Monday, 30 April 2012

Clay Micallef

A Winter's Night to Remember

Snow is falling
window cold
to the touch

She is half my age
wearing nothing
but a crimson ribbon

Her foreign tongue
cartwheels between
broken english
and an old gypsy song

Her skin shines
like silk
by the fire light

She stands
hands pressed
against the glass

Eating chocolate
from an unpronounceable
Swedish village

I bath within
her beauty
from behind


TSTmpj:  You write poetry and songs.  Poetry and music, a potent combination.  Who are some of your influences, favourites?

Clay Micallef:  To name just a few, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Ani DiFranco, "of course" Bob Dylan, and last but not least Shane MacGowan.  They're all amazing poets/musicians they still continue to fascinate and inspire me.


TSTmpj:  Have you ever been to Sweden.  Are you a fan of Stefan Edberg?

Clay Micallef:  Unfortunately I haven't been to Sweden, though I have to say a Swedish singer songwriter Lykke Li was an inspiration for the poem, she is a very interesting and sexy performer, I really like her new album Wounded Rhymes.  Stefan Edberg? I had to Google him, I don't follow any sports, a friend once said to me while watching a game of football, "Why don't they just give everyone a ball?" I thought that was quite humorous.


TSTmpj:  What is your favourite type of chocolate?

Clay Micallef:  I'm really liking Lindt chilli chocolate.  Why wouldn't I? I mean wow! Just read the box...

Discover an exceptional and entirely new taste experience through the harmonious combination of Lindt's finest aromatic signature dark chocolate and the well balanced spice of premium red chilli. The delicately thin profile enlivens your senses by enhancing the smooth melting sensation of this elegantly rich and refined chocolate, enabling the intense melody of flavours to indulge your palate.

Bio Note

Western Australian poet and songwriter Clay Micallef lives in the town of Denmark.  He enjoys reading, kayaking, eating home-cooked meals.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Bronwyn Evans

our weekend ritual
where you recite rape rescue and disaster
weather patterns and movements
but keep a firm seal on the opinion pages

the newspaper has been cast aside
on the ice-berg
leather of a very expensive lounge
a front page full of gloss and something current
a straining at the spine 

we paw over snaps of happy dogs with silly sausages
cute new mums and just born bubs
wave conversation away with
whitegoods and the price of holidays

we save the quiz for last
Q & A faraway from all that emotion
the logic of a points system

once the quiz is won I will fix a pot of coffee
easy to wash down
sweetness I know you’ll like

my teaspoon scrapes
a ringing on the lip of china
I let it stand steep for depth

shelve the jar in pantry and return
its bright label to the front


TSTmpj:  How easy is it for you to write about the minutiae of life?

Bronwyn Evans:  Everyday things capture my attention when they have some deeper significance or symbolism.  I use metaphor to make sense of the world, of the human experience.  So a poem about a walnut or a walking stick may seem like minutiae at first glance, but is in fact an opening or a hook to something deeper.


TSTmpj:  Is your poetry generally more "natural mathematics" or "human made art"?

Bronwyn Evans:  My poetry has a very human aspect to it.  To write poetry requires you to be vulnerable in that you need to be fully emotionally responsive to life.  I try to put words to human experiences that seem out of reach of language.


TSTmpj:  What do you see as the future of newspapers and their supplements?

Bronwyn Evans:

Newspapers and their supplements…

are a cleaner source of fuel than television
suitable fodder
for rabbits

will capture paint mid-drip
or invent space
for elbows on crowded trams

without refinement
the delivery will go sour
     more instant than milk

Bio Note

Bronwyn Evans has blue eyes like her relatives.  A crease is forming between them, she puts it down to writing.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Ben Nardolilli

Disturbance in the Force

Leave them, grant them a gram of mercy,
These are pests but no real horde of nuisances,
They deserve a place here until they figure
Out just what kind of damage they want to cause.

Sure, they may breed out of control but soon
They will starve themselves to death,
Unless you have a hidden cache
That you feed to them whenever I’m not looking.

Individually, we’re bigger than them, they scurry
As your steps and mine snap along the floor,
It’s a good strategy and the only defense
We will ever see them employing against us.

The evacuation may seem planned out,
An ancient pattern traced over our apartment
And played out when our presence is felt,
Or it could just be a mad rush to the nearest exit.

Why take a risk with such agents in our place
If there is a rogue chaos in their legs and antennae?
Even though the bugs don’t know what they’re doing,
Neither do we, and who is harmed by our ennui?


TSTmpj:  When is a war not a war.  Would you care to comment on the subterranean politics of the poem?

Ben Nardolilli:  Obviously there is a debate going on between interventionist versus laissez faire policies. One character wants to do something about a perceived problem and the other does not, arguing there is no problem at all. Although given the discrepancies in size and power people the people and the so-called pests, I think that it is almost a theological situation more than a political one, where a person could imagine two Olympian gods debating whether or not to get involved in a situation between mortals. I guess it is sort of like the gods arguing in The Iliad in that sense.


TSTmpj:  The "ancient pattern" is felt within, for all of us in different ways.  Is "ennui" always the best defence?

Ben Nardolilli:  Ennui is one way to fight instinct. It is perhaps the easiest. However, it leaves one open to sudden, unpredictable shifts because the mind becomes desperate for some activity and a path to follow.


TSTmpj:  Are you an optimist or a pessimist about the future of humankind?

Ben Nardolilli:  The sight of infants depresses me immensely.

Bio Note

Benjamin E. Nardolilli

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Joan McNerney


Slides under door jambs
pouring through windows
painting my room black.

This evening was spent
watching old movies.
Song and dance actors
looping through gay,
improbable plots.

All my plates are put away,
cups hanging on hooks.
The towel is still moist.

I blow out cinnamon candles
wafting the air with spice.
Listening now to heat
sputtering and dogs 
barking at winds.

Winter pummels skeletal 
trees as the moon’s big
yellow eye haunts shadows. 


TSTmpj:  Every word in your poem has a sense of being chosen, crafted carefully.  Have you formally studied, and or taught poetry?

Joan McNerney:  I studied English Literature as my major in college.  My minor was Romance Languages and so Spanish poetry and literature were also explored.   All this exposure to literature has definitely shaped my writing. Other than this, I am more or less self taught.


TSTmpj:  Our experience of night here in the tropics is quite different to the one you describe.  Where do your geographical, and other, roots as a poet stem from?

Joan McNerney:  It is often very cold here and the outdoors seems menacing and uninviting.  I hope readers will see three layers in this poem.  The make believe world of television, the real world of my kitchen and the intimidating world of winds and barking dogs outdoors.


TSTmpj:  This is just a hunch, but do you also work in other artistic fields?  Do you draw on other arts for inspiration for your poems?

Joan McNerney:  I often go to concerts and plays.  We have quite a bit of that here.  I have to drive to visit large museums.  The arts keep me motivated to continue with my writing.

Bio Note

Joan McNerney’s poetry is included in numerous literary magazines and was nominated twice for Best of the Net in 2011.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Larry Schug

Burnham’s Homestead

Blackie Burnham
blacksmithed and cowboyed at Ghost Ranch
back when the last century was new;
his wife took care of their adobe house,
the horses, the garden of frijoles and chilis,
raised the crippled daughter with the artist’s eye
who painted the bright flowers and cacti,
still visible above the house’s doors
and chiseled the outline of a horse
in bedrock beside the corral.

Eighty years later
Blackie, his wife and daughter are long gone.
I find myself fixing the roof of their homestead
as an ancient wind blows across the desert,
trying to take down this old house
while it rearranges the landscape,
slowly carves away the mesas,
fills the arroyos with sand.
I’m fixing this house because it’s part of a story,
and stories are all that remain of all of us
after we go the way of rotting vigas, crumbling adobe.


TSTmpj:  A wonderfully observed poem.  Do you have a personal connection you would like to talk about with the south west of the United States?

Larry Schug:  Burnham's old homestead is located at Ghost Ranch, near Abiquiu, New Mexico.  You may recognize the name as a place where Georgia O'Keefe lived and painted.  For the past 17 years I have been going to Ghost Ranch with a group of college students who do community service during their spring break.  Not all college students go to Padre Island and get drunk; this group does wonderful work for Ghost Ranch (a retreat/conference/educational center, a place that provides peace) and its neighboring community.  Its history includes dinosaurs, Native American civilizations, a Spanish land grant, a dude ranch and now is a retreat/conference/educational center, a place that provides peace).  I love the place for its high desert scenery, so different from that in which I grew up and still live in Minnesota and its unique culture, a blend of native, Hispanic and Anglo cultures.  It has been a very inspiring place for my poetry over the years. 


TSTmpj:  I'm even reminded of Shelley's "Ozymandias".  Is "Time", its passing, a recurring theme in your work?

Larry Schug:  I try to subscribe to the idea that "the present" is the only time I truly exist in.  That said, I think time is really a river, a flowing entity where the past, present and future all touch each other.  Is there really an upstream and a downstream in a river?  Only from one vantage point.  Living in such a clock oriented, linear time oriented culture, I don't think we've quite grasped the reality we exist in.  To answer your question, time is important in my writing, but with more of a zen outlook.


TSTmpj:  And echoes of Browning's character portraits.  Let me cease talking about my favourites; what are some of yours?

Larry Schug:  Among my favorite poets are the late, Lucille Clifton, who I met a number of times and consider a friend.  Her poems about Crazy Horse, a famous Sioux Chief, are some I greatly admire.  I also like Jimmy Santiago Baca, a New Mexico poet, the late Bill Holm (from my home state), Barton Sutter, a former teacher of mine and poet extraordinaire, Gary Snyder--where do I stop, there are so many!  I do think I've been influenced by the Romantics from early in my college days.

Bio Note

Larry Schug lives near a tamarack bog in central Minnesota.  Tamaracks are the only conifers that lose their needles in winter.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Joseph Lisowski

HOW NOT TO CULTIVATE A GARDEN (bad metaphors for a 16 year old)

Twelve stones to form a border
The first one is stubbornness
The second, a sense of privilege
An entitlement to laziness next
Then comes wonder
Followed by daydreaming
Ambition dozes
The world is elsewhere
Work is for another time
Insult intrudes
Anger results
Weeds rule.


TSTmpj:  The title of the poem sets up the context necessary to interestingly sustain it.  How much time do you take over titles?  Do they usually come to you before the poem, or vice versa?

Joseph Lisowski:  This title is kind of a salutation to my son (16 at the time) who writes some terrific poems himself. He was away at school when I wrote this and sent it to him. Titles to my poems usually come after I've written/revised the poem.  I do take time, hopefully, to find the center of the poem, and wait for an appropriate title.  Sometimes, I take a line of part thereof from the poem, adding a twist.


TSTmpj:  As an educator, how often do you see "weeds" ruling at sixteen transmogrify into a beautiful garden.  How do you personally see the beauty intrinsic in a weed?

Joseph Lisowski:  Short answer:  Weeds rule!  (Take a look at erbacce-press website -- -- which celebrates the proliferation of weeds).  As an educator I find it very important to listen to what my young students are saying/writing.  In most cases, I like to think, my nodding silence encourages them to listen to comments of their peers and gain confidence in their writing abilities.

When weeds flowers, what beauty!


TSTmpj:  I had a dream about my schooldays last night, and I've woken to find your poem in my journal's in-box.  Do you believe in synchronicity?  Does it ever enter the sphere of your poetry writing?

Joseph Lisowski:  Isn't it wonderful that we dream, remember, and listen?  Yes.  I believe in synchronicity.  In fact, I'll take it a bit further:  I know that we are all intimately connected with each other.

Bio Note

Joseph Lisowski's most recent poetry chapbook is STASHU KAPINSKI LOOKS FOR LOVE published by erbacce-press (Liverpool, UK).

Friday, 13 April 2012

Michael H. Brownstein

An American Breathes the Air of Hà Nội, Việt Nam

You go away an albino garden snake
and come home the color of gecko.
The air smell, the lake of legs,
this ether of vocabulary—
what is familiar in darkness different somehow,
even the familiar pattern of blemish and scar.
Tonight lightning comes without thunder,
tomorrow an almost blue sky
full of mountain’s breath, heat,
soiled chom chom, vendors of the motor bikes,
a click of guitar accompanied by insect and frog,
and one dark cloud melting until it too
blemishes the almost blue sky,
the almost always blue sky, even at night,
not blue black, but almost blue black,
the moon an icicle folding into shadow and sweat.
When the wind lifts the flower
of mang cau and braids the bamboo,
there is something you must learn to do,
the dust of day an imprint
on all of the clothes you wear.


TSTmpj:  You surely have spent time in this city. What would you like to add, if anything, about its inhabitants, beyond "this ether of vocabulary" and "the familiar pattern of blemish and scar"?

Michael H. Brownstein:  Hà Nội, the way it is spelled in Việt Nam, was a heavily polluted and dirty city with the most gracious and fantastic people I have ever met—and this is not hyperbole. I only wish I had gone years earlier.

Though there was piles of litter just about everywhere, and the American-have-to-have-a-wipe or those who need to constantly wash their hands might have found it difficult to navigate, I found myself in open markets sampling some of the best fruit I have ever eaten—chom choms, for example, and mang cau. (Imagine a large juicy peach—only better.) I was with my son almost the entire time and we ate in alleyways and on sidewalks and in markets. (I learned the smaller the chair, the cheaper the food and the larger the chair—well, that’s where members of the Communist Party ate.)

We ended up at the Hà Nội University of Agriculture where my son was enrolled as their first American student and we moved into a guesthouse for ten dollars a night. He was researching medicinal plants and they asked me if I would teach English, It was my pleasure—the university students were serious students with not only a zest for learning, but a real need to learn.

Because we were Americans, our university hosts thought we would be choosey about where we ate (so we ate where the Communist party members ate), but soon we explored everywhere and finally found a street where the students ate—grand meals for seventy-five cents—and we enjoyed every minute.

I stayed for a month, got used to the air, watched how everyone swept the streets into large piles of litter for the street cleaners to pick up (and we helped), loved the food and the people, and made too many friends. Teaching English was a blessing for me. Every morning when the loud speakers would wake everyone up at 5 AM, I would stand on the balcony and thank everyone and everything for giving me the opportunity to visit this nation.

As for my students, I convinced an American publisher to produce a book of my students’ poetry—many writing poetry for the very first time and they did it in English.

Back home, I miss the freshness of their meat (when you ordered chicken, they went out back and killed one for you), the delicate taste of their fruits and vegetables—never anything GMO, the friendships I made and the discoveries that transformed me into someone better.

As you can see, I was smittened by this nation and I can go on and on and on…


TSTmpj:  Is writing about Asia a continuing preoccupation for you, and if so, why?

Michael H. Brownstein:  Unfortunately, I discovered that when we left Việt Nam during what the Vietnamese call the American War (because they really do not understand why we were fighting them) we never cleaned up our Agent Orange mess and now I have a website dedicated to helping the Agent Orange victims—four generations and still going downhill:

I’m actually in contact with a number of professors and other Vietnamese to try to assist the victims of this terrible environmental disaster and we are researching remedies to help the people live better.

I also found new pathways within my muse and I have written quite a bit of poetry with a Vietnamese theme—including getting a few of my poems translated into Vietnamese.


TSTmpj:  What do you see as the future of Việt Nam?

Michael H. Brownstein:  I hope my country will do the right thing and help the Vietnamese clean up Agent Orange. Việt Nam has huge financial constraints and I’m hopeful we will fund them in this most important endeavor. I also hope we can begin importing their fruit—chom choms especially. I also look forward to making connections with Việt Nam, strengthening it economically. Việt Nam has a very hard working population—hard working in the schools, in the community and in the workforce. In my opinion, the seeds are already planted—I feel Việt Nam will do very well in the next decade or two—and best of all it will do well as a peaceful nation. (My students consisted of a generation who knew nothing of war.) Lastly, I hope stoplights become a part of the nation’s culture. (Crossing the street in Hà Nội was like playing a video game.)

Bio Note

Michael H. Brownstein recently published I Was a Teacher Once (Ten Page Press) and editor First Poems from Việt Nam.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Bill Roberts


She was such a base person,
pure sodium hydroxide.

He more like venomous acid --
undiluted hydrogen chloride.

They met with a thunderous bang:
highly explosive --

afterward, neutral as water,
dihydrogen oxide,

dissolved sodium chloride,
the salt of the earth.


TSTmpj:  Did you study chemistry in your latter years at school?  Did a childhood sweetheart -- or an adulthood sweetheart for that matter -- have a chemistry association for you, or, alternatively, is the poem purely based in the poetic, mysterious magic of personal chemistry?

Bill Roberts:  I fell in love with chemistry in high school, prompted by several of the fair maidens I pursued, but that's another story.  Went to The American University in Washington, D.C., received my B.S. in chemistry, began my pursuit of a career as a chemist.  Went on to be a nuclear weapons consultant -- my current dream:  to amass and destroy all weapons of mass destruction through negotiations (yes, a pipe dream, I'm afraid).  I've had many magical chemical explosions with Irene, my wife for the past 54 years.


TSTmpj:  Is your experience in relationships that opposites attract, even if there can be fireworks?

Bill Roberts:  Yes, I think that opposites are best suited for one another, as in the case of my wife and me.  Over the years, as an amateur matchmaker, I've tried to get, for instance, a mathematician interested in a physicist for romantic purposes.  Result:  absolutely nothing -- they couldn't have been less interested in creating sparks, nothing even close to fireworks.


TSTmpj:  You say that "As a poet and human being I'm getting better as I'm getting older."  Goethe, Thomas Hardy, many others, great achievers in their latter years.  Would you agree with the statement "my next poem will be my best one yet," and if so, how do you ensure that that happens?

Bill Roberts:  I started writing semi-seriously as I was about to semi-retire at age 59, an attempt to keep the brain alive and fertile.  That was 17 years and eleven thousand poems ago, over a thousand of the poems published in small-press magazines.  I offer a free seminar on how to write a poem in 15 minutes, then prep it for publication, the latter the hard part.  I use prompts for the several writing groups I sponsor weekly, have something in mind as I sit at the computer, and miraculously a poem arrives within minutes, ninety-nine percent finished.  Not all good, of course, but the meat of something for later refinement.  So, yes, the next poem will always be my very best....and why not?  By the way, Thomas Hardy is still one of my great heroes:  I invested my interest in literature upon his works, as well as a few other wonderful authors.  I've returned to Poe lately, still regard him as my favourite poet.  Question:  Would Poe be published today?  I wonder...

Bio Note

Bill Roberts annually sponsors readings honouring female poets, "Strong Voices, Strong Women," also to benefit battered women.  There's Poe in poetry.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Mark J. Mitchell


The door swings open and you step through time
Like a dancer lighting after a leap.
Still, you think it’s forbidden, a wish crime,
But this door swings open. Then you slip through time
Like it was your stage. You feel like a blind
Woman, searching a dark that isn’t sleep,
For a door. It swings wide. You step to time
Light as a dancer falling off a leap.


TSTmpj:  Do you usually write in forms?  What, for you, does writing in a form offer that free verse cannot?

Mark J. Mitchell:  I’d say I write in forms about half the time. Forms take you places you wouldn’t reach on your own. Also, I think it would be arrogant of me to suppose that my ear was a better judge of poetic craft than the thousand year tradition of English language verse. I also find that my free verse is much more disciplined because I use the forms. I love tricky little ones like triolets and rondeaus.


TSTmpj:  Studying mediaeval literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz must have been a hoot.  Can you share a reminisce or two?

Mark J. Mitchell:  Well, like John Gardner, I became a Medievalist by accident. In those ancient times of the early 70s UCSC was the hardest UC campus to get into. We happened to have one of the best Dante scholars in the country, Robert M. Durling, teaching there. He took me under his wing and I took five or six classes from him. I’ll never forget my oral final for the second quarter of Dante. We sat down in Dr. Durling’s office, he smiled at me and said, “Talk about the thirty-third canto of Paradiso. That’s all the guidance I got. After an hour he smiled at me again and said, "Well, you passed." He also taught me to read translations critically and carefully.


TSTmpj:  Have you ever collaborated creatively with your wife, given that she is a documentarian and film maker?

Mark J. Mitchell:  Only on one project: We spent the better part of  last year gathering together all the poems I have written about my family and family members over the years and put them together with photos that fit them for our vast store of pictures and Joanie put them together into a book. My siblings were thrilled with the Christmas present. Otherwise, there's just not a lot of documentary poetry, particularly about Alaska, which is her field of expertise.

Bio Note

Mark J. Mitchell lives in San Francisco with his wife, the filmmaker Joan Juster. He’s been publishing poetry for thirty years.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Mike Gallagher

Smoker's Eclogue

How still the air between the hills,
how crisp in Winter's icy grip, rent
by whore's whine of Twamley's bitch,
the flutter of a robin's wing
and underfoot, creep crunch of frost;
the caustic rasp of smoked-out breath,
haunted thought of breathless death.


TSTmpj:  Who are some of the exponents of the eclogue that you admire, and why?

Mike Gallagher:  If you take the classic definition of an eclogue as being a short pastoral poem, I would say that it has all but disappeared. Of today's poets, I would most admire my fellow countrymen, Heaney and, to a lesser extent, Muldoon. I would consider a lot of Heaney's early output could be regarded as eclogues. Patrick Kavanagh was also a very good pastoral poet. The reason that I admire these poets pastoral writing is because I empathise with them and am a fan of their poetry, whatever the form.

I did study Virgil at college but I was probably too young to really appreciate his poetry.

TSTmpj:  The planet now has a tad over seven billion people on it.  Even the population of Ireland grows.  Will, far into the future, the eclogue morph into something else, or will it quietly die?

Mike Gallagher:  I think that, like anything else, poetry is continually evolving. Some would say that eclogues have already changed and that many poets are already writing urban eclogues.

TSTmpj:  Would you care to share an insight or two on being the editor of an on-line journal?

Mike Gallagher:  Our online journal ( )started, like your own, as the organ of a local writers group. The original idea was to produce an annual magazine of the group's output. We did ask some friends and ex-members to contribute but from the start the thing just exploded and now we get submissions from all over the world.
Because our ethos is that of a typical writer's group, we try to accommodate writers of all abilities so that those less experienced can learn from established poets. We are delighted to find that many very good poets have bought in to our ethic.

We use Facebook to spread the word and this has worked very well to date. A number of our fellow journals use this medium and, largely because we have quite different niches, we tend to cross-promote each other. We are all in the business of giving voice to those who find it difficult to get published in the more established organs, often not because of any lack of quality in their work but rather because of the incestuous relationship that exists between arts administrators, certain publishers and a small clique of writers.

Bio Note

Mike Gallagher lives in Ireland and edits thefirstcut, an online literary journal.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Colin James

    Night Sweat

Baby steps.
Stand there pretending.
You have serious breath
for an arid runner.
Kierkegaard achievers
lambasted the necessary,      
thanks to a                       
far out itinerary of
water hole-less.


TSTmpj:  Your poem is intriguing, and an existentialist philosopher I'm not.  Would you care to share some thoughts on the why of Kierkegaard for you?

Colin James:  “Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good."  is one of my favorite Kierkegaardisms. So you see, we can quietly stare into space without any guilt association.

TSTmpj:  Is hole-less hope-less in any sense for you?

Colin James:  Helpless, yes I suppose. One tries to stay away from the overused like the heavyweight, ironic. Don't wish to hear of that again constantly.

TSTmpj:  How much, if any, humour is there in pretence?

Colin James:  Oh, that's a great one. I didn't write that did I? You wrote that. Of course that moment someone referred to, goes in all directions. We take from it, leave the shards of opinion sticking out dangerously.

Bio Note

Colin James has a chapbook of poems from Thunderclap Press and just recently a poem in an Australian magazine, Underground Writers.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Robert Demaree

Fresh Squash

   for Elizabeth

The cottage is quiet:
     Waves of grandchildren come and gone,
Books returned to the library,
Inner tubes stored under the porch.
     Last night’s rain has swollen Perry Brook
And I climb in search of
The pool that Philip found.
What is it that I hear
In the rush of white water?
Their names splash over brown rocks.
Heading home, passing the meadow:
Betsy Winborne has left me
A bag of fresh squash
From her garden,
Hooked on the last post
Of the split-rail fence,
A marking of place,
Of consolation,
The gesture of a friend
Whose grandson comes next week


TSTmpj:  Your poem evoked Robert Frost for me.  Is he someone you read?  Who are some of the poets who have influenced you in your writing career?

Robert Demaree:  It is not possible for an American to write about New England without acknowledging the influence of Robert Frost. I remember hearing him read when I was in college in the 1950's. I go back to favorite poems, find myself alluding to them in my own work, and see in mending walls and meadows and woods the paradigm of a region that is both geographical and mythic, that changes but is the same.

Jane Kenyon, Ted Kooser and Billy Collins are three poets whose work I especially enjoy and admire—important, I think, in making good poetry accessible and persuading us that a good poem depends on powerful imagery and narrative, not arcane language.

TSTmpj:  I appreciate the quiet dignity of the poem.  What do you see as the status of grace -- not necessarily in a religious sense -- and quietness in America today?

Robert Demaree:  Grace and quietness in America, which might also include equanimity and forbearance: these are qualities in short supply, which is why we are more likely to turn on cable news than open a book of poems. We regret this now and will doubtless regret it even more in the future.

TSTmpj:  I would appreciate your thoughts on ageing and its relationship to poetry.

Robert Demaree:  The interest in memoir-writing increases with age, and there may be some parallel with poetry, a perspective from which to see things and a need to get them down. Aging, of course, gets us to thinking of last things. Billy Collins considers death a central theme of poetry. I would put it this way, in senryu form:

Try telling poets
No more poems about death:
They’re out of business.

Bio Note

Robert Demaree is a retired educator who’s authored four collections, including Mileposts (2009).  He’s had over 500 poems individually published.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Kyle Hemmings

In the Junkyards

I remember the mother
who dropped me off here
in exchange for three new tires
& a greased vision of a radiator whore
smoky, beautiful beyond any cowl screen.
She once said I was her sister's extra
car part--a weekend addict of metal & aluminum--
she had no use for driving down one-way streets
on Sunday.

Her love was a phosphorescent decoy...

The woman who comes to visit me
her nose pressed between the spaces
of the wrought iron fence
that surrounds the parts
of my childhood:
ruined sunroof
broken subwoofers
camshaft sensor on stuck

(as in forever you can't love me/one of us must be so fuel efficient)

The woman leaves without ever saying
I once owned you under the floorboards
then the brakes slipped

Maybe we both need reassemblage
& the lowest bidder

No remorse on Sundays


TSTmpj:  I am in those junkyards with you.  Women and cars.  A potent brew. Can you throw light, especially for the readership outside the USA, on what is so peculiarly American about this cocktail?

Kyle Hemmings:  Well, I’m sure there are many studies/books that have looked at that peculiar phenomenon of cars as status symbols, cars as symbols of power, women sitting on the cars of powerful men.  It’s every other TV advertisement.  A beautiful woman and a sleek new car. My poem incorporates some of this, but veers off into a different direction, I think. I was thinking about the lives that wind up in the junkyards, lives as scrap metal and trade-ins, and whether such damaged lives can be rebuilt.

TSTmpj:  I've heard love described in many ways, but never before as a phosphorescent decoy.  I can imagine Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison jointly coming up with that hanging out together at 3:30 a.m. in July, 1981.  I'm intrigued, full stop.  Care to share a thought or two?

Kyle Hemmings:  Yes, there are some lines that come from the subconscious that I’ll keep, that throw a certain tonal value on the piece. I had an ebook titled Tokyo Girls in Science Fiction (NAP) that was full of lines of cultural references, allusions to songs and rock bands, etc., that added, I think, a certain texture/atmosphere to the alternate reality I wanted to create.

In the context of this poem, I associated the aunt with a kind of love as slow burning, as a kind of radiation, as something deceitful. A significant other who saw the narrator/boy as nothing but an unnecessary car part.

TSTmpj:  What is your take on regret?

Kyle Hemmings:  I’m finding that in many of my newer poems, I’m looking back on my life, on things that didn’t turn out the way they should have, and this feeling of sadness, of missed chances. I’m trying to channel that lingering feeling that I could have done things better, to give that sadness a voice, a shape that can be held by many, and maybe, to go beyond it.

Bio Note

Kyle Hemmings lives in New Jersey. He has been published in Wigleaf, Elimae, Matchbook, Anomalous Press, and elsewhere.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Kenneth Pobo

Empire of Lights

            By René Magritte

Inside the house our peace rumbles.
Mom and dad haunt opposite ends of the couch.
Did I mention that they’re dead?

It doesn’t matter.  I’m not living either. 
I go to school, play guitar, watch TV,
and argue with my sister Ag who doesn’t

argue back.  The house, a still cat.  Gunfire
breaks the calm.  It sounds like cathedral
bells, mournful, lasting.  I’m used to blue sky

and clouds even at night.  I dream in
the day but have none when I fall asleep. 
No one in this family dreams at night. 

Dawn-chirping birds, we’re hungry,
flying off, then grabbing a branch
to watch time’s red bear raise his paw

and knock over the mailbox.  Someday
we might decide to come alive.  Porchlights
will shine either way.  Someone may move away,

maybe me, but for now the tall tree that hides
my window wants company—who am I
to deny that wish?


TSTmpj:  Your image of blue sky at night especially caught me.  How do you personally come to terms with light and darkness, in your poetry and in life more generally?

Kenneth Pobo:  Most everything is a balancing act.  The poem is a response to Magritte’s painting where a bright sky is above a house at night—how can this be?  Yet it is.  And we live among very strong opposing forces, trying to find our way.  Where light should be, perhaps it isn’t.  Where darkness should be, perhaps light.

TSTmpj:  Death seems quietly real to you, yet it is infused with hope, an intimacy beyond tears.  Can you respond to this comment in the context of René Magritte's painting?

Kenneth Pobo:  I think Death becomes more real as the years roll by and loss becomes more and more evident (I lost my mom last year.).  Death may not be the “opposite” of life as we endure small deaths all the time.  I like Magritte’s painting (well, so many of his paintings!) for putting opposites together—and instead of being put off by this, these blends of difference feel acceptable and real.

TSTmpj:  Do you care to share any thoughts on timelessness?

Kenneth Pobo:  Timelessness is pretty big for me.  I’ve been reading books on current ideas on cosmology.  Fascinating, and not being a science guy, it’s hard to wrap my head around it, but I want to keep trying.  How time and space bend and dance—such great opportunities for poets!  One thing I love about the creative process is how when I’m given over to writing, it feels like time no longer exists.  I can put a CD on and not realize when songs end.  The imagination takes me out of time—but only for… a time.

Bio Note

Kenneth Pobo won the 2011 qarrtsiluni chapbook contest for Ice And Gaywings, published in November 2011.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Donal Mahoney

Women Who Walk Like Men

They seem to be everywhere now,
women who walk like men.
With hair cropped in a paint brush,
bullets for eyes and knives for noses,
they walk long halls, hips so still
they can have no pelvis.
Then one day you meet one
and become her friend.
A week later you still wonder:
Are all the women who walk like men
wildflowers, really,
locked in a hothouse, 
craving the sun?


TSTmpj:  What would you say to a woman who, upon reading your poem, was interested enough in you to want to be your friend, but had genuine misgivings about being stereotyped?

Donal Mahoney:  I'm not certain, Michael, as to why she would be in danger of being stereotyped. I have not known that many masculine women. This poem came about because I once had a job many, many years ago where I had to work late and I would stop to eat in a diner before I went home. It was a one-person operation. The woman who ran it probably was in her 40s and I was in my 30s. At a time when most lesbians were still in the closet, this woman had a crew-cut and tattoos before either of the latter was popular among masculine lesbians. I had no problem with her nor she with me. She cooked and I ate. But over a period of time we would talk when business was slow which it often was at that time of the night. Over time, we became friends to the degree that customers and diner cooks can be become friends. It became obvious that despite her appearance that she was a woman in her personality. We never discussed our sexual orientation. It just never came up and I wouldn't have expected it to come up. I was reared by Irish immigrants in a blue-collar neighborhood; and because my father was a sober Irishman, I had a chance to get a couple of degrees in English because he saved for my education. I spent 19 consecutive years in Roman Catholic schools (without ever being tempted to be a priest) and I cannot ever recall anything negative being said about any minority group. On the contrary, just the opposite was true. Social equality was stressed. The faith may have disapproved of the intimate behaviour of homosexuals but there was no condemnation of them as persons. 

TSTmpj:  Mischievously subverting stereotypes is what good poets can sometimes do.  Would you wish to be a friend of a man who walked like a woman?

Donal Mahoney:  I go back a long way and met at parties transvestites that most straight men would not be able to "clock," as the saying goes in Chicago. I also worked as an editor with many regular gay men as they often turned up in magazine work as writers and designers. I think until they got to know me my being so straight bothered them more than their being gay bothered me. One transvestite, however, was a famous performer named Chili Pepper, originally from Cuba. Chili and I did discuss his/her lifestyle. She had minimal formal education but was smart as a whip. I must say, however, that many of her "fellow" performers I would not have been able to clock had I not met them at a mixed party of journalists who even, back then, were very open-minded. In fact, I talked briefly with her about doing a book about transvestites called "The Last Minority." I got a different job and never saw her again. But I don't think anyone has yet written that book. Transvestites, to my mind, may be the most complicated minority I have ever encountered and I have met most minorities because prior to becoming an editor, I was a caseworker fresh out of grad school and I got a quick baptism in the varieties of peoples we have in the world. But none is more interesting in my experience than the transvestites. They don't want you to feel sorry for them but often I felt that way when I wondered what they would do when age took its toll.

TSTmpj:  God created the heavens, the earth, and still had time for a jacuzzi and a sauna in seven days, but is a week long enough for any man to understand any woman?

Donal Mahoney:  From my point of view, women are the most beautiful of God's creations. I quit drinking and smoking at a very early age but even in dotage women are still a problem. The older I get the better they look. So I've stopped looking. I've never been an admirer of Hugh Hefner and though he is much older than I am, I would not want to emulate his behaviour simply because I still find women attractive whatever the age or size. As I've told my wife a number of times, the only women I ever exempted from my charm were nuns in full garb. I agree with that old chauvinistic joke that it is okay to be friends with a nun as long as you don't get in the habit. I've been fairly lucky in understanding women but that does not mean that I always got along with them. I may have a history of getting away with more devilment than many men but eventually women have figured me out. Some drove me nuts and others have been wonderful. The nice thing is that as I have aged I have finally been able to sort out before getting too close which women I thought I could co-exist with and which would do me in. But psychologically I think they are a lot easier to deal with than transvestites. The latter can cut through buncombe immediately.

Bio Note

Donal Mahoney, the son of Irish immigrants, was born in Chicago and lives in exile now in St. Louis, Missouri.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Ian Chung

Immaculate Reception

These days, she would have been famous,
Screamed at us from every headline,
Her every move avidly tracked
By the paparazzi. Pose. Snap.
No star but hers would have guided
The wise men to her sponsored bed
In the best maternity ward
Advertising could buy. Smile. Snap.
The obligatory critics
Would emerge irrelevantly.
How dare they blaspheme, questioning
Her, the Theotokos? Wave. Snap.
His birth would be national news,
Possibly the culmination
Of a reality series
Raking in the dollars. Weep. Snap.
These days, he would have been famous
Before he was born, but no one
Would have remembered him after.
Or believed his gospel. Snap. Snap.


TSTmpj:  I wish to get "behind the scenes" with this poem -- as its double edgedness, its playfulness and pathos, leaves me wondering -- and explore the belief system of you as its author.  What do you wish to share about religious belief, and how our twenty-first century treats it?

Ian Chung:  I'm a Christian, and my beliefs sometimes filter into the poetry I write, less on the basis of theological questions and more on posing various what-if scenarios. I once wrote a lengthy sequence of poems that were basically dramatic monologues for various Biblical characters, imagining what they might have said that wasn't necessarily 'on the record'. I think the 21st century has been an interesting one for religious belief so far, largely because of what I perceive as a growing intolerance among the various camps. You have the militant atheists lining up behind Richard Dawkins, who seem blissfully unaware that their fervour is fundamentally of the same variety as the so-called Christians at, say, Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. It's simply directed at a different object, or rather, the absence of any object, although I suppose what's enshrined for Dawkins is scientific rationality. Yet if popular culture is any indication, we're still as fascinated as ever by the supernatural. Mind you, I'm not proposing that faith of any sort and tolerance are incompatible, and I'm sure the majority of people who profess some variety of religious belief aren't raring to condemn everyone else who doesn't share their beliefs. It's just that the fringe is always shouting louder than the centre these days, but the interconnectedness of the 21st century means we can't ignore the fringe. It isn't going to vanish because we think it should.

TSTmpj:  What do you see as the relationship between today's mass media, optimism, and pessimism?

Ian Chung:  I think it's got really easy to be a pessimist these days, and mainstream media actually encourages this. Every little rumour and unsubstantiated fact can now zip around the world in a matter of hours to whip up a frenzy. The news cycle practically demands that scaremongering become par for the course. At the same time, technology is also making it possible for communities to emerge that are based around more hopeful sentiments. I'm thinking of sites like I Wrote This For You(, or even PostSecret (, just places that offer people some sense of connection, even if it all remains anonymous. I've recently started watching an American TV drama called Touch, and the basic premise of it is that we're all interconnected on this planet. One of the main characters says something really beautiful, 'Seven billion people on a tiny planet, suspended in the vastness of space. All alone. How we make sense of that is the great mystery of our frail existence. Maybe it's being alone in the universe that holds us all together, keeps us needing one another, in the smallest of ways, creating a quantum entanglement of you, of me, of us. And if that's really true, then we live in a world where anything is possible.' I think that about sums up how I feel.

TSTmpj:  How do you view the nexus between poetry and our increasingly information rich, yet arguably information devalued, twenty-first century future?

Ian Chung:  I had a university lecturer who suggested that the fundamental predicament of contemporary society is that we live in a world saturated with information, but precisely because all of that information is so easily accessible via the miracle of Google, none of it becomes knowledge for us. I think his point was that knowledge is something that abides in us, that becomes part of our being and shapes who we are, whereas information is something we retrieve and delete at will. To me, poetry is irreducible to mere information. Whatever sort of poetry it is, if it's good poetry, it will always produce as a whole an effect that's more than the sum of its individual words. At the same time, technology is also enabling us to produce new kinds of poetry, like what UbuWeb ( showcases. I don't think it's something we should shy away from or reject wholesale. Granted, that kind of stuff won't be for everyone, but then again, isn't that the point of poetry, if we're thinking about it as knowledge? After all, I think it's quite telling that activists say 'information wants to be free', as opposed to 'knowledge wants to be free', which suggests to me that we might usefully contrast information/public/impersonal with knowledge/private/personal.

Bio Note

Ian Chung edits Eunoia Review and writes reviews for various publications, including Sabotage Reviews and The Cadaverine.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Christina Murphy

The Promise

Beauty is momentary in the mind; the mind is momentary in beauty. Every beast that ever rode upon Plato’s back into the cave of shadows wondered what direction the fates foretold. Being of one’s hour, ripeness is the heart of wisdom. No fruit ever hung longer on the bough than time allowed or memory juxtaposed.
In time, these places call us—the sinews of kinship and honest bones, the doorways of insight and misgivings. In the galaxies of honor and the pendulum of infinities, we will find the echoes of longing and the promise of happiness, blowing like leaves against a broken sky and our own passageway to impermanence. Pax vobiscum or not vobiscum. What we cannot face, we must avoid—board up tightly with sins and regrets that beckon through long hallways and cramped spaces, offering small windows, locked doors, and the soul’s yearning to come home.


TSTmpj:  Beauty?  Would you care to share more thoughts?

Christina Murphy:  I am mesmerized lately by the beauty that is revealed to us by physicists studying the nature of reality—especially those working on the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland (the world’s most powerful particle accelerator) that is confirming many of the speculations of theorists on the unity of the cosmos. Everything is obviously more complex than ever envisioned and also greatly simple—and the truth is that most of what constitutes our world is not even visible. Even deeper is the fact that matter and energy are interchangeable in the sense that matter is essentially a type of "slowed down" energy that appears to be stationary and solid but is not. It is very hard to wrap one’s head around that idea as we are accustomed, naturally, to believing our three-dimensional world is as we experience it. And the idea that matter can become energy is, to me, fascinating. It is perhaps the most beautiful concept of Beauty as it provides a construct or center to our cosmos that is perpetually unfolding and creative—and in which no energy is ever lost, just re-created endlessly.

TSTmpj:  As an artist and poet, how do you reconcile the transitory with the shadow in your writing, juxtaposed onto your life?

Christina Murphy:  In my own life, "reconcile" might not be as appropriate an answer here as acceptance—largely because there are not other choices, at least not functionally. There are no battles to be won against the transitory nature of each life, but that also gives each moment of existence the potential for both action and appreciation. A number of artists have seen in art itself the capacity or power to transcend time—or the transitory—and perhaps that is one of the greatest gifts that art offers to each person. John Milton once said he hoped to write something so beautiful that the world would not willingly let it die, and then he wrote Paradise Lost, which certainly has withstood the test of time. I am certainly not comparing myself to Milton as a poet, but I do understand what he was saying in that every writer or artist hopes to craft something that is inherently capable of being timeless in the sense of reaching a number of readers over time and affecting their emotions as they experience and interpret the work in their own personal ways. Then again, too, I do believe—as a writer and as a person—that the imagination is one of the most powerful energies in the universe, and one that has the power to reveal to us great insights and truths that are necessary to our own self-realization and self-actualization.

TSTmpj:  I imagine you may believe that the soul will in the end come "home".  How near perennial do you see, or feel, is its odyssey?  How close are we, do you believe, to falling through the shadows into the abyss?

Christina Murphy:  In a sense, my answer to this question is based upon my answer to your question #1. I think we are in an era in which our sense of the cosmos is of a perpetually creative energy that infinitely recreates itself. That is not only beautiful to me, as I said above, but genuinely awe-inspiring and hopeful. Many metaphors by great poets have been used to describe this sense of the unity of existence. William Blake talks about seeing a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower; other writers have described the same idea by talking about an ocean of water in which it is only a "deception" of human reason to think that one drop of water is different from the whole because it can be separated out. Now quantum physicists confirm for us through science what Blake and other poets imagined. If what the physicists say is true (and there is more reason to believe it is true than not), then there is both a way in which we are always "home" and also always heading "home." And, too, there is no real "abyss" that we fall into or through because what we might think of as falling into an "abyss" is a form of transformation and not one of loss, or ending, or separation. That is not to minimize in any way or our sense of loss or sadness over our own awareness of mortality and the death that awaits us at some point in time, but it is to see impermanence in a broader context of a creative flow and a "timeless" moment. In that regard, I think this is what T.S. Eliot meant in saying "Time past and time future / What might have been and what has been / Point to one end, which is always present." Our understanding of past, present, and future are interpretations of experience—and so are illusory; whereas the "one end" that is "always present" is the experience itself—and so is inherently true and complete.

Bio Note

Christina Murphy admires how Piet Mondrian found such artistic integrity (and solace) in straight lines and simple (yet complex) forms.