Prerna Bakshi


Prerna Bakshi is a writer, poet and activist of Indian origin, currently based in Macao. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of the recently released full-length poetry collection, Burnt Rotis, With Love, long-listed for the 2015 Erbacce-Press Poetry Award in the UK and cited as one of the ‘9 Poetry Collections That Will Change The Way You See The World’ by Bustle in the US. Her work has been published widely, most recently in The Ofi PressRed Wedge Magazine, TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism and Prachya Review: Literature & Art Without Borders, as well as anthologized in several collections, including America Is Not The World by Pankhearst. Website:

Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

My all-time favorite female writer is Amrita Pritam. Everything about her and her work consumes me. She literally paved the way for so many (women) writers, especially those from Punjab. As a Punjabi woman, I believe I owe so much to her; for all the incredible work that she did and for all those beautiful words she wrote. Her work speaks to me; it holds me. She wrote a great deal on Punjab, inter-ethnic relations and politics, experiences of women – all these topics concern me and something that I engage with/write about in my own work.

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

Amrita Pritam’s poetry collection, Khamoshi Se Pehle and her auto-biography, Raseedi Ticket, had quite an effect on me, to such an extent that I began writing poems, after a long hiatus.  Amrita Pritam, who was a prolific writer and poet, mentioned in Raseedi Ticket that when she was suffering from severe depression and as she went into therapy, she was encouraged by her therapist to write. This phenomena, though, as we know is not too uncommon, as Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath too, were told the same, when they found themselves in a similar position. Reading Amrita Pritam, whom I had always admired though, changed me in ways I cannot explain. I was going through some difficult times myself and still am (healing is a journey and never a fixed event) and it was precisely at this moment that I decided to write again. So, from that perspective, she’s been incredibly influential.

How did your work/works in Alyss come about?

This morning” was dedicated to all the victims/survivors of domestic violence. It was written from a perspective of a person who finds themselves entrapped in a violent and abusive relationship and/or marriage. Even to this day, in several parts of the world, our society, for the most part, sees domestic violence as ‘normal’, something that women should put up with, for the sake of their relationship/marriage, for family’s honor etc. Even in cases where domestic violence is seen as a problem, I would argue, the society sees it in terms of a fixed event, something that women should ‘get over’ with, and must get on with their lives, performing their daily chores. Domestic violence is never fully seen as something that goes to on to effect women’s lives, for a long period of time, often in ways that cannot be easily measured.

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

My first full-length collection, Burnt Rotis, With Love (Les Éditions du Zaporogue, Denmark), just came out early this year. I made the long-list for this year’s Erbacce Press Poetry Award in the UK (as well as last year – that’s twice in a row!).Whittled down from about 8000 entries (a record entry) from across the world to just 100. To say that I was fairly pleased would be an understatement.

One of the most exciting things to have happened this year was when I learned that my book, Burnt Rotis, With Love, was cited as one of the ‘9 Poetry Collections That Will Change The Way You See The World’ by Bustle magazine in the US. To have my name next to the highly acclaimed and award-winning giants like Margaret Randall (who, incidentally, endorsed my book *still in awe*), Audre Lorde, Marge Piercy, Claudia Rankine and a whole heap of other talented and fine writers and poets (such as Heather Christle, Matt Rasmussen, Olena Kalytiak Davis, Gillian Conoley) was nothing short of a dream come true.

What is your favorite piece by another writer from a previous issue and why?

Date-Rape by Natalie N. Caro in Issue Deux. It was raw, powerful and beautiful.

What are you currently working on?

Nothing exciting, I’m afraid. Right now, I’m working towards my PhD and that’s taking up all my time.

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

Alice Herz.

Chameleon – Penny Montague

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Penny Montague writes fiction and poetry. She’s a Londoner who has just completed an MA in Literary Linguistics, during which she gatecrashed the Creative Writing classes and corralled her fellow students into creating an anthology. Her work has been published by Bunbury Magazine and Ink Pantry. She tweets at @pjmontague.

Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

I can’t give you an all-time favourite female character, as it changes for me all the time.

At this moment, I’m thinking of Kainene from Half of a Yellow Sun who was regarded as less attractive than her twin sister, but was so resilient and industrious, especially when the civil war began to affect her life and her community. Even though she wasn’t one of the viewpoint characters, I really felt a connection with her.

Another character would be Sookie Stackhouse from the The Southern Vampire Mysteries (depicted in the True Blood TV show). Although she is a mortal human surrounded by supernatural creatures she uses her cunning and wit to stay alive and to protect those that she loves. At the heart each of these novels is a mystery to be solved, which is the main draw beyond the vampire / werewolf / fae conflicts.

And finally, Dr Frieda Klein, a psychotherapist who helps the police to solve murder cases in the crime series by Nicci French. Klein is a bit of a maverick but has great insights which often has her police liaison guy scrambling to keep up with her.

Ask me again tomorrow and I’ll probably give you a few different characters.

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

Another tough question!

Let’s say Bareback by Kit Whitfield. It was the first so-called genre novel that I remember that also asked questions of society. In this fictional universe, the majority of people are werewolves but the few people (the barebacks) that don’t turn furry under the full movie are tasked with policing the mayhem. It’s not just a werewolf story, it’s also a mystery and has a love story too. It proved to me that I can write in the genres that I enjoy (such as fantasy, crime and romance) but with the devices and scope that I admire in literary fiction. So I don’t have to choose just one genre or one way of writing.

Also anything by Valerie Martin, but especially her short story collection The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories. She writes so well about the creative temperament. I think my favourite story in this collection is the first one, ‘His Blue Period’, about a rivalry between two male painters. Our protagonist isn’t as successful as his brash rival, and is also in love with his girlfriend, which becomes a heartbreaking situation. I also adore her novel The Confessions of Edward Day, which is similarly about a rivalry (artistic and romantic) between two actors.

How did your work/works in Alyss come about?

I wrote ‘Predatory Thinking‘ for a creative writing assignment during my master’s degree, but the seed of the idea came from talking to another student in my class. She was originally from Nigeria but had spent several years in the USA and had a strong American accent. She mentioned that she often changed her accent depending on where she was living and joked that she would probably acquire an English accent over the year of her stay.

I started thinking in terms of her being like a chameleon who adapted to her surroundings and sparked the idea of this assassin who could transform at will.

I had feedback on the first draft from an experienced writer, who said that she loved it and encouraged me to make her ‘even more monstrous’. I was a little alarmed at first by that comment, as I felt that I shared some qualities with the protagonist, or rather that she was perhaps a more extreme version of myself. There are many ways to build a character, and I had used a lot of my own dark sense of humour in the creation of this character. I really enjoyed writing this story and letting the protagonist get down to business.

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

After I read out one of my poems at a reading group that I used to attend, a woman told me that it had made her want to cry as it had reminded her of her late mother. The poem was more of a reminiscence about old technology, so I was surprised that it had had that reaction, but I was so pleased that it connected with her emotionally.

What is your favorite piece by another writer from a previous issue and why?

As someone who is interested in linguistics and language in general, I was immediately drawn to ‘everytime i speak, my gums bleed‘ by Amber Atiya. The poem really evokes the unacknowledged violence of language and we can feel alienated by our own mother tongue(s). The use of English and other languages of colonialism as a lingua franca is leading to the death of languages spoken in some smaller communities; for this reason, I can see how some might describe English as a ‘pesticide’.  I think the poem also makes the point that verbal language is not the only form of communication that we have, and that the simpler modes in which animals communicate are much truer and more visceral than our words.

What are you currently working on?

I haven’t written much creative work since my MA, but I am hoping to send some more short stories and poetry into the world very soon. I am also planning to write a musical in the near future.

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

It would have to be Alice Pieszecki from The L Word, the journalist who kept a chart of the liaisons between the women that she knew in LA. Although another character called Jenny was ostensibly the ‘writer’ in that community of women, Alice was endlessly curious and observant – qualities shared by many writers that I know.


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.

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!




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.

The Awkward Angler : Lynn Marie Houston



Lynn Marie Houston’s essays and poems have appeared in South Atlantic Quarterly, Prick of the Spindle, Poydras Review, Boston Literary Magazine, Uppagus, 3Elements Review, Extract(s), Postmodern Culture, and Proteus, among others. She lives in an Airstream camper in her hometown of Newburgh, New York. When she isn’t teaching English,  she tends her honeybees and kayaks the Delaware River.  You can find more of her work at her website:


Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

The main character in Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” haunts me. She feels like family, and I don’t only mean that as a compliment. I’m struck by how Walker wrote Mama as so comfortable in her own skin. Mama is not ashamed of her lower socioeconomic status and is proud of her skills and capacity for hard labor. This large, calloused-hand, black female character was written to be so aware of her own beauty and worth, I can’t help but admire her, can’t help but wish (even as a white woman) to occupy in the real world the literary space she does because it resolves something of the conflict that exists for me between class and gender.

And yet, the character in the story with whom I should most identify, the “intellectual” Dee, is the one who is devalued by Mama in the story. While visiting her mother and sister, Dee offers to take home quilts that were made by their ancestors. She wants to hang them on the wall, but her sister Maggie was supposed to get the quilts for “everyday use” after she marries. Mama opts to preserve a living heritage by giving the quilts to Maggie and pokes fun at Dee for being too removed from her roots. How many times have I been Dee, marginalized for my “academic” thinking, and ignored at family gatherings? My parents were both first-generation college students and on my mother’s side we are still very close to our working class roots.

I love Alice Walker’s character Mama in “Everyday Use” because she is content with a simple life that Capitalism tells us is not good enough, and yet I fear Mama is my own grandmother, a factory seamstress married to a coal miner, who wrote me a letter when I was in my PhD. program at Arizona State telling me to quit wasting my time at school and find a husband. Walker packs so much into that short story and into her main character.

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

The Awakening is my all-time favorite work by a woman author because, essentially, it is the story that almost all women authors seek to tell, even me. Edna Pontellier comes to realize that there is no place in the world for who she wants to be. It’s an incredibly lonely realization and that feeling is often the reason I write. Writing allows me to point out to others the cracks in the façade of this world, one of such rigid and exclusionary definitions, and also the fleeting moments of beauty and comfort I’m able to find, the rabbit holes I’m able to slip into.

I once had a male colleague who taught The Awakening as a failure, telling his students that Kate Chopin had no imagination and that Edna’s suicide at the end of the story was evidence of Chopin’s lack of literary talent as “surely there were other, better options than to kill herself.” What? This was the same colleague who was sleeping with female graduate students and not handing back any graded assignments in his classes (and he received tenure!). Besides making a freshman-level error of literary analysis (characters are not real people!), this reading of The Awakening is totally ludicrous. Kate Chopin wrote many stories with women characters who all have similar realizations (“The Story of an Hour,” “Desiree’s Baby,” etc.) about how the game was rigged, the deck stacked against them. She meant Edna’s suicide to be understood as the act of a woman who had no other way to live with dignity in the repressive society of the 19th-Century South. After reading Chopin’s The Awakening, I realized that I didn’t have to have everything figured out in order to write—I didn’t have to have a solution—I could just write about my struggles, and that was enough.

How did Darryl Sleeps Through the Best Sunrise I’ve Ever Seen  come about?

I had tried unsuccessfully to write some nonfiction essays about the three years I spent in Louisiana; I wanted to commemorate my ex-boyfriend Darryl who passed away in a tragic car accident after I moved away. He was a vivid storyteller and a patient teacher who taught me to love saltwater fishing. For a year, I trolled the bayous of Southeastern Louisiana with him in a 14-foot aluminum boat. Now that he’s gone, I enjoy living in the space of those memories, thinking that if I had known then what I do now—how short a time he would be here, the direction my life has taken since then—that I would have better recognized that time of my life for the amazing gift that it was. I try not to forget how that lesson applies to the present.

The poem “Darryl Sleeps Through the Best Sunrise I’ve Ever Seen” came out almost fully formed one morning. I woke up in the New York winter, so grey and dull, and remembered the most spectacular sunrise I had ever seen, an atmospheric effect in Louisiana from living around so much water. And then I remembered that when I was marveling at that sunrise Darryl was still alive: I’d just left him in bed to go to work. I wished he had seen that sunrise with me.

Darryl’s daughter, Lexie, recently contacted me, reaching out to try to keep his memory alive, and I was able to send her the link to the Alyss website and share this poem about her father.

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

I have started offering some poetry editing and consulting services for friends. I’m putting together instructions for them to follow about how to edit their poetry and send it out for publication. For one friend, I actually agreed to send her work out for her, matching her aesthetic with the right journals and keeping track of the submissions. She has a full time job as a lawyer and enjoys writing, but didn’t want to have to deal with the rejection and the time it takes to research journals and their submission processes. So I suggested some edits for her, wrote her a snazzy bio, and sent out a batch of her poems to journals. It took me 3 months, but I was able to get my friend’s work published, her first publication ever. When I got the email acceptance for her work, it was the best feeling I’d ever felt, better even than getting my own work accepted. I always learn more about a thing when I start to teach or help others with it. So the greatest moment in my writing life so far has been facilitating getting other people’s good work out into the world. I couldn’t offer these editing and consulting services if I hadn’t put so much hard work into my own writing.

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

I really enjoyed Mandy Rose’s “Five.” I love its purposeful obliqueness, how at first it’s hard to tell whether the main character is hurting herself or being hurt by someone else. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that it is an abusive ex-husband who is the next iteration in a cycle of abuse experienced by the female protagonist (and now, the next generation, her daughter). What that confusion echoes for me is all the ways friends and family members blame victims of abuse and how these victims often blame themselves. This is such a complex and deftly-layered story with great pacing.

What are you currently working on (feel free to use this as an opportunity to brag any bylines you’d like exposure for)?

My first book of poetry, The Clever Dream of Man, is coming out in August from Aldrich Press. I am also putting the finishing touches on a short memoir about a solo kayak-camping trip I took last summer called 110 Miles on the Delaware River. In the fall, I will begin the MFA program in poetry at Southern Connecticut State University. I’m grateful to take a kind of “working” sabbatical in order to train with the talented faculty there; they have already been so generous and welcoming.

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

Given my discussion of “Everyday Use” above, that would have to be Alice Walker! I enjoy discussing her work with students in the introductory courses I teach.

Arctic Wolf : Meg Matich



Meg Matich  is an NYC-based poet and translator. A two-time Iowa Review finalist, her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Iowa Review, The Winter Anthology (for which she received the Winter Anthology poetry prize), alice blue review, Drunken Boat, OVS Magazine, Contrary, Archirave Press, and others. Her Icelandic translations have appeared on Catch & Release, and are forthcoming from Words Without Borders, Absinthe, Asymptote, and Exchanges. She is currently completing her theses in Columbia’s MFA program, while working with the Emerging Literary Translators Network of America. Her alter ego, Yngvildr Fagrkinn, skulks around the NYC Poetry Brothel luring patrons to untimely – but also sexy – deaths as an act of protest against her unfair treatment in the “Svarfdæla’s Saga”.

Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

Nastasya Filippovna – hands down. She’s the principle heroine in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot (Идиот). I think the reason I’m so attached to her is because she suffered greatly, and we see the consequences of traumatic events in her life. She’s adaptable, she’s physical, she’s empowered and sexual, but she’s also concealing a great deal of pain beneath her self-destructive impulses. She fights against herself as much as she gives into her pain. I see myself in this person, and I care for her without question, even though she ultimately ends up destroying herself and everyone who loves her.

She believes she’s not capable of giving and receiving love; but on another level, she struggles against that belief, rebels against it as much as she rebels against love. She is lovable. Prince Muishkin — her great love — shows us that love is in everything, but that it chooses to remain present in and to fight for its object. It’s an action. Nastasya is, in some sense, the embodiment of that love as action, love as doing truth.

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

There are so many! I think Anne Carson has had a great deal to do with my development as a writer and as a person. First of all, she embraces the power of the sentence, she breaks it, and demonstrates boundary. At the same time, she writes lines that are devastatingly true: Pain rested. Beauty does not rest. And even, more comically, he lied when it wasn’t even convenient.

On a more personal level, Lucie Brock-Broido cuts down to my bones. Her poetry destroys me. Not only are her poems decadent and feral, but they are smarting with pain, with an acceptance and a resilience that I would live.

How did your work/works in Alyss come about?

I was actually reading an article about transcription in monasteries when I wrote Cellar Violin. I read that it takes 225 sheep to make a Bible. Then I started thinking about my own experience attending a Catholic college, and that led to a ghost story that I remembered from my freshman year. They used to slaughter cows in the basement of the monastery, and before they did so, the monks would play violin for the animals, to calm them. Apparently, you can still hear the violin being played at night sometimes in the slaughter room, which looks like a low-ceilinged tunnel. In theology class, we used to talk about dignity- what dignity meant- and at one point, we were told that animals couldn’t have dignity because dignity existed as a result of the existence of a soul (and animals don’t have souls, I guess). They are only bodies. I started to think about my body — how mental illness takes me over and doesn’t let me go, and how I have been ‘sick’ since I was five or six years old. I wanted to blame my body. My body took me into the slaughter room, where a water clock dripped away my last seconds, like a cruel metronome. I was very sick at that time – hallucinating and all other kinds of awful things – and I felt the clepsydra, the pull of the violin strings. I felt that pain [would not rest]. 

The poem: does it ever end? I felt an ending. It was a visitation – a rare burst of energy. And the energy ended. I have a visitation once a year, if I’m lucky.

Two Kids was actually a sort of coming-out about a difficult time when I was a child. I don’t have a brother, for the record, and I didn’t kill a pigeon. But I was dispelling guilt by telling my secret, albeit slant. That poem was triggered by the word “dovecote” and it ended like a trig identity. I sat and worked at it like a math problem – not calculating lines, but calculating line placements, rearranging, and the rearrangement led to cutting a lot of fat. It’s the longest poem I have, actually. I’m not sure if it’s finished, even now, or if it will ever be. The ending reminds me again of Dostoevsky: “There is no pain in the stone, only pain the fear of the stone.”

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

This was a translation moment for me. I work with a miraculous Icelandic poet, and I felt a connection to his work that I will never be able to explain. Then I met him, and it set my blood on fire. He was the incarnation of his poems. And it was a celebration to see poetry walking around Reykjavik on a Wednesday night, enlivened by the midnight sun.

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

Definitely Five by Mandy Rose. I like this because it takes a less-popular form, the prose poem, and its lyrically rich, but still colloquial. It reveals. It confesses. I think that it shows the ambivalence of a victim. It’s last line is heartbreakingly beautiful — To paraphrase Yeats, “it comes to a close like a well-made box clicking shut”.  I can’t forgive any of us when I remember my daughter was five.

What are you currently working on?

I’ve been working on a book of poems that use the arctic as metaphor. I’m deeply interested in Inuit culture, in ice, in survival and dissolution and resolution. In the toming solicitude of high latitudes. Loneliness, simplicity, isolation. I’ve been spending days in the rare books library going over letters and images and ephemera from 19th century expeditions to Greenland and the Northwest Passage. The book is called Cold. I’m hoping I can also speak to protecting the environment and having reverence for cultures that we (U.S. Americans) aren’t broadly exposed to. Getting beyond stereotypes and tropes of cold and Inuit and Greenland and confronting what is at the heart of those cultures and locations. I’m obsessed.

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

I’m something of a linguaphile—
so the word itself! (My middle name is Alyssa, so I’ve looked into this). Take a look:

— from Latin alysson, from Greek alysson, which is perhaps the neuter of adjective alyssos “curing madness,”

from privative prefix a- + lyssa “madness, martial rage, fury, rabies,”

literally “wolf-ness,” related to lykos “wolf” 

But I’m a wolf.