Sweet Connections: Randon Billings Noble

Each week we will be connecting with our contributors showing where they have been, where they are now, and what’s up for the future.

Name: Randon Billings Noble
Title of Piece published in SweetBye-bye Brain
Issue: 5.3

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Find her:
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Randon recently completed her book, Be With Me Always, and is now working on a series of essays. You can find out more about her at www.randonbillingsnoble.com.

 

What are some major accomplishments you have had since your Sweet publication?

My essay “The Heart as a Torn Muscle” was published by Brevity and listed as a Notable Essay in the Best American Essays.

My lyric essay chapbook Devotional was published by Red Bird Chapbooks.

And my debut essay collection Be with Me Always is forthcoming from the University of Nebraska Press on 1 March 2019.

Here’s a description:

“Be with me always–take any form–drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!” Heathcliff begs this of his dead Cathy near the end of Wuthering Heights. He wants to be haunted –he insists on it–and oftentimes we do too. Instead of trying to exorcise the ghosts of the past, the essays in Be with Me Always stand at the window, hoping for a hand to knock, a plaintive voice to ask, “Let me in.”

Be with Me Always is a collection of personal essays that explore hauntedness–not through conventional ghost stories but by considering the way certain people or places from our pasts cling to our imaginations. In a way, all good essays are about the things that haunt us, that get under our skin and into our minds, and won’t leave until we have at least in some small way embraced or understood them. But these essays look more specifically at the ways Noble has been haunted–by a near-death experience, the gaze of a nude model, thoughts of widowhood, Anne Boleyn’s violent death, a book she can’t stop reading, a past lover who shadows her thoughts. Some of the essays are traditional in form; others are more lyric. But whatever their subject or structure, these essays invite the reader to consider the ways we are haunted–sometimes pleasantly, sometimes more bitterly–and how we can hold onto our pasts while moving into the future.

Can you tell us about a current/ongoing project that you’re  excited about?

I recently started a new literary magazine called After the Art. We seek personal review essays that explore the way art and reading can enrich each other. You can find our first issue – and our guidelines – at AfterTheArt.com.

Who is your favorite author?

That’s a tough one. At the moment, though, I’m very fond of Maggie Nelson.

What is your favorite poem/essay/book?

I love Eva Saulitis’s essay collection Leaving Resurrection: Chronicles of a Whale Scientist, and David Lazar’s Occasional Desire, and Claudia Rankine’s Citizen.

What inspires you to write?

Everything! As an essayist I’m always curious about what’s going on in the world, in print, on the street, and in conversation.

What is your favorite sweet?

Right now, I’m into fruits that ripen on the border of summer and fall–Zephyr nectarines and Honey crisp apples. No recipes needed–just a sharp knife or a willingness to let the juice run down your arm to the elbow.

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Thank you, Randon, for taking the time to reconnect with us. We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future! 

Sweet Connections: Karen Babine

Each week we will be connecting with our contributors showing where they have been, where they are now, and what’s up for the future.

Name: Karen Babine
Title of Piece published in Sweet: Midsommar Dag
Issue: 8.3

mg-8222_1Find her:
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Based out of the Twin Cities, Karen teaches composition at North Hennepin Community College. She also travels around the country in her Scamp Camper. Sounds like a great pastime! You can find out more about her at www.karenbabine.com, and www.assayjournal.com.

What are some major accomplishments you have had since your Sweet publication?

My second book, All the Wild Hungers, which contains the piece that Sweet published will be released in early January 2019 (open for preorders now!) and that’s been really exciting.

Can you tell us about a current/ongoing project that you’re excited about?

My next project is about the 2014 Scamping trip I took by myself from Minnesota to Nova Scotia to research my dad’s family, who were among the first French Acadians to Nova Scotia in the 1600s. It’s been fun to revisit that trip, especially in light of my niece and elder nephew being old enough to go camping with me by themselves.

Babine scamping

Who is your favorite author?

Paul Gruchow is my all-time favorite, particularly Boundary Waters, as it was the first book I ever read that taught me that I could write about Minnesota, I could write about rural Minnesota, it could be published, and people could care. I didn’t have to write about more exciting places. I was a sophomore in college at the time and it was the most important moment of my writing life. Right now, though, I’m revisiting Boundary Waters, as well as Sigurd F. Olson’s writing about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in the 1950s, as Olson (and his writing about the place) was instrumental in getting it protected. It’s really important right now, as various protections for the place are being repealed by the current administration, to think about the relationship between writing about place and advocacy.

Honorable Mentions go to Tim Robinson, my favorite Irish essayist, and my current favorite books these days are Julija Sukys’ Siberian Exile and Elizabeth Rush’s Rising.

What is your favorite poem/essay/book?

Since I’ve spent so much time in Irish literature over the course of my career, most of my favorite poems come from that direction. My favorite poem is William Butler Yeats’ “The Stolen Child,” which is the only poem I have completely memorized, but I’ve got a soft spot for James Russell Lowell’s “The First Snowfall,” which my grandma used to recite any time it snowed. My favorite poems seems to be event-specific like that. My favorite story is on that line between story/novella—Andrea Barrett’s “Ship Fever,” which is about that horrible summer of 1848 on Grosse Ile, Quebec. I’m particularly drawn to any work that has a deep connection, in one way or another, to the natural world and the way it exerts itself on the humans that find themselves there.

What inspires you to write?

It’s amazing how I don’t really believe in inspiration anymore, as I used to, the flurry of an idea and writing so fast so I wouldn’t forget. A lot of my work is research based, as even that provides really essential questions for me to explore. These days, I’m much more of the mind of the novelist Will Weaver, who once told me, when I asked him if he kept a writing schedule: “Yes, because it would be a shame if the angel of fiction showed up and I wasn’t there.” I try to keep to a schedule of Morning Pages, three longhand pages before I do anything else in the day, which is sometimes hard to maintain during the semester, but it’s the work of being a writer—and that always feels good, even if I don’t get anything earthshattering from it.

What is your favorite Sweet?

I really love to cook—and bake—which is one thing that made All the Wild Hungers so much fun to work on. I kept finding expensive cast iron pots and pans, as well as Nordicware cake pans, in my thrift stores at ridiculous prices, and that gave me a canvas. I’ve taken over the spare bedroom with my implements, which I’ve started calling the Cook Nook, which is now a running joke in the family. My favorite cake is probably Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Perfect Pound Cake, which is indeed perfect, and the last time I messed with it, I wanted to replicate a really good Bailey’s Raspberry Truffle ice cream I had, so I replaced the milk in the recipe with Baileys, then made a ribbon in the middle of the cake with raspberries and chocolate. It was insanely good. Today, I’m taking advantage of the fresh zucchini a friend gave me and I’m making a coconut lime zucchini cake in my Citrus Slice pan. Should be good!

Karen dessert

Remind us to come visit you the next time you are in a baking mood!

Thank you, Karen, for taking the time to reconnect with us. We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!

Interview with Stephanie Anderson

Stephanie Anderson_4Stephanie Anderson is an author, essayist, and educator of Creative Writing. Her latest work, One Size Fits None, explains the differences between conventional and regenerative agriculture, and incorporates a sense of depth through connecting with farmers around the country. Below, Stephanie relates the relationships of agriculture, what she enjoyed about this creative journey, her beliefs on a weed’s contribution to organic land, and details about a spiritual connection to nature.

 One Size Fits None informs us of the environmental divide between two sides of farming. When writing this book, did you find it possible to view each operational challenge as interconnected?

Regenerative farmers and conventional farmers do face many of the same challenges, such as inclement weather, weeds, disease, and so forth. And yes, those issues are often interconnected. For example, fertile soil tends to produce healthy plants that resist insect, disease, and weed pressures more effectively, so healthy soil makes overcoming those challenges less daunting.

The difference, of course, is how farmers think about and handle challenges. For example, a conventional farmer usually addresses the challenge of soil fertility with synthetic fertilizer, which actually kills the microbiology required for rich, healthy soil—the kind that stores water and helps plants repel diseases and pests. That decision to use synthetic fertilizer makes overcoming many other challenges more difficult.

But I think regenerative farmers and conventional farmers can bond over their shared struggles. It’s something they have in common and a fruitful place for dialogue to begin.

Who were the writers that were helpful as a guide when writing this book and why?

I have long admired Michael Pollan’s writing, especially The Omnivore’s Dilemma. That book completely changed my understanding of agriculture and motivated me to join the conversation about it.

I also drew much inspiration and knowledge from Mark Kramer’s Three Farms, Kristin Ohlson’s The Soil Will Save Us, Judith Schwartz’s Cows Save the Planet, Dan Barber’s The Third Plate, Barry Estabrook’s Tomatoland, Robert Albritton’s Let Them Eat Junk, Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America, David Wolfe’s Tales from the Underground, Lisa Hamilton’s Deeply Rooted, Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, Liz Carlisle’s The Lentil Underground, and many others.

While visiting Kevin O’Dare’s organic farm in Vero Beach, we are introduced to the point, regarding weed existence, that “we’re actually putting foreign plants into where they are.” How does this continue to complicate the idea of what is “natural”?

When Kevin said this, he was describing his views about weeds. He was pointing out that most weeds are not invaders or evil plants as some people might believe. Many weeds are native to their environment and have evolved special traits to thrive in it. They fit the definition of natural: existing in or caused by nature.

If we look at weeds this way, then we also see that most crops are technically “foreign plants,” as Kevin put it, in their adopted environment. When he sees weeds growing among his vegetables, he sees nature just doing what it does. As the farmer, he suppresses the weeds enough for the vegetables to thrive, but he also understands that the weeds are part of the environment.

But crops can be natural, too. We often see the word “natural” applied to plants grown without unnatural, human-made inputs, like chemicals or genetically modified seeds. “Natural” can also mean the use of practices that mimic nature, like intercropping or composting to produce fertilizer. These applications of “natural” describe practices rather than an intrinsic trait. In other words, crops can be natural if we grow them that way.

 In Part Two: Holistic Regenerative, the belief starts with recognizing a buffalo’s natural contribution to the land. What areas of holistic management do you personally connect with on a spiritual level? And how do you write the spiritual?

I like how holistic management defines humanity’s place in nature. Under this view, we aren’t separate from nature, but active members of it—beings who both depend on the natural world and participate in its functioning. I find this way of thinking very satisfying because it helps me understand my place in the natural world and my relationship to its various elements.

But that view also comes with great responsibility. We can’t just reap nature’s benefits without giving anything back. Holistic management asks us not to dominate, but to contribute. Just like any other member of the natural world, we have a right to survive, and that requires the use of nature’s resources. But we have to restore what we take so other members—animals, plants, ecosystems—can live, too. Our survival depends on theirs, and vice versa.

As a writer, I try to embed the spiritual into the physical. In One Size Fits None, buffalo embody the spirit of regenerative agriculture and the philosophy’s potential to make us contributors rather than dominators. Buffalo also symbolize the ecosystems that existed before us and serve as a reminder of our responsibility to those ecosystems now that we have placed ourselves within them.

What was the most surprising aspect of writing this book?

I was surprised by the tremendous generosity I experienced from the people who helped me put this book together. The people I interviewed gave their time and knowledge so freely and openly. Many others read the manuscript or parts of it and contributed valuable feedback. I am grateful to so many people!

 

 

Sweet Connections: Sandra Gail Lambert

Each week we will be connecting with our contributors showing where they have been, where they are now, and what’s up for the future.

Name: Sandra Lambert
Title of Piece published in Sweet: The Beginning and the End
Issue: 6.1

1

Find her:
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Sandra resides in Gainesville, Florida. You can find out more about her at
www.sandragaillambert.com.

What are some major accomplishments you have had since your Sweet publication?

The publication of A Certain Loneliness: A Memoir from the University of Nebraska Press/2018

Can you tell us about a current/ongoing project that you’re excited about?

These days I’m book touring with my recently published memoir—Miami Book Fair, Southern Festival of Books, Decatur Book Festival, and a variety of bookstores.

Who is your favorite author?

Recently, I wrote an article for LitHub on feminist science fiction of the 70s and 80s, so my mind is currently full of the brilliant work of writers such as Joanna Russ, Elizabeth A. Lynn, Octavia Butler, and Vonda McIntyre.

What is your favorite poem/essay/book?

Harriet McBryde Johnson’s Too Late to Die Young was essential to having a solid sense of myself as a writer.

What inspires you to write?

It makes me feel good. Even when I’m in a despair of  “I’m no good and never will be” torment, it feels good.

What is your favorite sweet?

My poet friend, Aliesa, makes a perfect key lime tart.

I don’t know if it’s as perfect as Aliesa’s, but Taste of Home says this recipe is the best.

Thank you, Sandra, for taking the time to reconnect with us. We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!

Interview with Anne Champion

Anne Champion is a poet who featured in Sweet’s 9.3 issue. Her most recent work, The Good Girl is Always a Ghost, is an anthology that focuses on what it means to be a woman in society, and channels her own voice into historical figures. Below, she responds to what inspired her to portray these women, the thought process for writing, and what she is working on next.IMG_8576

The Good Girl is Always a Ghost includes the haunting theme of women from the past that were broken either by history or their inner demons. What brought you to depict these stories in verse?

Like many girls, I grew up with the idea that I had to be a “good girl.” But since I was young, I was drawn to goals that were considered “masculine”: I wanted to be a pilot, I wanted to be in the Air Force. I was told I couldn’t, that women didn’t do that, but I saw women doing it on the news, and I read books about Amelia Earhart and Annie Oakley. As I got older, it was my sexuality that trespassed the gender taboos, as I was inspired by the sexual freedom of Madonna.

It was only as I became an adult that I realized that this whole notion of the “good girl” was simply a means of control: no matter what we do, we are never good girls. Even if we stay within gender constraints, we are still scrutinized and degraded. If we are raped, we asked for it. If we consensually have sex, we are sluts. If we come forward about our assaults, we are liars seeking to ruin a man’s life. If we are angry, we are having a meltdown. If we are intelligent and successful, we are feminazis.

In reality, the only girl that a patriarchal society approves of is a dead one.

When I watch shows like Dateline, in which the majority of episodes center on women who are killed by men, this is the only time I see women spoken of positively. Suddenly, women are angelic, saintly, taken too soon, loved.

And if we look at the women throughout history who have broken records, trail-blazed, entered the historical records of our consciousness: they are all dead. Many living women are role models for other women, but they are still living: they are still able to be viciously attacked.

So I decided to resurrect some of these “good girls,” and try to examine them in the context of the patriarchy that abused them. Not all of them are role models: in fact, I hope to present them as real women—thus, not angelic—but human, flawed, chafing against their constraints.

It was important to me to have a diverse group of women: I wanted women from all over the world, old and young, able-bodied and not, with differing politics, sexualities, races, religions, careers, and gender identities. I include one transgender man, Albert Cashier, because he lived in a time when people could not name, much less respect, his gender identity, and so I see him as a victim of patriarchal abuse too, as he was forced into a feminine role he was not meant to inhabit.

What I learned most from this project is that my story, and my struggles, are not new: it’s one of the oldest stories there is. I think this book ultimately became a project that helped me grow stronger, become inspired, feel less alone, and heal.

“The Most Terrible Thing” illustrates Sylvia Plath’s influence on a generation of women writers and readers. In what ways has Plath influenced your work and why do we turn to her for inspiration?

I would probably not be a poet if it were not for the work of Sylvia Plath. When I first picked up Plath in my early 20s, it was as if every foundation I’d ever known cracked. I thought, “Wait, you can say that?”

She spoke the unspeakable for women: she spoke with venom and rage, with a poetic voice that sounds like an incantation. She spoke of her pain—I know this may sound strange, but I had never considered my personal pain to be valuable writing material. Quite simply, she gave me permission. Living in a patriarchal society teaches us many values, but of the utmost importance is silence and pleasantness. And furthermore, we are taught that if we want greatness, we need to emulate men. Plath’s poems did none of that.

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And the vitriol against Plath that still exists today points to the misogyny in our culture that still exists. Often, male grad students would tell me they found Plath to be “self indulgent and overrated”; yet, if a male poet shows any kind of emotional expression, he is deemed brave and emotionally vulnerable.

Plath’s story is particularly tragic, and I’m sure that plays a role in some of the allure surrounding her, but I think that—for me and likely for many women—her story is one we fear. We feel that we could very easily end up like Plath, and we don’t want to. We want to beat the system and end the abuse.

Each poem includes the truth of historical events, like the Challenger explosion. How did you choose these events and what were the obstacles—if any—in turning history to poems?

The events I chose really came to me the same way most images come to me in poems. My brain latches onto something like a dog with a bone and starts gnawing at it.

With Sally Ride, I was reading about her, but it’s very hard to find her voice: she was notoriously quiet and reclusive. There’s not a lot of interviews to refer to. And I don’t blame her: she was asked absurd questions and she was protecting her partner and her sexuality from the public eye.

As I was thinking about what I personally remembered about space exploration growing up, I couldn’t get the image of the Challenger explosion out of my mind. I was a child, but I remembered it and it struck terror in me at the time. Then I wondered: What must Sally Ride have felt? In doing some more research, I discovered that she was actually on the committee that researched what happened with the Challenger, and she personally knew the astronauts. So, that image became a way into the poem, but also a metaphor for her life: for all she had to protect, for the fear of what would happen to her career if it were exposed.

I think the biggest challenge in working with history was the feeling that many of these histories are not mine, and I have no right to them. I did not want to do anything disrespectful or that could be deemed cultural appropriation. But I did not want to ignore them either. In those cases, I generally turned towards odes and elegies rather than personas.

In “Florence Nightingale: The Lady with a Lamp,” you chose to write the poem from her perspective. I’m curious about what is the poet in the poem and what is the historical figure? How did you find her voice?

I’d like to think that all of my persona poems are a mixture of both my voice and the figure. Florence Nightingale is a good example of this because her views are so different from mine.

She was actually against the feminist movement: she felt that women needed to be taking advantage of the careers that were already there for them to gain financial and emotional independence. She believed that she’d worked hard in creating the career of nursing for women to be respectable, necessary, and professional. And she certainly did—she changed the field entirely. She also saw it as a means to independence: she never married or had children.

But I see her view as limiting. So, in writing her voice, I had to really try to imagine a view very different than my view, and I had to find the value in that. But it’s impossible to say there’s none of my voice in the persona poems: as I researched these figures, they all became a part of me.

The voices I wrote for them were the plethora of voices inside me that took root as I read more about them. For me, writing persona poems is the process of cultivating empathy for others, and that is what I was trying to do.

It is clear that the central focus of your work is female identity. How has this shaped your writing thus far? How do you see it evolving in other projects?

As long as the world sees me as a woman before a human and sets limits on me based on my gender, there’s no way for me to not write about womanhood. Traumas related to womanhood are simply a defining part of my life, though I wish they weren’t.

However, I will say that my writing has branched off from this topic a lot, as I’ve been doing a lot of travel research that has led me to look at issues of colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, and race. I wrote a whole book on Palestine, and I have another political book that I’m working on now: it’s important for me to not only be focusing on my fight, but to join the fight of others as an accomplice in resistance and an eyewitness.

Nevertheless, my poems on gender are much more successful and much easier to publish in book form. I think a lot of that comes with the time we are in right now: after the election, it was clear that this was going to be the political time of the angry white man, and so the voices of women and minorities are coming forward in the arts, and feminist poems are in high demand.

Sweet Connections: Anne Champion

Each week we will be connecting with our contributors showing where they have been, where they are now, and what’s up for the future.

Name: Anne Champion
Title of Piece published in Sweet: Florence Nightingale: The Lady With A Lamp
Issue: 9.3

1
Find her:
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Anne resides in Boston, and teaches both at Emerson College and Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. You can find out more about her at anne-champion.com.

What are some major accomplishments you have had since your Sweet publication?

I published The Good Girl is Always a Ghost with Black Lawrence Press—it contains the poem that was published in Sweet.

The Good Girl is Always a Ghost by Anne Champion

I also have a collaborative collection written with Jenny Sadre-Orafai, Book of Levitations, which will be published by Trembling Pillow Press next summer.

Can you tell us about a current/ongoing project that you’re excited about?

I wrote a chapbook of feminist hagiography to female saints in Christianity. I’m still looking for a publisher for it and hope it finds a home someday!

I’m currently writing a lot of political work: anti-colonial, anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism poems.

Who is your favorite author?

Sylvia Plath.

What is your favorite poem/essay/book?

Ooof! Tough question. There’s so many! But I love the Ariel poems by Sylvia Plath, Rookery by Traci Brimhall, Seam by Tarfia Faizullah, and Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith.

What inspires you to write?

Destruction: the best thing you can do in the midst of so much destruction is to create. Creating art is a message to the world that you refuse to be destroyed.

What is your favorite sweet?

I love all sweets! I’m addicted to any and all chocolate, but I have to say a sweet that has a special place in my heart would be Baklava.

Ooh, we love all that honey goodness, too. Kudos to those who are brave enough to make it!

Thank you, Anne, for taking the time to reconnect with us. We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future! 

**Be sure to be on the lookout for an upcoming interview with Anne on October 15th and a book review in the near future!**