Jasper Kerkau Interviews Christine Ray about Composition of a Woman — August 3, 2018

Jasper Kerkau Interviews Christine Ray about Composition of a Woman

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You started your journey in the past two years. In that time you have made enormous strides as a writer and a publisher. Is there validation in getting a book to press?

My life has changed a great deal in the last two years, hasn’t it? I knew nothing about blogging when I started Brave and Reckless, let alone publishing. It has been quite an education as I have learned how to negotiate the blogging world and then the world of small press publishing. I think my writing has improved dramatically over the last two years as I have found my voice and been exposed to some really incredible writing. Joining Sudden Denouement has really challenged me to refine my writing and take more risks.

If someone had told me two years ago that I would be publishing my first book of poetry this month, I would have laughed at the idea. Even a year ago I would have scoffed at the idea- I was still too new and too raw a writer. The idea that getting a book to press was an actual possibility grew very slowly. Even in early 2018, I was really struggling with the questions of “Is this the right time?” and “Is my writing really good enough to warrant a standalone book?”

Many steps along this journey have been incredibly validating. Winning the Sudden Denouement Writing Contest, having Brave and Reckless designated a Discover Blog by the WordPress editors, getting published in an e-Zine for the first time, getting published in Nicholas Gagnier’s Swear To Me, editing Anthology Volume I: Writings from the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective have all validated my sense that this is what I am meant to be doing. I can’t tell you how tickled I am that I have a Goodreads Author page and an Amazon author page! It’s crazy. Publishing Composition of a Woman is both validating and surreal, exciting and a little terrifying.

My experience tells me that a great deal of writers stop within a year. What suggestion would you give to new writers about seeing their dreams through?

Keep reading, keep writing, keep networking, give support to other writers as generously as you can, and find your tribe. What has happened in my writing life over the last two years is truly astonishing. But it wasn’t part of a master plan that I carefully developed. I just kept walking through the open doors when opportunity presented itself. And when there wasn’t an opportunity for something I believed in passionately, I asked myself if I could make it happen. Blood Into Ink, Go Dog Go Café, and Indie Blu(e) all grew out of that place.

At the core of your first book, what message do you want to articulate? What do you want the reader to take away from the book?

Writing is really my therapy, my diary, and my confessional. Composition of a Woman covers a wide range of themes: chronic illness, depression, love, loss, and identity. These are issues that many of us will wrestle with in our lifetimes. These pieces are both deeply personal and highly relatable. I want readers to feel less alone when they read Composition of a Woman. I want them to know I get it, that I’ve lived it. Perhaps I will be able to articulate their lived experience in a way they have never been able to.

You have done an amazing job communicating with other writers. How important is that your journey?

I didn’t start Brave and Reckless because of the writing community, but I have definitely stayed because of it. I honestly did not realize how much I needed those connections with other writers until I started to develop them. It was like some small, starved part of my soul woke up when I met other writers who create from the same place that I do. I hadn’t written in 12 years when I started my blog. My family and many of my real-world friends had never seen this part of me before and many of them just didn’t know what to do with it! Some of them treat reading my writing like a guilty secret while others find my candor in my writing very unsettling.

In addition to it being deeply important to my emotional health, the power of networking has had a profound impact on my writing life. I was always the kid who hated group projects but I love to write collaboratively. I love the way synergy occurs between writers and how organically something amazing develops. I have started other blogs with writers I have met on WordPress that continue to grow and thrive. It is really an honor to work with other editors and writers who I know have my back and who know that I have theirs.

Sudden Denouement is truly my literary home and I have made deep soul-satisfying friendships there, but my writing circles continue to grow. I have finally started to connect with my local writer’s community and thanks to the incredibly generous and talented Alfa (Silent Squall), I have started to connect with a large group of passionate poets on Facebook and Instagram.

I benefit every day from the support, generosity, friendship, and creative inspiration offered by these writing communities. It is not unusual for me to have four chat windows open while I communicate with writers all over the world- they are my friends, my comrades-in-arms, and my support system. I often hear people complain on social media about how jealous and petty some writers can be. I have been blessed to meet and connect with a writing community that really supports, encourages, and lifts each other up.

S.K. Nicholas stated that it is important to write every day. How did you balance life and writing in a way that provided you the opportunity to make this book happen?

Oh, how I miss writing every day! I used to write every day. I believe that I should be writing every day. I used to get up at 4 am daily just to have two quiet hours to myself to write. I have really been struggling with balance the last seven months. Some days I manage Fibromyalgia and frequent migraine headaches and some days they manage me. I love all the projects I am involved with but my writing and maintenance of Brave and Reckless often get pushed to bottom of my to-do list because of other, more time-sensitive tasks. I had to be pretty ruthless some days and close my email, mute my phone, put on my headphones, and just ignore everything else so I could have a chunk of time to work on the book.

It took an enormous amount of time just to assemble everything I had written since October of 2016 (over 450 pieces!) and start rereading and sorting through the pieces, making decisions whether to include or discard writing, and then organize the original manuscript. There were days that piles of my writing were on every flat surface in my house. My family ate meals amid tentative book sections on more than one occasion. I worked on Composition of a Woman and its sister manuscript, The Myths of Girlhood for months while also working on the Sudden Denouement Anthology and Rachel Finch’s A Sparrow Stirs its Wings. Some days I never thought Composition would never be finished but, here we are!

You have been an inspiration to so many. What advice do you have for the poets who have not found their voice, who are looking to become a writer of your caliber?

I still giggle when people say things like “a writer of your caliber.” I want to look around me to see who they are talking to, because they can’t possibly be talking about me!

It helped me to read good writing. Lots of it, as much as I had time for. Not just technically good writing but writing that impacted me—made me feel, made me think, challenged me. It was profound when I stopped worrying so much about pleasing an invisible audience and started writing for me. When I write poetry, it is a selfish act. I am writing what needs to get out, regardless of what anyone else thinks about it. I need to express my truth. Truth isn’t always easy or pretty. It just needs to be authentic.

This sounds like a weird thing to say, but it really made a difference when I stopped thinking of myself as another middle-age woman who wrote some stuff and started thinking of myself as a writer. I had to take myself seriously and see it as part of my identity. It made it easier to justify carving out time for my writing and helped me see this as a marathon, not a sprint. The more you write, the better your writing gets.

Collaborate! It really encouraged me to up my writing game when I started writing with other people. At first, I was really shy about asking people to write with me. I have gotten bolder and rarely has anyone say no.

I also took a college-level Creative Writing class that involved workshopping. It both helped reassure me that I had potential and also forced me to look more critically at my writing. I won’t say that it was always a good experience for my ego, but my writing voice evolved significantly during those 12 weeks. I left the class much more willing to take risks and much more confident. I also had a lot of fun! If you do not have easy access to a college writing program, there are lots of good online courses available, including many that are free.

Christine Ray is the author of the Composition of a Woman, as well as being managing editor of Sudden Denouement.

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Melissa Studdard’s I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast Review w/Interview – Jasper Kerkau — June 19, 2018

Melissa Studdard’s I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast Review w/Interview – Jasper Kerkau

 

Originally posted on Sudden Denouement Literary Collective

I am not a poet. Occasionally, I write poetry and find myself feeling defeated, throwing the words back into the void, resigning myself to writing short, personal narratives. I have, no doubt, come to terms with my shortcomings as a poet, which perhaps informs my deep respect for those who have earned the sacred title. There is something inherently special about a person who possesses a power over words, bending them to their will, plucking beauty out of the dust of time, creating concise explanations of their relationship to the universe with ease and grace. Some poets, the special ones, are privy to the secret language, part of a sacred tribe whose words contain clues to the mystery of life. These are the ones who inspire me. My life has been altered by poets from a young age, and I continue to seek new voices, finding myself stunned and mesmerized as I find new writers who meet the criteria of tapping into an emotional place reserved for those with the sanctified tongue. This is the context in which I find the work of Melissa Studdard.

For my second Sudden Denouement book review, I sought out a book of poetry, preferably written by a Houston writer. Several writers suggested Melissa Studdard and her first book of poetry I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast [Saint Julian Press 2014]. I quickly discovered that the connotation of a Houston poet was not appropriate when addressing the work of Studdard. She had previously established herself as a fiction writer with her book, Six Weeks to Yehidah, which earned her awards and acclaim. The depth of the poetry in Cosmos solidifies her place as much more than a regional poet. Percy Shelley described poetry as such: “Poetry is a sword of lightning, ever unsheathed, which consumes the scabbard that would contain it.” This powerful definition describes the energy with which Studdard writes. She writes poetry where she dances and consumes worlds, co-existing with God, as illustrated in “Nirvana:”

There’s no mother’s milk
the second time around,
just a crescent moon
floating in a goblet bigger
than your own head, or maybe
it’s really the world in the there,
shimmering and dark,
ready to be consumed.(pg. 4)

Throughout her work, the reader is given glimpses of the universe rolled into everyday life. She finds God “on a head of wheat” in the title poem. While in “Naming Sky,” she finds a temple, along with “voices lingering in the trees” which can be called “God or sky or self.” Studdard interacts with nature, the self, and cosmos in her work. In “Creation Myth,” she describes God as she brings the world from her womb, the process explained with keen, poetic vision:

So there God lay, with her legs splayed,
birthing this screaming world

from her red velvet cleft, her thighs
cut holy with love

for all things, both big and small,
that crept from her womb like an army

of ants on a sugar-coated thoroughfare.
It wasn’t just pebbles and boulders…(pg. 3)

Effortlessly she navigates the world between mundane and spiritual life. She uses her “sword of lighting” to carve out her own mythology, born out of her own experience and understanding, refined with her exquisite, concise language.

The book I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast establishes Studdard as a poet of the highest order. She displays her understanding of the craft, while she composes her beautiful songs that are at times powerful, and other times quiet. Her work demonstrates great diversity and depth of articulation. In a sea of poetry flooding the internet, one may ask why the work of Studdard is special? My answer is that her work is touched, possessing the power of soul-stirring words not found readily among the thousands of poets baring their souls daily on the numerous writing sites. Her poetry is stunning. She has a distinct and a powerful voice which invokes the same excitement I had as a teenager discovering a variety of works from Arthur Rimbaud to Lawrence Ferlinghetti. She has earned a place on the printed page, packaged in a tangible way which lends itself to having the pages felt as one makes the journey into Studdard’s mythology. I read too much, perhaps I am jaded. My eyes grow weary of mediocre work. This book finds my attention, washes the mediocrity away as I peel back the layers of her poetry . Melissa Studdard has earned the title that so many seek: she is a without a doubt a POET!

Nudge Nudge Wink Wink

[Photo: Clara Bow]

Five Questions for Melissa Studdard: An Interview by Jasper Kerkau

Jasper Kerkau: It seems a natural inclination to pluck out influences from a writer’s work. I discovered Reality Sandwiches by Allen Ginsberg at seventeen years old, and my life was never the same. In your work, Starry Night, with Socks, you write: “Neruda eats gates and barbed wire, absorbs the nails and exhales a borderless world.” Is there a debt of gratitude to be paid to Pablo Neruda in your work? If not Neruda, what writers had a tremendous impact on you and how did they influence your work?

Melissa Studdard: Absolutely yes—I owe Neruda! It’s complex, though. For years I was in love with his work. I studied it the way you’d study the face of someone you love—from every angle, in every kind of light. Because I conflated the work with the man, I thought I loved Neruda too. I mean, he was a diplomat, after all.

But about a year ago, I discovered a passage in his memoir that disturbed me. He’d basically “taken” a Tamil woman despite her disinterest. Further, he glorified it with a romanticized “hard-to-get” description.

In some cases, I can separate the work from the person, but here it was impossible. The passage was written towards the end of his life, and the poetic thinking was interwoven with the incident. How could I trust his language, descriptions, and ideas after that? I’m just starting to get my mind around it all. I still feel the way I always did about my favorites of his poems, but I don’t feel the same way about him overall.

Off the top of my head, other writers and artists I love are Muriel Rukeyser, Audre Lorde, Anne Sexton, Li-Young Lee, Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, Gabriel García Márquez, Yehuda Amichai, and Lucille Clifton. I’m sure there are about a hundred more. As you can see, I tend towards the highly imaginative and figuratively dense.

JK: I had a moment when I decided I would not allow my vocation to define my existence; rather, I would begin to identify myself as a writer. Was there a moment for you where you proclaimed to the world “I am a writer”?

MS: I think my rite of passage was more about claiming time than proclaiming an identity. As a divorced, working parent, it’s been hard over the years to find time to write. So, rather than a specific moment or proclamation, there was a shift that took place over a several year period—a shift in which I sifted out senseless, rote chores and seized the hours back for writing. It felt like a hostile takeover at first, but people got used to it. Now, I block out writing time on my calendar every week, just the way I block out my class periods. I take great care not to schedule anything during that time that is not so important I would not also cancel a class for it. This is possibly the most important thing I have done for my writing—simply prioritizing it in my life.

JK: Often new writers will rush works. In your interview with Catherine Lu of Houston Public Media, you state that the poem “Daughter” was incubating for years before it took form on paper. When you actually put a poem on paper, how much time do you spend revising it before you feel it is ready for public consumption?

MS: One of the most crazy, delightful, gorgeous things about writing is that many aspects of its process remain mysterious even to those who practice it. Though there are some constants, the overall process is not static, and no matter how much I write I don’t fully know what to expect when I sit down to a new piece. There are poems I’ve written in fifteen minutes, with no revision, and there are poems that have taken years to conceptualize and months to revise. And there are many, many poems I’ve thrown out altogether. Sometimes they just don’t work, and that is something to recognize too.

I think the best way to know when something is done, or as you put it, fit “for public consumption,” is to put it away for a week or more and then look at it with fresh eyes. It’s best if you’ve written or are writing something else that you’re excited about in the meantime so that you’re no longer infatuated with the piece you’re about to revise. When you’re excited about a new piece it becomes easy to admit and fix flaws in the previous piece because your ego is not all tied up in it anymore. You know you’re fabulous because you have just written something new that you’re still high on. This is my cycle—working on a new piece, revising another.

JK: How much of a labor of love was publishing I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, and how did that process compare with getting Six Weeks to Yehidah in print?

MS: I was lucky to place both books with small presses run by great people. Both Saint Julian Press (I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast) and All Things That Matter Press (Six Weeks to Yehidah) took great care with the process, making sure to consult me about creative issues, such as design and cover, while handling the labor themselves. Both publishers also offered invaluable editing help and revision suggestions without ever pushing me to make changes. If I did ever feel that I was caged inside a labor of love, it was only at the editing stage, once we were past revision and working to agree on commas and semi-colons and that sort of thing. And don’t even get me started on lie/lay/laid/lain. There were a couple of times I felt like just saying, “Do whatever you want to it. See you on the other side.”

JK: I spend a lot of time talking to writers, and many times there is a conflict with the universe that is being worked out. Your work is replete with spiritual overtones. The poem “Integrating the Shadow” is a playful poem that touches on spiritual duality. Are you at peace with universe? And if so, how did this book help that process?

MS: Mostly, I am at peace. But you nailed the duality issue.

I have a hyperactive superego, as well as a hyperactive id—so oftentimes there are two distinctly opposing choices that feel “right” in different ways—my parent/society/conservative voice tells me one thing, LOUDLY, and my wild, true inner voice urges something else. You can see how this sets me up for failure and guilty feelings. No matter which choice I make, I’m disappointing myself by not making the other one.

Whereas peace asks us to float in its currents, I often swim at an angle alongside it, feeling guilty. Then I feel guilty for feeling guilty.  Guilt is my beef with the universe, my parasite, my one true illness. I can’t help but feel that if I could cleanse myself of it I would be at peace fulltime instead of a peace adjunct.

But yes—writing helps. With writing I can explore my duality, guilt, and other concerns with humor and love. I can see my guilt for what it is—a distraction. And I can put my attention back where it should be—on caring for others and making art.

Bio

Melissa Studdard’s debut poetry collection, I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, was recently released by Saint Julian Press. She is also the author of the best­selling novel Six Weeks to Yehidah; its companion journal, My Yehidah(both on All Things That Matter Press); and The Tiferet Talk Interviews. Her awards include the Forward National Literature Award, the International Book Award, the Readers’ Favorite Award, and two Pinnacle Book Achievement Awards. As well, I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast was listed as one of Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts Best Books of 2014-2015.

Melissa’s poetry, fiction, essays, reviews, and articles have appeared in dozens of journals, magazines, blogs, and anthologies, including Tupelo Quarterly, Psychology Today, Connecticut Review, Pleiades,  and Poets & Writers. In addition to writing, Melissa serves as the host of VIDA Voices & Views and an editor for American Microreviews and Interviews. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence college and is a professor for the Lone Star College System and a teaching artist for The Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative.

Jasper Kerkau Interview with Millicent Borges Accardi — June 12, 2018

Jasper Kerkau Interview with Millicent Borges Accardi

Originally posted on Sudden Denouement Literary Collective

[Jasper Kerkau] Many of our writers and readers are new writers. You are by any metric a highly accomplished writer, having received numerous fellowships, including the National Endowment for the Arts. What advice would you give young writers/poets about finding an audience and perfecting their craft?

[Millicent Borges Accardi] It’s hard to give generic, one size fits all advice since most writers starting out have different strengths, but I would say across the board, two issues that seem to befall people just starting out: 1) they don’t read enough (like carpenters who want to make furniture but have never apprenticed or learned how tables are built), and 2) they have trouble finishing projects. Every new idea is like a brilliant butterfly that catches their eye and turns their head. One day they are super into the movies of Polanski, so they buy a new camera and software for film editing and sign up for screenwriting classes and all they can talk about it pitching their idea. Then, a few days later, they read a poem and suddenly want to be the next Keats. While it is good to explore, on a shallow level, to discover where your passion lies, there is also something to be said for Just, Finishing. Something.

So my advice would be to explore in your reading, read everything from botany textbooks to found poems to SciFi to Shakespeare, but once you find a project, even a mini-writing project, finish it. Even if you get bored. Even if it becomes irrelevant. Just finish it.

Everyone has interesting stories and a point of view, but not as many have the patience and tenacity to finish a manuscript. To follow one idea through to completion.

[Jasper Kerkau]I had this moment, which I speak of often, where I decided that I would begin to identify myself as a writer. For myself, it was a spontaneous event, can you speak to your experience finding your voice and deciding that you were a writer?

[Millicent Borges Arcardi]I cannot say I ever had an ah-ha moment where I was like wow. This IS IT. There was a time when I was a kid and stayed home sick in bed, for over a month, with pneumonia and I was convinced I would write the Great American sequel to Little Women. There were the notebooks and ribbon and pens and I settled them down around me like pillows.
When I got the call from Cliff Becker from the NEA, that was a seminal moment. At the time I was working with a group of IT programmers who knew nothing about my creative interests. I was doing a project where I worked as a Q/A person for a new software package, testing programs all day, running tests, simulations and recording bugs and errors. The call came in, “This is Cliff Becker” and I screamed and started to cry before he even got the rest of the sentence out. I think I ran down the hall and it was not long after that, thanks to the fellowship that I was able to take a year and a half off to write full time, and, since then, I’ve mostly managed to “buy time” to write, whether it is writing in the morning before a day job or taking a couple of months “off” for a residency, I treat time to create as a priority. Also, it helps I can write anywhere. As a kid, I was an only child so I rapidly learned how to focus even amid a party or when I was at work with my dad. Even now, if I am stuck at the airport, I sit down on the floor and start working on a project. The rest of the world fades away.

[Jasper Kerkau] One of the remarkable things about your poetry is the variety of places from which it springs. Your work seems to float between Americana to “the corner of Jilska and Mickalska” and every place in between. Do you feel your diverse background has made you a better writer?

[Millicent Borges Accardi] At a certain point in my life, there are filters, in which I look through to see the world and unless I expand these filters and explore other ways of doing and seeing things, through connections, reading. being in communities different than my own, as well as exploring my own community and communities in new ways, unless I swap up and change out these filters, a creative life and, also, compassion is lost. Filters have a way of ingraining and making life smaller, whereas witnessing and new experiences, new ways to say yes and to see through new eyes, these are avenues to expand existing filters and to take on new ones There is also a value to staying in one’s own lane and exploring in depth your own background and your own unique ethnicity and gender and age and way of being.

If you shut yourself down as a writer, you’re stuck. The wooden shutters are up and the storm windows beneath are solid. People say write what you know, but writing what you don’t know but want to understand it also a valid avenue. Being a better writer, for me, means paying attention to my own biases and listening, being open to conversations and differences and similarities. Being a better writer means witnessing and being able to take note of what is important.
Like the poem mentioned above, “the corner of Jilska and Mickalska” was an incident I viewed from the window outside the place I was staying in Prague. The city had been opened up for a large plumbing project and all traffic had been stopped at that one corner when, in the midst of installing sewer pipes, bones from old graves had been discovered. Archaeologists had been brought in and the area was classified as an official “dig.” All municipal work ceased and the priority was shifted to discovery and discovery.

One of the works that I had the strongest connections with was “This is What People Do.” I found it to be a stunning poem, in which I read some Beat influence. Can you expound on the work, perhaps giving some insight into the genesis of the piece?

Again, this was me staring out a window, this time it was in Venice Beach, where I lived for 12 years, in a white art deco rent-controlled building, that I shared with other like-minded artists, writers and actors. For a time, a friend of mine was the manager and the apartments felt more like a dorm than a building– my neighbor was Pegarty Long, a film-maker and twin sister of Philomene Long, the Queen of the Beats in Venice– she’d been a nun in the 1960’s and, when she left the convent, headed straight to Venice to hang with the poets and the surfers and neo-philosophers. She was Poet Laureate of Venice and married to beat poet John Thomas– whom she writes about in this poem

They are already ghosts
John and Philomene
As they pass
Along the Boardwalk
Where ghosts and poets overlap
As they pass, the gulls
Ghosting above their shadows
Everything’s haunting everything
Already ghosts
John and Philomene
Under the ghostly lampposts
Of Venice West
Their cadence
The breath of sleep
At rest
Lost at the edge of America
Already ghosts
And each poem
Already a farewell
Everything’s haunting everything
The sea is the ghost of the world
–Philomene Long

Through reading Philomene’s work and living in Venice, I guess I adopted the slang and the slants of the beat poets. “This is What People Do” is a collage between what I saw outside my window, the boardwalk, the street vendors below, the characters in the city and each two lines represent one aspect or one character of that one moment in time, as if they all existed, flat and round, together, sharing one nano-second of space-time.

Everyone has interesting stories and a point of view, but not as many have the patience and tenacity to finish a manuscript. To follow one idea through to completion.

[Millicent Borges Accardi’s Only More So is avaiable on Amazon. It is an amazing read, and sets the standards for so many of us trying to hone our craft. Please read my review of her book here.]

Jasper Kerkau’s Review of Millicent Borges Accardi’s Only More So —

Jasper Kerkau’s Review of Millicent Borges Accardi’s Only More So

Originally posted on Sudden Denouement Literary Collective

“I will never write another review,” at least that is what I told myself. It is a draining process, as I heap great responsibility on myself to navigate the words of the poet and give a proper context to their writing. More specifically, I only write about those noble souls who find their fiber of the universe to pull, as the mortals run in circles, procreating, feasting on the mundane, and seeking solace in profane, menial tasks. Millicent Borges Accardi contacted me after my interview with Melissa Studdard and the review of her stunning collection of poetry I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast. I had no intention of writing another long-form review, amid the struggle of publishing our first two books and my work with the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective. I have received many requests for reviews (some of which I will get around to eventually) but I discovered something in the poetry of Accardi that called to me, spoke to me on a level that most poetry does not. In her work, I discovered the undeniable poetic truth that is a rarity. In Only More So (Salmon Poetry), Accardi opens her heart, not only displaying her succinct use of language to articulate her experience, but also, gifting the reader with glimpses of memory, and sentimentality that gives credence to the notion that poetry is not dead. Only More So dwells in that place where poets yearn for truth, casting words as spells in a world that has lost its belief in magic.

I like any reader, bring my feelings and emotions to a collection such as Only More So. The poems exist in different realms. From the opening poem, “On a Theme by William Stafford,” a beautiful homage to Stafford’s “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” to “Buying Sleep” a poem in which Accardi reaches back into the crevasses of time to express a complex, soft memory, her work leaves me transfixed and yearning for more. “Buying Sleep” conjures my moment in the darkness, my own conflicted, sentimental moments, twisting in time, swirling in the dust of eternity:

“Wanna buy some sleep?” In the darkness
I nod and, then realizing years later
Say, “Yes,” aloud and so he begins
He gathers up a cocoon of sleep
……
Almost as he loved me. (17)

Accardi’s writing moves from complex sentimentality, to “The Night of Broken Glass” and “In Prague,” distinct poems taking the reader to different locales, unique places, expressing something that is distinct and universal. Accardi’s “In Prague” beguiled me with her stinging, poetic truth:

Take me where memory makes my legs move.
Take me where moss holds language.
Take me where we have a name for the things we do. (23)

It is here that I find common ground with Accardi, myself seeking the place where “moss holds language.” It is a concise moment of perfect poetic expression, the longing, the yearning, the desire to go where “stones are full…wrapped around kin I cannot have, wisdom for the hungry…” She tips her hand, showing herself to not only have a special dispensation to expression the language of the Gods, but also to be a seer, a poet of the highest order.

Only More So is a revelatory collection of poems that are universal and deeply personal. Accardi takes us to strange places, takes on different voices, speaking to the reader softly, and then exploding with expression rooted in the human condition. From “This is What People Do,” a refulgent glimpse of normal life, to the quiet spirituality of “Faith,” I fell into Accardi’s orbit. It is a special place, a supernatural quilt where all can find their truth, their sadness, and yearning. This experience, digging into the heart of Accardi’s vision, is a validation for myself; it reminds me why I am on an endless quest to find the magic, to find the magicians, those who draw me into their web of enchantment, based on truth and words. Only More So is a must-read for anyone who shares my love of the special language only great poets speak.

Please read her bio at Wikipedia.

 Only More So is available on Amazon

http://www.MillicentBorgesAccardi.com

@TopangaHippie  on Twitter
[Jasper Kerkau is co-creator, writer, and editor for Sudden Denouement Literature Collective and Sudden Denouement Publishing.]
Interview and Review of S.K. Nicholas’ Novel: A Journal for Damned Lovers — June 5, 2018

Interview and Review of S.K. Nicholas’ Novel: A Journal for Damned Lovers

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Originally posted on Sudden Denouement Literary Collective

One of the first pieces I wrote for Sudden Denouement was called, “Writing isn’t Going to Save Me.” Over time I have changed my perspective on this; I realize that writing is absolutely necessary to my survival. It is what gets me through all the dark days, the clouds hovering over me as I try to find my place in the universe. Writing is the ointment for my soul, the salve for a heart tarnished by the cold hands of fate. I devour words and regurgitate them in a fury that cannot be contained. I now understand that writing will eventually save me, though it may take a while.

When I started to blog I wanted to write long-winded, Menckenesque social criticism that put my friends to sleep and, of course, failed to find an audience. My works were long, pretentious, lacking heart and insight. I had lost my voice in a life of tedium, married with children, distracted by the quest for the American Dream that eventually left me washed-out, stricken by the devastating reality that was a nightmare. The question was how do I express myself, find the right format to sing the song that was buried in my heart?

In the early, dark days of my divorce, while wrestling with tone and format, I discovered the short fiction of S.K. Nicholas. A lightbulb went off. It had an immediate impact on my writing; I felt less confined by format and more willing to express my thoughts and actions from a more honest place. Eventually, I discovered others who created poems in the guise of short fiction, rife with description intertwined with inner dialogue, though none seemed to possess the power of Nicholas. His work was a revelation for me as a writer. As one who cut his teeth on Thomas Wolfe, William Faulkner, and Allen Ginsberg at a young age, his work challenged me to rethink what and how I communicate with the audience, and I know I am not alone in the influence his work has had on me.

Nicholas calls his first book, A Journal for Damned Lovers, a novel. It is a collection of his short pieces of fiction, originally published on his site of the same name. The novel weaves together a tapestry over a two year period, creating a narrative in which the reader is given little pieces of the writer. The individual works are short, usually only three to five hundred words. In these short bursts of fiction, the reader is given more and more of the writer, who is also the hero of Nicholas’ work, as he lives his life with all of its disappointment and failures. He is going through the motions in Journal, thinking aloud in a sense. In the process, he gives the reader insight to himself with a beautiful combination of poetry and fiction. A line such as, “The scent of war in my greasy hand grows by the second as headlights illuminate those nowhere left to go. Writing takes me to an elevated state,” captures my imagination. The writing is crisp, unique and dripping with poetic sensibility.

The hero of the novel is not Nicholas, as protagonist as he moves through life, looking to press himself against the bosom of the universe, looking to find comfort in the arms of beautiful women, the hero of his novel is truth. In one passage, I find a clue to his process in writing his life:

Through unreal streets, we bow down to crippled crows and absence. Eclipsed by half-formed shapes on the side of her face, she riddles me with a kiss. Nerves as strings snapped on a drunken whim, I attempt to multiply myself by zero (51).

His portrayal of himself in Journal seems to be an attempt to multiply himself by zero. He presents his life in full color, musing about his flaws and failures. The piece “Damned Lovers” is rife with self-doubt and loathing. Unflinchingly, he calls himself a “bad lover” who can be described as “distant” and “out of sorts.” In “Hell” he paints images of himself spitting blood, panicking over beer, and smoking a cigar in the garden. In these descriptions, Nicholas shows himself as a fearful man in a perpetual search for love, sex, and intoxications, unfurling his thought-life. He states:

Got to stop walking the same thin line as the days swirl in the mire with no sense of perception. The pain of our histories, it goes even on. Past, present, and future mistakes merging into an endless mess of self-destructive tendencies. The maze of your mind, crushing your will to survive like a beetle beneath a stamping boot (71).

It is here that he connects with the reader. It is hard not to relate to his character, inject some of our own fears and failures into our reading of the work. The authenticity of his treatment of himself, gives life to his protagonist, makes him more accessible.

Since discovering Nicholas’ writing, I have discovered numerous other writers who use a similar format, and though there are many talented writers of the same ilk, none have the energy or authenticity that the writing of Nicholas possesses. Though I had read a great deal of his work previously, the novel gives a clearer picture of the writer and his evolution. There is a strength to his writing which is apparent from his earliest works; however, it is hard not to become aware of a voice taking shape while reading A Journal for Damned Lovers. He takes the reader by the hand and leads them into his world, invites them to watch him fail forward, seeking love under an endless succession of dresses, and he also invites the reader to watch him stretch and evolve as he works through his life by sitting in front of a computer monitor hacking away at everything around him.

Perhaps I glean from his writing my own desire to write myself a way out of the fog. And it is possible that there is something noble in him bearing his soul to the world, exposing his weakness, while many of us cower in fear, hiding our failures. But, that is only one component of his greatness as a writer. His writing, coupled with his authenticity, make his writing worthy the attention. To get a fuller understanding of the work of Nicholas, I suggest spending a few days walking around in his world, getting lost in his novel.

[Thank you Christine Ray for your assistance with this piece. Your insight made it all possible.]

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Interview with S.K. Nicholas

JK: You have a distinctive style of short fiction. In your book, you mention numerous writers, Bukowski for one. Which writers had the biggest influence on you and your writing style?

SKN: Bukowski for sure influences just about every word. From his poetry to his prose, he cuts through the bullshit and always speaks from the heart. Reading him has taught me you have to bleed with every sentence- anything else just won’t do. Then you’ve got the likes of John Fante. The Bandini Quartet was like a bible to me a few years ago, because that coming of age arch was something I could really relate to. Ask the Dust is the kind of novel I would sell my soul to write. It shows an author at their very best, who captures so much with every sentence, almost how a painter like Van Gogh could show so much emotion in a single brush stroke. Reading Henry Miller gave me the confidence to explore the most explicit side to my personality. Tropic of Cancer and Under the Roofs of Paris are fearless. The sexual content may be shocking, but it comes across as natural- that’s always been a big draw for me, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find my voice when it comes to detailing that aspect of my life. Alberto Moravia wrote a book called Boredom that spoke to me a lot about obsession and sexuality, as well as the artist’s struggle for control over his muse. There’s also this lesser known novel, A Sun for the Dying by a guy named Jean-Claude Izzo. Similar kinda thing to the authors I’ve already mentioned, yet no less impressive. In terms of more modern authors, Paul Auster is a master. New York Trilogy is perfect storytelling. Stephen King may sound like an obvious name to drop, but I’ve read over two-dozen of his books, and each one has affected me in a different way. The Shining speaks to me in particular. Madness, Alcoholism, the supernatural- they’re three key elements I always try so hard to focus on in my work. And King can touch upon so many styles and themes it’s almost infuriating. How is it possible for one man to have so many stories in him, and so many that are able to touch millions upon millions of people in such an intimate way? I hate him for being so good at what he does. Ian Banks’ The Wasp Factory fueled my interest in the macabre, and anything by J. G. Ballard, although Crash and The Atrocity Exhibition are two personal favorites because of the subject matter and the way it all just feels so effortless and visionary. I’m always drawn to authors who speak what they mean to say and who constantly look to push the envelope. There’s no pretension with these guys. They weren’t trying to impress anyone with their words; they were writing because it was what they were born to do. Palahniuk is another. He tells stories and doesn’t hold back. And I like the darkness. There has to be darkness because it resonates so exquisitely with our innermost fears.

JK: What was the learning-curve for A Journal for Damned Lovers?

SKN:It was a steep yet fulfilling one. In the early days of the blog, there was no intention of working towards any kind of published collection, it was just about writing what was on my mind. There was a load of abstract stuff going on with not much bite, but the more I wrote, the more I discovered the themes that allowed me to speak in a voice I could call my own. Loneliness, obsession, sex, death, damned love- every time I sat down to write my ability kept growing when I focused on these core areas. The more truthful I was about my life, about my failures, the stronger the content I kept producing. Maybe it’s a bit egocentric, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing if you end up with something that speaks to others in a truthful tone. In the early days, my problem was in trying to please other people with what I thought they wanted to read, and so the end results were bland beyond belief, but then the more I wrote about how I really felt, the more they begun to respond.

JK: Your book covers two years of your work on A Journal for Damned Lovers. When did you realize what you were doing was working and connecting with readers?

SKN:I wrote a piece called ‘Stay Beautiful’ one night while drinking wine. At the time, I was in love with this woman, and she didn’t love me in return. We had dated in the past, and my heart was set on winning her back, so this one night I drunkenly wrote this open love letter to her and went ahead and posted it on WordPress. I’ve no idea if she ever saw it, she probably didn’t, but suddenly people were reblogging and commenting on it in a way I’d never experienced. From then on, whenever I sat down to write, I reminded myself that I had to be honest, even if it painted me in a bad light, or showed me as being weak. There were times when I struggled to keep the intensity, or when I’d lapse back into abstract, but whenever I snapped out of it and focused on expressing the areas of my life that were causing me turmoil, again there would be a response. People could relate to the emotions I was putting down onto paper, and the more open and honest the piece, the more they resonated. An important note, I believe, is that when I now write, I picture one person in particular as my reader. Their identity is known only to me, and trying to judge their reactions based on the content, or the style, helps keep pushing me forwards while retaining that sense of passion and intimacy. And those are so important when trying to put your writing out there. They speak volumes.

JK: The book frames a period in your life neatly, do you anticipate continuing in the same vein?

SKN: Absolutely. There’s no going back; there has to be evolution. The drive- the need- to express myself is still the same, but there’s a continual thirst to explore who and what I am and my ever-changing relationship to the world. The more I write and the older I get, the more there is to discover, and with every such discovery, there are more and more questions. The trick for me is how to stay fresh, and how to stay relevant. The first journal paints a picture of who I was when writing became the center of my world, the second journal, when it comes out, needs to show growth and progression. It’s not enough to sit back and take it easy. There has to be an increase on all fronts. An increase in truth, in how I seek the answers to my existence, and in how I challenge the answers that confront me. Most people my age are settling down and getting married, and although I’ve come close on both fronts, this life pursuit doesn’t interest me anymore, nor does earning money and buying bigger and better things. The nature of my existence- this is what drives me. The scrutiny of my place on the ‘outside of society’. I’m educated and dwell in suburbia, but I don’t belong here at all. Never have done. But why? Why do I feel like this? These are the questions that need to be answered. And what of my past? What of the man that came before the writer? What of the relationships that shaped who I am right now? This is where I go from here. It’s a continual search for identity- which is what art should always be.

JK: You have amassed a large following and now a book. What advice do you have for those who are getting started and looking for an audience?

SKN: Write every day, and stick with it even when no one else is looking. When I started out, there were no followers or views or comments. I was writing for an audience that wasn’t there, which in many ways is how it should be because it’s about you and your ability to work the word. Nothing else. Keep writing- condition yourself so that it becomes as necessary as eating or drinking. Even when you don’t think you’ve got anything to say, or when not much has been happening in your life, keep searching. Pick at old wounds- never let yourself rest. It has to take over. If you’re serious about making it as a writer, it can’t just be a cute little hobby; it has to be your lifeblood. It’s not always a pleasurable experience, and you’ll lose friends pretty quickly, but the more energy and emotion you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. For me, the act of writing is on a par with making love. It’s about getting in the zone- about severing those connections with the outside world until all that matters is you and your lover- your lover here being words. It’s a state of mind. The euphoria from expressing yourself should be the same as an orgasm. It should leave you feeling exhilarated, and a little dirty, too. And there have to be tears. If the act of creation doesn’t reduce you as well as shake you to your bones, you’re not doing it right.

JK: In your piece “Losers,” you write “the worst thing you can ever do in life is try to fit in. If you do, it’ll ruin you. Just you see.” Could you expound on that assertion, and how does that notion inform your writing?

SKN: The older I get, the more I see how everyone wants to be like everyone else. The crowd brings comfort. It offers warmth. But where’s your identity? We only get one shot at life, so why not go down a different path instead of following in the same old footsteps every other fucker is taking? From early childhood, you’re told what’s expected of you regarding the eternal thirst for a better job and more money and social standing and all that guff. It’s implied that this blueprint is what makes for a happy and purposeful life, but I don’t think it is. I think happiness can be whatever you want it to be. Why not take a risk and live life on your own terms? Do what you want to do and not what you’re told to do. Think for yourself. Don’t let others tell you what constitutes success and failure. None of us are getting out of here alive, so write yourself a life that’s different- be somebody else. This is what helps drive my writing- what has carried me forwards for the past few years. I see this path I’m on through life as a continual discovery of unknowns, and writing is my way of documenting that. And yet writing also fuels my desire to see and feel new ways of being. It’s a beautiful dance.

JK: The book is amazing. When did you first realize that you wanted to put your work in book format? How difficult was the process?

SKN: A few people had commented on how my writing would lend itself to a published collection of prose, but at the time I was busy working on an ongoing novel, and yet after pondering the idea for a few months it seemed to be the logical next step. Both in terms of having something out there for people to read, and also for the experience. Sifting through two years of blog pieces was quite something. My first draft saw the journal come in at around 150k words, so I knew I had my work cut out to trim it down to a tight and palatable 90k, and being something of a perfectionist, I went through dozens of rounds of editing, and even after it was sent off to be proofread there was still a few more drafts of trying to achieve something that was as good as I could make it. More than anything, I wanted a book not only that I was proud of, but that was a true documentation of my transformation into a writer. There’s a spectrum of highs and lows within its pages- a mixture of difficult times when I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing and times when suddenly everything made sense. As I mentioned before, we’re all on a journey, and it felt so natural to be leaving a footprint of my own. I didn’t like the idea of being on my deathbed suddenly aware that a lifetime of memories and emotions were going to die with me. It’s not enough to just live once. And, in many ways, I saw it as an apology to the women I had dated in the past. I’d always held back, been quite closed-mouthed because I had yet to figure out what I was doing with my life. So, I saw the book as a way of showing how there was more to me than this guy with his head in the clouds with an apparent lack of interest in life. I’m not sure I’ll be getting any thanks, but, y’know, it’s the thought that counts.