BLOG & INTERVIEWS

Featured Poet Jim Daniels

Jim Daniels is a writer and poet born in Detroit, Michigan. He currently lives in Pittsburgh teaching as a Thomas Stockham Baker University Professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Some of his poetry collections include Rowing Inland (Wayne State University Press, 2017), Apology to the Moon (BatCat Press, 2015), Birth Marks (BOA Editions, 2013), and stories from Eight Mile High (Michigan State University Press, 2014). Daniels is also writer/producer of a number of short films, including “The End of Blessings” (2015).


HOUNDS

Greyhound stations and buses 
reek with cigarette ghosts of American nerve.

Orange plastic seat rigor mortis, fried spit
and hieroglyphic sweat. I sat here in 1973. 

There in 1976. Here in 1981. There in 1984. 
There again in ’84. After a run of luck, the luck 

ran out the radiator in Joplin, Missouri, so, back
on the hound in ‘89. Early ‘90s. Stumbling out 

for midnight Church’s Chicken. Diesel fumes 
and raw, unearthed regret. Anxious soldiers 

and imposing grandmothers. Gum chewers 
and thumb suckers. Unshaven, after-shaven. 

Half-sticky slime on railings and poles. 
And the bathrooms. The bathrooms. 

Schedules and delays and wide sways 
into laps and claps, and the drilling patient hum 

of the sacred against the scared. 
I’m weeping like the stranded opera singer,

though I don’t plan to ride another one ever. 
Today a woman drenched in multiple layers 

of filth, surrounded by wavy cartoon lines of stench, 
catches my eye outside the Kroger's wanting to tell me 

the frayed story of a brother in Chicago 
needing a brain transplant, and was I 

a participating surgeon? I paraphrase, I digress. 
She reminds me of August,1983

and the gentle rocking of a large woman 
who settled and spilled halfway across my seat.

I was returning from Madison, Wisconsin,
where I’d paid for half an abortion,

heading back to Findlay, Ohio, to move out
of her place. Her boyfriend was coming

back. I’ll stop there. Like I stopped
on that bus, heaving and blubbering

into the woman’s fleshy shoulder
while she patted my knee, and an old man

from the next row clapped a hand 
on my shoulder and handed me a chicken leg. 

and a surprisingly thick embossed napkin. 
We chewed in silence all the way to Toledo.  

Amen.


HANDS IN BACK POCKETS, WIND THROUGH TREES

 Your lover puts a hand in the back pocket of your jeans and you put a hand in the back pocket of her jeans and pull her toward you, or she pulls you, and you both put both hands in both back pockets of your jeans and squeeze to erase all space between the front of each other’s jeans and through your underwear and her underwear and her jeans and your jeans heat radiates heat into the lack of space—pressing spontaneous combustion, tectonic plates, friction and glow melting all maps and recognizable landmarks pulse and pulse and pulse and you groan and she groans in the absence of identification cards or pocket combs or red kerchiefs or lists of any kind. Oh, the applause of wind through trees.


HOT AUGUST AFTEROON

Hartwood Acres Park, Pittsburgh

They dance upon the empty stage
five and four, shouting above 
the sad echo of their own voices.
They. Children. Mine.
Dancing without music, 
a skill lost by mad crooners
alphabetical losers
and God's holy hymnals. 

Down into the green bowl
of the amphitheater
I try to outrun
whatever's not chasing me—
likely my child self
blissful crouched in a giggle, 
secret with the absence 

of longing. Oh, vast space and 
time and lush green dream-nals—
so many people not sitting 
on blankets or anticipating 
performance. From my slanted 
spot below, I see the sweet glisten 
and sheen of sweat on their round faces. 

Clouds part for the spotlight's burn.
I save my applause
for the rest of their lives.


HAVING TALL KIDS

 We held hands early and often
as if we knew what was coming. 
I used to carry them both
in my arms up the steps to bed 

back when I had knees. We played 
games called Beach Chair
and Ski Slope and Rock.
All involved me being some-
one to tickle, traverse, awaken. 

I bounced them on knees
hoisted them on shoulders  
cradled them correctly, 
like the books all said. 

Remember when you put the toys
away for the last time, read 
the silly book and put it back
on the shelf forever? Out-

grown while I napped on the carpet 
after work, listening to music I never 
outgrew, on the stereo that ended up
on the curb due to speaker size

and life’s CD-rama. It didn't have
to be that big anymore.
Oh, the pimply heartaches, 
the heart’s tiny hairs darkening 

into virginity-losing machines.
Research shows the mind
doesn’t work right for a few
years. Enough, already, I called

to their long shadows striding
in front of me down the street
to their favorite frozen yogurt 
place, the new coffee shop 

that disguised coffee in sickly 
sweet goo. They used to take turns 
sticking fingers in my cappuccino 
back in the day/the day/the day—

hello up there! When I rose
from the rug, I no longer met
their eyes. We once owned
four pairs of binoculars

so we all could see far away.
Two grades apart, they each 
circled my outline onto a long sheet
of special paper. Same size 

both times. Allow for shrinkage,
I said. I painted over—yes, I did—
height lines in the kitchen doorway.
When it came to reaching high

on the shelf, they reached higher.
One day, my son proudly jumped up
and tore down our basketball rim. 
He still can’t explain it—that brain thing.  

My daughter dated dwarves 
and threw their bouquets 
for touchdowns. I can’t even put 
my arms over their shoulders now 

without feeling like the injured player
being helped off the field.
Holding hands? Forget it.
When we visited their best friends—

same grades, genders—their parents 
still cuddled them—6tth grade? 8th?
Our kids flinched from us across the room. 
Sure, maybe more than size, but still, 

their long legs folded awkward 
into the back seat on the way home,
We all agreed it was—it was—
we couldn’t agree on what, 

the affection we could not
find—tall, taller—stop growing 
and grow up! They still call me 
to kill bugs for them. I’m shorter,

more bug-like: Rock, Ski Slope,
Beach Chair, till we broke a lamp
and then a glass bookcase.
My tall children stride through 

shrunken doorways. All I can do is yell
Duck! My son 6’5, my daughter 5’11.
Statistics show. Studies reveal.
When they come home now,  

they pet the tiny heart on my sleeve.


THE HUMAN ENGINE AT DAWN

I drove my daughter downtown to Greyhound 
in the new year’s first snow,  6:00 a.m. flakes 
ticking hard off bare streets, the scruff 
of rough love that hurts without meaning to. 

*

Half-light, two altar boys dragging boots
through fresh light snow behind the grade school
yet to be plowed, on their way to 6:30 mass
to prop up Father Andrews with his bald insect head 
and stick frame stooped beneath heavy robes.  

We rang bells random to keep him upright—
those dark souls kneeling in grim semi-dark 
rose from the dead for communion. 

*                          

My daughter's watch kept me on edge 
over snowy roads, the weighted freight 
of her battered suitcase, the dashboard's 
dim lit instruments. We are in this together,  

my daughter and I, my childhood friend and I,
through the snow gathered, gathering,
regardless of belief or love or traffic. 

*

A lot can happen at 6:00 a.m.
or nothing at all. Blessed are the sleepers.
Look up and see the cracked chandelier.
6:00 a.m. forever up there. 

If you are alone and awake at 6:00 a.m.
forever feels stamped with the authority
of silence and ceremony. 

*

All well and good to say 
“Stop Making Sense”
as some pronouncement from on high. 

But even that is impossible
if you’re making sincere attempts. 
In the land of unbelievers, 
don’t run out of gas.  

*

We believe in gauges, warning lights
and—oh, the human engine. 

Snow, 6:00 a.m. A bus revs up,
ready to take her. 

The stiff arms of trees spread
and tremble like Father Andrews
giving his blessing. We didn't
know it would be his last mass. 

Do this in memory of me.
Forgive me, father, for ringing
the bells this morning
and every morning I am awake 

this early, this late. When 
will I see her again? My daughter
breathes smoke, half-waves goodbye, 
hurries forward and away.  

The hard flakes circle
in the wind between buildings.


NOSTALGIA FOR THREE-HOLE PUNCH

 My daughter the list keeper—
neat, deliberate cursive of casual 
formality, civilized discussion. 

For years, she punched holes in lined 
paper for her series of color-coded 
three-ring binders with a satisfying 
 
whump. White circles littered the floors. 
Don’t ask why loose leaf did not serve. 
She had a system. When she left for college 

 I licked my finger to lift them all up
from floors throughout the house. 
The sad confetti of her leaving
in lieu of tears. The crooked shaky steps 

of a stack of emptied binders. 
The long packing list scotch-taped
to her bedroom wall, everything crossed out. 
I pulled it down, removed the tape.  

I looked for the punch, 
but she took it. We did not have 
a civilized discussion before she left. 
She hated spiral notebooks, the ragged fray 

of torn sheets, the distorted circles
of cheap bent wire. Tears did not occur. 
The hard thunk of the punch. Books always 
get it wrong. Periods instead of commas. 

 Commas instead of periods. 
Were they the crumbs of abandonment?
Maybe she will some day return—
she trailed ellipses out the door.


 THE MACULARDEGENERATION BOOK OF REVELATIONS

Charles Bonnet syndrome: when people with sight problems start to see things that they know aren’t real…the things people see can take all kinds of forms, from simple patterns of straight lines to detailed pictures of people or buildings… People experiencing it don’t talk about their problems from fear of being thought of as mentally ill.

My mother’s tiny people line the street. 
A red streak follows her, a green car, 
a large dog-dragon. She rosaries herself 
to sleep, teeth tight with pain throb,
steel rods poking against skin. 

Today, still in her corner chair, 
she does not know me till I speak.

Ten years ago, she asked me to bring 
my kids home so she could see them 
one more good time before 
the Big Bleed she knew was coming. 

Fifty years ago, Mortified with joy, 
I danced with her on the frayed rug 
in front of our dying dog, her untapped 
grace twirling the small house’s tight corners.

The unraveling spiral, no mirage.
The sprung spring, twisted clock
hands. Nobody saying give or uncle.
Nobody humming an imaginary miracle.

My mother’s Talking Watch
lies, but she knows to add an hour 
and seven minutes. Stars go on shining. 
How would I describe them to her? 
Remember looking up at the dazzling 
spray of the wish to live forever? 

The long river of oncoming grief 
blurs that vision. I recorded stories for her, 
a book-on-tape like the Library for the Blind 
sends, while what she sees goes unrecorded.

Free for the blind. I don’t edit out stumbles 
and stutters, the rattling silence 
of finding my place.


Interview with Jim Daniels by Amelia Looney

AL: To start off, can you give us a visual of your ideal writing location? What time of day? Do you have a caffeinated side-kick? Do you write or type? 

JD: My ideal writing location has become more flexible over the years, but it's basically somewhere in my house here in Pittsburgh. I don't use my home office as much as I used to because I find that as long as I have my laptop, I'm good. Now that my children have grown up and moved out, the whole house is pretty quiet. I am more of a morning writer now, and I start my day with a double shot of espresso. No more late nights for me. Actually, my process involves scribbling ideas down on 3x5 notecards that I carry around with me all the time and keep a pile at my bedside—then I type them into the computer into an ideas folder, then pick things from the idea folder to develop into a first draft, and so on.

AL: If you could sit down with any author, from the past or present, for a drink and hour conversation, whom would it be and why?

JD: I'm never good at this kind of question where you're supposed to pick one of anything. I tend to be shy around my favorite writers—even the dead ones—so I'm imagining an awkward conversation here with any of them.

AL: Many of your poems feature family members as the subject or familial constructs as underlying themes, how important is your family to your writing process, and do you consider them a muse? 

JD: Yes, most definitely, my family is an essential part of my writing. Luckily, they've all been good sports about showing up in my work and getting fictionalized in various ways. My son does stand-up comedy and uses me as material on occasion, which is only fair. I guess I don't consider them a muse, but they are the people I care about the most and know the best, so they inevitably find their way into the writing.

AL: Two of your displayed poems include the Americana image of Greyhound buses, what is it exactly that inspired the poems revolving around them? 

JD: I guess the Greyhound poems were inspired when I took one recently—for the first time in a long time—and started having flashbacks of previous Greyhound trips. Maybe I'll write some more of them. Taking long-distance buses always seems more human and intimate to me, and the humanity of those trips makes them memorable.

AL: If all jobs paid the same would you still be a writer and professor? 

JD: It was a real challenge for me to become a professor, but it ended up being very rewarding and sustaining to me, and the hours fit my mindset and personality, and allowed me to become a better writer. I continue to be inspired by my students' enthusiasm as young writers—it keeps my own enthusiasm up during otherwise discouraging times.

AL: What is one of the greatest lessons you have learned throughout your writing career?

JD: Well, humility has to be the greatest lesson. And I learn it over and over and over again…

AL: Do you have anything in the works right now?

JD: Currently, I have a new book of linked short stories, my 6th collection, titled The Perp Walk, coming out in a couple of months from Michigan State University Press, and later in 2019, an anthology I edited with my friend, M.L. Liebler, titled R E S P E C T: The Poetry of Detroit Music, will also be published by MSU Press. Since those two projects are finished, I am starting work on a new collection of poems now.

 Other interesting projects: Sending poetry to the moon as part of the Moon Arts Project http://moonarts.org/and collaborating with Mark Baskinger, an artist, on a giant steel mural combining his images with my poems for the new Tepper Quad on Carnegie Mellon University's campus. 

 

Featured Poet Jacqueline Trimble Interviewed by Amy Patterson

Photo by Jasmine Trimble

Jacqueline Allen Trimble lives and writes in Montgomery, Alabama, where she is a professor of English and chairs the Department of Languages and Literatures at Alabama State University. Her work has appeared in various online and print publications including The Louisville Review, The OffingPoet Lore, and the anthology, The Night’s Magician: Poems About the Moon, edited Philip C. Kolin and Sue Brannan Walker. American Happiness, her first collection, published by NewSouth Books, won the Balcones Poetry Prize. She is a Cave Canem fellow and an Alabama State Council on the Arts Literary Fellow.


Incantation

Previously Published in American Happiness

 Let the dishes go unwashed,
and the children uncalled. Let them run forever
through pools of streetlight. Put the dog out
and let the cat go too. Unhinge our house
and come to me:
mountain, blue, cup, lush,
blossom, fire, kumquat, tongue,
mango, mouth, sassafras, maroon.
Open me
a ripe papaya.


American Happiness

Previously Published in American Happiness

 It used to be in Mayberry
folks were never colored
—not even black and white—
but beige, khaki,
a little gray. In Mayberry
Deputy Barney had one bullet
and no need for rope.
The only burning he did was for his Thelma Lou.
The sheriff had no gun,
just an Aunt Bea baking pies
and an Opie full of freckles heading off to fish
or sing or court. Whatever Opies do.
In Mayberry, no doors were barred or locked.
The jail was mostly empty.
The only water hose we ever saw
lay peacefully
curled
on Sheriff Andy’s lawn.
Mayberry was a Southern town.
Technicolor must have killed it.
Made Andy a cranky lawyer.
Sent Opie running all the way to Hollywood.
But we remember.
Black and white,
from Chicago to Watts to Selma,
we tuned in to connect the dots of Opie’s face
while we dined on mashed potatoes and buttered corn
right before our TV sets,
mesmerized,
that in this Southern town,
the sheriff used his hose to water Aunt Bea’s roses.
We were so happy and relieved
we laughed until we could not think
until we fell off our sofas and wing-backs and cane-bottoms;
we laughed until we could not see or hear
until we could forget
that outside our own windows
other sheriffs with loaded guns, snarling dogs, and ready hoses
made quick work of a world on fire.


Even the Moon Must Have Troubles

Previously Published in the Negative Capability Press anthology,  The Night's Magician: Poems About the Moon.  

Must sometimes climb off its golden swing
drown its sorrows in moon pies
or throw back bottle after bottle
of moonshine with the boys. 
At some point it stalks a quiet street
moons the ladies and local preacher,
throws its beams indiscriminately
through every window in town,
howling, as it has seen wolves do,
 at the old man who lives inside it
and feasts on green cheese.  It marvels
at its round reflection on the lake,
joins a group of revelers, sings loudly
around a campfire, I see the moon,
the moon sees me
The moon sees the one
I want to see.
 “Lunatic,” the locals call
as if they have never been moonstruck,
have never mooned over  Ala
or Diana, never, not once,  lost themselves
to loneliness and lunacy in a lover’s arms
beneath its harvest light


Counting Race

Previously Published in Poet Lore, Vol. 113, Number 3/4

 
“Wait a minute, wait a minute, hold on, just wait a minute,” he said,
trying to put on an all-knowing smile. “This is called statistical noise.” 
[1]

Day after she walked downtown with her dark husband,
her alabaster arm looped casually through his,
her hazel eyes sparkling with laughter,
my mother ran through those same Selma streets,
down quiet sidewalks, across every friendly
back yard until she reached home
and the welcome of neighbors.
The car of white men pursuing her
wanted a word or two[2]
about her white legs, her blonde head
thrown back, her fingers in his woolly hair. Too bad
they couldn’t see her blood.
How can we measure one drop?
By thimble or spoon, by paper bag
or fine-toothed comb? Once, the lexicon noted
the count—hexadecaroon, one-sixteenth black;
octoroon, one whole black grandparent; mulatto, half
and half. We don’t like to talk of it that way,
or remember on the 4th of July that Sally Hemmings,
quadroon, one-fourth black, bore Thomas Jefferson six children,
or think of Strom Thurman, rabid segregationist, taking
the fifteen-year-old daughter of his maid to bed.
How he hated miscegenation. Even his own blood
in a mulatto daughter’s heart could not sway
his rant against her voting rights. How he loved
untainted blood, as much as that man
on the talk show yesterday, who wants to build
a white town for whites like him. He smiles
beneath his certainty, his eye calm
as the Dead Sea. He does not know purity
is a trap as treacherous as gerrymandered
districts and black-on-black crime. He does not know,
until the host tells him, the parsing of his blood:
one-seventh black, nearly an octoroon,
almost as black as my mother, child of a tobacco-colored man,
mixed race, and a quadroon. I can’t remember
what they call that or if I ever knew.

 
[1] Craig Cobb, white supremacist, disputing a DNA test result that he was 86% European and 14% Sub-Saharan African.


INTERVIEW WITH JACQUELINE TRIMBLE BY AMY PATTERSON

AP: If you could choose any place for this interview, where would we be right now? 

JT:   In a beautiful garden, outside a museum, anywhere in the world. The Tuileries would be ideal, but the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts garden would do just fine. 

AP: What was the first book you fell in love with and why? 

JT:  The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. I’m pretty sure it was the first book I could read by myself. It was beautifully illustrated, and snow was an adventure to a little girl living in Alabama. 

AP: Which authors continue to influence your work today? 

JT:  Wow. There are so many. Toni Morrison. To me her brilliance lies in her uncanny ability to notice how extraordinary the ordinary is and to write in a way that is visceral and intellectual at the same time. She gets at the underneath of things and shows us what we knew all along if we had just had the words to name it or the courage to face it. That’s what I want to do. Flannery O’Connor. There is a certainty about her writing, an ability to see why we do what we do. She made the fantastic ordinary and did so with enormous humor. I am awed by her use of humor. I know this list is leaning toward fiction, but there are so many poets too who have inspired me with their lyricism and their ability to tell the truth: Honorée Fannon Jeffers, Natasha Trethewey, Lucille Clifton, Gwendolyn Brooks—this list could go on all day. I learn something of craft from each of them and so many more. 

AP:What is the Cave Canem, and what does it means to be a Cave Canem fellow. What are the potential impacts on contemporary black poets? 

JT: Cave Canem is an organization dedicated to the nurturing of black poets. It was founded by Cornelius Eady and Toi Derricote, two magnificent writers, who wanted to see more African American poets being published, winning awards, being included in American letters. So, they made a space. Created a community wherein emerging writers could interact with some of the best teachers in the world. Many of the most significant names in poetry writing today have come through and out of Cave Canem. Though “best of” lists and award lists often feature Cave Canem fellows and there so many editors and decision makers who have come through Cave Canem, to me the organization’s most lasting contribution is the way it has created a network of writers who can connect with, interact with, and encourage each other. I just did a reading at The New School in New York with Tim Siebles and Sayfia Sinclair. I would never have had that opportunity if it had not been for Cave Canem. I am really a beginner. But this is what Cave Canem does—it opens the door and provides access to whole new audiences. 

AP: What is it like being a black poet in the South today, and how does that influence your work? 

JT:  The South is my bailiwick. It is fertile ground for writing and always has been. Maybe that’s why we produce so many writers. There is something about this place that cries out to be written down. Weird. Scary. Beautiful. Heartbreaking. Funny. All of the above. Plus, I think in “Southern.” The cognitive dissonance of this region runs through my work, and it is through the sensibility of the South that I understand all of America. Most of my work is overtly political. I write about race and gender and violence and justice (or injustice). These are things that the South grapples with constantly and clearly, yet with enormous befuddlement. The time is perfect to be a black poet, witness, and observer. 

 AP: You have a doctorate and have taught college English for many years. In what ways has this experience influenced your writing? 

JT:  No doubt it’s my reading history. I have taught English so long I think I’ve read everything. Or at least I feel as if I have. A writing life always best begins with a reading life. I think, too, for me, poems have arguments. That analytical approach to texts and phenomena that is so inherent to the study of literature comes out in my work. I am always dissecting. Thinking about what is hidden or not said. Thinking about the why. My poems are full of questions. This is what academics do best. Ask questions. 

AP: What is an interview question that no one has ever asked you and you wished they would? 

JT:  I love that question James Lipton asks on The Actor’s Studio: What is your least favorite word?

AP:What is your least favorite word and why?

JT:  Trifling. I consider myself a doer. I’m always doing something. There are people who minimize that. In every marriage there is a button pushing word. My spouse knows that word is “trifling.” I even wrote a poem about it in American Happiness, “The Retort I Wish I Had Made After I Forgot to Pack Your Favorite Trunks on a Family Trip to the Gulf of Mexico and You Called Me Trifling”.

 AP: Tell us about your upcoming book. 

JT:   I’m working on a collection tentatively titled How to Survive the Apocalypse. It’s a book about survival—what we can live through—and love—the thing that helps us live through anything. There are historical persona poems about Lillian Baxter Dungee, a children’s advocate and federated club woman; poems about racial violence of the past and present; and a series of satirical parables. 

 AP: Would you share one of your favorite writing prompts? 

 JT:  My favorite is actually a prompt I was given in a workshop taught by Jane Hirshfield. She had us write a poem in which the pronouns follow the pattern of conjugation: I, you, he/she/it, we, you, they. It was great fun, and as with all good prompts, it helped me discover a poem I would not have otherwise written, “Family Photograph: A Conjugation.” 

 Family Photograph: A Conjugation 

 I am standing in a doorway. My dress is blue. 
My hair swept up like hope. You stand beside me,
young and thin. You hold our new son, a bright penny. 
She is there too, her head thrown back in laughter, her hands
in her pockets. It is Christmas. 
We do not know this will be her last. You never know. 
You cannot know. 
They tell you everything but this.

 

Featured Writer Stephen Graham Jones by Amy Patterson

Featured Writer Stephen Graham Jones by Amy Patterson

Stephen Graham Jones is the author of sixteen novels, six story collections, and, so far, one comic book. His areas of interest, aside from fiction writing, are horror, science fiction, fantasy, film, comic books, pop culture, technology, and American Indian Studies. Dr. Jones earned his BA in English and Philosophy from Texas Tech University…

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