Friday, November 29, 2019

MBARI 7: Excerpt by Uche Nduka

Jean Genet is buried in Morocco. He is my out-law brother. Your swag in an airport security line.

A touch of bells. The clarinet has other things on her mind. Browning my bells.

A spine of steel or a spine of straw? A clown nose making a power grab. Or when your eyes change their minds about wonder.

He can’t look away. Who cares if you are distracted by the strolling moon. Telling us about a schlub as much as he knows.

Pitch-bending was a logical choice. They laughed at me when my lust got heard.

The external justifications for our existence are all conundrums. A slide into the sweetness beneath your clothes. Having fun sharing a laugh.

Spread on the surface of the mysteries that entangle us. Making sure the stiletto shoes stayed on point. I didn’t give you shit for doing that un-pop thing, saying that un-pop thing.

In the beginning was a playhouse where peace of mind became an evolving art project. Stressing people out with hopeless explanations. Remembering forgetting slow jams.

Depends on our knowledge of the pages just read. Oblivion without coating does look cool. Breaking water: junketeers, nestseekers, parachutists. A couple of death threats spotlit.

I serve you soup under pine trees. In search of what clarity is hiding. Idealism is not obsolete. Every living thing sings beyond railroad crossings.

Body of proof? Throes? Those drones sent to your cities. We waited until we couldn’t wait any longer to decompress, to deepen the shadow.

That juggler’s vertigo cuts to the bone. Pork cooked in its own fat. The air braids a mood. Floor sanding, dusty grooves. I’m alive because I was rocking away.

Breaking my vow to verbs. This exposure to the fabric of my life. Rubrics bristle, expecting rain. Gone missing, cylinders in a tunnel.

Ridiculing the placid screen. Plunging into fury, again and again. Driftwood teased the storm. You sauntered through the snarl of the storm.

I have placed saltlicks on foreplay and fellatios. You felt you belonged to another planet. You weren’t doing what you were supposed to be doing the way you were supposed to be doing it.

I needed to hear why you felt that way. Daylight threw us over the edge. By no means did everyone agree with the agitating slob.

Horses soaring through clouds. The chamber we share. It’s a little too late to walk away.

They claim they don’t want to take sides yet they crave awards/prizes for their photographs of your drowned bodies.

Boardwalk, mezzanine, past deception. Mountains are our neighbors. The aloof astronaut became cuddly. A pretty serious matter.

Beside the hardware moons locked eyes moons kissed. Beads of sweat on marked-up galleys. We really care about this place so now we shall take dissent to the extreme.

Stoking the lunar module. Even poetry is grist for their commercial mill.

Not the first of their moments together. Crowds gawk at colorblind lovers. It was once a safe landing spot. Orbiters in crescent curves.

Blemishes on lens. A testament to three moon globes. Those bombed out sculptures those bombed out statues those bombed out paintings in Iraq and Syria.

The squirrels and a canon of their own making. Marching music, footwork, watershoes. Too sly to be held back by mere exposure time.

This earthrise is an evidence. A flash fire breathing inside a muscle. Night again in a hand-corrected manuscript. Walking a runway: controversy still coming into focus.

Those broken manacles in the constellation of lovers. I can fuck myself up sometimes. I’m cool about it. You can’t say the dance-off doesn’t love you.

Uche Nduka is a Nigerian-American poet, essayist, collagist. He is the author of twelve volumes of poems of which the most recent is titled LIVING IN PUBLIC (Writers' Collective of Kristiania, Inc., 2018). Some of his writing has been translated into German, Dutch, Finnish, Italian, Arabic, Spanish, Serbo-Croat, French. A 2017 NYFA Poetry Fellow, he presently lives and teaches in New York City.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Ra Blues by Shaimaa Abdelkarim

re/iterations of black gather around 
     our wailings

demanding flesh pain

as if we, black 
     not enough. 

remains of our white shadows,

affirming: we black 
     not us 

black is not echoes of you you you y o u y o u

black echoed in wewewe w w e e

black echoes tr us t

forged deep, 

clouding white skies with blues. 

we hail


opening our door
         to the cosmo s.

Shaimaa Abdelkarim (@shaimabdelkarim ) is currently a PhD student mostly researching into the resistant and idiosyncratic desires of legalists and human rights activists. She has some poems at Burning House Press. 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Repent,revive,respire by Rus Khomutoff

to Nico

Hyraxia savior complex/ dreams are
lost memories of lineated time
The situation that exists signalling through
the flames, dreamcore season of stone voices
ghost in the ghost shuttlepod teleporting us
back to reason
Giving and receiving consideration in a hundred ways, diving deep with temperance burned from the 

mind's eye
Betadine wake of space beyond silence,
lifeblood irrationalia inamorata path of exile
thought fully detached in the temple of
the blood mirage
ubiquitous earth...
violent work of art divine,
what destroys me frees me
journal of trauma razor skyline

Rus Khomutoff is an experimental language poet based in Brooklyn, NY. Poetry has appeared in San Francisco Review of Books, Proprose Magazine, Mojave Heart Review and Hypnopomp. In 2018, Immaculate Days (Alien Buddha Press) was published. In 2019, Radia was published by Void Front Press.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Selections from Seep by Heller Levinson

Image © Maria Mavropoulou

in the poise of seepage
incipient bloat
perpetuity’s foreskin

pared to an a-meristic anachronic opalescent
undulance, in the shingled extravagance of
momentary let, a cache of resplendent accretion pearls an
inebriate puncture,
rouses this


seep in brood bedlam
broadside                    bowdlerize
         apostrophic rampage            helter welter
  collar holler yelp yeller giddy gallop gap song yup-a’long
yo-fiddlediddle            hard alee get a ped-i-gree
         wing wring wiggle wrack wattle
         wiggle wing wattle wring wrack
                     weed wrest
sap persuasion            shag a’long slur parade
count yrself in     groove to the
din                     slip-sully →
                 go deep
belly roundabout


seep liquesces
dehisces             dilutes
       de  Com  po  Z es
     rudiments of esteem

        estimables –

flossed to an inebriate

salience teems

Heller Levinson, the originator of Hinge Theory, lives in New York where he studies animal behavior.  These pieces will be featured in the forthcoming collection, Seep, which will be published by  Black Widow Press (Spring, 2020).

Monday, November 18, 2019

Cut A Hand From A Hand by Tongo Eisen-Martin

“if you reverse the car any farther,
you will run over all the scenes in the back of your mind”

I never cared for teachers…just the pattern of fainting spells induced by wall art.
Propaganda is courage, man

The price sticker hid my tattoo
-I treasure my problem with the world

“My mother becomes from Brooklyn first thing in the morning”
-a proverb around these parts
               proverb or peasant entrance password

Writing short notes to famous Europeans
On the backs of post cards
With ransom requests

They reply with a newsreel or cigarette announcement (I can’t tell the difference)

-Noble dollars then you die inside
(but only inside)

“They call it, ‘sleeping deeper than your stalker.’
And stalker is all that badge makes you,”
says a great spirit dressed in the bloody rags tuxedos became

meanwhile my punch is feared by no one
“Proud of yourself?” I ask the fret hand

“Porch Lights” is what they call our guns
I’ve seen this house in a dream
I’ve seen this chair on behalf of a dream

               I believe a trumpet was the first possessed object to fly

“keep going,” she cheers

               the draft in the room becomes a toddler
obsessed with the altar
the altar becomes  a runaway train
               got a thousand paintings cascading down my skinny arms
                                                            Dictionaries piling up to the window bars

basements called dope fiend cocoons
crowd into the part of my mind
referred to as my heart
-a reminder to the population that
your blanket can work with
or against you-

human reef/
we will be a big human reef
for concepts that finally gain a metaphysical nature
and they will swim around our beautiful poses

we stop being flashbacks
then stop being three different people
then I was alone [the pistol is one city away]

one of the drug triangle’s lines runs through my head
tap the bottle twice and consider the dead refreshed
“don’t you want to rest your bravery?
don’t you want to be a coward for a little bit?”
-back and forth to a panic attack with no problems nor fears

a man gets a facial expression finally
a Friday finally goes his way
his life is finally talked about happily in his head

I can’t possess the body of a hermit
I must be the last of his smoke
Now running away with three blocks of alley
Tucked under my arm
You ever see a man
get to the bottom of his soul
in a car ride down a missing cousin’s street?
half step to the right
I mean I took the whole car outside of history
Half step to the right
I mean a whole pack of wolves stepped to my left
-Deep in the recesses of the main recess

“road marker” is what I called the light bulb we had for a sun
                                                            a whole civilization might slink to the sink
                                                                                          chain gang shuffling next to a sucker

-the long look in the mirror [a stack of money starts talking from four cities away]

Tongo Eisen-Martin is a poet, movement worker, and educator. His latest book, Heaven Is All Goodbyes, published in the City Lights Pocket Poets series, was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and won a California Book Award and an American Book Award.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Two Poems by James Knight

Grammar Lesson

grammar is when the afternoon forgets itself

there are lines everywhere
            the page
            the room
            the window frame
            the horizon

she tries to keep inside

            in the attic lives a certified darkness
            waiting to think or play

she holds the cut men

sings to their bones

The Wooden Father

the wooden father works rapidly at your sores
pearly wisdom gleaming on his brow

                        there is music
            coming from the flowers under the stairs
                                    or perhaps from your mouth

            the night advances like calamity

the wooden father uses
syringes chains and laughter
to progress from one site to the next

                        it is best to keep your fingers still
                        but I think you know that already

the wooden father creaks and snorts
vapour from his crabbed lungs paints masterpieces in the air

you could always run away
            but the memories would bring you back

a pious mother waits
on the other side
of the moon

James Knight is an experimental poet and digital artist. Void Voices, his reimagining of Dante’s Inferno, was published by Hesterglock Press in 2018. Website: and Twitter.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Two Poems by Irene Koronas

psalm 170-1

septuage version found in
syriac current. wide set
crican elect by sight lude.
postexilic festal in parallel.
devise an example. tickets
fill mouth with edit. dac
singularity. seam crux.
proscovianic short list

heading eyelet hoshachar,
alamoth, tonirs, peregrinus
(colophon codex) [31]
last quarter. in turn will
hear (maschil) shir mizmor tehilla
maskil 32, 42, 44, 52-55, 74, 78, 88,
89, 142, 170-1, stem remains
cycle p.22 psalter use.
increase two shorten cite

march 2019
new test dogon leveret
        on a single mind

first and anther course
daz map at the start
        explore own

fose ban. errand plan
to accept fini change
who sent cos touch
        mem range
        in-lap contrast
        stasis quips

liquid nostal
sect nails six

Irene Koronas is the author of numerous collections of xperimental writing. Her individual collections include declivities (BlazeVOX, 2018), Volume III in her Grammaton Series, ninth iota (The Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2018), Volume II in her Grammaton Series and Codify (Éditions du Cygne, 2017), Volume I in her Grammaton Series). Her xperimental writing and sauvage art have been published in BlazeVOX, The Boston Globe, Cambridge Chronicles, Clarion, E·ratio, New Mystics, Otoliths, Pop Art, Poesy, Presa, Stride, Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art, Silver Pinion and Word For/Word. She is an internationally acclaimed painter and digital artist, having exhibited at the Tokyo Art Museum Japan, the Henri IV Gallery, the Ponce Art Gallery, Gallery at Bentley College and the M & M Gallery. She’s a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art & Design and is the Publisher and Managing Editor of X-Peri

Friday, November 8, 2019

Two Poems by Oriana Ivy


What do you look like, my soul? 
Do you have big eyes and small breasts?
Arms that stretch across continents,

and a fishs tail? All the aquamarines
and indigos of ocean,
and the approaching night —

between me and me, a streaming veil.
A childless woman is always a virgin,
weaving a shroud, pregnant with herself.

When did you teach me to dress in the wind?
To carry speech like loose change?
You made my life a foreign language,

homeless without endearments.
Death will come to me in Spanish,
La Muerte with its music, 

its slow kiss of vowels —
long returns of the Baltic,
white dunes where my life began — 

where I swam in your cold love
like the tears of the bronze mermaid
who remembers her lost name.

I cannot bear to think of my face
becoming ashes, but you say you are 
most beautiful just before

vanishing. Dont drown,
you whisper, and one blue 
eve youll see me flame 

then go out like the sun.
But having been.


La noche es infinita, she begins.
What is born in her mouth
slides out slippery like moonlight.
I pour infinity

into my native tongue,
let it create another world:
The night is not finished.
The night is not finished, it waits

behind the unfinished trees.
It makes the dogs bark,
makes coyotes laugh. What
do they hear that we cannot hear?

Infinidad, she says because
we’re infinite, but we are not
finished: the Universe is mostly
dark laced with dark,

pierced by the cry of the beginning.
There’s a space like a lover
that opens only once. Gabriela
waits, a lily burns in her hand.

What will you say to her?
Can you utter such a total Yes?
Do not ask if the angel
is real. Who wants a heaven

that is always day? We need
la noche, our native land,
black leche of the soul,
white of stars.

Oriana Ivy was born in Poland, and came to this country when she was 17.  Her poems, essays, book reviews, and translations include Poetry, Ploughshares, Best American Poetry, Nimrod, Spoon River Review, The Iowa Review, Black Warrior Review, and many others. She’s the prize winning author of the chapbooks April Snow (Finishing Line Press) and From a New World (Paper Nautilus), and has a new one, How to Jump from a Moving Train, forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press. A former journalist and community college instructor, she leads the online Poetry Salon and writes a poetry-and-culture blog.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Excerpt from Ærotomania by Adeena Karasick

we are “in harmony with our [prospective] annihilation”[i]

& asks you please put on your masque before debording[ii]

And as we rub shoulders
with abundance

between what is seen an unseen; heard between scenes, screens, schemes, screams
cockpits, lifts, radios, earbuds

as both a site of public and private space, the airplane celebrates itself
as an ever-shifting site of escape and refuge

reminding us how escape
is always entry into new dimensions –

This is particularly underscored in the fact that the gematria for the Hebrew word for airplane, “matos” also relates to the word for captive (ASIR)
and to flee (ARAH)

So not only at the nexus
of escape and refuge but
of concealment and exposure

  all servile, surveilled
a     salient      valence
of secrets swerves veils

the airplane functions
as a FOULCAULDIAN Panopticon

with a concerted distribution
of bodies, lights, gazes

a privileged place

where one is “able to judge at a glance
without anything being concealed from [it]
how the entire establishment is functioning”

i. For according to Batailles, “extreme seductiveness is at the boundary of horror”. See both
Visions of Excess and Story of the Eye.

ii. In French, déborder means excess, exuberance, profusion, overflow; pleine à déborder: full to overflowing

Celebrating the 106th year anniversary of the first commercial flight, Ærotomania
investigates how the airplane as an erotic theater, a social text of secret motives, is structured like a language. Like the cubism of Picasso and Braque or Gertrude Stein’s “studies in description”, through “a system to pointing” calls attention to the process of recognizing an object and to the role of language in that process. Between leisure, labor, utility and entertainment, Ærotomania exposes how the airplane, like language is neo-formally acculturating and reshaping telos, housing the flow of power and capital within it.

Adeena Karasick is a New York based Canadian poet, performer, cultural theorist and media artist and the author of ten books of poetry and poetics. Her Kabbalistically inflected, urban, Jewish feminist mashups have been described as “electricity in language” (Nicole Brossard), “proto-ecstatic jet-propulsive word torsion” (George Quasha), noted for their “cross-fertilization of punning and knowing, theatre and theory” (Charles Bernstein) "a twined virtuosity of mind and ear which leaves the reader deliciously lost in Karasick's signature ‘syllabic labyrinth’” (Craig Dworkin); “one long dithyramb of desire, a seven-veiled dance of seduction that celebrates the tangles, convolutions, and ecstacies of unbridled sexuality… demonstrating how desire flows through language, an unstoppable flood of allusion (both literary and pop-cultural), word-play, and extravagant and outrageous sound-work.” (Mark Scroggins). Most recently is Checking In (Talonbooks, 2018) and Salomé: Woman of Valor (University of Padova Press, Italy, 2017), the libretto for her Spoken Word opera co-created with Grammy award winning composer, Sir Frank London. She teaches Literature and Critical Theory for the Humanities and Media Studies Dept. at Pratt Institute, is Poetry Editor for Explorations in Media Ecology, 2018 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Award recipient and winner of the 2016 Voce Donna Italia award for her contributions to feminist thinking and 2018 winner of the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award. The “Adeena Karasick Archive” is established at Special Collections, Simon Fraser University. 

Monday, November 4, 2019


I was born into the arms of the white sun
I live just to praise its beauty.

Spurred by the golden spires
made to appease the falling magma
in my name, I turn & shine like a thousand stars.

Though there’s fire underneath my skin
& the songs of life would not cease to pull
me closer to dances that would not embrace my feet.

Bones of boys & girls who sprinkled blood
upon the language they cannot speak
become ordinary dust in my hands,

Omoye called out their names but the smoke
from my eyes have seen how quickly
names get burnt. We bury our dead inside

the stomach of the earth, yet in praying
for them we look up to the skies.
I run from east to west, like the pendulum,

gathering the tears of those who laughed
the first time I cried in the arms of the white sun
–as a king who will never ride a white horse.

When my new parents gave me alaari with which
to chase after Omoye I asked, confused, if they did not know
that Omoye has already walked naked to the marketsquare?

*alaari   a rich, handwoven cloth, brightly colored (Yoruba, Nigeria).

Bola Opaleke is a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. He is an emerging poet in that, in spite of being 46 years old, he has had no book of poetry professionally/traditionally published. His poems, though, have appeared or forthcoming in a few Journals like Glass, Frontier Poetry, Rising Phoenix Review, Writers Resist, Rattle, CBC Books, Cleaver, One, The Nottingham Review, The Puritan, The Literary Review of Canada, Sierra Nevada Review, Dissident Voice, Poetry Quarterly, The Indianapolis Review, Canadian Literature, Empty Mirror, Poetry Pacific, Drunk Monkeys, Temz Review, The Pangolin Review, and others. He holds a degree in City Planning and lives in Winnipeg MB.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Way a Door Waits to be Opened: In Conversation with John Guzlowski

DCW: I don’t know if you have ever seen Nardwuar’s interviews, but he always leads with this question, which I think is an important one: Who are you?

JG: Who am I?  That’s an impossible question to answer. 

Let me explain what I can’t explain: I did my dissertation on the sense of the self in contemporary American literature.  The focus was on the postmodern notion that there is no definable self.  I can not explain who I am nor can I explain who you are.  All I can give you is a sense of my self that is a fiction I’ve created or agreed to, or in part created and agreed to. Likewise, I can’t tell you who you are.  You are a fiction I’ve created based on the bits and pieces of you I know. 
So who am I? 

I’m a 71-year old guy with bad knees, vertigo, eyes that go in and out of focus, polyps in my left nostril, arthritis in my elbows, two broken feet that never heeled properly.
I’m also a writer who writes poems, novels, and essays about stuff that has nothing to do with all that. 

I write about snow and sparrows, the world in the morning, the world at night, the friends who are still here and wondering where I’ve gone to, and the friends who are waiting in their graves for my memories to give them some breath.

I write about God and aging, my wife and my family, the way a door closes and the way a door waits to be opened.  

I write a lot about my mom and dad, the lives they had after they left the concentration camps.

I write about standing at a bus stop in Chicago in the pearly gray rain waiting for a passing crucifixion just the way I did when I was a kid 50 years ago.

So who else am I?

I’m also still what I once was: a kid born in a refugee camp after WWII, growing up in a Polack neighborhood in Chicago, listening to my mother tell me how she saw her mother raped and killed by the Germans, dreaming of Walt Whitman and Dostoevsky, listening to my father telling me about how he watched German soldiers ripping the breasts off women with their bayonets, reading everything there was, going to schools and colleges and failing until I didn’t, dreaming with Kerouac on the roads I took, finding friends and losing friends, teaching and marrying and having a family like no family I had ever had, and growing and growing and growing.

And still that’s not who I am.  It’s just a story I tell my self.

Just yesterday, a friend I had in 6th grade got in touch with me on Facebook.  I haven’t spoken or written to this guy in like 60 years.  I asked him who I was in 6th grade.  He wrote back, “You were a tall, skinny, bad boy.” 

I was surprised.  I think he had me confused with someone else.  Or not.

DCW: You taught at the collegiate level for a few years. I think I remember you mentioning that at times you used to commute by plane. Can you tell us how teaching has informed you as a human being? What about your craft? How has teaching informed your writing, or vice versa?

JG: I started teaching in a university as a grad student in 1973 and finished as a full professor in 2013.  40 years.  How did that inform me as human being?  I think the most profound influence was on how I interact with people.  I was a shy kid.  I didn’t like to talk, didn’t like to put myself forward.  Part of this I think came from being an alien, a foreigner, a person who wasn’t from around here.   I was the outsider, I couldn’t speak English, didn’t know shit from Shinola when it came to being an American, didn’t know about pilgrims or Independence Day or Bing Crosby or Aunt Jemima.  And my parents were even worse.  The way I reacted to all of this was to pull back, hold back.  I didn’t like to talk to people, didn’t like to tell them what I was thinking or what the weather was like or what time it was because if I did they might recognize how alien I really was.

Somehow I found myself teaching, and teaching forced me to talk and to tell people what I thought I was thinking.  Just like this.  Without all those years of teaching what I would be writing right now wouldn’t be here and you wouldn’t be reading it.  I wouldn’t even know who you were or who the fuck I was.

Ditto with the craft.  Spending 40 years reading what writers wrote opened me to the possibility I could put words down on a paper that would somehow explain all the stuff I couldn’t explain.  The great writers I was reading always seemed to know what was going on in the world they were turning around and around in.  And I wanted to be that kind of person too.  Making sense for a moment of everything.

DCW: How important is travel to a writer, poet, artist? How has travel helped to shape your point of view?

JG: Travel – if you’re paying attention while you’re doing it – will teach you one of the most important lessons you can learn as a writer.  You are a stranger, and you are not a stranger.  You’re in the story you are living, and you are not in the story you are living.  When I travel, I am always looking for what I don’t know, have never experienced, but what I always realize is that what I don’t know is in fact part of what I know. 

I think a lot of this in some way reaches back to where I came from.  I wasn’t born here.  I was born in a refugee camp in a country (Germany) where my parents had been enslaved in concentration camps because they were considered subhuman.  I was a stranger in Germany, and a stranger here in the US.  Traveling now – and I travel a lot – reminds me I’m a stranger.

How does this impact my writing?  If I didn’t feel like a stranger, I probably would never write, probably I wouldn’t see the point of writing.  I would just assume that my views and ideas, my vision, was just like the vision everyone else has; and then what would be the point of writing it down. 

DCW: Do you believe in inspiration? What keeps you coming back to the work?

JG: I absolutely believe in inspiration, the muse that speaks to me.  When I first started writing, I thought the idea of a muse was just a gag, some bullshit left over from the Greeks.  But then I met a terrific poet named Gray Jacobik who said, “Listen to your muse.”  And I thought she was kidding me too, but she wasn’t.  She believed all writers and artists have a muse, someone who speaks to them. 

I finally came to believe it after that.  What I noticed was that thoughts and words were always popping into my head, and I didn’t know where they were coming from, but there they were, and I had to write them down immediately because the muse wasn’t going to whisper twice what she whispered once. 

Is the muse real?  I don’t know, but what I do know is that I have to listen to this voice and write down everything that it says to me because some of this stuff is really really good.
By the way, I wrote a poem of advice to a creative writing class once and it touches on the idea of muses, and here’s the last stanza:
Fourth, find a muse.  I’m not kidding.  Mine is a mother
of two who died in the snow outside of Stalingrad,
shot in the forehead by a German foot soldier
from a little town in Bavaria.  She comes to me
when I’m busy grading papers or talking with friends
and she begs me to remember her children, all the children.

What will this muse do for you?  Ask her, she’ll tell you.

DCW: Who were some of your favorite writers to teach? Who are some of your favorite writers to read? Why?

JG: My favorite writers to teach are pretty much my favorite writers to read. 
My favorite poets are: Whitman, Dickinson, Robert Frost, Tadeus Rozewicz, Milosz, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, TS Eliot, Ai, Philip Levine, Sharon Olds, Donald Hall, and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

My favorite prose writers are: Toni Morrison, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Dostoevsky, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Saul Bellow, Kerouac, Emerson, and Paul Theroux.
Why do I like them?

I like serious, gloomy writers.  I like writers who talk about everyday things too, tools and hammers, car parts, branches and limbs of trees, the way a head turns when a person feels too much sun on the back of his neck. 

When I was teaching creative writing, I always was telling students to make sure their writing had everyday things in them, things like hands and arms, feet and lips in them.  Someone recently asked me what good writing was and what good writing wasn’t.  There’s a long answer and a short answer.  The long answer involves criteria and personal biography, the short answer involves a simple statement.  Here’s the short answer.  What I feel is “good” is what touches me.  All the writers I mentioned above touched me, shaped me, mothered and fathered me. 
Here’s a poem I wrote about reading that tries to get to the heart of this:

What Reading Means to Me

Sometimes, you’ll be sitting in a car
Reading a novel you’ve read before
Waiting for your wife or husband
To get done with the shopping

And you come to a part
About something so close
To you that you feel the writer –
Even if she’s making it up –

Must have in some past life
Lived that moment you lived
In some life, lived a pain
So hard you want to take

The writer’s hand and hold it
Against your own chest
And say nothing.

DCW: We’ve chatted about music a bit. Why do you think music is such a powerful avenue for self-expression? Do you see a relationship between poetry and music? What do they do for each other?

JG: I tend not to draw lines between the different types of art.  Music, poetry, prose, art, photography, dancing, movies, theater?  All of them wash over me and clean me and shake and spruce me up and get me moving toward the next moment and the next word.  It’s always been this way for me since I was a kid.  One moment I would be reading a Spiderman comic and the next minute I would be reading Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and the next minute I would be listening to Son House sing Dead Letter Blues and the next minute I would be humming the Midnight Sonata and staring at a painting by Salvador Dali or Monet.

I love to sing and I love to shout out my poems and I love to watch a movie or a TV show that is like nothing else I’ve ever seen. 

But I know that not everything feels this way, and when I think about the power of music I think a lot of that power comes because music is the first art form we’re introduced to.  Before a kid reads a book or watches a TV show or anything, he’s probably listened to his mother sing a lullaby, and he’s heard his dad singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” or “Heartbreak Hotel.”  And the kid will carry this music and this memory through his life, and he’ll listen to every single song to see if it evokes the memory of his mom singing a song about a deep well and the little girl peering into it.  And even when he’s on his deathbed the kid will be thinking of that song, remembering it like it’s the passageway to heaven and soon he’ll be hearing her sing it again.

DCW: What does the writing process look like for you? Where does a poem “begin”? How do you know when a poem is “finished”?

JG: The writing process pretty much looks the same all the time.  I hear a phrase in my head, a combination of a few words or phrases, and I like the sound or the image or the thought, and I write it down.  Sometimes, if I’m lucky, as soon as I start writing the phrase I heard in my head, it will lead me to another phrase and another phrase and another phrase.  I don’t try to force it.  I just try to let the words lead me to where they want me to go. 

If I’m lucky, I’m finally sitting there at my desk looking at about a dozen lines, or 20 lines, and I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got.

What follows is generally a slower process of revision and playing with the poem.  When I was teaching creative writing, I used to tell students that editing wasn’t editing, it was really experimenting.  When you make a change to a poem, you’re experimenting with it, playing with it, trying to see what else you can do.  Sometimes this process takes a couple days, sometimes longer. 
How do I know I’m finished?  When the poem sounds right.  When I can read the poem out loud and it feels fluid and like it came from me immediately without hesitation or any kind of editing, that’s when I know it’s finished. 

DCW: Thank you for your time, John. I truly appreciate it. Is there anything else you would like the people to know?

JG: The only other thing I want to tell people is that they shouldn’t get discouraged when their poems don’t seem to work or they can’t find an audience.  Even if you are the only one reading your poems, they are still working, still doing their job on you the writer, opening you up to what’s inside you in a way that will make you happier and happier with your creativity as the years go on.
Remember that always, and buy one of my books.  Thank you.

John Guzlowski's writing appears in Rattle, North American Review, and other journals.  Echoes of Tattered Tongues, his memoir about his parents’ experiences as slave laborers in Nazi Germany, won the Benjamin Franklin Poetry Award and the Eric Hoffer/Montaigne Award.  He is the author of three novels and a columnist for the Dziennik Zwiazkowy.