Thursday, 28 June 2012

Art Heifetz

A Small Love Song

My sadness was a heavy stone
That only you could lift,
My life a ragged shirt
Turned inside out
You patched the holes
And helped me
Get the sleeves on right
My heart an empty husk
Discarded on the road
You picked it up
And filled it with your kindness
My song a lifeless dirge
You placed my head
Against your breast
And hummed a comparsita,
Rocking me to
The rhythm of your heartbeat
The cadence of your breath


TSTmpj:  While not being a "New England poem" as such, it somehow has that feel for me.  Are you influenced by Frost and other New England poets?

Art Heifetz:  It really has nothing to do with Frost. I enjoy Latin American poetry and music and I tried to capture the feel of it in the poem, which was written in honor of my second wife, Mayela, who is from Nicaragua.  She came along during a rough part of my life. A comparsita is a Latin dance.


TSTmpj:  Given the melody of your poem, what sorts of music do you listen to?  How do you usually compose your poetry?

Art Heifetz:  I listen to jazz and Latin music. I write a lot of poetry while swimming or taking showers or walking in the park. Then I edit by reciting them to myself and making changes. I’m retired so I have sufficient free time to do this.


TSTmpj:  Your poem's ending reads almost as being sanguine to me.  Do you feel that's a fair comment?  What advice might you offer to inexperienced poets?

Art Heifetz:  Rather than "sanguine" I would say it’s the feeling you get when you begin again after a difficult period in your life. My advice is  to write simply and clearly, with honest emotion. I find much contemporary writing too abstruse and limited to a small, academic audience.


Bio Note

Art Heifetz recently retired from a career running an insurance agency, and returned to his first love, poetry.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Tanaya Nash


Dark Clouds
Fallen blossoms and pale moon
Hurried flight of birds
Arrival of lonely autumn
Time for us to part
Much have been said yet
We have not come to the end of our feelings
I leave you this poem
Read it
When the silence of the world possesses you
Or when you are fretted with disquiet
And remember
That all my thoughts have always been of you


TSTmpj:  How often are you, as a poet, "possessed by the silence of the world?"

Tanaya Nash:  Often, and it is then that i get closer to writing, it is then that i write actually.


TSTmpj:  Partings are intrinsic to life.  How acutely do you feel the temporal nature of "always"?

Tanaya Nash:  partings...hmmmm...yeah...they are intrinsic to life...when the distance does not do it, death does. But it is always...or better say every time. either ways you get used to it. to be honest i have never been so sure about "always" been temporal. May be it will be right to say i have never been so acutely aware of it.


TSTmpj:  How important do you feel it is for a poet to vary their tone, in their work?

Tanaya Nash:  ahh...finally here is something i know i can answer. Tone is more like Mood. You cant be in one kindda mood all day long. Actually, variation is essence of a poet, and a poetry. I wont be wrong if i say it is an essence to everything around. so in short, it is very important for a poet to vary their tone in their work.

Bio Note

Tanaya Nash:  a poetess..a writer..a reader. stays at Bihar, India..loves travelling, music and cooking

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Donal Mahoney

One Stark Trumpet Peals

At eve, old melodies unwomb,
old ragings wake
as crones,
stringy hair unbunned,
creep downstairs
to supper on a loin.
As they feed,
their fingernails
roll back
and so they gravitate
or, better, crawl
toward the dawn,
for in the din
that eddies in each ear,
they can hear
one stark trumpet peal
as they creep
toward the sun
a final time,
drawn by
ancient echoings.


TSTmpj:  I'm reminded, somehow, of Macbeth.  At the risk of opening up a not easily succinctly answered line of questioning, what are your views on Shakespeare's play, and do you see, in fact, any echoes of it in your poem?

Donal Mahoney:  It is possible that Macbeth, which I studied in college, had some influence in the writing of this poem. I cannot say that for certain since the first draft was written in the Sixties and has been revised many times, never to my final satisfaction. When I wrote the first draft, I was unaware of any influences. At that time, I'd simply "hear" lines for poems and jot them down on scraps of paper that I hoped later to complete. And "one stark trumpet peals" was one of those lines, although "sennet" was in the line only to be replaced later by "trumpet." "Sennet" may come from Shakespeare since a Google search defines "sennet" as "a call on a trumpet or cornet signaling the ceremonial exits and entrances of actors in Elizabethan drama." I removed "sennet," even though I still love the word, because few people would know the meaning of "sennet." I think, however, that you may have come closer to the "reason" I wrote this poem in your second and third questions.  


TSTmpj:  Your poem also alludes to me to haunting beginnings and endings in life.  How would you describe the rhythms of hauntedness in life as we live it?

Donal Mahoney:  I certainly have long contemplated the meaning of life, its beginning, end and everything that happens in between. I spent 19 consecutive years in Roman  Catholic schools without ever being tempted to be a priest. Nevertheless, my uninterrupted belief in God as outlined in orthodox Catholicism proved to have little effect on my behavior throughout most of my life. In fact, I was the antithesis of a "holy roller." Yet despite my behavior I always believed in God and always accepted the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church even if they were no governor on my behavior (my choice). 

What I marvel at today, at a remove of so many years from my time in school, is that a rapscallion like me, despite a life largely misspent, has always had the "gift" of faith whereas others of my acquaintance who seem to have led more normal lives are sometimes lapsed Catholics, even agnostics. I don't know why I have always believed. I did nothing to earn that "gift," bestowed, according to Catholicism, in infant Baptism. My closest friend from youth, also baptized Catholic as an infant, is today an agnostic. He has led a good life by any standard and by virtue of his wit and industry moved from being lower class to possibly being a millionaire today. I am dumbfounded by the fact that I still believe and he does not. For me, belief in God or a lack thereof is one of the great mysteries of life--my life, at least. I am not talking here about belief in God as seen through the prism of Catholicism. I mean simply belief in God with or without the benefit of any organized religion. For me, as you might tell, if there was a "Big Bang" it didn't just happen. There had to be a cause and for me that cause has always been God. 


TSTmpj:  Is there "one stark trumpet" pealing for all of us?

Donal Mahoney:  I do believe that "one stark trumpet peals" for all of us. The question is, does the trumpet peal louder for some than others and if so why? I have always heard the trumpet and for decades ignored it only to respond to it in my dotage. One might think that because of age I came to fear going to hell more than I did when I was young and constantly on a romp. Age is no doubt a factor in my changing behavior but I have always viewed the possibility of hell as real as the sun and the moon and the stars. God doesn't send people to hell, according to my Catholic belief, but if I choose to go to Hell, God might not stand in my way, assuming I made the decisions that would send me there with my mind intact. 

I cannot explain why suddenly I returned to the Catholic Church after a 40-year odyssey on the dark side that might have made Augustine blush before his conversion. I am not a babbling fool or preacher with the world as my congregation when it comes to faith and God and the meaning of life. I simply don't believe that birth and death are bookends. I don't believe in reincarnation but I do believe in the traditional Catholic view of the afterlife, however unfashionable that may be in 2012. I believe that I was born for a reason other than to work, father children, decay slowly and die. But I don't know why I believe in God and others do not. 

I don't go around hounding those who do not believe (except for my agnostic classmate). But if someone raises the question about the existence of God, my response, I'm afraid, is an avalanche if the inquirer is educated, less so if not educated. I can't help my response even though I don't drink. From my point of view, too much is at stake. I would understand completely if the Richard Dawkins of the world chose to stone me or if my agnostic classmate cut off our email correspondence. I would argue with Dawkins and his ilk for the intellectual exercise. I hector my agnostic classmate because I hope that I might inadvertently say something that might begin to bring him back to the faith we both were reared in. I owe it to him. Arguing with the Dawkinses of the world would be simply help to keep Alzheimer's Disease at bay. 

If I were to cite one factor that brought me back to the Catholic Church, other than the mercy of God, it would be the incessant study of Thomas Aquinas during the years that I was in school. Aquinas "ruled" in U.S. Catholic schools during the 50s in the United States, not as a saint but as a philosopher. He had a major effect in how I saw and how I still see life as a foyer for what is to come. "The Dumb Ox," as he was called, had a greater effect on me than Shakespeare, James Wright or Seamus Heaney. His five proofs for the existence of God still strike me as irrefutable. But then I have the gift of faith so no wonder Aquinas, for me, makes sense. 

I thank you for asking me these questions. Otherwise I might never have thought about why I wrote this poem as a callow youth some 50 years ago. Maybe I'm better off today but the poem still makes sense for me--back then as well as today.

Bio Note

Donal Mahoney has appeared once before in The South Townsville micro poetry journal. Some of his early work can be found at

Friday, 22 June 2012

Peter Gibbon

Fliers to Lifers
            no pete, you should not be outside yourself,
            stay inside.  what good would being outside
            yourself do? 
            i like the poems
            -text message from Ben Ladouceur

I’ve had a peculiar retail career: lower management favours me
their superiors disregarding my potential to distribute letters recommending employees ignore union reps circulating fliers to lifers

As a young man, a middle-aged retail assistant manager called me revolutionary; I was retiring Canada for Korea

where I found a partner but not the Fidel Castro archetype  
where I found after 27 years
the challenge is knowing & staying put
                                                                                                                                                              So if true revolutionaries are guided by love, let’s get married baby

unwashed dishes or diapers can’t make me
reconsider life you’re the last half of


TSTmpj:  Such an inventive piece, Pete.  Any influences you wish to talk about?

Peter Gibbon:  Thanks for the compliment.

I have a lot of influences—all Canadian—so far, most from my 7-year university education.  In my undergrad I formed an affinity for the hard, lyric tradition of Modernist poets like TS Eliot & Ezra Pound which lead to primary research into Canadian Modernists Louis Dudek, Raymond Souster and (to a lesser degree) Irving Layton.  My Post-grad research brought me closer to the late Modernists and early Post-modernists, namely Milton Acorn, Al Purdy, Michael Ondaatje, Alden Nowlan and bpnichol.  Contemporary poets such as Anne Carson, Rob Winger, Phil Hall and Lorna Crozier are who I read now—practically anyone who has a hard, lyric line and invokes feeling in every poem, no matter how short or long.   Novelist Timothy Findley made me want to be a writer in high school.  I am preoccupied with Marian Engel’s novels as well, who was an intimate friend of Mr. Findley before they both died rather early.

I was consumed by small poetry magazine publishing in my undergrad and I wrote my M.A. Research Project on a small poetry magazine that existed from 1957-70 called YES Magazine.  I spent 5 years editing and managing a small press in Ottawa called In/Words.  It was there that I really got to know writing through peers who expressed similar enthusiasm for and toward readership reception.  Without their mutual support I wouldn’t have had the forum or the courage to develop my own writing.  The editorial team I worked with attracted incredible poets who have branched off into their own projects that are gaining notoriety post-University: Jeff Blackman is a unique poet who manages an online erotic literary magazine, The Moose & Pussy; Cameron Anstee is an incredible and enthusiastic writer/publisher who manages a chapbook press called Apt. 9; a good friend and prose-writer Jeremy Hanson-Finger is publishing an online prose mag called Dragnet; Bardia Sinaee is a prolific poetry award-winner who is also managing a print-only poetry press, Odourless Press.  All of these projects besides Dragnet operate in Ottawa.  All of them grew out of or are intertwined in our small editorial team from Carleton University.  Other peers of mine that grew out of In/Words include Justin Million & Leah Mol, who have both since moved to Vancouver BC.  Leah is enrolled in UBC’s prestigious creative writing program and Justin is being her Bukowskiesque partner.  Everybody’s individual and collective influences poetically and personally are certainly the most profound influences I can cite.    


TSTmpj:  What's the poetry scene in Wollongong like?  Do you give readings there, or in Sydney perhaps, or do you prefer sticking to the printed page?

Peter Gibbon:  When I was an Ottawa resident, being a presence at readings was much easier because there was a more active poetry scene.  There are good & bad things about that.  As the political capital of Canada, diplomacy is absolutely congenital to everything in Ottawa.  As such, the poetry scene is incredibly supportive, warm and encouraging, but not competitive, critical or especially innovative. There’s lots of experimentation but I feel like a lot of concrete meaning gets edited out or relegated to play.  Again, a double-edged sword.

Wollongong is an incredibly unique place chock-full of character, however (as Australians put it) Bogan it appears.  It has an interesting history of working-class culture, but with a recent slow-down in employment its character has become noticeably Gothic.  Being a writer, I spend most of my time out & about during the day when I see a lot of mentally ill and (pardon the pejorative implications) burned-out folks wandering town.  Suffice to say, I haven’t found a very strong poetry community here, but I’ve only been in Australia since March.

I’ve grown up in the lyric tradition of poetry and I tend to stick to the page.  I’m aware when a poem is better to be read by the reader in their own head and since a lot of my poems are short and don’t fit into the Slam Poet persona I don’t pursue that type of community.  While in Korea I started wading into song writing, which has made performance and poetry more distinct for me, in how I write.


TSTmpj:  What is it to "stay inside yourself" for you?  How is that different from being "outside yourself?"

Peter Gibbon:  The quotation that prefaces my poem came out of conversations I’d been having in 2010 with a close friend and contemporary poet, Ben Ladouceur.  I’m sure we were discussing poetry & sexuality, as many of our conversations from that period revolved around Queer theory and how it applies to interpersonal relationships.  Ben is another poet I met through In/Words and is also seeing some significant attention from the literary establishment in Canada.  I seem to remember sending him some poems that were not straightforward and very likely expressing anxiety toward the discord between biology and identity (this is the unifying motif in Queer Writing for me—in both "Hetero" and "Gay" contexts.)  Ben sent me this text which I didn’t receive until half a year later because I’d lost my phone.  When I read it much later I realized it was worth ten of the "texts" I’d sent him for feedback.  

The poem is really about "coming out" of yourself, but sometimes you get discouraged with poor relationships or you get to blame yourself for being insecure or paradoxically, blame yourself for being unhappy.  At the risk of sounding like Dr. Phil, it’s really self-awareness that’s the best protection against despair, and sensitivity to your companions’ own anxieties keep you from feeling totally alone.

Bio Note

Peter Gibbon is a Canadian writer residing in Wollongong.  He has been published by Ottawa, Sudbury and Toronto small magazine/presses.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Cate Billing

"The voices in my head"

I don't tell you how I feel anymore
You used to listen, nod, care...

Now it feels like you're storing the information
Biding your time



Waiting to use it
When my body aches like my heart
When the only constant I can sense is tiredness
When the voices in my head scream the loudest
That's when it comes...

"All you ever do is think of yourself...
All you ever do is complain.
You're not the only one tired.
Everyone gets depressed.
Why can't you see it?
Why must you be so selfish?
Why can't you think of me for once?"

All I do is think of you
Think of the hell that being with me must be
Think you need sunshine and not constant rain
Think how you should be free from my sadness

I don't tell you how I feel anymore...


TSTmpj:  Of course, while not saying that the "I" in the poem is you in real life, this is a poem that reads as in the Confessional tradition.  Have you read Sylvia Plath?  How does it feel for you to open these sorts of imaginings of yours to the world in this way, through publication?

Cate Billing:  I haven't read any Plath beyond quotes.  I've read about her battle with depression and can resonate with that.  At the moment I am reading Janet Frame The Goose Bath Poems.  She discusses her sense of being disenfranchised in many of her pieces.  "The voices in my head" is an attempt to describe how alienated I feel when the Black Dog Howls.


TSTmpj:  The heavy notes of the repetitions are very effective.  In our darker moments we often feel we are repeatedly banging our heads against walls, and that is the sense I have here.  What is the way out of such situations in real life, for you?

Cate Billing:  When life gets too much I spend time writing the thoughts out.

I experimented with repetition in "Voice" for the first time.  I wrote it to be read aloud.   The repetition and the pauses, along with the use of emotive language, allowed me to work through some things I was going through at the time.  It works well as a performance piece but doesn't seem to lose anything in the "flat form".


TSTmpj:  Relationships are complex, always.  What do you feel the next poem you write may be about, and what tone might it possibly strike?

Cate Billing:  I don't know what my next piece will be.  It depends where the muse takes me.

Bio Note

Cate Billing has been writing since she could form letters.  She’s currently a stay at home parent indulging her writing passion.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Milenko Županović


Relics give me strength
to go further
and the light that I find
the holy books
the words come
combine to help fortify my soul
becomes part of the prayer
veil hides a secret passage
and only selected
I can see it.


In the original Croatian:

                                               Autor: Županović Milenko

                                               Relikvije mi daju snagu
                                               da idem dalje 
                                               i svjetlost koju nalazim
                                               u knjigama svetim
                                               riječi same dolaze
                                               okrepljuju moju dušu
                                               postajem dio molitve
                                               tajni veo sakriva prolaz 
                                               i samo odabrani
                                               mogu ga vidjeti.


TSTmpj:  How difficult was it for you to translate "Prayer" into English?  Did you feel in any way hamstrung by the difficulties I understand translators most often face?

Milenko Županović:  I will  be honest and say that my knowledge of English was not such that I can translate, so I have my poetry translated by google translator.


TSTmpj:  I feel it's fair to say that in the English speaking world much poetry is written today, but much less is read.  Is this true where you are?

Milenko Županović:  I think that poetry is not much read in the whole world (that's my opinion and may not be true), but the poetry is needed every man, because it heals the soul and my suggestion is that if everyone works a boring job, found in the depths of your soul for art, because it is like religion,
bring salvation.


TSTmpj:  How much of a part does religion play in contemporary Montenegro, and Croatia?  How would you describe the relationship of religion to poetry, and the arts more generally, in your society today?

Milenko Županović:  I am very religious, Roman Catholic, baptized, and I think that art and religion are twin sisters, and both help the man feel better in the true sense of the word. Even though I live in Montenegro, I am very attached to the land of my
ancestors Croatia.

Bio Note

Milenko Županović is an engineer by profession, but it does not interest him much, his preoccupations are related to art.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Ali Znaidi


the moon sacrificed her lights
to the blind. This generosity
took the shape of pure mystical
glowing lights emanating from
Sufis’ hearts.
Invisible lanterns revolving around
the pupils of the blind’s eyes
releasing infinite waves of light
rekindling their dimmed eyes
resembling dark caves,
various lights, a rainbow of lights—
a reference to the first moment
of revelation,
so limpid and crystalline.


TSTmpj:  "Generosity" has a delicate indefiniteness to it that strikes me as being unlike much Australian and American poetry I've read recently.  Would you say it is in a style that is currently being written in your part of the world?    How connected do you feel in this Age of the Internet to the world writing community, and how do you feel it's affecting how you write?

Ali Znaidi:  I agree with you that the place where the writer lives affects his/her writings. But writing oftentimes is affected by the writer’s mood or state of mind. I try to use a variety of styles and techniques when writing poetry. But the form or the style of the poem usually depends on my mood. I wrote “Generosity” at a night when I felt confused, and ideas were chaotically tumultuous and perplexed in my mind.

I strived for indefiniteness and vagueness just to reflect the dichotomy of light and darkness as human beings are in a constant war between the powers of light and the powers of darkness.

I think this dichotomy is what keeps us confused, and makes us oscillate between these two extremes. Each one of us is searching for that light either in his/her heart, in the other, in religion, in the arts, in nature, etc. The quest of light and noble values like justice, freedom, and generosity is something I have attempted to express in this piece.
I think this confusion in my mind generated “Generosity” in an indefinite style. This indefiniteness can encourage the reader to ask questions instead of me just asking them in the poem in a precise and straightforward style.

I think we sometimes need a certain indefiniteness in poetry because at the end a poem is not a scientific article that requires precision.

As for the second part of your question, the Internet is of paramount importance in this age. It is, in a way, a democratic tool that offers a venue for all voices to be heard. Thanks to the Internet, I have the opportunity to read a lot of international writings. Most presses and publishing houses in Tunisia publish creative works either in Arabic or French. So I am really very grateful for the Internet for this exposure, for instance, in less than 3 months I get published in more than 11 ezines. I seize this opportunity to thank Russell Streur, The Camel Saloon editor, who was the first to publish a work of mine, and all editors who published some of my works. Without the Internet I wouldn’t be given the chance to be published, especially in my case as a nonnative speaker of English. So I feel lucky to be connected in this Age of the Internet to the world writing community. For example, I am a member of a creative writing site: This site can be considered as a laboratory or an online workshop enabling members to post their writings, discuss, and interact with each other. Besides, reading established writers’ works and interacting with editors through the process of submission/rejection or acceptance affect, in a way, my writings.  


TSTmpj:  What is it like being a poet in Tunisia?  Would you care to share some thoughts on the place of poetry in Tunisian society today?

Ali Znaidi:  Poetry is deeply rooted in Tunisian culture like any Arab country. Along their history Arabs are mostly known for their poetry. Tunisia is the land of such great poets as Abul Hassan Al Houssari, Ibn Rachiq, and in the modern era the international poet Aboul-Qacem Echebbi. However, poetry ceases to be that influential art these days due to social, economic, and cultural factors. Besides, readers tend toward reading more prose at the expense of poetry.  Despite this fact, there are some established names, and even some of them participate in international poetry festivals.

Being a poet in Tunisia means to struggle to get exposure because it is very tough when it comes to publishing. More and more poets are using modern technology, and social media to carve a name before being able to publish some books.


TSTmpj:  What do you wish to achieve with your writing in the future?

Ali Znaidi:  Being an established writer has haunted me since my childhood. I dreamt of being a well-known Arab writer. But this dream; to borrow Langston Hughes’ expression, festered due to certain circumstances. This dream revived when I started studying English literature at university. Exposure to English literature triggered me to resume writing, but once again I stopped writing. 2012 is a turning point in my writing life as I come out of the closet and start submitting to many ezines. Getting published here and there is encouraging me to work more on my texts. I also aspire to translate some Tunisian writings and poetry into English.

What I wish to achieve with my writing, if life permits, is to be able to leave a certain trace after my death. The idea of reaching a reader with my work after one hundred years or so would make me feel good in my grave.

Bio Note

Ali Znaidi lives in Redeyef, Tunisia. He writes poetry and has an interest in literature, languages, and literary translation.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

B.T. Joy


it is natural to think
that you are the centre of things 

the fixed point 
around which worlds orbit 

but you are not the only scrap of the divine 
on an earth, bland and unenlightened, 

rather you are a buddha 
being circled by buddhas 
chanting mantras 

the mantra of birdsong 
the mantra of wind in leaves 

the mantra of alarm clock, 
of train-roar 

and here 
the beautiful and uncertain mantra 
of one still searching for the way 


TSTmpj:  Have you travelled to the East?  Is there much of an Eastern influence in contemporary Scottish poetry, or do you consider you are writing a way away from the current Scottish mainstream?

B.T. Joy:  I travelled East on a shoestring when I was nineteen years old and after busing through New Zealand, from Cape Reinga to Queenstown, I spent some time in Thailand. Visiting Wat Pho temple in Bangkok, seeing Buddha’s footprint in Chiang Mai and climbing the ruins of the old city in Ayutthaya were, it’s true, a positive nourishment for the soul that I still feel viscerally. However, it must be said that I try to avoid considering the wisdom and the sensibilities which we most commonly refer to as ‘Eastern’ as simply a matter of geographical location. Rather I view these insights as universal to the human condition; as self-sufficient truths that are available to all of us all of the time, wherever we are. My own poetry centres around this inner-inquiry; the essence of which draws on external sources for the enrichment of its expression. My poems have been influenced in this way by ancient Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish and Christian texts; as well as a wide variety of material that may identify as secular. And, yes, some of this material does have its origins in the Scottish mainstream which I consider to be touched, as are many of the poetic traditions of the modern world, by the beauty and the wisdom which we, for convenience, refer to as ‘Eastern thought.’ In particular I would say the work of the Dunfermline-born poet John Burnside and the Dundee-born poet Don Paterson most typify this sensibility in the Scottish mainstream. In fact, it was when I first read the latter of these, Paterson, that I realised the underlying bodhisattva-nature, that centres on compassion for everything, and which, I believe to this day, makes up part of the collective consciousness of the Scottish people. Paterson explains this perfectly when he writes: “Late winter thaw. The poor Earth and its cheap green coat, its thin brown shirt and shivering heart... Ach! What a talent the Scots have. We could pity the universe.”                       


TSTmpj:  I've asked a similar question to another poet recently, but I'll ask you too: given your palpable mastery of technique, what advice might you offer to a less experienced poet?

B.T. Joy:  I have the great advantage of having written poetry in one way or the other since my mid-teens. The advantage, of course, is two-fold in nature. In the first instance, I have the benefit of some experience which affords each poem the privilege of seeing a little further down the road by climbing on the backs of its compatriots. Also, in the second instance, I have a bank of several hundred pieces which missed the poetic mark in about every way which it is possible. With this in mind, if I can answer your question at all, if I have anything at all to say to a less experienced poet, it will be mostly through the virtue of what Leonard Cohen phrased so excellently: “Well, I've been where you're hanging, I think I can see how you're pinned.” Of course, Michael, such an approach requires a person-by-person approach to advice-giving and doesn’t fit too well with the format of your interview. Fortunately I can give a more general account of my approach to poetic practice in a few well-mulled-over words: Lifestyle, Love, Experimentation, Simplicity. These first two elements, for instance, I believe to be pre-requisites to writing good poetry. This is true if you consider that we never write a poem only with our minds and in the relatively short period in which it is physically composed on the page. Rather our entire lifestyle conspires with every moment to write the poem. If you spend the majority of your day in nervous stress, for instance, any poem you write that day will be imbued by that; and it is an unattractive aesthetic for poetry. The lifestyle in which I best perform personally requires some silence, some solitude and, crucially, enough openness and willingness to hear; without necessarily writing down everything I hear immediately. I’m reminded here of W.B. Yeats who heard the words, as though they were auditory, “that is no country for old men,” years before he found a place for them as the opening lines of Sailing To Byzantium. Such a process, to my mind, requires that your whole lifestyle, and not just your ‘writing time’, be dedicated in some way to poetry. As I have said, love of poetry is also a prerequisite and, as you are living your poetic lifestyle, it doesn’t hurt to love the poetry of others so much that you hate the poet in question for having come up with the lines first. There are poems which I myself will never write and which I will go to my grave wishing I had; and a hopelessly unachievable ambition such as that is rocket-fuel for creativity.  With lifestyle and love then, experimentation and simplicity are the prime poetry tools I would suggest to any of my contemporaries. Experimentation is important as it breaks with the false idea that every composition must be perfect on inception. This, to me, is nonsense. The bad poetry is inside of you just like impurities are inside of clear water. They must be burned off through experimentation and, as the years go on, and the distillation becomes more complete, perhaps you’ll find your poetry improving as a consequence. Experimentation then means writing as much as you can and whatever you can; even if you fall short of Ezra Pound’s prescribed seventy-five lines a day. Finally, as I mentioned, and I realise this may be the most prescriptive of my little quartet of guidelines, but I do believe simplicity is central to good poetry. Try to say things as clearly as they occur to you internally. Include only those words which enhance the poem. Strip away as much of the affectation as you can. Try not to follow conventions simply because they exist.        


TSTmpj:  Your images of mantras parallel the natural with the human-made world.  In the world of many of us of alarm clocks and trains, so to speak, how do you suggest we centre, and seek?

B.T. Joy:  The 13th-century mystic poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, a man whom I hold in the highest esteem, once wrote: “your depression is connected to your insolence, and refusal to praise.” This single line has a greater impact upon me than a thousand verses could ever have because of the beautifully simple truth to which it points. It tells me that the pain of being which surrounds us all, the Dukkha which Gautama Buddha referred to in his first sermon, is not an external force applying itself upon me but rather an internal force applying itself upon the world. My depression is connected to my insolence; my refusal to praise. This insolence takes the form of the metal complaining I attach to forms which have no implicitly negative nature and my grouping of forms together into desirable and undesirable structures to which they don’t necessarily belong. In my poem therefore the parallel you discern between the natural and the human-made is, it’s true, intended to split the reader’s mind between those two polarities. However this is only done in order that, through practicing it actively, the reader can fully discern the fallacy in which they have participated. In the poem ‘birdsong’ is ‘alarm-clock’, ‘wind-in-leaves’ is ‘train-roar’, they are all mantras chanted by a buddha, that can only be the One Buddha, and the only distinction between these phenomena are fabricated in the mind which perceives them. In reality the natural and the human-made world have no independent existence; they’re phantasms created and given credibility exclusively by the human mind. The centring therefore is only achieved when we drop our interminable opinions on everything, our insolence, our tendency to second guess the universe. In this space, this spaciousness, we sit in the office that frustrated us with its banality and feel, yes, centred is a good word, because we have lost that inner labelling which is the frustration, which is the banality. Now all that remains is an office; so many desks, so many seats, so many stacks of forms to fill in. Everything has become only an expression; presented in thought in the same way people are dressed in clothes, but, underneath, entirely naked, entirely silent and spacious. The poem, really, is only a single lucid moment in which the seeker has stopped trying to figure out whether the buddha is the Self or the Other; perhaps because of the sudden realisation that the answer is both, and at the same time.

Bio Note

B.T. Joy is a Scottish poet with a passion for Chinese Tang dynasty, Japanese Edo period and Sufi mystical poetry.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

A.J. Huffman

In the Vortex of Self Destruction

Hell is a world
full of mirrors.
And lost among them,
I am trying to find a face
I remember.
But every surface stands silent.
Every glass —
silver smooth.
Rippling emptiness.
Goading my fear.
I recognize nothing.
But the faintest hiss.
Of air.
Seeping in.
Seeping out.
Squeezing my eyes.
Till they weep.


TSTmpj:  Every word in your poem has portent, weight.  Have you always written in this, for want of a better word, stark vein?

A.J. Huffman:  Yes, I have.  I tend to write when I am very emotional.  By proxy, that emotion tends to infuse itself into every piece.


TSTmpj:  Who are some of the writers you admire, and what lessons do you consider you have learnt from them over your writing career?

A.J. Huffman:  I have been told this is blasphemous for a woman to say, but my favorite writer is Charles Bukowski.  I love his raw attitude.  Obviously, as an emotional and somewhat confessional writer, I have also been influenced by Plath and Sexton.  And, of course, I cannot forget my dear friend and fellow poet, April Salzano, who has taught me more about the importance of precision line breaks than I ever thought I would need to know.


TSTmpj:  How much of yourself do you portray in your work?  If you could have a reader taking one thing away from the featured poem, what would it be? 

A.J. Huffman:  I think it would be fair to say that there is an element of myself in every piece I write -- no matter what the genre.  Obviously, poetry being a more personal medium, more of my emotion, and thusly more of myself, tends to find its way into the pieces.  So, yeah, I'm there looking back out at you from the page.  Definitely. 

I think the best thing a reader could take away from "In the Vortex of Self Destruction" is that all emotions -- even the negative ones -- have validity and beauty.  They are nothing to be ashamed of.  We all have them . . . even if we don't like to admit it.

Bio Note

A.J. Huffman, a poet in Daytona Beach, Florida.  She has published six collections of poetry and is working on the seventh.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Michael H. Brownstein

The Naming of Strength

The fine silk of earth covered their bodies, one long shallow grave,
rain, wind, and finally snow exposing their faces, brackish masks, eyes wide open.
It was enough to make you want to puke.
We knew then what had happened that night to our loved ones,
we knew the men and the cruel women who had come with them who had done this.
We did not own enough power to do anything about it.

Men live to be old and survive on memories, forgetting some, remembering others.
There were times we would wake at night, pause mid day,
dead eyes looking at us, bloodied and blood shot, staring through clumps of dirt.
We buried our dead in individual graves, marked each one,
went on with our lives farming, building life with our hands.

Did you think this a song of revenge,
those of us young, well developed, going after the murderers one by one
until a fear within them grew so great it warmed the soil and the air?
I'm sorry.
They grew old and died.
We became friends with their children and their children's children.
Life went on in our valley and our gardens grew strong.


TSTmpj:  I'm again struck by the vivid detail in your poem.  How do you account for your acutely perceptive eye?

Michael H. Brownstein:  I often find myself reflecting on the meaning of friendship and how friends endure impossible conditions at times. Somehow I took the leap into a poem about war and terrorism—probably more about war—ethnic war, to be more specific. I wanted to create something that would engage the reader and let them see how actual turmoil and violence impacts on everyone from the victim to the bystander to the murderer because, in fact, in this poem, the cruel ones are murderers.

I can’t explain at what point an image comes to me. The other day I was looking at a series of clouds bunching up in the sky and jotted down in my journal that they looked muscle-bound—and from that image a few days later more images came until a poem developed around it. In this poem it was the image “the fine silk of earth.” As a writer, and more specifically a poet, I try to always have pen and paper to write down ideas and/or images that come to me. Some of them lie dormant forever, others can't leave me alone. Thus this poem.


TSTmpj:  There's almost a Zen-like acceptance and peace in your poem's tone.  Would you care to share some thoughts on your philosophy of life?

Michael H. Brownstein:  I have worked in very trying environments as a teacher in Chicago, Illinois’s inner city. Some of the schools where I have worked were so wracked with violence, it’s amazing anything was ever taught. I became so well prepared for the nuances of working in what was at the time the world’s largest housing project that I could actually smell the violence when I exited the train that carried me within a half mile to work. But even in this world where spiritual poverty ruled the minds and bodies of so many, I worked hard with my students—and their families—on conflict resolution, creating the threads of life long friendships, how to forgive and be forgiven, and most of all the idea that peace can cure almost anything even when war seems the only viable answer.

For the most part, pacifism goes well with me, and charity—making sure all of us have a worthwhile life and one full of principles and faith. (Not the faith derived by religion—but the faith of spiritualism: Do we really need a four car garage? A twenty centimeter TV screen?  Designer jeans?)

Do the best you can and leave wherever you have been—or continue to be, for that matter—better because you have been there.


TSTmpj:  And, finally, a powerful note of reconciliation and love for humanity.  It echoes for me a review I read many years ago of Jeff Nuttall's Bomb Culture, which said something like "reading this book made me wish to have the author as my friend."  Do you feel it's important for a reader of poetry -- in general, not even especially your own work -- to have an attitude like that to the poet they are reading?

Michael H. Brownstein:  I hope the reader takes away from this poem the idea that revenge was not in the violence towards the ones who hurt others, but in the reconciliation with their families and their friends—and the strengthening of all of us because we were capable of reconciliation.

Do I need the reader to be my friend? No.

Do I want the reader to read my poem and somehow feel within it some new source of hope and guidance? With this poem, yes.

Bio Note

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