Marianne Chan is the author of All Heathens. She grew up in Stuttgart, Germany, and Lansing, Michigan. Her poems have appeared in West Branch, The Journal, Poetry Northwest, Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, Carve Magazine, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She serves as poetry editor at Split Lip Magazine.
In this special Episode #132 of The Blood-Jet Writing Hour, we interview not one but two poets who happen to be in loving partnership with each other. Take a listen to this episode where poets Kazumi Chin and Michelle Lin discuss what it is like to begin and move through literary careers together, navigating romantic and professional jealousy, and what it means to build stronger communities together.
Kazumi Chin’s first poetry collection, Having a Coke with Godzilla, was published in 2017 by Sibling Rivalry Press. Their most recent work can be found in Underblong, AAWW’s the Margins, and in AALR’s Book of Curses. They are the co-organizer and host of Kearny Street Workshop’s key reading series and currently a PhD candidate in Cultural Studies at UC Davis.
Michelle Lin is a poet, community arts organizer, and author of A House Made of Water from Sibling Rivalry Press. She is a Kundiman fellow, co-organizer for Kearny Street Workshop’s reading series, and fundraising manager for RYSE Center in Richmond, California, a social justice youth center. You can follow her @sadwitheyebrows.
Sara Borjas is a Chicanx pocha and a Fresno poet. Her debut collection of poetry, Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff, was published by Noemi Press in March 2019 as part of the Akrilica series.
Sara earned a B.A. in English Literature from Fresno State and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Writing for Performative Arts from University of California, Riverside. She is currently a lecturer in the Department of Creative Writing at UC Riverside. Her poetry can be found in The Rumpus, The Academy of American Poets Poem a Day Series, TinderBox, The Offing, Entropy, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Cultural Weekly, The Acentos Review, and Luna Luna, amongst others. She co-hosts and produces The Lovesick Poetry Podcast — a west coast poetry podcast launching in 2019, alongside IRL cousin and award-winning poet, Joseph Rios.
She is a 2017 CantoMundo Fellow, a 2016 Postgraduate Writers Conference Fellow at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and a 2013 Community of Writers Workshop at Squaw Valley Fellow. She is the recipient of the 2014 Blue Mesa Poetry Prize. She lives in Los Angeles but stays rooted in Fresno.
She digs oldiez, astrophysics, aromatics, and tiny prints is about decentering whiteness.
MT Vallarta is a poet and Ph.D. candidate in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Riverside, where they study feminist theory, queer theory, and Filipinx poetics. Their work is published in Nat. Brut, Rabbit Catastrophe Press, Broadly, Apogee Journal, Weird Sister, TAYO Literary Magazine, and others. They were raised and live in Los Angeles, CA.
We’re kicking off National Poetry Month a few days early with an episode with Erika Ayón! Rachelle and Erika talk about Los Angeles, the color and fruit orange, and migration. Tune in!
Erika Ayón emigrated from Mexico when she was five years old and grew up in South Central, Los Angeles. She attended UCLA and graduated with a B.A. in English. In 2009 she was selected as a PEN Emerging Voices Fellow. In 2014 her poem “Hibiscus Skies,” was selected as a top ten poem from the Poetry in the Windows VI project sponsored by the Arroyo Arts Collective. Erika has taught poetry to middle and high school students across Los Angeles. She was a 2016-2017 Community Literature Initiative Scholar. Her debut collection of poetry Orange Lady was published by World Stage Press in March 2018. Available at http://www.worldstagepress.org/product/orange-lady. Erika currently resides in the San Fernando Valley where she lives with her husband and two cats.
Las Peregrinas was an idea first birthed by Yaccaira Salvatierra and co-organized with Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo. They wanted California women’s voices to be in conversation with other border states and communities as a way to share and heal. Each of the four peregrinas honors her antepasados and the border in her poetry and together they share a reverence for those who have gone before them.
Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, a first-generation Chicana, is the author of Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge (Sundress Publications 2016). A former Steinbeck Fellow, Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange winner and Barbara Deming Memorial Fund grantee, she’s received residencies from Hedgebrook, Ragdale, National Parks Arts Foundation and Poetry Foundation. Her work is published in Acentos Review, CALYX, crazyhorse, and American Poetry Review among others. A dramatization of her poem “Our Lady of the Water Gallons,” directed by Jesús Salvador Treviño, can be viewed at latinopia.com. She is a cofounder of Women Who Submit and a member of Macondo Writers’ Workshop.
Marisol Baca is the author of Tremor (Three Mile Harbor Press). She has been published in Narrative Northeast, Riverlit, Shadowed: An Anthology of Women Writers, Acentos Review, among other publications. Marisol won the Andres Montoya poetry scholarship prize. She received her Master of Fine Arts from Cornell University where she won the Robert Chasen poetry award for her poem, Revelato. Currently, Marisol is an English professor at Fresno City College.
Yaccaira Salvatierra’s poems have appeared in Huizache, Diálogo, Puerto del Sol, and Rattleamong others. She is a VONA alumna, the recipient of the Dorrit Sibley Award for achievement in poetry, and the 2015 winner of the Puerto del Sol Poetry Prize. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net. An educator and art instructor, she lives in San José, California with her two sons.
Vanessa Angélica Villarreal was born in the Rio Grande Valley borderlands to formerly undocumented Mexican immigrants. Her work has recently appeared in the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day feature, Buzzfeed Reader, Pinwheel, Epiphany, Southern Indiana Review, Apogee, Poor Claudia, PBS Newshour and elsewhere. She is the author of the collection Beast Meridian (Noemi Press, Akrilica Series, 2017) and is currently pursuing her doctorate in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where she is raising her son with the help of a loyal dog.
Thank you for your patience as we’re undergoing major changes here at The Blood-Jet Writing Hour.
First, our biggest and most important piece of news: we’re incredibly happy to announce that poet and author of BONE CONFETTI, Muriel Leung, will be joining Rachelle as the new co-host and producer of the show.
Next, the podcast will get back on a regular schedule, releasing episodes monthly. Upcoming guest poets include: Kazumi Chin, Michelle Lin, Erika Ayón and more!
And finally, we’re launching our Patreon campaign to keep the show going and to cover costs, such as SoundCloud file hosting, website domain fees, podcasting equipment, etc. There are tons of benefits, which include a Patron-only feed with writing and podcasting tips (this starts at just $1 a month!); signed copies of Rachelle and Muriel’s poetry collections; and manuscript consultations. Help launch us into our 10th (!!!) year of podcasting and highlighting underrepresented writers and poets!
The Blood-Jet Writing podcast crew
Born in Iloilo City, Philippines, Angela Peñaredondo is a Pilipinx/Pin@y poet and artist (on other days, she identifies as a usual ghost, comet or part-time animal) . He book, All Things Lose Thousands of Times is the winner of the Hillary Gravendyk Poetry Prize. She/Siya is author of the chapbook,Maroon (Jamii Publications). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in AAWW’s The Margins, Four Way Review, Cream City Review, Southern Humanities Review, Dusie and elsewhere.
She/Siya is a VONA/Voices of our Nations Art fello, a recipient of a University of California Institute for Research in the Arts Grant, Gluck Program of the Arts Fellowship, Naropa University’s Zora Neal Hurston Award, Squaw Valley Writers Fellowship and Fishtrap Fellowship. She/Siya has received scholarships from Tin House, Split This Rock, Dzanc Books International Literary Program and others. Angela resides in Southern California, drifiting between deserts, beaches, lowly cities and socially engineered suburbs.
Also, here are Angela’s video poems from the Center for Art and Thought:
By Heather Buchanan
This is no place to live alone.
This simple statement is the cornerstone of The Belle Mar by Katie Bickham. Set in an old Louisiana plantation house that has stood from 1811 through the present day, this collection links generations of characters across time. Through a brilliant use of atmosphere, tone, language, and visceral imagery, Bickham enables readers to grasp the subtle complexities of a brutal world that masqueraded itself as genteel.
Bickham’s house is dead, yet alive. Through interconnected vignettes, the poet masterfully employs a house full of ghosts to tell a long, sad story. Each poem takes place in a specific location, most often a room in the house. Each room served its traditional purpose, such as the kitchen, tool shed, or attic, but they also served a dual purpose within that slave society. In “Barracks, 1839,” a master gently calls out his slave, Abraham, for a punishment that will ultimately tear all the flesh from Abraham’s back. Upon his arrival at the barracks, the master is:
Grinning. Grinning like he might split in two
with laughing any second. “Abraham, m’boy,
m’boy.” He stalked a few slow circles round the room,
all the breath sucked from Abraham’s lungs…
“You know we got to go outside, son.”
In an earlier poem (“Library, 1830”), the granddaughter of the dying slave master feels driven by a moral cause, sneaking out to find the three slaves she is secretly teaching to read. As she prepares to meet them, she rationalizes:
You had to do bad sometimes, had to play tricks,
Had to sneak to have a good heart,
To guide your good heart home…
Having spent four months of “ghosting” to her room and copying pages at night, the granddaughter “had nearly smuggled out every last line / of Grandfather’s abridged Odyssey.” This carefully selected choice of text demonstrates Bickham’s strong command of literary devices such as allusion. Could the granddaughter be presupposing a future for three slaves by teaching them an epic poem about a perilous journey home, and how trickery could be used to outwit a cyclops?
Each poem in The Belle Mar moves forward chronologically, juxtaposing the worlds of master and slave. In “Attic, 1835,” the tragic legacy of slavery continues through the passing on of a plantation from a father to his son, a chain of human misery that will not be broken:
In his last minutes, his father had held his face
with the strength of a well man. “This will be
your bed tomorrow. That, your window,
those, your fields. They hunger, boy,
and you will feed them or they’ll swallow you.
As he takes in his father’s last words, the son feels the weight of his obligation to perpetuate this oppressive world: the fields, and the “churning / steady noise of the Mississippi…There was no returning, / was never any rising back up / above sea level.”
Through a sustained tone of detached matter-of-factness, masters, slaves, and women on both sides of this bleak dynamic make weighty decisions every day, decisions that have a finality that our contemporary society would find difficult to contemplate. In “Back Fields, 1849,” the slave Abraham makes the risky decision to run: “After the rains / we gone.” For the slave, choosing to run from the plantation likely means death; for the master, recapturing a runaway means contemplation of death for the slave. Bickham’s women simply know this:
“A woman knows which pains she’ll survive /
considering those she’s known before” (“Far Swamp,” 1825).
The language of The Belle Mar stays true to its context, sparse dialogue and tight descriptions upholding the truth of these characters’ lives. The title of each poem is based on the “purpose” of each room. Figurative language displays the conventions of Louisiana life: dried sticks of cane, iced tea, summer storms, the river and floods, a “graying maid,” all in support of themes of family, nature, and death.
One could argue that the characters of The Belle Mar are figures representing that larger slave narrative that is familiar to us, yet Bickham imbues each resident of this house with little touches of vibrant humanity that makes them something more than figures. Perhaps it’s the way Violet, standing in the kitchen, “feels the coming storm in her knees, / less pain than heaviness—the body’s way / of speaking with the earth” (“Kitchen, 1845”). Maybe it’s the way that teacher of slaves, Penelope, can “sprint the pecan rows”. Or likely it’s Old Israel, who chooses to hang himself rather than face an unknown future as a newly-freed slave, “fought them / when they tried to carry him… / spat and slapped when they tried to say prayers on him” (“Sugar House,” 1864).
The Belle Mar begins and ends with the house. Its dreamlike atmosphere is just this side of a nightmare, a place no one can ever escape. Bickham understands that the past and present will not—nor ever will be—separated. Even after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the house endures. The owner remembers growing up in the house’s “haunted halls” (“The Belle Mar, 2005”) and dreads her husband’s plans to rebuild it:
She believed him. He would sink his last dime
into raising the house from this ruin.
But in her marrow, hope rose
like floodwater, hope
the house was finished…
In the final poem, “Parlor, 2012,” a woman inherits a key to the house from her mother. She is warned in a loving note to “Guard against rattling bayou ghosts, / the pinstruck bones who stalk the riverline.” The daughter knows better:
My mother was mistaken. Ghosts stay
close to home, grinding their teeth
in the walls, making their beds
in the warped floors. I see them
sweeping out of rooms just as I light lamps.
This is no place to live alone.
Heather Buchanan is the owner of Aquarius Press, now celebrating its 15th year. Willow Books, its literary division, develops, publishes, and promotes writers typically underrepresented in the field; recent collaborations include the publication of Cave Canem XII. A graduate of Wayne State University and the University of Michigan-Dearborn respectively, Heather has taught Composition, English, African American Literature, and World Literature at several colleges and universities. In addition to teaching, Heather presents on arts and literature at conferences across the country, most recently for the Ragdale Foundation. She has directed many events and conferences, including LitFest Chicago, Midwest Poets & Writers Conference, and the Idlewild Writers Conference. A Poet-in-Residence emeritus for the Detroit Public Library system, Heather also served on the Board of Governors for UM-Dearborn’s College of Arts & Sciences Affiliate and was the COO of the Wayne County Council for Arts, History & Humanities. A musician, she is currently working on a World War I centennial book and music project honoring the Harlem Hellfighters. She has been a reviewer for BlogCritics and MyShelf and has blogged for publications such as Poets & Writers.
Episode #117! You can listen here:
Muriel Leung is from Queens, NY. Her writing can be found or is forthcoming inThe Collagist, Fairy Tale Review, Ghost Proposal, Jellyfish Magazine, inter|rupture, and others. She is a recipient of a Kundiman fellowship and is a regular contributor to The Blood–Jet Writing Hour poetry podcast. She is also a Poetry Co-Editor for Apogee Journal. She will attend USC’s PhD program in Creative and Literature in the fall. Her first book Bone Confetti is forthcoming from Noemi Press in October 2016.
Grace Shuyi Liew is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Prop (Ahsahta) andBook of Interludes (Anomalous). Her work was chosen by Vancouver Poetry House as one of “Ten Best Poems of 2015.” Her poetry has been published inWest Branch, cream city review, Puerto del Sol, and others, and she is a contributing editor for Waxwing. Grace grew up all over Malaysia and currently resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.