Sweet Connections: Delia Rainey

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: Delia Rainey
Title of Piece published in Sweet: Bird of My Past, This is the Last Poem
Issue: 7.3

Delia Rainey photo

Find her:
Twitter
Instagram

Delia is cozy for Fall in Chicago, IL. She is a 1st year MFA candidate in nonfiction at Columbia College. You can find out more about her on social media.

 

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

This past year I had a poem published in DIAGRAM, I released an audio-poetry-ambient-music cassette called ‘The Blue and Red Gummy Worm,’ and Ghost City Press so graciously put out my mini chapbook ‘Private Again’ as part of their 2018 mini chap summer series.

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

I’m working on longer personal and lyrical essays right now. A mess and mesh including immediate diary writing, Midwest invisibility, and the mundane of the city as a form of escapism.

Who is your favorite author?

I only get to choose one? All summer long, I read Bhanu Kapil, Kate Zambreno, Claudia Rankine, Dodie Bellamy, and Eileen Myles.

What is your favorite poem/essay/book?

‘The Glass Essay’ by Anne Carson

What inspires you to write?

Disposable and fleeting memories, tiny moments. Also, my family.

What is your favorite sweet?

My favorite sweet is ice cream. Specifically the combination of green tea ice cream and mango ice cream. I used to work at this ice cream shop in Columbia, Missouri called Sparky’s. It’s a really special place, if you’re ever in the center of the country. Drink a Fresca on the side for good measure.

Sparkys

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

Sweet Connections: Amy Bilodeau

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: Amy Bilodeau
Title of Piece published in Sweet: Fruit Fish
Issue:  8.3

Amy Bilodeau.jpg
Find her:

Amy resides in Indianapolis, Indiana, but you can find some of her poems in DMQ Review, RHINO, and Two Hawks Quarterly. 

 

 

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

My full-length manuscript was a finalist for the Four Way Books Levis Prize in Poetry. My poem “betty” was a runner-up for the RHINO Editor’s Prize. My work has also been nominated for inclusion in Best Small Fictions.

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

I’m working on a new manuscript of poems that seem to be loosely connected by the color blue. Not an original theme, but it feels authentic for me at this moment. I’m excited to see where that goes.

Who is your favorite author?

Joyce, Beckett, Woolf, and Cisneros have all had a big impact on me. What I’m reading right now (and recommend!): Ana Bozicevic, Quenton Baker, and Franny Choi.

What is your favorite poem/essay/book?

Too difficult. My longest-loved poem is probably Poe’s “The Raven.” Still love that one.

What inspires you to write? 

Hmm. Music, humor/absurdity, and my own domestic landscapes and tensions all play a role. And solitude, a chance to process experience.

What is your favorite sweet? 

My daughter makes amazing chocolate truffles.

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

2nd Annual Poetry Contest

Sweet Lit’s annual poetry contest opens June 1st!

2019 Poetry Contest

We encourage and welcome submissions from diverse voices and under-represented
populations, including, but not limited to, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+
community, those with disabilities, and the elderly.

CLMP’s community of independent literary publishers believes that ethical
contests serve our shared goal: to connect writers and readers by publishing
exceptional writing. We believe that intent to act ethically, clarity of guidelines, and
transparency of process form the foundation of an ethical contest. To that end, we
agree to:

1) conduct our contests as ethically as possible and to address any unethical
behavior on the part of our readers, judges, or editors;

2) to provide clear and specific contest guidelines—defining conflict of interest for
all parties involved; and

3) to make the mechanics of our selection process available to the public. This
Code recognizes that different contest models produce different results, but that
each model can be run ethically. We have adopted this Code to reinforce our
integrity and dedication as a publishing community and to ensure that our contests
contribute to a vibrant literary heritage.

Interview with Marin Sardy

Marin1graycrop

Marin Sardy’s essay, “There Is the Urge to Find Meaning,” was published in Sweet’s 8.3 issue, and since then has developed into a riveting new memoir titled The Edge of Everyday: Sketches of Schizophrenia. Sardy’s new memoir confronts her lifelong connection with mental illness, the effect mental illness had on her family, and how she learned to understand these relationships. In this interview, Marin discusses these themes along with the writing process before and after grief, femininity, and mental health today.

When writing this memoir, and dealing with strong themes such as mental health, personal identity, and family dynamics, what was the writing process like? How did you decide which memories to write about and which to leave out?

For one thing, in order to frame and balance the intense personal stories I tell in the book, a lot of my process involved research on schizophrenia—science, medicine, history, philosophy—which was incredibly helpful in anchoring my experiences, since it’s such a difficult and misunderstood topic. Previously, most of my knowledge of schizophrenia came from direct observation and interaction with my mother and brother, so the research gave me a framework in which to think about how the illness has affected us all. And I felt it was important to speak responsibly about schizophrenia—to not accidentally promote stereotypes or misinformation, for instance. And I needed to think deeply about the illness in order to understand how to do that.

Deciding which memories to include was in some ways very intuitive for me, but it also had to do with finding the right pairings between personal material and other topics. For one, I went with what felt necessary in the moment. But also, I developed a process in which I would start with usually two topics, one personal and one external—my brother’s death and deep sea ecology, for instance, in “Nix.” Then the pairing became an organizing principle, guiding me in determining what was relevant. I just followed my own musings to make these choices. After my brother died, I kept having visions of the bottom of the ocean—it felt urgent and seemed to symbolize something to me about his life and death. I suppose that’s how my mind works. I often experience ideas as kind of dream-like images before I actually find the words for them. So I started studying the ocean floor, watching nature videos and reading science articles and taking notes. Eventually one day I understood that this could help me talk about how I coped with my brother’s suicide.

I’ve tried a number of times to write about aspects of my life that didn’t feel pressing at the moment of writing, but I always find they end up feeling flat. I once met a poet, an older woman (whose name I’m sorry to say I no longer remember; it was a long time ago) who said, “Never try to write about something that you’ve already worked through and sorted out in your mind. It will be dead on the page. It has to be alive inside you at the time of writing.” So I’ve actively resisted the kind of narrative shaping that requires getting into things that haven’t grown from what was alive inside me at the moment of writing (aside from what’s necessary to keep readers from getting totally lost, of course).

And I think that has allowed for delving deeper into the moments that still do resonate with me deeply. I’d rather follow the ripple effects of events in my life, doggedly, to see where they lead. When I write I’m always pursuing a question. For much of my book, it was: Why did my brother die? And to answer that in any way that felt remotely adequate, I needed to go all the way back to my great-grandmother and the multigenerational lineage of mental illness in my family. This is the part of the process that stimulates me intellectually the most—finding the connections between my life and other topics that interest me and weaving them together in ways that are revealing and surprising. And I find that this feels truer to the way my life has unfolded: Schizophrenia has always been this sad thing happening, but often it’s been in the background while I focus on other things. I wanted my book to capture that multifaceted quality and not focus too tightly on a single topic.

One aspect of mental health that you discuss in the book is mental health resources- in Vagabond you discuss the disappointment you felt because of the mental health system and then in That Fragile Space you write about two public programs developed to help the mentally ill, which were not implemented yet while Tom was alive. Do you think the country is moving in the right direction when it comes to mental health? What problems do you think still need to be addressed?

I do think this country is moving in the right direction, but there remain enormous barriers that prevent people with schizophrenia from receiving adequate treatment and care. The place where I see the most positive change is in the cultural realm. There’s an exciting pushback happening against stigmatization of mental illness, which has gained traction in the last decade or so. I see organizations popping up on college campuses, educating students about mental health and suicide prevention and encouraging people to not be ashamed to have a mental health diagnosis. This is wonderful—I think about what might have been different if my brother could have felt, when he was in college and his symptoms were just beginning to emerge, that he could talk freely and openly about what he was going through. But I’ve also noticed that this increased awareness rarely extends to schizophrenia. One organization, for instance, didn’t have the words “psychosis” or “schizophrenia” anywhere on their website, although nearly a dozen other conditions and symptoms were discussed in very empowering ways. I was like, Oh I guess it’s still not okay to say schizophrenia out loud. So I’d really like to get to where we can stop sweeping it under the rug like that.

That said, the inadequacies and failings of the mental health care system, particularly as relates to people with not only schizophrenia but any severe and persistent mental illness, are still dramatic—and frankly horrifying. Many people, like my brother, end up in solitary confinement in correctional facilities, where they only deteriorate further. And this occurs in no small part because there are simply not enough psychiatric beds, not enough funds, not enough housing facilities, etc. to allow people with schizophrenia to get enough consistent care to actually make a difference in the long-term course of their lives. Our insurance system is largely to blame for this, with hospitals unable to allow patients to stay long enough to truly get stabilized because insurance companies won’t cover it. The current insurance system also undervalues non-medication treatments, which can be life-changing for people with schizophrenia. The lack of political will to provide public funding is also a big part of it, especially for the uninsured. And there’s no excuse for that. The fact that this kind of help is often made unavailable for financial reasons goes far beyond stigmatization; it’s flat-out discrimination.

And lastly, I’d like to see a shift toward thinking about mental illness as a family issue. Our culture has long framed schizophrenia in individual terms, the classic image being a patient on a psych ward, known only to the doctors, receiving no visitors, having no connections to the outside world. But this is simply not the reality anymore—if it ever was. People with schizophrenia are loved. They have people who care about them and want to help them, and their illness harms lives beyond their own. Mental health providers do understand that family support is integral to recovery for people with schizophrenia, but resources to educate and empower family members to care for them, and to care for themselves in the face of the enormous stresses involved, are still paltry.

 

Marin Book Photo

You talk about your personal struggle with femininity and the female body in the essay Break My Body. How has your relationship with your body and female identity changed since your adolescence? Did writing this memoir change that relationship, or teach you anything about your identity as a woman?

I think my relationship to my femaleness can be described as a long, slow evolution away from understanding myself in terms of anyone else’s notions of what it means to be female. On some level I feel that, at my core, my relationship to my female identity is exactly the same as it was in adolescence. I see myself just as myself, first and foremost, and always have. But back then I didn’t know what to do with that. I was never very invested in being what others wanted, but for a long time, I didn’t know I had a choice. I didn’t know I could choose not to perform femininity as I was taught it should be performed—and I wasn’t taught a very hardcore version of femininity, but it was something imposed on me externally nonetheless. I wrote Break My Body in part as a way of rebelling against the idea that I need to have any sort of relationship at all with “femininity.” I don’t even understand what the word means. All it is to me is other people talking. The term is so loaded with the weight of oppression, so built around the male gaze, I can’t even picture what it can or should mean in a context that does not place men at its center. It feels too external to the realities of being female. Which is why I prefer to say “femaleness,” which to me gets at the inner experience of being female. And I have always felt myself to be definitely female, but not really in any way that I can easily point to in anyone else.

The writing of BMB occurred when I was finally becoming able to articulate these feelings, and it was a great relief and a great discovery to get it down on the page. It was first published as an essay, in Guernica, and when it went live I was honestly worried that other women wouldn’t relate to it. I just thought, maybe other women are so much more comfortable in their femaleness than I am. Maybe they’re going to be mad at me for talking about my ambivalence. But the response was the opposite—women posting on social media saying they felt it deeply, they saw themselves in the essay, etc. So that was incredibly validating and rewarding. I think we as a society are still figuring out that women can be as many different things, in as many different ways, as men can. I feel like I’ve been understanding that more deeply in tandem with a lot of other women.

You express throughout the book how your family members viewed and were affected by mental illness (either directly or indirectly) specifically in the chapter titled Conversations with Family. How has mental illness impacted your family’s relationship specifically between you and your father? Through your losses do you think your family is closer, or has it caused tension?

My younger sister, my brother, and I were definitely brought closer together by our mother’s schizophrenia. Living with her, we had to look out for each other and to collectively look out for her as well. And this created between us a loyalty and trust that felt unshakeable, which is part of why it was so devastating for me when Tom became ill.

But overall, in my family, schizophrenia has caused far more tension and distancing than closeness. And I think this is, unfortunately, typical. Witnessing a loved one descend into psychosis is an extremely traumatic experience, and with schizophrenia, it’s rarely an experience that just passes. It stays with you, it keeps happening, a lifelong thing. And people often just do not know how to cope with this and so yes, it can drive them apart. The denial that occurs on every level is part of this, and one thing I wanted to make clear in Conversations was how pervasive denial can be. And also, how mundane it is—even when you accept that a loved one has schizophrenia, there are so many ways to be in denial about their circumstances or about the implications. And of course, when you don’t know what to do and can’t figure out any way to make a difference, denial can protect you from your own suffering. So everyone ends up with their own private take on what’s happening, and everyone also has different ideas about how to help and what will work. And then there’s just the extraordinary stress and pressure involved in watching someone suffer. And all of that contributes to tensions, which is very true of my father and me. I do suspect he and I would have an easier relationship, in a life without schizophrenia. But the illness has been profoundly shaping both of our lives for 35 years, ever since my mother became ill, so I don’t know that it’s even possible to guess what kind of relationship we’d have without its influence.

You mention not being able to write for a long time after Tom died. How did you overcome this grief? Was there a spark that allowed you to start writing again? How was the writing process different after experiencing this loss than it was before?

I don’t really know how I started to be able to write again, but it was a slow and sporadic change. At first I just worked in occasional, short bursts. And I didn’t write about mental illness for a few years. During that time, I wrote about Tom’s death but not his life, and I wrote about other things that didn’t at first seem connected to mental illness, but which I later realized were very connected to it. Most of that stuff found its way into the book eventually.

I don’t think I overcame the grief so much as I eventually journeyed all the way through it. And writing the chapters about Tom in the book were part of that journeying. In the final two years of working on the book, I felt completely and deeply haunted by my brother. I had an image of him as a ghost in my house—not my actual house but a house like you might see in a dream, the house of myself, maybe—and I had a sense that I needed to find a way to exorcise his ghost. But I knew I couldn’t do that—couldn’t tell him to go, demand that he go—unless I also offered him something in return. The Vagabond chapters became that offering, because I felt I owed it to him to tell the world what happened to him. And once I had done that, once I had done him justice on the page and made sure everyone could understand exactly how much he didn’t deserve his fate, I felt like I could be okay with letting go. And perhaps more importantly, I could not move on from the loss of him until I could be assured that he wouldn’t be forgotten, and that his suffering wouldn’t be for nothing.

Almost 20% of the country struggles with mental illness to some degree. What did writing this memoir teach you about either your relationship to mental health, or mental health on a broader scale? What advice would you give to families who care for someone fighting a mental illness?

Wow, so much. In the book I talk about my effort to understand what it feels like to have schizophrenia—wanting to connect more deeply to my mom and brother’s experiences of psychosis, delving into how psychosis reshapes experience and alters time. And one thing I learned, maybe the biggest, had to do with my own ideas about schizophrenia’s supposed incomprehensibility. The more I have studied and read and written about it, the more I think that’s just a story people tell. There is a tendency to set schizophrenia apart, to treat it as some kind of other order of phenomenon. It is a mythical illness. And while it is clearly unique in many ways, I think we’ve largely let its mythos overtake its reality. It’s not even a rare condition. So what I’m coming away with lately is that I think it’s time to start letting schizophrenia, and psychosis, be ordinary. Not to diminish its intensity and difficulty, but to think of it along the same lines as, say, cancer or diabetes. They’re just things that happen to people sometimes, just part of being human.

For families with loved ones struggling with any kind of mental illness, I would recommend putting in the necessary work to understand as much as they possibly can about it, as well as putting in the work to really listen to their loved ones. People start at such a deficit of not only basic knowledge but of how to conceptualize the mind and brain, and getting a handle on that is important. Beyond that, what families can and should do varies dramatically depending on the illness. Often, finding healthy ways to keep struggling loved ones connected to the support of friends and family is also key. It can be difficult to maintain healthy boundaries when mental illness is involved. There are no easy answers. But I think education and connection can go a long way toward finding what works best for each situation.

Your time as a gymnast and your love for the sport play a large role in your memoir, so hypothetically if you could put together your five woman dream team for gymnastics (dead or alive, competing or retired) who would be on your team?

I love this. As anyone who reads the chapter “A World of Absolute Order” will know, I can’t simply go with who I think would get the highest scores, because that would be boring. But even the brightest stars of the ’70s and ’80s (like Olga Korbut and Nadia Comenici) can’t hold a candle to what’s being done in the 21st century, so I won’t include them. I’ll pick gymnasts who could handle great difficulty and who did so with beauty and flair—who in some way have made the sport their own.

For vaulting prowess, I’m going with Yelena Produnova (’00 Olympics), inventor and best-ever practitioner of the infamous “vault of death”—the dangerous and nearly impossible Produnova. Even twenty years later, few have ever landed it in competition. For bars expertise, I’ll choose the Chinese miracle He Kexin (’08 and ’12). Her routines were breathtakingly fluid and always surprising. For beam, it’s got to be Nastia Liukin (’08), the American daughter of two former Soviet champions. She was stunning—elegant, impeccable, and completely original. For floor, as much as I would love to choose Svetlana Boginskaya (’88, ’92, and ’96), the Goddess herself, her routines were just too easy compared to what’s being done now. So I’ll give this one to Aly Raisman (’12 and ’16), whose tumbling was top-level but who also performed with personality, grace, and a good dose of flash. And as team captain, I appoint Oksana Chusovitina, for sheer longevity. Once a Soviet great, she has competed in seven Olympics (’92, ’96, ’00, ’04, ’08, ’12, and ’16), most recently for her home country of Uzbekistan, at the age of 43, against gymnasts younger than her son.

Sweet Connections: David Macey

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: David Macey
Title of Piece published in Sweet: Drinking the OED
Issue:  7.2

Macey - Sweet

Find him:
Twitter  

David resides in Chicago, which he highly recommends.  Our founding editor, Ira Sukrungruang would probably concur. We asked if he had a website, but he responded with, “No. The internet is a fad, I’m pretty sure.” Chicago seems to breed humor, too. We like it.

 

 

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

Well, I finished my PhD program by writing a dissertation on the history of fake news (and its thematic place in literature) in early modern England. [Dusts off hands in self-satisfied fashion.]   I also co-authored two children with my wife—that was good, too. In addition to poetry, essays, and the odd Latin translation, I’ve started to publish fiction. You can read one of my short shorts, “The Far-Off Thunderheads,” at AGNI Online here.

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

I’m working on a couple of weird short stories that I’m still jazzed about. I recently published some linked poems about my daughter’s ongoing struggle with learning to speak—you can read them in a lovely issue of Ecotone and also for free at Project MUSE. It’s a poetry sequence I’m starting to expand into a book-length work, or so I think, which is both exhilarating and scary.

Who is your favorite author? 

For the last few years I’ve been reading a lot of Steven Millhauser, so he’s certainly a favorite. I think Jorge Luis Borges is up there for me too. I read a lot of Shakespeare for my job, and you know what?—that guy’s got the goods.

What is your favorite poem/essay/book?

Favorites are for dullards and zealots (jk, jk), but I will say that Wallace Stevens’ poem “Of Mere Being” is a stunner. The short story I read most recently that walloped me was Andrea Lee’s “La Ragazza.”

What inspires you to write? 

Fame and fortune? And I guess less glibly: I enjoy the high of beginning something and I enjoy the satisfaction of something being completed. All that hard writing work in the middle is dreadful though.

What is your favorite sweet? 

At the moment, I’d like a slice of tres leches cake—a dessert which, fortunately for my figure, I have no idea how to make myself. (I do a pretty mean key lime pie, however.)

tresleches2

(credit: Ben Fink/Getty Images)

There are no doubt a lot of panaderias slinging tres leches in Chicago, but my favorite thus far is the housemade tres leches at an Andersonville taco joint called Diamante Azul. Half the time they’re out of that cake, which makes it all the sweeter.

Diamante Azul

While it didn’t make the top list from CBS Chicago, we can believe it’s pretty good.

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

Sweet Connections: Sean Ironman

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: Sean Ironman
Title of Piece published in Sweet: One-Way Ticket to The Promised Land 
Issue:  10.3

Sean Ironman

Find him:
Twitter 
Instagram

Sean is working toward a PhD in Creative Nonfiction at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and teaches creative writing and composition. He currently does not have a website, but plans to.

 

 

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

I’ve been studying for my exams and revising my first book, so no major professional accomplishments. But I lost twenty-five pounds, so there’s that.

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

I’m revising my first book, a memoir told in essays titled And I Will Give You As Many Roast Bones As You Need. The title comes from Kipling’s short story, “The Cat That Walked By Himself,” which is about the domestication of animals. One of the through lines of the book is my efforts to save my boxer, Hankelford, who at two years old was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The book places those events beside two others from that same year: my parents’ divorce and my relationship with my pregnant girlfriend at the time who has an abortion. I’m excited about it because it’s fascinating to see how events and relationships connect and inform each other.

Who is your favorite author? 

Just one? George Orwell and James Baldwin are the greatest essayists.

What is your favorite poem/essay/book? 

I’ll try to stick to one for this, but if you ask me next week it may be different. Jack London’s White Fang is the only book I finished and then immediately started reading from the first page again. I paused about ten seconds before diving back in. I was a kid at the time, but that still means something, I think.

What inspires you to write? 

There are two sides to this:
1) Reading or watching things I don’t like or that I find frustrating. From when I was eighteen and first started writing creatively, I said, “Why do writers always have to do it this way? Why don’t they ever do it this other way?” So I said, well, I guess I have to do it.

2) I also think of my parents, who seem to have spent their adult lives working jobs they hate. I don’t want to do that. So I sit down and I write. That’s the only way to be a writer.

What is your favorite sweet? 

My favorite sweet is a Black & White Cookie. I have a story:
When I was twenty-one, I was in a bad car accident. I lost control of my pickup truck in the rain early one morning. It tipped onto the driver’s side and my left arm was dragged along the road for about fifty or sixty yards. The flesh off my forearm was stripped to the bone. An ambulance brought me to the hospital, and I was cleaned up and given Oxy for the pain and then sent on my way. A couple hours later, I walked to a coffee shop for breakfast. I was starving. I looked at the bakery case and wanted to order a Cheese Danish and a Black & White cookie. But, I imagined my friend telling me that I was a fatty, so I chose only the Danish. Later that morning, I passed out at a Walgreens waiting for a prescription and was taken to another hospital. It turns out my blood sugar dropped so low due to not eating much, the loss of blood, and the Oxy. I told the doctor about passing on the Black & White cookie, and he said if I had eaten one it would have saved me a visit to the hospital. So now I have a life rule: Always eat a Black & White cookie if offered.

Sounds like a great story, and very true! 

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

Sweet Connections: Mariela Lemus

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: Mariela Lemus
Title of Piece published in Sweet: Mundane Scar
Issue: 8.3

Mariela Lemus.jpeg
Find her:
Instagram

Mariela is an MFA student at University of Minnesota where she studies poetry, and is gaining knowledge of educating people in the writing process.

 

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

I received my BFA in creative writing and got accepted to grad school to continue my writing studies. I’ve had poems published in Barzakh, Flypaper Magazine, and Third Point Press, among others. I also now serve as an assistant poetry editor at Midway Journal and as a managing editor at Great River Review.

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

I’m currently writing towards my MFA thesis, a poetry manuscript which examines performances of fatherhood cross-generationally in a multi-cultural (and, as a direct result, often bisected) family.

Who is your favorite author?

Most recently, I’ve been obsessed with Ada Limón’s work, especially her new collection The Carrying.

What is your favorite poem/essay/book?

Hard to choose, but right now it’s probably Caitlin Scarano’s poetry collection Do Not Bring Him Water.

Ah!  Another Sweet Contributor!

What inspires you to write?

I feel caught between my two identities: Latinx and White. I know I’m not alone in feeling like I don’t belong in either category, in the feeling of being halved and where the edges of the two parts don’t quite align. My writing often explores that space.

What is your favorite sweet?

Brownies, for sure. I like to make them with coconut oil and extra chocolate chips so that they’re dense, chewy, and even sweeter!

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

Sweet Connections: JR Tappenden

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: JR Tappenden
Title of Piece published in Sweet: Tree for the Forest, Peregrine 
Issue:  8.3

JR Tappenden

Find her:
Twitter
Instagram

JR Tappenden is a successful poet who draws from emotion. You can find out more about her at jrtappenden.com.

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

My chapbook Independent City came out from Wells College Press in October 2016. It’s letterpress printed with a custom woodcut on the flyleaf, printed in an edition of 150 copies. Both the poems that appeared in Sweet are included. I couldn’t be happier!

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

I’ve been working on a series of poems that help me process my own grief for my dad. He died in 2016 and I found I had a lot of conflicting emotions that I needed to process. They’re structured as notes addressed to “Dear Sister.” Most of the time, the sister is my real sister, Kara, but sometimes the sister is me, or another woman who I encountered during my dad’s last days. All the titles are “Regarding…” something. There’s one in Superstition Review called “Regarding Your Wish for Do-Overs.” Others from the series have also appeared in Kestral, and New Limestone Review.

Who is your favorite author? 

I have to pick just one? No way. Right now I’m loving Terrance Hayes, Natalie Diaz and Danez Smith. I’ll also miss the great, departed Brigit Pegeen Kelly.

What is your favorite poem/essay/book? 

One book of poems that I go back to again and again is “Satan Says” by Sharon Olds.

What inspires you to write? 

The world is so strange and wonderful. It can be terrifying but also tender. How else to process all of that?

What is your favorite sweet? 

Ice cream. Especially strawberry ice cream. It tastes like summer.

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

Interview with Chelsea Biondolillo

Chelsea Author PhotoChelsea Biondolillo is an essayist, teacher and technical writer. Her latest work, The Skinned Bird, is a collection of essays that examine personal experiences with striking clarity and depth. Below, Chelsea expands on her usage of creative tools to weave memories, self-meditations, and precise imagery to build a space where her readers can learn along with her how to sing, how to love, and how to fly. The Skinned Bird will be available May 1st, 2019.

What made you decide to use birds and the language/song acquisition process as a storytelling tool in this book?

I learned about the stages of song acquisition in my ornithology class in grad school, but didn’t write about them until a couple of years later. At the time, I was having a crisis about what my immediate future would look like, having failed to find a permanent job or to finish a book after school. In the hopes of having a somewhat peaceful place to write for a couple of months while staving off the inevitable (which was moving back in with my parents), I’d moved into this guy-I-was-dating’s house, and he’d gone from being a doting suitor to a controlling jerk almost immediately. He reminded me of my biological father in dozens of ways, so one day while he was out of town, I called my mom to ask her to clarify some stories I half-remembered hearing as a kid about her first marriage. I originally thought the essay I was writing was just about them, but that’s why I love writing essays, because after a few edits there were more hints at my own crummy situation.

As far as the birds themselves… I have known a bit more than average about birds since I was a kid. When I was teaching myself to be a journalist, birds were a handy subject because I could easily observe them without expensive equipment (beyond a good field guide and pair of binoculars). There are tons of research papers about bird biology, bird behaviors, bird ecology, and the bird experts I’ve met have nearly all been very approachable, interesting people. I once called a man to talk to him about a grad school paper on vultures he’d written nearly thirty years ago and we spoke for over a half an hour—he didn’t have an answer for me, but he had observations that he still remembered and still cared to share.

In the section titled, “Safari,” you really incorporate various animals as a key element. How would you describe your relationship with nature? Why did you decide to use nature as one of the main motifs in this book?

Animals show up often in my writing for two reasons, I think, and the first is that I was often a lonely kid and animals were accessible to me in a way that children my own age weren’t always. The flash essay, “Safari Club,” is set at a restaurant of the same name (recently torn down) in the small town where my grandparents lived my whole life. It was full of hundreds of taxidermy animals, all shot by one man: Glen E. Parks. I was fascinated by them as a kid, and how close I could get to them—I could touch the walrus whiskers and pet the musk ox trophy, I could press against the glass right next to the tiny antelopes with giant eyes. The creepiness of the place didn’t occur to me until much later, and by then I considered it campy more than anything—though Parks excesses do not charm or interest me like they did when I was a kid.

The other reason animals show up is not unlike the reason they show up in fairy tales or Aesop’s fables, or in so many idioms: sly as a fox, wise as an owl. Sometimes, it is easier to talk about our weaknesses and shortcomings (and triumphs) from just enough remove to lessen some of the burden of responsibility they can represent. Or, said another way, sometimes it is easier to be like something else, for all the possibility it contains in the negative—e.g.: I may be like a magpie when it comes to collecting useless junk, but at least I don’t collect junk the way my grandmother did, which was clearly symptomatic of a hoarding problem. I use an extended bird metaphor throughout The Skinned Bird, even though at different times the metaphor fails, because though we are sometimes like birds, ultimately we aren’t birds, and that can be a relief.

 

TSB cover

 

The essays in the “Kick Ball Change” section center o women in your family and the connection between them. How would you describe that connection?

It’s complicated. My mother was willing to do just about anything to avoid moving back in with her mother, and I know very well that feeling—though the two homes in question couldn’t be more different from one another, there’s nothing quite like having to give up your own rules of engagement to live under another’s. And now I live in my grandmother’s old house! (It’s much less messy now that it’s mine.) My mother and grandmother (and I) share many similarities. Besides a strong shared streak of creativity, we were all heavy readers and collectors of things most don’t find particularly valuable. My art-making and writing is very much the result of their influences and I’m grateful for that. My worries about my weight, my fear of being disliked—these also are the result of their influence, and I’d give those gifts back if I could.

In Part II: The Silent Stage, you include a section called “The Story You Never Tell.” Why did you choose to include this story, but block it out with large images of shells? Is there a reason that you chose photos of shells to cover the text?

Rather than prescribe how any one reader ought to approach that piece, I’ll say that generally, in the natural world shells have a variety of functions: armor, home, protection. In this essay, they also serve as an obstruction. They are in the way.
By obscuring nearly all the text, obstruction becomes the content, instead of words. I was inspired here by artists and writers who use different kinds of redaction and omission in their work–Salvador Plascencia’s People of Paper has a character whose mind cannot be read, and so when the omniscient narrator passes over him, there’s a big black box on the page. In Terry Tempest Williams’ When Women Were Birds blank pages inform the narrative, standing in for years of untold stories. In Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantánamo Diary and memoirs of war, the text is sometimes redacted by the heavy hand of censorship. There are, maybe, as many ways to not-tell a story as reasons one might prefer not to, and here, I wanted to explore what happens to the experience of reading when access to the text is out of the reader’s control.

Your use of footnotes to incorporate quotes in your pieces as footnotes and excerpts is creative and unique—what led to your decision to incorporate other artists’ and writers’ words in this creation? How did you choose which quotes would fit the best with what you were writing?

My first use of quotes was in a series of drawings and collages I did, several years after I’d graduated from art school. In the first collage, I used song lyrics and lines from favorite poems and filled a page with them, layered one on top of another, in different shades of gray felt pens, until you could only read a word here or there. I collaged pencil drawings, photo transfers, into a mash-up of my work and the work of others. I thought of this layered image: my drawings of master drawings, my photos of an artist’s sculpture, my handwriting but someone else’s poem, as a kind of conversation. As far as the quotes I use in my current essays—I usually start with a pile of “collage” material built up from researching a topic. And then try out different elements on the page, and in relation to the other elements, to see which spark the strongest connection for me.

In the case of “Phrenology” which includes a lot of different quotes, my original plan had been to write an essay about women in science. I’d spent weeks executing all sorts of Google searches, several pages deep, with different combinations of women + scientific words, like women in geology, women astrophysicists, etc. These led me to books on topics as wide ranging as the Mt. St. Helens eruption, women executed in the electric chair, and mathematical equations from the Harvard “Computers” (women tasked with completing astronomical equations). Eventually, I had all these pieces, but after several rounds of revision—that essay has been overhauled more than any other I’ve worked on—the text focused more on my own experiences with science, and the quotes and collaged statements haunt the periphery.

Hypothetically, if you could become any type of bird, which type of bird would you be? Why?

I am enchanted by birds, but I like my thumbs too much to want to be one. What I love most about birds is their diversity and adaptability. Humans don’t occur naturally on every continent, but birds do. They can adapt to our habits, but don’t always choose to. They are also our closest link to dinosaurs—and if you get a close look at the talons of a condor, it’s easy to see the dinosaur still in them. When I lived in Ucross, Wyoming for one long spring, there were Sandhill cranes nesting just a few dozen yards from my bedroom window. Every morning I would hear their eerie calls (https://www.xeno-canto.org/372031) and once, they were joined by a crowd of red-winged blackbirds (https://www.xeno-canto.org/439853). I listened to the birds and wind across the plain, and nothing else for several long minutes and thought, “This sound is millions of years old. This is what the Cenozoic could have sounded like.

Sweet Connections: Jen Town

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: Jen Town
Title of Piece published in Sweet: Ghost Theories and Diorama Turned to Ashes
Issue:  10.2

Screen Shot 2018-09-30 at 11.51.27 AM

Find her:
Instagram

Jen resides in Columbus, Ohio. She can be found either at her house in German Village or in a coffee shop. You can find out more about her at www.jentown.com.

 

 

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

My first book, The Light of What Comes After, won the 2017 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize from Bauhan Publishing, and was published in April 2018. Since then I’ve done some readings, including at Penn State Behrend and the Columbus College of Art and Design.

thelightsm

 

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

 

I’m working on two book projects. One is a collection of mostly ekphrastic poems, called Paper Girl. The other, The Futurist, features poems with robots, dinosaurs, octopuses, bivalves, and ghosts. I’m also writing book reviews for the online review site, The Bind.

 

Who is your favorite author? 

 

I don’t think I have one. Should I? I like so many and it changes frequently. I went to a reading by Elizabeth Strout. I’d already read a few of her books, and now I have a goal to read all of them. I like Jorie Graham, I like Diane Seuss, I like Kathy Fagan, I like Jamaal May, I like Lo Kwa Mei-en. I read Larry Levis, Richard Hugo, Rilke in undergraduate and they are still incredibly important to me. I reread Levis when I feel stuck, and I just reread Hugo’s A Triggering Town. I like Gabrielle Calvocoressi. George Saunder’s Lincoln in the Bardo made me cry. Willie Lincoln dies! It’s not even a spoiler–we all know he dies. But it was so well written and his portrayal of both Lincoln and Willie was so poignant; it was 11 PM at night, I’m reading in bed, and my wife comes in to find me sobbing.

 

What is your favorite poem/essay/book? 

 

For a while I would have said Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. It’s Hemingway’s memoir
on his time in Paris in the twenties, his marriage to his first wife, Hadley. All the characters are there: F. Scott and Zelda, Gertrude Stein, Picasso. It’s about that period of excess sandwiched between the despair of WWI and then the Great Depression and then WWII. Stars burn brightest before they die. It’s also just…Hemingway is so clearly creating this narrative of himself and it’s pretty dramatic stuff. “Hunger is good discipline,” he said. But also there’s lots of white wine and oysters and trips to go skiing. It’s also about being young, like The Great Gatsby. So it’s about youth, and wine, and hunger, and nostalgia, and learning to write those Hemingway sentences. It’s great stuff, if you’re into all that. I’ve been telling everyone I can about Black Hole Blues by Janna Levin, which is about LIGO and the journey to detect gravitational waves. It’s about the science, but also about the personalities of the scientists who worked on LIGO and how science like this gets done. Levin is an astrophysicist, but also a good writer. It was an engrossing book. I’m still not over reading Just Kids by Patti Smith and also M Train. She’s always sitting in cafes writing things out long hand in pencil, wearing a watchcap (what the rest of us would call a beanie), and eating brown toast. In M Train, there’s a chapter where Smith describes the objects in the room around her and her space is still so Bohemian New York in the Seventies, it’s wonderful. As Liz Lemon said in 30 Rock, “I want to go to there”.

 

What inspires you to write?

Reading inspires me, of course. Also, animals inspire me, and news articles about science, and strange happenings–like how in the very cold winter they had in 2017 in Florida, iguanas were falling from the trees. But they weren’t dead–they were frozen. And when the sun came out, they warmed up and walked off. I want to learn new things that change how I see the world. I listen to a lot of podcasts, including Every Little Thing, Cosmic Vertigo, Philosophize This, and Radiolab. I’m interested in etymology and really like the NPR podcast, That’s What They Say. Also history, famous women in history, fashion history, the Roaring Twenties, Henry the VIII and his many wives….I’m practicing a kind of research decadence right now.

What is your favorite sweet?

I’m glad you asked because this gives me the opportunity to wax rhapsodic about one of my non-writing passions, The Great British Bake Off (GBBO). Particularly series 5.

My wife and I started watching GBBO about a year and a half ago, and my wife took up baking in earnest around that time. The show itself is this safe space from the world, which is so full of noise and terrible news. In the GBBO tent, people are from different parts of Great Britain, they have different customs and accents, but they all come together to create the best bakes, to avoid soggy bottoms and whip their egg whites into glossy, stiff peaks, to engage in friendly competition with no cash money in the end. Meanwhile Mel and Sue, the hosts, wield not whisks but puns, and Mary Berry’s eyes light up at bakes with a bit of “tipple” in them, and Paul Hollywood’s piercing blue eyes and–like some British bread-baking Hemingway–peacocking puffery serves as the counterpoint to Mary’s gentle criticism and floral blazers. And I haven’t even mentioned the amateur bakers themselves, how each has an endearing personal story and families that loves them and shed tears of joy at their progress.

As part of Carrie’s baking frenzy, inspired by this television confection, she made Toasted Cashew and Marzipan Brownies. We’d (I say “we” but I do the dishes and offer unsolicited advice when I shouldn’t and show up conveniently at the end to lick a spoon) never baked with marzipan and had a little trouble finding it. Luckily, we live in a German neighborhood and Juergen’s Bakery had some. It’s worth seeking out, trust me. These blondies are decadent and you can eat a small bit and be sated. Or you can eat a large bit in some kind of Marie Antoinette, Sofia Coppola-like sugar orgy. It’s up to you.

https://food52.com/recipes/73880-toasted-cashew-and-marzipan-blondies

 

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