poetry and fiction. A line such as, “The scent of war in my greasy hand grows by the second as headlights illuminate those nowhere left to go. Writing takes me to an elevated state,” captures my imagination. The writing is crisp, unique and dripping with poetic sensibility.

The hero of the novel is not Nicholas, as protagonist as he moves through life, looking to press himself against the bosom of the universe, looking to find comfort in the arms of beautiful women, the hero of his novel is truth. In one passage, I find a clue to his process in writing his life:

Through unreal streets, we bow down to crippled crows and absence. Eclipsed by half-formed shapes on the side of her face, she riddles me with a kiss. Nerves as strings snapped on a drunken whim, I attempt to multiply myself by zero (51).

His portrayal of himself in Journal seems to be an attempt to multiply himself by zero. He presents his life in full color, musing about his flaws and failures. The piece “Damned Lovers” is rife with self-doubt and loathing. Unflinchingly, he calls himself a “bad lover” who can be described as “distant” and “out of sorts.” In “Hell” he paints images of himself spitting blood, panicking over beer, and smoking a cigar in the garden. In these descriptions, Nicholas shows himself as a fearful man in a perpetual search for love, sex, and intoxications, unfurling his thought-life. He states:

Got to stop walking the same thin line as the days swirl in the mire with no sense of perception. The pain of our histories, it goes even on. Past, present, and future mistakes merging into an endless mess of self-destructive tendencies. The maze of your mind, crushing your will to survive like a beetle beneath a stamping boot (71).

It is here that he connects with the reader. It is hard not to relate to his character, inject some of our own fears and failures into our reading of the work. The authenticity of his treatment of himself, gives life to his protagonist, makes him more accessible.

Since discovering Nicholas’ writing, I have discovered numerous other writers who use a similar format, and though there are many talented writers of the same ilk, none have the energy or authenticity that the writing of Nicholas possesses. Though I had read a great deal of his work previously, the novel gives a clearer picture of the writer and his evolution. There is a strength to his writing which is apparent from his earliest works; however, it is hard not to become aware of a voice taking shape while reading A Journal for Damned Lovers. He takes the reader by the hand and leads them into his world, invites them to watch him fail forward, seeking love under an endless succession of dresses, and he also invites the reader to watch him stretch and evolve as he works through his life by sitting in front of a computer monitor hacking away at everything around him.

Perhaps I glean from his writing my own desire to write myself a way out of the fog. And it is possible that there is something noble in him bearing his soul to the world, exposing his weakness, while many of us cower in fear, hiding our failures. But, that is only one component of his greatness as a writer. His writing, coupled with his authenticity, make his writing worthy the attention. To get a fuller understanding of the work of Nicholas, I suggest spending a few days walking around in his world, getting lost in his novel.

[Thank you Christine Ray for your assistance with this piece. Your insight made it all possible.]

Buy S.K. Nicholas A Journal for Damned Lovers

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Interview with S.K. Nicholas

JK: You have a distinctive style of short fiction. In your book, you mention numerous writers, Bukowski for one. Which writers had the biggest influence on you and your writing style?

SKN: Bukowski for sure influences just about every word. From his poetry to his prose, he cuts through the bullshit and always speaks from the heart. Reading him has taught me you have to bleed with every sentence- anything else just won’t do. Then you’ve got the likes of John Fante. The Bandini Quartet was like a bible to me a few years ago, because that coming of age arch was something I could really relate to. Ask the Dust is the kind of novel I would sell my soul to write. It shows an author at their very best, who captures so much with every sentence, almost how a painter like Van Gogh could show so much emotion in a single brush stroke. Reading Henry Miller gave me the confidence to explore the most explicit side to my personality. Tropic of Cancer and Under the Roofs of Paris are fearless. The sexual content may be shocking, but it comes across as natural- that’s always been a big draw for me, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find my voice when it comes to detailing that aspect of my life. Alberto Moravia wrote a book called Boredom that spoke to me a lot about obsession and sexuality, as well as the artist’s struggle for control over his muse. There’s also this lesser known novel, A Sun for the Dying by a guy named Jean-Claude Izzo. Similar kinda thing to the authors I’ve already mentioned, yet no less impressive. In terms of more modern authors, Paul Auster is a master. New York Trilogy is perfect storytelling. Stephen King may sound like an obvious name to drop, but I’ve read over two-dozen of his books, and each one has affected me in a different way. The Shining speaks to me in particular. Madness, Alcoholism, the supernatural- they’re three key elements I always try so hard to focus on in my work. And King can touch upon so many styles and themes it’s almost infuriating. How is it possible for one man to have so many stories in him, and so many that are able to touch millions upon millions of people in such an intimate way? I hate him for being so good at what he does. Ian Banks’ The Wasp Factory fueled my interest in the macabre, and anything by J. G. Ballard, although Crash and The Atrocity Exhibition are two personal favorites because of the subject matter and the way it all just feels so effortless and visionary. I’m always drawn to authors who speak what they mean to say and who constantly look to push the envelope. There’s no pretension with these guys. They weren’t trying to impress anyone with their words; they were writing because it was what they were born to do. Palahniuk is another. He tells stories and doesn’t hold back. And I like the darkness. There has to be darkness because it resonates so exquisitely with our innermost fears.

JK: What was the learning-curve for A Journal for Damned Lovers?

SKN:It was a steep yet fulfilling one. In the early days of the blog, there was no intention of working towards any kind of published collection, it was just about writing what was on my mind. There was a load of abstract stuff going on with not much bite, but the more I wrote, the more I discovered the themes that allowed me to speak in a voice I could call my own. Loneliness, obsession, sex, death, damned love- every time I sat down to write my ability kept growing when I focused on these core areas. The more truthful I was about my life, about my failures, the stronger the content I kept producing. Maybe it’s a bit egocentric, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing if you end up with something that speaks to others in a truthful tone. In the early days, my problem was in trying to please other people with what I thought they wanted to read, and so the end results were bland beyond belief, but then the more I wrote about how I really felt, the more they begun to respond.

JK: Your book covers two years of your work on A Journal for Damned Lovers. When did you realize what you were doing was working and connecting with readers?

SKN:I wrote a piece called ‘Stay Beautiful’ one night while drinking wine. At the time, I was in love with this woman, and she didn’t love me in return. We had dated in the past, and my heart was set on winning her back, so this one night I drunkenly wrote this open love letter to her and went ahead and posted it on WordPress. I’ve no idea if she ever saw it, she probably didn’t, but suddenly people were reblogging and commenting on it in a way I’d never experienced. From then on, whenever I sat down to write, I reminded myself that I had to be honest, even if it painted me in a bad light, or showed me as being weak. There were times when I struggled to keep the intensity, or when I’d lapse back into abstract, but whenever I snapped out of it and focused on expressing the areas of my life that were causing me turmoil, again there would be a response. People could relate to the emotions I was putting down onto paper, and the more open and honest the piece, the more they resonated. An important note, I believe, is that when I now write, I picture one person in particular as my reader. Their identity is known only to me, and trying to judge their reactions based on the content, or the style, helps keep pushing me forwards while retaining that sense of passion and intimacy. And those are so important when trying to put your writing out there. They speak volumes.

JK: The book frames a period in your life neatly, do you anticipate continuing in the same vein?

SKN: Absolutely. There’s no going back; there has to be evolution. The drive- the need- to express myself is still the same, but there’s a continual thirst to explore who and what I am and my ever-changing relationship to the world. The more I write and the older I get, the more there is to discover, and with every such discovery, there are more and more questions. The trick for me is how to stay fresh, and how to stay relevant. The first journal paints a picture of who I was when writing became the center of my world, the second journal, when it comes out, needs to show growth and progression. It’s not enough to sit back and take it easy. There has to be an increase on all fronts. An increase in truth, in how I seek the answers to my existence, and in how I challenge the answers that confront me. Most people my age are settling down and getting married, and although I’ve come close on both fronts, this life pursuit doesn’t interest me anymore, nor does earning money and buying bigger and better things. The nature of my existence- this is what drives me. The scrutiny of my place on the ‘outside of society’. I’m educated and dwell in suburbia, but I don’t belong here at all. Never have done. But why? Why do I feel like this? These are the questions that need to be answered. And what of my past? What of the man that came before the writer? What of the relationships that shaped who I am right now? This is where I go from here. It’s a continual search for identity- which is what art should always be.

JK: You have amassed a large following and now a book. What advice do you have for those who are getting started and looking for an audience?

SKN: Write every day, and stick with it even when no one else is looking. When I started out, there were no followers or views or comments. I was writing for an audience that wasn’t there, which in many ways is how it should be because it’s about you and your ability to work the word. Nothing else. Keep writing- condition yourself so that it becomes as necessary as eating or drinking. Even when you don’t think you’ve got anything to say, or when not much has been happening in your life, keep searching. Pick at old wounds- never let yourself rest. It has to take over. If you’re serious about making it as a writer, it can’t just be a cute little hobby; it has to be your lifeblood. It’s not always a pleasurable experience, and you’ll lose friends pretty quickly, but the more energy and emotion you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. For me, the act of writing is on a par with making love. It’s about getting in the zone- about severing those connections with the outside world until all that matters is you and your lover- your lover here being words. It’s a state of mind. The euphoria from expressing yourself should be the same as an orgasm. It should leave you feeling exhilarated, and a little dirty, too. And there have to be tears. If the act of creation doesn’t reduce you as well as shake you to your bones, you’re not doing it right.

JK: In your piece “Losers,” you write “the worst thing you can ever do in life is try to fit in. If you do, it’ll ruin you. Just you see.” Could you expound on that assertion, and how does that notion inform your writing?

SKN: The older I get, the more I see how everyone wants to be like everyone else. The crowd brings comfort. It offers warmth. But where’s your identity? We only get one shot at life, so why not go down a different path instead of following in the same old footsteps every other fucker is taking? From early childhood, you’re told what’s expected of you regarding the eternal thirst for a better job and more money and social standing and all that guff. It’s implied that this blueprint is what makes for a happy and purposeful life, but I don’t think it is. I think happiness can be whatever you want it to be. Why not take a risk and live life on your own terms? Do what you want to do and not what you’re told to do. Think for yourself. Don’t let others tell you what constitutes success and failure. None of us are getting out of here alive, so write yourself a life that’s different- be somebody else. This is what helps drive my writing- what has carried me forwards for the past few years. I see this path I’m on through life as a continual discovery of unknowns, and writing is my way of documenting that. And yet writing also fuels my desire to see and feel new ways of being. It’s a beautiful dance.

JK: The book is amazing. When did you first realize that you wanted to put your work in book format? How difficult was the process?

SKN: A few people had commented on how my writing would lend itself to a published collection of prose, but at the time I was busy working on an ongoing novel, and yet after pondering the idea for a few months it seemed to be the logical next step. Both in terms of having something out there for people to read, and also for the experience. Sifting through two years of blog pieces was quite something. My first draft saw the journal come in at around 150k words, so I knew I had my work cut out to trim it down to a tight and palatable 90k, and being something of a perfectionist, I went through dozens of rounds of editing, and even after it was sent off to be proofread there was still a few more drafts of trying to achieve something that was as good as I could make it. More than anything, I wanted a book not only that I was proud of, but that was a true documentation of my transformation into a writer. There’s a spectrum of highs and lows within its pages- a mixture of difficult times when I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing and times when suddenly everything made sense. As I mentioned before, we’re all on a journey, and it felt so natural to be leaving a footprint of my own. I didn’t like the idea of being on my deathbed suddenly aware that a lifetime of memories and emotions were going to die with me. It’s not enough to just live once. And, in many ways, I saw it as an apology to the women I had dated in the past. I’d always held back, been quite closed-mouthed because I had yet to figure out what I was doing with my life. So, I saw the book as a way of showing how there was more to me than this guy with his head in the clouds with an apparent lack of interest in life. I’m not sure I’ll be getting any thanks, but, y’know, it’s the thought that counts.