Contributors: Featured Writer A. Martine, Juanita Rey, M Coe, Darren C. Demaree, Kavi Kshiraj, Robert Ford, Lynn Finger, Joe Mills, Chad W. Lutz, John Colburn, Sy Brand, Esther Sun, Aya Bram, Alicia Byrne Keane, Jennifer Ruth Jackson, Anastasiya Kuruliova (Birdy Asya)
A. Martine is a trilingual writer, musician and artist of color who goes where the waves take her. She might have been a kraken in a past life. She’s an Assistant Editor at Reckoning Press and a co-Editor-in-Chief/Producer of The Nasiona. Her collection AT SEA was shortlisted for the 2019 Kingdoms in the Wild Poetry Prize. Some words found or forthcoming in: Déraciné, The Rumpus, Moonchild Magazine, Marias at Sampaguitas, Luna Luna, Bright Wall/Dark Room, Pussy Magic, South Broadway Ghost Society, Gone Lawn, Boston Accent Lit, Anti-Heroin Chic, Figure 1, Tenderness Lit. @Maelllstrom/www.amartine.com.
Why poetry/writing? What pulls you into the page? What poets/writers first inspired you?
I think I’ll never be able to adequately answer the first part of this question: inexplicably, I’ve been drawn to storytelling since I could pick up a pen. I would spend hours as a child drawing comics with elaborate (and incredibly dramatic) plot lines, and give even the most random object a fabulous backstory. Maybe it’s that my Senegalese/Mauritanian backgrounds are so deeply rooted in oral storytelling. Maybe it’s that writing makes me feel less alienated to my fellow human beings. Maybe it’s that I’ve always found greater comfort in written words than in spoken ones. All I know is that I come to the page with perpetual questions, and that it helps make sense of everything.
I got initially sucked into writing via horror, actually. Guy de Maupassant, Charles Baudelaire and Daphne du Maurier shattered me from a young age, along with the gruesome fairytales and mythologies from around the world I devoured constantly. They got me interested in human nature at its worst. As I grew older and moved through trauma in its many forms, however, I started getting drawn to the more confessional, intimate side of things: Apollinaire, Sylvia Plath, Arthur Rimbaud, Toni Morrison, Lucille Clifton, Wanda Coleman, to name a few, shaped a lot of the way I write.
What have you been working on, and what exciting things do you have planned?
In addition to my editorial work with Reckoning Press and The Nasiona, I am juggling so many concurrent projects, I sometimes feel like an octopus! Poetry-wise, I finished a collection last year, and am currently putting together a second one. I am finishing songs for a first album, which I’ll hopefully be done with by the end of the year, or in early 2021. I’m working on two fiction novels, one of which is a novel-in-stories, and I’m halfway through writing a personal essay collection (of which “A Million Little Smiles” will be part!). When things get a little less hectic, I’m planning two more projects: a graphic novel I started but sidelined a while ago, as well as the expansion of a short script into a full-length screenplay.
What was the first thing you had published, and how has your writing or focus changed since then?
The first thing I published, while I was a student at Columbia College Chicago, was a short story in Hair Trigger called “When Shirley Smiled.” It’s about a woman struggling with whether she is a bad mother, or whether her young daughter is fundamentally evil. At the time, I wasn’t sending out a lot of poems. I was much more focused on fiction, especially genre, and while I still wrote about deeply personal things through fiction, I did feel that I was hiding behind the characters.
Since then, I’ve gotten less inhibited about laying myself bare, and I find that poetry and nonfiction offer a much more immediate — and cathartic — outlet for doing so. I am still committed to fiction writing, but I’m deliberately putting it on a back-burner for the moment, because those projects require a different kind of singular focus.
What would you say is the center of your work? What motivates you? Where does a new poem or piece begin for you?
Everything started to take shape when I realized that a lot of what I write inevitably circles back to grief. Be it: long-buried grief, almost-there grief, grief for a country, a people, a culture; yet-to-come grief, the death of a person, an idea, of hope, of Self and self-love. Along those lines, it is also important — vital I’d even say — to tackle womanhood and race in my work. They are undercurrents to what I write because they are cornerstones of my identity.
I’ve been motivated, first of all, to give myself a voice. Having always been profoundly introverted, writing is a validation. But I am also motivated to continue shattering the notion that mental illness, recovery, addiction, etc. don’t belong to Black girls like me. We are so seldom Seen that we grow up trivializing our own pain, and/or believing that there aren’t millions of us feeling the same way. If just one person can relate to my work, then I’ve done what I set out to.
As for where a piece begins: a poem usually comes from a feeling. I don’t always know what I’m trying to say right off the bat. Sometimes it’s a sentence leading to another sentence, my intuition guiding the writing of it. Sometimes I pull tarot cards and sit with what they stir up, and I go from there. Fiction and nonfiction, however, come from a very different place. It’s intellectual. There’s an idea I’ve been mulling over, a story I want to tell, and I usually map it down in precise outlines before I write.
How have current events affected your work?
Be it poetry or essays, I have always written with issues surrounding race, intersectional feminism and cultural identity in mind. Another thread in my work is displacement, aloneness vs. loneliness. The current events have only exacerbated this.
The ongoing anti-racism protests were debilitating, initially. Like many of my BIPOC peers, I’ve unfortunately been used to intolerance; still, the fury and powerlessness were simultaneously raw and numbing. Writing felt pointless. After that initial desperation, I’ve felt that it’s even more necessary for me, and other writers of color, to either take a seat at the table, or continue making my own table. I’ve been writing with even more fervor about growing up multicultural, about navigating systemic racism as a Black woman, about micro-aggressive behavior that goes unchecked. On the flipside, an unforeseen thing about the pandemic is that it has pulled that dormant idealist in me from its slumber. I have felt more attached to my fellow human beings, to this beautiful planet, to life itself, have felt more motivated to fight for the best in everything, in any way I can through my work.
What space does or should poetry/writing occupy right now?
I believe in the immense power of writing to convey powerful, restorative messages. But for far too long, the writing world hasn’t sufficiently reflected its panorama of voices. For a lot of traditional gatekeepers, this has been a moment of reckoning regarding the ways in which they’ve failed those aforementioned marginalized voices. I think the best in poetry has always been uncomfortable, honest, and challenging, and this goes for writing in general. Large-scale devastation, I believe, makes us more reflective: what better time than this to turn to reading as another form of listening? Why not read something from a country you don’t know? A genre you’ve always looked down on? A form you’ve never tried? Let us widen the scope of what is considered mainstream and palatable. Let us give platforms to long-ignored voices that could educate, make empathetic.
Name some poets/writers you’re really excited about right now. Who do you have on your shelf/in your ear/on your mind?
Everything Danez Smith writes is magical, and heartbreaking, and necessary. I love them so much and feel seen every time I read a poem of theirs on being Black in America. Morgan Parker’s writing is a masterpiece, Jihyun Yun is a wordsmith of no comparison, and Maggie Smith cuts me to the quick faster than hello. I am also really into Kaveh Akbar, Ocean Vuong, Ada Limón and Hanif Abdurraqib, at the moment.
What advice would you give to a writer just starting out? If you could go back and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
To a budding writer: this is easy to say, but don’t give Impostor Syndrome the time of day. It doesn’t matter if you don’t tick the traditional boxes that are silently being used to gauge your worth. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have an MFA, a publishing credit, or much experience. Don’t be so scared of rejection. Don’t take it as a reflection on your person as a whole. All that matters are your passion for the written word, and your willingness to put your entire life-force into getting better at it.
The advice would mostly be the same for my younger self, but I’d add: be flexible about the craft. Strip a poem to its bare bones. Saw those bones into pieces. Stick those pieces elsewhere. Make a new skeleton. Kill your darlings. Trust in your talent, in your ability to recreate the magic every time.
You can read A. Martine’s work in the seventh issue of Night Music Journal, which will be released June 26th.
Lourdes Figueroa was born in Yuba City, California, during a trip her parents made from Mexico to the USA when they worked in the campo tilling the soil. Her work is rooted in migration, what her family lived when they moved to this country. In 2009 and 2011 she attended VONA. In 2012 she completed an MFA with a focus in poetry at USF. Her work has been published in Jack Hirschman’s Poets 11 2008 & 2010, Generations, Eleven Eleven, Something Worth Revising and BACKWORDS Press. She currently works and lives in San Francisco with her wife. yolotl was her first chapbook, published by Spooky Actions. Her chapbook Ruidos=To Learn Speak, written during her Alley Cat Residency, is forthcoming.
Why poetry? What pulls you into the page? What poets first inspired you and who do you return to?
poetry, somehow it found me, or we just crashed into each other, I spent a lot time in the library growing up, specifically when my apá was violent, it was a place of refuge for my amá, she constantly read, she constantly read to us, I read a lot of fiction and still do, but one of the first poets that I stumbled upon was Emily Dickinson, I didn’t quite understand her then, mouthing her English at the time, I was about 11 years old, and in school it was Edgar Allen Poe when I was in 7th grade, I have a very vivid memory of my teacher putting on a record player and having the class put their head down on their desks and I did, I closed my eyes and suddenly there was the story the tell-tale heart, and I am grateful for this, I tear up remembering this, I think it was reading and my amá’s constant love of reading that saved us, at least has kept our hearts and minds this far, and the poets that gave me the language to articulate and write what my experience living what we had lived was Gloria Anzaldúa and Ana Castillo, they continue to do so, and outside of books because the poem exists in sound and story orally the first poets were really my amá and my abuelita chona, their stories nurtured my mind, my heart, and my conception of love
and it is important to note, the poets around me here in San Francisco and the Bay Area, I read everyone I can, and we all should, we are part of a thread that blooms like veins, I feel very lucky to have access to different forms of the word and how it is being passed from person to person, zines, chapbooks, open mics, film, local presses… none of us exist in a vacuum and none of us come into our poetics in a vacuum
the poets that I keep reaching for, or find myself packing into my backpack right now are Rosario Castellanos, Norma Cole, June Jordan, Kim Shuck, I’ve been carrying around Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killian’s Writers Who Love Too Much which somehow weaves itself with some of Alfred Arteaga’s Chicano Poetics, and This Bridge Called My Back edited and put together by Cherríe Moraga & Gloria Anzaldúa, they all bring the poem back to the body, I have to say we are not an assembly of voices, but thread, threads being weaved into each other, I keep reading Roberto Bolaño, Jorge Luis Borges, García Lorca, Kamau Brathwaite, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, and more
but the most powerful of voices that are always in my ear are my familia, my amá, my wife, my hermana y mis hermanos, the memories of my abuelita chona smoking her cigarettes and telling stories of her childhood while she planted her flowers and attended to her small garden of roses, tulipanes, mint, manzanillo, oregano, and a small peach tree
What space does/should poetry occupy right now?
the poem is a vessel that articulates our insides, the act of using the word to invoke what is inside and vice versa to bring the outer to the inside, it is revolution in every way, the poem revolts, the poem turns, the poem shatters language, the poem too takes the language of your insides, of your own particular mouth and uses those fragments to further connect us in some way, bringing each other into each other, the poem is everything and nothing with the human breath, the poem is meant to be broken in every way, the body collapses the poem so the poem can be in the body and the body can be in the poem, we need it, we have always needed it since we learned to song with each other, it is more ancient than we realize, existing in its’ own way in different languages, terrifying and beautiful, asking what’s this, what’s life, which one is this one? I am another yourself/ In Lak’ech
Name some poets you’re really excited about right now. Who do you have on your shelf/in your ear/on your mind?
the poets to be on the lookout for are each other, with my whole heart I believe in each other, we must read each other, elevate each other’s voices, support each other, never apologize for our sound, no one sound is the one, we must embrace each other’s sound, read widely with intention or with pleasure or with love or with pain, but read
Breath is the first word that comes to my mind when I think of your work. When I read your poetry, it has such a beautiful, hypnotic quality, and I always feel like I’m returning to the deepest level of being. How do you inhabit your poet self? What is your work’s center right now?
my works’ center continues to be the gut, the lung, the throat, el corazón, the communal, we are meant to sing in some form, all of us, everything is made this way, it is the nature of this reality, as we love whatever it is, love whomever it is, we are in movement, we are in creation with each other, in constant revelation with each other, this is duende, this is how the sun loves us
What projects have you been involved with recently, and what do you have planned?
Current projects I’m involved in are: I’m in the heart of putting together my second chapbook, Ruidos = To Learn Speak, that I am doing with the Alley Cats Residency here in San Francisco. I am putting together my first poetry workshop that I will launch in January with South of Market Community Action Network, this workshop will seek to create a safe space for the voices of our LGBTQA immigrant community and will be in the heart of the South of Market. Too, I’m about to embark on my second film script, a short film in collaboration with my wife, a story of immigration
What advice do or would you give to a writer just starting out?
I was recently told by a therapist that I have PTSD, no one diagnosis will do, there are layers of trauma that I had no idea how it was affecting my mind, and coping/survival mechanisms I am working through to identify, things that I had refused to name my body names, the poem helps me articulate some of the pain, the body has a way of holding trauma so it can survive, and so does the mind, my memory drops, I drop things, sometimes Peggy will tell me a story about something that happened and I can’t recall anything,
I articulate from a queer brown mouth, a descendant of colonization, from a severely bruised body that refuses to forget her trauma until it is said in some form, a survivor of rape, a survivor of molestation, these things are not me, but things that I lived, these things are a human experience, and all these things are deserving of literature, of poem, of song, this is how we recognize each other…if I were to come across my childhood self, I would hug her and hold her and read to her like my amá did, and take her to the library, and tell her ‘keep going to the library, continue to be kind in all aspects’ to everyone
You can read Lourdes Figueroa’s work in the sixth issue of Night Music Journal, which will be released November 18th.
Presenting the cover of NMJ V.6! The featured writer will be announced November 15th, and the issue will be available November 18th!
Earthquakes in Candyland by Jennifer Robin. Fungasm Press (2019). $14.99, paperback.
Jennifer Robin’s feminist gonzo nonfiction collection, Earthquakes in Candyland, is a series of disruptions; from essay to micro-flash, Robin takes the position of an intimate journalist, combining observation and interviews with poetic vignettes and philosophical inquiry that push us to question ourselves and our role as humans.
Many of the longer pieces in the book follow in the style of Robin’s statement in the story “Oxy’s Midnight Runners”: “I’m here to hear stories,” she says to her interview subjects on a trip to New Orleans, “I’m sick of telling mine.”
Anaïs Nin, an influence of Robin’s once said, “We write to taste life twice.” It could be said that Robin’s book is a result of tasting life twice to illuminate meaning and experience in her work, and the result is deeply personal, blunt and empathetic.
What Robin calls “fissures in the illusion,” these essays, flashes, and tweet-riffs are what seep up through the cracks of the candy-coated veneer, critiquing everything from our self-obsessed technology addictions, to the criminal justice system; they are meant to provoke and also to connect.
Told from bus stops, train stations, MAX rides and sidewalk encounters, the book weaves a narrative of lives lived in transition, as if Robin took a literal road trip through a Candyland apocalypse and recorded the whole thing in her notebooks.
The 125 stories (in 315 pages) tackle both deep critique and celebration of American experience from multiple perspectives. The story “Breathe Deeply,” narrates unflinching descriptions of violence in a series of vignettes revealing a history of racism at the hands of white slave owners. “The Tarot Reader of Troy, New York” details Robin’s hitchhiking journey across the country to visit her biological daughter in an open adoption. “Oxy’s Midnight Runners” follows a pair of New Orleans teens selling pills to make ends meet, while discussing everything from ghosts to ancestry and what it means to “have no truck.”
Later, the interviewer turns the camera on herself.
“I am trying to remember everything…as if I can retreat at a later date and like an ancient scribe add up this information on sheets of pressed goatskin and it will spell out the meaning of life. And why shouldn’t it? How much do I need to know? How much does anyone need to know?”
This is how Robin gets personal on the page, with larger questions which unexpected, intimate connections naturally stir within us, if we’re paying attention.
Her fascination with the lives of others is contagious; the army-brat turned model on the overnight Greyhound. The cam girl exchanging emojis with her clients on the night bus. Lonnie, a tattoo of a star on her cheek, touting her God-love to a man at a Portland bus stop. They are the people who challenge the norm by being unabashedly themselves.
Like literal Queen Frostines or Princess Lollys, it’s the experiences of those Robin meets on her journeys who ground the stories— symbols of hope guiding us through our own sense of American aimlessness, our search for a lost King, something to believe in.
The story “The Best Flavor” is one sentence: “If we must have mind control— what is the best flavor of mind control?”
The micro stories that break up these essays prod and expose, and feel like distilled versions of what Robin cannot let us not hear; we’re fucked, but people are beautifully complex, and our stories matter.
Lily Blackburn is a Portland based writer, an editor for Typehouse Literary Magazine and a full-time bean pharmacist (barista.) She graduated from Portland State in 2017 with her BA in English. You can find her work at Little Fictions | Big Truths, Coffee People, and Angel City Review.
You Have the Right to Remain Fat by Virgie Tovar (Feminist Press)
Contributors: Featured Writer Sayuri Ayers, Katherine Fallon, Jacob Kobina Ayiah Mensah, Stephanie Valente, Grace Yannotta, V.S. Ramstack, Bruce McRae, Sean Johnson, Kylie Ayn Yockey, Margarita Serafimova, Megha Sood, Paul Ilechko, Alexandra Corinth, Lindsey Warren, Jacob Hammer, Brigid Hannon, RC deWinter, Lucas Wildner, Alana Hayes, Stephen Mead, Jeanette Salib, DS Maolalai, Matthew Dube
Sayuri Ayers is a native of Columbus, Ohio. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Entropy, The Pinch, Hobart, Ghost City Review, and others. In 2016, Green Bottle Press released her chapbook Radish Legs, Duck Feet. Haunt her at sayuriayers.com.
Why poetry? What pulled you in, and who was the very first poet you read/heard who just clicked?
Poetry is strange and lovely. It’s a beast in a jeweled box. Through poetry, there are infinite ways to engage the reader through imagery, tone, sound, and use of white space.
The first book of poetry I read was by Sharon Olds. I discovered Satan Says in the basement of my college’s library. As a science major, I was taking a poetry class as an elective. I remember sinking to the floor in awe as I read Old’s poem, “Monarchs.”
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gravitated towards Li-Young Lee’s poetry, especially his collections Rose and Book of My Nights. What I admire most about Lee’s work is its ability to transport the reader through striking imagery.
If you were the last person on earth, and you pulled the last book from a pile of ash and cinders, what do you hope it would be? Why?
I absolutely love the book of Ecclesiastes. The questions about existential meaning are essential, especially for the last person on earth.
What space does/should poetry occupy right now?
The expansion of poetry into the hybrid forms has been fascinating to watch. The subversion of genres speaks to the shifting of cultural and political borders. I can’t wait to see how poetry will demand more space and transform personal and public landscapes.
What was the first piece you ever had published? Are you the same person who wrote it, and if not, how have you changed?
I first published “Garden of Delights” in my college’s literary journal, First Circle. In some ways, I’m still the same person. As a reader and writer, I’m drawn to strong imagery and narrative. Over time, my generous mentors and teachers have taught me to be more critical of my work, and how to better honor the work of other writers.
What are you working on right now? What is the center or focus of your work right now?
I’m working on a hybrid manuscript that weaves prose poetry together with lyric essay. The manuscript navigates the landscape of motherhood and mental illness. I’m focusing on how images can be repeated, then presented in different forms.
Name some poets you’re really excited about right now. Who do you have on your shelf/in your ear/on your mind?
There are so many poets that I’m excited about! I’m currently reading the debut book by Ruth Awad, Set to Music a Wildfire, which chronicles her father’s survival of the Lebanese Civil War. Geoff Anderson is a poet from Columbus, Ohio. He’s one of my favorite writers/people. His collection, Humming Dirges, was recently released by Paper Nautilus. I’ve also been enjoying Li-Young Lee’s newest collection, The Undressing.
What’s the biggest adventure you’ve had so far? What comes next?
My biggest adventure has been becoming a mother. Writing as a parent has been a series of late nights eating ramen over a keyboard and frantically searching diaper bags for lost scraps of poems. My most creative and productive years followed the birth of my son. I wouldn’t trade these years or him for anything.
Next, I’m hoping to mentor future readers and writers. I plan to volunteer at a local elementary school as a reading tutor this coming fall.
What advice would you give a poet just starting out? What advice would you go back and give your younger self?
Shape your writing life according to your goals/purpose as a poet. Take time to celebrate your successes and the successes of others. Read, read, read. Don’t give up.
You can read Sayuri Ayers’ work in the fifth issue of Night Music Journal, which will be released May 17th.
Presenting the cover of NMJ V.5! The featured writer will be announced May 10th, and the issue will be available May 17th!
There’s still room for your poetry, essays, and hybrid creatures in NMJ V.6, so please submit!