When You Can’t Write Poems, Watch a Movie

by Eric Morris-Pusey

Let’s start with a confession: I haven’t written anything new, poetry-wise, in over a year. Hell, I haven’t even done much revision during that time.

I’ve watched a few movies, though. And I’m convinced that’s helpful.

Another confession: This thought may have been conceived only as an elaborate justification for my incessant procrastination. On the other hand, cinema is much more than a delightful distraction—and it has much to teach us about the art of poetry.

While at first glance the movies I’ve watched may seem to have more in common with novels, given their reliance on narrative, I’ve come to think of them (the good ones, anyway) as rather long, highly image-focused poems.

The mechanical apparatus and operation of the camera mimic the way the poet uses words to imply and then shift perspective—now zoomed all the way in on a particular image, now leaping through time and space or widening the shot to reveal the world around that image. The rhythms of fades and cuts are a mirror for the rhythms of line and stanza. Two deliberately similar scenes in a film could be said to rhyme, and a poem’s images or motifs are its mise-en-scène.

The poet A. Van Jordan makes use of the conventions and structure of film a bit more directly in his collections MacNolia and Quantum Lyrics, in which large sections are formatted in the manner of a film script, complete with spoken dialogue and comments on the qualities of a given shot. Several of his poems are “montages” that make the film technique into a poetic form to great effect.

In MacNolia, even the collection as a whole, taken as a single unit, is rather like watching a film in its presentation of the overall narrative arc: the story of MacNolia Cox, the first black person to reach the final of the national spelling bee, sabotaged by the judges’ (and the country’s) racism.

macnolia cover

The book intensely focuses on the singular moments of her achievement and her subsequent elimination from the competition by a word not on the spelling bee list—nemesis—and the ripples and echoes of this tiny moment throughout her entire life and the whole history of the United States make this one word the center of the collection’s narrative and commentary, both literally and metaphorically, in much the way the word rosebud functions in Citizen Kane.

Citizenkane poster

In a more recent A. Van Jordan poem, “Aerial View: Jackson State College,” published in the Spring 2017 issue of The Greensboro Review, film is still a presence, both in the way the poem’s events are presented and in the construction of the poem itself.

The poem opens with a sort of establishing shot in the form of a prose introduction giving context for the Jackson State College shootings:

On May 15, 1970, the Jackson State killings occurred … a group of student protestors against the Vietnam War were confronted by city and state police. Shortly after midnight, the police opened fire, killing two students and injuring twelve. … The Kent State incident captured national attention; the Jackson State killings did not.

From there, Jordan guides us to an extreme close-up of a traveling bullet. After the factual introduction written in prose, the transition is jarring, but this effect is purposeful: bullets, after all, should be jarring, as they “[sing] a single note / of advice: run.”

The poem moves on through three numbered sections, each of which is a discrete scene with a different focus within the piece’s larger context. Even within these sections, the perspective shifts in the way that cameras cut in films’ dialogue and action sequences: first on the poem’s narrator, a student struck dead by a cop’s bullet, then on the whole of “the veldt / of the campus quad,” students running and being gunned down. Then on a night, both literal and symbolic, so long it seems to go on forever.

Jordan has discussed the relationship between film and poetry in essay as well, in a wonderful piece entitled “The Synchronicity of Scenes.” He delves deep into both the technical aspects of each art form and the ways in which he has interacted with both throughout his life, including frank discussions of his own awkwardness with poetry as a young man.

“I look to film now,” he writes, “as a way to solve some of the artistic problems I encounter in poetry.”

While some poets and poems will always be more influenced by film than others, there’s something we can all learn from Jordan’s view of film that goes well beyond the obvious, concrete influence and inspiration the cinema has had on his poems and mine.

The way that Jordan looks beyond poetry as a way of writing and understanding poetry is one of his great achievements in “The Synchronicity of Scenes.” Finding a new way to talk and think about poetry, an innovation in both its construction and the way it is taught, is extraordinary.

Note: This piece is (very loosely) adapted from my graduate lecture at Vermont College of Fine Arts, “The Screen Lit Up with Our Faces: Intersections between Poetry & Film.” The phrase “the screen lit up with our faces” is borrowed from Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem “Saturday Night at the Buddhist Cinema.”

More information about A. Van Jordan can be found here.

Eric Morris-Pusey has written a few poems, some of which appear in The Missouri ReviewDriftwood Press, and 3Elements Review, among other places. He holds an M.F.A. from Vermont College of Fine Arts and works on the Nimrod Editorial Board. You can find him on the interwebs or on his stoop in Columbia, Missouri, staring wistfully at the moon.

Contributor Interview: Todd Dillard

As part of the launch of our Spring/Summer 2018 issue, Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts, we sat down with contributors to talk about their work in the issue and more. The following interview is part of this series. Please visit our website to see the complete list of contributors to Let Us Gather, to purchase the issue, or to subscribe.

Dillard, Todd

Tell us a little about your work in Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts. What inspired it, how you came to write it, etc.

The genesis for “Pompeii” came from a Twitter account that posts pictures of weird, strange things, and they ran a couple pictures of the Pompeii statues. I was immediately fascinated by the idea that these poor people were forever poised, concrete iterations of their final agony. But as I researched the phenomenon, I found a paper by a volcanologist (what a profession!) that described how it’s probable a pyrostatic cloud killed all the citizens of Pompeii before they even knew what was going on. As a result, the “agony” was a bodily alteration caused by heat made permanent when the cadavers were encased in ash. And yet, I couldn’t dismiss the pain and fear I saw in them . . . which meant there was something inside me that I needed to interrogate. This poem came from that interrogation.

For “St. George and the Dragon” I was bored, and lonely, and reading the work of my former professor Jericho Brown. (This is a weird thing I do; when I’m feeling down I read the work of my teachers—their words are the comfort food of my soul.) He had just won the Cecil Hemley Memorial Award for his poem “Ganymede,” which is a searing and beautiful poem projecting a narrator’s want for a story onto the story itself, a kind of self-aware retelling. At the time I was working on some speculative writing and had dragons on the mind, and, guided by Jericho’s poem, remembered the myth of St. George and the Dragon. Using Jericho’s style and that myth as a nudge in the right direction, I wrote this poem.

Do you have a favorite line, image, or scene from this work?

I just love all the work “where once there were lambs / before she was saved” does. And the lines: “what will remain / will not be us but the shape of us, / and those ahead who think to look back / will see something else entirely, and shake / their heads, and wonder—”

Both of these endings are a bit on the nose, but not in a bad way! (I think.) Endings are something I often struggle with, so it’s hard not to choose endings I like as the favorite lines in my poems.

What is your best piece of advice for aspiring writers?

Read outside of your demographic, your wheelhouse, your presumed interests. Read wildly and voraciously and with kindness and love for the work you encounter. Don’t be cruel to writers or their work; that’s akin to being cruel to yourself. If you center celebration in your writing, the ways you see and experience and can describe the world increase in manifold ways. Your soul learns to sing.

Tell us something fun, strange, or interesting about yourself. It can have to do with writing—or not!

I change shirts five times a day, if not more! I hate wearing dirty shirts! I’ve been doing this for as far back as I can remember.

What’s on the writing horizon for you/what are you working on now?

I’ve begun submitting a poetry manuscript, so that’s taking up most of my focus. I am happy with it for now, but that could change with a new poem, or poems, or pretty much anything . . . I anticipate going through several drafts, just because that seems to be how these things go. Otherwise, I am pretty active on Twitter as @toddedillard, usually tweeting about poetry and the writing world.

Todd Dillard’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous publications, including Best New Poets, Barrelhouse, Electric Literature, McSweeney’s, and Asimov’s Science Fiction. His chapbook “The Drowned Hymns” is available from Jeanne Duval Editions.

Contributor Interview: Elmaz Abinader

As part of the launch of our Spring/Summer 2018 issue, Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts, we sat down with contributors to talk about their work in the issue and more. The following interview is part of this series. Please visit our website to see the complete list of contributors to Let Us Gather, to purchase the issue, or to subscribe.

Abindaer, Elmaz

Tell us a little about your work in Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts. What inspired it, how you came to write it, etc.

A performance artist, Julie Coffey, asked me if I could be part of an experiment she was doing for a performance. She was distributing a card from a deck of cards to artists and asking them to create a response from the image or the numbers. She handed me a Queen of spades. At the time, I was working on my novel in progress, Almost a Life, and examining the lives of women in war. In my life, the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) had enormous impact, but no one talked about it. They call it war amnesia. This led me to the stories that are silenced—what are the secrets these women hold? As they now sit in parlors or go to work what memories are driven beneath the surface? This story, “Queen of Spades,” uses the protagonist’s spade to uncover one.

Do you have a favorite line, image, or scene from this work?

The first line: Linah failed miserably at misery.

What is your best piece of advice for aspiring writers?

1. Write a lot

2. Walk away from the writing and let it rest to get a new perspective

3. Don’t think about audience until your final drafts when you need to clear up fuzzy references and moments.

Tell us something fun, strange, or interesting about yourself. It can have to do with writing—or not!

For all my writing life, I have also been a fitness instructor—it’s the perfect balance to all the sitting. I teach Cycling, Pilates, Weight Training and Interval Training

What’s on the writing horizon for you/what are you working on now?

My novel in progress, Almost a Life, is about a woman who leaves Lebanon in the middle of the Civil War to marry her fiancé in Connecticut. She transitions from living in a family under siege, living in bomb shelters, and running from the fighting, to an everyday life as a banker in Connecticut. She finds herself in a new kind of fight.

A book of poetry in progress, Works of Mercy, is a series of poems about the kinds of unpaid work we do, the emotional labor of helping someone die peacefully, of finding a home, of giving love under duress, etc.

Website: www.elmazabinader.com

Elmaz Abinader’s poetry collection, This House, My Bones, was The Editor’s Selection for 2014 from Willow Books/Aquarius. Her books include a memoir, Children of the Roojme, A Family’s Journey from Lebanon, and a book of poetry, In the Country of My Dreams . . . which won the Oakland PEN, Josephine Miles Award. Elmaz is one of the co-founders of The Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA/Voices) a writing workshop for writers of color.

Poetry for Folks Who Think They Don’t Like It

by Britton Gildersleeve

I’m working on the materials for a poetry workshop I’m teaching in the fall. The course’s title—say it with tongue firmly in cheek—was going to be “So you think you don’t like poetry: On words that sing & dance for a living.” Unfortunately, that’s not the title going out to prospective participants. The part about not liking poetry—the whole point!—was cut. Sigh.

Initially the class was to be (rather obviously) geared to those who have reservations about poetry and everything about it: the forms, rhyme, the pretentious attitude of too many poets and poetry profs, the abstruse content, the SYMBOLISM. As if reading poetry were a kind of exercise in translating a little-known dialect.

I introduced the idea of such a class to my adult ed class this past spring, and even in a demographic self-chosen for learning, at least half the participants freely admitted they didn’t know/get/like poetry. I suspect several more agreed, as they didn’t raise a hand on like or dislike (this despite recent research showing a 5% increase in poetry reading from 2012 to 2017). Also in spite of the excellent case the Academy of American Poets makes for poetry’s excellent fit with today’s social media culture.

Still not a draw for at least half my class. They cited all kinds of reasons when I pressed them. See above.

I know intellectually that poetry isn’t fun for most folks. But it is for me, and it used to be for almost everyone, back when we were all small. When we read doggerel, children’s classics (Robert Louis Stevenson! Edward Lear! Lewis Carroll! Kipling!), limericks, and all, we loved it. My five-year-old grandson adores rhyme and rhythm (and much of poetry is all about those). He’s more into narrative poetry than lyric; since he’s been able to ask, he’s wanted stories in verse. At age two, he wanted me to make a poem about missing his parents when they were on a short overnight trip. Now, three years later, he wants rhyming books. On robots, true, but it’s still poetry!

What happens on the road from kindergarten to adulthood? Where do we lose our delight in language play, our wonder at how an image can open up an experience like a flower blossoming? How can I help prospective students—most of them older than I am—recapture that sense of play and magic?


I know enough NOT to begin with the classics we learned in middle school and high school, even in college. No Shakespeare or Emily Dickinson the first week. No modernists. Nothing that smacks of tests we crammed for years ago. Nothing earlier than the late-20th century, for starters. We’ll probably begin with a poem I love to teach: Billy Collins’s “Introduction to Poetry.” I want them to know immediately that this is NOT a class where we beat poems with hoses.

Please don’t misunderstand: We’ll certainly read some “harder” poems, as well. But in the same way you don’t begin to train for a triathlon by first running a marathon, we’re going to move gently into poetry. Besides, who says poetry has to be hard, anyway? Not everyone wants to read Eliot or Pound!

Can’t poetry be a letter, like the exchange of poems between Nimrod Literary Award winner Natalie Diaz and Ada Limón? These two poets use their incomparable talent and craft to do something amazing, creating a place where ideas and language fuse into the poetic equivalent of favrile glass, iridescent and new. Can’t it be a story, as so many poets—new and older—have spun for us? Former Nimrod poetry judge Pete Fairchild weaves together this thread and that image into a story of small-town baseball, and suddenly a nameless player in a small-town game becomes an icon we all know well. A story, in poetry, about baseball and lost dreams and the thoughtless grace of youth.

So, we’ll look at new (lesser-known) poets as well as big names. Yes, we’ll do Carlos Williams. We’ll also do Merwin, who was a Nimrod poetry judge one year. And we’ll do Robin Coste Lewis (another Nimrod judge) and Nikki Giovanni—both consummate artists—writing both from the tradition of poetry and from outside its traditional borders.  We’ll read both Robert Hayden (grossly under-read, in my passionate opinion) and Naomi Shihab Nye, Joseph Bruchac and Robert Hass. We may even take a look at old poets—haiku from Bashō, a sonnet from Keats. But we’ll be looking at them not through the lens of the “poetic tradition,” but through the eyes of readers who are hungry for the graceful dance of words, the play of images on a page.

What I hope is that at least one of the poets we read in the workshop will do for the participants in this informal 6-week workshop what so many Nimrod poets have done for me: ignite over and over again a passion for words, and the many ways they sing and dance both on the page and in our heads. A passion only satisfied by reading more poetry.

Britton Gildersleeve’s creative nonfiction and poetry have appeared in Nimrod, Spoon River Poetry Review, This Land, and many other journals. She has published three chapbooks and was the director of the Oklahoma State University Writing Project for twelve years.



Nimrod Literary Awards 2018

The editors of Nimrod International Journal are delighted to announce the winners, honorable mentions, finalists, and semi-finalists of the 40th Nimrod Literary Awards.

Nimrod Literary Awards: The Pablo Neruda Prize in Poetry

FIRST PRIZE: Emma DePanise, MD, “Dry Season” and other poems

Emma DePanise is a writer from Queenstown, Maryland. Her poems are forthcoming or have appeared recently in such journals as Potomac Review, Little Patuxent ReviewRoute 7 Review, Mochila Review, and Runestone. She currently studies creative writing at Salisbury University in Maryland and plans to pursue an M.F.A. in the fall of 2019.

SECOND PRIZE: Megan Merchant, AZ, “Marrow” and other poems

Megan Merchant is an editor at The Comstock Review. She is the author of two full-length poetry collections, Gravel Ghosts (Glass Lyre Press, 2016) and The Dark’s Humming (2015 Lyrebird Award Winner, Glass Lyre Press, 2017), four chapbooks, and a children’s book, These Words I Shaped for You (Philomel Books).


Anna Scotti, CA, “When I could still be seen” and other poems
Jeanne Wagner, CA, “Dogs That Look Like Wolves” and other poems
Josephine Yu, FL, “Women Grieving” and other poems

Nimrod Literary Awards: The Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Fiction

FIRST PRIZE: Sharon Solwitz, IL, “Tremblement”

Sharon Solwitz’s books include Blood and Milk, Bloody Mary, and Once in Lourdes, which won the 2018 Prize for Adult Fiction from the Society of Midland Authors. She has received other awards, such as the Pushcart Prize, the Carl Sandberg Prize, and the Nelson Algren Award. Her novel in stories, Abra Cadabra, won the 2018 Christopher Doheny prize. She teaches fiction writing at Purdue University.

SECOND PRIZE: Ellen Rhudy, PA, “Would You Know Me”

Ellen Rhudy’s work is forthcoming in cream city review and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. When not writing, she works as an instructional designer in Philadelphia.

HONORABLE MENTION: Liz Ziemska, CA, “Hunt Relic”

Nimrod extends deep appreciation to all who submitted. Selecting the poetry and fiction finalists was a task that dominated the lives of Nimrod’s editors all spring. They approached their mission with dedication and discretion, reading and rereading the final group, comparing notes, and speaking for favorites. The finalists’ manuscripts, without cover letters or names, were sent to the judges for 2018. Patricia Smith served as poetry judge, and Rilla Askew served as fiction judge. They chose the winners and honorable mentions from the finalist groups.

Work by the winners, as well as by the honorable mentions, finalists, and many semi-finalists,  will be published in Awards 40, which will be available in October.

The 41st Nimrod Literary Awards competition begins January 1, 2019; the deadline is April 30, 2019. We welcome your submissions, knowing that each year brings new discoveries, often from those who have submitted to the competition before.

All entrants not previously contacted by Nimrod about their work may consider their work released at this time.

Finalists: Fiction 2018

Ellen Furman, CA, “Things”
Mimi Lok, CA, “Last of Her Name”
Reena Shah, NY, “The Jains’ Annual Beach House Picnic”
Amy Shearn, NY, “Some Fun”

 Semi-Finalists: Fiction 2018

April Alvarez, TN, “Tatau”
Judith Dancoff, CA, “Roman Glass”
Richard Hermes, TN, “Here, Where We Can Be Honest”
Alex Hughes, OK, “Dutzow”
Sandra Hunter, CA, “Meanwhile The Forests Continue To Die”
Aaron Landsman, NY, “Love Story”
Kristie Letter, CO, “Göttingen Seven”
Karin Lin-Greenberg, NY, “A Small Enemy”
Elizabeth Moller, NY, “Alice’s Tea Cup”
Barbara Morrison, VT, “Nebula”
Gale Pace, WA, “Jenny – My Life As Subject Matter”
Darryl Pebbles, IN, “Apotheosis”
Ann Russell, MA, “Conversational French”
Jessica Tumio, CT, “Don’t Look Up”
Namrata Verghese, TX, “God’s Intern”
Kirk Wilson, TX, “The Meteor”

Finalists: Poetry 2018

Caroline Berblinger, OK, “Interviewing My Grandfather” and other poems
Ayokunle Falomo, TX, “The World’s Loudest Sound”
Matty Layne Glasgow, TX, “Plumage” and other poems
Darrel Alejandro Holnes, NY, “The land is made a stepmother” and other poems
Bailey Hutchinson, AR, “Became My Body, Too”
Chrissy Kolaya, MN, “The House Sitters”
Matthew MacFarland, VA, “Singing Saw” and other poems
Susan Nguyen, AZ, “Beast Angel” and other poems
Liz Rees, MD, “Elegy for Good Health” and other poems

Semi-Finalists: Poetry 2018

Cynthia Amoah, NY, “Handrails”
Roger Camp, CA, “Ascension”
Don Colburn, OR, “Ginkgo on 19th” and other poems
Caroline Earleywine, AR, “Lipstick” and other poems
Mel Elberger, NJ, “Recipe”
Melanie Figg, MD, “Psyche’s History of Houses”
Rebecca Foust, CA, “Spring Is”
Katherine Gaffney, IL, “With Ghost”
Benjamin Garcia, NY, “Gay Epithalamium”
Emily Harman, WA, “Cairn”
W.J. Herbert, NY, “The Smell of Almost Rain”
Don Hogle, NY, “Mother”
Luke J. Johnson, CA, “Song of the Stillborn”
Susan Landgraf, WA, “What’s Left”
Freesia McKee, FL, “Peeling an Orange”
Ryan Meyer, NY, “Estuary” and other poems
Kelly Michels, NC, “What I mean when I say he went peacefully”
Adela Najarro, CA, “Chantico Swings”
Lee Sharkey, ME, “To Look Out Is to See; to Look In, to Turn Wholly White”
Mark Smith-Soto, NC, “Let It Spill”
Christie Towers, MA, “Sugar Water in Winter”
Cornelia Veenendaal, NH, “Rehearsal”
Namrata Verghese, TX, “Kathakali”
John Walser, WI, “Heaven” and other poems
Michael Warr, CA, “What Not To Do . . . (an unfinished poem after Michael Harriot at The Root)”
Arne Weingart, IL, “The Painting of the Barn without the Barn”

Contributor Interview: James Wyshynski

As part of the launch of our Spring/Summer 2018 issue, Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts, we sat down with contributors to talk about their work in the issue and more. The following interview is part of this series. Please visit our website to see the complete list of contributors to Let Us Gather, to purchase the issue, or to subscribe.

Wyshynski, James

Tell us a little about your work in Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts. What inspired it, how you came to write it, etc.

“The Last Silent Film Dovzhenko Never Made” was inspired by my watching Earth for the first time in 2014 (thank you Amazon Prime), which prompted me to go back to a journal, circa 1989, in which I had copied an excerpt of an interview in Kino with Dovzhenko about his WWII experiences.

Do you have a favorite line, image, or scene from this work?

I’m not sure I have a fav but I really enjoyed approaching a poem as a condensed script and getting to use all the great verbs associated with camera work.

What is your best piece of advice for aspiring writers?

Find a way that allows you to send out your work, get rejected and not get discouraged or demoralized.

Tell us something fun, strange, or interesting about yourself. It can have to do with writing—or not!

I restore vintage fountain pens and sell them on EBay to fund my poetry submissions.

What’s on the writing horizon for you/what are you working on now?

Just recently completed a chapbook, titled Visiting Hours.

James Wyshynski received his M.F.A. from the University of Alabama. He is a former editor of the Black Warrior Review. His poems have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Terminus Magazine, River Styx, Interim, The Chattahoochee Review, The Cortland Review, Northeast Corridor, Permafrost and are forthcoming in Barrow Street, and others. He currently lives and works in Marietta, Georgia.

Contributor Interview: Molly Bess Rector

Molly Bess Rector lives and works in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where she co-curates the Open Mouth Reading Series. Rector’s “Ecology Lesson: Alewives” appeared in Nimrod‘s Awards 39 last fall. Since then, we’ve had the opportunity to talk with her about her writing life.

Was “Ecology Lesson: Alewives” originally inspired by an encounter with animal nature, like the fish dying in the poem, or by the kind of rumination on human nature we see in the last stanzas? Or are these two things not disparate in your mind?

Rector: I wrote a series of “ecology lesson” poems during a time when I was grappling with a powerful grief. I started having synchronous experiences with fish imagery—I’d be mired in anxiety about loss and change, and suddenly a truck would drive by with a vinyl fish on the side—that kind of thing. The marine world is often described as “alien,” and at the time my interpersonal world was feeling very much that way too, so I became sort of fixated on writing about fish. “Ecology Lesson: Alewives” takes its central imagery from an experience I had with my twin sister one summer when we saw the results of a mass die-off of thousands of alewives in Lake Michigan, but it takes its central spirit from trying to understand how we participate in our own ignorance (of self, other, system) by pretending away enormous losses.

When writing from a memory, do you ever let yourself alter the facts, either as a way of abating grief or in order to go in a new direction the poem seems to seek?

Rector: It seems to me like one of the tasks of writing poems is to go beyond saying what happened toward saying why what happened matters. I’m not sure I believe that memory is all that factual to begin with, and I think writing memory—personal memory, at least—is more about asserting an emotional truth than about recounting events. I’ll often draw on several memories that share an emotional thread. In the case of the alewives, I drew also on memories of fishing with other kids by other lakes. I often turn other kids from my childhood into my sister in my poems.

Of course, I think writing collective or political memory is a little different and that when looking outward in that way, poets have to be very careful with our speculation—to make sure our interpretation doesn’t serve as an eraser. I think of the many excellent poems out there about the murder by police of Tamir Rice (like Reginald Dwayne Betts’s “When I Think of Tamir Rice While Driving,” or Tsitsi Ella Jaji’s “To Bless the Memory of Tamir Rice,” or Mark Doty’s “In Two Seconds”)—those are poems that take care to preserve the facts of what happened and do their interpretation through highlighting those unaltered facts (“there was no riot” or “a child, a hidden toy gun, an officer that fires / before his heart beats twice”).

I think it’s important to be really conscious of this distinction and of the places where “memory” and “facts” stop belonging to us individually. In either case, I don’t tend to go in the direction of abating grief, because I think it’s one of our most important emotions.

Did you have to do extensive research on ecology in order to write the “ecology lesson” poems, or did the subjects in the poems give you all you needed?

Rector: I wouldn’t consider most of my research extensive, unfortunately. I did some reading about fish ecology to write the ecology lesson poems—for this poem, I looked at a few articles about alewives and read a piece about mass die-offs—but only enough to absorb a bit of vocabulary and to have slightly more knowledge than I actually needed to write the poems.

Any advice for new or struggling writers looking for inspiration?

Rector: Find a community. So much of taking ourselves seriously as writers depends on finding ways to share our work, to join our work with that of others. I know that can be a tall order, but in my view there is nothing more valuable than having the support, insight, and honesty of other writers who share your values and understand your voice, interests, and goals.

I’ve found a powerful source of community in the reading series I co-curate, Open Mouth Reading Series. The poets who run the organization with me and the poetry lovers who show up regularly are a huge source of inspiration for me. Together we are able to celebrate each other’s work and engage more deeply with the work of writers outside our immediate circle.

For those struggling to find community, I’d say don’t be afraid to attend readings where you live and talk to the other writers there, don’t be afraid to reach out to writers you admire or to engage in online forums. Writing is hard, beautiful, vulnerable work. We don’t have to—I’m inclined to say we can’t—do it alone.

Contributor Interview: Jesse Wallis

As part of the launch of our Spring/Summer 2018 issue, Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts, we sat down with contributors to talk about their work in the issue and more. The following interview is part of this series. Please visit our website to see the complete list of contributors to Let Us Gather, to purchase the issue, or to subscribe.

Wallis, Jesse

Tell us a little about your work in Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts. What inspired it, how you came to write it, etc.

After our mother died, my sister and I met every Sunday for several months to sort through her things. Mom was very supportive of my creative work and carried bagfuls of my earliest journal submissions to the post office, before submitting online became the norm. When I found the scrap of paper with her solitaire scores on the kitchen counter, I knew it would become a poem. And that she had, in some way, left it for me to find and to write.

Do you have a favorite line, image, or scene from this work?

“The small slip quartered / with an ink cross, four days’ scores on / the back, each day a pane in a window, / the wins and losses bleeding through.”

What is your best piece of advice for aspiring writers?

Who knows what you’ll write next? (Isn’t that great!)

Tell us something fun, strange, or interesting about yourself. It can have to do with writing—or not!

Since I am remembering my mother here, I will make it a matter of public record that her childhood nickname for me was Hambone.

What’s on the writing horizon for you/what are you working on now?

I work in human resources for a public school district and do most of my new writing during summer recess, so I am looking forward to June. I will also be putting the final touches on a manuscript that I hope to begin submitting to first-book contests in the fall. My next publication will be in the upcoming issue of Barrow Street.

Jesse Wallis’s poems have appeared in CutBank, New Ohio Review, Southern Poetry Review, The Southern Review, Zone 3, Zyzzyva, and elsewhere. After living in Japan for nine years, he returned to his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, where he works in human resources for a public school district. He studied writing and film at the University of Iowa.

Contributor Interview: Scott Chalupa

As part of the launch of our Spring/Summer 2018 issue, Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts, we sat down with contributors to talk about their work in the issue and more. The following interview is part of this series. Please visit our website to see the complete list of contributors to Let Us Gather, to purchase the issue, or to subscribe.

Chalupa, Scott

Tell us a little about your work in Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts. What inspired it, how you came to write it, etc.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been working on reading queer histories into the paintings of Caravaggio. His process of using real-life people as models for figures in religious history is a huge inspiration. There’s also been a big cultural moment these past couple of years of remembering the history of AIDS, and Caravaggio’s devotional artwork seemed a fantastic way to recreate moments from the plague years of HIV/AIDS.

Do you have a favorite line, image, or scene from this work?

My favorite line/image is “an exemplary Assisi / ecstatic with Kaposi’s stigmata” from the poem “The Ecstasy of St. Francis.”

What is your best piece of advice for aspiring writers?

Write. Fail. Write. Fail. Write. Write. Write. (And between those . . . Submit. Submit. Submit . . . regardless of success or failure).

Tell us something fun, strange, or interesting about yourself. It can have to do with writing—or not!

Baking is a passion that’s just as sustaining/healing for me as writing. Both of them require a heady mix of process and magic that rhyme for me on a fundamental level.

What’s on the writing horizon for you/what are you working on now?

I just recently sent off a final book draft to my publisher, so . . . Right now I’m just trying to fail at poems/ideas again and looking forward to what’s lurking amidst all that failure.

Scott Chalupa writes and teaches in Columbia, South Carolina, where he earned an M.F.A. at the University of South Carolina. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in PANK, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Indianapolis Review, South Atlantic Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and other venues. 

Learning to Look: Making Meaning in the World

By John Coward

Biographer Ron Powers once said that Mark Twain was an “enormous noticer.” That term has stuck with me for many years, probably because I always took pride in my own ability to survey a scene and notice things that other people did not see.  I’m no Mark Twain, of course, but Twain and I both worked for a time as newspaper reporters, a job where noticing is a useful skill. It’s also a useful skill for essayists, poets, novelists, and other writers, because careful observation can capture the essence of a person or a place. When observations are converted into language by a skilled wordsmith, something magical can happen—words can make meaning out of the ordinary experiences of daily life.

I was reminded of the powers of careful observation this spring while reading the Osage writer John Joseph Mathews. In his 1945 book, Talking to the Moon, Mathews wrote about his time on the Osage Prairie, not far from Pawhuska, Oklahoma. For years, Mathews lived in a one-man sandstone house he called “The Blackjacks.” He lived as deliberately as he could as part of nature, observing the currents of the seasons and contemplating his place in the larger world. Mathews’s life among the prairie chickens and the coyotes produced some lyrical and moving prose. Writing about the spring, which the Osage call the Little-Flower-Killer Moon, Mathews noticed the small changes to the land:

These little flowers are those that grow close to the earth and even appear before the grass has begun to sprout, in some years even before the snows stop falling. These are the Johnny-jump-up, the spring beauties, and hundreds of others that I cannot name, which grow on the ridges and on the burned-over places on the prairie, where they make the black, desolated spots gay with their beauty.

In this and other passages, Mathews took note of the vital place where he lived. He used his time alone on the prairie to ride and hunt, to be in the world physically—his way of making meaning of his existence. Consider this passage, a moment when Mathews reflects on the hidden forces in nature where “the pig eyes of a bear may be nervously on me from the rimrock above”:

I am small and overpowered by the primitive forces, but there is no fear. Instead there is only the true freedom that man can feel; the serenity that comes with the absence of emotion and the complete absence of man’s pitiful urge to express himself; the only complete contentment.

My thoughts come like breezes that move through the pines and in their passing leave nothing to disturb; leave no seed that may swell and burst into resolve, demanding action. No matter how sharp or interesting, they are lost with my spirit in my oneness with the earth about me.

In solitude, in nature, among the creatures of the plains, Mathews finds something greater. The open fields, the scrawny blackjacks—dull and uninspiring at first glance—open up to beauty. At his isolated cabin, Mathews lived close to the earth, though he struggled to get his feelings down in words. There was, he wrote, “too much that was inexpressible.” Yet Mathews carried on at his cabin for ten years, finding larger meanings on his small patch of prairie:

Often I ride to a point on the edge of the canyon just before sundown and sit listening to this indescribable song that seems to express all the yearning of the human spirit; the song that asks the eternal question “Why?” so softly, so sadly, so submissively as the day ends.

Like Twain, Mathews was an “enormous noticer,” a writer who could see, experience, and find meaning in the natural world in all its subtle, devastating, and glorious forms.

John Coward teaches media studies and journalism at The University of Tulsa. He is a member of the Nimrod Advisory Board and the author, most recently, of Indians Illustrated: The Image of Native Americans in the Pictorial Press (University of Illinois Press, 2016).