Post Modern THOT : Natalie N. Caro


Natalie N. Caro is a Bronx-born poet and the 2013 recipient of the Bronx Recognizes Its Own Award in Poetry. She holds a B.A. in English Literature and Philosophy from Lehman College/CUNY and an MFA in Poetry from City College/CUNY where she was selected as one of the first recipients of the Creative Writing Fellowship. Sometimes, she swears that school saved her, but then she thinks about colonization of the mind and feels some type of way. Natalie likes to tweet at bars about teeth and trauma. Follow her and her scattered thoughts on twitter @scatteredstanza.

Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

I can’t pick one, and so my favorite renegades are Edna Pontellier, Jane Eyre, and Sula. There’s something about the way these women live their lives, a rawness to their experiences in context. They also have this deep connection to the earth. They feel every bit of the world in them, and perhaps it’s because they understand its language that they are so brazen.

What literary work by a female identifying writer had the most effect on you as a writer and/or person?

Nayyirah Waheed’s SALT has pretty much changed the way I view language and my own relationship to it as a reader coming out of the postcolonial condition. Her ability to pack so many ideas and images into a couple of lines of poetry is nothing short of brilliant. Her work is as rich and real as it comes.

How did your work/works in Alyss come about? 

Date-Rape emerged out of many discussions. A lot has been said about the under reporting of campus rapes and sexual violence against women, in general; the narrative is, unfortunately, often one-sided. Much of my reading on consent and duress has forced me to come to terms with the reality that young men can be raped too. The conversation, I felt, needed additional voices and perspectives.
What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

My most memorable writing moment is being anthologized for the first time. I have two poems in the forthcoming Afro-Latino Anthology from the University of Houston Press. Many of the authors I find myself in the company of are pioneers and legends; it’s humbling, to say the least.
What is your favorite piece by another writer from Issue Deux and why? 

Making choices is difficult for me, and so I have two poems that stirred me: Almost Someone Coming Home by Alexandra Smyth & Baptism by Jamie Lyn Bruce. In the interest of full disclosure, I took workshops with these two powerhouses, and even then I was a huge fan of their work. They both arrest the reader with a strong sense of place; once they captivate you, they whisper something big and rippling in your heart.
What are you currently working on?

I’m working on getting my first chapbook published “Post Modern THOT,” It’s a collection of poetry that deals with trauma of being of being a woman caught in the Male Gaze, or something like that. In the meantime, I’m experimenting with my website/blog:

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

At the risk of sounding trite: Alice in Wonderland has always appealed to me—mostly, because her curiosity was always stronger than her apprehension.

The Mayor : Merie Kirby

Merie Kirby

Merie Kirby lives in Grand Forks, ND and teaches at the University of North Dakota. She is the author of The Dog Runs On (Finishing Line Press, 2014) and The Thumbelina Poems (Red Bird Chapbooks, forthcoming 2015).  Her poems have been published in Willow Review, Midwest Poetry Review, Avocet, and other journals; she also writes operas and art songs in collaboration with composers.


Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

I have spent at least a week thinking about this. It is the hardest question in this interview! But I keep coming back to Jane Eyre – a book I first read when I was 14 because an aunt told me she wasn’t sure I was ready to read it. Which seems a very Jane thing to do, actually. And later I read it in school. And I’ve taught it several times now. What I like about Jane, what keeps me thinking about her, is that she is very contrarian (as she is accused of being) because she is very intent on being herself. All around her is a society that would very much prefer her to be otherwise, and she might waver, might try on something else, but ultimately she must be herself. Her inconvenient self.

What literary work by a female identifying writer had the most effect on you as a writer and/or person?

The poems of Emily Dickinson are one answer, but I think I have to give equal time to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Eve Curie’s biography of her mother, Marie Curie. I feel like each of these works taught me something about writing – about poetry, fiction, and memoir/biography – but also gave me models of women who followed the work or life they were passionate about.

How did your poem in Alyss come about?

The poem At six I wanted to marry Godzilla came about through that always curious mix of truth and fiction – I distinctly remember being, at around six, madly in love with Godzilla. Now, of course, that potential relationship is clearly problematic, but perhaps, I thought, there are ways that it might still be true. And, perhaps, sometimes I want to be able to be the hurt and angry monster and experience the safety net of another’s love.

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

Holding my first chapbook, The Dog Runs On, was a pretty great moment. Hearing my daughter read her favorite poem of mine to a friend was also pretty great. But I think the greatest moments of my writing life have actually been moments spent with poet-friends, writing together and enjoying hearing each other’s writing, and talking poetry with each other. Those are the moments that feed me.

What is your favorite piece by another writer from Issue Deux and why?

There are a lot of great pieces to choose from in Issue Deux! But I think Moth Queen by Ellie Slaughter, with it’s wonderful fairy tale imagery nestled up against very modern references is the piece that really caught at my imagination.

What are you currently working on?

Last September I participated in Tupelo Press’s 30/30 Project, writing a fresh poem a day and posting it. It was so much fun, and I could not believe that not only did I write a poem a day for 30 days, but I ended up with about 23 of them that I felt had a lot of potential. I went in hoping for maybe 10, so 23 is fabulous. I’m revising those 23 now, working towards another chapbook, or perhaps the kernel of a full-length manuscript.

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

I think it has to be Alice who passed through the rabbit hole portal – I have always particularly loved her encounter with the pig baby and the pepper.

Brooklyn Afrekete : Amber Atiya

amz at open expresions sept 2015 crppd

Amber Atiya is the author of the chapbook the fierce bums of doo-wop (Argos Books, 2014). Her work has appeared in Black Renaissance Noire, Boston Review, the PEN Poetry Series, Nepantla: A Journal for Queer Poets of Color, and been featured on Poetry Foundation’s radio and podcast series PoetryNow. Her poems have been selected for the 2014 Best of the Net Anthology and nominated for Best New Poets. A proud native Brooklynite, She is a member of a women’s writing group celebrating 13 years and counting.

Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

I can’t say that I have one.

What literary work by a female identifying writer had the most effect on you as a writer and/or person?

I fell in love with the poet Chrystos when I read her poem “I Like a Woman Who Packs” in an anthology of Lesbian Love Poems.  Her Book Not Vanishing reaffirmed for me the importance of art-as-activism, as a mode of healing. The first time I heard June Jordan’s “A Poem About My Rights” was in a college writing workshop for women. To hear lines like “I know in my single and singular heart that I have been raped” and “I am not wrong/wrong is not my name/my name is my own my own my own,” that in your face, that unaffected and urgent, I thought I’d burst into flames. Some people might call this a perfect example of righteous indignation, and is it. My professor called it a rant, plain and simple, a term that I fully embrace.

How did your poem everytime i speak, my gums bleed come about?

I’ve been thinking a lot about how, although English is the only language that I speak, I come to it as a Black woman born in America who craves a language, a system of sounds, more compatible with my creative instinct, my voice and tongue and lips and teeth, which are unequivocally African. The conqueror’s language cannot fully capture the (out)rage, the grief and heartache I feel reading headlines, coming to the defense of Black youth who are verbally assaulted and harassed on the streets of New York (which has happened more times than I care to count), coming to my own defense when people try me because I’m Black/queer/female. I think about how my mothers’ tongues were snatched from them, how the ancestors don’t care about English grammar, and how in Black English, all we have is the present, is now. The ancestors are not the past, they are now.

I was invited to participate in a poem-a-day group during Ramadan this year and my preoccupation with all of that led to the piece published in Issue Deux.

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

I’m going to say the launch of my chapbook the fierce bums of doo-wop published last October by Argos Books. I put a lot of time and love and effort into this chap o’ mine–gutted half of the original manuscript, added new poems, and proceeded to revise. I had no idea what I was doing, was making it up as I went along. I think the final version of the chap is more woman-centered, less random, although there’s nothing wrong with that if it works. Argos created these lovely pocket-size works of art, hand-stitched. One poem is even a fold-out page, it’s so good. And I’m proud to say that, outside of the handful that I have left, they’ve sold out.

What is your favorite piece by another writer from Issue One and why?

I am fixated on black and brown bodies in America, how this country chews them up and spits them out, how my own consumption of death through television and social media has made me feel quite unstable (emotionally) at times. And yet if I didn’t tune in and log on, I wouldn’t know about Sandra Bland or Tamir Rice. I wouldn’t know about about the nefarious deeds of Monsanto, and the healthcare industry at large, the prison industrial complex at large, The ongoing plundering of African resources, the propaganda created by the west to demonize Islam and the Middle East.

Chrystos, who I’ve been thinking and writing about lately, insists that “poetry with politics is narcissistic and not useful to us.” All of this was going through my mind reading A Palestinian Elegy by Nazia Jannat. Also, I think it’s important for art to speak to the times, here, a lyric of mourning, a torture, “hysteria, the burning carousel,” the narrator asks “are we masochists?” We’re confronted with the consequences of terrorism, the determination of its handlers to destroy everything pure and good in this world, and don’t know what to do with ourselves: “…no time for sleep, no time for bread.”

And from Issue Deux?

If there’s such a thing as a perfect poem, then America as a Room would be it–not a false note to be found.

What are you currently working on?

I like to say that I’m working on a full-length. Perhaps I should simply say that I’m writing and put no pressure on the poems to make sense as a unit, though it does seem that that’s happening anyway. (Our obsessions are what they are.)

I hate paying for tampons and pads with wings. I hate walking out of a drugstore twelve dollars poorer every month because corporate thieves just HAVE to profit off of the shedding of my uterine lining…currently cooking up a visual poem that tackles this in some way. Also, I’d like to incorporate text into the sonogram photo of a fibroid. It simply has to be done.

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

Off the top, I’d have to say the singer Alice Smith. Her music is rhythm & bluesy folk-funk-cabaret. Love her.

Translatress : Samantha Pious


Samantha Pious  is studying for a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Her specialties are medieval French and English [courtly poetry and women’s writing]. Some of her pieces have appeared or are forthcoming in Mezzo Cammin, Lavender Reviewbroad!, Lunch Ticket, PMS (PoemMemoirStory) and other publications. Others are available on her blog at


Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

Consuelo, from the novels by George Sand, embodies everything I would like to be in life and writing. Reading La Comtesse de Rudolstadt (The Countess of Rudolstadt) was like coming home.

What  literary work by a female identifying writer had the most effect on you as a writer and/or person?

The “Ditié de Jehanne d’Arc,” by Christine de Pizan, inspired me to begin learning French, studying medieval literature, and translating poetry.

How did your work/works in Alyss come about?

Chaucer by Candlelight” is a response to the murders and other acts of violence which police have been committing against African-Americans and other people of color. A certain verse from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, “The blood out crieth on youre cursed dede” (Prioress’s Tale 578) kept echoing through my head during the weeks after I heard about the murder of Tamir Rice, who was twelve years old. To write about police brutality in my own voice (white and well-to-do) would have been deeply appropriative, and I’m concerned that even adapting Chaucer may be harmful in ways of which I’m not aware. The piece struggles to consider what the study of the humanities, in particular medieval literature, could possibly have to offer social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter. I’m coming to think more and more that the reverse proposition is true. Black Lives Matter has much more to offer Medieval Studies — not to mention the humanities in general — than medievalists could ever hope to give back. This may seem obvious to lay-people, but for academics it bears repeating: there’s more to life than our fields of study, and there’s so much more to our fields than the back-woods of western Europe.

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

In terms of writing as a practice or in terms of publications and acceptances? If the former, I’ve had some wonderful moments of looking at half-written drafts and realizing just how many directions the drafts could go before they become finished pieces. It’s a feeling of euphoria, of enormous power. If the latter, I’m always thrilled to see my name in print.

What is your favorite piece by another writer from Issue One and why?

The sound and the imagery of Meg Matich’s Cellar Violin leave me feeling sick, as they’re intended to.

And from Issue Deux?

If I had to choose, my favorite would be Cassandra de Alba’s poem America as a Room. The nineteenth-century home as a metonym for “America” (whether nation-state, geographic region, or culture) is deeply resonant for me.

What are you currently working on ?

I’m currently translating Christine de Pizan’s Cent Ballades d’Amant et de Dame into English as 100 Ballades: Lover & Lady. It’s a narrative sequence of lyric poems about a courtly love affair, alternating between the voices of a lady and her lover. Also, my translations from the French poetry of Renée Vivien are forthcoming from Headmistress Press. Renée Vivien (née Pauline Mary Tarn, 1877-1909) was a lesbian writer of the Belle Époque and one of the first modern European women writers to publish poetry for, by, and about lesbian women. Vivien’s work should be essential reading for anyone interested in lesbian “herstory.”

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, who names herself as “Alisoun” in her Prologue.


Phoenix : Tammy Bendetti


Tammy Bendetti  lives, works, and drinks too much coffee on Colorado’s Western Slope with her husband and two small daughters. She completed a poetry workshop with Wyatt Prunty at Sewanee: The University of the South, and received a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Colorado Mesa University. Her poetry has most recently appeared in Calliope and Grand Valley Magazine, and is forthcoming from Right Hand Pointing. She is currently building a secret room under her stairs but does not plan to keep any wizards in it.

Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

Zora Neale Hurston’s Janie from Their Eyes Were Watching God is a force of nature. Just to keep moving after so much hurt and disappointment is admirable. But instead of merely surviving, she keeps shining out love. She’s so full of courage and a willingness to feel everything all the way down to her bones. It’s no wonder Hurston had Tea Cake swallowed by a hurricane, just to give balance. Janie’s heart was swallowing her whole all along.

What literary work by a female identifying writer had the most effect on you as a writer and/or person?

My father used to read to me and my brothers every single night. He didn’t stick to kids’ books, either. We read Lord of the Rings with a dictionary open on the coffee table! When I was seven, we read Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I found it so comforting to think that I could be strange, I could be passionate, I could be very alone at times, and all that could ultimately be an advantage to me. I was an odd duck as a child, and spent a lot of time by myself. If I’d felt compelled to assimilate, I might have lost my voice.

How did your poem Grundy County come about? 

For the first three years of college I attended the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. It’s like a little heaven. Lush green forest and a handful of graceful stone buildings. The teachers are brilliant, the students are engaged, and the sense of community is strong. But it’s a heaven for the wealthy, and I have the debt to prove it. Just next door, Grundy County is one of the poorest in the nation. It used to be home to the Chickasaw and then the Cherokee, which were two of the so-called “Five Civilized Tribes,” “civilized” meaning they cooperated with the U.S. government. The U.S. forced them out, anyway, by the Indian Removal Act in 1830. Native Americans, Europeans, the rich and the poor have been fighting over this bit of land for centuries. All the while, weeds and trees and flowers have been strangling each other for a piece of the same rich soil. One day, after having lived in Colorado for several years, I was washing dishes and looking across the street to the irrigation ditch. The neighbors’ rosebushes were practically climbing through the fence to get to it, and I finally knew what to say about Tennessee.

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

 I’m going to cheat and tell you about two moments, because they seem related. An old friend and mentor of mine, Marilyn, is almost always the first to read my poems. She’s super supportive and genuinely enjoys them. I wrote a poem called “In October” last year, and sent it to her. She asked me, “How did you know just exactly how I was feeling today?” In another exchange, she told me she’d shared a few of the poems with someone I don’t know, and that woman was inspired to start writing again after a long hiatus. I’m not likely to become famous. There will always be someone ahead of me. But to make even one person feel seen and important is so gratifying.

What is your favorite piece by another writer from Issue Deux and why?

My favorite has changed at least three times since the issue came out. At first it was “America as a Room,” by Cassandra de Alba, because it feels true and original. Then Amber Atiya’s “everytime I speak, my gums bleed” punched me in the gut. But for now my favorite is “Almost Someone Coming Home.” Alexandra Smyth is some kind of magician. She’s put a whole lifetime in eighteen soft-spoken lines.

What are you currently working on?

I’m trying to find a publisher for a children’s book I’ve written. I lived on an island when I was very small, and I’ve always found the ocean’s rhythm to be the best lullaby. When my first child was born, I knew I wanted to write about it. Children’s book publishing is completely new territory for me! There are things like illustration to consider; I’m an artist, but I’m not sure if my style is the best fit for the story, oddly enough. Plus, how are people going to react if the book does get published, and I continue to swear and write about sex in my poems? People in this country like to pretend that maternal instincts and sexuality are completely antithetical. They DO realize how babies are made, right?

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

I really love Alice from Resident Evil. She is saving the world from her own mistakes. And she makes me feel brave.


Disasterrific : Alyssa Yankwitt


Alyssa Yankwitt is a poet, photographer, teacher, bartender, documenter, and earth walker. Her poems and photographs have previously appeared in Fruita Pulp, Gingerbread House, Penwheel.lit, Metaphor Magazine, Red Paint Hill’s “Mother Is a Verb” anthology, The Lake, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and Spry Literary Journal. Alyssa has incurable wanderlust, enjoys drinking whiskey, hates writing about herself in third person, and loves a good disaster. You can visit her artist page here:


Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

Probably Catherine Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights. She’s such a complicated and complex character, passionate and impulsive. She’s a wild and free-spirit, but I always felt she was struggling to truly be free. Also, her ghost comes back to haunt the man she loved. That’s pretty hardcore.

What literary work by a female identifying writer had the most effect on you as a writer and/or person?

I don’t think I could choose just one.  Three huge influences would have to be: Sonia Sanchez’s, Like the Singing Coming off the Drums, Sandra Cisneros, Loose Woman, and Kim Addonizio’s, What Is This Thing Called Love.

Sanchez’s work affected me due how lush and sensual her poems are. There is such a musicality to her writing, both in sound and on the page, specifically through her use of colloquial language and the way she would use the page as well. Reading one of her poems is like having someone whisper a secret into your ear; that intimate and that important.

Cisneros’ work affected me because of its boldness and bravery. I remember when I first came to her poetry thinking: damn, these are bold and brave poems. There were poems about affairs with married men, about the complicated line between being a female Mexican-American and how her family viewed her as “old maid” because she was unmarried at 30. These poems are from a book titled “Loose Woman.” Cisneros’ words are unafraid and unapologetic. That’s the kind of writer I strive to be.

Addonizio’s work affected me in a similar vein as Cisneros, but it went a step further. Her work too is unafraid and unapologetic but there’s also an edgy grit to it. Reading her poems feels like someone slapped you across the face and then gave you an incredibly passionate kiss. It’s frenzying. But there’s also a delicateness to the poetry; it can break your heart, sometimes two or three times in one poem. Again, this is a balance I try to attain in my own writing.

How did your work/works in Alyss come about?

My poem, “Allen at 25,” came about after the suicide of one of my closest friends. As most suicides are, it was unexpected. A huge bond that Allen and I shared was reading and writing poetry. I found out after that many people didn’t know he even wrote poetry, including his family. They only found out after his death. It took me a long time to write this poem, I think in part because it was also me coming to terms of his actions. It made me wonder what had such a powerful grip on his heart that he couldn’t talk about these important things. Why he couldn’t tell his family about the poems. Why he couldn’t talk about what made him want to end his life.

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

I was in a grocery store with a friend and we ran into one of her friends, who worked there. Our mutual friend went to introduce us (and I had no clue who she was) and before the introduction the girl said, “I know you. I saw you read at the poetry reading a few weeks ago.” She then went on to recite her favorite poem I read (which was unpublished), nearly word for word, to me.

What is your favorite piece by another writer from Issue One and why?

Nazia Jannat’s, “Self Portrait for Whiskey Kisses.”  First, because I love whiskey (and whiskey kisses) and second—which I think really sums it all up—is the line “no more ashamed of being ashamed.”

And from Issue Deux?

I am going to choose two. First is Jen Stein’s “Moving Day in April.” I love this poem for its repetition and its sound. And the sound isn’t simply the word choices but the imagery as well. This poem, in the guise of a whisper, is screaming, wailing, singing, and howling. This poem broke my heart in the most beautiful way.

Second would be Merie Kirby’s “At six I wanted to marry Godzilla.” I found it clever and loved all the imagery of water and liquid, from the obvious ocean to the slurping of bowls of noodles and drinking tea. Also, I maybe wanted to have marry Godzilla at one point, too.

What are you currently working on?

I’ve got a couple of chapbooks I’m trying to find a home for. So any publishers or presses who like my work, please feel free to contact me. Yes, I did just shamelessly self-promote.

You can keep up with my work on FB artist page:

as well as on Instagram: bklyn_chaos

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

Well, me of course!




Baltic Bič : Leslie Rzeznik

Leslie Rzeznik

Leslie Rzeznik is a graduate of the University of Michigan. She is a Web and Instructional Systems Designer by day, and at night can be found poring over poems or wildcrafting herbs in the shade of a full moon. Her poems have appeared in Bear River Review and Shades of Memory Loss anthology. (note: Bičiutė is a Lithuanian word for BFF, and Bič is pronounced “bitch.”)

Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

She’s not literary in a traditional sense, but my first instinct was Maude Findlay, the outspoken feminist played by Bea Arthur who first appeared on the horribly racist All in the Family, then got her own spin-off and whose character was essentially reincarnated in Dorothy Zbornak on Golden Girls.

Characters like Maude/Dorothy (and MTM and Rhoda) were pivotal in forming my identity as a woman. These were women who bucked the norm, who wore pants suits to work (gasp!), supported their (unmarried) selves quite comfortably thankyouverymuch, and basked in their identities independent of their families.

I’m a child of the sixties and seventies. Growing up, I was always butting my head up against all of the things I couldn’t do because I was a girl (become an altar boy, play Little League, be an astronaut). When I was very young, we were still required to wear dresses to school (and the women to work), and wear hats and gloves to church. Title IX would come along a bit later and open athletic doors for me. Having these strong female role models significantly changed the trajectory of my choices as an adult, and enabled me to find the strength behind my voice and the courage to use it.

What literary work by a female identifying writer had the most effect on you as a writer and/or person?

As a young poet, I would have to say Carolyn Forche’s The Country Between Us. Hers was the only contemporary poetry by a woman I can remember studying in my first-time-around-undergrad. We studied Plath, Barrett-Browning, and Dickinson of course, but Forche’s work was a force set apart from even those giants. Dickinson’s “poetry of witness” was to me spare and a bit antiseptic compared to, for instance, these lines from “The Colonel”:

. . . The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries
home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like
dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one
of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water
glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As
for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck them-
selves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last
of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some
of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the
ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.

No woman poet I’d read had spoken so painfully intimate about the carnage of war, or anything unpleasant for that matter. Certainly not Dickinson. Forche’s work chilled me to the bone, and had I been a more mature writer, I may have fought to become a serious poet sooner than after 50.
In my recent incarnation as an undergrad (whence I finally finished my degree), I would have to say many, many women poets have inspired me. I was fortunate to be at the University of Michigan and to have worked with some poetic greats like Linda Gregerson and Laura Kasischke. There were also many others I have met in my involvement with the literary community there.

How did your work in Alyss come about?

I have three pieces in Alyss. There were two muses (or perhaps three) for “The Heart of Alice Faye.” My mother had died recently, and she had donated her body to the University of Michigan Medical School. I was fascinated with what her organs may have looked like, especially her heart. I saw her heart, triple the normal size, on an xray a few months before she died (this was the basis for the weight of Alice Faye’s heart). I appear in the poem, as well as someone in my life who was being particularly unpleasant to me. The poem was actually written as an assignment in a comedic poetry class and was supposed to be in the fashion of Dorothy Parker, one reason I chose the tercet. However, I can’t see much of a resemblance to Parker in the finished product.

Tracing the Outlines of Ghosts” was inspired by my memories of the Lithuanian countryside and sharing a straw-stuffed bed with a friend. I don’t know that the poem quite embodies the rustic atmosphere or the sanctity of place I felt in those days. I struggled with this one a lot, and my mentor A. Van Jordan gave me some feedback that pushed it toward the finish line.

the fly claims no vertigo sitting on the sill” began with a vivid memory of a tickle game my Polish grandmother used to play with us. I was also dealing with depression, which has its own lazy inertia for me. It started as a kick in my own ass, but then turned into something consumable by others. As I sunk into the particulars of spider silk and prey behavior, I was (as usual with my research) fascinated. I still have a fly series on my poetic bucket list.

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

Oh gosh. That’s a tough one. I supposed it’s any time I read to an appreciative audience. The last time I read was at an art gallery, and one of the artists gifted me a piece of her work. That was pretty thrilling!

What is your favorite piece by another writer from Issue One and why?

If I may pick two for very different reasons – Mandy L. Rose’s “Five” touched me the deepest. It is heartbreaking, yet hopeful for breaking the cycle of abuse.

But Meg Matich’s “Cellar Violin” was haunting and mysterious. That is the poetry I love best – the lines that stop short of telling exactly what they are. Perhaps there is a deeper meaning I haven’t yet discovered – an allusion to something that I will stumble upon later. I like that. (note: Meg’s interview was enlightening in this way!)

What are you currently working on?

I’ve been a bit lax about writing after recently returning to (non-literary) work full-time. I am looking to round out a collection of poems I have that I am trying to run into the ground. Do you ever have a muse who sticks around too long, or one that keeps popping up when you think you’ve seen the last of her? Well, I have a feeling I’ll never shake my family ghosts, but at least I can give printed voice to those who’ve already spoken to or through me. I look forward to flooding the Interwebs with submissions, which I’ve never done, as well as entering some chapbook contests. Bring on the rejections!

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

The Alice I’m most enamored of right now is Alice Liddell, the little muse for Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, I wrote an ekphrastic poem after Carroll’s photo of her as The Beggar Maid, and would love to write a series, but need to decide if it will be all Carroll’s work, or others’ art as my inspiration.

I have to say that it’s been an honor being one of the inaugural poets for Alyss! I’m looking forward to many more terrific issues.

The Dauntless Duchess : Mandy L. Rose

Mandy L. Rose  studied creative writing at Colorado State University. She is always adopting new literary mothers and lives in Colorado with her two young children. Her poetry and prose have appeared in Pithead Chapel and in the anthology, A Poetic Inventory of Rocky Mountain National Park. She has poetry forthcoming in the protest journal Thank You for Swallowing.

Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

I find it impossible to choose one favorite. While there are so many characters I love and admire as an adult, I spent my childhood with Ramona Quimby, Nancy Drew, Laura Ingalls, Jo March, Charlotte the Spider, Trixie Belden, Mary Lennox, Matilda, Francie Nolan, and Scout Finch, to name a few. Through them, I imagined myself brave, resourceful, articulate, defiant, even disobedient. The disobedience was especially important, because in real life, I was, and perhaps still am, too well-behaved. They showed me that being a girl was more than just a dress and a set of expectations imposed by others.

It was easier to embrace my tendency to carry around a notebook and give myself permission to fill it, because I grew up reading girls who were defiant and outspoken, even when I wasn’t. When life was tough, they were tougher, and I wanted that strength as my own.

They are also characters I have made a point to introduce my children to–my son, as well as my daughter, because I believe they both need to read books by and about ladies with moxie.

What  literary work by a female identifying writer had the most effect on you as a writer and/or person?

I bought a copy of Emily Dickinson’s collected poems from a rummage sale when I was eight or nine. I remember opening the book to the words, “Have you got a brook in your little heart,” and thought YES. I had to have it. I had no idea at the time what a wellspring would be opened. I fell in love with her irreverent use of punctuation, sound, and condensed language.

I have studied Emily more intensely since then, including her letters, and consider her a literary mother, the first of several. While I would never compare myself to her, it is easy to see her influence in my poetry. She is a touchstone for me, a source of comfort and inspiration. As a woman, I am fascinated by her quiet ferocity and often find myself referring to her as many would a friend. This is not to say that I talk to Emily, but I do believe that some of my best poems find themselves in conversation with hers. You could say they are of a kind.

She is also an important voice in my manuscript, Frost-Heave, and I named my daughter after her, making her present in daily life. She once wrote of a heart so heavy, her arms felt burdened by its weight. In this, too, I feel a familiarity.

How did your essay Five come about?

The complexity of familial abuse makes you find ways to love those who have hurt you. You could say I wrote this essay because sometimes I still need to love my mother, even though that love is complicated. The opening line repeated in my head numerous times, as if an incantation, before I took pen to paper. I have in my possession a series of photographs I can neither bring myself to display nor discard, and the piece came about because of their connection to each other.

My mom once pointed to the photo with the daisy dress and said it was the last time she was innocent. My ex-husband once showed me the picture of himself at five and said, “this is right before my mom left.” For my daughter, time is still sometimes measured in terms of “before daddy hurt me” and “after my daddy hurt me,” and the photos from that time make the same distinction.

We don’t always have more than a mental image of our “before” moments, but it is impossible for me to look at any of these photographs without loving and grieving for each of them a loss of innocence that cannot be restored. This kind of repeated familial fracture is something I have thought about a lot. Much of what I write is about the cycles of familial violence, often trying to write toward an understanding and peace I don’t yet feel. How did this happen? Why did it repeat? How can I make sure it stops here? What could I have done differently? Underlying all of that, a desire to replace anger with an emotion I can live with. I am trying to write a world I can live in.

Put another way, Dan Beachy-Quick once told me, “what you put into the poem, you protect. “I am still trying to protect these children.

When I think of my mother and ex-husband as they were at five, I remember they were once innocent and then wounded. When I think of my daughter at five, I am trying to forgive myself for letting her go that day. We were all five, once, and I think you can find something to love about anyone if you make them five. My mom died a few years ago and, somehow, thinking of her at five makes it easier to think that she thought of me tenderly when I was five. I know she must have.

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

I have had the opportunity to read my work in a variety of settings, but reading at The Tattered Cover, a beloved Denver bookstore, was a milestone moment. As a girl, I used to make space on a shelf, pretending I would one day write a book that would find a home there. A few years ago, I helped curate and edit an anthology, A Poetic Inventory of Rocky Mountain National Park, published by Wolverine Farm Publishing. While National Geographic, the Parks Service, and members of the scientific and local communities gathered to inventory species in the park, over 60 Colorado writers contributed works of poetry and prose, each named after a species in the park. At the Tattered Cover, I spoke about the experience of working on the project and read my poem Rosa woodsii,Woods’ Rose from the anthology. It was wonderful to see our project on the shelves and to participate in such a wonderful collaboration.

What is your favorite piece by another writer from Issue One?

How We Roll, by Rebecca Golden. The absurdity of dating, funerals, and family feuds told through irreverent, rapid-fire humor was perfectly captured. Hilarious lines about things like a hearse needing a jumpstart are woven into a piece that also puts a spotlight on the messes of love, grief, relationships, and otherness. I’ve read some of Rebecca’s writing before, but this made me want even more.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently submitting my poetry manuscript, Frost-Heave. Separated into seasons, it explores the cycles of familial and relationship violence through the language of wildfire eradication techniques, scarification germination, and through a series of redefined terms–including dissolution. There are other projects, but this one is demanding my attention.

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

Alice Notley. Absolutely Alice Notley. She starts the poem, 30th Birthday, with the lines “May I never be afraid/especially of myself.” If I could teach my daughter one thing, that might just be it. I’m trying to learn that lesson. Her writing looks so closely at the self, at consciousness, and there’s a great interview with her in the Boston Review, and I love her statement, “I’m a hugely but quietly disobedient person.” Her work often seems to concern itself with cultural and social disobedience, and if she’s afraid to write anything, I don’t know what that would be.

I love when a writer’s words haunt me, and these of Alice’s from the poem I’m Just Rigid Enough  play in my mind sometimes:

“We name us and then we are lost, tamed

I choose words, more words, to cure the tameness, not the wildness.”


Sailor Jupiter : Chrislande Dorcilus

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Chrislande Dorcilus is the Sailor Senshi best known as Sailor Jupiter. She lives through cliche. Wants to get a dog to dress up like a baby and doesn’t get poetry. She loves you, and studies Fashion Theory and History at the CUNY Grad Center. Holla.


Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

I love difficult women and Emma Bovary is on top of my list of most difficult woman that I have ever read and thus, my “favorite female identifying character.” I love that she searched for what she wanted so hard that it killed her. I love that she was loved right through her selfish and spoiled journey to personal demise. To have a life worth being written about with a modicum of poetic flourish you need to be difficult.

What literary work by a female identifying writer had the most effect on you as a writer and/or person?

Depending on the point in my life this answer certainly changes. Last summer it was Manga-ka Kyoko Okazaki’s Pink. When I was 16, it was Peach Girl by Miwa Ueda. The summer of my 22nd year, I would have growled Toni Morrison’s Beloved at the answer but that following Fall I was smitten by any poem June Jordan wrote. Right now, I am a devotee of French Christian mystic and philosopher Simone Weil. I read her life altering Gravity and Grace for a class I took this semester taught by poet/professor/awesome person Wayne Koestenbaum, and fell in love. Weil’s story is very similar to Emma’s. A genius of a woman, an empath, a goddess in her own philosophical right, and another woman who died trying to be exactly who she wanted to be. I can also say that The Lover by Duras stands out as a novel that always eventually pops up as favorites no matter the time in my life. Ask me again in a year.

How did your poems in Alyss come about?

I want to lie in answering this question.  I want to say that they came from my own brilliant flourishing young writer’s mind, but they were written in conjunction to a poetry class four years ago at Florida State University.

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

The thick-German-chocolate-slice-of-cake feeling of having someone like my poetry. I don’t believe that it will get any better than that.

What is your favorite piece by another writer from Issue One and why?

My favorite is Houston’s “Darryl Sleeps Through the Best Sunrise I’ve Ever Seen.I love when a poem invites me to be intimate with the complexity of grief. It was a soft memorial poem, but I could still feel the known sadness of having lived through a loss percolating in the verse. I too have a similar sadness. I also love that it was narrative and full of color. The first stanza connects to both the way I understand the world and how I long to write poetry:

“Lafitte is socked in by orange fog.
Sunrise surrounds us, a pink I can taste,
a someone-call-9-1-1 red:
the sky has cracked open its head and is bleeding.”

I too have been surrounded by “a pink I can taste.”

What are you currently working?

I’m getting Master’s degree in Fashion Studies so, I’m working on making it translate into gainful employment. That requires a skill familiar to all poets: making dollars out of pennies! I am also in the contemplative process of writing the following books: one on Josei manga and American audiences, and another on black women, fashion and the south.

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

Alice Walker is my favorite Alice for a trillion of reasons but my two favorites are:

  • Finding Zora Neale Hurston’s grave.
  • And writing “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens

Her career is proof of the way that genre is a BS construct and that as artists we have to find each other across time and space, and as writers we can and should write what makes us happy.

Disaster : Taylor Sykes

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Taylor Sykes attended Purdue University and currently works as a creative writing instructor at Writopia Lab in New York City. Her flash fiction has been read on NPR’s All Things Considered and her fiction and poetry has appeared in journals such as Quail Bell Magazine and Pieces of Cake Magazine.


Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

I’m going to go with Villanelle from Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion. Villanelle is unpredictable, contradictory in nature, and feisty as hell. She embraces passion, chaos, and is open to love in all its forms, despite the “sweet and precise” torture it causes. Villanelle is definitely one of the most badass female-identify characters I’ve ever encountered.

What literary work by a female identifying writer had the most effect on you as a writer and/or person?

There’s too many to say! I can’t, I can’t. Okay, I will, I will. The short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates. This is the short story that made me want to write short stories. There’s so much build-up in such a small space and the ending left me shaken. The subject matter, involving a strong-willed girl in a vulnerable moment, resonated with me. I read “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” at such an early age, probably only 16, that it really impacted the style and subject matter of my future stories. And it’s still one of my favorite stories to re-read and to teach.

How did your story Worse Things come about?

As is the case with most of my fiction, the story started with the character’s very specific voice and a general idea of the setting. I had Prudence yammering away in my head, so much so that voice was overpowering the plot. So I wrote this character into a car and let her describe the small, claustrophobic town. I knew certain things about her backstory, so I wrote the interaction with her cousin next. It felt important to explore the varying experiences of sexual trauma as well as the entirely subjective perspectives on this trauma. So that conversation between the two characters and Prudence’s moment of panic were prominent in my head early on. I wanted Prudence to flee the scene at the very end, that felt authentic to her character, and went in with that goal in mind when I started writing. The first draft was written in three furious days and revised, revised, revised for several weeks before workshopping it at the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop, which was immensely helpful, and after that, I knew what final revisions needed to happen before I could send it out.

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

During undergrad, I had the honor of working with Sharon Solwitz. Over three classes and two years’ time, she became my mentor and fiction mother at Purdue. Working with her changed my writing life as well as my, I guess I’ll call it regular life, so I’d say that my first day in her class was my moment.

What is your favorite piece by another writer from Issue One and why?

Both poems by Nazia Jannat. One, I’m a sucker for strong villanelles (“A Palestinian Elegy”). Two, “Self Portrait for Whiskey Kisses” is just so damn smart.

What are you currently working on ?

“Worse Things” is one in a series of linked short stories that I’m working on.

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

Oh, this is such a great last question. Alice Ayres, from the play/film Closer.