Newtown Literary Contributor: Heather Simon

Writer Heather Simon’s work was featured in Issue #9 of Newtown Literary. We interviewed her about her writing, and her answers are below. For more of Heather’s work, check out her website.

What is your relationship to Queens?
I live in Astoria and teach writing and literature at Queens College and Queensborough Community College.

What is your favorite memory of Queens?
I think it may have been discovering Astoria as a place to live with gardens. There is something about the sprawl of the neighborhood, perhaps the proximity to low flying planes, that reminds me of where I grew up in LA.

How would you describe the writing you do?
Excessive. Then fragmented and fractured. Somewhat evasive. Most of my work combines writing and visual art. The amount of text that gets integrated into an image is heavily reduced from its original form. Even when there is no imagery, the words on the page are usually the parts that remain of a larger works.

How did you come to writing?
Toward the end of college, I was in a writing class where the teacher assigned Richard Brautigan’s “Sea, Sea Rider” and I thought, I want to exist in that.

What inspires you?
The shoreline and oceanography books. Things I want to understand, like how a mollusk clings to rock or how the body forms to fit its shell. I’m also drawn to the everyday stuff. Bar and coffee shop conversations tend to resurface in my work. In terms of form, I’m inspired by interdisciplinary work like Antigonick by Anne Carson and Bianca Stone, and other kinds of genre-resistant hybrid forms.

What does it mean to be a writer in Queens?
Writing in transit. I’m writing this on the q30. Although I live and work in Queens, nothing is easy to get to, so much of my writing is developed during the commute.

What writing project(s) are you currently working on?
Putting together a book of poetry comics. This is one thing I can’t do while in transit.

I would love any pictures you might want to share.
I’m including my poetry comic, “Workspace in Astoria”, watercolor and ink.

 

And, finally, my favorite question: What should I be asking you that I didn’t?
Probably something super personal or inappropriate.

Thanks, Heather!

 

Advertisements

Newtown Literary Contributor: Sherese Francis

Writer Sherese Francis’s work was featured in Issue #9 of Newtown Literary, and was previously featured in Issue #6.  For more of Sherese’s work, check out Futuristically Ancient; you can also keep up with her work with J. Expressions. She interviews herself below:

So we’ve reached 2017. 2016 was quite a year, and I heard you came up with your own motto for the new year!
Yes, I did! And yes, 2016 was a year of hardships, opportunities, and figuring out what I want for myself. My first half of the year was mostly centered on building up towards the first Queens book festival, along with working on No Longer Empty‘s Jameco Exchange Exhibition. But when it was done, I realized how burned out I was. So the months after August leading up to the New Year, I needed to do a reevaluation and some self-reflection. And I ended up with the motto: “Understanding Your Worth”.

Oh, I like that motto: “Understanding Your Worth”! What does it mean for you?
Well, for a long time I let fear rule me. I had a fear of failure and social anxiety that prevented me from going after certain things. Then, a couple of years after college, I decided to take a chance on opportunities presented to me, such as doing the Queens Book Festival. I had to understand that I was worthy enough to do something like that, and it has been a great opportunity that has allowed me to connect with various people. But in doing a project of that magnitude, I lost balance and would push projects that I was personally passionate about to the side. Working with No Longer Empty and starting J. Expressions pop-up bookshop helped me to see that. I learned that I can’t say yes to everything out of fear that another opportunity that great wouldn’t come along, especially at the expense of something important to me; sometimes I have to say no or else I will be drained of my spirit, my energy, my purpose, myself.

Wonderful! So how are you executing that motto in the New Year, and finding that balance again?
Well, I rededicated myself to my blog, Futuristically Ancient. I committed myself to do at least one post a week. I recently debuted my first blog video, too, featuring a couple of local visual artists talking about their work. Additionally, I started a new blog series called StoryCraft, where I showcase and mention my writing projects in progress. Speaking of writing, I rededicated myself to my writing. Again, thanks to No Longer Empty, I had a chance to showcase and read an excerpt from the fantasy novel I am writing now at an another exhibition they did in Jamaica. Doing that pushed me to go full force on writing it again. I tried doing so before I left for Barbados as part of the NaNoWriMo and during my trip, but that didn’t quite work out.

Oh, you went to Barbados! How was that?
Not what I expected. My mother became ill only a couple of days in, and so a week and a half was spent taking care of her. Plus adjusting to the heat, the flies, the mosquitoes, and the small space we were staying in added to the difficulty. But don’t get me wrong, Barbados is a beautiful place, and when my mother felt better, we did get to see my family (and I have a lot I didn’t know about), we were able to see some sights and go to a few events in honor of their independence anniversary, and I was able to see Barbados beyond the “touristy” part of it. New experiences like that can be the fertilizer for new creative inspiration.

Wow, that sounds like a lot. Speaking of creative inspiration, what was one that you had?
I did receive a lot of inspiration. Some for my novel and some for poetry as well. For example, both my mother and I had a beach day, and since neither of us can swim, we only went in up to our waist. The symbolism of that and the water made me think of motherhood, wombs, feminine power, ancestry, and lineage. A poem might result from that.

Great! You have been mentioning your novel. Can you tell us a little about it?
Of course! It’s called The E, and it is a science-fiction/fantasy story set in Jamaica, Queens, and inspired by the Underground Railroad and subway culture. It follows a young woman named S.W. Isibe as she learns that she is part of a team of underground agents with magical powers, two of whom are inspired by Harriet Tubman and William Still. They travel and mostly live in a quantum time-traveling, shapeshifting subway E train. S.W. is pulled into a world beyond her current imagination, and as she explores this new world, she is also exploring herself and her own inner strength.

That sounds interesting! I look forward to getting a copy. What has the process been like? And do you know when you will be done with it?
It has been a process that has tested my confidence as a writer. I have been mostly a poet as a writer, and so delving into fiction is like stepping into a new territory where I am not completely fluent with the language yet and learning as I go along. But I have learned to use my strengths as a poet and as a researcher to help me flesh out both my short stories and my longer novel. Fiction is filled with poetic language and with the concept of my book, learning historical facts, but the task for me has been developing three-dimensional characters and a compelling plot, which is good mental exercise. Hopefully, within a few months I will finish the manuscript for the novel, but definitely before the end of the year. Then I will start sending it out.

I hear that! People sometimes forget that just because someone is a writer doesn’t mean that they can easily write every genre. Now tell me about J. Expressions.
It was an idea I came up with after finding out Queens did not have many bookstores, outside of the Astoria Bookshop and a few niche ones, like Libreria Barco De Papel and Topos Bookstore. Living in Jamaica, Queens, I am far from Astoria, and the Barnes and Noble closed in Forest Hills, so we don’t really have much access here. Inspired by other initiatives like Queens Bookshop, I wanted to create a project centered around the southeast Queens community. The project showcases authors and other literary artists from the southeast Queens area.

How has the project been going so far since you started? Where can we find out more about it?
It is building slowly. I have tabled since July when I started at Jamaica Market Harvest Festival and at the Afrikan Poetry Theatre’s Kwanzaa celebration. I am applying for grants so I can do a series of literary events in the Jamaica area this year. Those interested in collaborating or helping to build the project can visit my Instagram, @jexpressionsbookshop and my website, jexpressionsbookshop.tumblr.com.

Are you working on any other projects?
Besides the five million other things I am working on, I decided to start a Wattspad and I’m currently writing a short story series, A Stitch in Time, which you can read here. I am still writing poetry, and writing and revising a few manuscript ideas. I am also becoming more interested in ways to combine writing and visual arts. For example, last year I started an Instagram series, #InYourQ where I took pictures of things I saw in Queens and then would use the pictures as writing prompts. The other day, I decided to decorate a binder that I had with words cut out from a magazine. I call it a binder full of magic. Maybe I will do it as a larger project — who knows! Also, I had a couple of artists show interest in collaborating by creating work inspired by my writing, so hopefully something is there!

Sounds exciting! What’s coming up next for you?
Writing. Writing. Writing. I have a reading coming in March at QCA. Opportunities are finding me and I’m just trying to breathe and again find balance through it all.

So what else keeps you centered besides writing?
I love music and dance. I am such an old soul. My favorite genres of music to listen to are classic soul music and funk music. When I hear voices like Chaka Khan, Al Green, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Shuggie Otis, Isley Brothers, and Mother’s Finest, it lifts my spirits. I don’t hear that in a lot of today’s mainstream music. And I dance, usually by myself, as a way to get out of my head. As a writer, I tend to think a lot and that can be draining. Dance grounds me and reenergizes me. I’ve been thinking of joining dance classes. We’ll see.

With the current political and social climate, what advice do you have for writers, artists, and others who are distressed by it all? 
I heard a poet the other day say that we must speak our truth because truth is poetry. And I believe going forward, we need to continually remind ourselves of that — Speak our truth, no matter how inconvenient it may be for others. Be as you as you can be and don’t let anyone tell you who that “you” is. We have someone who is taking (and I do meaning taking) the presidential office and he arrogantly announces himself as our savior, when he is more like a charlatan, a snake oil salesman. He pretends to be something he is not, so one of the best things we can do is be honest about who we are. I’ve been learning to trust more and more my inner voice and how to let it guide me. I recently read my horoscope from Chani Nicholas and the horoscope matched my motto for this year, and I was pleasantly surprised that I knew what I needed. We need to be honest about ourselves and what we need.

Thank you so much for the encouraging words! Anything else you would like to share?
Thank you, Newtown Literary, for including my poetry in your journal and giving Queens writers another opportunity to showcase our work and our borough.

Thanks for the interview!
No, thank you!

Thanks, Sherese!

Spotlight on Queens Writing: Machu Picchu Me by Carlos Hiraldo

Newtown Literary is pleased to spotlight Queens writer Carlos Hiraldo. We interviewed him about his new poetry collection, Machu Picchu Me, and his responses are below.

 

Tell us about Machu Picchu Me. What is it about?
Machu Picchu Me is a collection of poems I wrote between 1993 and 2007. They rcarlos-hiraldo-and-a-pinteflect the thoughts, feelings, and desires of an urban young man struggling to achieve what he would consider success in the personal, professional and social spheres. I wouldn’t say the poems are autobiographical. At least, I hope they are more than that. But the starting point is always an experience or a feeling or an idea evoked by an experience. Or rather, the memory of an experience.
 
 
Tell us about the process of writing Machu Picchu Me.
I guess the process lasted from 1993 to 2015. The first step was writing the individual poems throughout the years. As I wrote these poems, I didn’t think of them as forming part of a single book. I would send them off for publication in journals along with other poems I was writing at the time. Some of the poems that appear in Machu Picchu Me have appeared before in print and electronic journals. The second step in writing the book came when I put together the first version of the manuscript in 2008. It had the same title, and the title poem with its poetic manifesto of sorts opened the book as it does today. That early version, however, contained many more poems. Throughout the years, I have added and deleted poems from that period according to the advice and suggestion of fellow poets and writers who are closed and trusted friends. The third and final step came when the book was accepted by its current publisher. Then I engaged in an extensive revision process in which many of the poems were, I hope, strengthened.
 
What do you hope readers take away from your book?
 First and foremost, I hope the readers can identify some of their own experiences, ideas, and feelings in the poems. I think that’s part of what every poet hopes for his or her book. Specifically, for Machu Picchu Me, I hope readers discover a voice that is seldom heard in American letters – that of a U.S.-born Latino trying to find a satisfying place within his native country, a country that doesn’t always acknowledge him and when it does, it is often hostile to him. Latino literature in the U.S. has been predominantly that of the immigrant experience. Though there’s been a large Latino community in New York City since the late nineteenth century, large enough for there to have been Spanish language newspapers in the city since then, and though we know that the United States arrived in what used to be Northern Mexico in the mid-nineteenth century, Latinos are still seen as “coming to America.” It’s is like we are never already here, like we never finally arrive. What’s considered the best of Latino literature reflects this perception. Many if not most Latino writers have been immigrants themselves. The voice of Machu Picchu Me identifies with the immigrant experience. It is that of his parents and of the community in which he is born and raised, but immigration does not inform his own relation with the United States.
 
What else have you written?
I am a poet and an English professor within the City University of New York. I have written many other poems, some of which have been published in poetry journals. I have also written academic works that have appeared in various publications. In 2003, I published Segregated Miscegenation: On the Treatment of Racial Hybridity in the U.S. and Latin American Literary Traditions. It explores the ways in which the definition of a “black” character evolved differently in U.S. and Latin American novels. Those definitions of course have influenced and reflected how the two societies have traditionally established who is black within their respective populations.
 
How does/did being a Queens writer influence your writing?
I can’t say that being a Queens writer influenced most of the poems in Machu Picchu Me. I wrote these during periods when I was living in Boston, Manhattan, Long Island, and then back again in Manhattan. Only “Off Sylvia Plath” is a proper Queens poem. It reflects my thoughts upon first moving to Sunnyside from Washington Heights where I was born and mostly raised. Queens does have a very strong influence on my writing today. I live with my family in Astoria. I can say the pace of life in Queens is slower and more open than it is in Manhattan at least for now. One gets more of a sense of community in Queens while still enjoying the thrills of living in New York City. I think my poetry today reflects more of that openness and sense of belonging.
 
What other writers have influenced or inspired you?
Many writers have inspired and influenced me. So many I couldn’t possibly do justice to all of them. I love the power of the images in the works of T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Amiri Baraka, and Stevie Smith. Baraka was so inventive and re-inventive. His poetry and his overall writing style would change with shifts in how he perceived our social-political reality. And Stevie Smith’s sense of irony. I hope my poetry has that. A certain ironic distancing can be such a powerfully useful tool for the individual to grapple with the world. But again, I feel like speaking of influences is only an exercise in momentary recall. I just remembered that I am leaving out Charles Bukowski. I have devoured everything he has written. He seems to have been the only U.S. poet able to write successfully about class. Influences and inspirations… influences and inspirations… there are so many. Some poets can influence you with just one poem. Erik Pihel’s “Manhattan.” Paul Beatty’s “At Ease.” May Swanson’s “How Everything Happens (Based on a Study of the Waves).” So many poets, so little time to acknowledge what they have all meant to me at different periods in my life.
 
When you’re not writing, what’s your favorite thing to do?
Hang out with my two boys. Seriously. I am not just trying to seem like the cool contemporary dad. They are great. They live in the moment and say whatever it is that comes to mind. And I can steal some of the stuff they come up with for my own work.
 
Tell us something about you that has nothing to do with your book.
My family has nothing to do with my book. They came along after the poems in the book were written. I tend to think the best poetry comes from the darkest of places. My family has made me very happy. So even though I still tend to write poetry when things aren’t going that well, my current poetry can only get so dark. Some of it might actually be downright happy.
 
What should I have asked that I didn’t?
 Que pasa, cabrón?
 
Where can readers buy your book?
Readers can find my book on Amazon and on the website for my publisher, Palamedes Publishing.
 
 Thanks, Carlos!

Newtown Literary Contributor: Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie

Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie’s poems “Rain”, Blaze”, and “Mama Haiku 2” were featured in Issue #8 of Newtown LiteraryShe is the author of Karma’s Footsteps and Dear Continuum: Letters to a Poet Crafting Liberation. Her work was the subject of a short film “I Leave My Colors Everywhere.” Read more from her at her website.

She interviews herself below, including links to her social media accounts:

Hi. I’m glad we’re getting a chance to talk. You were telling me recently that you don’t have much space for reflection these days. Can we talk about that and how it affects your writing?
Hey.  I already love this. You cut right to the chase and I hate small talk! So, I have three daughters. They are 11, 9, and 1. Much of my movement these days revolves around them and their needs.

11, 9, and 1. Whoa. How do you get writing done?sindayiganza-photography-mariahadessa-ekere-tallie-1-of-1-1
Right now I don’t.

What is that like?
It’s fine and it’s weird because so much of my identity is connected to creating. I have to remind myself that the moon is not always full and that there’s a season for everything. I remind myself of this often.

This is true, but I think I’d go a little berserk if I didn’t write. You’re not writing anything?
I do write in my journal sometimes. That’s really important to me.

OK, OK, cool, so you do put pen to paper sometimes.
Yeah, but I’m stealing time then. See, I get strange(r) if I don’t have time to write, but what I’ve found is that if I don’t have any time to myself, things get haywire.  I’ve had to get more serious about claiming time for myself. I might take pictures of trees in that private time, but I have to have that space. I also need to get better at asking for and accepting help so I can have that time.

So what might you tell artists who are parents?
Don’t rush yourself or force yourself to go to events or feel you have to be on social media or think you always have to “produce” something. Don’t think you’ll stop being relevant by being quiet and living your life.

That’s advice we could all use.
True.

So you mentioned taking pictures of trees, and I notice you do a lot of that. Your Instagram feed is full of flowers. What’s up with that?
I love visual art. I’m not reading as much as I used to (my daughter will find strange things to eat in corners I thought I swept while I’m caught up in chapter 2). I surround myself with photography, and photos of fashion, textiles, architecture, interior design, and nature. Oh, and of course, music. Always always always music. Taking the pictures of flowers has to do with my constant quest for beauty, because the world is bizarre and I have to keep my inner world light. Nature helps me stay centered. We are bombarded by so much ugly. It’s a conscious act to see something pretty and share it.

That makes sense. You mentioned music. What are you listening to these days?
Solange’s A Seat at the Table. The J-Dilla Back to the Crib Mixtape. A lot of the songs A Tribe Called Quest sampled. That Spiritual Jazz Mix that’s floating around. Orisha music.

Can we talk a little about your most recent book Dear Continuum: Letters to a Poet Crafting Liberation?
Yes!

I love the book.
Thank you.

I feel like you shared so much in it.  Is there anything you feel like you left out?
My gosh, yes. I wish I’d told Continuum that money is important. Financial literacy, savings, budgeting that sort of thing.

Oh! That’s surprising. I wasn’t expecting that.
Phife said it best: “Riding on the train with no dough sucks.”

So true.
I also realized that I left out all of my international experiences when my friend Malika Booker asked how I felt travel has influenced my work. So If I do a second version, I’ll include those things.

Are you satisfied with how the book is doing? I don’t feel like it got the attention I expected it to.
Well, you can’t really expect that sort of thing can you? You can wish for it.

Come on, you know how the machine works. You could be strategic. Take out ads, send out proofs, have promotion and marketing folks, get reviews, talk to the “right” people. You could have done that.
Maybe I should hire you to do that. Getting the book right was so much work, and I was in the last trimester of a very trying pregnancy. I was hoping the work would speak for itself. It still can. It does. You know the book was published independently and we didn’t do heavy marketing or promoting. If it wasn’t for Frank X. Walker writing a check, the book wouldn’t have even gotten published. On another note, much of the work that the poets I “grew up with” gets ignored but that’s because we don’t control anything. And I don’t do the networking thing so…yeah. I know how much work and love I put into the book so I trust it’ll go where it’s needed.

Yeah. Split This Rock put it on their Spectacular Books of 2015 list.
That meant and means so much to me. The feedback I’ve gotten from readers has been affirming. I think the book is slowly doing its thing. Quietly.

Like you right now?
Exactly.

Anything else you’d care to say before we close? I hear your baby crying.
Go see Queen of Katwe, and follow me on Instagram or twitter.  I’ve got some things I’m really excited about coming up in 2017.

OK, cool!
I’m going to feed the baby now.

Goodbye and thank you.
Thank you. Be well.

Thanks, Ekere!

Readers, we are very low in stock for Issue 6 and Issue 8. Please email editor@newtownliterary.org if you would like to purchase one of our remaining copies—but act fast! 

Newtown Literary Contributor: Sokunthary Svay

Writer Sokunthary Svay’s poems “The Khmer Speaks through Palms” and “Common Ground” were featured in Issue #7 of Newtown Literary. We interviewed her about her writing, and her answers are below. You can follow her on Twitter @SokSrai. 

 

What is your name?IMG_1778
Sokunthary Svay. I let people call me “Sok” although people sometimes hear “sock”, “sook”, or “silk” for some reason.

What is your relationship to Queens?
I lived in Astoria from 2003-2006, and moved to Forest Hills (where I currently live) in late 2006 after I became pregnant.

What is your favorite memory of Queens?
Not a fair question since there are too many. Not specifically a memory, but my impression of living in Astoria just out of college and the freedom I enjoyed before the responsibility of being a parent to my terrific kid, Soriya, who’s turning 9.

How would you describe the writing you do?
The majority of my writing identity is a mix of my Cambodian heritage with my urban, New York City upbringing. I tend to discuss issues of hyphenated identity, mixed with class and gender. I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and have always felt displaced from most settings in my life — academic, literary, social, etc. In the past I felt disgruntled by it, this feeling of not belonging anywhere since I was born seeking refuge, but now I’ve come to see that “outsider” mentality as a source of strength. It allows me to be more open to taking in the new and keeping what works for me. I don’t feel quite as entrenched as those who are more definitive in their nationality. I also enjoy breaking stereotypes and stomping on the assumptions people have of someone who looks like me – brown and Asian.

How did you come to writing?
Quite naturally, I guess. I have a second grade report card with a comment that says “Sokunthary enjoys writing about Cambodia.” That set the stage for it. I remember making a homemade book as part of a 3rd or 4th grade project and I wrote about the “war” in Cambodia (my parents survived the Khmer Rouge regime). I drew a picture of a dead person in a lake with blood seeping from the body. Nothing I write now is quite as violent, but I do enjoy a bit of shock value, though maybe more nuanced.

What inspires you?
People and music. My husband tells me I’m an optimist when it comes to people, though it’s sometimes put to the test. I love connecting with strangers. I make it a point to remember the names of people I encounter on a regular basis. There’s nothing like calling someone by their name and seeing their otherwise bland-New Yorker expression light up. That moment of recognition is what I look for. New York City is sometimes a hard place to be in, but we can share moments with people and feel a little less alone in our struggle. In addition, my parents and other Cambodians, whether in Cambodia or the American diaspora, continually inspire me to remember the unseen. I care about the stories of unsung heroes and forgotten people. My mother cleans hotel rooms in Times Square. My father worked as a porter (manual labor) at a university. People easily overlook them because of their jobs. Because of this, I have a soft spot for doormen and I always leave a good tip for room attendants (and bartenders).

I grew up in the Bronx and I have a special kinship with the borough and its people although I’m a Queens resident now. Hip hop, R&B, and Soul are in my blood along with Cambodian ’50s surf rock, and classical music from my years in music school. All these aspects of who I am that don’t seem to go together remind me of the cultural exchange we make on a daily basis. It’s what sets us apart as a city — we negotiate the boundaries of what it means to be an individual in a setting where our definition of ourselves shifts everyday.

What does it mean to be a writer in Queens?
It means being on the brink of NYC and the world, and open to the languages and cultures that have come to define and differentiate it from other cities in our country. On my block alone, I can count 11 different languages spoken on a daily basis, sometimes three in one household. Imagine the different thinking processes involved, the clash of cultures and misunderstandings that ensue? I love the humanity of it all, even if I sometimes find myself a bit disoriented by it.

What writing project(s) are you currently working on?
My Cambodian heritage is a source of strength and pride for me. Like many people, I have a lot of ideas and plans, but not enough time. I’d like to do some interpretations of Cambodian folktales, either in prose or poetic form. I like that idea because it can be an educational experience for me and the reader, whether they’re of Khmer descent or not. I’m also fascinated by speculative writing, and having had some of my “speculative” poetry published in LONTAR, a Southeast Asian-based journal that specializes in that field of the fantastical writing from that region, I want to explore the spirits and ghosts that make up so much of the storytelling I’m accustomed to from my childhood. And as an active musician, I’m starting to understand that my music and writing world don’t have to be separate but can come together. I’m a big fan of Schubert art songs, having sung some of them myself. The text of his lieder (art songs) tend to be taken from famous German poetry, which he then sets to music. On that note (ha!), I’d like to take some of my work and thematically create a song cycle about Cambodia as a collaborative effort with a composer. This way my work could be breathing, existing not just on paper but in a temporal art. I’d also like to write a collection of essays about various incidences of music and its effect in my life. I’ve got a draft going right now about my obsession with Jeff Buckley, which led me to revisit music school as an adult. Lastly, I’ve got a draft of a chapbook that I’d like to submit sometime this year.

What should I be asking you that I didn’t?
“What do you wish had been different about your life?”

I wish I had met my other three grandparents. Two on my father’s side died a long time ago (my father is the youngest of several siblings) and my grandfather on my mother’s side died of cancer. I also wish my spoken Khmer was better and that I was literate in the language as well. I wish I had followed my instincts to continue singing in my undergraduate years rather than waiting until after motherhood to allow myself that indulgence. I wish I had taken more risks with my education, but I think I was a late bloomer. An important poet in the field told me a long time ago to write in another genre (this is after he read some of my work).  I stopped writing for a few years because of his comments. I wish I had a network of writers then who would’ve told me that he was an old fart and to keep writing anyway. But alas, I found my way back and my life worked out the way it did and it’s better for it.

 

Thanks, Sok!

Readers, mark your calendars:

Newtown Literary Contributor: Bill Cushing

Writer Bill Cushing’s story “The Commies Come to Watertown” was featured in Issue #7 of Newtown Literary. We interviewed him about his writing, and his answers are below. You can read more from Bill at PoemHunter.com or at PoetryNook.com

What is your relationship to Queens?Newtown pic 2
I have always considered myself a New Yorker first and foremost even though I’ve spent decades in other locales. My Dad was from Brooklyn and grew up in Albany. I was born in Norfolk, Virginia, because he was serving on subs in the Navy, but before I was two, the family moved, first to Flushing and then to Douglaston. I still have many of my “emotional roots” there even though I have been gone for so long. Once while visiting a friend out on the Island, I took a side trip through the town to show my wife the places I grew up, so my relationship with the borough seems unending.

What is your favorite memory of Queens?
That is tough to answer, but certainly my time both in New York through the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s has to count for something. What’s interesting are the many fascinating people I grew up with and knew in my youth: James Conlon has become a world-renowned operatic conductor, Debbie Berke is now the first female dean of architecture at Yale, and I hardly have to qualify John McEnroe.

How would you describe the writing you do?
Because I tend to work across genres, my writing shifts gears with the theme and format of the piece, but I also find that I tend to be influenced by whomever I may be reading at the moment, which makes things confusing at times but also, hopefully, interesting. For instance, I am currently reading the novel A Void by Georges Perec, a surrealistic mystery, while also reading Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. I’m certain the combination of those influences must rub off into my ongoing work.

How did you come to writing?
My first interest in the arts was visual, and I used to sketch and paint. However, when I entered the sixth grade, I was lucky enough to have several teachers who chose our reading assignments very well so that I soon began to read with a passion. My admiration for these writers pushed me to try it myself, and by the time I reached high school, I was active on the student newspaper, writing across departments with a monthly column being my favorite assignment since it allowed me to choose whatever topic I wished. Even before I made writing an academic choice, I kept journals, sketchbooks, and pads of paper with short pieces and some short stories. I still have many of these in file folders, boxes, and various piles—much to the chagrin of my wife.

Growing up, my “dream” was to get a journalism degree and write for the New York Times sports section. Then I got sidetracked when I managed to flunk out of the University of Missouri and enlisted in the Navy. Then I spent about 15 years after working primarily as a shipyard worker, but I continued maintaining journals, notes, and skeletons of stories.

Finally returning college at the age of 35, I was lucky enough—yet again—to enroll with an instructor who rekindled my desire to start writing seriously. While I started school with the intention of majoring in either history or humanities, I ended up getting a dual major in literature and creative writing. From there it was an easy decision to continue, and I was fortunate enough to be admitted to the only post-grad program I wanted: the MFA program at Goddard College in Vermont.

What inspires you?
That’s simple: life. But when I say that, I don’t mean only my life but my observations of the lives of people around me whether they are known by me or strangers I happen to see. I think it is difficult if not impossible for writers not produce material based on people and events in life. Even most of my poems are images and impressions of those I’ve met or that which I have experienced. But the other part of “inspiration” is, as Philip Levine alluded to in his memoir, the willingness to spend the energy in an effort to produce pieces worth reading. If anything motivates a writer, I argue it is the desire to be read and heard as an individual. Writing becomes that person’s voice. I would say the act of writing is more a calling because, whether I get paid or not, published or not, I cannot stop writing. Perhaps that makes it more of an obsession.

What does it mean to be a writer in Queens?
That’s an interesting perspective because, other than my internal “voice”, I likely would have written regardless of where I was from. Certainly my place of origin influences how I see things and then write about them—I am a big believer in Locke’s theory of the tabula rasa, but that is only one part of the whole recipe. Staying put or moving around only alters the possibilities, not the desire. I’ve spent a good portion of my life traveling the country because of work, and I’ve found that material is almost anywhere there is a window. Yes, I travel, but I do not travel to write; my writing comes out of the journey.

What writing project(s) are you currently working on?
I am now trying to pare down my MFA thesis into a publishable piece. The title is Counting Down the Breaths, a “memoir” about my late wife, and it chronicles the dual lives of me and her, our subsequent relationship, her battle with cancer, and as indicated by the title, the event of her death, which I witnessed over the final hours of her life. Perhaps the greatest inspiration for the work was my desire to share with others the ordeal of the caregiver for those with terminal disease. I want it to be a way to inform anyone else thrown into that position of what to expect, to convey that the pain that people watching their loved ones go through, while personal and unique to each of us, is not isolated.

And, finally, my favorite question: What should I be asking you that I didn’t? 
“What is your favorite book?”

I live convinced that Anthony Burgess is one of the greatest modern writers of the English language because of his sharp mind and versatility. I mean here is the man who wrote A Clockwork Orange, one of the more disturbing stories on society versus the individual, as well as Man of Nazareth, an ode to the life of Christ that became the backdrop for Zefferilli’s six-hour movie. He has written novels, biographies, and critical studies that knock me out. I know that when I read him, I better have a dictionary nearby because of the linguistic jokes he loves to plant in his work. In fact, there is a word that I still cannot nail down from his novel Napoleon Symphony—a fictionalized look at Bonaparte’s life divided into four parts where Burgess tries to pace his diction according to Beethoven’s Third Symphony. That is magnificent, clever, and indicative of real discipline. Yet, with all that work to choose from, he also produced what I rank as the greatest novel of the late 20th Century, Earthly Powers. The book covers 80 years of history and events through the eyes of a gay writer who befriends and becomes a confidant to the Pope. It has one of the greatest opening lines ever, and no one but no one comes out with clean hands. Newtown pic 1

Thanks, Bill!

Readers, mark your calendars:

Newtown Literary Contributor: Gil Fagiani

Writer Gil Fagiani’s poem “Jazzing with Machito” was featured in Issue #7 of Newtown Literary. Here, he discusses poetry. You can learn more about Gil at Kites Without Strings or in this New York Times piece. 

What Is My Idea of Poetry

When I lived in East Harlem in the 1960s, I was struck by the creative and powerful way young people spoke in this poor quarter of upper Manhattan, a mixture of English and Spanish, slang and argot. While their material conditions were depressed, their speech was dynamic. Their voices heightened a lifelong interest I’ve had in expressive spoken language. Engaged for more than 40 years in social work, I now realize those voices I’d heard constitute the major influence on my aesthetic as a poet. I think in terms of “people to people”, what I observe, perceive, I seek to reshape, enhance, and redirect back to people—not just a literary audience. Poetry is concentrated, powerful verbal communication. For me, it represents the ability to transmit the complexity of experience more intensely than other forms of verbal expression. While I try to respect all poetic traditions, even the most avant-garde, I place a high premium on accessible communication. One of my greatest satisfactions is to be approached by someone who says, “I’m not into poetry, but your work really moves me.”

 

Thanks, Gil!

Readers, mark your calendars:

QWW: A word from Site Captain Jennifer Harmon

Jennifer is Site Captain for the Writing about Family event taking place on Sunday, May 15 at 1:00 p.m. 

I’m looking forward to seeing familiar faces and meeting new people at my Writing About Family meetup on Sunday, May 15. I’ll be holding it in my apartment in Astoria from 1:00-3:00 p.m. It feels powerful to bring writers into my home and connect with one another in person.

I plan on reading a piece by my mom called “Mothering” since she is my creative writing inspiration and favorite poet. I remember reading this particular poem she wrote about my grandmother, which showed me it was okay to express honest, uncomfortable questions and emotions about family members and specific feelings/situations. I would also like to share one or two poems I’ve written about my mother and father to kick off the event. It’s going to be a delightful afternoon of experimenting with some writing prompts, sharing our work with one another, and expressing ourselves in a creative, supportive environment.

English: Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
English: Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The topic of writing about family has always been an important part of my artistic expression. I began filling pages of journals back in elementary school and poetry soon became an invaluable tool to cope with life changes dealing with family issues like blindness, diabetes, divorce, and the physical loss of a loved one. It’s also been a fun, fabulous way to capture magical moments and celebrate the beauty of family traditions (traveling, shopping, sharing clothes and jewelry, cooking, fishing), unique bonds, and gratitude for where I come from and who I am today. The other night on the subway, I found myself jotting down lines on the back of a receipt for a new poem about my mother-in-law Carmela and our bike riding adventure over the Verrazano Bridge.

Since August of last year, my husband and I have been holding a monthly private open mic for comedy, poetry, music, and storytelling in our living room. It’s pretty magical to see what happens in our home on a regular basis. We have three cats who normally hide, but lately Jupiter, the black and white cat, has been coming out to join the party.

Can’t wait to celebrate Queens Writes with everyone during the weekend of May 13-15th! It’s amazing to be a part of such a wonderful artist community in Queens!

Thanks, Jennifer.  Readers, we hope to see you there!

Be sure to check out the other Queens Writes Weekend events.

Queens Young Authors and Poets: 2016 Poetry Winners

Newtown Literary Alliance is proud to announce the winners of the 2016 Queens Young Authors and Poets contest, poetry division.

Queens Young Authors and Poets 2016 contest

Grades 3-5

First Place: Jingcheng Qian, Oakland Gardens (Grade 5 at PS 115) – “Essence of Hope”

Second Place: Cindy Cetina, Floral Park (Grade 3 at PS 115) – “Flowers”

Third Place: Qicheng Sun, Fresh Meadows (Grade 5 at PS 115) – “Reading a Book”

Grades 6-8

First Place: Rachel Duze, Hollis Hills (Grade 8 at MS 172) – “Education”

Second Place: Syeda S. Rahman, Jackson Heights (Grade 6 at the Garden School) – “Listen”

Third Place: Sowjanya Sritharasarma, Queens Village (Grade 8 at MS 172) – “Rainy Days”

Grades 9-12

First Place: Hyvil Escayg, Ozone Park (Grade 11 at High School for Construction Trades, Engineering, and Architecture) – “Addicted”

Second Place: Gabrielle Campbell, Laurelton (Grade 11 at Cambria Heights Academy) – “Modern Throne”

 

The contest was judged by about two dozen Queens writers, with the final selections made by Newtown Literary Poetry Editor Stephanie Davis.

The first place winners in each of the categories above will be printed in Issue 8 of the journal, due out in June. We are working on securing a time and venue for the awards ceremony, also in June, to which all of the winners will be invited to read their work and celebrate their accomplishment. (They will receive a separate email with the details of the awards ceremony in the weeks ahead.)

Congratulations to all the winners. To those who did not win, we sincerely hope this will not deter you from continuing your writing. The world needs to hear from the youth of Queens!

 

Watch this space for our Prose winners!

Readers, mark your calendars:

 

Newtown Literary Contributor: Micah Zevin

Writer Micah Zevin’s poem “P.S. 174” was featured in Issue #7 of Newtown Literary. Here, he gives the background for his work.

The poem that came to be known as “P.S. 174” (my elementary school Rego Park namesake) and to be published in Issue #7 of the Newtown Literary went through several title changes with a slow evolutionary incubation, “Death and The Enemy Part I”  being the title that stuck for the longest before editors at Newtown accepted it. During the time this poem was constructed, I was in one of those reflective obsessive periods in my work, recounting the early years of my awkward youth in elementary school, where bullies dominated and oppressed and were simultaneously emulated, imitated, and respected as embodiments of “cool” and “rebellion” by their lack of effort and care in school as well as their defiance of its rules.

At first, the poem was mainly comprised of the nostalgia of running to the ice-cream truck after the final school bell had rung while being pushed and shoved by your fellow sugar-mad hungry classmates. While it had a whiff of the mythological (Lord of The Flies), it did not have the narrative focus to make the fantastical easier to comprehend and follow. This came about in a workshop several years ago when we were asked to bring in poems we still “believed” in but that were “missing” something and as a result were not complete. The ideas behind the concept of the poem and the original title, which was not clearly conveyed through it, were regarding how alive everyone is or is supposed to be when they are young, alongside the “reality”, how certain people and situations can and do shape our current adult identities. Do we change for better or good? What does that even mean? How do we define those terms? A lot of the language that instinctually and gutturally came from my mind was born of early adolescent memories of other children as mischievous little beasts on a haphazard journey of individual and group scenarios that involved risk and discovery in an often insulated and restricted universe. I often remember my fellow children as less disastrous/cartoonish versions of the Gremlins. As a result, (in the poem) that’s how they come to be attracted to danger represented by the composite bully left-back-kid, Freddie, who acts as a lure for these desires, with status objects like firecrackers and stink bombs acting as a kind of initiation into his world. The section in italics where Freddie addresses his new recruits came later. It came about not only because I felt something was missing narratively, but because it lent more mythic significance to the piece: a monologue by Freddie, the antagonist/protagonist.

As for process, this poem is a throwback to how I hope I used to write. There were several teachers and professors who recommended that before I typed up a poem I had written in my various notebooks, that I let it sit for a while and ferment before I started to type it up and start the revision process. Since my M.F.A at the New School was completed last year, I have tried to modify this extreme stance. Now, every morning that I sit on my couch and start jotting whatever pops into my head regardless of whether it is journal entry purge from my psyche writing exercise or potential fodder for poetry; I go through what I have written during the week, pick a few promising entries, type the results up, work on it instantly, and perhaps read it at an open mike.

Since November 2014, I have been running a reading series called the Risk of Discovery Reading Series, where I conduct a poetry workshop where I invent fun stimulating poetry prompts to get other poets creative noodles flowing, as well as my own. Of course, I use all of the poetry prompts to write my own poems and read them at the reading series. This is another way in which I generate new material that gives me restrictions and takes me out of my comfort zone, as well as periodically surprising myself with work that is sometimes instantly promising.

Thanks, Micah!

Readers, mark your calendars: