Conversation with Contributors: Hieu Minh Nguyen and Muriel Leung (Issue Sixteen, Poetry) by Aidan Forster

By Audrey Zhao | Interview Correspondent.

Let’s kick things off with a series of questions from our previous featured contributor, Joel Hans. Joel asks, “If you could hand-pick or delineate the ideal audience for your work, would you? If so, is it a particular individual, a certain collective, or something you can’t quite explain? What do you think this audience, in particular, has to gain from reading your work? If you feel like you have that audience already, can you talk about how you got there, and if not, what barriers are keeping you from reaching them right now?”

HMN: Wow. That’s a great question. I’m not really sure if my poems have just one audience, but I often joke that my poems are like a bat signal for lonely people. But honestly, I really do hope there’s a little truth to that. I guess I hope my work can offer people little escapes from their loneliness. 

ML: In a nutshell, when I write, my audience is queer, women or nonbinary, of color, cognizant of immigration histories, and believes in ghosts. I’m happy when the work resonates with many different bodies in the room that identify otherwise, but these are the bodies I picture. There’s a certain amount of control one does have over their audience, and a lot of it boils down to language – the particular lexicon one uses, the references, whether or not a text exists in multiple languages, etc. These decisions ensure that some may “get” the work more than others at certain points and the rest will just have to deal. I think the joy of reading poetry (or anything, really) is when you stop thinking about difference as a foreign or strange encounter, but work to learn the language of the text and the author’s position. My ideal readers, in addition to the ones who read the work already and share in my communities/identities, are those who try to read beyond the contexts of their own bodies despite occupying different spaces in the world.

I think it’s easy to absorb the blame as a queer writer of color for not writing in such a way that is palatable across the board. Critiques about obfuscation, being too sentimental, too narrative, not experimental enough, too many inside jokes requiring specific cultural contexts to completely understand—I seem to have gotten it all in writing workshops. But at some point, one realizes that what wasn’t being understood was an issue of my immediate readers’ limited purview. On the other hand, I’ve acquired such a wide bag of knowledge of white canonical writing and references—the James Joyce quote, the references to a famed character in a Flannery O’Conner short story, and the particular narrative structures of different William Faulkner novels. How is it fair that while others can scrape by reading only white writers, my education includes the study of literature of my own marginalized communities in addition to the white male canon, which I only have access to by acquired privilege of sticking it out through cycles of graduate study? I’m doing the work – still doing the work to read as widely as possible. In terms of my audience, I ask that they do the same.


What are you reading right now?

HMN: I just finished reading Carl Phillips’ Tether, and I’m still trying to recover. I’ve been thinking about some of those poems everyday. Also, I just started Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair, and it’s a stunner. Sometimes when I get excited about reading a book, I start to sweat. It’s not very cute.

ML: Currently, I’m reading several recently released poetry collections such as Kimberly Alidio’s After projects the resound (Black Radish 2016), Kay Ulanday Barrett’s When the Chant Comes (Topside Press 2016), Carolina Ebeid’s You Ask Me To Talk About the Interior (Noemi Press 2016), Angela Penaredondo’s All Things Lose Thousands of Times (Inlandia Institute 2016), and Map of an Onion (Inlandia Institute 2016). I love these books for how history creeps along their pages.

In fiction, I’m reading Dana Johnson’s In the Not Quite Dark and (finally!) Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.

And the imperative read for every new graduate student – Ann Cvetkovich’s Depression: A Public Feeling.


How did you get into writing? Why do you continue to write?

HMN: In middle school I was a really big theatre geek. It was a very intense time. I really wanted to be an actor, but when I got to high school, they only offered social justice theatre classes. I had no idea what that meant at the time, but in that class we learned how to write and perform work about topics that were important to us. Writing poems just seems like a natural transition from that work.

ML: I wanted to write to invent a world where I saw myself living. 

Several writers and I were talking one day and were surprised to find that we had all at some point written fan fiction. Or vampire novellas. Or some other form of writing that involved the merging into of a world that existed and was widely talked about on TV and other media at the time. I think we wrote because we were lonely and writing in this way allowed us to be part of somebody’s world, not just in the passive viewer way, but as one who can expand upon its walls. We use the word “escape” a lot for this sort of writing, but there’s a real world embodiment here. I wrote so I could feel a bit bolder each day.

I think some of those feelings of loneliness and desire to engage intimately with the world still persist now. I think the difference now is that I’m interested in creating something new that can still clearly showcase the lineage from which this work comes from. It’s comforting to hear from someone, for instance, that they can tell I harbor a strangeness derived from an equally strange childhood. I suppose I write because that part of me still lives there, even if in disguised form.


Muriel, your poem, World’s Tiniest Human, in Adroit Issue Sixteen is haunting. It hurts me in the best way and I think it’s because there’s power in what is left unsaid. Do you actively withhold in your writing process? How do you know when something should not be said?

ML: Thank you! What I find most interesting in the story of Thumbelina (the figure who inspired “World’s Tiniest Human”) is that she is considered fragile and yet she is determined to tackle the bigness of the world. I think there’s such bravery to that as well as a sense of calculated risk. I believe she readied herself for danger even if she didn’t know exactly what form or shape it might take. What a sense of survival a girl like that can learn just by moving in the world!

Withholding is a survival skill just as being perpetually open and vulnerable can be one too. I think of withholding as being watchful, as observing how others move in reaction to you being in a space. I think sometimes it’s important to not immediately divulge the story of your life if you know it won’t be in safe hands. It’s the same with writing—with good writing you can convince the reader to stay with you even if the end goal isn’t immediately clear. And that’s an act of trust on the writer’s part. For the reader too, I don’t think trust should be automatically granted to the text. Writer and reader should both be doing the work to talk to each other, and the act of reading should be a type of work that feels gratifying for the time it takes and the intimate knowledge that is revealed. I know, for instance, that after some density of prose, I often think I should offer space for the reader to breathe and take in content a different way. It takes some special consideration of how different readers might read and what my work can do to respond with some generosity.


Hieu Minh, I’m very glad I was introduced to your work through Apology, Sort Of and Commute in Adroit Issue Sixteen because you tackle heavy topics of queerness, brown-ness, and more with open defiance. You state things very clearly, almost blunt. Is that an artistic choice? What is more important: the narrative or the imagery of a poem?

 MN: I’m all about sentiment, and figuring out how to get that sentiment to come across to the reader. Sometimes it’s through narrative. Sometimes it’s through imagery. I guess it depends on what I think will be most effective. 


You’re both editors, Muriel for Apogee Journal and Hieu Minh for Muzzle Magazine. What are qualities of poems that have completely captured your attention?

HMN: I feel really lucky to get to read so many people’s poems. It’s my favorite part of being an editor, and as an editor, you have to read a lot of work. The poems that I am instantly drawn to are the poems that don’t make me think of other poems when I read them. 

ML: I love work that does something interesting with its form, that is complicated and against hand-holding, poems about the body, poems that aim to not reproduce the infliction of trauma and violence through their reading (but poems that do work to critique the producers of trauma and violence though), poems that sometimes double as prayers, spoken poems, performed poems, poems that are a multi-headed hydra of different forms and media, work that pools together instead of divide and conquer, anti-colonial work, love notes, love is political notes, epistolary poems addressed to ghosts, writing about longing, writing about longing for a form to contain its desire, words dressed in its own fatigue, tongue-tied poems, poems with split tongues, poems that play double-dutch with language, poems that trouble and traverse the space between you and me.


Both of you are also Kundiman fellows. What is it like to be a Kundiman fellow?

HMN: Thrilling! There are secret Kundiman lairs across the country. Just kidding?? I actually met Muriel at my first Kundiman retreat! Some of my closest friendships started at that retreat. That has easily been the best part about being a fellow, meeting and building with a network of incredibly kind and generous people. 

ML: Imagine you’ve dreamed of a city your whole life and you’ve searched for it everywhere you go. One day, someone approaches you and another. And another. They don’t give you this city of your dreams, but they do give you postcards of other places you have never thought to visit, but why not? When you put together those patchwork postcards, you get some semblance of something better than you ever dreamed of.

I think we dream of community in idealistic terms and we want things to fit in a certain way to fill a certain longing. It’s not that Kundiman has offered me all the answers about how my identity politics factor into my writing at all times, but I have met some amazing people—to know them in the context of a space that feels safe, inviting, and loving all at the same time. How often are we alone with our words? How often do we write alone? Kundiman reminds me I’m not alone.  


In the same vein, how do you make literature your (pardon me for lifting this directly from the Kundiman site) “vehicle for cultural expression” and “instrument for political dialogue and self-empowerment”? How can we all harness literature in this way? Or is it innate?

HMN: I think I’m still trying to learn and figure this one out. But first, I think you have to want your work to exist in the world in this way. Lately, I’ve been just trying to write what I won’t allow myself to forget.

ML: I don’t think it’s innate. I think it’s about intention and awareness of how one’s voice gets read across a larger body politic. I do think we have a responsibility to each other (to the world) when we write and especially when we publish the work to be read widely. That responsibility means to not reproduce the harms we see in the world, to be cognizant of other bodies that occupy spaces different from ours, and to produce writing that checks the history of where it comes from and where it can go. That being said, I’m not too sure if “cultural expression” or “political dialogue” or “self-empowerment” quite captures what I try to do per se. For example, much of my writing is self-flagellating and flawed and sometimes too frank about self-destructive tendencies. I think they’re issues that need to be talked about—bodies that do not fit into normative categories of wellness, traumatized bodies, bodies that are continuously triggered, etc. I think the work itself is messier than what the terms can capture, but the larger goal is, yes, towards social and political awareness, to stretch the discourse of Asian American poetics beyond its current container. It has to go beyond representational politics though. It has to be critical of its own categories and be willing to shed its terms to be free moving for a while. Again, we have to try at this, especially as writers of color. We don’t have the privilege for things to be granted to us by pure accident. 


I know for me, writing poetry has sometimes become a confession of sorts, an almost, “I’m still here and I’m not leaving.” Is it the same for you? If not, to you both, what does it mean to write poetry?

HMN: Totally! I might also add a, "I've been here!"

ML: I love that—“I’m still here and I’m not leaving.” I want to write it in the sky. I never want to leave. My mother once lamented that getting older meant you worried about being forgotten (and would she be forgotten?) I write because I don’t want to forget, especially not my mother. Especially not the many people I’ve loved and lost in my life. I’ve gotten worried, actually, that all my poems have become elegies, even my love poems. What does that say about my fear about departure? It helps to think about how memory is unreliable at the end of the day and that we remember and then we don’t. A poetry of uncertainty feels much more suitable for its form than one that proposes to know the answers. I think I write because I’m unsure and I think you’re unsure too.


All right, so can you tell us about some of your current projects? What are you doing now? What are we going to see from Muriel Leung and Hieu Minh Nguyen in the next few months, years?

HMN: I’m currently working on my second collection poetry, Not Here, forthcoming with Coffee House Press in 2018. The book is centered around my complicated relationship with my mother, and discusses how whiteness and colonialism even have effects on things like forgiveness. 

ML: Yes! My first poetry collection, Bone Confetti (Noemi Press 2016) was just released and I’m eager to just spend time letting it hold space in the world. I’ve always had other projects going on simultaneously, so it’s exciting to devote time to them now. Right now, I’m working on a revision of The Little Red Riding Hood fairytale about a girl who was born half wolf and half human. There are at least five iterations of it going on now, one particularly that is an illustrated digital narrative project. I’m a little bit all over the place and it’s fun and chaotic all at the same time. I’m learning filmmaking and I’m playing with digital illustration tools. I’m collaborating on poetry and sound projects with my musician partner, Matt Orenstein. There’s more but I think it’s starting to sound carnivalesque now so I’ll stop.


Thanks so much for your time! Can you give us two questions to ask our next contributor(s)?

HMN: What excites you the most about the future of poetry? Or what are you afraid of? 

ML: 1) Is there anything you are too afraid to do in your writing but would like to accomplish in your lifetime? What do you think is the place of fear in writing?

2) How do you consider your writing in relationship to “work”? Is it work for you? And if so, how would you categorize it? Why do you think it might be important to talk about the relationship between writing and work? 



Audrey Zhao interviews contributors of the Adroit Journal for the Adroit blog. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Fissure Magazine, the Rattle Young Poets Anthology, Words Dance, and Vinyl. She is a Bay Area native.

Conversations with Contributors: Joel Hans (Prose, Issue 18) by Aidan Forster

By Eileen Huang | Interview Correspondent.

To kick things off, here’s a question for you from our last interviewee, Joshua Young: If you had the capability, time, and money, what other practices, processes, genres, and art forms would you utilize in your work, and how would you accomplish it. What would it look like, how would it sound, what would it feel like, etc. etc. etc? If you already do, can you share your approach/process/practice?

JH: I’ve been writing a lot about cognitive computing lately, both because it interests me and because I have bills to pay and people will pay me to write about cognitive computing. Under the umbrella of artificial intelligence, the various facets of cognitive computing try to use algorithms, training methodology, and truly unfathomable quantities of data to help computers understand the world around them. In near-term practically, cognitive computing will be used to make autonomous cars act more like the best of human drivers (and less distracted ones at that) or help doctors make the most informed decisions about their patients.

Researchers have even used cognitive computing to “see the future.” After feeding algorithms millions of hours of video, they could present the engine with a few seconds of video and it could guess what was going to happen next. And it worked—to an extent. The implications are both beautiful and frightening.

So, if I could throw money and capability toward something, it might be experiments in how cognitive computing could affect, create, and improve upon the work I or others do. I’m not the kind of person who would argue that algorithms are going go obsolete human creativity and art, but I do think it could change the way artists work, and how people interact with or perceive art. Maybe for the worse, but probably for the better.

What if we could ask an algorithm whether or not our twist ending is actually a surprise?

What if we could have computers investigate and fix our verisimilitude issues?

What if computers could give us new story, poem, or essay ideas based on our latest curiosities?

What if algorithms could give us a perfectly-timed compliment about our writing when we’re down about the latest rejection, or in the aftermath of a failed novel, or when impostor syndrome is flaring angrily?

What if we could feed our stories into critiquing engines built from the critiques of our favorite, famous writers who would never have the time to read our work otherwise?

If these opportunities were available to me today, I absolutely would take advantage of them. None of them could replace the network of those whose critiques I trust, or dramatically influence my vision for any given piece, but they could operate as other opportunities for exploration. It took me 10 years of hearing about the editing technique of cutting up a story into scenes and rearranging them into something unexpected before I tried it, and then it resulted in what I think is the best story I’ve ever written. Why not try the same with data and algorithms?


Your essay “Evaporation” from Issue Eighteen tackles existential topics with a quirky, anaphoric story about fictional Greek physicists, time travel, and hot chocolate. What inspired you to approach the essay in this way?

JH: “Evaporation” was part of an essay project on each of the mysterious, confounding elementary particles that make up the “particle zoo.” The project began during an MFA course on science fiction and died about a week after the semester finished, but my curiosity for these strange little creatures, which are so small that they are functionally and physically dimensionless despite having mass, remains strong. Right around the same time, I re-read and was once again enamored by Amy Leach’s essay collection “Things That Are” and its bombastic, lyrical, and kindly anthropomorphic approach to our world’s curiosities.

I love that you call “Evaporation” an essay, because I’ve been hesitant to properly label this thing during its entire lifespan. When I began this piece, I fully intended it to be more traditionally essay-like, with a structure that braided between scientific/factual and narrative/applied. I wanted to first explore the idea of when and how humankind might have first intentionally interacted with the electron (lightning strikes making up the earlier, but unintentional and unwanted interactions). Explaining that moment only made sense to me through character, hence Agapetos and his rather quixotic quest to understand how all the world’s objects acted when rubbed against one another.

With each subsequent revision, I excised more and more of the distinctly essayistic parts of the piece, until it became what it is now—a piece of prose, yes; a piece of fiction, perhaps, but one grounded entirely in our real past and present understanding of what the electron is and how it functions within the universe. It is, maybe, the first piece I’ve ever written entirely around fact.


Could you talk a bit about the novel you’re working on, What Stills Never Survives?

JH: I remember very clearly the day my wife went through her blue coat ceremony in veterinary school, which happens between the third and fourth years. It’s a moment to reflect on all the hundreds of hours of studying that will soon transition into actual diagnostics and practice. Of course I had been curious all along about what she had been studying for three years, but not until that ceremony did I hear so distinctly some of the philosophical and unanswerable questions that make the work truly unique among all our various human endeavors. One faculty member spoke at length about the class’ successes and achievements, and then asked all of us in attendance to consider questions my wife and her classmates and undoubtedly struggled with already: How does one care for something that cannot point to its pain? How does one cope with the fact that none of their patients will ever thank them?

The book first came into form just then. Those questions were a perfect amalgam of questions I had been asking myself through my fiction for a long time, such as the nature of animal sentience, how memory functions in different animal species, what it means to be a “beast of burden,” whether anthropomorphism is an act of empathy or blindness, and much more. I have always been more curious about the minds of animals that are not humans, and broaching that subject through the lens of veterinary care felt like a new, exciting, and rare opportunity for me.

Most of the primary characters are veterinarians, either owning and managing clinics of their own, or traveling to meet their patients at nearby farms and ranches, and they are all presented with a moment in which everything they recognize comes apart: in widespread but illogical fashion, animals begin to undergo mysterious and terrible change. They start to die, many quickly go extinct, leaving humankind unexpectedly alone. I wanted to explore how we all might react if the things we love and appreciate are taken away now, and not in some fuzzy future. What if extinction is not a slow atrophy, but rather an overnight binary switch?

So as to not make my book sound completely harrowing and sad, I’ll end this answer with a little observation about an old story. Perhaps my favorite trope from fairy tales and folklore is the idea that in the past, long before recorded history, humankind had the capacity to communicate with other animals. Not in spoken word, or any other kind of gesture, but something we simply have no capacity for any more. As though one of our senses simply dropped away. Different cultures that share in this belief about the past have different explanations for how we lost that capacity, but it is usually rooted in our self-absorption, our savagery against nature, and the brutal things intellect makes of us. Now, we scarcely feel the loss of this language at all.

I think we can make our way back there. And in rediscovering our oldest selves, maybe we can remember that we are one among a community of sentient creatures all brilliant in our complete improbability.


Animals, nature, and surrealist imagery seem to recurring themes in much of your work. You say on your website, “I write fables and fairy tales. I love strangeness.” What attracts you to strangeness?

JH: In fairy-tale scholarship, there’s the idea of the “tiny flaw,” a minor-but-narratively-significant flaw in an otherwise perfect world. In fairy tales, tiny flaws are put into high relief because fairy-tale worlds are often described as perfect—there is the grandest castle, the bravest man, the most beautiful woman. Tiny flaws often become the framework for the entire story, or at least the catalyst that sets the protagonist out into their world.

Our world is most certainly not perfect, but the way we each perceive the world is perfect. It doesn’t matter if we’re nearsighted, or have hearing issues, or have lost sensation in our left arm—our perception and our understanding is perfect relative to our own experience. It’s as good as it is ever going to get. Each of these completely unique perspectives congeal together in a lot of different ways to create an agreed-upon understanding—the sky is such and such color, this bird sounds like that, something dropped should move toward the earth and not away. We call that normal. We call that reality.


A lot of wonderful fiction operates entirely within those bounds, but I’m more interested in exploring the places where our different perceptions fail to agree. Where logic starts to fade. Those are the places where I see our universe’s tiny flaws emerging. Because it’s thrilling to think that even our personally-perfect perspective on the world around us is broken. It’s thrilling to think about the ways in which our world’s tiny flaws could be prodded at and opened up into entirely different realities. That’s why I write about ghosts, or the slowing of the speed of light, or an event that steals away our animals. I want to understand what it is we do when we suddenly see not in red and green and blue, but rather in ultraviolet.


Looking back for a second, we’re curious to hear about what led you to write. Was there a specific person or course that got you hooked, and is there a specific moment in your memory when you ‘became’ a writer? 

JH: I can name any number of influential teachers, favorite books, and childhood scribblings that accumulated into my becoming a writer, but none of those go deep enough. There were plenty of moments where I felt that surge of validation—someone liked a story of mine, I got into a specific undergrad workshop a year before most—but it often feels like I’m retroactively applying more meaning than the moment really deserves. Memory is tricky in that way.

Even though my work focuses on moments where constants (whether they be gravity or the speed of light or a reality we’ve decided is “normal”) become anything but, I choose to apply most meaning to my own particular array of constants. There are plenty of threads along the way, but the brightest is my dad, who always encouraged me to write, and more importantly, was the first person to give my work legitimacy. When I was in high school, he signed me up for local summer workshops even though I was going to be the youngest person there by a decade (I took a class alongside of my high school teachers, for example). He kept asking how my writing was going, and at all the critical junctions of young adulthood—graduations, jobs, displacements—he insisted that I refuse to give myself a break. Because breaks become absences that become nearly impossible to traverse again.

When my dad reads most of my work, the novel included, he offers a variation on “I’m not entirely sure what you’re doing.” And that’s fine. That’s perfect. I’m never really sure, either. Or, I don’t care if people know exactly what I’m trying to do. It’s not about his words coming together to create a definitive moment I can apply meaning to. It’s about the constant. It’s about making something true, and then keeping it that way.


Tell us about a story you’ve been wanting or trying to write.

JH: Right now I’m dreaming up not a specific story, but rather a type, or a tiny genre to call my own. I recently discovered my childhood passion for science fiction, and I have always wanted write fiction that relishes a little bit more in the technological. At the same time, the last few years of my work have been very centered on fairy tales, and I very much want to continue exploring my use of fairy-tale style in all its forms and fashions. I’ve been struggling with how I can take my favorite oddities from each, how I can merge the two. How can I explore what’s to come in a most ancient style? What is the value in embracing our storytelling roots when talking about eras that might obsolete the importance of story? What kind of new, unexpected tiny flaws could be peeled back and explored?


Lastly, if you’d like, give us a question to ask during our next Conversation with a Contributor.

JH: This has been really fun—thank you for the opportunity. How about this: If you could hand-pick or delineate the ideal audience for your work, would you? If so, is it a particular individual, a certain collective, or something you can’t quite explain? What do you think this audience, in particular, has to gain from reading your work? If you feel like you have that audience already, can you talk about how you got there, and if not, what barriers are keeping you from reaching them right now?


Joel Hans is managing editor of Fairy Tale Review. His fiction has been published in CaketrainWest BranchRedividerYemasseeBooth, and others. He received his MFA in fiction from the University of Arizona. Find him online at

Eileen Huang is a junior at High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey. She served as the 2015-2016 Northeast National Student Poet, the nation's highest honor for youth poets presenting original work, and has been recognized by the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Awards and the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. In her free time, Eileen enjoys reading and shamelessly watching B-list romantic comedies. She serves as an Interview Correspondent for The Adroit Journal.

Review: So Much Synth by Brenda Shaughnessy (Copper Canyon Press, 2016) by Aidan Forster

            Laughlin Award winner Brenda Shaughnessy’s fourth collection thematically contrasts her third book, Our Andromeda, “[watching] the fish swim.  In backward circles.”  What Shaughnessy maintains is her characteristic confidence within duplicity.  Nostalgia emerges as coping mechanism, while poems simultaneously elucidate routine violence against young girls and women.  The ache of being human in a world that is “so much” reoccurs within Shaughnessy’s poems with almost as much frequency as pop music from the eighties, toward which the title of this book nods.  What Shaughnessy achieves is hurt like synth beating underneath the joy of her life – that beat is constant, dynamic and—at times—unsettling.

            Shaughnessy is a confident poet; in the first poem of the collection, “I Have a Time Machine,” she flirts with form from across the bar.  The lines in this poem seem to structure themselves, couplets composed of a long and then shorter line, reminiscent of the “one step forward, two steps back,” glitch in Shaughnessy’s time machine.  Near the end of the poem, the couplets begin rhythmically, “Myself …Myself …Me …Me…I…I…” Shaughnessy is at once teasing, “Thing is, I can’t turn it off.  I keep zipping ahead” – and in control, “well not zipping.”  She is nostalgic, but simultaneously aware and embarrassed by her sentimentality.  The time machine in the poem manifests the message of the collection, “…it’s never live; it’s always over.  The fish swim / in backward circles.”

            With ‘Time Machine’ as the book’s prelude, the first section of So Much Synth begins with the poem, “McQueen is Dead.  Long Live McQueen.”  Shaughnessy draws a connection to her title when she describes a passing row of buildings in the city as, “so much lense, textures so tall.” Here, the speaker is asking us to learn the difference between “too much” and “so much.”  Both suggest inundation but only one connotes excessiveness.  A person, a girl in love with “so much” is vulnerable to “so much” – anxiety and love, trauma and friendship, Melissa Etheridge and “so much” other eighties music. 

            The setting for the second section is the speaker’s twenties, in a house occupied exclusively by lesbians.  She writes, “Cynthia got / kicked out for being bi and / then bringing a guy to the loft.”  Shaughnessy occupies this setting with characteristic duality.  Though she reveals hurt tenderly, she never entirely abandons her identity as poet – her wisdom and hindsight are ghoulishly present in the collection.  Yet, her wisdom, as the poem, “Wound” demonstrates, doesn’t protect the speaker from her shame.  She writes:

                                    As if to woo
                                    not to wow.

                                    I didn’t dazzle like I expected
                                    to.  My body,

                                    interracial & grumous
                                    either overly looked at

                                    or totally overlooked.

            Shaughnessy continues to write in dichotomies.  When she says, “overly looked at” and “totally overlooked,” her playful diction allows space for both realities to exist.  The sonic joviality of, “As if to woo / not to wow,” is undermined by the formal, “As if.”  Contrast the former two words, only a letter apart, with two other words Shaughnessy couples: “interracial & grumous.”  “Interracial” appears with a small spotlight on it and is the most explicitly Shaughnessy will discuss race within the collection.  The directness of “interracial” demonstrates at once shame, slapped across our childhood speaker’s forehead, and the measured intention of the speaker to reflect toxicity back at the people who projected it onto her in the first place.    

            So Much Synth is beautiful because Shaughnessy is a proven talent; it is gorgeous because it never allows pain to linger long without joy.  Eighties music is a perfect vehicle for Shaughnessy’s experience of nostalgia, and the third section of the collection is particularly infused with synth, Aqua Net, and Duran Duran.  Shaughnessy approaches eighties pop with a soulful simplicity in such opposition with our typical consideration of the eighties it would seem contrarian if not for its vulnerability.

            In, “Is There Something I Should Know?” a thematic fluidity of gender and sexuality cracks open into a full gender critique.  Earlier in the poem, Shaughnessy’s young speaker lusts over “really any of Duran Duran except Andy,” and it reminds of comedian Kate McKinnon, who once sang in a Saturday Night Live sketch regarding a childhood crush on Hanson, “…that’s how I could tell, that I was gay as hell.”  Here gender is a flood of expression and flexibility, humorous even.  Yet, later on in the twenty-eight-page poem, Shaughnessy confronts the consequences of sexuality in rape culture more directly:

                                    When you learn that you are supposed
                                    to feel lucky and happy because you weren’t raped and killed,
                                    you are already, in this, being truly brutally hurt
                                    in a central, deep, and formative place.  This is never admitted.
                                    This is never permitted acknowledgement.
                                    If you say this, someone will refute it.  So I will say it here.

            Shaughnessy flows effortlessly through nostalgia to pain, which she exposes to us in this moment.  The mother-daughter duality of the collection flips again and Shaughnessy is separate from her pain, critiquing, “every sentence you speak ending in a question / so as not to anger anyone who needs to be right?”  Other times her writing is simple and intense, evoking a diary entry, “Anyway, tampons were way better because you // couldn’t see them and they didn’t slip, but you also / didn’t know whether they were full or not.  So????????????????”

            So Much Synth circles its contradictions elegantly.  Shaughnessy is a realist who knows she is above excess, but also a poet swimming in synth, a woman who prefers to listen to Simple Minds than tighten the white knobs on her dresser drawers.  She deprecates the parts of her identity that make her different, like in, “Gay Pride Weekend, S.F., 1992,” when she writes, “Knowing that being / fierce and proud and out and / loud was just a bright new way / to be needy.”  Almost simultaneously she writes electrically about the same aspect of her identity, “The love we made leapt / to life like a cat in the space / between us.”  We see Shaughnessy critique herself but she lets the poem rub up against that critique like a cat.  Perhaps it is a result of aging inside that fish tank of nostalgia, perhaps of growth, which by necessity occurs outside of the fish tank, which we catch sight of when Shaughnessy mentions her son and daughter, as in the poem, “Simone At Age Three, Late Summer.”  Somehow the language in this collection, the clean lines and couplets, drip like honey with the knowledge that the people we’ve been rarely go away. They are resting inside of us, and we all have time machines.


Brenda Shaughnessy was born in Okinawa, Japan, and grew up in Southern California. She is the author of So Much Synth (Copper Canyon Press, 2016); Our Andromeda (Copper Canyon Press, 2012) which was a New York Times Book Review "100 Notable Books of 2013"; Human Dark with Sugar (Copper Canyon Press, 2008), winner of the James Laughlin Award and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Interior with Sudden Joy (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1999). Shaughnessy's poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Harper's, The Nation, The Rumpus, The New Yorker, and The Paris Review. She is an Assistant Professor of English at Rutgers University, Newark, and lives in Brooklyn with her husband, son and daughter.



Sage Calder Hahn grew up in rural Northwest Connecticut and currently lives in Boston. She recently graduated with a Bachelor's Degree from Brandeis University in Creative Writing and English, and currently works as a sex-educator in Brookline. Her writing has either been featured or is forthcoming in Open Letters Monthly and inderbox Poetry Journal

Conversations with Contributors: Joshua Young (Poetry, Issue 18) by Aidan Forster


Let’s jump right in with a question from the contributor we last interviewed, Carolina Ebeid: Employing the facts you know about another animal species (such as a bower bird, or a platypus, or a lunar moth), could you describe your poetics?

JY: I’m finishing this up on November 9, 2016. I’m looking at this interview and thinking why I should finish writing this? But I know that I grew up religious, republican, and full of hate for people who were different than me. It was art that changed me, and art led to education, which taught me how to articulate what I couldn’t understand, and taught me how to listen, and taught me how to grow, and education that helped me tie art and my beliefs together. I’m distraught. I’m terrified for the people I love. I’ve cried and cried this morning. But I keep turning to art to help me through this, I keep turning to the artist who I call friends and the artists that matter, and I keep thinking about how I started writing because I wanted to tell stories, and I kept writing because I wanted to address the things I was witnessing and thinking about, and I hope in some way my work reaches at least one person and it can spark questions in their beliefs/dogma (whether religious or social) and grow outside the confines of their communities. I am a protected person in this country and that makes me sick, but with this privilege, I hope do something good, even if it’s so minor only one person grows.

So, here’s the interview through the lens of someone two days ago:

Hi Audrey! First of all thanks for asking me questions and sorry for how long-winded I can be. OK. Here we go!

I once got into a pretty heavy argument with my twin brother over the use of wolves in a film we were prepping. One of our producers wanted these wolves to be nasty, vicious things seeking out humans and being violent as fuck. And then the heroes kill the fuck out of the wolves. It made me sad. Why were we killing these beautiful creatures? Why did we have to? I kept telling my twin that most wolves are scared of humans and that most healthy wolves wouldn’t eat a human. But this producer wanted the wolves of his nightmares, the wolves he grew up fearing, the wolves films told him were out there, hunting. I wasn’t having it. My twin was in the middle, trying to see both sides. When I talked to him today, he was like, “Dude, I wanted the wolves to be good, but it’s the town believes their bad.” That’s true, but I fought against the wolves being in there at all, simply because if a viewer sees a wolf, there’s that image/idea we all know of wolves there already, preset—probably linked to their position in folklore, religion, mythology, and popular culture. The myth of the wolf is so loud that they make easy villains.

I am always looking at how myths are made, and attempting to re-enact, reshape, and repurpose myth, along with creating my own within the world(s) of my work. It’s probably from all the time I spent in my youth with the Bible, from all the stories we learned and shared and repeated to each other, to others. But the more I studied, the more I learned, the more I started to question, to challenge—folks around me didn’t like that—but I was interested in WHY we told these stories and WHY we allowed these stories to tell us how to act and what to believe, and I got to a point where I couldn’t rectify the difference between what I was preaching (and trying to believe) and what I actually felt (and actually believed). This is pretty close to the time I started really writing/making things. And the more I broke apart my beliefs in order to understand them, the more I moved further away from accepting what I was told I should accept, and the further I got away, the more I kept trying to create my own narrative that would justify what I was trying to desperately to believe—I used to stay up at night and cry about my lack of faith and beg god to show me the fire all my friends felt and to rid my body and mind of the things I fought so hard to stamp down and no one answered and I kept telling myself that someone would answer and that I would be OK but while I waited I cried about it and worried I would burn for who I was—and the longer I kept at it the more my justifications become impossible, and I realized, I was just trying to take a bunch of myths that had nothing to do with me, and meant nothing to me, and believe them. And, at the end of it all, these myths (these guidelines for living) couldn’t stand up to real inquiry—they buckled under the pressure. They were falling apart, because I wasn’t made for this, all of it was too methodical and judgmental and righteous, and it was there to create power for those who followed (even though, the message of the Bible is clearly not, but its message was appropriated—shit, I’m not gonna follow this digression any further. I’m already fucking crying on this plane. I thought I was gonna love god and be a pastor with a church, and make the worship team play versions of “Our god is an awesome god” so they sounded like Mineral. But, naw.) Anyway, I was talking about Myth.

So, I guess my poetics/practice/process is always related to myths—how they’re made, how we deploy them in relationship to our lives, how do we make/change them, how does fear and dogma grow stories into myths, myths into beliefs, and ultimately, how do we break a myth to its pieces to where it came from and why.

And I try to tell jokes. I mostly fail at the last thing.


When did you start writing? What do you think has kept you writing?


JY: I started writing music in high school after hearing three records: Sunny Day Real Estate’s Diary, Built to Spill’s There’s Nothing Wrong with Love, and Pedro the Lion’s Whole EP (though It’s Hard to Find a Friend made a much more important impact on my artistic life). I was just like, “Music sounds like this? I don’t have to listen to Sublime and Dave Matthews anymore?!”

Sometime after that, my father and I would watch films together, when everyone else was in bed or gone or whatever. One night we rented (from Blockbuster!!!!) American Beauty and Fight Club, and while watching those, I realized that I wanted to tell stories. I told my dad, “I think I want to be a writer,” and he reached over to the pile of books he kept by his recliner, and handed me Tom Robbins’ Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates and Herman Hesse’s Demian, and said, “Well then read these.” Then a friend of a friend got me into the Gen X writers (Coupland, Ellis, McInerney, Palaniuk, etc.), then a little later, my dad got me into Haruki Murakami.

When I finally went to college, I was writing mostly fiction, and went through undergraduate and most of my first master’s program as a fiction writer—though I started to turn to poetry (and decided to get my MFA in Poetry), thanks to Oliver de la Paz.

But in thinking about language and poetry, it was all those lyrics of all these late 90s early 00s emo bands that sort of laid the ground work (lol I know), but it’s because of bands, like Sunny Day, Mineral, Christie Front Drive, Braid, American Football, the Promise Ring, Kilmer, Pedro the Lion, Seldom, and on and on, that I started thinking about words beyond lyrics. I started thinking about music, not just as a means to say something, but songs as their own language. When I started reading the liner notes and lyrics, I started to wonder what the words meant detached from the music—there was a difference between what I was listening to before 1998 and these new discoveries.

I was a high school athlete, but burnout and injury kept me from pursuing that in College, so all I had was creation. I wrote songs, wrote stories and novels, and flirted with poems. By the time I got to college, filmmaking entered the picture too. I had all these modes. And I was trying to do all of it at the same time.

Because I starting making on my own, I didn’t have any sort of training, and I grew with all these modes of making art at the same time. So my skills at playing drums moved along with my skills writing prose, and so on. By the time, I got to College to study with professors, I was playing shows and touring too—my education in indie rock, I guess. Basically, I wanted to tell stories and make things, and I couldn’t choose one way to do it, so I tried all the ways, through whatever means I had—so in a way, the chance to fuck with boundaries came from not only the way I got into writing, but from this time in my life when I was teaching myself everything that came at me, and ultimately came from my need to make things. I have continued this practice of all-at-once—though not as intensely these days, and I think this keeps me interested.

Writing and making is harder with my work and family life, but I wrote so much in my late 20s and early 30s that I’m at a point where I’m OK with this new pace of life/work. I just work when I work, and when I do, it’s more methodically focused on one thing at a time, or more specifically one PROJECT—lately, I’ve been focus on multimedia project, called A Carnage in the Lovetrees. (I’m sure I’ll talk more about this in a bit.)

The point is, I need to keep making. Whether its poem-making, myth-making, filmmaking, it doesn’t matter. And so, because I don’t have the time, I end up thinking about it till I find time, then I work (as fast as I can).


You grew up in Washington state, and I can’t help but notice multiple small references to the state throughout your poems. How important are locations to your writing? And, since you now live in Chicago, do you think distance from Washington has affected your understanding and resulting portrayal of it?

JY: Yeah, I’m always droning on about the Pacific Northwest. I’m sorry. I don’t think I’ll get over it. It’s like faith and the church, I keep saying I’m done writing about it, but it’s always there, creeping in. Living in Washington State certainly instilled that Place is everything. Even when I lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico, I was so invested in the landscape that, to this day, I find it sneaking into my work, in the same way that Chicago and the Midwest are beginning to poke around.

I see things through a cinematic lens. Everything, even things that are staged are seen through this lens, even songs or whatever. It starts with an image for me, and usually, that image is a place/location.

My twin created a web series, Keep it Cinematic, that is currently in production (kind of, you can ask him about it), where he films bands playing alternate versions of their songs, and talking about the process of songwriting. The locations where the bands play are beautiful in that it’s usually in nature, but then my brother and his crew inserts human things, oddities in nature. Like, one section of the first episode he has a guy playing an acoustic guitar, sitting in a plush chair, in a field surrounded by evergreens, with a lit up lamp next to him, with Christmas lights over his head. My twin is obsessed with image and that’s how the series came about, he asks the band, where a song comes from, leading them towards talking about image and where the image takes the song. The point is, we both think like that, and it’s a big part of my work, and I think that comes from living in the PNW.

When I was briefly at New Mexico State University, Carmen Giménez Smith sort of yelled at me that a poem can’t just be a camera recording beautiful wreckage—where’s the poet, where’s the implication, where’s the meaning of this beauty you keep writing about!?—I think that’s when I realized (maybe not in that moment, but eventually), it’s not just about what the place looks like, but how the speaker and/or poet feels about it, how people (or characters) behave/function/live within that space. She said something brilliant like, “Couch all this in a space that we can care about.”

That said, I need a location to find the person, to anchor the story, to anchor the myth onto something tangible. I can’t tell a story or build a myth without its source.

The landscape of PNW still very much lives in the work I do, because it was just how things were. I didn’t experience a lot of other places till much later in life. Chicago is flat. The Midwest is flat. I want mountains and its trees and rivers and roads, rivers and roads, rivers till I reach you, but there’s something about the Midwest that I like, that feels like home—differently. I don’t know, I haven’t been here long enough to articulate it, but like I mentioned earlier it’s starting to show up more and more. Chicago is my home now. I think I look back on Washington and the West Coast, specifically, the PNW, differently now, because I’m so removed. It’s not everyday life for me anymore, it’s nostalgic and massive, and moving. I think I can appreciate it more when I see Lake Michigan and know there’s not salt in that water and it’s not attached to an ocean, and I can see for miles with no mountains. The differences are palpable. But the PNW will always be a part of me and my work, just maybe less so the longer I spend away from it. Even if I wanted to get rid of the PNW, there’s no way (funny, right now, I’m on a plane to Seattle for a quick visit with my son and family).


You’ve written two plays in verse (The Holy Ghost People and When the Wolves Quit) and To The Chapel of Light, which is, arguably, a screenplay in verse. What—and who—has inspired you to experiment, to push boundaries in these ways? 

JY: So, good news—Plays Inverse Press is reprinting Wolves and Chapel along with a third play-ish collection, This is the Way to Rule, all in one book—a trilogy of plays—called Psalms for the Wreckage. Late winter 2017. Sorry, I’m excited about this!

But getting to your question, I kinda mentioned this earlier, but let’s blame all of this on one person and one thing.

Thing: Because at the beginning of my creative life, I learned how to make things in different modes all at the same time—mostly teaching myself, and because once I started this I couldn’t stop. I needed to do it. Sometimes, it’s impossible to make a poem, sometimes a poem isn’t the right way to build something, it needs a narrative, sometimes it needs a stage, or tracking shot. Sometimes it needs all of the above. But ALWAYS it needs to be made, even if it fails to live.

Person: The person is Oliver de la Paz. I owe a lot to this wonderful human being. I have other mentors in my life, but when he became my mentor, it was the single most important moment as an artist for me. Whether he wanted to or not, he became my mentor. I just started showing up to his office hours all the time—he was a busy dude (still is)—and turning in 30 more pages of work than required (oh, Oliver, if you’re reading this, I’m so sorry for all the extra work! I have not forgotten your generosity). Anyway, Oliver taught a Prose Poem seminar, and let’s just say, he sparked a project (which eventually become To the Chapel of Light) that sent me veering away from studying fiction, because I realized I could do it all, and pretend it was poetry, and in doing so, I became a poet. Oliver’s the guy who took on my thesis when I dropped the fiction thesis, he’s the one who took time, he’s the one who didn’t fail me when as an undergrad when I deserved to be failed, he supported me and pushed me and when I handed him the pages of this weird little thesis, he said, “I think this is a film in verse, dude.”

I think that my first two books using genre and form as a way to couch the narrative, the poems in a space that can be seen or recognized—I don’t think I knew I was doing that at the time—but it seems clear that that’s what I was trying for, even without knowing. In later books/manuscripts, I’m much more aware of form and its relationship to the content, and I’m much more deliberate. Like THE HOLY GHOST PEOPLE is an actual play. It could be staged fairly easily with money and a committed theater company (or so Tyler Crumrine tells me). When the Wolves Quit would require the creation of a new script, breaking down and adding dialogue, cutting scenes, stunts, magic—basically it would be creating a whole new text with the book as a source or guideline. But with THGP, Tyler and I edited it so that it could be performed as is.

Anyway, I think the people who got to me early, helped me recognize what I was doing and pushed me in the right direction.

NOTE.: I have to also give credit to Richard Greenfield who realized what I was trying to do and pushed me to run towards it. He’s the one who said (of When the Wolves Quit), “This is a play in verse, stop acting like it’s not.” We were drinking beers in his backyard and the sun was in my eyes and he was yelling about poetry and about poets taking the easy route, and he was talking about this moment where a character is lost in the woods, and he goes something like, “Why doesn’t she get to the end of the woods and there’s a concrete wall and there’s ropes and lights and she’s ventured out of the play, and off the stage…?” Then he made the comment about it being a play. He made it clear that I could work in genre AND between them, by letting my work go where it wanted to, and to not worry about what I wanted it to be, but let it form itself, and accepting what that would be.


How has your experience as a filmmaker informed your poetry writing and how has your experience writing poetry informed your filmmaking?

JY: I keep circling back to the same stuff with my answers. But in all honestly, they’re infused, but it all revolves around story and myth, and HOW I deploy it.

I don’t want to repeat myself. That would be boring.

What I will say is that more and more, the separation between the genre and makeup of a project starts to fall away quickly, and for every poem, there’s a film or essay or document attached to it, and while it may not be living with the piece as it exists in the world, it is definitely a foundational aspect of it. One of my manuscripts, has a whole “Supplemental Materials” section, where I gather all the research and notes and fragments that helped me through the manuscript, including Facebook messages between me and my friend Dave, talking about hardcore punk, its history and legacy, and its bands. But even that bled into the makeup of the book. I even wrote songs for that project, and started a screenplay, and tried to get my twin to film a fake tour video (that never happened).

And then there’s my twin, who really wants to develop Wolves as a show or film, and he still talks about it all the time. He mentioned it this morning. I find it annoying, but at the same time, when I wrote it, I thought about a combination of Twin Peaks, George Washington, Days of Heaven, and The Ring, and Murakami novels. I guess, in a way my vocabulary is stitched to the language of film, perhaps in the same way it’s stitched to music, but the difference is that the image comes first. Always. The music arrives out of the place and its people/characters.


Who are you reading right now? Any additional recommendations for young writers?

JY: I don’t have a lot of time to read or write (at least not as much as I used to), but have stuff by my bed, at the office, in my bag that I pick up and read and jump around it:

All of the Plays Inverse stuff, Beyza Ozer, Alexis Pope, The Lettered Streets Press stuff (most recently, Louise and Louise and Louise by Olivia Cronk, Way Elsewhere by Julie Trimingham, and our latest, Split Series Volume 3 with Megan Giddings and Lo Kwa Mei-en), Martin McDonough, Kristoffer Diaz, Samuel Beckett, Sara Woods, Fred Moten, Haruki Murakami (especially when I’m in a funk), Amber Sparks, Shane McCrae, Talin Tahajian, Neil Gaiman, Ocean Vuong.

Young writers should be omnivores of Indie Lit. Read and buy and support like mad. Whatever they can. Stop drinking and buy books instead. Not really, but when you’re at a reading, buy one less craft beer and buy a book. Go online and order from small presses (not just amazon), we remember you and also, one book directly from a press goes a long way. It’s also just good karma. One day you’ll want people to be buying your book and it’d be shitty if you weren’t buying other people’s books. So yeah, order what you can from small presses, but even books you don’t know. Take some chances. If it’s not your thing, you’re still supporting the community, you know? But if you’re ten pages in and you’re not into it, stop reading and save it for later. There are so many books. You don’t need to torture yourself.

Please, please for the love of god, know that you should be patient! Most writers don’t publish their first book till their 28-30 (yes! I know the exceptions, I just listed a bunch). I know it feels like a long time, but it’s really not. Not in the grand scheme of life and your writing, but especially not in the grand scheme of the universe. So be patient and enjoy your writing and submit. I didn’t publish my first book till I was 29. Nick Twemlow’s Palm Trees took ten fucking years to get published! TEN! That book is incredible! If you’re good and work hard and aren’t a piece of shit, eventually, your first book will get out there. But really do your research and know where you’re submitting and be nice to editors, because a lot of us, recommend things we pass on to other publishers who would like it.

Oh and be good people. Please. I can’t take another shitty poet who thinks god created them to make poems and do what they want. Seriously GTFO. What’s the point of making art if you’re not decent and full of love for others? Be decent. Be supportive.


Can you tell us about current or future projects? What’s it like to be Joshua Young? 

JY: WELL…*takes huge breath*

I already mentioned our most recent The Lettered Streets books, so that’s exciting for me as an editor and publisher and reader—these writers/poets/books are amazing and I can’t believe we were allowed to work with these brilliant people.

The thing I’m working on now the most is that multimedia project, A Carnage in the Lovetrees, which revolves around a band of the same name. The project utilizes digital media (including social media, music videos, video series, podcast appearances), performance (including interviews, live shows and events), journalism (features, interviews, reviews), a faux-documentary, music (legit records), culminating with a feature film. [You can learn about it here:] (psst. There’s a secret page that breaks the fourth wall and explains the project in depth: hint “/carnage-mythos”)

The film is scheduled to begin shooting in late fall of 2017, and we are currently in the pre-production and developing the (there’s a running theme here) myth around the band, before the film begins principal photography. I had two previously recorded albums that weren’t released, so we appropriated those for Carnage, and I went into the studio in Bellingham, Washington to record the album myself (with some help from my twin and a couple friends, which has become a part of the narrative behind the band). We are currently mixing that record and plan to release it winter 2017 (digital and vinyl). We currently booking shows, making merch, music videos, and reaching out entities, such as media outlets, podcast, etc.

I’m exhausted. But it’s a good exhaustion. The feature film is beginning the casting process, though we’ve casted me and the person who plays my character’s sister and bandmate.

I should probably tell you the plot or synopsis: A Carnage in the Lovetrees follows a band on a US tour in support of their new record, where they are subsequently abducted. The surviving members struggle with the loss of their friends and family, as they deal with the band’s unwanted success, created by the news coverage surrounding the abduction. 

I’m also slowly revising a novel and I’m submitting to contests, because I can afford it kind of, right now, and that’s what my mentors tell me I should do.

Other than that, I write when I can, and edit when I can, and haven’t really taken on any new projects. It feels good. I’m trying to live my life, be a good partner, be a good parent, and be a good person.


Thanks for chatting with us! Now, if you’d like, please give us a question to ask our next contributor.

JY: Thanks for having me! I’m honored and thanks for letting me talk about my shit. OK…a question.

If you had the capability, time, and money, what other practices, processes, genres, art forms would you utilize in your work, and how would you accomplish it, and what would it look like, how would it sound, what would it feel like, etc. etc. etc? If you already do, can you please share your approach/process/practice?



Joshua Young is the author of four collections, most recently, THE HOLY GHOST PEOPLE (Plays inverse 2014), and the split chapbook edro-Woolley Days: A Damien Jurado Mixtape (b/w Talin Tahajian's Start with Dead Things (Midnight City Books 2015)). He is editor-in-chief at The Lettered Streets Press and works at the University of Chicago. He lives in the Albany Park neighborhood with two humans.

Audrey Zhao interviews contributors of the Adroit Journal for the blog. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Fissure Magazine, the Rattle Young Poets Anthology, Words Dance, and Vinyl. She is a Bay Area native.

Raise Your Glass: Adroit Prose Editor Named 2017 Rhodes Scholar! by Peter LaBerge

 via Facebook.

via Facebook.

Congratulations to Princeton University senior Aaron Robertson, recently named a 2017 Rhodes Scholar! From 2013-2015, Aaron served as a Prose Editor for The Adroit Journal. According to a Rhodes Scholarship Foundation press release, Aaron plans to spend his time at Oxford University pursuing a M.Phil. in Modern Languages.

This is the second year in a row a staff member of The Adroit Journal has been recognized as a Rhodes Scholar. Last year, fellow prose editor Russell Bogue (UVA, '16) was named a 2016 Rhodes Scholar, and began his study of Political Theory at Oxford.

See below for the full note about Aaron and his accomplishments, released by the Rhodes Scholarship Foundation.

Two years, two prose editors! We're over the moon for Aaron, and can't wait to see him soar to new heights.

Congratulations to all 2017 Rhodes Scholars, listed here in The New York Times.

Raise Your Glass: Adroit Meets the 2017 YoungArts Awards! by Peter LaBerge

We are so thrilled to share that high school writers affiliated with The Adroit Journal have brought home a total of nineteen awards from the National YoungArts Foundation's 2017 YoungArts Awards!

 " Carnivorous Heart " by Emily Sun, Issue Sixteen.

"Carnivorous Heart" by Emily Sun, Issue Sixteen.

From the YoungArts Website:

YoungArts is proud to announce its 2017 Winners - 691 of the nation’s most promising young artists in the literary, visual, design and performing arts. Selected from the largest pool of applicants to date, and representing artists from 40 states, YoungArts Winners receive cash awards of up to $10,000, mentorship and training from acclaimed artists, opportunities to participate in YoungArts programs, and guidance in taking important steps toward achieving their artistic goals. 

Selected through a blind adjudication process conducted by an independent panel of highly accomplished artists, the 2017 Winners represent the top 8.67% of applications and include 166 Finalists, the organization’s highest honor. 

This year’s Finalists have the opportunity to participate in the 36th annual National YoungArts Week in Miami from January 8 to 15, 2017. All Winners become part of a professional network of over 20,000 alumni artists and are eligible to participate in YoungArts’ regional programs, including YoungArts Miami, YoungArts Los Angeles and YoungArts New York.

Congratulations to recipients of 2017 YoungArts Awards affiliated with The Adroit Journal!

Aidan Forster, SC
Blog Editor / Summer Mentee (Poetry — Cody Ernst)
Writing – Short Story (Merit)

Samuel Gee, SC
Summer Mentee (Poetry — Jeff Whitney)
Writing – Creative Nonfiction (Finalist)

Julia Gourary, NY
Summer Mentee (Fiction — Molly McGinnis)
Writing – Short Story (Finalist)

Kathryn Hargett, AL
Summer Mentee (Poetry — Lucia LoTempio)
Writing – Poetry (Honorable Mention) / Writing – Creative Nonfiction (Merit)

Jordan Harper, AL
Summer Mentee (Fiction — Graham Todd) / Prose Reader
Writing – Creative Nonfiction (Honorable Mention)

Angelo Hernandez-Sias, MI
Summer Mentee (Fiction — Garrett Biggs)
Voice – Singer/Songwriter (Merit)

Cassandra Hsiao, CA
Summer Mentee (Poetry — Stephen S. Mills)
Writing – Poetry (Honorable Mention)

Christina Im, OR
Summer Mentee (Poetry — Aline Dolinh)
Writing – Poetry (Finalist)

Katherine Liu, IL
Summer Mentee (Poetry — Jennifer Givhan)
Writing – Creative Nonfiction (Merit)

Patricia Liu, OK
Summer Mentee (Poetry — Carly Joy Miller)
Writing – Poetry (Finalist)

Annalise Lozier, WI
Writing – Poetry (Finalist)

Alyssa Mazzoli, SC
Summer Mentee (Fiction — Alex Higley)
Writing – Short Story (Merit)

Alisa Wadsworth, NJ
Summer Mentee (Fiction — Maria Pinto)
Writing – Short Story (Merit)

Wendi Yan, NH
Visual Arts - Honorable Mention

Alisha Yi, NV
Summer Mentee (Poetry — Cody Ernst)
Writing – Poetry (Finalist)

Lily Zhou, CA
Summer Mentee (Poetry — Matt W. Miller)
Writing – Poetry (Finalist) / Writing – Short Story (Finalist)

Lisa Zou, AZ
Summer Mentee (Poetry — Nancy Reddy)
Writing – Poetry (Merit) 

*      *      *

Stay tuned for information regarding the 2017 YoungArts Week Writers' Reading, which will be live-streamed on the YoungArts Awards website.

We're With Her: An Election Statement by Brynne Rebele Henry by Aidan Forster

  " Hang On " by Blythe King (The Adroit Journal, Issue Seventeen)

"Hang On" by Blythe King (The Adroit Journal, Issue Seventeen)

Donald Trump’s criminal, homophobic, misogynistic, xenophobic, racist, and frankly despicable behavior has been the cause of countless media scandals during this election season. But still, somehow, he has supporters, however unsuitable he is, despite that he is, as Hillary Clinton said, a literal plethora of deplorable beliefs, actions, and principles. Naturally, there are going to be people who stand for everything that is and has always been wrong with this country.

However, a Trump election would result in the kind of disaster that futuristic horror films are based on, leaving behind a terribly frightening future (or, given Trump’s remarks on nuclear war, potentially leaving nothing behind).  Possibly the only silver lining of this election is that it’s opened a discussion about sexual assault, harassment, and the things women deal with on a daily basis on a national level in response to Trump’s horrific comments and treatment of women and girls. This discussion is vital, and while it’s unfortunate that it’s because Trump is running for president, the discussion should not stop after the election, (hopefully after Clinton wins). We’re with Her. And we really, really hope you are too.

A List of What Could Happen When You Vote by Peter LaBerge

By Christopher Salerno | Guest Columnist.

 via Right Speak.

via Right Speak.


1. You enter the voting booth and are asked to pick from a list of common feelings.

2. You enter the voting booth and, November-surprise, you find a sparrow there ruffling its feathers.

3. You enter the voting booth and are met with photographs of every sexual partner you’ve ever had.

4. It’s finally your turn to vote and you enter to find the booth is actually a Dexter "kill room".

5. Instead of candidate names you are asked to choose between species of owls found in the Western Hemisphere.

6. Instead of candidates you are presented with pictures of employees-of-the-month from the Arby's in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey.

7. You enter the voting booth and they are out of your favorite candidate.

8. Your only choices are the chicken kabobs, the sirloin tips, or the trout.

9. You enter and enter and enter only to find out you are inside a Russian Nesting Doll. 

10. While waiting in line to vote, one of your Birkenstocks gets sucked up into a gymnasium floor fan.

11. You enter and there are no political candidate’s names. Instead, you are asked to rate your pain on the Wong Baker Faces Pain Scale.

12. You enter the voting booth and discover it’s only a Pepsi Challenge.

13. You enter the voting booth and a judge asks you to choose between living with your father or your mother.

14. You enter the voting booth, are overcome by varnish fumes, and see only a little black urn.

15. You enter the voting booth and find sand sifting through an hourglass.

16. You try to enter the voting booth but Cristo has stuffed the whole thing with gauze.

17. You are asked to give blood.

18. You enter the voting booth and cast a vote for whichever candidate would make the most formidable ghost.


Christopher Salerno is the author of four books of poems and the editor of Saturnalia Books. His most recent collection is Sun & Urn, selected by Thomas Lux for the 2016 Georgia Poetry Prize (University of Georgia Press, 2017). Previous books include ATM (Georgetown Review Poetry Prize), Minimum Heroic (2010 Mississippi Review Poetry Prize), and Whirligig (2006). A New Jersey State Council on the Arts fellow, Salerno is currently an Associate Professor of English at William Paterson University in New Jersey where he also teaches in their MFA Program for Creative and Professional Writing. He can be found at

Conversations with Contributors: Carolina Ebeid (Issue Seventeen, Poetry) by Aidan Forster

By Eileen Huang | Interview Correspondent

We’ll start by asking a question given by our last interviewed contributor, Tiana Clark: Could you explain a favorite quote or epigraph that has helped articulate or unlock your poetics?

CE: I shuffle through many quotes that I post to my office wall. The one I’d like to offer is a little long for a post-it note, but it is helping me articulate something I’ve known to be true in my work. It comes from an essay entitled “Bewilderment” by Fanny Howe, and it demonstrates a generous resistance to patriarchal values. There is a Muslim prayer that says, “Lord increase my bewilderment.” Such a prayer belongs to that I in her poems, that “strange Whoever” who sends out signals:

“A signal does not necessarily mean that you want to be located or described. It can mean that you want to be known as Unlocatable and Hidden. This contradiction can drive the ‘I’ in the lyrical poem into a series of techniques that are the reverse of the usual narrative movements around courage, discipline, conquest, and fame. Instead, weakness, fluidity, concealment, and solitude assume their place in a kind of dream world, where the sleeping witness finally feels safe enough to lie down in mystery.”


Your poems “From the M Notebooks” and Scripts for the Future” from Issue Seventeen are full of gorgeous, visceral imagery (my personal favorite line: love’s written all over your face, love”). These and other poems of yours carry a melodic, lyrical quality in them—can you speak a bit about what draws you to lyrical or confessional poetry? Where do you find inspiration for images in your poems?

CE:   You are right, I am drawn to the highly lyrical in poems. Poetry is a room for singing. I enter a poem not to explain an idea, nor to make an argument, nor am I trying to recount a story. There are moments when I believe this with a certain ardor. But then, other times, I don’t really trust my claims about poetry, especially ones that come in the form of assertions ending firmly with a period. If we can turn it into a question, then: is a poem a space for singing? As a reader, I subscribe to Louis Zukofsky’s description of poetry, that it is “Lower limit speech / Upper limit music.” This integration seems truest. But when I am writing a poem, I am not interested in saying the thing clearly as “speech” might suggest. A useful image for me: a girl holding a flashlight at night, a photonegative image of her, so that darkness beams out from the bulb she’s holding onto the bright scene. That’s what I want my poems to do, to search with darkness in a bright world. When I am writing a poem, I find the incantatory, the mutter, broken syntax, a gnarled word more compelling than clear-speak.


Your newest collection, You Ask Me to Talk About the Interior, recently came out from Noemi Press. First of all, congratulations! It has been described by Julie Carr as a book of the blues discovered in the matrilineal line.” Poems are written from the perspectives of mothers, wives, and lovers. Did you choose specifically to focus on the interior lives of women, and—if so—how did your vision for the book develop over the course of its journey into life?

CE: Thank you so much! Yes, mothers, wives, lovers—they all dwell in the matrilineal line, and all three are part of my identity. But I wouldn’t say that this book seeks to represent the interior lives of imagined women. My friend and poet Andrea Rexilious points out that the cover image of my book illustrates an important aspect of the interior as it is rendered in the poems. The cover uses the work of Peruvian artist Ana Teresa Barboza; it presents the picture of a woman with an unfinished lace pattern laid over it, which the woman is sewing into her chest. Andrea and I were talking about how much we love the underside of tapestries, richly colored & unkempt fringes that don’t depict a bucolic scene, or a medieval unicorn, as the outward side artfully does. Both are important, inextricable from the other. Every exterior bears an interior (in dialectic relationship) and each communicates differently. I don’t think of the interior as a gendered space, but perhaps the interior, much like the reverse side of tapestries, conserves that “bewilderment” Fanny Howe puts forward. It’s not a place for (patriarchal) “discipline, conquest, and fame.” I want to receive those reports of violence and fear and beauty the reverse side is transmitting with its garbled speech.   

  Noemi Press.

Noemi Press.


  Who are some of your favorite poets writing right now? What are you currently reading?

CE:  First I have to say, I live with a bonafide bibliophile. My partner and poet Jeffrey Pethybridge reads widely, and is hip on many contemporary poets. My tastes have become much more expansive because of him. It’s a promiscuous kind of reading we do. Poets right now on my desk or open in my browser are: Khadijah Queen, Ari Banias, Eleni Sikelianos, Shane McCrae, Susan Howe, Etel Adnan, Sam Sax, Aracelis Girmay, Sarah Gridley. In my backpack this week, I’m toting around Anne Carson’s Float.  


And speaking of favorite poets & inspirations, have you always been writing? What influenced you to start, and what got you hooked?

CE:  My first loves are poets I’ll never stray from, ones that I read in my late teens and early twenties: Sylvia Plath, Lucie Brock-Broido, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Louise Glück, Anne Carson, John Berryman, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson. I’ve always been writing. I wish I could have a narrative to tell you in which I am a young adult standing at a stop light at the moment “when poetry came to me,” but the truth is I’ve been making poems since I learned the system of writing. There is a period in my life, however, where I met Lucie Brock-Broido, a turn of the century period when I was taking workshops at her home. Her poems, her person, encouraged me to continue making the weird, lush similes I was constructing. Hers was an unforgettable, charmed, hyacinth-scented encouragement.    


Throwing it back, what do you remember about the first poem you ever wrote? (Mine was an embarrassing sonnet from sixth grade.)

CE:      School is like a pool
            Or the wave of a sea
            It's the notion of the ocean
            That brings happiness to me.
                        —Carolina Ebeid, 1st grader


Give us a question, if you would, to ask during our next Conversation with a Contributor.

CE:   Employing the facts you know about another animal species (such as a bower bird, or a platypus, or a lunar moth) could you describe your poetics? 


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Carolina Ebeid is a student in the PhD program in creative writing at the University of Denver, and holds an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers. She has won fellowships and prizes from CantoMundo, Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, the Stadler Center for Poetry, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her first book was recently published in Noemi Press’ Akrilica Series. Recent work appears in LinebreakBennington Reviewjubilat, and in the inaugural Ruth Stone House Reader.

Eileen Huang is a junior at High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey. She served as the 2015-2016 Northeast National Student Poet, the nation's highest honor for youth poets presenting original work, and has been recognized by the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Awards and the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. In her free time, Eileen enjoys reading and shamelessly watching B-list romantic comedies. She serves as an Interview Correspondent for The Adroit Journal.