Monday, August 21, 2017

Julie Carr, Objects from a Borrowed Confession

Therefore the question “Does God exist” is the wrong question.

The answer for religious and non-religious people is the same: no. God does not “exist,” is an object constructed not according to truth but verisimilitude. A literary truth. What exists, says the philosopher to the children, are relationships between us humans, and also the idea of nothingness. These relationships can be more or less activated; we can think about them a lot, or only a little. Also, all of us can think about nothing when we want to. Everyone can entertain the idea of “nothingness” as easily as they can think about their mother. As easily as they can think about their son. A process is always distinct from its products. But whether thinking about it, imagining it, or refusing to, we’re always in some relationship with this nothing, and so, though God does not exist, it also does not exist, and so God is, if we want to say “is,” always on the side of the sky, with the sky open. (“Objects from a Borrowed Confession”)

Denver poet Julie Carr’s latest is Objects from a Borrowed Confession (Boise ID: Ahsahta Press, 2017), a collection that explores the form and arguments of confession, the intimate and “confessional poetry.” Through a blend of forms, Objects from a Borrowed Confession weaves poetry, memoir and critical prose to compose a lyric essay on the very nature of confession itself, as she writes to open the “Author Statement” that accompanies the press release [the full version of which is also available via the Ahsahta Press web page]:

The works in Objects from a Borrowed Confession have been written over a stretch of approximately ten years, in and around the writing of various other books of poetry and prose. They all share a common obsession with the theme of confession. I became interested in this theme partially because the term “confessional poetry” carried such negative connotations when I was “coming up” in poetry, even as poets considered “confessional,” especially Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich, had been so important to me as a young writer. The situation was similar to being a hard-core punk kid while sometimes listening to Joni Mitchell in my bedroom. I wanted to think about what the Language Poets and the Conceptual Poets had against “confession,” but I also wanted to see why confession was so important to our broader culture. Obviously, in the age of Facebook and the memoir, everyone is a confessional poet, and I wanted to explore that impulse and the attraction we have to one another’s secrets. On a more philosophical level, I wanted to understand what the act of confession has to do with intimacy, empathy and subjectivity.

Through ten sections, Objects from a Borrowed Confession exists as a curious meeting point between the works of New York poet Rachel Zucker and American non-fiction writer Sarah Manguso, composing a conversation illuminating what it is about “confession” that seems so frightening, and easy to dismiss by both writers and readers alike. Thick as a thesis, Carr’s lyric, ten years in the making, is perfectly timed, given the shifts in memoir-writing, non-fiction and, quite pointedly, the “confession,” via writers such as Manguso and Maggie Nelson. In comparison, Objects from a Borrowed Confession retains a strong foothold in poetry, and might even be better to compare to Jasmine Dreame Wagner’s more recent (and quite remarkable) On a clear day (Ahsahta Press, 2017) [see my review of such here] (or even works by Sue Landers and Susan Howe). As Carr writes: “I confess here and now to liking the shape of my own lips as they enact / the future of feeling on a minor scale my focus as narrow as my ambition is grand but these are / ideas we have encountered before so perhaps it’s time to alter my font?”

Highlights abound, but I’ll point out the book’s penultimate section, the three part “By beauty and by fear: on narrative time,” in which her prose ebbs and flows like water, utilizing quotes and rhythmic pauses to explore how narrative time, itself, ebbs and flows, as a microcosm of the book as a whole. We need far more of these, still: fiercely smart books engaged with the world and composed with the whole head, and whole heart. As she writes as part of part two of that same section, “NAME”:

That verb “befall” hints at the crisis that circles the act of naming. The verb dates back to Old English (897), and seems to have meant simply “to fall” until the 12th century where it begins to also mean “to inherit”—which is certainly one of Blake’s meanings here. But as I search the OED I find that almost all instances of “befall,” where it takes an indirect object (“thee”), indicate an inheritance that is bad or dangerous—that will leave its object worse off, not better.

“I do not know what it gives,” wrote H.D. of the “jewel” vibrating at the center of her poem “Tribute to the Angels”: “a vibration that we can not name, // for there is no name for it; / my patron said, ‘name it’; // I said, I can not name it, there is no name” (Trilogy 76). Patrons, kings, queens—need things named. Poets, though they trade in words (or because they do), recognize and defend the unnameable core that burns.

Before named, the infant of Blake’s poem is pure happiness. Language can’t even organize itself correctly around that happiness (I happy am). But once named, once “called,” it suffers a fall, one could say, into narrative. No easy opposition, then, between the fear of no narrative and the comfort of having one. Because as soon as you begin to tell yourself, something of yourself is lost. And not all narratives, dear mothers and fathers, dear children, end well.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Catherine Cooper

Catherine Cooper is a Nova Scotian author with a master’s degree in English literature and creative writing from Concordia University. Her first book, The Western Home: Stories for Home on the Range, was  published by Pedlar Press in 2014. Her first novel, White Elephant, was a finalist for the 2017 First Novel Award. She lives in New Zealand, where she is working on a second novel.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
The ways that my first book changed my life were subtle and intangible, which isn’t to say they were insignificant. My second book was harder to write than the first one, and the one I’m working on now is harder than the second. I’m drawn to writing about things that make me uncomfortable, and that seems to be ramping up over time, so each book has required me to go through more fear and doubt and especially shame, which is obviously inhibiting but also, in my experience, rewarding if you can get through it.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?

I actually came to poetry first. When I was 11, I suddenly started writing very dark, melodramatic poems. My mother thought I was a genius, and she bought every poem I wrote (I think she paid a quarter). I used it as a way to get out of doing chores, which enraged my brothers, because I would always be inspired to write whenever something needed doing around the house. I thought I had a great thing going on until I found out that my mother had mailed a bound collection of my poems to friends and family all over the world. I think I found out because my eldest sister was concerned about me. The poems really were very dark. I didn’t take up creative writing again until my mid-twenties, and I don’t know why I chose to focus on fiction then.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
Each book has been different, and nothing has come quickly. My books have all required a lot of research, so there are many layers of notes, and the process of sifting the details of my research into story, character and setting is one of my favourite aspects of writing. Of course it’s also very tricky and time consuming, and as a reader I appreciate so much when it’s done well, which for me means that you don’t notice it at all.

4 - Where does a work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Before I knew how much goes into writing a book, I came up with ideas for books all the time, but now it takes a lot for me to think of a project as a longer work. For me, a work of fiction usually begins when I encounter something and think this is a story. After that, I’ll carry that idea or image around until I’ve figured out what kind of story it could be. In the meantime, I filter the things I see and experience according to their potential usefulness to that story, and slowly connections emerge and things start to take shape. After that, the writing is just trying to realize the initial idea.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I’m not a natural public speaker, but I’ve had to learn to get over myself and do it anyway, and more than anything I feel grateful to have had opportunities to share my work in that way, even if it’s a bit overwhelming sometimes. What I’ve found helpful is remembering that I can do readings as myself. I don’t have to be any more knowledgeable or less awkward than I am.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
The questions I’m interested in are the same ones I assume we all have and will always have, and I don't think I'm trying to answer them as much as I'm depicting other people trying. The theme that is consistent in most of what I write is the tension between the desire to understand—to put the world in order—and the ways in which life thwarts that desire while maybe opening a door to a deeper understanding (which might transcend understanding altogether). I can’t write about what it’s like to arrive there, if such a thing is possible, but I can write about attempts and failures.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
It depends. Maybe one writer’s role is to make one person feel less alone, or to find the courage to express something only to herself. Of course there are much more lofty roles that writers can play, but I don’t think should comes into it.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Both. The last editor I worked with was Barbara J. Scott, who edited my novel White Elephant. From the first time we spoke, I felt like she understood exactly what I was trying to do, and she was able to identify how I was missing the mark and make concrete suggestions for improvement. There was one significant thing that we disagreed on, and she wrote me an email where she basically said, “Ultimately it’s up to you, but these are the reasons why I think you should make this change.” During the course of reading that email, I went from “I won’t do it” to “I’ll do it, but I won’t like it” to “Of course she’s right, and obviously I’ll do it.” And I’m a stubborn person. So it depends on the editor and how well-matched you are. I’ve been very lucky.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I liked George Saunders’ advice about climbing your own mountain. He spoke to our class at Concordia, and he talked about how when he first started writing he was trying to climb Hemingway mountain, or whatever the example was, but then at some point he realized that he was only ever going to be the guy hanging out on the side of that mountain, because Hemingway (or whoever the example was) was already at the top. So he decided to climb his own mountain.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (short stories to the novel)? What do you see as the appeal?
I didn’t find it very difficult to move between genres. The catalyst for the novel was bigger than the catalyst for the short story from the beginning, so the novel required more stamina, but it also had a bigger engine.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I really try to keep a routine, but it doesn’t work because I move around too much.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Usually I read my favourite books. I’m not as well read as I would like to be because I tend to reread the books I love. Right now I'm rereading Mating, by Norman Rush. I also find music helpful when I’m stuck, so I usually have a playlist for whatever I’m working on, but I try not to listen to it unless I really need to, because the effect wears off.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The smell of gas fumes reminds me of Canada, feijoa reminds me of New Zealand, and white sage reminds me of the Czech Republic.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Right now I’m influenced by Czech folk music, which is a big part of the book I’m working on. I’m also influenced by medicine, and most of what I write is related to medicine somehow.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Leonard Cohen and Jaromir Nohavica have both been important to me. Leonard Cohen’s music helped me a lot when I went through a rough time as a teenager.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I would like to finish the novel I’m working on.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

I think I would have been a medical anthropologist, and I also work part time as a cook, so medical anthropologist/cook.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I guess a part of it is that the other things I tried didn’t work out very well, but I also find writing very helpful. Everything I write is inspired by something personal, which I am able to explore through the distance offered by a fictional story. It’s probably unsophisticated to talk about writing as autotherapy, but I see it as a fair trade-off between my writer self and my everyday self that one gets material and the other, through the process of writing, gets a new perspective.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The last great book I read was The Best Kind of People, by Zoe Whittall. The last great film I saw was Get Out.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a second novel, a love story set in the Czech Republic.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Rachel B. Glaser, HAIRDO


they breathe it in and can’t think of anything else
an Unscented one takes on a metallic scent
they overwhelm themselves and want to run out
but last forever and slowly lose their minds

Northampton MA writer Rachel B. Glaser’s fourth book (and second poetry collection) is HAIRDO (The Song Cave, 2017), the oddest combination of surreal and straightforward lyric, composing a series of first-person explorations of self and the world. These are poems meant to be heard. Reflecting an occasionally dark and risqué humour, poems such as “TEENAGE GIRLS HOT FOR THE EIFFEL TOWER,” “THOSE WOMAN WOMAN MAN THREESOMES IN PORN” and “WHILE I WAS A TREMENDOUS TEENAGER, YOU WERE STILL READING THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY OF BOWSER” are composed through a bravado that shows the narrator as a force to be reckoned with. Neither easy, straightforward or safe, Glaser’s poems are forceful, insistent and wonderfully confident, unflinching even in her self-assessments or self-criticisms, and might just require to be read aloud, for the sake of understanding what it is she is doing, especially through poems that might appear to be writing out juvenile narratives of girls who love their guitar teachers, movies, parties and other essential ephemerae of youth. The end of the poem “WHILE I WAS A TREMENDOUS…” reads:

I couldn’t be bothered to read my fan mail
you were choosing a middle name for your rabbit
you were digesting yesterday’s strudel
pretending tic-tacs were illegal
putting your ear to a puddle
that’s why it’s hard for me to relate to you now
because I have a night club named after me
and you are still looking for your Lego’s head

Friday, August 18, 2017

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Emily Brandt on No, Dear

No, Dear Mission Statement:
No, Dear aims to bring together the voices of New York City poets who might not otherwise be in dialogue: both emerging and established poets from diverse backgrounds who are living and writing in New York City’s five boroughs. We aspire to disrupt a field that has historically privileged white patriarchal perspectives by building a publication and communal/critical dialogue that strives to be largely representative of women-identified poets, and poets of color and of all gender orientations.

Emily Brandt is a cofounding editor of No, Dear, Web Acquisitions Editor for VIDA, and the author of three chapbooks. Her poems have recently appeared in LitHub, The Recluse, and Washington Square Review.

When did No, Dear first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?
No, Dear started in 2008, and at that time, our goal was just to publish poems coming out of a workshop the original editing team was a part of. That goal quickly evolved to learning about and supporting an ever-expanding circle of poets. Because we have only always published NYC writers, our launch readings have always been and continue to be spaces for poets to get to know and celebrate each other. The poets we publish are our greatest collaborators. We now publish dialogues between issue poets, and host readings co-curated with the poets we publish. We’ve also invited many poets we’ve published to guest edit issues or to submit chapbooks. We are interested in fostering genuine community in a time and place that moves so quickly that community time and space can be a challenge.

What first brought you to publishing?

I wrote and distributed a small newspaper when I was 8, which was significant among my stuffed animal tribe. As an early/mid-adolescent, I was into zine culture, which taught me the art of doing what you need to do and saying what you need to say. As a late-adolescent, I interned for the Favorite Poem Project, which taught me something about the many different roles poetry plays for people. Later, I got into No, Dear.

What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
We can take more risks than big-house publishers, and support more emerging and subversive voices. Small publishing needs to be true to the people who are participating, via writing and reading, in the community. No need to replicate what’s on the shelves at the B&N.

What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
We only publish New York City poets, bringing them together for launch readings, collaboratively curated readings, online dialogues, and more. Focusing on just the local community allows us to build more bridges amongst poets in person.

What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world?

Plan a really good launch and publicize it well. For ND/SA, our runs are small enough that we don’t need to do a ton of work to sell out. We put our efforts to a big launch, some targeted publicity work (reviews/social media), collaborating with the author and their community, and developing and maintaining relationships with our fantastic local bookshops.

How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
It depends! For issues, a light touch, for sure. The editorial team and I will sometimes recommend a tweak, but generally publish poems as they are submitted. For chapbooks, it depends on the manuscript. Sometimes we’ll publish it almost as is, and other times we do several rounds of pretty deep revision suggestions. I prefer to publish work that feels polished but not too sheen, and sometimes an editorial eye is needed to get there. I dislike an overcooked poem, so would sooner overlook a few spots with potential for more than push a writer to go into high-sheen revision. That can fuck up a good poem.

How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
We sell our chapbooks and issues three ways: at launch and other readings, via our website, and at local bookstores, including McNally Jackson, Housing Works, Greenlight, Berl’s, and Quimby’s. We also have subscribers to whom we send issues. At this point, we print 150 copies of each new issue and 100 copies of chapbooks.

How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?
For issues, we usually have at least three editors at the table - Alex Cuff and I have usually been two of those people. We’ve had a wonderful range of founding and guest editors over the years, and are thrilled to now have t’ai freedom ford on board as an editor. For chapbooks, we collaborate with Jen Hyde from Small Anchor. I always learn so much from working with a team of editors -- it’s important to hear other perspectives and have your own perspectives challenged. I’ve definitely become a sharper and more engaged reader over the last decade. The only setback is time -- the editing conversations we have are amazing and for me, the most valuable, fascinating part of the process. However, the more voices at the table, the more time spent discussing the poems. That’s a good thing! But also, time is sometimes hard for humans. As for production, most of layout and production falls on the editorial team, but we collaborate with artists for cover images, and welcome help from production volunteers. (Call me!)

How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?

It’s great reading so much emerging/new work, to balance all the published (new and old) work that I read in books and journals. Seeing everything that comes through makes me even more aware of content and style trends and the ways in which different writers handle those things. I get a clearer sense for myself of what works and doesn’t in a poem, and in what ways what I’m writing may be in conversation with something larger.

How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?
Do what feels right to you. I have poems in early No, Dears, at a time when our goal was just to publish writing from our workshop and surrounding community. That made sense at the time. I haven’t self-published anything in a long time now, and don’t know that I would again. But I don’t think much of that matters.

What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?
We’ve been doing this for ten years, and it still feels exciting! That longevity is something I’m really proud of. We’ve published so many amazing writers over the last decade, and for some were among their first publications. There’s so many different steps to the process and not all of it is fun or easy, so sometimes I get frustrated with how much time and unpaid labor is necessary to make this all happen.

Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
In 2008, I remember looking at Birdsong, edited by a collective including Tommy Pico, and that gave me hope for making a worthwhile DIY print publication. In the early days, some folks at Ugly Ducking Presse gave me invaluable production advice - at a time when I had no idea how to do anything besides make a scissors-and-glue-and-photocopy zine.

Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
We do! And we are really interested in good poems that have something to say. Pretty simple. One tip to writers looking to submit: we publish very slim issues, and as such, only print one or a few long poems in any given issue. So unless a long (more than a page) poem is really a perfect fit for the issue, we’re probably not going to take it. We used to limit submissions to 40 lines each poem, but we do like to print the occasional long piece. That said, 40 lines is a good limit to keep in mind.

Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Our REPUBLIC (#19) issue: our first post-Trump publication.

Our BLACK POETS SPEAK OUT (#18) issue: the brilliant Mahogany L. Browne used this issue to showcase work from #BlackPoetsSpeakOut, even including a few non-NYC writers.

Chia-Lun Chang’s One Day We Become Whites: after a dozen reads, I still can’t keep up with this chapbook.

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Allison LaSorda, STRAY

Shark Year

When I died the first time,
I got a sinking feeling.

It’s easier to think I can’t
than I don’t want to.

With an imposed trajectory,
a valiant obstacle in my course,
I’m off the hook.

Leisure is to labour
as is compromise to fervor.

The second time,
I want to be flesh
chummed by bleachers
of serrated teeth.

Rolled up in a carpet
and plunked into the sea.

I’m intrigued by Toronto poet Allison LaSorda’s debut, STRAY (Fredericton NB: Goose Lane Editions/icehouse poetry, 2017), a collection of tight, predominantly first-person poems. Working through “memories among people and places” (as American poet Heather Christle writes in her blurb), LaSorda composes her short narratives in lyric short form, utilizing a precise language in a collection of pieces most of which are single-page and entirely self-contained, even as the memories explored throughout might begin to bounce around and accumulate. “Without expecting gentleness,” she writes, to open the poem “Reply to the Shepherd,” “I take my moral code in stride.” LaSorda’s lyrics explore how best to navigate people, the world and the self, exploring moral choices and personal history, and suggesting far more than she spells out. “I quit music for Lent,” she writes, to open the poem “Glory Days,” “but sighed / so loud a tune came out.”

I was intrigued by the sequence “The Smallest Island,” a poem that feels, structurally, different than most of the other pieces in the collection for its stretched-out sense. Unfortunately, while the first three sections provide a series of openings, moving forward through the sequence, the fourth and final section felt rushed, somehow a mash of information attempting to wrap the poem up in a single (and longer than the other sections) space. Might another section or two or three instead have kept the right kind of pacing? Compared to the rest of the collection, the first three sections of this poem read as sketches, writing out lines with the lightest touch. As the third in the sequence reads:

You dig a fingernail
into turquoise vinyl.

Your sister turns over
in a lawn chair, her skin
glossy and marked by the straps.

While handstanding, you see
her sandal drift into the deep end.
It settles amid ant clusters
at pool bottom.
You dive to rescue it,
but she throws it back. Fetch.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Alina Stefanescu

Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Alabama with her partner and four small mammals. A Pushcart nominee, she is the author of Objects In Vases (Anchor & Plume, March 2016), Letters to Arthur (Beard of Bees, August 2016), and Ipokimen (Anchor and Plume, November 2016). Her first fiction collection, Every Mask I Tried On, won the 2016 Brighthorse Books Prize. She can't wait for you to read it. More online at

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
In the interim between my first chapbook and the forthcoming poetry and fiction collections, I discovered four writers that rattled my time-space coordinates, and encouraged me to burn down the house. First, Kathy Acker crawled into my head and revived the teenager that wore all black and wanted nothing more than to to burn for words like Joan of Arc. Before I loved boys, I loved this insane French XX that died for an ideal-- a woman swallowed by flames for the words she refused to recant. Reading Kathy re-laid old kindling.

After coming across a short story of mine published in the exquisite Minola ReviewAmanda Mays (my editor at Anchor & Plume) mailed a copy of Elisa Albert's Afterbirth to me. A log to the fire. A self-reckoning with the myths of motherhood and the rituals in which we hope to lose ourselves. In Elisa, I read the woman I hid behind playdates, attachment parenting, and birthday parties.

How to describe the challenge of being forced to confront your own rebellion-- or what once-upon-a-dude called my "ongoing polymorphous perversity"? At the time, I had no idea what snappy. well-read dude meant. In the present, I have no space to greet this creature except on the page where she won't shut up.

As my son turned thirteen and I waded further into that teenage self, offering him an eye for an eye, a tooth for a truth,  I stumbled across Claire Dederer's Love and Trouble. One week later, I discovered Lidia Yuknavitch. The wham and the bam: deafening. Certain writers don't simply liberate you-- they make it impossible to creep back behind the veil. And there you are, naked, middle-aged, the same wild creature whose eyes devoured books over bodies, pages over flesh, the same restless flame-thrower, appended by children, partners, and suffocating material privilege. None of which we deserve or can properly earn. But air does crazy things to fire....

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
In Alabama, poetry was a no-go. Poetry was useless, anti-Puritan, a waste of time and possible money.  I came to poetry in the same way I came to tree-hugging: on my knees, crawling, looking for a way out of boys, curling irons,  and "Saved By the Bell".

In my adolescent years, poetry required patience, an initiation, a relationship forged outside the usual social bonds. Poetry handed me a life outside consumer capitalism, a dark space in which to ask impossible cosmic questions.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
Have you ever noticed how a shadow distorts the shape of the object it reflects? I think sometimes I want to write the shadow while, other times, the shadow is merely a seduction towards writing the object itself.

Writing is measure of how much one is willing to entertain-- the limits and boundaries we set on our thoughts and imagination when presented with a certain subject. Some stories plop onto the page ready to go; others grow from poems, conversations, insomnias, and untamed  ideas.

In cases where I have to overcome interior resistance and intellectual prudishness, the writing takes longer. L'esprit de l'escalier, the span of two extra beats in which resides mentally after a moment of suspense or drama has passed, fascinates me. In those dreaded breaths, I often discover what kept me from riding the escalator; or what keeps us all from getting to a point where we can look down on ourselves as tiny, ferocious ants, building and building, assembling monuments indecipherable by other species.

As for books, there is no set wing-span. Stories to Read Aloud to Your Fetus, a poetry hybrid collection, was mostly written over the course of two months in late 2016, whereas Every Mask I Tried On, a fiction collection, came together piece by piece, two years total.

4 - Where does a poem or work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Rarely do I work on a book from the very beginning-- apart from the novel in progress which was never shy about the length it needed.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Readings are like crack cocaine-- intense, exhilarating, spliced by a taste of death in the margins.

I love doing readings.

I hate doing readings.

I hate myself when I read if I'm in any way conscious of this person named Alina.

I second guess her. For example, is she inflecting a less threatening word to keep from upsetting the audience? Is she doing justice to the piece? Is she being honest? The act of reading poetry and prose aloud forces me to reckon with the distance between myself as a person who writes  (and narrates or feels through various character) and myself as a writer, a human ultimately estranged from what felt so real and intense as it was being written.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I am fascinated by socialization, behavioral economics, epistemology, neuroscience, cultural conventions, religious fundamentalism, and bounded rationality. I cannot muster a solid line between the intimate and the political.

In Osip Mandelstam's "Fourth Prose", published after his death in a Soviet camp, he wrote: "For literature always and everywhere carries out one assignment: it helps superiors keep their soldiers obedient and it helps judges execute reprisals against doomed men. A writer is a mixture of parrot and pope. He's a polly in the very loftiest meaning of that word." The question is who we serve-- and why.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
One of the first things I learned about writers as a child of Romanian defectors was that writers could be propagandists that ruined the world (like Ceausescu's court poets) or dissidents that gave up success in order to bear witness. I don't think a good writer is ever comfortable with the systems of injustice perpetuated by higher mammals. There is nothing more dangerous than safety. Laurels are meant to be burnt in a backyard tire fire.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
There is nothing I appreciate more than a nit-picky, detail-driven editor that tears the meat from the bone and forces me to reconsider it. The difficulty of working with an outside editor can't be an issue, given my craven need for their input and insight. The text is my primary loyalty; the ego is nothing in comparison. Editors who share this view are pure magic. I trust their instincts.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
My son regularly tells me "chill out, Mom," and it drives me crazy. Because he's right. Apart from the page, I have a tendency towards purism that limits my perception. Obsession with moral purity takes many forms, including the self-righteousness of political resistance. We are not immune from the need to assert our cleanliness. Especially when writing against religious fundamentalism, I find myself competing for points of moral purity.

At the end of the day, no story can be carried by hypocrisy. I think my son reads that in me very well, and cautions against it. I will continue to resist the bigotry and social Darwinism of the Trump era while conceding that, perhaps, we are participant-observers in various rituals of indignation. When I write, I need to bring more to the page than wryly-disguised rage. Anger is mere prelude to blood. I have to push the piece through to the insoluble part.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
Moving between genres has been as easy as birthing different children, none of which I could pre-determine or control. Usually the genre determination comes afterwards, more like a justification than an underlying truth. What emerges is uniquely mind-boggling. In a sense, genre is like gender to me in that I don't think about it until someone demands I choose a box and leave a check-mark.

Journals classify submissions on the basis of genre. Is it flash or prose poetry? I don't know. That's generally not how I think about humans or things I've written. I leave that to the editors and professionals.

Given my genre-insecurity, I find myself questioning the social demands of genre as well as its evolving contrivance. For critics, genre is key. For me, in my writing, genre often feels like a means of appeasing the social at the cost of the actual.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
As a woman coming into middle age, you lose your independence while gaining a previously uninhabitable appetite for life. In my case, this comes out as a fear of commitment-- I am committed to a partner, children, a house, a community, an endless series of human needs-- which then leads to a fear of routine or allegiance to form and method.

I don't have a writing routine or method-- only a series of notebooks (some of which get lost) and a promiscuous restlessness that emerges sometimes as a story, or a poem, or a flash, a memoir, a hybrid, and entity.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Romanian superstitions, legends, and folk music, especially the haunting "doinas" of Maria Tanase. My mother. Other women. Female bodies. Blues. Puritanism as it plays out in the present. Ideologies. Angry white men. Oh angry white men, you are my muses. And no list of inspirations would be complete without the man in my bed. When all else fails, the man in my bed, the urgency desire, love, and futility bring to daily life.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Boiled cabbage, a staple of Romanian meals. And Magie Noire, the aroma that enveloped me in my mother's arms.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Hannah Arendt as a thinker and political philosopher. Monks and mystics-- writing that approaches the world with a sense of reverence. Romanian poets. Romanian recipes. My mother's journals, which I am just beginning to touch.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Hike the Appalachian Trail. Take my partner backpacking through Europe. Spend a season in Romania conducting research for a family memoir that brings together the Gancevici and Stefanescu tribes. Record a conceptual music-text variant on the traditional folk form of the Romanian doina. Sail around the world. Hitch-hike across the US. Write a musical. Ultimately, above all, immediately, as soon as money and time permit, spend a year in Romania and Europe with my closest mammals.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
If I hadn't been a writer, I'd be a different person. Blank white paper has been my nun's habit, a space of resilience, since age 7. I can't remember a time before diaries, notebooks, journals.

But let's assume there is a character named Alina who isn't a writer. Maybe Alina would become a political philosopher or intellectual historian. If she didn't have this insatiable desire to write entire worlds. If she could channel her cerebral components into the requisite academic role.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
The inability to resist writing. The inexhaustible appetite to read the unwritten. And reaching a certain point in my life where I found no distractions or alternate satisfactions. In other words, nothing else was enough.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Oh, I can't even begin here. I can't pick favorites. That polymorphous perversity rears her tangled head and vows one single answer can't be in earnest.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I'm knee-deep into my first novel, and it's the strangest water I've ever tried to tread. I need to find an agent but nothing is more terrifying than setting aside all the manuscripts and carving out a large chunk of time for agent research and queries. I can't imagine where to start. So I procrastinate and write and dawdle.

When I'm not working on the novel or a fiction collection manuscript titled Let's Frack Later, I'm planning readings and travels for Stories to Read Aloud to Your Fetus (and you can pre-order a copy from Finishing Line Press at If you'd like to review it or have me come read in your town or on your front porch, find me on Twitter at @aliner. Because I'd love to share this book with others. And I will never be able to express enough gratitude, wonder, and disbelief to those readers, editors, assistant editors, publishers, human beings, and fellow yearning mammals that make this writing thing possible. I am working on the world's most massive thank you.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;