This is the time of year when I start looking for magic. The time when I start digging into drawers or boxes. During the long winter it is easy to forget about the light, forget that things can bloom vibrant. It is easy to forget the feeling of finding a small flower growing alone at the base of a tree trunk, or a small treasure finding its way into your palm. The smell of solid perfume trapped inside my great grandma’s locket lost to me inside a jewelry box. The fuzzy buds of apple trees. I think this is the reason Spring cleaning makes sense. Not just as a clearing out, making space for new growth. In garden beds as well as in your garage shelves or nightstand drawers.
There are tiny sprouts in the front bed of my house underneath the low windows. This will be my first spring in a new home. All of the sprouts hold the magic of the unknown. What will they become? What has grown here, ready to come again. How will we inhabit this space together, the sprouts and I?
One of the ways I find magic in the restlessness of this shifting season, has become a ritual. Every year around this time, I watch 리틀 포레스트 (Little Forest). This movie is full of small magic. The joy of small sprouts and slow cooked food eaten with company. Every year this movie reminds me to look for the small remnants left in the cupboards, to remember my ability to create from scant stores and deep hunger.
“If I stay till the spring’s spirits break through the winter, will I find my answers?”
긴 겨울을 뚫고 봄에 작은 정령들이 올라오는 그때까지 있으면 해답을 찾을 수 있을까
—Hye-won (리틀 포레스트)
The Worm moon marks the true stirring of spring, the little critters deep under the earth beginning to shimmy their way up toward the light again, feeding birds and tilling the earth from within. There is an energy humming within us, a waking and a shimmying outwards after a season of deep work. As your internal thawing and stretching begins, how can you bring your attention to the small joys, awaken to delight and life again as if wiggling your fingers at the end of a long meditation? The following is a bibliomancy offering from Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude. Ross Gay’s work is a space where I can always find the power of small joys, and I hope this helps activate your delight muscles.
excerpt from “Patience”
and yes, it is spring, if you can’t tell
from the words my mind makes
of the world, and everything
makes me mildly or more
hungry— the worm turning
in the leaf mold; the pear blooms
howling forth their pungency
like a choir of wet-dreamed boys
hiking up their skirts; even
the neighbor cat’s shimmy
through the grin in the fence,
and the way this bee
before me after whispering
in my ear dips her head
into those dainty lips
not exactly like entering a chapel
as if that wasn’t enough
blooms forth with her forehead dusted pink
like she has been licked
and so blessed
by the kind of God
to whom this poem is prayer.
As the moon ripens to its full silver glow on the 18th, on the precipice of the Spring Equinox, I want to draw you back to ritual, to small joy and its ability to sustain. What fills you up when you feel emptied out in the pursuit of answers?
To welcome you into the collective shifting of warmth and energy in our world, I give you another bibliomantic offering. This one from Monty Don’s Down to Earth, which has become another ritual space for me in this season.
“I don’t think that anything makes me happier than an April evening spent preparing the ground and sowing veg seeds for a summer harvest while the garden settles gradually around me. All winter, the ground lies cold and wet, but when that clammy chill in the hand is replaced by warmth, and as the soil responds to the caress of a rake preparing a tilth, it is as though I am returned to the rightful earth.”
How can you build small patterns into your day to fill yourself up? What generosity is already in front of you, waiting to be accepted? What seeds can you plant now, under the light of the full moon that will allow you to feed yourself and others?
These seeds and rituals are small things, repetitive and vivid. How can you keep your hands dug into their soil to feel their warmth on your skin? How do you wait for them to germinate, to sprout?
“Potatoes are planted first in the spring.
봄에 처음 심는 것 중에 감자가 있다
Though it is cold, the ground’s warmth pushes the potato sprouts out.
아직 춥지만 땅 속 옮기는 감자 싹을 품어 밖으로 튀어 낸다
The sprouts, the flowers, and bearing crop…
싹이 나오고 꽃이 피고 열매를 맺는
it all takes time.
You have to wait.
You must wait.
You have to wait to taste the best food.
기다릴 줄 알아야 최고로 맛있는 음식 맛 볼 수 있어
You can get spring greens for free, but potatoes take hard work.”
봄나물은 빵이나 나무에서 공을 얻지만 잠자는 노동과 땀이 필요하다
—Hye-won (리틀 포레스트)
Jenni Ashby is a grower; of words, children, plants, community. She is invested in people and process, and believes that every creator needs someone to champion their ideas/vision/projects: to be a voice of encouragement and inspiration louder than the self-doubt that can easily take over in moments of isolation. Jenni received her MFA in Writing and Poetics from Naropa University and is currently studying with Cornerstone Birthwork Training as a Full Spectrum Birthworker. She lives in Colorado Springs, CO with her partner, sons, and cat.
I feed the lies, dismantled feud of underworld. A rooster and its constellation consume the faults and a promise of wants in our sacraments. An open symphony unknowing in its
seam. We have no sound and the structure is boxed in winter split/spit. Old, Dividing, Bow, Door. Create, Open, Guard, Threshold. We keep the ones we love in the walls. Our homes, a jail — so we return to be yielding at the hearth: white bread and mayonnaise offered. Winter's door, thumbprint on a windeye's light, cage bearers. Bird's wings, a sheath not through the world. Embodied in the snore of family conjoined — the bone: clavicle, holds us with a bent iron pin, as if to say: I have and you have not. The unowned edges of a number; some wheel of the year bent into an origami of I have not and you have. When my eyes are closed, a virus bellows, the pink sponge squeezes vinegar over christ. Some wagon of doom rattles the frame of this house, our mystery recedes, it makes less sense, this mimicry mouth. Render. I give back.I have not, and you have not. Let this misgiving be named. Make jam and hang it on Christmas amber. Thy genome does without borders. Different, make different. We eat of cod memory, red fatty fish, the eggs shed will not hover high. Iron weights our bones. The open heart, a cabinet without. Schemes endured for provision. They feed me still and still me.
"That's an uncertain smile.” its a wince I think, but pull back the curtain mid sentence, there is change of channels --
foliage spills from your mouth, an owl takes a snake ancestor in the sickbed wishes.
there's a something— static decades scratched from the skull in yellow: the pupils saw color.
A dust worm — locust, swell the night class lights illuminate deer eyes;
Roses on horn tip by nightstand on this corridor of junctures
I rode Red bike through lace, closing gates.
that's not a tree for
I know there is a biting cruel, it ripens
a lark— being your song is always gesture
I thread a corolla between this stranger, their gut fiends for a homing beacon. Every single buttermilk shrunk between ten this morning and close at your local grocery store is waiting for you to open the door. It resists: spell; I page for grocery to release the bone mouse to run free along the sky shelves in fecund curving streams. Saturn circles the moon — a road beyond Santragachi is marking you home--
winds stutter, fatigued beyond autonomy
conceding to a glory hole hospitality state
I was told, explicitly, not to leave this booth. You say
don't follow me
from here follow me
I rode Red bike through
seven refugees, guards at half doors, shipping bots, groomed seniors--
in caves and paddocks and soil, by ten or now, an opening named something like “it's not there.” maybe like bones until new plan can advert, prism and grain concuss — sludge, them; I in riding hollow steer something rougher.
I is voice with roll base murmur “Da”, passed through mine, stay in mouth for some to get or eject.
I am granted line authority, receive burn victims at dusk on strobe ribbon of road— a reclamation project.
Matt Wedlock is father to Shae River, partner to Kristen Wedlock, adjunct professor, grocery store clerk, astrologer, and is a graduate of Naropa's Jack Kerouac School of (Dis)embodied Poetics 2012. M. can be found @honeyandseaweed on Instagram & honeysucklesea.squarespace.com.
“Stowing our delicatessen bundles in the car, we drove to the kosher butcher’s on East Long Street. Mr. Margolis was also a ritual slaughterer, and I once caught a scary glimpse of the bloody yard behind the store, where two of the three Margolis daughters sat on benches plucking the freshly killed chickens. It was usually Mrs. Margolis or one of the daughters who wrapped up all the chickens and carried them to our car. It was because she had a car that my mother took on the responsibility of buying not only her own chicken, but also the chickens for my grandmother and my aunts Fritzi and Ethel, who at that time were my only other married aunts in Columbus. . . . On the way home I would finish every last salty little olive, my treat, knowing my mother would spend the afternoon koshering the chicken and preparing the Shabbos meal that was the highlight of the family’s week, candles in their old Polish brass holders, a table full of relatives. But my own best time was the shopping for it with my mother.” —EBF
My mother wrote this chapter among others while in her eighties, having attended a lifelong learning class in memoir writing, at Brandeis. She gave a copy each to me and my three younger sisters. She prefaced the gift by saying she’d written only about the “good stuff,” and promised that she’d write those “bad” chapters at a later point—the ones about my father’s bipolar disorder, alcoholism, abuse, and his untimely death at 44 years old; about our only brother, a 27 year old musician in the early eighties’ New York City scene, dying of a heroin overdose. But she never got around to writing the bad ones, perhaps because by the time she died, she’d made enough peace with the bad stuff to focus on the all reasons to celebrate; graduations, marriages, and births for example. She managed life as a 42 year old widow, who never married again, with an agile thrift and an impossible-to-refuse way of handing you a broom or a dishtowel. A brood of hens, we squawked sometimes, but mostly feathered our nest with plenty of hopefulness and opportunity.
The most potent legacy in our family, the one epigenetically and indelibly sown into my being, she often recited to me like a poem: “You are the oldest daughter of an oldest daughter of an oldest daughter of an oldest daughter.”
The oldest daughters wrought and bathed the bloods, separating chickens from their heads and cradling the newly crowned heads of babies from between the legs of their sisters, their daughters, and their nieces. They held in their competent hands all the intimacies of a life of service to the bodies and psyches of their families and communities.
Gender role boundaries bent, in small hushed ways for these Ashkenazi oldest daughters. Even as a small girl, my maternal grandmother Celia sat in a back corner of her rabbi father’s den, where the scholarly men studied Talmud and other religious tracts and debated the godly and unholy ways of men. She later studied acting in New York City, stowing her washed menstrual rags over the bedsprings underneath her cot in the pantry of a cousin’s apartment. But even when the East West acting company had accepted her, she declined. Good Jewish girls bent to those lacerating definitions of ‘good.’ So she wrote news for the Jewish Chronicle and other newspapers, a more backstage occupation. And married and had children and continued her life of service.
Ambitious women cannot hold themselves back completely. Those whispering threads of rebellion quilt together their skills and arts of service, the immense dependability of them. The alacrity and grace of weaving in and out of the lives of others—subtly propping, encouraging, and nurturing those others to their higher callings, and bathing their neglects and failures with narratives of sympathy, of counsel. Those rebellious threads needle into the substantive, into the bastions of male-dominated knowledge; attempt a higher degree, an outspokenness, or an expression of note in the sciences, humanities or arts; or champion the causes of the marginalized.
As a girl with long hair, my grandmother, Celia, went to the outhouse one night with a candle that lit her hair on fire. Screams brought her father running with a blanket and it saved her life. But she was left with scarred and irregularly creped skin on the left side of her torso. When she visited, I’d watch her dress occasionally, her bra and slip already on. I held my breath and tried not to stare. One time she told me that her damaged body made her turn away from the acting career. But I didn’t believe it. I think the burn of a culture that depicted female actors as loose women, blanketed her; saved her reputation.
Celia’s daughter, my mother, Ellen, made it into Vassar—a coup in the years of Jewish quotas. She’d longed to leave the pace of Ohio and come to New York, a train ride from Manhattan and culture. And what glory she felt to sit in classrooms, entirely comprised of women, and give voice to an alluring array of her own ideas and opinions.
The dorms had their own dining rooms. The students had coop jobs, including coffee and tea service in the well-appointed living rooms after dinner, where Ellen would sit down at the piano and play ragtime and anything-at-all, by ear, having learned from one of her uncles. Her degree equipped her for anything, but she chose my charismatic father and Boston and children and all the moves, and all the ups and downs that followed. After his death she earned two master’s degrees and worked, first as an educator and then as a psychotherapist. But she called her work that of a mother, in preference to a career woman.
After her death, tickets to the Museum of Fine Arts arrived in the mail. The Boston Globe on Sunday along with the local rag sat on the stoop in front. A notice from the library to return outstanding books landed in her mailbox along with flyers for upcoming courses. Still conscious a few days before she died, she said, “I thought I had a few more years.” It seemed to me like she died in the middle of a sentence, the rest of it yet to read. So many books left to peruse. So many exhibits to see, places to go, and family events to cheer.
Culturally promoted, I’ve lived both ‘mother’ and ‘career,’ at the same time. What an extraordinary juxtaposition of place-holders and roles that tug hard, and always tug hard in counter-tension; never pulling in the same direction, and impossible to integrate. But clearly, most women, including me, cantilever toward the vast windows of career opportunity and remain tightly attached to the supporting beams of children and family. But I get paid for the broadband of my psychotherapy services, which includes services to those individuals for whom the state must subsidize. I make my own money. I create what I want with it.
My oldest daughter, Lexa, forged her way into the world of book publishing, always finding that edge, that tipping point when the telling of stories shifts from one compelling set of forces to another. And inventing processes for development, and for cooperative brainstorming with other women lit on fire, by the prospects and surprises of birthing new narratives out into the world. She and her daughter, now five, read big books every night, the few pages adding up and adding up like the nights they cozy up together, advancing their own mother-daughter story.
We will tell her one day that in some parts of the world, women’s faces and voices remain hidden beneath garments and cooped up in courtyards surrounded by airless walls they may not breach without a man’s escort. In Afghanistan, women who’ve killed their abusive husbands relish newfound freedom in a women’s prison, some with their children. They’ve bedecked the crude floors with colorful rugs, and share meals with friends. Will the women’s ambition for freedom look, forever, like bars through which the daylight belongs to them without punishment? Is not even the pandemic less atrocious? Isn’t this virus of equal opportunity less vicious than the inhumanity inflicted on so many daughters, mothers, and sisters?
I feel privileged to say to my daughter, what she will pass along to her daughter, “You are the oldest daughter, of an oldest daughter, of an oldest daughter . . .”
Lexa’s little one, Minna, likes olives as a treat. We all do. The salt, the slick oil, and the dense meat clinging to its pit.
LISA FRIEDLANDER is a psychotherapist and essayist who quilts together ideas, characters, events, sensory awakenings. Recent work has or will appear in Shark Reef, The Forge, IO Literary Review, Adanna Literary Review, Ponder Review, Wild Roof, Tiny Spoon, and Turnpike.
SAMIR KNEGO is a multidisciplinary artist living in North Carolina with a bright green wheelchair and a little black dog. He edits for Decolonial Passage and has work in The Fieldstone Review, Wordgathering, Press Pause Press, and elsewhere. Find him on twitter/instagram @SamirKnego or at samirknego.wixsite.com/here.
To My Grandmother: The Savoy Ballroom Dancer
Everyone said you
were the best dancer at the club
and I wonder did you
dance with a spark of joy
that flowed through your
feet and your legs?
Did you dance like nothing
could stop your hips
from bringing life into
Did you sway in some
soldier’s arms and
rest your head on his
chest while you two stepped
and slow danced
him back from the front?
Did you lindy hop
with a stranger who
twirled you and turned your
world upside down but
never partnered with
you for more than one
Did you dance like the world
was ending and you were its last
graceful motion ?
I heard that you swayed alone in the
middle of the club, eyes shut,
Billie’s song on your lips,
the spark inside traveling
the length of you,
lighting the fire
We double dutched
in the middle of the street
turning flying saucers with our hands
drumming beats with our feet
Mamas called us
home for peanut butter
and jelly lunches
winos held up
the corners with brown
paper bags and wobbly legs
Mr. Murray came cruising
in his Cadillac, picking up
numbers, handing out
winnings to the lucky women
and men who’d had the good
fortune to play their weight,
their phone numbers or
He gave us nickels
For Hershey bars and Mary Janes
we piled into the car
Braids bobbing with excitement
Our hands surfing the city wind
and headed for Freedom land
where we could be
anybody and do anything
I was the fat lady in the mirror
Jackie was the clown with no head
Octavia was a pirate with a sword arm
Robbie was three feet tall
Back home we seesawed and
swung as high as the moon
jacks and balls
spilled over on the stoops
we scooped them up
like stars and planets
in our neighborhood universe
We learned back then
and we haven’t forgotten
that we were once
little girl gods
About the Author:
Leslie Dianne is a poet, novelist, screenwriter, playwright and performer whose work has been acclaimed internationally in places such as the Harrogate Fringe Festival in Great Britain, The International Arts Festival in Tuscany, Italy and at La Mama in New York City. Her stage plays have been produced in NYC at The American Theater of Actors, The Raw Space, The Puerto Rican Traveling Theater and The Lamb's Theater. She holds a BA in French Literature from CUNY and her poems have appeared in Noctivant Press, The Wild Word, Trouvaille Review, Moida, Sparks of Calliope and The Elevation Review and are forthcoming in Whimsical Poet and Boston Accent Lit. Her poetry was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Literary journals, whether in print or online, are becoming quite common, seen everywhere from the bookstore shelf to posts flowing like streams through various online, social media platforms. Some of them stay around for a while; and some, sadly, vanish without much explanation. This happened to me recently when I was seeking a selection to share with one of my classes from an online literary journal
that has left in its original shape only a ghostly error code. What happened to it? Where did it go? This brought up some questions for me about the sustainability of literary journals in today’s flooded market: What has staying power? Why read it? What place does this journal have among the others? What shape will this journal leave, if not an error code?
And that’s when I found Apo-Press.
Apo Press’s foundational, first journal publication, Re-knewing, is an invitation to a world outside of the current, well-tread (and often milquetoast) marketplace of literary journals and the many forms that they take, some fleeting, and some creating a foothold with the audience, which this journal has already begun to do. Re-Knewing is something that feels lovingly and compassionately sculpted into form.
The curation of this journal is something in itself to observe; the work within is not simply a smattering of disparate, dissonant voices calling out to be read, but instead, it is a full representation of a rare type of unity, where many pieces have the quality of something that has been well-considered to communicate as a whole. This precise consideration is something that resonates throughout the collection; the more one reads it, the further one goes down a path of playful unconventionality, and a path that is not just accessible to any willing reader, but also one that invites you rethink, or re-know, what you understand about the worlds on offer here, as well as the experiences you are seeking.
Among these carefully chosen works are those that make the collection what it is at heart. Avoiding superlatives in my description of these selections is one of my goals in addressing them because when you discover them for yourself, the experiences will consume you; and it will happen, hopefully, in the same ways I myself was consumed, which was enough to prompt multiple readings and a feeling of gratitude that I have this collection at my fingertips. An example of this is Shawnie Hamer’s piece, Ode
To the Gritty, a sensual, covert anthem; something that harkens to the traveled wound in all of us. Where “we curate our war,” and where “Grit always remains.” Powerfully written lines such as these not only chisel off the calcification of the daily smog, but these sentences are also gifts—talismans to take with you on your journey.
Other standout work include Dennis O'Donnell's Rhadamanthine, which blooms like a container of concentrated atmosphere and silent mystery: “His shadow peaks where yours ends. He eats time. Outside, black stars hang in the heavens. The apple’s flesh is brushed into dirt with its coming.” O’Donnell, like Hamer, shines in this collection, leading the reader to the experience of surprise, and immersion. The work is a configuration to which one returns, repeatedly experiencing certain sentences again and again, if only to absorb the flavors they impart.
Similarly, in Su Nadeau’s The Gospel, According to Disco, the reader gets to experience a level of immersive storytelling that evokes the tactile and offers a kind lush urgency: “Everything disappeared and was replaced by a vacuum. I wonder how many fingers a Saint has. As it turned out. Slam. My heart is deaf. Slam. I do. Slam. Lung. Slam. Tight. Slam. Nothing. Slam. Release. My body is the form I’m against.”
Completing this collection, I felt filled by language the way one wants to feel when they’ve completed something that gives, and this collection does just that. The mark of anything with staying power is whether or not you will return to it, which goes double for the error code prone world of the literary journal. Did the work inside offer a key to your confusion? Did it unlock a part of yourself you needed to free? Did it help you continue, despite the dark? If you’re lucky enough to find a collection that offers answers, while also creating inexorable questions, then you’ll find yourself returning to it, and this is a collection to which you will return again and again, like I have, to re-orient myself on the path, to renew what I thought I understood. Here is a collection that is, among others, the start of something much bigger, and much needed.
Blake Edward Hamilton holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Naropa University. His work has appeared in World Literature Today Magazine: Windmill, NPR, South Broadway Press, and Bombay Gin Literary Journal, among others. He is the author of the poetry collections, All Through Your Multiple Selves and Move In Silence, (Spartan/Luchador Press), and recently published his first novel, Hiraeth (Spuyten Duyvil Press).
Where did the idea for this book come from?
It came out of a desire to put together something playful and “anti-politics” that could connect us with birds... Something to uplift the spirit through experimentation... And something sweet. I think I also wanted to protest against the rich mainstream publishing industry only promoting poetry that is “politically correct,” anthropocentric and nationalist... If it inaugurates another round of M*nsanto it’s probably too “correct...”
So, you know, that popular book industry sells us “bestsellers,” but they won’t promote truly political poetry. So I think there’s a paradox there, truly political poetry is anti-politics, because it proposes something better. You know, John Trudell’s poetry was smashing systems and governments and defending nature... You won’t find it in many bookshops. But great poets are and have been published by small independent publishers, that’s where real change is sparking. I think this book is my way of also being on nature’s side and rebelling against those systems... It’s a book about birds who sing poetry and who are not very happy being treated as products and decorations, or about people being so into what they call “politics” that they forget they’re suppressing and ignoring other forms of life... So there is an anti-speciesist standpoint too.
And it’s also a book about experiments, and about the capacity of poetry to be playful, alternative, methodically radical, and to take us out of the “reality” that most people are accepting... I love birds, and I think the interactions between birds and humans are very interesting... Past civilisations thought birds were sacred, and magical, and now there are videos where birds ‘beatbox’, or dance to techno, make music with all kinds of stuff people have in their houses...which is kind of magical. I thought that relationship and that shift was an important thing to explore.
I also remember I was a bit angry when I found out that the partly-Indian VP of the United States was super pro-McD*n*lds, which is responsible for so much violence against animals, while ahimsa, or nonviolence is one of the great teachings of Indian cultures and spiritualities, and of Gandhi... I love spiritual India and how it relates to nature and life; rivers are holy, mountains are holy, birds are holy, rats are holy, monkeys are holy, cows are holy... So cows are also present and holy in the book... There’s a bit of Indian spirituality in it. Animals do have voices, people just don’t listen.
The title of the collection, “The New Cockatoo” is something I’ve had ready for years. I knew I wanted to write a book called The New Cockatoo, and I didn’t know why. I didn’t know what kind of book it would become, it just took its own course.
What iterations did this project take over that time? How were you able to decide the paths it would take?
It was a long process of defining and redefining its intention... It took a lot of paths, maybe because I tried to do as many different things as possible. My mind is always exploding with ideas, so I had to write them all down, do sketches, write notes of what I wanted... I wanted to transform the readers into birds, to connect us with that world we don’t visit often To help us exit our human bodies for a while.
I wanted to make it a fun book to read, but slowly I realised that there was this sub-context, of something very complex, and at some point I thought, “this book was supposed to be joyful and suddenly its true nature is being revealed…” But there’s nothing wrong with sadness, just like there’s nothing wrong with ‘happy’ poetry... And I embraced the fact that the collection has this ‘bittersweet’ tone, as Freddie wrote in the foreword, and I decided to write a short essay about caged birds in poetry. I was also inspired by a letter by James Baldwin where he mentions how we reject what we don’t know; people tend to suppress what and whom they don’t understand, and we don’t really understand other forms of life, sometimes we don’t even understand each other...
It didn’t feel as if I was deciding on which paths the book was taking, the birds took over; they were in charge… The poetry is contemporary and forward-looking, but the book starts with reflections on just how important birds have been to humanity over thousands of years, so the paths are a little paradoxical.
What was your writing process for this book? Tell us about your rituals.
I…tried channeling birds, which felt more like they were channeling me. I was suddenly interested in people who channel messages… I provoked some crises upon myself by visiting pet shops and spending time with the birds they hold hostage as prisoners… It was like method acting but in writing. I tried to feel like a bird in a pet shop all day, or like a pet bird gathering hoops… I also spoke to some of the birds I come across everyday, by the river… I wrote while watching videos of bird pets on the internet… Sometimes it was like a new age meditation where I would visualise myself as a cockatoo, take lots of notes and then do a lot of collage and elimination of material…
There is also some Found poetry in the book; I took small fragments from texts that inspired me and played with them, quoted them and transformed them… I wanted to make a homage to some of the writers who inspire me, so whenever I was writing and their words were in my mind I tried to connect and feel the love…
What were you most afraid of and/or excited about in writing this book?
I was afraid of writing the essay, although I really wanted to do it. I didn’t want it to be a rigid scholarly essay, but I wanted to write a reflection about these poems that marked the history of caged birds in poetry and also talk about my intention and my own experiences with the subject growing up… What I hope is that readers will embrace that as my own personal experience and then read the book in any way that they want to read it, and create their own experience and meaning for each poem. I am really excited about people doing the cut-up exercise—‘mission from cockatiel’ in the book and creating their own poems so that each copy will be unique, with a bit of destiny and each person’s creative input in it. I hope they’ll send me pictures of what they make with the cut-outs.
How do you feel your experience with running Free Lines Press influenced your writing of this book?
It was challenging, because we work on several books at a time, and we have a timeline, and I am really looking forward to publishing all of our upcoming books… And working on my book at the same time required a lot of discipline; it was the editing plus the writing, supervising all our other projects and keeping contact with the authors. At some point I thought about postponing the book and publishing other books first, because it was taking so much of my time, but I decided to just stick to the plan, and not set my poems aside because of my workload, because it wouldn’t be fair to the birds… And we should not feel separate from each other, we are a team and we are there to stick to the timeline together (chuckles)…
If you could impart one piece of advice to our collective members writing a book, what would it be?
Don’t hold anything back and don’t set any limits for your work. Laugh and cry… In my head I chant some words that Saul Williams said, and wrote, “transform society through art, feed the imagination, challenge apathy and normative thinking, acknowledge your responsibility to uplift the consciousness of the entire f*cking world…” that’s my mantra when I write.
When and where can we buy it?
The book is out...and you can order it through the website of Free Lines Press. Our paperbacks ship internationally, and because we wanted to reduce our impact on the environment and make shipping easier, we chose to make our books available via an ethical distributor with printers in the UK, Europe (incl. France), Australia, Canada, India and the US. We don’t sell our books through the big corporations, but they will be sent from your nearest printer, and you will be able to track the status of your orders, so don’t hesitate to order them, we care for our readers and we are as mindful as possible of the whole process.
The community can also find us on social media; we share all our news and extracts from poems on instagram, links to art we like on facebook, and offers & promotions on twitter… Sometimes we have free international shipping on all our books, 15% or 20% off, and other special promotions, so please connect with us, we’re @freelinespress in all three networks, and you’ll find the links to our books and everything else there.
What’s next for you and Free Lines?
We will be publishing the work of extremely talented poets including Joshua Martin, Christina Strigas, H.E. Fisher, and Kristalyn Gill, and visual artists Max Padma and Santiago del Conde. Their collections are absolutely incredible and we are so happy to be publishing artists in different parts of the world. Our applications are open to artists everywhere and we’re looking forward to continuing to discover the work of contemporary experimental artists. Thank you so much Shawnie and collective.aporia, for having me, Free Lines, and the birds today. We love you.
About the Author
Tania Bies has written and spoken ephemeral poetry for several years. Her writing combines DADA, Found, cut-up, Language poetry and free verse, at times blending hints of playwriting and experimental music. In her poems we find humour, a longing for alternatives, and reflections on limited thinking. She is the author of The New Cockatoo (Free Lines Press, 2021) and View from the Moon, which she co-wrote with Freddie Bruhin-Price. She studied English literature, applied linguistics and creative writing, and is currently recording an album of spoken word in her living room.
https://freelinespress.weeblysite.com/[Image credits: Freelines Press]
Tania Bies, founder of Free Lines Press, sat down with our founder, Shawnie Hamer, for an interview about all things publishing and writing, including details about Tania's forthcoming book, View From the Moon, co-authored with Freddie Bruhin-Price.
Shawnie Hamer (SH): Where did the idea for Free Lines Press come from? Tell us how it was born.
Tania Bies (TB): Well, it’s very much related to something I read in your manifesto, about (de)constructing the current state of art, and of many other aspects of our society… I had been writing poetry, and a lot of it was ephemeral; it would be part of a performance, or an improvisation piece, and we had no cameras, everything wasn’t being filmed by a smartphone… Or probably it was, it’s not so long ago… Some would be chalk poems on stairs, or things we’d scream during a theatre play, ‘post-its’ in the subway… So even though art that disappears is so beautiful, it is important to document art, to concretize what an artist is writing and saying. There’s nothing quite like connecting with that moment when the writer was finding the words and being transported through those lines… To me it’s such a mystical experience. So more than an idea, it felt like a necessity…
I was just discouraged by the way things work in the publishing world, and my friends were too… And in the human world in general, obviously. So, it was necessary. There should be alternatives, and publishers who are open to at least look at your work and consider it, especially if it doesn’t fit the mold. We needed a publisher. I knew mainstream publishers weren’t an option, I knew we needed options for writers like us, who had work and ideas… So it was both this very personal search and the feeling that what I do should be meaningful. This would be our publishing home and it would also support other artists, it was just time to create Free Lines Press.
SH: What kind of submissions excite you? What kind of work do you hope to celebrate at Free Lines?
TB: We are looking for work that helps us to imagine the art of the future… Work that is free from established doctrines… We want art that makes us question ourselves and the way things are now. Manuscripts that implement contemporary philosophies and movements, like ‘make it new’, cut-up, Dada, the Absurd, Language Poetry, Asemic writing… which aren’t that new really, but these are all great tools for getting out of linear thinking, and they still aren’t published enough… We aren’t sufficiently exposed to contemporary poetry, and we would love to help to change or stimulate that… It’s been a while since poets like William Carlos Williams, James Baldwin, Gertrude Stein for example, opened the doors and still today so many people are more familiar with Shakespeare than with their poetry, or that of Sylvia Plath, or Jean-Michel Basquiat... Or Benjamin Zephaniah or Saul Williams, who are alive now…
We want to celebrate the artists of today who both embrace contemporary poetry and experiment with it, and take it further. We want to celebrate the sense in the nonsense, the nonsense in all that supposedly makes sense, the experimentation that still has feelings and isn’t apocalyptic or sarcastic or robotic… Or that imagines robotic feelings that are more exciting than our own. Or that explores the absence of feeling, our void as a new presence, as the presence of an absence. As a spiritual presence even. Anything’s possible, and as Saul Williams said recently, “the goal is to feed the imagination, to challenge apathy and normative thinking”.
SH: Tell us about View from the Moon, your forthcoming book co-authored with Freddie Bruhin-Price. How did it come to fruition?
TB: These were our university poems, and I guess that we were both longing for unity… We were classmates in a contemporary poetry class, taught by Nikolai Duffy, whose poems are great, and we read each other’s work and thought it was cool… You know, I realized this yesterday I think, 4 years into the work, that Freddie is a guy from Manchester who co-wrote a book with a woman, with a Latina woman, with a Brown-skinned Latina woman. I thought “that’s cool”. I realized how cool this is, I’m probably not able to express this. I thought, it’s a cool thing to do, uniting in this way… Man, it’s what we need… This is hilarious to me because what I mean is we were completely unaware of our ‘differences’, our physical bodies, who we “are socially”… We were just two kids writing poems… Forget the identities…
Collaborative art is just so powerful, there’s this power in unity, in united artists across time, like the Beats, Maya Angelou and James Baldwin, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, the Dadaists at cabaret Voltaire, all of the artists who united at the Harlem Festival of 1969, Marina Abramovic and Ulay… There are so many examples, and we’re both inspired by that. But, back in 2016 we just thought, well, shouldn’t we do something together… These poems have been waiting for the press to take off, for us to figure things out, to curate the books… In the meantime we both have continued writing, but these poems are special because we were just discovering our voices. Discovering even that we had one and what that even means.
SH: What was your writing process for this book? Tell us about your rituals.
TB: Well, we need to ask this question to Freddie cause I’d love to know more about his rituals… He writes a lot of lyric poetry that goes well with music because he’s a musician—and I have a lot of favorites. There's actually a poem of his that I covered with my duet to get a feeling of connection with his voice, that was a bit of a ritual… Because I knew I had to connect with Freddie’s words deeply if I was going to put our books together… Then there are the poems we wrote together, sometimes we’d do that on social media chat, just replying the next line to each other, that was fun.
We also wrote a poem when a friend of his passed away, and it was intense; I think that we tend to enter a ritual state of mind when something like that happens… I grew up in Mexico, where a lot of the art comes from death and dying. We have this connection to the world beyond, the world of the dead, who obviously aren’t really dead unless we all disappear because there’s something more ethereal in memory and even physically. And his friend’s passing was a moment that united us with all that, in my experience…
My own writing process is very different in each poem… I am someone who writes as a way to question and transmute my frustrations into something more useful, so whenever something really makes me mad I’ll sit and explore it, and instead of complaining about that thing that makes me mad I deconstruct it, and make fun of it, or play with why I think it’s absurd… Other poems I wrote while meditating in India, others I wrote in the hospital or just before falling asleep— I think it’s so interesting to write when you’re halfway in the ‘dream dimension’.
Another thing that happened was the discovery, after a few years writing together, that both our mothers had passed away, both of us young. It was this coincidence that gave us depth, a myth aspect, something almost from a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel or a Jim Jarmusch movie. I think he said “we are both half orphans” and I said “I feel more like I’m three-quarters orphan”, then he said “me too…”, so we were the three-quarter orphans… The book opens with a song about poetry from Hikuri, the god of Peyote, to the 3/4 orphans.
SH: If you could impart one piece of advice to our collective members writing a book or submitting it to publication, what would it be?
TB: Make it universal. Let anyone relate with your subject and themes. De-dogmatize everything… Get out of your comfort zone; by that I mean, don’t write your own opinions or thoughts, explore them, challenge yourself, ask questions in ways you haven’t before… Don’t just look at the world now, look into the future, it’s all a spiraling vortex. And send a good proposal. Take your application process seriously, include a great blurb, and reviews by artist friends, be inventive.
SH: What do you know about the publishing world/process now that you didn’t know before?
TB: I didn’t know anything about publishing… I have learned so much in the past 4 years developing Free Lines… From book titles, to editing, formatting, designing a cover, the book as a concept, the book as a vessel, the book as a product—which is challenging because I always think of the book as an art piece, I only think about the concept… I’ve learned that I can’t satisfy everyone, especially myself. I can’t make everyone happy, but I can try my best. And I’ve also learned to listen, listen, listen. That it’s important to make mistakes an ice-cream cake because they’re part of the process. To think about the creative ideas that I disagree with… I remember saying in one of our meetings “I want a book cover to be a concept in itself, I want it to be crazy so that people have to figure it out, even figure out how to read it”, and someone would say, “most people wouldn’t get this”, “most people wouldn’t understand”… And I’d say “that’s good isn’t it?”… But minimalists, who I adore, tend to think less is more when it comes to covers and everything else, that covers need to be clear, and simple…
It’s interesting to me, that there is such a thing as “too experimental” in publishing, and it’s true, I understood that, and I saw the difference in how people reacted to a book with no title and then something more understandable. People in general react so differently to something that challenges the model. So, that’s why I like working with others because I have ideas that come from ultra conceptual art that are just not accepted in the publishing world yet, and sometimes we need to think about the book as our “child” and do what’s best for it. However, I do think it’s something that needs to be explored… So that was a nice discovery, that we need to be more open in the way that we see books, and more open to experimentation, and that there’s so much to be done, and conversations to be had…
SH: What’s next for you and Free Lines?
TB: Well, we’re publishing a book of poems titled Surfacing, by Amber Ridenour Walker, who is extremely talented; so I’d love to invite everyone to check it out. And we’re looking forward to continuing to publish other artists. We welcome pretty much any medium that can be printed as a book, so, who knows? We may publish art décor or performance art photography, or hybrid work… We plan to publish 4 to 6 books per year and we’re really looking forward to discovering new contemporary artists.
There’s also the second book Freddie and I wrote together, which we will announce someday; and I’ve been working on a collection of more experimental poems that are very different from things I’ve written before… And I’m excited and nervous for those to form a book together. We will also be publishing two experimental visual artists who are currently curating their books. Free Lines is all about alternatives and we read every single proposal with an open mind. We do have certain criteria, but we’re always curious, and intrigued by innovation and authenticity.
About the Contributor
Tania Bies has written and shared ephemeral poetry for several years, and published her first paperback book in 2021. She created Free Lines Press, an alternative not-for-profit publisher of contemporary and experimental poetry and other art forms. Passionate about the possibilities of creative writing as a multidisciplinary art, her writing combines DADA, Found, cut-up, Language poetry and free verse, at times blending hints of playwriting and experimental music. In her poems we find humour, a longing for alternatives, and reflections on limited thinking. She has participated in plays in Mexico and the Netherlands as an actress, and studied English literature, applied linguistics and creative writing.
[Image credit: Karen Light]
When is it time to keep ahold of an idea and see it through and when is it time to detach and let go?
I thought I finished a painting. Then, a week later, I painted over the whole thing and basically started from scratch.
I found the flow state here and there, but mostly hit a lot of bumps in the road. There is this “click” that happens when a piece is finished and I heard nothing. I couldn’t figure it out. So, eventually, after a lot of trying, I decided to just not finish it for now and move on.
Perhaps you are a parent or you have worked with/been around lots of kids like I have. If so, bring to mind a teenager. There is an outcome that you really want for them and you try to steer them down paths that will lead them to it. But they are on to you, resisting and rejecting every suggestion you make.
You could continue this power struggle (Who hasn’t tried this many times before?!) or you could take a deep breath and let go. You could ask them what they want and how they want to get there. Then, you might start to see things clicking in their minds. Your genuine curiosity and willingness to let go was all it took for them to do the work on their own.
Ever have that experience? Well this is sort of what happened with my painting.
I detached from what I needed it to be. I didn’t even need it to be finished! In fact, I went into my studio to clean everything up and reset the space for a new project.
As I cleaned up, my painting suddenly started telling me what it wanted. (Actually, it was probably doing this the whole time, but I wasn’t open to hearing its ideas since I was so attached to my own…) What it wanted was so strong that I stopped cleaning, got out some paint again and it practically finished itself!
It wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be, but it clicked! I felt quite satisfied as I enjoyed the surprising path and destination. After all, much of the point of making art for me is to be brought to new places!
Are you banging your head against the wall trying to get into the flow or make something work? Are you constantly trying to figure it out versus enjoying the process? If so, you can watch this short video to help you determine if you need to detach and steps to help you let go.
What new and exciting places might your creativity bring you to if you detach and get curious?
Karen Light is an Artist/Illustrator and a Creative Coach at Studio Light Illustration. She is passionate about healing and nurturing the creative spirit. Empowered creatives change their worlds as well as the world and have a lot of fun doing it! Bring your creativity out to play with us during our next Creative Wisdom Doodle-Shop! Want a more individualized approach? Fill out the Creative Journey Roadmap Assessment.
[Image Credit: Karen Light]
Sometimes I get these headaches from literally trying to figure everything out all the way through. Have you ever experienced that?
It is a clear indication that I must let go of the reins a bit, which is especially difficult for me to do when I am really excited about a big vision, either for my art or for my creative company. I just want to dig in there and work out all the steps and see the path laid out before me in one clear linear line…
But then my head starts spinning or my eyes start crossing or suddenly I notice I have been scrunching my face for a while and I have gone too far.
I was having one of these moments and I decided to do one of the cards from my new Creative Wisdom Doodle Deck! The card is called 'Move Mountains' and I chose it because I felt like I wanted to do it all, but was limited by time and energy.
As I doodled, the image that emerged was me following little breadcrumbs on the ground.
The message that arose as I contemplated the image was that all I need to do is follow one breadcrumb at a time. Sure, I can hold the big vision! I can use it to be energized and excited! But if I was given everything I had to do to achieve it now, it would only lead to burn out and possible failure. And frankly, there would be little joy in the process.
Instead, the practice is to trust that the piece of clarity I have right now is enough. That taking action on that clarity is the only next step I need to do. And, when this clarity is present, I need to trust that I can handle it, even if it is outside of my comfort zone and a little scary.
Each little breadcrumb is helping me to build the confidence, the skills, and the ideas that will help me to see the next breadcrumb. And, one by one, they will take me on a surprisingly meaningful and creatively adventurous path towards my vision.
Where are you trying to figure it all out? What happens when you just look for the next breadcrumb?
Karen Light is an Artist/Illustrator and a Creative Coach. She is passionate about healing and nurturing the creative spirit. Empowered creatives change their worlds as well as the world and have a lot of fun doing it! Have fun with her and other creative minds as they all find the next breadcrumbs on their creative path in the upcoming Creative Wisdom Doodle-Shop on April 15.
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