Editor Chats: Peter LaBerge & Christopher Soto (a.k.a. Loma) by Peter LaBerge

          Here at the Adroit blog, we’re huge fans of Nepantla, a new journal dedicated to featuring and supporting the work of queer poets of color. We adore the publication’s mission, and share a number of poetry contributors—Xandria Phillips, Eddie Martinez, Darrel Alejandro Holnes, and Chen Chen, among others. When our founder & editor-in-chief crossed paths with Nepantla’s editor, Christopher Soto (a.k.a. Loma), coordinating an interview felt necessary. 


Peter LaBerge, Founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Adroit Journal: First thing’s first, can you share with our readers a quick bit about yourself? How about one sentence (with as much punctuation as you’d like)?


Christopher Soto, Editor of Nepantla: My name's Loma. I’m a messy punk faggot from Long Beach, CA // currently living in Brooklyn, NY.



PL: What brought you into poetry, and what brought you into editing (Nepantla, but also in general)? Was editing something that felt logical, or did you take yourself by surprise?


CS: I was raised by cholas. Hip Hop brought me to Slam Poetry and Slam Poetry brought me to the page, the page brought me into the MFA, and now I’m an institutionalized Kween… It was almost accidental that I started editing… Jameson Fitzpatrick was editing with Lambda Literary at the time. We met at NYU. We got drunk together. Then, Jameson introduced me to William Johnson [LambdaLiterary.org Managing Editor] and I started to more concretely set ideas for the journal… To be honest, when I first began to school at NYU (& editing Nepantla) I barely knew what I was doing. I didn’t know shit about the contemporary poetry community, never heard of Adroit or Lambda or Sibling Rivalry Press or Poetry Society of America… When the other students would take restroom breaks, in between class, I would take my journal and write down all the names of the poetry journals that lined the walls of my classroom. My first class at NYU was with Charles Simic. I hadn’t even read his work… People started to ask me for poems and started praising my work / editing before I even knew what was going on… I didn’t want to publish any poems until after finishing my MFA. It still feels, at times, like I’m running ahead of myself… So much has changed for me, in such a short time.



PL: Have you noticed recently any poetic trends that you think are on the rise?


CS: Stylistically, no. Thematically, yes… Not sure how you would quantify this, but I think more poets are starting to get political, starting to directly say, “Fuck the police” & “Fuck mass incarceration” & “Fuck White Supremacy.” It’s an exciting time… Also, I see a surge in the distribution of trans poetry, which is cool, & I see a surge in internet angst amongst poets, which is less exciting (but a complicated discussion to have within one sentence)… P.S. My observations are based off the last two years, since I've been kicking it with bougie poets.



PL: It’s clear based on the terrific spread of poets in Nepantla’s debut issue, as well as the issue that just went online that you as an editor value diversity within the community of queer poets of color. How did you come to assemble such a wonderful crew for your first issue?


CS: I actually have complicated feelings about diversity. I feel like it’s really reductionistic… I try to pay attention to age, gender, race, etc. but there’s always someone missing. The people who don’t get considered in conversations about diversity are usually those with the least amount of access to publication-- incarcerated poets, homeless poets, working-class poets, etc. I think diversity is important but it has a lot of limits… &&&, pertaining to our first issue, I had a lot of help. I asked a group of QPOC poets in NYC to come together for a meeting about the inaugural issue. We wrote down names of poets to contact and solicit. These journals are a lot of unseen work.



PL: I know some publications that have recently come into the spotlight for publishing problematic work that whitesplains, mansplains, straightsplains, etc. & have said that they read blind and therefore support diversity. Personally, this justification doesn’t feel adequate to me (after all, what if no diverse writers are submitting?). Where does it fall for you? What advice do you have for these publications that hope to introduce diverse voices into future issues, but don’t necessarily know how?


CS: Reading blind doesn’t support diversity, that’s bullshit... If you’re interested in supporting diversity then you should solicit from and build relationships with the communities that you want to include in your journal, then affirmative action their work and make sure that it gets published… I’ve asked for multiple rounds of submissions from some people, I’ve workshopped poems with some people… Solidarity takes work, undoing systematic oppression takes work... I don’t really think that many people understand how truly hard it is for poor brown girls to slay in this community, sometimes.



PL: Let’s shift gears for a moment. I know, in the midst of editing the journal’s second issue, you moved from New York to San Francisco and then back to New York. In what ways do you think your time in San Francisco, or even the moves themselves, influenced your editing process?


CS: I could barely edit or write this summer. (Bummer.) I started canceling readings and shit cuz depression hit me real hard-- dealing with a racist workplace, moving to a city with no friends, sleeping on couches for over two months. Then the police killed two people on the block where I finally found a sublet. My mental, physical, emotional health was not there this summer. Venus was in retrograde, but I'm back in NYC now… Cali is where I was born, but it has seldom held me. When I got back to NYC, my mentor said he knew I’d come back. He said New York is 10 years ahead of the CA… I told him that I’m 10 years ahead of New York… I have no fucking clue how I was able to edit the journal this summer… Now I’m thinking about the materiality of production, all of the material resources, support, privilege that it takes to put something like Nepantla together.


PL: How has being an editor affected your personal creative writing, and vice versa?


CS: Editing allows me to see all of the clichés within my particular community. When I’m reading so many queer folks of color, I start recognizing recurrent themes (that aren’t always prominent in the rest of the literary landscape). I try to avoid those themes in my poems… I’ve also become more thankful for the labor of editors and more conscious about what I submit, since founding the journal.



PL: And, finally, if you could say one thing to the Christopher Soto of five years ago, what would you say?


CS: Five years ago, holy jesus!!! Wow. I would tell myself to be strong, to get the fuck out Long Beach… Fucking shit, I started to cry already…. Peter, I’ve had some hard times in this life… I’m aquarius, I’m sensitive. I would tell myself that there are whole communities that will love and support me. I would tell myself that not everyone hates waking up in the morning, not everyone wants to die every morning, not everyone has to work so many hours, not everyone has a group of dead friends that follow them like ghosts in the hallways, not everyone gets pulled over by the police on their drive to school, not everyone gets pulled over on their bicycle too, & fucking shit, DON’T FALL IN LOVE WITH ALEC… He is the only person in California who is messier than you. Ah, I don’t think that I'd believe myself, five years ago, if I said, “You are going to get your MFA from NYU, start editing a national journal, start publishing everywhere, you’re going to be (generally) happy with life, you’re going to have social and intellectual and creative and financial support. You’re going to become so much more than you think.”

Why Lady Gaga's "Til It Happens To You" Deserves Our Attention, And Why It Deserves It Now by Peter LaBerge

             By Peter LaBerge, Founder & Editor-in-Chief

             Note: Please be advised this article discusses graphic (but important) content.

             The Internet has exploded with the release of Lady Gaga's important, emotional, educational, chilling, haunting, necessary music video for her new song "Til It Happens To You." 

             The song, in tune with its sobering title, calls attention to an issue many in society trivialize or miss altogether: the mass sexual assault of women and men on college campuses. The music video, released earlier this week from Interscope Records, is a perfect example of how art can—and should—be used to expose, affect, and ultimately (hopefully) change minds, college legislature, and the outdated fabrics of society. 

             But the song transcends merely reminding us of the reality millions of sexual assault survivors face on a daily basis. It holds a fiercely important distinction, one easy for the average friend, parent, or co-worker to miss: you don't know how it feels till it happens to you. Gaga's "Til It Happens To You" is an evocative reminder that support is not synonymous with understanding. Because understanding is impossible, and the idea that it is remains dangerous—it is a factor that silences, a hand over a survivor's mouth, a counter-productive force that builds walls around the already-coddled misconceptions of sexual assault and consent in America today. Indeed, true support comes when we recognize that there is only one path to truly understanding the interior landscape of sexual assault survivors, and that resources and education must be made available and open so those who are survivors may connect with each other and obtain help from those who do understand. 

             The video showcases a Gaga that's a far cry from the "Just Dance" songstress of years ago. The song itself was composed by Diane Warren for the incredible documentary "The Hunting Ground," which has been making steady rounds among college students and others since its January debut. Says Warren of the project in an interview with the Huffington Post, "I didn't want to sugarcoat it." In a statement, video writer and director Catherine Hardwicke added, "I hope that this PSA, with its raw and truthful portrayals, will send a clear message that we need to support these courageous survivors and end this epidemic plaguing our college campuses." 

             Brava, Gaga. Brava, Diane Warren and Catherine Hardwicke. This is the exact discussion topic that needs to be raised. This is the exact awareness that needs to be spread. Thank you for using art to open society's ears and give voice to the millions of students silenced right in our own homes, right in our own schools, right under our own caring watch. It is not enough to hope for, pray for, or envision change. This song reminds us of that. 

             The song's haunting lyrics are as follows. Please read them and remember the world of college campuses, and society's treatment of young adult men and women, needs to change, and it needs to change now.



You tell me hold your head up
Hold your head up and be strong
Cause when you fall you gotta get up
You gotta get up and move on

Tell me how the hell could you talk,
How could you talk
Losing till you walk where I walk,
This is no joke

Till It happens to you, you don't know how it feels, how it feels
Until it happens to you, you won't know, it won't be real
No it won't real
I know how it feels

Till your world burns and crashes
Till you're at the end, the end of your rope
Till you're standing in my shoes
I don't wanna hear a thing or two from you, from you, from you

Till it happens to you
You don't know how I feel, how I feel, how I feel
Until it happens to you, you won't know, it won't be real
No it won't real
I know how it feels
Till it happens you
Happens to you
Happens to you
Happens to you
Happens to you
Till it happens you
You won't know how I feel

Staff Spotlight: A Self-Interview with Aidan Forster by Aidan Forster

The Adroit Blog is thrilled to welcome Aidan Forster, our new assistant blog editor. He is a fifteen-year old sophomore in high school from Greenville, South Carolina. Get to know him further in this delectable self interview. 


What do you do all day?

I study creative writing at the Fine Arts Center with a whole bunch of really talented young artists. And I take regular classes, too—but those are ~somewhat icky~.


Oh yeah? What do you write?

I study poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, but I primarily write poetry.


What’s your type?

Of poetry?


No, of men. 

Tall, handsome, stable. Artistic guys get bonus points.


Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what’s your type of poetry?

I write mostly lyric poetry, but sometimes prose poems happen. I generally bother with narrative continuity as I write based off experience, but I wouldn’t say the poetry itself is narrative.


What do you explore in your poetry?

Some common images/ideas in my poems are men/boys, nature, birds, the ocean, transformation and transition (what is left/what is created), birth, coral (for some reason), and I often find myself chronicling sexual experience in poetry.


What’s your favorite poem you’ve ever written?

That’s a hard one! I can narrow it down to three. The first one is called “Logy.” It’s about a date I went on with a guy to a poetry reading, and it uses the word “study” thirty five times (because logy means study). The second is a poem about my friend Lindsey Hudson’s performance art piece, and it’s titled “Blood Moon.” She painted a portrait of herself putting on lipstick, then took 8-10 tubes of lipstick and arranged them on a table. Whatever she did to her face, she did to the painting’s face, until they were both just covered in lipstick. It was so incredible to watch. The last one is called “When Told Not to Chronicle Eroticism,” and was written in response to a magazine saying they did not accept erotic poetry. It was incredibly fun to write, as I explored nontraditional ideas of eroticism in nature, mythology, and my own life.


What are you working on right now?

I’m writing a series of poems based off symbolism/imagery/ideas common in my poetry. I’m trying to connect images that have never been connected in my poetry before, and to explore an idea through an image it hasn’t coexisted with in the past. I assume it will end up being very gay stuff.


Don’t you worry about writing “another gay poem”?

Kind of? I feel like a lot of LGBTQ+ poetry is dismissed as “another gay poem” because it is so strongly defined by its beholders as “gay” and nothing else. I like to think that writing about my experiences as a gay person without trying to make a political or social statement ends up doing more work than such a statement would, because it attempts to normalize what is seen today as “not normal.” I think it’s the responsibility of poets (and all artists) to discuss/explore the world around them, including its problems. For some people, they are called to write more political poetry, but I don’t think that’s my thing.


In six words, what would you say is “your thing”?

Anxious little gay writes hella poetry.


Who would you say have been your biggest literary influences?

Anne Carson, Mark Doty, Michael and Matthew Dickman, Terrance Hayes, Louise Glück, and Mary Szybist.


Who are you reading now?

The August issue of Poetry, The Hour of The Star by Clarice Lispector, Ruin by Cynthia Cruz, and Mayakovsky’s Revolver by Matthew Dickman.


Who is on your “To-Read” list?

How do you know I have one of those?


I’m you. Keep up.

Ah, right! Julie Carr, Richie Hofmann, anything I can find by Ocean Vuong, Christian Bok, and Peter LaBerge’s chapbook.


Speaking of Peter, what are you even doing here anyways?

I’m the new assistant blog editor!


How’d that happen?

Twelve trials, like Hercules.


Oh, right. I remember now.

Those were the days.


What are you listening to right now?

Why don’t you answer that one? We are literally the same person, as you so kindly pointed out.


“Dead Girl Walking” from the Heathers musical soundtrack.

You know your stuff! What do I have in my pockets right now?


A yellow plastic comb and your high school ID.

Right again!


What a surprise! What’s the most startling thing anyone has ever said to you?

One time, a boy tried to convince me that my dream of being a poet was invalid because “we don’t need poets anymore now that we have Google.”


Wow. Men these days.

Tell me about it!


How’s that dream going?

Not too badly! I have work in Polyphony HS, Verse, The Best Teen Writing of 2015, and forthcoming in The Adroit Journal. My work will also appear in ART.WRITE.NOW.DC later in September, and I’m a 2015 recipient of the Anthony Quinn Foundation Scholarship.


Go us! Is any of that prose?

Nope. Prose is hard. You should know this.


What about that one story?

We don’t talk about that!


Whatever you say.

Don’t you have somewhere to be?


Don’t you?

That's a good point.


Good talk, little gay poet. Good talk.


Aidan Forster is a sophomore in high school. He studies creative writing at the Fine Arts Center in Greenville, South Carolina, where he is the managing editor of Crashtest. His work has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and will appear in the 2015 ART.WRITE.NOW.DC exhibit. He is the recipient of the 2015 Anthony Quinn Foundation Scholarship, and the winner of the 2015 Say What Open Mic: Fresh Out the Oven Poetry Slam. His work appears in or is forthcoming from Verse, Polyphony H.S., The Best Teen Writing of 2015, and (of course) The Adroit Journal.

Fourteen Entirely Relevant Questions to Ask College English Departments by Peter LaBerge

By Peter LaBerge, Founder & Editor-in-Chief

Since we at the Adroit blog know high school seniors near and far are doing it around this time of year, let's be real -- the conventional questions (about funding, about class size) don't strike a unique chord anymore. Here are some that might.

1. Do you host karaoke nights? If so, with what frequency? (Asking for a friend.)


2. In which aisle of the metaphorical grocery store would I find your English department stocked? 


3. Speaking of which, about how much free food would you say you provide the average English major with, per semester?


4. If your English department were a short story, what would be the title, and who would be the author?


5. What would you say the pH level of your institution would be? (Just an estimate is fine.)


6. If you could give your English department one (and only one) superpower, what would it be and why?


7. Friends or Seinfeld?
(Ed. Note: The answer should always be "Both.")


8. Would you happen to know what portion of your undergraduate student body is comprised of closet fan-fiction writers? (Again, asking for a friend.)


9. It's after midnight on a weekend, and an English major at your institution has a spoon in his or her hand. What is he or she eating?


10. Would you say your institution embodies the Times New Roman, Arial, or Garamond aesthetic?
(Ed. Note: If the answer is "Comic Sans," run.)


11. Has your institution adopted a specific stance on the proper format of the em-dash?


12. Please respond with between five and eight emojis that most accurately represent your institution.


13. If your English department were a giant metaphorical hamburger, which condiments would you put on it?


14. And finally, the most relevant question of all:

What's in it for me?

*Disclaimer: No comment has been made regarding the response rate to these questions.


Dearest high school seniors: We love you so. The college process will work out, even if it doesn't feel like it! The important thing is that you take advantage of resources you have to make educated and well-informed decisions, with the reminder that happiness very likely can be achieved at multiple schools. Everything happens for a reason. As the fine fellows of William McKinley high once said...

RAISE YOUR GLASS: Adroit Meets Best Teen Writing of 2015! by Peter LaBerge

Hearty congratulations to all teenage writers selected for inclusion in Best Teen Writing of 2015, a publication of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers' Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. This year's anthology, selected from the pool of 2015 National Medalists, was edited by Issue Eleven contributor Michaela Coplen, so we knew it'd be good. And oh, it is.

Congratulations in particular to the brilliant Adroit mentees, contributors, and staff readers appearing in the anthology's pages:

Sophie Evans, Summer Mentee (Poetry), Requiem (Short Story)
Aidan Forster, Summer Mentee (Poetry) & Assistant Blog Editor, Bird-Throated (Poetry)
Henry Heidger, Blog Correspondent, Why Do Buddhist Monks Wear Orange? (Poetry)
Emily Mack, Summer Mentee (Poetry) & Poetry Reader, Ode to Welles (Poetry)
Grant McClure, Issue Twelve Contributor, Saving It for Later (Gold Medal Portfolio)
Isabella Nilsson, Prose Editor, Barrio (Short Story)
Rachel Page, Issue Fourteen Contributor (Forthcoming), Islands (Short Story)
Maia Rosenfeld, Issue Twelve Contributor, Snapchat Summer (Poetry)
Audrey Spensley, Summer Mentee (Poetry) & Poetry Reader, Paper Dolls (Poetry)
Caroline Tsai, Summer Mentee (Poetry), The War on Modern Boy Bands: In Defense of Teenage Girls (Critical Essay)
Emily Zhang, Summer Mentee (Poetry) & Issues Twelve & Thirteen Contributor, How to Steal a Storm (Poetry)

Be sure to check out the anthology for yourself -- grab a copy on Amazon here.

Conversations with Contributors: Brian Tierney (Issue 11, Poetry) by Peter LaBerge

by Jane Levy, Journalism Summer Mentee ('15)

The release of our Fall 2015 issue is just around the corner (Tuesday! Tuesday!)... but what about right now? Lucky for you, we've got a rockin' interview to tide you over. What happened when journalism summer mentee Jane Levy (Staples High School, '16) spoke with Issue Eleven contributor Brian Tierney? Magic, that's what.

Issue Eleven Contributor Brian Tierney.

Issue Eleven Contributor Brian Tierney.

Jane Levy, Journalism Summer Mentee: It's obvious we love your work, so first of all: what brought you to focus on poetry, rather than another genre?

Brian Tierney, Issue Eleven Contributor: Something like Saul being knocked from his horse. I guess I’ve been tinkering with words in one way or another for a long time. I studied English and journalism as an undergraduate, and was pretty far down the path of prose and literary studies graduate-level work when I realized I wanted to be writing poetry more seriously (i.e. not my embarrassing attempts to pen Neil Young songs). Suddenly, very suddenly, poetry was the most natural way of exercising my humanity. A fiction writer and friend of mine, John Fried, who works at my alma mater, put it this way: “I just woke up and realized I wanted to be doing it, not just studying how others do it.” There’s room for both, of course, but the point was well-taken.


JL: One of the things we admire in particular about your poem "Waking in the Year of the Boar" is its fresh treatment of grief and mortality. What do you think led you to address these themes in this way? (Whatever it is, please keep doing it.) 

BT: I arrived at “Waking,” which happens to share its title with the title of my first manuscript, after realizing autobiography was not a through street. I have a fairly small family, and many of them died in the last decade. My father was one of them. For a long time after he died, I wanted to make it mean something, say something, express something, as we all do, but I always came back to the particulars of our story, which to me becomes much less interesting since poetry is not memoir. As Williams wrote: “It is not necessary to count every flake of the truth that falls . . .  it is necessary to speak from the imagination.”

Who are we to live forever? Along I-80, goats graze,
testing the fences, not knowing there’s no heaven—
— Brian Tierney, "Waking in the Year of the Boar"

So I moved away from a more autobiographically fixed “I,” even as the manuscript is trying to emerge from one I’s encounter (my own) with networks of losses. One person dies, then another person dies, then Death takes on a formal persistence. But all of that matters much less when you are simply telling readers about your life. I wanted the “I” to be recognizably me, and so, be able to hold the weight of authentic experience, but also be capable of multiplicity and difference, of expansion and contraction, of observation and experience that could mean something to someone else.

The poem took off from there, as many other ones did. That I could grieve, but also find a way out that had nothing to do with an afterlife, or religious beliefs, or any other preclusion. Grief, for a while, is a blindness that elevates dark matter into the allegorical, the narrative, the symbolic, and the metaphoric, and through the metaphoric especially, into the poet’s capacity for empathy. But one of the reasons The Bible continues to throb long after scientific explanation, despite all the hypocrisies and hatreds attached to it, is because at its core the Bible is about creation and existence, and consequently, is a myth.

And myth—in a general sense—is humanity’s way of mirroring its own conception of the gods we’ve nurtured and ordained as creators and clockmakers and seers, a powerful subconscious self-instruction and preservation. There were lots of stones rolling around in my head when I wrote this poem. I wanted to dismantle some of my own previously held beliefs. I don’t believe in a higher power. I believe in the relationships lives have to each other. Earthly, animal, spatial, temporal, human; there is more to tell there than in any concept of god, or merely self.


JL: Shifting to "Elegy for the Mattresses Sleeping in the Past" for a second, I noticed you referenced Pablo Neruda's poem "Youth." What does this poem mean to you, and what led you to incorporate it into the poem? 

BT: Neruda is a poet many young poets read to be mystified and enlarged. He was a great poet of the heart, and of joy-pain duende. I’m not sure there is any particular reason I referenced “Youth” other than the fact that the line I borrowed, which made its way into the title, caught me in its lights and got me considering what starts to fall away as one ages, but also what remains to remind us of all we have done to each other through time, whether or not we’d prefer to forget it.

When reading Neruda, I always get the sense that it is all about the inexpressible, about accessing an accumulation of images and emotional depth and experience. It seemed to speak to ideas I was having at that time about lineage and growing back toward zero, which, despite its numerical denotation, is still something visible, seeable, especially in the world we’ve littered with remnants of ourselves and our stories. We do, in fact, leave something sleeping in the past, but our bodies remind us what that means to the now.


JL: You're, of course, entering your second year as a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University. What is something you have learned or realized during your time there that you can't imagine your craft without now?

BT: Thanks to many great conversations around the workshop table, I became interested in the idea of dramatic context—the “staging” of material, and how important that context is to the success of any poem. That poetry is a dramatic genre, rooted in dramatic form, in a way other writing never can be. That is, of course, if you take “context,” as I do, to describe how the parts function in particular ways to create particular wholes, registers, consciousness, voicing, spatial realizations and all manner of poetic presence on the page, even if they may contain layers of meaning. So I realized context and staging aren’t relegated to monologues or soliloquies, or more obvious foregroundings of the performative, in which the dramatic quality and framework is almost literally the poem inside and out.

...poetry is a dramatic genre, rooted in dramatic form, in a way other writing never can be.
— Brian Tierney

In a way, staging requires a series of answers that make one answer, which is the poem itself, embedded as it is with many facets. Who is speaking? Why? Is this an address to a ghost? Is this present, past, future, visionary, autobiography? Is it simultaneous? Is it a singular moment? Is this historically anchored? Is it reclamation, or re-using? Is this about place, people, the earth, society? Is it a story? Is it narrative? Is it both? (It often is.)

The questions, to a degree, could be endless. I don’t mean to establish mutually exclusive terms, or false dichotomies. But how all of that (and much more) relates to words appearing and sounding on a page has everything to do with writing as an act of discovery and decision. I saw, in my own work at least, that the ills of individual poetic endeavors are often sets of lines that lead back to a failed context. Maybe this means an impulse started isn’t carried-through; or I hadn’t adapted, as one must, to how poems change and contexts change in the writing process. Not so much that the poem, on the page, in those instances, wasn’t there or wasn’t interesting, but that the poem had cut a shape that didn’t necessarily fit the staging, or fit it, perhaps, too well and so became predictable, dead, circular, or just plain one-dimensional. That can happen especially with ideologically driven poems that sometimes affix a narrow range of readings without concern for truths outside the will to order things and make meaning. It is a matter of emphasis; where to begin, how to begin, where to end and how; how the title frames what follows, or doesn’t etc. If you don’t know what a poem is, or pay attention to how it moves, there will inevitably be a mismatch that readers experience and recoil from. Then again, writing really isn’t as scientific or theoretical as all that.


JL: How do you envision your first collection taking shape? Are there any overarching themes that you either have explored or hope to explore?

BT: With my first collection, Waking In The Year Of The Boar, I became interested in mythology and de-mythology, and interacting with myths, stories, family and cultural histories. To some extent I’ve tried to rarefy and mythologize my own life in order to interact with a grief that is always usurping all the charms of promised resurrections. In that way, I wanted to participate in and undermine those myths, to see what was left. It’s why, for the purposes of these poems, the titular “boar” becomes my father (the year of the boar is both his birth year and death year, as it turned out), and so a type of grief that constellates life. At its root I hope the manuscript takes our coping devices, both personal and communal, historical and proprietary, and lays them out on the table in pieces, like clock-parts, to figure out the shape it all makes from fragmentation and yearning. Part of that required drawing together my family history (which includes my aunt’s suicide in the mid-1970s) with a much larger history marked by series of losses and inherited hurts. Many of the poems reach out to ghosts; many come up against futility; some find love in the ruins, to borrow from Percy Walker. I think humans are at a point in which we have gone so far into our humanity, so far away we have journeyed from the beginning—the natural course of things—that those organizing principles now fail us, or some of us. The space between those packaged stories and the real ones we live, is the space where certain belief systems outlive their efficacy. And so we fill them with questioning. I suspect it will be a subject of interest for me for years to come.


JL: And, finally, a classic for the road: What is the best piece of advice you could give to an aspiring poet?

BT: The old cliché stands tallest: writing and reading (poetry specifically) as often as you can. That is number one. I’ve heard some poets say otherwise, but I suspect that has more to do with self-assuaging than some arrived-at objective truth about writing and what it takes. It is up to an aspiring poet to find their own evolutionary course, and what works for them. I would say remember that poetry requires the wild thought or feeling—without it, and the arrangements it can gather in its course, the result is inherently a conservative one, and I’m talking on aesthetic terms, not political or ideological ones. Too much control in the initial writing process can mean not enough room for the mind to come up against the word, against language, in order to find new shapes for its passage into unrecovered country. That is where I want poems to arrive. It is a little paradoxical, to prescribe wildness to get to order, to the thing on the page, a sort of inverse relationship between wielding all you know and remembering to forget some of it sometimes. Kind of like that silly ’80s tune: “hold on loosely... if you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control.”




Brian Tierney is a 2014-2016 Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University, and a graduate of the Bennington College MFA Writing Seminars. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in AGNIBest New Poets 2013The Kenyon ReviewNarrativeHayden's Ferry Review, and others.


Jane Levy is a senior at Staples High School in Westport, Connecticut. She recently studied at the Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute and in the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program, and currently serves as an editor for the student newspaper Inklings.

Letter to Kate Gale of "AWP is Us" by Peter LaBerge

By Peter LaBerge, Founder & Editor-in-Chief.


Dear Kate Gale,

Thank you for bringing the important matter of the privileged homogeneity of the AWP Conference to light via your recent Huffington Post article entitled “AWP is Us.” It is important to open this complex issue and explore it for what it is. I’m afraid, however, your reasoning and defense is almost entirely off-base.

First of all, it appears that your definitions of exclusion and intolerance are solely physical—as you write, “I pictured David Fenza saddling up a horse, Stetson in place, going out to shoot Indians. It was an unlikely image.” So, I guess, because Fenza is not murdering minorities in his spare time, there is no need to inspect and better route diversity efforts within AWP?

No. Sorry, not even close.  

How about, intolerance is silencing the voices of whole communities, omitting the telling of so many stories because of the intensely subjective, largely flawed process that is AWP panel selection?

In particular, I’d like to focus on one particularly disturbing excerpt of your extremely disturbing letter:

First of all, as someone who is 50% Jewish, I want to know just how Jewish AWP is. How many Jews apply to panels? How many Jews have worked at the office, not counting the accountant? Is there any level of anti-Semitism going on at AWP? With some added queries, we can nail down the Jewish question.
Of course, I want to know about gender preference diversity as well. How gay is AWP? I would say that I'm about 30% gay, that percentage accounting for all the time with girls before I started dating guys and which I'd be happy to return to if the need arises. We could simply ask applicants, how gay are you? If the person is confused, AWP could lay out some questions to help tease out the truth. If you are a female and not sure if you're gay, think about this. Did you attend Smith or Reed? How many pairs of Doc Martens do you have? Have you seen the movie Bound more than once? If male, do you attend musicals regularly? Do you have a large Barbara Streisand collection? Do you shop at Crate and Barrel?

Okay, aside from the alarming stereotypes flagrantly used in the above excerpt of your letter (Barbra Streisand? Jewish accountants?) and the supreme (and, frankly, offensive) misunderstanding of sexual orientation displayed here, there’s the simple fact that as minorities—as members of color, as members across the expansive spectrum of gender and sexual orientation, as female members or members of a particular religion—we don’t, and never would, strive to host “black panels,” nor “gay panels,” nor “Jewish panels" (etc.) in a world in which all voices are given equal respect and weight. We do not strive to be tokenized, to be labeled in the way you have labeled us. In the same way panels are not labeled “white,” are not labeled “inclusive of men” or even “exclusive of women,” we do not want to be defined by something as physical as one aspect of our identities—because there is so much inside each well of identity, each race, gender, socio-economic class, religion, and everywhere else.

Imagine if every white-washed, straight-washed, (etc.) panel accepted to the conference were labeled and written off merely as “white-washed,” “straight-washed,” etc.

We minority writers have interests beyond our identities, but even if we didn’t, our identities should not be rendered insufficient for exploration in the academic and social setting the AWP conference provides. To imply that further efforts to encourage and house diverse panels are not worth AWP’s precious time—or, even worse, that each “diversity panel” should be carefully counted and selected on the basis of how overtly it applies to the stereotypical terms of each well of diversity—is not only inaccurate, but also inherently problematic.

Finally, even the idea that AWP is Us is problematic, because it ignores the diversity inside of “us.” It neglects the intersectionality that must be considered—we are not all white and female, writing an angry vent letter in defense of a privileged organization from the Red Hen Press publishing house. Such an implication would be irresponsible, as well as dangerous.

So, Kate Gale, your tremendous bouts of ignorance and privilege are showing. Perhaps it would be best to sit down and listen to the chorus of dissent for the legitimate criticism that it is.

RAISE YOUR GLASS: Adroit Meets the 2015 Teen Sequins! by Peter LaBerge

We were thrilled to learn of Gigantic Sequins' unique "Teen Sequins" call for submissions, and couldn't help but encourage our high school summer mentorship students to share their stuff! As we'd hoped, they brought their A-game. 

Congratulations to Kathryn ("Katy") Hargett of the Alabama School of Fine Arts, '17 and Jordan Cutler-Tietjen of La Cañada High School, '16, named 2015 Teen Sequins for the Age 16 & 17 categories, respectively. Katy studied poetry with Managing Editor Lucia LoTempio this summer, while Jordan studied journalism with Blog Editor Amanda Silberling

Katy's Teen Sequins poem is entitled "Moro Reflex." Judge Sophie Klahr said of the work, "As Gregory Orr suggests in 'Four Temperaments and the Forms of Poetry' the quality of the greatest poetry is an interdependence on music and imagination, story and structure. Kathryn Hargett’s poem 'Moro Reflex' swims with these fused temperaments..." 

Jordan's Teen Sequins poem is entitled "Bedside." Says Sophie Klahr, "If we are to believe, as T.S. Eliot (nodding to Coleridge) suggested, in the idea that 'making the familiar strange and the strange familiar' is a quality of good poetry, what we have in 'Bedside' is a very good poem ... There is a startling sweetness to Cutler-Tietjen’s poem, and by the end, we see that the title of the poem does in fact contain the truth of it. This is a love poem, a poem of the body, attentive and shot through with longing. Strange familiar, familiar strange." 

Congratulations is also in order for the mentorship students named Honorable Mentions: 

Andrea Giugni, 17, North Broward Preparatory School (FL)
Meghana Mysore, 17, Lake Oswego High School (OR) 
Lucy Wainger, 17, Stuyvesant High School (NY) 
Audrey Zhao, 17, Marin Academy (CA) 

Additional congratulations to Issue Twelve contributor & 2015 Adroit Prize for Poetry Editors List student Annalise Lozier of Interlochen Arts Academy, '17, named an Honorable Mention in the Age 16 category. 

Thank you, Gigantic Sequins, for supporting teen poets! 

RAISE YOUR GLASS: Adroit Meets Best New Poets 2015! by Peter LaBerge

Congratulations to the fifty emerging poets selected by Tracy K. Smith for Best New Poets 2015 (Samovar Press/Meridian, 2015). We're thrilled about this list, and you should be, too. 

Special congratulations are in order for Ian Burnette, 19, whose poem "Harvests" was selected for inclusion in this year's anthology. Ian is a rising sophomore at Kenyon College, a Foyle Young Poet of the Year, and a graduate of the South Carolina Governor's School for the Art & Humanities. His work has appeared in The Forward Book of Poetry and The Kenyon Review, among others, and was selected by Tarfia Faizullah for the 2015 Adroit Prize for Poetry. "Harvests" was selected as the runner-up for the 2014 Adroit Prize for Poetry by Richie Hofmann, and is forthcoming in Plain China: Best Undergraduate Writing of 2014

Congratulations to the ten Adroit-affiliated poets selected for inclusion: 

Mary Angelino, Issue Eight Contributor, “Dinner at Nonnas” 
Ian Burnette, Issues Nine, Twelve, & Thirteen Contributor, “Harvests” 

Leila Chatti, Poetry Reader, “What Do Arabs Think of Ghosts?” 
Tiana Clark, Issue Fourteen Contributor (Forthcoming), “The Frequency of Goodnight”
J. Jerome Cruz, Issue Eleven Contributor, “Saudades” 
Cody Ernst, Poetry Editor, “Come Up” 
Trevor Ketner, Issue Fourteen Contributor (Forthcoming), “Gunshot Shards of Tiny, Steel Stars” 
Eduardo Martinez-Leyva, Issue Thirteen Contributor (Forthcoming), “Confirmation” 
Elizabeth Onusko, Issue Thirteen Contributor (Forthcoming), “Former Future King”
sam sax, Issue Thirteen Contributor (Forthcoming), “gay boys and the bridges who love them” 


See below for the full list: 

Allison Adair, “Western Slope”
Mary Angelino, “Dinner at Nonna
s” (previously appeared in Sugar House Review)
Jessica Bixel, “Lullaby for a Changeling” (previously appeared in Handsome)
Ian Burnette, “Harvests” (previously appeared in The Adroit Journal) 
Laura Bylenok, “Infinite Regress” (nominated by
Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, “Songs of Thirst: Six Sijo”
Damian Caudill, “Tuesday Ordinary”
Leila Chatti, “What Do Arabs Think of Ghosts?” (nominated by North Carolina State University)
Tiana Clark, “The Frequency of Goodnight”
Cristina Correa, “Reflection from a Bridge”
J. Jerome Cruz, “Saudades” (previously appeared in New Delta Review)
Jaydn DeWald, “Desire Lines” (previously appeared in The Carolina Quarterly)
Cassie Donish, “What Happened”
Lisa Dordal, “Pretty Moon” (previously appeared in Rove Poetry)
Cody Ernst, “Come Up” (previously appeared in Bayou Magazine)
J.P. Grasser, “Well” (previously appeared in Ecotone)
Alysia Nicole Harris, “Crow's Sugar” (previously appeared in Solstice Literary Magazine)
Michael Derrick Hudson, “The Garden of Eden and the Trilobite” (previously appeared in Boulevard)
Crystal C. Karlberg, “Bees Make Me Think Of My Mother”
Christopher Kempf, “Disaster Capital; or, We Are Made of Stardust & Will Explode”
Trevor Ketner, “Gunshot Shards of Tiny, Steel Stars” (previously appeared in The Sycamore Review)
Ashley Keyser, “Land of Flowers” (previously appeared in Passages North)
Edgar Kunz, “My Father at 49, Working the Night Shift at B&R Diesel” (previously appeared in Indiana Review)
Michael Lavers, “Patmos Revisited”
Brian Leary, “Wolf for Water”
Eduardo Martinez-Leyva, “Confirmation” (previously appeared in Apogee Journal)
James Davis May, “An Existential Bear”
John McCarthy, “Definitions of Body”
J.G. McClure, “Ars Poetica” (previously appeared in Fourteen Hills)
Elizabeth Metzger, “Not Spring” (nominated by Columbia University, previously appeared in Tupelo Quarterly)
Erin L. Miller, “Half-Life”
Ellene Glenn Moore, “At Puget Sound I Think of My Brother”
Lena Moses-Schmitt, “The Gate” (previously appeared in Devil's Lake)
Alicia Rebecca Myers, “The Last Travel Agent”
Jessica Nordell, “Girl, Running” (previously appeared in Radar Poetry)
Elizabeth Onusko, “Former Future King”
Antonina Palisano, “For H”
Clare Paniccia, “I Wish I Could Say” (nominated by the Southeast Missouri State University Professional Writing Program)
Kasey Erin Phifer-Byrne, “The Real Birth of Venus”
Danni Quintos, “White Beauty”
sam sax, “gay boys and the bridges who love them” (previously appeared in Drunken Boat)
Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer, “From the Cabinet of Counterweights & Measures”
Emily Skaja, “Four Hawks” (previously appeared in The Pinch)
Analicia Sotelo, “I'm Trying to Write a Poem About a Virgin and It's Awful” (nominated by The Antioch Review)
David Thacker, “A Fetus Dreams Her Father’s Brain is a Tenement” (previously appeared in Mid-American Review)
Emily Vizzo, “It was a miracle route everyone had been searching for and the story caused a sensation”
Claire Wahmanholm, “Fallow” (nominated by The University of Utah, previously appeared in 32 Poems)
Kara Kai Wang, “Idiom”
Amy Woolard, “A Place Where There Isn't Any Trouble” (previously appeared in Court Green)
Nikki Zielinski, “Midnight, Troy”

Adroit Visits the 2015 New York City Poetry Festival, in Review by Peter LaBerge

        By Peter LaBerge, Founder & Editor-in-Chief 

From left to right: Laura Romeyn, Keegan Lester, Jeanann Verlee, Peter LaBerge, & Joseph Fasano.

From left to right: Laura Romeyn, Keegan Lester, Jeanann Verlee, Peter LaBerge, & Joseph Fasano.

Yesterday, in the sunny nook of a Sunday afternoon, The Adroit Journal shared work from four contributors at the New York City Poetry Festival for the third year in a row. Despite nerve-wracking reports of rainfall for the day, we're happy to report that our reading was a success! Thanks so much to everyone who came out to the reading, and of course, to the wonderful folk at the Festival. We hope to return in 2016! 

If you couldn't make the festival, don't fret. We've managed to bring the reading to you, courtesy of prose mentee Shannon Sommers' iPhone (Thanks, Shannon!). 

Joseph Fasano

The moon, who has been away so long now, the lost moon with her silver lips and whisper, her body half in winter, half in wool. Look at her. Look at her, that drifter. And if no one, if nothing comes to know you, if no song comes to prove it isn't over, tell yourself, in the moon's arms, she is no one. 

 -- Joseph Fasano, from "Testimony" 


Laura Romeyn

It rained once / they say, not a flood, but a bucketing. / I think of how my body takes on water, / how my body leaks it out and off. / How I’ll reach for a glass when I need it, / when I want it.

 -- Laura Romeyn, from "Slab City


Keegan Lester

If we continue with what we should, / we all stand to lose / getting naked and swimming in lakes. / Everyone will be doing it then. / They will name it something paradoxical / like natural hibernianism.

 -- Keegan Lester, from "The Topography of Woody Allen


Jeanann Verlee

Maybe it was the tequila, / the salt licked off a neck. Or the way / the first boy in Juarez slid under my skirt in a back room. / The way the point guard unbuttoned my shirt / in the stairwell after practice. Or how the kid / with the teardrop tattoo beneath his left eye / gripped my hips, how he never uttered a word. 

 -- Jeanann Verlee, from "Grime

The Beat Converses: Myylo by Amanda Silberling

By Peter LaBerge, Founder & Editor-in-Chief. 

Every month (or at least more months than not), founder & editor-in-chief Peter LaBerge interviews an emerging musician doing great things. This month, Los Angeles musician Myllo is up to bat! See below.


Peter LaBerge, Editor-in-Chief: First of all, for those who may be unfamiliar, tell our readers a little bit about you and your music!

Myylo (Michael Lewis): The EP that I released, called Hearts of Sand, is a predominantly autobiographical acoustic pop EP, in the same vein as Sara Bareilles or Jason Mraz. I wrote those songs between the ages of 16 and 19. Back then, I was really hell-bent on replicating this acoustic sound that I had listened to growing up, so the production is based a lot around guitar, piano, and laid back percussion. It’s a style I think many artists pursue when they first start out because their songwriting tools consist mostly of their voice and one instrument. I wanted to keep my sound “pure” and “organic.” These days I’m focusing more on pitching songs that I’ve written to other artists and collaborating with artists to create music for them. Right now, I’m really inspired by Sia as a songwriter, as well as Nicki Minaj and Bon Iver. So, my music is changing and the next time I release an EP, I expect the songs should reflect that!


How did you get into music—did you have any affairs with other art forms along the way? If so, which ones?

I haven’t really had any affairs with other art forms. I tried out personal essays and I might come back to that one day, but music has taken up 100% of my time. I got into music as a kindergarten student because my parents threw me into piano lessons. I gave that up after a few years and then in high school discovered singing. Things actually started heating up when I went to Berklee College of Music for the summer in 2010. One of my roommates was there on full-ride scholarship as a guitar player. He was this absolutely incredible metal head and he made me buy a guitar and taught me the basics. My songwriting really kicked off then.

I fully committed myself to music my freshmen year at Penn. During my first semester I figured that I would find my life passion in an economics classroom or studying the history of China (this is not a joke – I came into Penn as an East Asian Studies Major). But, when I was walking back to my dorm one day I sort of freaked out. I was like, “What am I doing here? I need to be making music.” It just hit me one day honestly, my passion had been staring me in the face.

As you may know, a fair portion of our readership is comprised of students interested in pursuing the arts in some capacity. How did you manage to balance attending an Ivy League university and pursuing your music career simultaneously?

I pretty much created my own avenues for artistic expression and demanded myself to create. There isn’t a lot of time between drinking, studying, drinking, participating in clubs, and drinking to get a lot of work done. So, as a means of studying guitar, I created a “Music Mondays” YouTube channel where I would cover a song every week. That lasted for a bit and really helped me improve on my guitar playing. Putting pressure on yourself to create something each week, as well as, making yourself accountable to a public audience (no matter how small) is actually a great way to get yourself to create. During my final semester at Penn I took a songwriting independent study with Anthony DeCurtis (Rolling Stone Contributing Editor). Songwriting then became more than an extracurricular, it became a class. He would pitch me songwriting prompts and I was able to write 10 songs that semester. These days I write 10-15 songs per week, but back in college 10 songs during a semester sure felt like a lot. There isn’t a lot of time, but if you’re actually serious about pursuing a craft, you need to be creating constantly, even if its just 10 minutes a day. Force yourself to write!


You’ve lived in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and New York—three major U.S. cities. Which, from the standpoint of music, did you most enjoy living in, and why?

Los Angeles. The entire industry is here. I mean, I know of people who work for a music label that moved their entire team out to Los Angeles. That’s crazy! The whole entire team! In LA, more than NYC or Philly, it is easy to find really talented collaborators who are also willing to work toward honing their craft, as well as hustle to make sure their music is going to have commercial success. That is inspiring to me.


Finish this sentence: If I weren’t doing the music thing, I would _________. (And feel free to expand!)

I would be really unhappy. That’s as far as I’ve thought about that. I have refused to create any form of a plan B in my head. If you have something to fall back on, you will. I know its cliché, but I only have one path pursuing right now.

I noticed that you recently underwent a name change from your traditional “Michael Lewis” to the snappier “Myylo.” What led you to make this change? Do you think it’s affected your art in any specific way?

Yeah! That was a pretty dramatic change that I had been thinking about for a year and a half. Someone had asked me one day “Do you want to be known as Michael Lewis or something else?” I sat on that question for a very long time before coming to the conclusion that I needed a change. Michael Lewis is a generic name, one that is hard to search on the internet, and, honestly, isn’t that memorable. I needed a name that was unique and would make people remember me. I really loved the sound of Myylo and just went for it. I don’t think the name change has affected my art in any specific way to be honest. My art has changed more as a product of what I’m listening to and the other songwriters who I’ve had the privilege to be around. 


This has become somewhat of a Beat Converses classic, but three singers and a writer—risen from the dead, if necessary—just walked into the room, and you’re really happy about it. Who are they, and why are they so cool?

First of all I want this room to be covered in pink satin, have tacky porcelain tea-cups bought in a knick-knack shop from Carmel, California, and be loaded up with cupcakes. Now that we have the setting, one of these people is definitely Freddie Mercury. That dude is a bonafide god. I think that he is the best male vocalist ever and an incredible songwriter. He wrote the entirety of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by himself. I’d love to probe his mind and find out how he crafted a song with so many different changes. Sia is definitely the second one. That chick… Dayummmmm. She has a really good reputation in the industry for writing hit songs in under an hour. She has actually revealed some of her songwriting secrets in interviews, but I’m sure she has more to say then what’s on those pages. The final singer, and this is an obvious choice if you know me, is Beyoncé. She is hands down the greatest entertainer of our generation. In terms of the writer, it would have to be James Baldwin. Giovanni’s Room is my favorite novel of all time. I don’t think anyone crafts a sentence like James Baldwin. With Baldwin, no word is wasted. Also, he took major chances with his writing about racial frustrations and homosexuality, while simultaneously experimenting with different forms (plays, novels, essays, etc.). Oh man, yeah, James Baldwin.


And, finally, what’s next for you?

Right now, I’m really just working on songwriting for other people. You’ll be able to hear 3 co-written songs of mine on Bentley’s upcoming EP, which should be released at the end of the summer. Every musician in the band is absolutely nuts at their instrument and I’m infatuated with the lead singer’s voice. She gets me every time. I’ve been putting my own artist project on hold for a while and I’m not quite sure when I’ll be working towards it again. But, it will happen. I’m just waiting until the time is right.

Peter LaBerge is the author of the forthcoming chapbook Hook (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015) and the co-editor (with Talin Tahajian) of Poets on Growth (Math Paper Press, 2015). Recent poems are featured or forthcoming in Beloit Poetry JournalRedividerCopper Nickel, Best New Poets 2014DIAGRAM, and Indiana Review, among others. He grew up in Connecticut, and now lives in Philadelphia, where he is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania and the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Adroit Journal. Learn more at www.peterlaberge.com.


Caroline Glaser.
Louisa Wendorff.
Drew Tabor.
Maddy Hudson.
India Carney.
Hannah Trigwell.
Hayley Solano.

Joanne Polk: Merging Classical Piano and Feminism by Amanda Silberling

By Margaret Uhalde

Joanne Polk

Joanne Polk

Margaret Uhalde

Margaret Uhalde

Joanne Polk, a professional pianist, is a unique type of feminist. By focusing on the past in order to pave the way for women of the future, Polk dedicates her work to little-known female composers of classical music. Adroit talked to Polk about history, feminism, a music festival in the Catskills of New York, and more.


Margaret Uhalde: In your lectures you provide demonstrations of the music on period instruments. Can you tell me how different playing a 19th century broadwood is than a modern piano?

Joanne Polk, Pianist: Oh, it’s very different. The action (which is how hard the notes go down) is much lighter, and the number of keys is different. So for those of us who have been playing the piano since we were four years old, you get a certain kind of equilibrium when sitting down at 88 keys. When suddenly you’re sitting down at fewer keys your whole equilibrium is thrown off, and I find myself jumping to notes that aren’t there! Today, I played the Erard, but before when I was playing the Broadwood I literally ran out of notes. I was playing the wood. So, it’s a huge adjustment. Also, most of them are tuned down half a step. I have perfect pitch, so I’ll have a different “A” in my head, and I just have to ignore it.


I can’t even imagine dealing with that.

It’s really tricky, though for educational purposes it’s really fascinating. There are people who play these instruments, and that’s how they devote their life, but not me. I love using it to teach. When we have Manhattan In The Mountains (Editor’s note: a music festival dedicated to music history) up here we use the Piano Performance Museum a lot to say, “this is the instrument that Beethoven wrote for, and this is the instrument Schumann wrote for, and this is where the piano has evolved to today.” It allows you to see the evolution of it, but I like to play the modern pianos. I’m a modern kind of girl.


It’s quite clear that you’re an accomplished pianist, but have you become what you wanted to be when you were little?

It’s taken a different turn because I’ve devoted a lot of my performing career and all of my recording career - I’ve got 13 CDs out on the market - to music written by women. That I would not have said when I was five years old, “I want to do music written by women!” That is something that sort of came to me when I was in my thirties, and I met a woman composer who revealed to me how hard it was to write and be taken seriously, and that touched me. I did feel that I struggled as a woman when I was coming up. When I went to Juilliard there were a lot of gender comparisons, and so I did struggle a little, especially being a small woman. There was something about the struggle of a woman composer that touched my heart, and that sent me on a path that I remain on today. So the path is different, but making a living in music and spending my life in music was clear to me when I was four.


You’ve been an advocate for women composers for years. Do you think what you experienced and those gender biases still exist in music today?

I think it’s much better. Musical America is the major publication in the music world, and they had an article called “Profiles in Courage” featuring the thirty top musicians in the world, and they chose me because of my work promoting women composers. It said in the article that the work I’ve done has made a difference. I think there are more women studying in conservatories, and women couldn’t go to conservatories for a long time. So now we’re seeing that, and the big change is, we’re seeing women conductors. I do think there’s change. Is there still bias? Of course. Is it ever going to be unbiased? I don’t know. A couple of women have won Pulitzer prizes in music - that’s never been done before. I think there’s a difference, because people have worked for one. Many men and women have devoted their time and effort to supporting and promoting music by women, especially in the last 50 years.


How does classical music stay relevant when the music world is constantly changing?

The thing that’s so difficult now is that everything is so fast; with texting, and video games, everything is fast. Music is a lifelong pursuit, and to tell someone it’s going to be ten years before you can really play that piece well, forget it. People don’t want that. Also, the number of hours of practicing that you have to spend alone in a room is not attractive anymore. Because of technology now you can be in touch with people quickly, and there’s so much enforced solitude as a musician, just because of the amount of practicing you have to do. So you’ve got to get out there, and take it to the schools, and put out a Christmas album if you have to, but do something that is going to make it matter. We will become irrelevant very quickly if we and people younger than I don’t start making it relevant. My last CD that came out in September debuted at number 1 on classical billboard, and it was music written by a woman. Now that’s super exciting, but if you compare what’s number 1 on classical billboard to Taylor Swift’s number 1, it’s like one hundredth of that. I sold a couple of hundred CDs in a week. She sold a couple of million in a week! We’re not that relevant, but we have to keep trying to be. I think music written by women could touch certain people in our society.


Definitely. Social issues are always evolving, and now feminism is more prominent. Do you think it would benefit classical musicians and women in general if your cause became a bigger part of feminism?

There was something about the struggle of a woman composer that touched my heart, and that sent me on a path that I remain on today.

I do, very much. That’s where my next step is, to go to some of the women’s studies divisions in colleges and universities, and say I bet you’ve never heard of Clara Schumann. There is another Schumann, there is another Mendelssohn, and others. I think people go into the concerts with kind of low expectations, and then they come out knowing this music is just as good. That’s not to say there isn’t bad music written by women, but there’s also bad music written by men. Not everything that everybody does is great, and so we have to be permitted that spectrum the way men are. So I think it takes an advocate to get it out there, and that’s absolutely how I devoted my life since my mid-thirties. It’s something that touched me and it’s worked.

Here’s a more personal question: what’s your favorite song?

You mean piece?

Any song, just to listen to, what you sing along in the car to. Is it a classical piece?

No, it is not.

Is it pop, country...

It’s the Beatles! I’m a 1960’s rock and roll fan. I’m a runner, and that’s what I listen to while I run. That’s my stuff, I’m a Beatles fanatic.


I rarely listen to classical music in my free time. I’m just too busy criticizing it, I’d rather listen to something I know nothing about!

You’re a musician married to a musicologist, is that a match made in heaven?

It can be. We’re doing lectures/recitals now, and they’re new for us. Jeff is a lecturer, not a performer. Our son is a performer, and he and I perform together; he’s a cellist. Jeff is more of an academician, but now we’ve recently started doing the lecture/recitals. It’s fun to merge the two. When my son is home it’s always, “what room are you practicing in?” He can move the cello, I can’t exactly move the piano. Jeff and I don’t have to argue over practice space in our marriage, and it’s fascinating because Jeff can also give me historical background on music. So basically, this marriage works.

You’ve talked about performing with your son, and how being a musician often involves being alone with your music. Do you ever find a connection with composers or other musicians that you don’t really find elsewhere?

Yes, very much so. There is absolutely a connection through music. Many years ago I played a couple of concerts with a woman named Diane Pascal, who’s a violinist. This was easily fifteen years ago and I will never forget how much I loved playing with her or how I felt our souls meshed. She moved to Vienna and we’ve hardly been in touch, but I invited her to teach at Manhattan In the Mountains this summer, and she’s coming. So she and I are going to play together for the first time in years. There are connections that you make when you’re playing music with somebody, with whom you share a soul that are lifelong. Then there are also connections to certain composers; there’s one composer who’s alive whose music I feel very connected to, and she and I have worked together a lot. So yes, you make those kinds of connections that I think are irreplaceable. It’s a very intimate exchange. First of all you have rehearsals where you let your guard down and can say anything, but what happens on a stage is a very intimate thing. It’s very different from rehearsals, and when you’ve been through that with somebody, you can develop lifelong friendships.

What made you and your husband come to the Catskills?

That’s a circuitous story: it was actually Tatiana [Goncharova], Grigory [Kalinvosky], and I (my two performing colleagues, a pianist and violinist) talking about how we wanted to run a festival in our own way. I believe somebody introduced us to someone else, and then someone else, and we ended up having a meeting and looking around. It took us a couple of years but we started our first festival in 2012 here with 24 people, and we’ve got 43 coming this summer. So I think we were kind of putting the word out that we wanted to start our own festival, and it worked.

We all know you’re a fantastic pianist, but do you have any hidden talents?

I have some hidden passions. I don’t know if I have hidden talents. I’m passionate about psychology. I study it all the time, since I was about thirteen or fourteen. I’m a passionate reader. I read many books a week, novels, and I love to write. I wouldn’t call any of those talents. I think when you have one talent you’re blessed to have one. I’m also a bad runner, but I’ve been running for thirty years. I wouldn’t call that a talent except that I keep going.

Margaret Uhalde is an eighteen-year-old college student in New York. She works too much, has too much faith in humans, and doesn't sleep enough, but knows it will all pay off in the end. In High School she co-founded a creativity club called “This Is Me” and helped publish two literary magazines. Her writing has been featured on the Words(on)Pages Press blog and she regularly contributes to the Catskill Mountain Region GUIDE Magazine. She manages the coffee bar in the Prattsville Art Center and has been featured in a few exhibitions there. She’s in love with everything coffee and creativity, and is trying to figure out how to live off of the two. Find her at wordsfrommargaret.tumblr.com.

Joanne Polk is a member of the piano faculty of Manhattan School of Music, and is an exclusive Steinway artist. She was named one of Musical America’s Top 30 Professionals of the Year (2014). Her recordings include: by the still waters, which received the 1998 INDIE award for best solo recording, Songs of Amy Beach, which was nominated for a 2007 Grammy Award, Completely Clara: Lieder by Clara Wieck Schumann, which was selected as a “Best of the Year” recording by The Seattle Times and was featured on New York Public Radio’s Performance Today, The Flatterer, which was a “Pick of the Week” on New York’s classical radio station (WQXR) and debuted at Number 1 on the Classical Billboard Chart, and many others. Joanne Polk received her Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees from The Juilliard School, and her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Manhattan School of Music. She has given master classes at many summer festivals and universities across the country, and was one of four directors that launched Manhattan in the Mountains.

I'm Not Laughing: Why We Need Diversity in Comedy by Amanda Silberling

By Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor

Last night in a quiet Philadelphia neighborhood, I walked into the back room of a bar for an open mic comedy night with my friends Gena and Maya. When the door opened, every pair of eyes in the room stared at us – we were the first women to arrive.

Gena is a member of Bloomers, the University of Pennsylvania's all-female musical comedy troupe. Unlike any other campus group, Bloomers shows sell out, and they have a positive reputation (Saturday Night Live’s Vanessa Bayer even brags about being a Bloomers alum on national television). But tonight, Gena decided that she was going to try stand-up comedy for the first time, so Maya and I tagged along in support.

As someone who watches Bloomers dominate the performing arts scene at Penn, marathoned all of Broad City in one weekend, and read Tina Fey’s memoir Bossypants twice, it’s easy for me to forget that stand-up comedy is still a battlefield for female comedians. I expected to catch up with my friends, chat about our summer jobs, and maybe laugh a little. I had no idea what I was in for.

The host of the open mic tried to warm the crowd up with some jokes about racism in South Philadelphia – a topic that isn’t very funny – so I’m going to warm you up with a quick story, too.

One comic made a joke about what would happen if Oprah married Bob Marley and said, “Everyone goes home with a half-pound of weed!” He pulled a half-pound of weed out of his backpack – an actual, real-life, non-oregano half pound of weed – a quantity so large that it warrants arrest in an area where marijuana possession is decriminalized.  The shock factor in that joke had us laughing all the way home.

But that wasn’t the most ridiculous thing that happened last night.

Close to thirty comics performed, spending three minutes on stage each. That’s about an hour and a half of open mic comedy. Gena, a college-aged, first-time comic, was the only female who signed up to perform.

Thirty-seconds into the show, comic number one joked about racism in Philly. Five minutes into the show, comic number two dropped the f-bomb: friendzone. Comic number three made a rape joke. Comic number four claimed that women have it easy, since they can get guys to buy them drinks if they show enough skin and wear enough make up. Then there was another rape joke. Around comic seven or eight, there was a joke about suicide. The host walked on stage.

“But really, guys… If you’re feeling suicidal, you should talk to someone. Call me,” he said. Hey, that’s really nice of him, I thought. Maybe this community of Philly male comics isn’t as bad as I think – maybe this is just a bad night. But I was quickly proved wrong. “Seriously, you can call me, and I’ll kill myself with you.” The room boomed with laughter.

Gena, a college-aged, first-time comic, was the only female who signed up to perform.

As the number of empty beer bottles by the bar got larger, the jokes got worse, and more threatening. Soon, my friends and I became the butts of the jokes. One comic made a comment about “the three girls over there,” and how funny it was that we hadn’t left yet. We felt the gaze of everyone in the room upon us again. A few acts later, a comic singled Gena out from the crowd.

“Nice hair,” he said. “That’s called a pixie cut, right?”

“Yeah… thanks,” Gena replied.

“Damn,” he said. “Girls with that hair are pixies, but a guy cuts his hair like that, and he gets called a faggot.”

Again, the room boomed with laughter.

The jokes continued, and the male comics complained about a variety of things: Their girlfriends are whiny and illogical. They meet girls on Tinder who give bad blowjobs. They can’t meet a woman in her late twenties who isn’t a mother. They go back with a date to her apartment, but they don’t have sex. Cat-calling must feel like getting checked out by a gay man. Having a girlfriend is great, because you can save money on condoms.

When the host read the list of upcoming comics, Gena was fifth in line, so I took the chance to go to the bathroom without fear of missing Gena’s performance. As I washed my hands, the other woman in the bathroom said to me, “Are you the girl performing?”

“No,” I said. “But my friend is.”

“Thank god,” she said. “My friends and I just wanted to see some female comedians, but it’s all just dudes. I wanted to stay for your friend, the girl, but I think we’re going to leave.”

When I sat back down, Gena, Maya and I are the only women in the room of about fifty people. Finally, the host announces Gena’s name, and she picks up the microphone.

“I love the internet,” Gena starts. She tells a story about a funny experience checking her symptoms for a cold on WebMD. The audience laughs in all the right places, and when Gena sits back down with Maya and I, we congratulate her for performing her first stand-up bit. We plan to leave, until the host reads the next group of comics, which includes someone named Courtney.

“I think it’s another girl,” Gena says. “Let’s stay for her.”

We sit through about ten more minutes of mediocre comedy. The same cycle repeated, some misogyny here, misogyny there. The occasional slur. We dealt with the discomfort to support the upcoming, second female comic. We felt a sense of solidarity with her – we couldn’t just leave before her performance. We needed to be in the crowd to support her in a room full of male comedians who hadn’t shown us respect in their performances.

As I waited for Courtney to perform, I thought back to a few years ago, when Daniel Tosh of the hit Comedy Central show Tosh.o made a joke at one of his stand-up shows about how funny it would be if a specific woman in the audience was gang raped at that very moment. Tosh offered a less-than-satisfactory apology via Twitter. After my experience with stand-up comedy last night, Tosh’s antics are even less surprising to me. Famous male comedians like Daniel Tosh and Dane Cook aren’t the only people who pit women’s safety and well-being as the butt of their jokes. If the majority of the thirty comics at this one Philadelphia open mic night are throwing around misogynistic thoughts on stage for their comedic value, then there must be innumerable local comics around the world who are the same, if not worse as what we saw last night.

“I never got a blowjob from a white woman until I was twenty-six,” one of the last comics of the night started. “I heard that white woman are crazy – they’ll do anything. But when it finally happened, I got a toothy blowjob.” He continued to complain in detail about the disappointment of having sex with white women. “I’m still open to dating white girls, though,” he said. He looked at Gena and waved at her. “I mean you,” he said. Though the comic’s comments were directed at Gena, Maya, and I felt almost as violated as she did.

Last year, BuzzFeed Brews interviewed Jerry Seinfeld, one of the most iconic living comedians. When the host asked Seinfeld why the majority of the guests on his web series Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee are white males, Seinfeld says, exasperated but amused, “Yeah, let’s get into that. Take a look over here, what do you see? A lot of whities!” He points out that the majority of the crowd, not unlike Gena’s open mic, was made up of white males.

“This really pisses me off,” Seinfeld said. “People think it’s the census or something. Who cares? I have no interest in gender or race or anything.”

Diversity does matter, though. Not only does it matter – it’s crucial. In its most basic form, comedy is about making people laugh. How is it not important to have a diverse group of people telling different stories lodged in their different experiences and worldviews? But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. This is less an issue of getting people on stage who more people can sympathize with, and more an issue of prejudiced ideals seeping through the comedy community. At the very least, my female friends and I should be able to check out a local open mic comedy night without being reminded of our femininity at every turn. We were the only people called out in the crowd last night during a comedian’s set – multiple sets, I might add – and I can only be thankful that their jokes weren’t as terrifying the aforementioned Daniel Tosh joke. And then I realize how awful it is for me to be thankful that no comedian said that it would be funny if my friends and I were raped. 

I think about Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who got her start on Seinfeld, and now stars in her own acclaimed HBO series Veep. Last year, Rolling Stone wrote a cover story about Veep – but as a result, Louis-Dreyfus was featured naked on the magazine’s cover with verbage from the Constitution written on her back. Would a male comic be represented the same way, reduced to a “sex sells”-type scenario? Why are we unable to celebrate women in comedy without forcing them to get naked?

When Gena, Maya, and I walked home, we stopped for a minute and looked out across the Schuylkill River at the Philadelphia skyline. The Philadelphia Museum of Art towered behind us.

“I was going to say something about sexism, but I didn’t want to draw any more attention to my gender,” Gena said. And I agree. A productive way to fight back is to show people that women are funny. But offstage, we can’t ignore the sentiment that comedy is a man’s world. I’m happy that comedians like Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson of Broad City will talk openly about feminist issues in comedy, but I wish we lived in a time when we didn’t need to explain to Jerry Seinfeld why diversity in comedy is important. I understand more clearly than ever why Gena’s comedy troupe Bloomers worked to raise nearly $10,000 to host LaughtHER Fest for the first time this year, an event billed as a “celebration of funny women.”

But at least, besides Gena, one other female comic had the guts to get on stage in front of a room of men making veiled misogynistic remarks for two hours straight.

“And now, give it up for Courtney!” the host said. My friends and I clapped loudly, excited to support a budding female comic who waited nearly two hours to perform her bit.

Courtney was a man.

Amanda Silberling is the Blog Editor of The Adroit Journal and a sophomore English student at the University of Pennsylvania. Her reviews and essays have appeared in The RumpusThe Los Angeles TimesPANK Blog, and others. Her poetry has recently appeared in Crab Orchard ReviewTinderbox Poetry JournalThe Louisville Review, and SOFTBLOW. She regularly writes about music for Rock On Philly and The 405

Meet the Mentees: Ben Read (Poetry), Jane Song (Experimental Prose), and Audrey Zhao (Poetry) by Amanda Silberling

By Jordan Cutler-Tietjen (Adroit Journal Summer Mentee – Journalism)

The next installment of the “Meet the Mentees”  saga features a trio of up-and-coming writers who are making waves in the third annual Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship. Ben Read (Spokane, Washington) and Audrey Zhao (San Francisco, California) are focusing on poetry under the tutelages of Jackson Holbert and Aline Dolinh, respectively, while Jane Song (Old Tappan, New Jersey) is studying Experimental Prose with Alexa Derman.

Jordan Cutler-Tietjen, Journalism Mentee: Introduce yourself with your favorite movie quote.

Ben Read, Poetry Mentee: “Beneath this mask is more than flesh. Beneath this mask is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.” – V from V for Vendetta.

Jane Song, Experimental Prose mentee: "Dear White People. The minimum requirement of Black friends needed to not seem racist has just been raised to two... Sorry, but your weed man Tyrone does not count."  – Sam White, the protagonist of Dear White People.

Audrey Zhao, Poetry Mentee: “You look pretty”

“What did you say?”

“Uh, I said you look shitty! Goodnight, Denise!” – Hot Rod.


Why do you write?

BR: I’ve tried to write many poems to explain why I write, and I think I’ve been somewhat successful, but I won’t copy and paste one here. Initially, I was inspired by writers in my life, especially my mom and struggling slam poets in burrito shops in Spokane, and now I continue to write because of the rewarding feeling of creation, the hope that I am producing something meaningful and lasting, and the strangely harmonious sequences of words and ideas I sometimes surprise myself with.

JS: I definitely have a lot to say, but not enough oomph in my speaking voice to express it. I can't say that I've ever been an "outsider," but I've most definitely never been a Large Ham. I could think that over time I've collected lots of unsaid words, and I write to compensate for them, but I think that there's more than that. My love of writing comes from my desire to better understand the world around me and my desire to be understood. I had a phase last year when I was really interested in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and categorized everyone I knew (real and fictional) into the 16 types. (Typical INFP behavior) It wasn’t about a need to compartmentalize life or judge people, but to try to figure out “their deal:” how I should communicate with them or what they’re motivated by. MBTI helped me create more lifelike characters because it provided me with a basic human framework. Writing makes me love people, for existing and being so complex and making life so interesting. As narcissistic as it sounds, I want to make people invested in my work and make them empathize with the people I created. I want to subliminally send my messages and give people constructive ideas. I want to create and I want to help make life better for people who are not me.

AZ: Anxiety and Expression.


Why Adroit?

BR: I was connected to The Adroit Journal through a Creative Writing class that encouraged submissions. I found it and I was captured by the art first, and then the electric poetry. Every time I learn more about the journal I have more respect for it: that Peter [LaBerge, Editor-in-Chief] started it as a sophomore in high school, that the editors respond quickly and personally, that they encourage young writers, and that the people involved are weird and artsy and fun.

JS: Adroit isn't a Cool Young Mag For and By Young People. It's a Cool Young Publication For and By Young People. Its content is inspiring – I read it and go "like whoa," and I love the fact that it takes a while for me to understand some of the pieces, and even when I think I do, there are still fragments stuck to my head. 

AZ: I first heard of Adroit because a friend of a friend, whose poetry I admire, had a few poems published in the journal. After quickly perusing the journal, I became enamored with the type of writing that populated Adroit and in January or February, fresh off my introduction to poetry, I decided to submit some poems. Two days or so later, in an embarrassed frenzy, I rescinded my submission. Then Peter emailed me and I realized this mentorship program existed.


If you and your mentor were a famous duo from literature or history, whom would you be?

BR: Jackson and I, in my mind, are Guy Montag and Clarisse McClellan from Fahrenheit 451. In my writing I was on old “Guy” who thought he had a pretty good idea of himself and what he was doing but then was shown more about himself and his own writing by someone with exciting, interesting ideas and taste.

JS: Scented glitter gel pens and secret diaries.

AZ: This question will reveal just how truly uncultured I am. I want to say a presidential duo because I know Aline digs that, but I do not know enough about presidents. I am going to say Bialystock and Bloom from The Producers and NO, this is NOT saying Aline is sleazy like Bialystock (ily Aline xoxo), but that we are very different people that both learn from one another. Also, it is a mentor-mentee type of relationship even if Bialystock is... not the best teacher. Perhaps I should have picked a better duo because Aline is fantastic and a phenomenal mentor, but, I apologize, I am uncultured.


What’s your ideal location in which to write?

BR: I like to write in a bright sunny area with very few people around, ideally with some food to snack on and water to drink during my contemplative periods of staring into space.

JS: I find that at times, I can write pretty feverishly while half-listening to a sermon at church, when no one's looking over my shoulder, and though it's maybe not ideal, I mostly end up writing on a Google Doc while sitting in front of a desktop screen.

AZ: I have two-

  1. Standing at the kitchen counter after 12:00 am listening to/badly singing along with the music I am currently captivated by (Currently: "I Would Do Anything For You" by Foster The People, "Ice Cream Sandwiches" by Moss Lime, "I Got The Moves" by Habibi, "Obedear" by Purity Ring etc.).

  2. There is a wall in my house that is completely covered by a mirror and occasionally I sit in front of it and speak to my reflection and occasionally this results in poems.

Write your six word story up to this point.

BR: Lonely boy discovers words then people.

JS: "Closet liberal" lives a conservative lifestyle.

AZ: I bumble into greatness. That’s all.


Name 3 writers who have inspired you.

BR: Tony Hoagland, Laura Read, Lauren Gilmore

JS: Roxane Gay, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jenny Zhang (in general). But Tina Fey, David Sedaris, and John Green have played roles in developing my sense of humor and voice. And I'll always admire Ezra Koenig and Bo Burnham for their ability to make the arcane accessible with their wordplay, introspection, and agnostic questioning of existence.

AZ: I actually read an embarrassingly small amount of fiction and poetry so some of my inspirations may not necessarily be in these genres. Also embarrassing: I don’t read enough works by any one writer for them to actually inspire me. Rather, individual works have inspired me.

  1. Primary: Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinow convinced me I was not insane.

  2. On Shaping Worldviews that Appear in My Writing: George Orwell’s 1984, M.T. Anderson’s Feed, and August Wilson’s Fences

  3. Other: All My Friends Are Dead by Avery Monsen and Jory John. Sylvia Plath’s Mad Girl’s Love Song.


What are you interested in besides writing?

BR: This seems obvious, but other than writing, I like reading too. I also love to listen to music, and recently I’ve been going to poetry readings, concerts, and art galleries in Spokane. Less artistically, I like going to the lake, participating in speech and debate, going to movies with friends, playing basketball, ice skating, riding my bike, and watching TV.

JS: I like tennis; I've played on teams for more than five years, and it's given me a really great experience in learning to be more autonomous (when played as an individual sport), trusting of others/sharing victories (when playing doubles), and getting a sense of "hey, you need to try your best here because if you don't put up a fight, it's not just you suffering the consequences here." For an individual sport, it's done a pretty good job at making me into a "team player." I also love reading and I am an aggressive Internet lurker.

AZ: I am interested in things that quiet my mind: chess, music, snuggles, a good steak. I like to stay informed on the financial sector. I also like to read The Economist, The Paris Review, and The Atlantic as well as articles and books about human behavior and the brain.


Describe your ideal Saturday afternoon.

BR: My ideal Saturday afternoon goes something like this. I come home from the gym with my family, shower and lay around the house, writing or reading with music on in the background, then I get ready to see my friends for dinner and a movie, watching Netflix until it’s time to go.

JS: I answer this question assuming that this particular Saturday afternoon lasts as long as I wish it could. I would love to stroll around a beach town in California with my best friend. We'd frolic in the ocean and loll around on the sand, building sand castles, and it'll be like that scene in Little Women – the chapter, I believe is called "Castles in the Air" – where the whole gang talks about their aspirations for the future. We'd make girl gang jackets and flower crowns and make dumb jokes and read essays aloud to each other and sit in silence for a while in reverence for the ocean. It would all be really life-affirming.

AZ: In the future or now? In both cases, ideally, the time would be spent with someone I love and we would snuggle and do whatever we want. Maybe go out for afternoon tea.


Which artist, writer, or historical figure do you wish more people knew about?

BR: One time I was in a university bookstore and I stumbled on a random book about a Hispanic artist named Alfredo Arreguín who creates faces and landscapes out of mosaics of shapes and natural images. His work reflects Pablo Neruda and it’s beautiful and thought provoking. Maybe it’s just me and people do know about him, but I would like for his art and life to be better known.

JS: While I wouldn't dare call him "underrated," Simon Rich is incredible, both talent-wise and career trajectory-wise. (Ah, to be a Jewish man in comedy...) The dude is the showrunner of a comedy based on his book of short stories. He writes really great, inventive tales; one that really got to me was told from the POV of an unwrapped condom. In my seventeen-year-old girl eyes, Simon Rich is living the at height of luxury.

AZ: My fellow Adroit mentees because I have read some of your works and they are all inspiring, thought-provoking, and amazing in their details, complexity, and story-telling abilities. Also, Margaret Hamilton.


If you had to live the rest of your life in a fictional universe, which one would you choose?

BR: Well, other than Hogwarts, I would either choose to live in the universe where The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear take place, where I would study at the University, or Fablehaven.

JS: I have to choose very wisely here; I won't put my life in danger by saying "the Harry Potter universe" or "the world that the kids in my math textbook live in." Maybe living in the pages of a cookbook, like Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa, would be ideal. Every day, my life would be just a series of bruncheons and perfect finished products, each of them the magnum opus of its kind. And if I weren't aware that there was this whole other reality in extant, meaning the present-IRL-timeline, my life would never feel Feminine Mystique in the alternate timeline. The lifestyle seems incredibly appealing on the surface.

AZ: I do not believe oppression can be completely eradicated as it arises from inequality and inequality will always exist, be it on the level of teacher and student (beneficial to an extent) or oppressor and oppressed (detrimental). However, in this perfect fictional universe, institutions of oppression will not exist because oppression is an abhorrent concept and thing. Furthermore, this world would also be free of the gross amounts of pollution that are destroying the Earth, and the political polarization that exists in the United States’ bipartisan government will not exist. Also, lobbying will finally be illegal and the education system as it stands now will be reformed to be more effective as well as free on the higher education level. In this universe, I will have a dog named Bader and I will be a rock star drummer.

Ben Read lives in Spokane, Washington, where he is a sophomore at Lewis and Clark High School. He has been recognized by inroads, Airplane Reading, and The Adroit Journal. Other than writing, he likes to assault people with philosophy while participating in speech and debate, attend and read at local poetry slams in tiny coffee and burrito shops, and listen to music similar to the Juno soundtrack. He wishes his dog Wally would be a better muse, but until then, he’ll have to stick with the river.

Jane Song is a rising high school senior on the East Coast. She is highly invested in issues regarding social justice, fandom and creating and consuming various forms of media--primarily fiction, creative non-fiction, and comedy.

Audrey Zhao lives immediately outside of San Francisco, California and attends Marin Academy. She was just introduced to the world of poetry in January of 2015. When not writing, Audrey can be found playing chess in obscure parts of the United States, pressing the keys of her darling baby grand piano, or annoying her friends by showing up at their houses, sleeping over, and never leaving. Clearly, Audrey has no skills in writing biographies as she spends most of her time sleeping or brooding.


Meet the Mentees: Walker Caplan (Prose) & Aidan Forster (Poetry) by Amanda Silberling

It's summer again, which means two things – it's hot as hell outside, and the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship is back in session! We had our three lovely journalism mentees – Jordan Cutler-Tietjen, Jane Levy, and Eli Winter – ask a poetry and a prose mentee about themselves. Meet Walker Caplan (Seattle, WA) and Aidan Forster (Taylors, SC), and stay tuned for more Meet the Mentees!


Aidan Forster (Taylors, SC)

Aidan Forster (Taylors, SC)

Walker Caplan (Seattle, WA)

Walker Caplan (Seattle, WA)

Introduce yourself with your favorite movie quote.

Walker Caplan, Prose Mentee: “Careful man, there’s a beverage here!”

Aidan Forster, Poetry Mentee: My favorite movie quote is either Nick Carraway at the end of The Great Gatsby saying, “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter— tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms out further… And one fine morning— so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” or Sam from Moonrise Kingdom saying “That sounds like poetry. Poems don’t always have to rhyme, you know. They’re just supposed to be creative.”


Why do you write?

WC: To connect seemingly disparate occurrences, for myself and others; to find truth through articulation.

AF: A base-level (but true) answer is because I’m passionate about it. Writing is one of the only things I can see myself doing as a career, and one of the only things that brings me genuine pleasure. I think that if you’re a writer, you have to write. I think writing can be a type of therapy, but I try not to let it become therapy for me, because while that’s a valid thing for writing to be, it isn’t art. I do often base my poetry off of personal experiences, but in the way that I know the most about my own life so that’s one thing I should write about, not in a therapeutic way. I like the feeling of creation that is intrinsic in writing. When I write, I’m creating something that exists outside of myself that allows others to better understand me. I think that writing (poetry in particular) creates an extreme level of connectivity between the reader and the author. The author is baring themselves (or not— I can choose how much of myself/whatever I’m writing about to reveal) to the reader, and the reader is privy to some internal part of the author that they have made external. A lot of people have said poetry and writing are dead— I talked to a guy who said poets aren’t real anymore because we have Google now and don’t need poets (I ended things with him shortly after that statement)— but I think they’re more alive than ever. Writing and poetry can be used in so many different ways, and I think they’re being called upon in the tumultuous age we live in for political, social, expressive, communicative, and more purposes.


Why Adroit?

WC: I was initially drawn to Adroit because of its dedication to showcasing youth voices – both through the Adroit Prizes and through the makeup of the journal’s editorial team. I’m also constantly thrilled by the unconventionality of the pieces Adroit publishes – bold and risk-taking work (of the ilk I’d love to create!).

AF: I first learned about the mentorship from my teacher, Sarah Blackman, after she read our creative writing class an email Peter LaBerge [Editor-in-Chief] sent her about the mentorship. I looked into the journal and really liked what I saw. I had already looked at it for our publication project, but the submission period was over. I liked the quality, style, and range of work there, and I thought this would be such an amazing thing to take part in.


What’s your ideal location in which to write?

WC: I don’t consistently write in one location – I do appreciate quiet and a wall to sit against while writing, though.

AF: Right now, anywhere but my house. I feel so weird trying to write in my house because it’s way too easy for me to rationalize getting something from the kitchen or watching television for a bit because I’m too comfortable there. I like writing in bookstores or coffee shops (so hipster, I know) because I am making the excursion there for the purpose to write, so it’s much harder to distract myself because I don’t allow myself to be comfortable doing anything else. I kind of like the unsettled feeling I get when I write somewhere else, because I think it makes my mind more active. I will write at home, but it’s not my ideal location.


Write your six-word story up to this point.

WC: Kid digs up fossils, sees flesh.

AF: Sad little gay writes hella poetry.


If you could do anything with your writing, what would you do?

WC: Jar someone into understanding; cause reevaluation or affirmation of self.

AF: I would probably send it to every magazine/journal it was eligible for and see what happened, or get a chapbook or book of poems published.


What character from a novel are you most like and why?

WC: Like Franny from Franny and Zooey, I like to lie on my sofa.

AF: I feel like I am most like Geryon from Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red because of our emotional tendencies. He has a tendency to be awkward and distant from most people, but to almost over commit in relationships and then have anxiety about it. He also creates a lot of anxiety for himself, and I feel that very hard. Also, he’s gay and a red winged monster, and I can relate to one of those things.


Name 3 writers who have inspired you.

WC: 1. Re: versatility, insight & world-building – David Foster Wallace, George Saunders, Haruki Murakami.

2. As someone who tends towards flash fiction (Get the arc fast! Capture a moment of catharsis!), I’m especially inspired by the dialogue and faithful rendering of relationships over time in (among others) Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries, Annie Baker’s The Flick, and Bert V. Royal’s Dog Sees God.

3. I’m constantly amazed by how much power can be packed into short pieces through visceral imagery and swift character creation – breaking from genre, alt-rocker St. Vincent’s ability to craft story and atmosphere with very economical lyrics is inspiring.

AF: Mark Doty, Anne Carson, and Zbigniew Herbert.


What are you interested in besides writing?

WC: I’m interested in art as means of connection and community-building and providing arts access and educational equity. I’m also really into thinkpieces about millennials.

AF: I’m interested in reading, singing, and musical theatre, but acting and singing are just hobbies. I want to make a career out of writing, but I’m also interested in pharmacy, art history, sociology, and law.


What is your guiltiest pleasure?

WC: Writing incredibly lo-fi tunes for voice and ukulele.

AF: I kind of don’t like the idea of a guilty pleasure because it implies that we should feel guilt over indulging ourselves, but something that makes me pleased and guilty at the same time is eating exorbitant amounts of ice cream and watching Keeping up with the Kardashians or whatever’s on TLC.


If you had to live the rest of your life in a fictional universe, which one would you choose?

WC: Alternate Earth, where everything is the same but the arts are consistently recognized as a measurable need, institutions that uphold inequality are reversed, and I am a skateboarding whiz.

AF: I would choose Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red because of its seamless blend of mythology and history, it’s setting in a time in which people are actively aware of history being made, and the way people are so receptive of homosexual relationships. Geryon is a red winged demon, but it’s commonplace in the universe he lives in. It’s interesting because the reader is never told exactly when the book takes place, but I’d imagine it’s between World War I and World War II, which is a time period rife with historical happenings and one where people are aware of how historical the happenings are. This time period combined with the nonchalance about homosexuality interests me because people in that time were not very receptive of homosexuality. I think it’s such a stark blend of cultures and ideologies that it would be interesting to live in.


What breakfast cereal would you be and why?

WC: Cheerios – “wholesome goodness, a family favorite.”

AF: I’d either be Reese’s Puffs because I eat so many Reese’s products that I probably am legitimately that cereal already, or I’d be Froot Loops because I resonate with their fruity vibes.

Aidan Forster lives in Taylors, South Carolina, and is a sophomore at the Fine Arts Center for creative writing. He has been awarded 7 regional awards and one national gold medal from Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, all in poetry. He is a 2015 recipient of the Anthony Quinn Foundation Scholarship, and will be using that scholarship to attend an intensive summer writing program at the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities. He is an avid fan of Reese's cups, Mark Doty, gemstone necklaces, and overpriced poetry books.

Walker Caplan lives in Seattle, Washington. Her writing has been recognized by the National YoungArts Foundation, Young Playwrights Inc., the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, Polyphony H.S., and The Adroit Journal, and her original plays have been performed in New York and Seattle. When not writing, she can be found acting around Seattle at Lungfish Productions, the 5th Avenue Theatre, Seattle Musical Theatre, and more; promoting youth arts access at TeenTix; or producing 14/48:HS (The World’s Quickest Student Theatre Festival).

Raise Your Glass: Two Adroit Students Named 2015 Presidential Scholars in the Arts by Peter LaBerge

Congratulations to the brilliant Oriana Tang and Christina Qiu on being crowned 2015 United States Presidential Scholars in the Arts yesterday evening. Both are recent graduates of Livingston High School in Livingston, New Jersey.

From the website: "The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program was established in 1964, by executive order of the President, to recognize and honor some of our nation's most distinguished graduating high school seniors. In 1979, the program was extended to recognize students who demonstrate exceptional talent in the visual, creative and performing arts. Each year, up to 141 students are named as Presidential Scholars, one of the nation's highest honors for high school students."


An alumna of the 2014 Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program (where she studied Poetry under founder & editor-in-chief Peter LaBerge), Oriana was selected by judge Richie Hofmann as an Honorable Mention for the 2014 Adroit Prize for Poetry, and now reads prose submissions. In the fall, she will be attending Yale University. Her poetry and prose have been recognized by the National YoungArts Foundation, the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the Poetry Society of the United Kingdom, and Bennington College, among others. Recent work appears in The Best Teen Writing of 2014, PANK, The Sierra Nevada Review, Winter Tangerine Review, and Killing the Angel. She currently serves as a Prose Mentor for the 2015 summer mentorship program, and has been named a 2015 Presidential Scholar for Writing (Poetry and Short Story).


An alumna of the 2014 Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program (where she studied Fiction under prose editor Kaitlin Jennrich), Christina was selected for the Editors List of the 2013 & 2014 Adroit Prizes for Prose, and was subsequently selected by judge Alexander Maksik as an honorable mention for the 2015 Adroit Prize for Prose. She has also been recognized by the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the Foyle Young Poet of the Year Awards, and the National YoungArts Foundation, and has received the Princeton Prize in Race Relations. She has been published or is forthcoming in Bartleby Snopes, Winter Tangerine Review, two issues of The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. Her short story “Lucy At Home” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She will be attending Harvard College next year. She currently assists with the 2015 mentorship program, and has been named a 2015 Presidential Scholar for Writing (Short Story).

We're pretty sure this is the first time in the history of the Presidential Scholar program that two students from the same non-charter, non-arts public high school have been named Presidential Scholars for the same writing sub-genre.

They basically crushed it. 

Conversations with Contributors: Benjamin Goldberg (Issue 11, Poetry) by Amanda Silberling

By Joanna Moley, Blog Correspondent

Earlier this month, we talked to Sarah Rose Nordgren for the first new Conversations with Contributors after The Adroit Journal's eleventh issue. Next up is Benjamin Goldberg, whose poems "Havenwyck Hospital, 2002" and "Unguided Tour of the French Rivera" appeared in the last issue. Benjamin talks with us at Adroit about the importance of opening a dialogue about mental health issues and the rewarding qualities of being a teacher. 

Joanna Moley, Blog Correspondent: Both of your poems are named after places. Why is that?

Benjamin Goldberg, Issue 11 Contributor: I’m not sure people are wholly distinct from the places theyve been.  Nor can those places remain unchanged by people.  We engage with them physically, conjure them from synapses, and reshape them in the subconscious, which Im convinced is also a place.  To write about a person, then, is to write about place.  To be a person is to be, among many things, a collection of places.  As I type these words, Im listening to my three-year old nephew carry on a conversation with his toys about the landscapes of the living room.  Over the past minute, the carpet has been a petting zoo, day care center, pool, apple orchard, bouncy castle etc.  These places are lining his interior life.  I guess Im interested in how a person and a place can be records of one another.  In Frosts A Servant to Servants, the speaker says the place is the asylum.  That line resonates with me in ways Im still discovering.  If a person is also a place, then


Havenwyck Hospital is a real place – it's a psychiatric/substance abuse treatment center. Is there any significance in choosing to write about that hospital, or the year 2002? What about the French Rivera?

Yes, I stayed there intermittently as a teenager.  The stints were usually brief, and began during my junior year of high school.  They continued into 2002, my senior year, during which I dropped out.  I write about this hospitalthe period of my life it representsbecause Id like to shred the memos from society telling me I should be ashamed to discuss mental illness.  Im sick of how the topic rarely seems to enter public discourse except as a means of explaining away the crimes of mass murderers.  Im sick of how its used in the wake of heinous acts as if to suggest that only people with mental illness are capable of horror.

In fact, as the officers responsible for Freddie Grays murder were being indicted, I came across an article about how one of them had received treatment for mental illness.  It was frustrating.  I wondered where I could find the article explaining that the other five officers had no documented history of mental health issues.  I wanted to shout across the internet that theres no diagnosis whose symptoms include bigotry and murder. 

I ultimately held off on this because it wasnt the right time, and I didnt want to draw focus away from the larger social issues being discussed.  And even that frustrates me.  There almost never seems to be a right time.  To talk about how the media, intentionally or not, uses such events to stigmatize mental illness is to draw focus away from a familys tragic loss, a towns grief over a senseless crime, or how systemic bigotry repeatedly traumatizes a community.  The discussion of mental health, then, gets smuggled into other discussions like pork in a reform bill.  I guess thats part of why I write poems like this one.  I dont like the discussion taking place, and I dont like how and when its allowed to take place.  Im trying to write against that.  For now, writing through the lens of my experience feels like the most authentic way of doing so.


There is a theme of memory in both of your poems in Issue 11.  What types of motifs and themes do you find yourself drawn to (both as a writer and a reader)? 

I’d like to shred the memos from society telling me I should be ashamed to discuss mental illness.
— Benjamin Goldberg, Issue 11 Contributor

This takes us back to place, which is what I believe memory is.  Like a place, we live in it as much it lives in us.  I guess with these poems Im interested in, among other things, how memory betrays us.  How we betray it.  Regarding Havenwyck Hospital, 2002, much of that year (and others) is difficult to remember because my medications often had me sleeping at least sixteen hours a day.  My weeks, then, largely centered around remembering dosages, appointments, and items on my backlogged to-do list.  Memory seemed to shrink to the size of the pills I swallowed. 

In a broader sense, Im interested in opposites that seem irreconcilable, which I try to explore in Unguided Tour of the French Riviera.  Southern France is perhaps the most gorgeous place Ive been.  Yet, human trafficking happens to be a significant problem there.  What kind of dissonance allows us to reconcile the beauty and horror of a single place?  Of a world? 



When did you start writing poetry, and how long after that did you know you wanted to make writing your career?

I started writing poetry when I was seventeen.  During almost every class, I would fill my notebooks with horrible imitations of Octavi0 Paz and sopping performance pieces with which I imagined winning slam championships.  I even read one of them at a local competition.  After the first few lines, the audience started booing and didnt stop until I finished several minutes later.  Two judges gave me a score of one, and the final judge gave me a seven.  Its interesting how symbolic of the writing profession this moment would become.  After dropping out of high school, my therapist at the time encouraged me to come up with a list of things I could do with my life.  I spent about three years failing at various items on that list.  Around my twenty-first birthday, I realized that despite how little time Id devoted to poetry over those years, the desire to write never abandoned me.  At that point, I couldnt envision what a writing career looked like, but I figured going back to school might be a possible first step.  Then I kept stepping.  


memory will be a palm full of clouds
tipped from an orange bottle.

I’ll swish it down my throat with a dixie
cup of water. I’ll lift my tongue

to reveal I didn’t forget, then forget.
— Benjamin Goldberg, "Havenwyck Hospital, 2002" (Adroit Issue 11)


What has your MFA experience been like so far? What do you think about the controversy over the validity of MFA programs?

The experience has been interesting.  Its as if I trained to be a sprinter, then signed up for a marathon.  The whole experience is requiring me to use poet-muscles in ways I didnt know were possible.  Its been incredibly helpful to be around brilliant people who constantly challenge me with ideas, insights, and perspectives I might not have otherwise considered.  I like to be pushed, and I dont ever want to settle into a schtick.  Thankfully, Im around people who wont let me. 

My answer to your second question depends on which controversy you mean.  To be clear, I do believe there are some fundamental problems with MFA programs in general, and those are absolutely worth discussing.   I think its important to raise questions about privilege, access, and inclusivity in programs, as well any role the programs have in perpetuating a literary canon that ignore these.  I think its important to listen to the answers and act on them. 

Honestly, though, I find many of the other controversies a little tedious.  Ive read too many articles claiming that MFA programs are churning out gaggles of second-rate faculty member imitators.  They seem to think MFA programs oversaturate the publishing landscape, and that MFA students are heralds of the literary apocalypse.  Tedious.  The MFA is an experience more than anything, I think.  If were talking about whether or not to MFA, Id say do it or dont.  The fate of literature isnt hanging in the balance.  The experience benefits many writers, but guarantees nothing.  I think the MFA culture needs to be demystified, not debunked.  When you can think of entering an MFA program without hearing the Hallelujah chorus in your head, maybe thats the time to do it.


 How has teaching English helped your own poetry/writing?  

Allow yourself to remember that despite how you feel, you’re still a writer even in the moments you aren’t writing.
— Benjamin Goldberg, Issue 11 Contributor

Many students are surprised to hear that theyre natural writers whether or not theyve acknowledged it.  They write books worth of texts, emails, journal entries, social media updates, blog posts, and so on.  Ive gotta say, Ive seen some Facebook posts that read an awful lot like flash fiction or nonfiction.  Ive read some tweets that sound downright poetic. To be clear, this isnt me saying that Facebook and Twitter are the new prose and poetry, but its interesting to me how they often draw from the same well of craft elements.  I definitely encourage my students to examine how the writing theyre already doing can align with literary writing.  In turn, Im often looking to social media platforms for possible formal experiments.  


What is the most important thing you have learned about writing from your students?

With my high school students especially, I got to see what was often the beginning of the writing impulse.  That impulse seems to come naturally to young people.  Most classes have a reliable number of self-identified writers, many of whom are plenty talented.  As they enter their adult lives, its interesting to see whether or not they stick with it.  But some students dont yet know theyre writers.  It doesnt matter if they turn in consistently sub-par work, struggle with reading, or cant explain the difference between simile and metaphor.  Therere certainly predictors of which students might become writers, but theres no way of predicting.  When I was in high school, English was by far my worst subject, and I was constantly surrounded by peers who wrote better than I did.  As a teacher, if a student wants to read me a poem about the dark abyss of his or her heart, I try to remember how necessary it is to write that poem, and to keep writing it.  The student who writes juvenilia can grow into the adult who writes literature.  My students remind every day to challenge my assumptions and remain as compassionate as possible.


 What is your most important piece of advice for young writers?

Of course therere the non-negotiables such as read widely, write constantly, and become friends with rejection.  Beyond these, though, Im usually hesitant to offer advice.  I believe therere so many ways of becoming a writer that any advice I can give is bound to be limited.  But let me not cop out.  Young writers: 

Theres no correct writer biography, so be open to the shape your creative life takes.  Imagine your trajectory, but not that youll follow it exactly.  Create your timelines.  Mark down when youll become the youngest writer to receive the MacArthur and the year you win your second Pulitzer.  Its only natural.  But be able to revise or even abandon your plans.  Never mistake them for what you actually write.  Allow yourself to remember that despite how you feel, youre still a writer even in the moments you arent writing.  Theres no life you need to have before you can become a writer.  Nor is there a life youre supposed to have once you identify as one.  Whoever you are, your experiences matter.  Your life is important enough.


Did you have a specific teacher or mentor who inspired you to become a writer and/or teacher? 

My high school philosophy teacher, Mr. Authier, inspired me to become both.  He was brilliant, charismatic, and passionate in ways no evaluation metric can quantify.  One day in class, he interrupted his lesson on classical idealism to read Regie Gibsons stunning poem, Eulogy of Jimi Christ.  I remember how my spine awakened when he read that poem.  It took many years for me to recognize this as the moment I converted to poetry.  Poetry not only steeled me during some chaotic years, it gave me a way out of them.  Im not being hyperbolic when I say that this moment in class was mystical, and that in many ways Mr. Authier saved me.  Thats exactly what happened.

Poetry not only steeled me during some chaotic years, it gave me a way out of them.
— Benjamin Goldberg, Issue 11 Contributor

I believe this is the most profound effect a teacher can have on a student, and it’s why I wanted to teach.  It saddens me that the profession hasnt found a legitimate way to evaluate this dimension of teacher effectiveness.  I sometimes wonder what our most notoriously rule-oriented vice principal mightve written down had she observed Mr. Authier that day in class.  Would she have known to quit scanning the board for a learning objective and look instead to our faces?  Would sheve seen on mine how entranced I was by the soundscape of that poem and Mr. Authiers joy in reading it to us.  Theres no way to measure how much I wanted whatever it was that happens between poem and reader.  How much I wanted to wake peoples spines.     


 Finally, tell us a funny story from class.  

Ha!  Okay, so this happened a few years ago.  The school years winding down, and each day Im losing students attention to clouds and chipmunks and chipmunk-shaped clouds.  One day, Im rambling rather egregiously about something grammatical (I think).  A student chimes in with the suggestion that I record a demo of the lecture and get it on the radio.  Two other students jump in.  The three of them take turns talking about what I would do after going platinum.  This goes on for ten minutes.  The class is hijacked.  Everyones laughing as Im trying unsuccessfully not to.  The three students go on to describe what an album of Goldbergs most tangential anecdotes would sound like.  To my shock, they remember each of my stories with such immaculate specificity I begin to worry that it was all theyd learned.  Before long, they have me on an episode of MTVs Cribs giving a tour of my literature-themed house.  Their impersonations of me are hilarious.  Yet somehow theyre demonstrating so much content knowledge I begin to wonder if every English test should be given in impersonate-your-teacher form.  I tell them that theyll hear my comeback on the last day of school.  Over the next few weeks, I enlist the help of a staffer on the school newspaper to conduct interviews with each of the students, then I film myself giving a tour of my house.  On the last day of school, I bring in donuts and fruit punch, and we all watch a very curiously edited episode of Cribs. 

Benjamin Goldberg lives with his wife outside Washington, D.C. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Ninth LetterThe Greensboro ReviewHayden’s Ferry ReviewSalt HillThe Southeast ReviewDevil’s Lake, and elsewhere. He was a finalist for the 2012 Gearhart Poetry Prize, the 2013 New Millennium Writings Award for Poetry, and the 2013 Third Coast Poetry Prize. He is currently earning his MFA at Johns Hopkins University. Find him online at www.benrgold.com.

Conversations with Contributors: Sarah Rose Nordgren (Poetry, Issue 11) by Amanda Silberling

by Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor

Issue Eleven is out, and Conversations with Contributors is back! First up in this sequence of interviews is Sarah Rose Nordgren, whose poem "Kindling" rocks the new issue.

Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor: Your poetry collection Best Bones, which the Adroit blog reviewed, came out last fall. Almost a year later, what has the experience of releasing the book been like? 

Sarah Rose Nordgren, Issue Eleven Contributor: When I opened the envelope and held a copy of Best Bones for the first time, I was sitting in the passenger seat of my boyfriend’s car outside the UPS shipping center. He’d driven me there to meet the incoming trucks because I’d missed the delivery at my house and couldn’t bear to wait another day to see the book. Staring at the cover and turning it over in my hands, I was overwhelmed with a strange feeling. For a few seconds, it was as if I’d left my body and was looking down tenderly at myself like a parent looks at her child. My thought was “Oh, Sarah Rose! I’m so happy for you; you worked so hard for this.” Although it seemed like the feeling was coming from some outside perspective, it really was a wonderful moment of self-compassion and appreciation for the years of work, love, and heartache that went into that book, as if I were my own sister, or friend. I think many artists, including myself, can get in the habit of too much self-criticism as we try to continually push ourselves to be better, but it’s important to feel pride in our work as well, imperfect as it may be.

It’s been the better part of a year now since the book came out, and the experience has been wonderful. I’ve had great fun traveling for readings; it’s given me the opportunity to return to my alma maters – Sarah Lawrence College and University of North Carolina Greensboro – to see old friends and teachers, and meet wonderful new people as well.


Has your relationship with the poems in Best Bones changed over time? 

Between the oldest and most recent poems in the collection, there is a span of about ten years. Two poems are even from my undergraduate days! Because of this, when I was putting Best Bones together it often felt like a patchwork quilt of irregularly shaped bits of fabric. I liked the poems individually, but it was difficult for me to step back from them and see how they were working together. But through the revision process – and especially since the book’s publication – I’m able to see it as an organic whole. I still associate the individual poems with the time and circumstance of their composition, but with more distance I can better perceive the thematic through lines and arcs that I endeavored to highlight when I was editing and ordering the manuscript.  

Since the book’s release, I’ve learned that one of my favorite things to do is visit with classes of students who have read the book. Their insightful questions have opened up some of the poems for me in new ways and gotten me thinking about connections that I hadn’t seen before. I love hearing other people’s interpretations and thoughts about the poems.


You're currently collaborating on a video installation with the choreographer Kathleen Kelley. Can you explain what the installation is, and how the idea came about?  

Digitized Figures is a project that Kathleen and I have been developing for the past couple of years as an exploration of potentiality between our two mediums of poetry and dance. We started with the simple idea of “choreographing text,” which led to the creation of three separate videos in which text moves like bodies across the screen. Since then, we’ve added a performance element with live dancers, and are also developing the videos with interactive software so that the text will be responsive to audience members’ bodies as they move through the space.

Conceptually, the project investigates the parallels between digital technology and organic/evolutionary processes. Technology is often presented as a being counter to – or opposite of – nature, something that’s coming at us from the outside. But we’re interested in looking at how technology is, in fact, an extension of the body. Like all tools, it is an evolution that develops from us, allowing us to accomplish things that we couldn’t before. 


What do you want to be the "takeaway" from the installation?

I hope that audience members feel immersed in the environment that we create in Digitized Figures. Between the video projections, the use of sound, and the live dancers, I want the audience to feel as if they’ve stepped into another world – like a diorama or a story in which they can participate and play. It doesn’t matter so much to me whether all of the conceptual and philosophical framework comes through for the audience, but I hope they see and feel the interplay between organic and technological worlds.

We’ve had the opportunity to show this work in various stages of development, most recently in a show at The Dance Complex in Cambridge, Mass., and at the Society of Dance History Scholars annual conference in Iowa City last fall. Each time we present it, we learn a little more about what we want it to be. We’re currently looking for a place to show a more fully realized version with interactive video, so if anyone has connections with a venue that might be a good fit, please reach out and let me know!


Digitized Figures allows poetry, dance performance, and digital media to intersect in a really unique way – have the different mediums in the project influenced each other? 

They definitely have. The factor that has most affected my usual composition process has been the collaborative aspect. This sharing of creative direction and speed has pushed the text into interesting directions that I wouldn’t have arrived at if I were working in isolation.

Kathleen herself could better speak to the digital and performance elements of the installation, but I know her process has shifted as well. First of all, she’s choreographing words in addition to bodies. Secondly, as part of the performance she dances live in front of one of the projected videos, creating a kind of duet (or trio) with the text and the moving image of her own body. It’s really beautiful!

from  Digitized Figures

from Digitized Figures

How does your collaborative artistic process with Kathleen Kelley work? Any interesting memories so far? 

Digitized Figures is our first formal collaboration since we were teenagers, but Kathleen and I have been working together informally since we became close friends and artistic soulmates in high school. We’ve mostly lived far away from each other, so we got in the habit of sending each other letters (real ones, written on paper!), snippets, books, ideas, and pieces of writing. Because of this (and innumerable late-night conversations), we’re already very familiar with each others’ artistic concerns and processes and have played a large role in shaping each other as we’ve become “grown-up” artists.

To create the videos, we came up with a weekly schedule to send work back and forth between us, me sending text (with storyboards for movement) and Kathleen sending video of herself or of moving lines on a screen. Our process for each video was a little different, but for the most part it felt like a conversation -- a back and forth -- between mediums. I’ve described it elsewhere as a feeling of hitting a beach ball or balloon back and forth between us, trying to keep it from touching the ground.


How else do you think performance art can be incorporated into poetry? Did you draw inspiration from any other hybrid works? 

I think the possibilities are endless, and I’m definitely interested in exploring the field more. I know there are people all over the world who are doing interesting things with poetry and video or poetry and dance, and I also think our project is very unique because of the way that we’re treating text as moving, organic bodies in a digital space.

We weren’t directly inspired by a particular hybrid work, but some other interesting projects I’ve come across that explore connections between language and the body include “Your Body is Not a Shark” (a collaboration between choreographer Cid Pearlman and poet Denise Leto), “Aleph-Bet” (by vocal artist Victoria Hanna) and the various collaborations that Anne Carson has done over the past several years, such as “Stacks.”


Your Adroit poem, "Kindling," is part of a manuscript you're working on, which deals with "Charles Darwin's family and evolution." What inspired you to start this project?

It was nearly four years ago now, and I was trying to figure out why I was obsessed, among other things, with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and with writing about mothers and babies. It occurred to me that beneath those interests was a deep curiosity about origins, in creation, life, and death (you know, the small stuff). Luckily, I had just arrived for my second year as a poetry fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, so I had a lot of time and freedom to immerse myself in these ideas. First, I read On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, and from there I became interested in both evolutionary biology and theory, and with Charles Darwin’s life. So on the one hand I started reading Darwin’s journals and biography, and on the other I was reading more contemporary books by biologists and evolutionary philosophers (a sampling of names, if you’re interested, is Stephen Jay Gould, Daniel Dennett, Elizabeth Grosz, and Richard Dawkins).  

I’ve since written a manuscript, Darwin’s Mother, which is in the editing stages, but I’m definitely not done with this material. My interest in evolutionary theory is now impacting all of the work that I do in one way or another, and becoming a reader of science over the past few years has been absolutely thrilling. Obviously these concerns have informed Digitized Figures, and I’ve also begun experimenting with writing nonfiction that connects the scientific with the personal.


Charles Darwin studied the evolution of species – tell us your thoughts about the evolution of poetry! 

Haha, that’s a great question. I actually see poetry evolving in a couple of different exciting directions right now -- two different influences that are mixing in new ways with the more mainstream (ie. “academic”) poetry genetic pool, if you will. One of these is the impulse toward cross-genre and cross-medium collaboration and hybridization, which includes experimentation in electronic literature. The other is the growing influence of performance poetry and slam on the broader poetry culture. This element is bringing in some wonderful dynamic energy, reminding everyone of poetry’s inception as an oral art form and that readings don’t have to be boring. This type of work is also making sincerity and bravery cool again, which I’m all for.

Sarah Rose Nordgren is the author of Best Bones (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014), winner of the 2013 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize. Her poems have appeared in PloughsharesAGNIThe Iowa ReviewPleiadesThe Harvard ReviewBest New Poets 2011, and others. A two-time fellowship recipient from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Sarah Rose has also received support from the Breadloaf Writers Conference, The Ohio Arts Council, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. For more information, visit sarahrosenordgren.com.

Amanda Silberling is an English student at the University of Pennsylvania. Her poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, The Rumpus, PANK Blog, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The Louisville Review, and more. She is the Blog Editor at The Adroit Journal and writes about music for Rock On Philly and The 405.



English Literature and Censorship: On Allen Ginsberg's Place in the Classroom by Amanda Silberling

By Derick Edgren, Blog Correspondent

Allen Ginsberg, photo via  The New York Times

Allen Ginsberg, photo via The New York Times


Time—1 hour


Read the following passage carefully before you choose your answers.

AP English teacher David Olio just lost his job to blatant censorship. Not to be so ostensively opinionated before even unpacking the piece of news I intend to cover, but also to do exactly that. As a young gay man who just a year ago graduated from high school, AP exams and SAT vocabulary words still fresh in my mind, I feel, just a tiny bit, like maybe I have a reason to be heated right now. But before I delineate personal opinions, here is the known narrative, uncensored.

At South Windsor High School, a student introduced to his teacher a poem he wished to read and discuss in class. Because the teacher is a teacher, he decided that he would teach this poem, but the South Windsor School District regarded this as a bad move (No teaching allowed.) This is perhaps, or definitely, because the poem in question was Allen Ginsberg's Please Master”—an extremely graphic account of a homosexual encounter, The Daily Beast published in its coverage of the poem lesson-turned-debacle. Extremely. The poem is, without a doubt, quite sexually explicit, but come now, let's consider all the potential factors that sparked this unnecessary resignation of an award-winning, 19-year veteran teacher. (NBC says he quit. I say he was fired. Mr. Olio's resignation was, after all, the result of the school board's decision to persecute him.) 

First factor: Mr. Olio is a poor teacher or lacks academic or moral integrity. This is probably not the case. In 2009, Mr. Olio received the John McCormack Excellence in Teaching Award, CEA, of highest honor in Connecticut. Also notable in his star-studded resume are the Charles Swain Book Award in 2006; his serving as President, Executive Board member, or at the very least archivist for the New England Association of Teachers of English; and his co-authoring of a book, entitled Reading and Writing Across the Disciplines, in 2004. More recently, as far as his involvement, Mr. Olio designed and constructed district-wide diversity programs; designed, wrote, taught, and evaluated on online creative writing course; and served as PAC Chair of South Windsor Education Association. To name a few things.

Second factor: South Windsor School District is upset not by the sexually explicit imagery, but it is upset by the sexually explicit homosexual imagery in Please Master. Allen Ginsberg was openly homosexual and, as leading figure of the Beat Generation, opposed sexual oppression and innocuous euphemisms, meaning lots of sexoften homosexualin his poetry. But where are the what-about-the-children cries when another teacher included the screenplay of Stand By Me in her course curriculum? To quote Vern, one of our four beloved, heterosexual boys who just doesn't know any better, Annette's tits are great! There is an exchange in the movie devoted to discussing a young woman's breasts, an actress from the Mickey Mouse Club no less. But is this inappropriate, too much for a group of high school students? And what about the casual talkand eventual witnessof a dead body amongst the four boys? Or do we only draw the line at a man saying penis in a similarly sexual context? After all, they're just curious young boys!

South Windsor School District is upset not by the sexually explicit imagery, but it is upset by the sexually explicit homosexual imagery in “Please Master.”

Teachers fall victim to administrative helicoptering more frequently than todays typical progressive liberal (probably read: you) would like to believe. From newer, YA works, such as The Hunger Games trilogy and Stephen Chboskys Perks of Being a Wallflower, to classics such as Walt Whitmans Leaves of Grass and Alice Walkers The Color Purple, pretty much any pairing of letters and punctuation that extends past the boundaries of a traditional, conservative perception of human sexuality faces scrutiny. Beyond sexuality, though, one particular example I may cite, reported by the American Library Association as one of the most challenged classics of all time, is To Kill A Mockingbird.

Harper Lees Pulitzer Prize-winning work has, since its publishing, faced criticism for its racial slurs, profanity, and blunt dialogue about rape. From 1966, when a parent in Hanover, Virginia claimed that use of rape as a plot device was immoral, to the 1990s, when school districts in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia attempted to ban the book for its excessive racial slurs, Mockingbird has gone through the wringer of literary censorship. And yet, despite all this controversy, we see To Kill A Mockingbird as common course material for several English classes at South Windsor High School. So, according to the South Windsor School District, a casual discussion of rape and racism is tolerable, but God forbid the students hear about the Godless Gays.

Allow me to quote my all-time fave, Chimamanda Adichie, who, in the recent The Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture, that I was fortunate enough to attend, said, The fear of causing offense, the fear of ruffling the careful layers of comfort, becomes a fetish, and that in public conversations about America's problems...the goal is not truth. The goal is comfort. For some reason it's still uncomfortable for many Americans to support homosexuality beyond closed doors.

South Windsor High School, photo via Wikipedia

South Windsor High School, photo via Wikipedia

And third factor: Mr. Olio hired this student to ask about this specific poem so that Olio could finally indoctrinate the entire South Windsor school district's youth into a life of homosexual prostitution, drugs, and Satanic worship.

Let's just say I lost brain cells writing factor #3.

The entire premise of Mr. Olio's firing is ridiculous. His being placed on indefinite, unpaid leave by the district is ridiculous. And his later termination proceedings only seventy-two hours later are ridiculous. An educator who has clearly devoted his life to enriching the minds of his students, who spends his time thinking about them, writing about them, and insuring that his students receive the most beneficial education they can, has no reason to face resignation under the pretense of gratuitously sexual poetry. South Windsor Moms and Dads need a reality check. If this man, who is by all means the cookie-cutter image of teacher perfection, is not safe in his profession, then what teacher is? How can this school district turn their back on him after nineteen years of hard work and dedication?

I sympathize with Mr. Olio, and I imagine he's having difficulty understanding whether or not these people ever trusted him with these students in the first place. As an aspiring educator myself, incidents like these disappoint and enrage me. Without words to express ourselves, we are caged, and we are not ourselves. Ginsberg said himself, Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It's that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that's what the poet does. And if the poet can't do, who can?


1. Which of the following best describes the rhetorical function of the passage's conclusive use of multiple-choice questions?

(A) It prepares our young readers for future AP exams.

(B) It exaggerates the author's exasperation with the issue at hand.

(C) It adds character to the blog post.

(D) It impresses the author's superiors.


2. In the beginning of the second paragraph, the author uses what literary device to accentuate his feelings on the school district's reaction to the teaching of Ginsberg's poem?

(A) A simile (or a metaphorwhich is which?)

(B) A noun.

(C) Pointed irony.

(D) Personification.


3. The author's tone in the passage as a whole is best described as

(A) Vaguely pissed off.

(B) Disheartened and saddened.

(C) Confused as to why the same people who support marriage equality continue to fear overt or explicit homosexual imagery as if it is more inappropriate than heterosexual imagery.

(D) All of the above.



Derick Edgren is a student at Sarah Lawrence College.

Two Sides of Confessionalism: On the Undesirable Connotation of "Edgy" Poetry by Amanda Silberling

Sylvia Plath, noted confessional poet. Photo via The Daily Beast.

Sylvia Plath, noted confessional poet. Photo via The Daily Beast.

While talking to a friend and fellow poet, I stumbled upon a minefield I had not known existed - that of the word "edgy." I told my friend that her work was especially admired because it appealed to current tastes; it was the kind of "edgy,” uncompromising and personal work that finds a place of honor in journals and features frequently on sites like Tumblr. To my surprise, she took offense to this and said it wasn't fair to say her work was popular because it was commercial and "edgy," or that it was somehow easier for her to be published because of that. Swiftly apologizing, I assured her that this wasn't the case. But wasn't that exactly what I was saying?

Poetry has always been a marginal art. Within that margin there is a breed of poem that takes a glance at conventional boundaries and tears them apart without a moment's hesitation, whether that was their original intention or not. This passionate and subversive poetry tends to be the poetry that is remembered throughout history, like Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." Poems rallying against tradition or expectation have been given a place in our collective poetic remembrance - they were pieces of work that defied expectation.

When using the word "edgy" to describe my friend's work, I had meant it in this historic context. Her work is that which refuses to bend to people's desires, which seeks to portray her mind in all its twisted beauty. In this act, it has no desire to be popular or commercially successful, but rather tear down certain preconceptions about society and life by showing the terrible reality of her worldview. Yet in its rejection of convention, this work appeals to readers of poetry. It is here that the issue begins.

Poems rallying against tradition or expectation have been given a place in our collective poetic remembrance - they were pieces of work that defied expectation.

For such personal poets, the popularity of "edgy" poetry is often closely associated to the popularity of the Confessionalist Poets, a label violently rejected by the poets it was originally meant to define. In a Paris Review interview, the American poet John Berryman reacted with "rage and contempt" when asked what he thought of the label, stating that "[T]he word doesn't mean anything." 

Indeed, it almost appears to be a source of voyeuristic joy for certain readers to analyze "confessional" poems, judging the writer through their work. This trend is frustrating to the poet who attempts to display their mind in their work, as it places excessive emphasis upon the poet's life and not upon the poetry itself. It is in this act of imparting a sense of honesty into the poetry that is considered "edgy." It goes beyond the boundary of simply describing a view, but invites the reader to share the view with the poet, regardless of how terrible or horrific that view may be.

Thus the crux of the issue was that we had come to understand the word differently. Whereas I was saying that her work was popular because of its unrelenting passion and the historic popularity of such poems, she believed I devalued her work by claiming it was "edgy." Unwittingly, I had insinuated it was commercial due to its personal nature and so it was easier for her to be published.

It almost appears to be a source of voyeuristic joy for certain readers to analyze “confessional” poems, judging the writer through their work.

Truthfully, if being published is easier for her due to the nature of her poetry, it does not take away from the beauty of her work, or supports the claim that her popularity derives purely from this subversiveness.

Kyle Lovell is an eighteen-year-old student from the United Kingdom. Named a Foyle Young Poet in 2014, he has also read poetry at the LV21 and Wise Words festival. He cites Camus, Kierkegaard and baroque architecture as influences on his work.