Author Spotlight: John Duncan Talbird

John Duncan Talbird is an English professor at Queensborough Community College and is on the editorial board of Green Hills Literary Lantern and a frequent contributor to Quarterly Review of Film and Video. His fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, South Carolina Review, New Walk, Grain, REAL, and more.John's headshot

Amoskeag: In All as Stationary as the Stars in the Sky, your main character, Freddie, has a set routine. He waits in the park for people to hand him spare change, collects his earnings, and walks over to the McDonald’s. How did he get to that point in his life? Why does he see the world the way he does?

John: Good question. I run in a different park here in Brooklyn, Prospect Park, and for a couple months, I kept passing the same guy. He wasn’t panhandling, but he was sitting on a bench and huffing something out of a paper bag. I’ve always thought of huffers–people who sniff paint, glue, etc.–as teenagers, but this guy was older, maybe forties, though the street is hard on people and many homeless seem to come unstuck from their true biological age. I thought about this guy sitting there day after day and I naturally wondered why he was there, what brought him to that moment. The story arose out of my curiosity and, I admit, a little sadness when he disappeared.

Amoskeag: The story begins with a woman in a “Park Avenue fur coat” who drops a bill into his cup. As she walks away, a falcon picks up her dog and begins to fly away. The woman is screaming, but Freddie just stands there, watching and doing nothing. Why did you begin “there”? What is the significance of this scene?

John: The scene is like a catalyst for the whole story. I’ve seen these gigantic birds–falcons–in both Prospect and Central Parks and I’ve seen them while out hiking in Upstate NY, New Jersey and elsewhere. Somehow, seeing them in an urban environment is more awe-inspiring. They seem so out-of-place here that it’s hard not to stare even when they’re just perched on a branch doing nothing. It was important for me that the bird do something fantastical and that Freddie not be shocked by it. People can become desensitized to the fantastic, to the sublime–by drugs, but also by addiction to anything: mass media, work, their smart phones. But none of us are born that way. I wanted to follow the thread of that desensitization backward. It’s risky to say that anyone ends up anywhere or as any type of person because of this or that factor. I just wanted to follow his life backward and see where he came from.

Amoskeag: Did you see the ending coming, or did it suddenly surprise you? How did you prepare for it?

John: I did know that I would come back to that moment in the park; I knew it would be a framing device. But I was surprised that his mother died, that he was there to see her die. That was a bit of a shock to me, but once that moment arrived, it felt right.

Amoskeag: Is your character’s view of the world reflective of the way you see the world? Or were you surprised by what he saw? How he felt?

John: I think it’s entirely natural to want to escape pain. That’s why painkillers exist, why they’ve always existed in one form or another. We all have to figure out how to cope with whatever it is that troubles us, whatever hurts us. In addition, I think it’s also natural, for young people, at least, to experiment. The problem arises, I think, when that experimentation becomes a way of life.

Amoskeag: As Freddie reflects upon the loss of his mother, the reader starts to understand how it has affected him and shaped the man he has become. How did you construct the language of the piece? How did you come to hear and record the feelings of your narrator?

John: I’m not sure if Freddie DOES reflect. Or if he does, I can’t say that I’m aware of it. Readers may draw their own conclusions based on what the 3rd person narrator tells them, but I meant the narrative voice to be a “cool” one, one which reports, but doesn’t have a lot invested in the protagonist. I leave it up to the reader to decide how effective or not I was at that.

Amoskeag: “Sometimes, when one spends months and months in a hospital with a broken pelvis and a snapped spine, when one needs a clear drip of warm liquid in one’s veins to make it sanely to this moment to that, one emerges allergic to pain.” Why does this line matter in this piece?

John: I was thinking about that great Morphine song, “Cure for Pain”: “Someday there’ll be a cure for pain / That’s the day I’ll throw my drugs away.” All types of people get hurt in myriad ways and there are myriad ways of coping with that pain. But like the song says, there’s no cure. You can cover it up, move it off to the side, think of something else, but it’s still there.

Amoskeag: How do you feel when a piece gets accepted and readers that you don’t know are now going to read the story that you worked so hard to shape?

John: I feel great. It’s the entire reason I write: to be read, to connect with readers who might like the same kind of fiction I do.

Amoskeag: What’s next for you as a writer?

John: I’m always working on something. This story is part of a collection I’m working to finish, Fancies, Games, and Random Documents, all sudden/flash fictions (stories under 2000 words). I’m also working to finish a novel about lighthouses, insane asylums, and the CIA. And I’ve just begun writing a series of essays about aesthetics.

Author Spotlight: Donna Pucciani

Donna Pucciani ‘s poetry has been published in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Asia in International Poetry Review, The Pedestal, Spoon River Poetry, Journey of the American Medical Association, and Christianity and Literature. She is a four-time Pushcart nominee and has published books such as The Other Side of Thunder, Jumping off the Train, and Chasing the Saints.

Amoskeag: In ConjectureDonPhoto, your narrator is inquisitive and wishful of the world around him/her, placing various “What If” scenarios into the mind of the reader. He/she seems to be dreaming of a better future free of all worry and pain. How did they get to that point in their life? Why do they see the world the way they do?

Donna: The speaker of the poem represents most of the people I know: working families putting in sixty or seventy-hour weeks, both spouses working, squeaking by on child care from relatives, barely able to manage the shopping, laundry, cleaning and cooking on the weekends, driving kids to sports events or band practice, baking for children’s class parties at midnight. Frequently these same folks are taking care of elderly parents, often at great expense, because the social “safety nets” available in other civilized countries (whether prosperous or bankrupt) are unavailable here. That haunting picture of what America has become in just one generation, and the huge, growing gap between the rich and the rest of us, inspired this poem.

Amoskeag: Your poem begins with “What if sun and moon were to collide in space, spawning sparks of gold and silver, little gods and goddesses falling to earth to make everything right? Why did you begin “there”?
Donna: The ancients looked to the sky for answers. The Zodiac reflects their mythology of the relationships between gods and humans. We, too, often look to heaven or a God of sorts for answers, though science has inevitably discovered that what seems so peaceful on a starry night is really fraught with explosions, black holes, and a cruel randomness the ancients perhaps imagined in a different way.

Amoskeag: The end of the poem reflects upon the concept of life and death, and how the narrator wishes death would cause “surprise, not grief.” Did you see the ending coming, or did it suddenly surprise you? How did you prepare for it?

Donna: Being in the last one-quarter of my life gives me a totally new consciousness of the world. The desire to prepare for death and to see it as a natural part of existence very much informs the poem. That awareness is the basis of many of my poems right now, though I cannot say that I consciously wrote the poem with that particular ending in mind.

Amoskeag: Is your character’s view of the world reflective of the way you see the world? Or were you surprised by what they saw? How they felt?

Donna: “Conjecture” is very much based on my own particular world-view at present, but it also incorporates other strands of thought in which people around me seem to fluctuate between hope and hopelessness. The fact that some of my friends have “given up” on the political system, controlled by the greed and wealth of a few at the expense of the many, troubles me greatly. My own faith in democracy has certainly been weakened, though I continually struggle to believe in the goodness of the world, even as Anne Frank did in her diary a generation or two ago.

Amoskeag: The narrator is hopeful but also dissatisfied with many aspects of life and society. How did you construct the language of the piece? How did you come to hear and record the feelings of your narrator?

Donna: I really don’t know how I constructed the poem or made its particular “voice.” I wish I knew more about my own creative processes, but I don’t. I certainly don’t wait for “inspiration,” but instead confront the blank piece of paper and force myself somehow to find the words to express my thoughts.

Amoskeag: “What if their broken children could be sewn up like dolls, resurrected clean and desert-pink, arms and legs where God put them” Why does this line matter in this piece?

Donna: The image of broken children has emerged from the tragic killing of civilians in the Middle East for the past decade or so. While there has been a news blackout of photographs of dead or injured American soldiers and Iraqi and Afghan civilians, the information is out there for those who are determined to look. The American Friends Service Committee and other pacifist groups have supported my need to know about the horrors of each new war, my need to address my own conscience about how I have contributed to this situation and what, if anything, I can do about it.

Amoskeag: How do you feel when a piece gets accepted and readers that you don’t know are now going to complete the poem that you worked so hard at to shape?

Donna: I have a deep conviction that readers complete the poem, and that gives me great joy. I don’t often write poems that are as didactic as this one, but I do believe that words should and DO have meaning, that language is not just a word-game but should somehow reach into the core of what it means to be fully human. I write to evoke feelings in the reader, to spark something in his or her own experience, but not to tell the reader what to feel.

Amoskeag: What’s next for you as a poet?

Donna: As a poet, I probably need to become more involved in the online community of language. I still prefer the feel of paper and books in my hands, but am well aware of their effects on the environment. I have recently set up a blog of sorts, donnapuccianipoet.worpress.com, in which I post a weekly excerpt of one of my poems. Another blog, shutterverse2.wordpress.com, is a collaborative effort between an old teaching colleague and myself. X Woods and I taught together decades ago at a small college in Ohio, and have recently reconnected through the internet with her photography and my poetry in response. Woods resides in Boston and Berlin, I in Chicago and Manchester (U.K.), so the opportunity to connect over vast reaches of space is indeed a wonderful thing.

I’m also sending out a manuscript that I have been working on for many years, on my family in Italy and my discovery of them through my genealogical research. The poems have already appeared individually in journals, but I’d love to see them all in one collection. With each rejection, I work on it some more, and send it out again. After publishing five books of poetry, my advice to fledgling poets is to keep trying, even in the current rather difficult environment for the arts.

Author Spotlight: Adam Middleton-Watts

1203130847aAdam Middleton-Watts has had work published in Art Times, Illuminations, The Laughing Dog, con, Into the Teeth of the Wind, Iconoclast, and Rambuctious Review.

Amoskeag: In Boy, your main character, Glen is annoyed but passive with Beth. Even though he is not the father of Beth’s son, he still sends her money each month for the boy. Beth continues to believe he is the father. How did they get to that point in their life? Why do they see the world the way they do?

Adam: I believe what still connects these characters during the brief time of the story is similar to the destructive force that initially drove them apart. It is as simple and as complex as no longer seeing things in quite the same way, but yet, they are unable to fully distant themselves from one another, which would clearly be the healthy thing to do. For Glen, the connection is purely one of guilt. The boy represents for Glen the inability to “fix” things, to change things. It is a blatantly obvious difference (the boy is black, the adults he views as his parents are white) that cannot be successfully dealt with. The boy is not Glen’s son (it is not even certain that he’s Beth’s child either), but he represents a chance for Glen to correct the transgressions of his past. If he can help the boy survive the dysfunction of his childhood living with Beth, then Glen can possibly see this as redemption (no matter who the boy is, or where he comes from, a fact that likely prevents Glen from fighting for custody of the boy). Beth is a liar and she has a hold on Glen that transcends all other things, no matter how obviously incorrect some of those things may be. They have poisoned themselves with themselves, and the boy represents the dizzying depths of their blind dysfunction.

Amoskeag: The story begins with the little boy sitting on the steps outside of his work. The boy remains expressionless and silent as Glen decides what to do with him. What made you begin here?

Adam: I wanted the boy to simply be present in another area of the world that is not his, namely his “father’s” place of work. His appearance there is wrong on two main counts: his “mother” merely dumped him there alone, without first speaking to Glen, and the environment itself could be construed as hazardous to a child; a world of dangerous tools and strange men.

Amoskeag: Did you see the ending coming, or did it suddenly surprise you? How did you prepare for it?

Adam: Once I realized the boy represented all that Glen could not repair or control, I knew then that something more concrete needed to happen, something as simple as taking Glen’s emotional turmoil into the realm of the physical, yet another place where he is not in full control.

Amoskeag: Is your character’s view of the world reflective of the way you see the world? Or were you surprised by what they saw? How they felt?

Adam: I relate to Glen’s need to simplify things, to make them more concrete (regardless of how they became unstable in the first place), I think he’s aware that he cannot necessarily fix them, but he’ll do what he can for the time being. I see the pull of such a POV. I don’t think it’s particular constructive or healthy, but I can relate to the confusing struggles that go hand-in-hand with toting around a dumbbell of guilt.

Amoskeag: At the end of the story, an event occurs which shifts Glen’s perspective. He is no longer the angry, annoyed man he was when the story began. He develops true care for this little boy, and in that moment, nothing else matters except the boys safety. How did you construct the language of the piece? How did you come to hear and record the feelings of your narrator?

Adam: I tried to increase the level of threat in the story in an obviously concrete way. Here Glen is trying to do right in a situation many people may view to be hopeless and binding; doing right by a child that is not even his own son, paying monies to a woman he has long stopped loving and should have no further ties to. The boy is the pawn of the piece. He exists between two equally troubled worlds: the man who shows him he is not his son, and the irrational and unhealthy woman. The boy is alone in perpetuity, and in that instant when he is once again “physically alone,” he suffers terribly, and Glen is yet again unable to make it right. The color of the boy’s skin merely exacerbated the paternal struggle for Glen, he loves him regardless. But to others, the boy’s color becomes the catalyst for instant violence. Glen’s voice was clear to me throughout this piece, as was the environment. The “blue-collar” ambiance is something I experience to this day, and because of that I had a sense of the “voice” that would guide this story, hopefully one without judgment, merely a recorder of events.

Amoskeag: “This word, a word said close to his small cut ear, said over and over again, gaining repetition, like something large and wild moving toward him through a dark and peaceful valley, this boy hearing this word, over and over again, hearing,sorry.” Why does this line matter in this piece?

Adam: Because they only have each other, Glen and the boy, and Glen is as sorry for that fact as he is for all that the boy has suffered so far, and will no doubt suffer again. Beth is not destined to play a significant part in the lives of these two characters.

Amoskeag: How do you feel when a piece gets accepted and readers that you don’t know are now going to complete the story that you worked so hard at to shape?

Adam: It’s a wonderful feeling, of course. You put something together and send it out and what happens next is totally out of your control. But to have a reader connect with your work (a “reader” you’ll likely never get to meet) is a magical experience, it makes the void a little less lonesome.

Amoskeag: What’s next for you as a writer?

Adam: Well, I’ve amassed about a thousand poems or so, some of which are not too shabby, I think it’s time to find some of them a home. I’ve also many more stories to share.

Author Spotlight: Beth Colburn Orozco

Beth Colburn-Orozcu is currently an MFA student at Southern New Hampshire University. She lives in Southeast Arizona and is teaching writing at the University of Arizona and English Composition at Cochise College.picture for Amoskeag

Amoskeag: In your story, Stolen Grief, your main character, June copes with the death of her husband by stealing sentimental objects from each of her friends. As upset as they for losing these things, June continues to steal from her and never confesses. How did she get to that point in their life? Why does she see the world the way she does?

Beth: I wanted to explore grief. How does someone fill the void after losing their spouse? I don’t think June sees herself as a theif, rather she finds solace in taking things. The items calm and ground her. As the story progresses we learn that she is stealing these things for Edward. It keeps him alive in a way that may not make sense to the rest of us.
Amoskeag: Your story starts with a description of the teardrop ruby earrings. What is their significance and what made you start here?

Beth: Beginning in a scene was important to me. Watching June navigate her first night out after her husband passes away seemed like a good place to start. She is with friends at a dinner party. It is something she has done a hundred times, yet without her husband, she is lost. The brilliant red of both the ruby earrings and the strawberries appear bold against such an ordinary setting. If she is caught with the ruby earring there is no denying what she did.

Amoskeag: Did you see the ending coming, or did it suddenly surprise you? How did you prepare for it?

Beth: I rarely see the endings to my stories. The characters guide me through. In an earlier draft, June comes clean and gives back the things she has stolen. I had envisioned that ending before I began writing the story, but June wasn’t ready to that. Sometimes our stories, like our lives, are not tied up in a nice bow. I was surprised to see that June had not reconciled with her grief. I still wonder if the ending works.

Amoskeag: Is your character’s view of the world reflective of the way you see the world? Or were you surprised by what they saw? How they felt?

Beth: I grew up in the suburbs outside of Milwaukee where people belonged to tennis clubs and country clubs and where families vacationed in Florida in the winters and “up north” in the summers. I always felt on the periphery of that kind of lifestyle. I think people looking in thought we all had it together. But that wasn’t the truth at all. My best friend’s father committed suicide. Another friend’s mother embezzled money from a school district and they had to move. A friend of mine was killed in a car wreck, another on a motorcycle. I had boyfriends who did a lot of drugs and drank themselves silly and girlfriends who got hit by the boys they loved and went into the city for abortions. June is in there somewhere. A woman with a seemingly perfect life until it isn’t perfect anymore. The question is, what do you do then?

Amoskeag: June has a lot of built up frustration and nobody quite understands her. “Please Melissa, I wanted to say. Leave me alone. This isn’t something a stranger or pills can fix. I miss your father. That is all.” How did you construct the language of the piece? How did you come to hear and record the feelings of your narrator?

Beth: The language for this story was fun to immerse myself in. This is how the people I grew up with spoke and how they spoke was a reflection of who they were. Like everyone else, their beliefs and ideas about the world were closely tied to language. Earlier I mentioned that people went “up north” for the summer. These two words might not have much meaning at all for someone who did not grow up where I did. Or, depending on where they are from, may have an entirely different meaning. For us, going “up north” meant you would be staying in either some huge mansion your family had on a lake in places like Door County, Rhinelander or Hayward or spending two weeks at a resort where kids had free rein. Language and feelings are intertwined. Using this same example, if someone less fortunate said they were going up north, we pitied them. This meant they would be camping in a tent and eating out of a cooler.
June’s frustration comes from the fact that her life fit the mold. She had it all, but then her husband dies. The people in her circle don’t want things to change so the pressure for her to act “normal” is too great and she finds an outlet. Instead of screaming, “I can’t handle this!” she quietly implodes and steals from her friends.

Amoskeag: June reflects on the relationship Rose has with her husband and the photographs taken from their Hawaii trip. She says, “I need to go to Hawaii where I would never look at a sexy younger man to fulfill my desires because my husband did that. Edward did that.” Why does this line matter in this piece?

Beth: We learn so much about June in these lines. She loved her husband dearly. But we also see the fissure of her grief begin to expand. “Edward did that” is finite. Edward took care of her. He would have never done anything to disappoint her and she’s angry because he’s gone. What she is really thinking about Rose is, “You have everything and you’re screwing it up.”

Amoskeag: How do you feel when a piece gets accepted and readers that you don’t know are now going to complete the story that you worked so hard at to shape?

Beth: I think it’s wonderful. I want people to bring their own “up north” to my stories. I so appreciate when a reader writes and tells me they were surprised at an ending or want to know what happens next. My characters remain alive and vibrant if readers are wondering about them and are caring about them.

Amoskeag: What’s next for you as a writer?

Beth: Right now I am finishing the final draft of my novel, “At River’ Edge” which I hope to find a home for. I am also working on a collection of memoir stories about living in Latin America and a few short stories that are in various stages of revision. My big project is organizing the Cochise Creative Writing Celebration that takes place here in Arizona at the end of March. I’m meeting incredible writers and learning so much about putting together this event, I seem to have little time for anything else. It’s the journey, not the destination, I imagine.

Author Spotlight: Izzy Case

Isadore Case lives in Lawrence, Kansas and works as a contract theology and philosophy teacher. Kill & Eat is his first published story.

??????????Amoskeag: In Kill and Eat, famine strikes, and the three main characters Tony Pranz, John Franklin, and Tye Collins do what they can to make sure their family is fed. Tony, for example, automatically enters survival mode and kills Father Bradley. He then makes John promise not to tell anyone-otherwise he will kill him. He acts much like a savage in order to save himself. How did Tony get to that point in his life? Why does he see the world the way he does?

Izzy: I don’t think Tony’s much like a savage in the important sense that a savage, even in times of duress, still has a fear of and hope in the supernatural. Tony obviously doesn’t, and to him it’s an intolerable injustice that the claims of the transcendent should be preferred to the concrete food needs of his kids. I don’t know how Tony got to the point of making biology the supreme value. I’m a little ashamed to admit, though, that I have this crude image of Tony as having some connection to the mafia in his background, but I don’t remember if the image came from his name or his name came from that image.

Amoskeag: You story opens with a visual description of the priest. “He seemed a walking allegory of starvation”. What made you begin there and why?

Izzy: I think the stock-image most of us have of priests involves someone who’s a little overweight, so it just seemed like the most vivid way to show the effects of the famine would be to describe someone who started out more corpulent than the average member of the community.

Amoskeag: Did you see the ending coming, or did it suddenly surprise you? How did you prepare for it?

Izzy: No, this is a story I wrote backward. The starting image was of a man feeding his kids with his flesh – the rest was trying to figure out a way to lead up to it.

Amoskeag: Each character has a different way of handling their situation. Some of their actions may seem inhumane or selfish, while others, such as Tye Collins, are completely selfless. Are any of your characters’ views of the world reflective of the way you see the world? Or were you surprised by what they saw? How they felt?

Izzy: Oh, well, isn’t the point that you can see yourself in all of them? I guess the ones I really feel furthest from are Tony and Tye – I have a hard time believing I’d have Tony’s guts or Tye’s courage.

Amoskeag: How did you construct the language of the piece? How did you come to hear and record the feelings of your characters?

Izzy: Tye doesn’t say a lot, so he was easy. Tony is the choleric, the steam-roller, so he doesn’t waste words except for his characteristic idiom, “I need you to…” Jolie was easy too, pretty stereotypical shrew. I think probably the hardest of all was Fr. Bradley since he’s got to take a firm and brutal stand about something he isn’t sure of himself. That took some work before I felt I’d got it across.

Amoskeag: Why does the setting matter in this piece?

Izzy: The setting was by far the hardest part – I needed a famine but I didn’t want to tackle a third-world scenario or a different language. Fortunately I’d been to a former mining town in Alaska when I was a kid that seemed to do the job since the community there had no legal structure, no firearms (I think), and a car could only get to or from the town when the river was frozen. So I made the town an island and widened the river enough to get some decent rapids and the rest fell into place.

Amoskeag: How do you feel when a piece gets accepted and readers that you don’t know are now going to complete the story that you worked so hard at to shape?

Izzy: You know since it’s my story I actually know how it ends so for me there’s all kinds of closure. I do feel bad, a bit, for people who never get to find out for sure whether the sacrifices in the story delayed death for just one meal or for longer. Delaying death one meal’s worth is significant in itself, of course, but I’m the only one to know who survived the famine, and how. The perks of authorship.

Amoskeag: What’s next for you as a writer?

Izzy: As far as I can tell more of the same. I like writing stories, I like sending them to the few friends I have who actually enjoy reading them, and then I like sending them out to see if anyone wants to publish them. I particularly like the challenge of trying to make something my wife will enjoy (she doesn’t have a lot of interest in literature) that can still measure up to the standards of serious journals. So it’s fun, I can’t see why I wouldn’t keep doing it.

Author Spotlight: Rodger Martin

Rodger Martin teaches journalism at Keene State College. His latest volume of poetry, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Battlefield Guide, was chosen by Small Press Review as one of its bi-monthly picks of the year. He has been awarded an Appalachia award and has received fellowships to study T.S. Elliot and Thomas Hardy at Oxford University and John Milton at Duquesne University. He directs the Milton Ensemble and is currently serving as editor for Hobblebush books Granite State Poetry Series.

Amoskeag: Your narrator thinks about his/her father and reflects upon the different things he did for his children, regarding the father as a “shepherd”. How does the narrator get to that point in their life? Why do they see the world the way they do?

Rodger: The poem arcs back in time with the narrator as an adult looking back on a childhood memory. The narrator recognizes something as an adult he did not recognize as a child: That a father of six children without a mother had an almost Herculean task of trying to raise children alone in those mid-Twentieth Century years. As a child, the narrator saw the father as an entity who was always about but never really entered into a child’s world–akin to the Peanuts comic strip where the adult world is exists as unintelligible background sound while the children create their own make-believe worlds oblivious to the adult world that supports their pretending.

As to how the narrator found that perspective? He has become a father himself who raised children likely as part of a pair-bond and suddenly realized the weight that must have rested on his father’s shoulders trying to do it not for one or two children but for six and trying to do it solo.

For the narrator this realization of what his father accomplished, shepherding these children through to adulthood without losing any of them, and the strain that must have taken on his body and soul (The implication is the father is no longer present.) brings a great sadness because the narrator was able to tell his father he finally understood what he had done. The weight and constancy of that memory is evidenced in the relentlessness of the darkness, the weather, the constant motions of the train, and the ferry and probably the wit’s-end absurdity of putting children on a ferry to keep them entertained. The implication is that he has also taken them away from something they remain unaware. What that something is left to the listener.

This leads into the father and why he sees what he sees. Besides taking them away from something, he is also slumped against the cold, steel bow of the ferry. He can push whatever it is that weighs on him no further, he has reached his limits, he may have planned something further but cannot do it and so gathers his children and returns to the world he almost left and moves on. Again, whether he was contemplating something terrible, fleeing, or lost, matters little except that he pulls back to try again one more day.

Amoskeag: Your poem begins by listing various towns along the Thames. What is the significance? Why did you begin “there”?

Rodger:Your question has made me wonder exactly how I did begin the poem so I’ve pulled out my drafts to have a look. On the very first draft, which is hand-written and likely legible to no one but myself, I did begin with the towns. They are real towns in Kent along the railroad line between Charring Cross in London and the towns along the River Thames where I lived as a child. I liked the repetition of the names because their cadences paralleled the sound of the train’s journey. I edited towns out (Barnehurst) which didn’t add to that effect.

I was then and still am a lover of trains so it’s not surprising to me towns along a train track show up in my writing. Why do so many of the Harry Potter stories begin with a ride on Hogwart’s Express. The trains were a childhood’s symbolic escape from the home-land, someone else did the driving. You got on and went on an adventure.

Amoskeag: Did you see the ending coming, or did it suddenly surprise you? How did you prepare for it?
Rodger: I knew the end because the poem was based on a memory of an actual event. It had been a memory that always remained hidden from others in that I never spoke about it, but it remained clear to me, recurring regularly. I see a note at the top of my first draft indicating the sound of three Chinese bells. I’m going to guess I heard them and they reminded me of this trip and Chinese bells are bringing up that kind of memory, I needed to investigate. Poems are how I investigate those things.

Amoskeag: Is your character’s view of the world reflective of the way you see the world? Or were you surprised by what they saw and how they felt?

Rodger: The narrator’s view of the world is closely related to my own. But the character of the father is an imagining. I do not know what my father was thinking or doing. It was something I observed and took me decades growing-up before I could imagine the possibilities and the weights associated with those possibilities. Perhaps if I had asked my father, the answer might have been so mundane as to remove the need for the poem in the first place.
But the ambiguity of not knowing permits the poem to open into all the vast possibilities– past, present, and future–parents struggle with in ushering their children alive and safe into adulthood.

Amoskeag: You use words such as “pirated”, ”slopped”, and “sloshing”. How did you construct the language of the piece? How did you come to hear and record the feelings of your narrator?

Rodger: Part of that would be a child’s ability to imagine and pretend. We could easily make a pirate ship out of a ferry. The sensuousness of the sea sounds in “slopped” and “sloshing” I hope would bring the event alive in a listener’s imagination. You also have that with “flushed” and “salty,” and somewhat with “drizzle,” the s/z-sounds mimicing waves.
To record the feelings of the narrator came easily. It was a personal memory, and as I relive the memory I relive the feelings. The sounds come from experience, I’ve ridden trains, ships, planes all my life. I love to travel. I listen to those sounds, smell those smells, and try to find the language that echoes them.

Amoskeag: What is the significance of the last line, “We broached the far shore and simply, the way we came, returned.”?

Rodger: Literally, my mother died of cancer when I was seven. My father married her during World War II. We moved stateside and when she died, my father packed all five children (ages 9 to 3) up and moved back to England where he married my mother’s cousin who added a daughter and eventually a seventh child to the pack. Not surprisingly, it all fell apart and one day we were packed up again and returned to the USA. So in one sense the poem is about that family’s journey.
Symbolically, it is a tribute to any parent facing immense, relentless hardship who looks for an escape, reaches that “far shore” and then realizes the option, whatever that option, was wrong and turns back to the world again. It’s a tribute to parenting.

Amoskeag: How do you feel when a piece gets accepted and readers that you don’t know are now going to complete the poem that you worked so hard at to shape? What do you want the readers to feel and what do you hope to accomplish through your writing?
Rodger: I’m pleased when a poem gets accepted. I don’t worry too much about what the reader will do. I trust the readers and listeners to go wherever they need the poem to take them. I figure they will likely see things I didn’t imagine when I wrote the poem—like the final line of this poem. When I wrote it I was thinking only of that ferry ride. It has only been much later (like when you asked me the question ) that I realized it was also a family’s ride back-and-forth between two continents.

Amoskeag: What’s next for you as a poet/writer?
Rodger: I’ll keep writing the poems as they work their way out of me (which usually means six to twelve a year). I’ll continue my blog (OpenSalon.com, Monadnock Pastoral) where I have discovered I rarely have anything worth saying except about four times a year. I’m in awe of those prolific bloggers. I’m just not that interesting.
I’m toying with the idea of a train collection of poetry and perhaps a collaboration of place poems and photography with a photographer capturing the place of the poem in some special way. Hmm, maybe we’ll get to go to Tillbury, Kent, UK.

Author Spotlight: Trisha M. Cowen

Trisha M Cowen is a PhD student at Binghamton University where she studies American literature and fiction writing. Her work has been published in The Portland Review, 2 Bridges Review, Bitter Oleander Review, among others. She’s currently working on a historical fiction novel and teaching Early American Literature in Zhenjiang, China.PhotoTrisha

Amoskeag: Your narrator is intelligent and mature enough to understand certain things, such as the fact that “Mama ain’t coming back” yet she remains inquisitive and mildly hopeful of the world around her. How did she get to that point in her life? Why does she see the world the way she does?

Trisha: My narrator, essentially, has had to raise herself. Her mother leaves her and takes a barn cat instead of taking her, and her father isolates her emotionally. She is a realist in that she knows her mother won’t be back for her, but she’s also still very much a child. She has not given up on love, nor has she given up on her father. She sees love displayed in the world; for example, through the family of barn cats. She knows love exists, although she has yet to find it.

Amoskeag: Why did you begin with an image of the father beginning to play the harmonica? What made you begin “there” and what inspired you to shape the narrator’s “daddy” as an intimidating and potentially violent being?

Trisha: I began the story with an image of the narrator witnessing her father play the harmonica because it is the first time she sees her father in a different light. She has had one image of her father, assumingly since the departure of her mother, and observing her father play a musical instrument makes her question her idea of who her father is and was. The seemingly mundane moment is pivotal to the narrator’s conception of who her father is as well as her own identity. She is in such disbelief that she thinks her father may eat the harmonica, instead of play it since, to her, he’s always been better, metaphorically, at taking the music away. Unbeknownst to her, he is capable of creating something beautiful.

I shaped the narrator’s “daddy” as an intimidating figure because I wanted to emphasize how isolated the narrator is. The narrator is a girl-woman simply searching for love, especially from her father who doesn’t pay much attention to her due to his own pain. As she watches her father play the harmonica, she realizes that there may be something about her father that she overlooked, and that he may have been different before the narrator’s mother left them. The story culminates in her silent realization that her father used to play music for her and, perhaps more importantly, that he used to display his love for her.

Amoskeag: Did you see the ending coming, or did it suddenly surprise you? How did you prepare for it?

Trisha: I knew the ending before I wrote the rest of the story. As a writer, I tend to work in a very non- linear fashion. In the case of this story, I knew I wanted to write about making maple syrup. Making maple syrup with my own father was one of my favorite activities growing up. Of course, I am very lucky to have a wonderful father, unlike the character in my story, but the story’s roots came from my own childhood memories of making syrup with my father. I was always afraid that the great vat of sap would overflow and be sucked back into the earth before we could finish it. I don’t remember this ever happening; however, the memory of my own fear as a kid is where the ending of my story is derived.

Amoskeag: Is your narrator’s view of the world in any way reflective of the way you see the world? Or were you surprised by what they saw and how they felt?

Trisha: I like to take readers to unfamiliar, unexpected places because as a writer I like to also be taken down a path of unfamiliarity. I write best when I write about what I do not know—yes, this may be the opposite of what the average creative writing textbook will tell you but, for me, this holds true. My world view is quite different from my narrator’s but, for a moment, I was able to imagine what it would be like to be a girl on the cusp of womanhood, trying to negotiate her identity devoid of healthy models of what it means to be an adult. Was I surprised by what she experienced? Sure was. But that’s what made it fun to write.

Amoskeag: Even though there is no dialogue, the words and ideas of the narrator flow evenly and without interruption. What advice would you give to other writers in success of the writing process?
Trisha: Thank you. My advice for writers is to first know your characters. We must constantly ask ourselves: how would our characters see the world, and how would they tell you about it? To me, character is the most important craft element. Once I am able to dislocate my own voice from my character’s voice, I know I’m ready to start writing from another perspective. This piece is driven by voice, so until I could hear my character’s voice in my head, I was unable to write this piece. As writers, we must have the capacity to “hear” our own writing, as well as to trust in the unfamiliar. As my favorite writer Toni Morrison once said, “The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.”

Amoskeag: What makes the last line, “I think and decide that maybe, at one time, he thought me beautiful, like the sap that will turn to sweet, sweet sugar if he just don’t let it boil over” so significant in this piece?

Trisha: I believe this is a pivotal line because in this scene the narrator juxtaposes herself against the sap. She watches her father tend and care for the sap as it matures and transforms into sweet maple syrup while, at the same time, her father ignores his daughter’s maturation. The narrative suggests that, at one time, her father did watch her and play music for her but he let her metaphorically “boil over,” as he neglects to tend to her any longer. In this scene, the narrator mourns for the love that is only offered to the sap. Now, this is my interpretation of the final scene. I welcome other readings.

Amoskeag: How do you feel when a piece gets accepted and readers that you don’t know are now going to complete the story that you worked so hard at to shape? What do you hope to achieve through your writing?

Trisha: Once I write something and send a piece out, I have accepted that the work is no longer mine. I’ve labored over it, and now it’s someone else’s turn to be taken captive by the voices in my head. (I do mean that in the sanest way possible.) I encourage others to find their own interpretations of the work. Good stories make me work for the meaning, but give enough so that I can create interpretations from the text.
Through my writing, I do hope to make people think. I want to place layers into the story, so that if they read it again, they will notice different things. But most of all, I want to make readers forget they are reading. A writer truly must work to weave the strings of a story just so; one minute the reader is reading the story and the words are there and the next moment the words disappear and the characters come alive. That is what I aim to do as a writer.

Amoskeag: What’s next for you as a writer?

Trisha: Currently, I’m working on my dissertation to complete my doctorate degree at Binghamton University. I’m writing a fiction novel about sexual slavery during World War II Japan. I’m currently teaching in Zhenjiang, China and plan to travel to Japan to do more research for my novel while I’m in Asia. When I graduate, I plan to apply for university teaching positions in both contemporary literature and creative writing.

Author Spotlight: Gaylord Brewer

Gaylord is currently a professor at Middle Tennessee State. He has published in Best American Poetry and the Bedford Introduction to Literature. He is the author of eight books of poetry, the most recent being Give Over, Graymalkin

Amoskeag: Your poem begins with “Steaming kettle, cracked bowl, palms / risen dripping to the face.” What made you start here and why?IMG_2816

Gaylord: Three reasons come to mind. To begin the action quickly and physically, the former for narrative interest and latter as counterpoint to the ethereal quality of the poem’s inhabitants. I also liked the incantatory syllabics, evocative perhaps of a witch’s spell, and the hard consonants. Of course, I’m also invoking and playing with a baptismal motif of cleansing. That may be more than three reasons.

Amoskeag: What does poetry mean to you and has your idea of poetry changed since you began writing? If so, how?

Gaylord: This is a significant and far-reaching question, perhaps so much so that the scope and years and personal change involved make it nearly impossible to answer truthfully or meaningfully. Poetry has treated me well for the last thirty years, and I try to show it a good time, too. I’m less angry and limber than I used to be, but there are compensations of perspective, guile, and toughness. Regarding this poem in particular, I like it enough to have sent it out into the world to fend for itself.

Amoskeag: Did you see the ending coming, or did it suddenly surprise you? How did you prepare for it?

Gaylord: I sense in your question some particular response to the ending that you’ve not articulated but that on an intuitive level I recognize and appreciate. Generally, at some point the ending begins to show itself, somewhere there down the lane, around the turn, emerging from the murky dawn. If it’s in the headlights from the beginning, that’s obviously a problem. The way you prepare is to accelerate, trusting your decades of driving instincts.

Amoskeag: Is your narrator’s view of the world in any way reflective of the way you see the world? Or were you surprised by what they saw? How they felt?

Gaylord: By “they,” perhaps you mean “he,” or even “she”? This is a fairly private party between Ghost and his/her stenographer. I think. I’ve been debating for five years whom exactly the narrator of the Ghost poems is when that ghoulish old boy isn’t speaking for himself. I’ve had some hints, and I’ve concocted some theories. To answer your question, I would say I share some of the speaker’s elusive and sometimes cynical conceits, but not all.

Amoskeag: What can you reflect upon the movement of your poetry—from line to line, idea to idea, image to image? How did you reflect the emotions of the narrator through your words?

Gaylord: I’d like a vibrant, balletic movement line to line, and a surprising inevitability, to misquote Aristotle, in the juxtaposition of image and revelation of sustained idea. Emotions are iterated and reflected through action, reverence, mystery, and obedience to Ghost’s often demanding insistence upon attention to his needs.

Amoskeag: What or why does the Ghost matter in this piece?

Gaylord: You’d better not let him overhear you asking that. To be honest, though, I’m not sure I understand the question. When Ghost beckons—whether with a regretted event to confess, a fractured dream to mitigate, or with some message he feels the urgency to report in his own weary voice—I listen and record. Hey, it’s his poem. I’m here to humbly serve and then stay the hell out of the way.

Amoskeag: How do you feel when a piece gets accepted and readers that you don’t know are now going to complete the poem that you worked so hard at to shape?

Gaylord: I feel fine with the process of publication and readers.

Amoskeag: What’s next for you as a poet/writer?

Gaylord: In additional response to your previous question, an entire book of Ghost poems—my ninth collection, which arrived incrementally over three intense summers and as a surprise to me—entitled Country of Ghost, will be published by Red Hen Press in early 2015. In time, I am told, for the AWP Bookfair in Minneapolis to celebrate and lament my 50th birthday a week earlier. That’s the plan, if I’m alive. If I’m not, I suppose they’ll celebrate anyway. In the meantime, spring 2014, Stephen F. Austin University Press is publishing a culinary memoir, if you will, called The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, and Desire. A cheeky hybrid of recipes, memories, snippets of poetry, and general kitchen insolence. I hope folks will find the book and enjoy it. Wait until you try the caramel-bourbon sauce. You’ll love me all over again. The next book after those is top secret.
Anyway, with two books, two very different books, appearing less than a year apart, I’ll be out and about, roving and cajoling. Folks can contact me or keep up with the hustle at my website (www.gaylordbrewer.com). Thanks for asking, by the way, and for your thoughtful attention.

Author Spotlight: Alice B. Fogel

Alice is currently a teacher at Keene State College and Landmark College. Alice has published in Best American Poetry and the 2008 Poet’s Guide to NH, and elsewhere. She has also published books such as The Strange Terrain: A Poetry Handbook for the Reluctant Reader and Be That Empty; which was #8 on National Poetry Society’s bestselling list.

IMG_0406(1)Amoskeag: Your poem opens with “The house unlike you loves the passage”. Who is the    narrator speaking to and what is he/she trying to communicate? Why did you begin “there”?

Alice: The poem (and the whole series it is part of) is written in the 3rd person, in the point of view of a house speaking to its inhabitants as “you.” I like starting these poems right off with a plain statement that reveals that voice. The house is a kind of omniscient narrator, and while the house has its feelings about things, the house is also wiser than its people. I think what the house wants to convey here is that you can’t “save” time by saving the things of time. Instead we should pay attention, now, to now.

Amoskeag: How is the last line, “no matter how many times you crumble it always weaves another home” relevant to the poem? What kind of message are you trying to send to the reader?

Alice: Because of the lack of punctuation (other than those implied or imposed by line breaks), the poem’s sentences have to be interpreted and reinterpreted as they are read, through shifting expectations, and through inflection and participation in making sense. The “it” at the end of the next to last line at first refers to the spider’s web recently spoken of, and then switches to refer to the spider itself. Do “you” crumble the web, or do “you” yourself crumble (fall apart, cry, feel lost)? Each and both. So to answer the question about message–the messages are multiple, and while there is almost a kind of moral imperative suggested here (wrap and unwrap each day–like the gift it is), some of the others are about syntax and possible meaning, others about how we read, how we construct meaning, construct a home, a life.

Amoskeag: Did you see the ending coming, or did it suddenly surprise you? How did you prepare for it?

Alice: All poems surprise me. I would have to look back at early drafts to determine how much I “knew” this ending before I put it there, but I do remember that the spider web was one of the triggers for the poem. Being way out in the woods and fields, my actual house gets a lot of critters in it, and some spider webs are so prodigious that they actually do sound like plastic wrap from a package when I try to remove them–and then they’re back the next day. I don’t always try to destroy them (maybe if they’re in my kitchen I will) because I think spiders are so cool. Apparently the house thinks so too, because it’s advising “you” to be more like them. The poem sets us up for the spider by using a lot of spidery language all throughout: “knit a bridge,” “spin,” “crawl,” “sticky,” “houseflies,” “spoke of the wheel.” A reader might not think of a spider when reading those words, but maybe subliminally there’s a kind of preparation happening.

Amoskeag: Is your narrator’s view of the world reflective of the way you see the world? Or were you surprised by what they saw and how they felt?

Alice: Through this series, I have learned so much from the house (the narrator). Using the house’s voice instead of mine gave me new perspectives. It was terrific fun, and also sometimes felt like it was saving my life.

Amoskeag: Throughout your poem, you employ similes such as the one in line 26, “Like the spider overnight constructs a web so thick”. How and why did you construct and incorporate these into the piece?

Alice: Most poems that I write are a layering of images or associations that adhere to each other as I compose. If I use a simile it’s probably because I want to connect something else that furthers the visceral sensations I’m playing with. In a way, almost the whole poem is made up of comparisons or additions that just don’t literally spell out the words “like” or “as.” I wouldn’t want to just throw in any simile; it has to push the overall effect of the poem into some kind of emotion-based shape, so it’s all of a piece–at least for me.

Amoskeag: The poem adopts a mood of regret as the narrator discards fragments and memories of his/her past. How did you come to develop, hear and record the feelings of your narrator?

Alice: I would have to go to analysis to find out why the house often has that slightly wistful tone. It reminds me of C. S. Lewis’s plea to consider that God feels about each of us the way we feel about that person in our lives, “X,” who so disappoints us and “shipwrecks” our dreams. Why don’t we look to ourselves when considering who ought to get his shit together? Certainly, in this poem containing so much about time’s accretions and losses, time’s pentimento, and how badly the people in the house (the “you”) handle these, it would have been hard for the narrator to avoid that mood of regret.

Amoskeag: How do you feel when a piece gets accepted and readers that you don’t know are now going to complete the poem that you worked so hard at to shape? What do you hope to achieve as a poet and what do you want your readers to feel?

Alice: A poem needs to be read. As you suggest, it’s what completes its purpose. I am grateful when one of my poems gets read seriously by an editor, when it’s accepted and given to more readers, and I love letting go of it then and feeling free to move on. Carl Sandburg once said there were only four things he needed in life, and one of them was having his writings published. (Another one was to not be in jail.) It’s fundamental for any artist to have her work taken into consideration as an act of value. As for what I hope to achieve as a poet–why not shoot high? I want to make something that wasn’t there before, something impossible to say or to make, and yet true, something, in that sense, like each of us–and I want readers (I could stop right there–I want readers) to find that impossibility nevertheless there in the poem and feel it spreading through their bones, even if it never occurs to them to think about it that way, and I hope that somehow that uplifts our shared value of the mystery in or of life.

Amoskeag: What’s next for you as a poet/writer?

Alice: I am working on a series of poems responding to abstract expressionist art, trying to explore what happens to our cognition when we’re confronted with something that doesn’t seem to represent reality, or that represents a reality we have little language (and therefore coherent thought) for. Looking at the art is inspiring and exciting, and the poems arise in that spirit.

Author Spotlight: Nat Schmookler

Nat Schmookler graduated in 2011 from Harvard College where, among other subjects, he studied writing. “The Can Down the Road” is his second published story; the first appeared in Gulf Stream in 2012. He lives in New York and is a freelance writer and editor.

Amoskeag: Your main characteDSCN284r is hopeful as he faces extreme difficulties with a person whom he deeply cares about. How does the narrator, as well as Mel, get to these points in their lives?  What makes their personal views of the world so different from one another?

Nat: I’m not sure I agree that their perspectives are really so different. I think what makes them a great match is that they both believe that things will be better in the future. That’s what keeps them going in spite of the obvious horror of their relationship. And that’s why things can get to such a state: they both say to themselves (and each other) that things will soon improve. The metaphor I imagine is that of a family locking itself in the cellar to wait for a storm to pass over: It’s horrible while you wait, but imagine how glad you’ll be once you emerge to those clear blue skies.

Amoskeag: Are either of your characters perspectives of the world reflective of the way you see the world?  Or were you surprised by what they saw and how they felt?

Nat: So far in my stories, I have found that the only compelling characters I’ve managed to create are those I can empathise with. To me that means that I can catch glimpses of what’s going on inside them and see what it feels like to be them. Does Joe Protagonist massage a sense of victimhood when he sits in traffic? Does he care that he forgot to pack a lunch? What thoughts does he keep at bay by watching baseball? All these aspects and countless others, if considered from very far away, blend together to become our “point of view.” And, if my characters come off as believable, it is because I managed to get a sense of that point of view. So, I suppose that means I do share a point of view with my characters, at least partially, but that doesn’t mean they can’t also surprise me. That surprise comes when I realize how wrong I was in my assessment, and some new piece slides into place. That surprise is a great feeling.

Amoskeag:   Why did you begin “there”?  What inspired you to choose such a sensitive issue /conflict for your story?

Nat: Those who struggle with body issues and eating disorders are an appallingly large group in this country, and this group is troublingly faceless. There is no Michael J. Fox for this group, so it felt important to humanize those peculiar sterile words “bulimia” and “anorexia.” To that end, I started in the car, hoping to capture the words’ essence: crisis. The story starts in the middle of one and it ends when the crisis defused. But of course it isn’t really defused; there will be another one the next day, and the next day. The story could have started anywhere and have been more or less the same.

Amoskeag: Did you plan for your story to end the way it did and why/why not?

Nat: I did not. I’ve only written one story whose end I knew when I start, and I felt it came out too tidy and therefore absent of life. Much better for me is to start with a character or situation that interests me, and see where it takes me. Each story is always telling you where it needs to go next, you just have to listen. My hope is that if I find my ending surprising, the reader will too.

Amoskeag: How did you construct the language of the piece?  How did you come to hear and record the feelings of your narrator?

Nat: To the extent that I thought explicitly about tone, my thought was this: the pacing has to be just right. Moments of crisis seem to move by at breakneck speed, but not quite: they also lurch into moments of odd overfull stillness. I wanted the reader to experience the event with the narrator, so it was important to get his sense of time. But how does one strike that tone? Couldn’t say. Lots of drafts though.

Amoskeag: What is the significance of the line “You don’t love me, you’re ashamed of me”?

Nat: This is the line Mel uses to get the narrator to relent and put off the confrontation. He decides to wait until a better moment to press her to keep her word. Of course, she won’t keep her word next time either. The line is also significant, I hope, because I believe that Mel is correct. The narrator is lying either to her or to himself, and it’s true he no longer loves her. Sooner or later, he’ll confirm her worst fear.

Amoskeag: How do you feel when a piece gets accepted and readers that you don’t know are now going to complete the story that you worked so hard at to shape? What emotions do you want the readers to feel or what messages do you want them to comprehend?

Nat: It feels great! As a young writer with little chance of getting paid for my stories any time soon, writing is necessarily a solitary labor of love. I write because I love it, because I need it, because I don’t know what else I’d do. And so when a story gets accepted, it means that somebody connected with what I wrote, and that makes me feel more confident in my work. But I don’t have specific emotions or messages I’m trying to communicate; I’m not sure fiction is a great medium for messages and, even if it were, I don’t have one. Instead, I just hope that each reader finds the story engaging enough to finish, and gets enough from it to be glad to have done so.

Amoskeag: What’s next for you as a writer?

Nat: This fall I’m taking a fiction workshop at the 92Y and applying to MFA programs for next year. And, of course, doing at least a little bit of writing each day.