Watershed Review

Est. 2012

Writer’s Voice Spotlight: Wendy C. Ortiz


CSU, Chico Writer’s Voice is proud to present author, Wendy C. Ortiz, Thursday November 6th at 7:30pm in Colusa 100A.

Recently, I picked up a copy of Excavation: A Memoir by Wendy C. Ortiz and was unable to put it down until I reached the end. In Excavation, Ortiz narrates the years-long relationship that she had with a teacher, starting when she was 13 years old. Her memoir flips the script on how society dictates someone in her position should act. In an interview with Hector Tobar in the LA Times, Ortiz says, “I’m writing about something that people prefer to see as black and white, but I really want to expose the grays.” The grays emerge in the way that her story is told, unapologetic and never shying away from taboo. Her story is about much more than her relationship with her teacher. It is also a coming of age story about a girl who is trying to find her place in the world. The raw and at times uncomfortably honest story kept me turning each page.

Memoir often relies on a dual perspective–the voice of innocence and the voice of experience. In Ortiz’ book, she accomplished this through mining journals from those years the relationship was happening and by creating formal elements that contain the adult perspective. While reading you feel as if you are inside the mind of teenage Ortiz as she is experiencing these events and grappling with what it all means. The soundtrack to this time in her life can be heard in the background with her use of song titles and lyrics to describe her moods. The second voice comes from the present-day Ortiz as she performs an archaeological dig on her past. This is the voice of experience that questions and tries to make sense of what happened. Those moments are presented as “Notes on an Excavation.”

The upcoming issue of Watershed Review will also feature a short creative nonfiction piece from Ortiz titled “Mud Myths.” It is a unique piece that stood out from the other nonfiction pieces because it is written in the third person. Like Excavation: A Memoir, the language in this story is very lyrical. We are honored to have a piece of her work to include in our Fall issue.

Wendy C. Ortiz is the author of Excavation: A Memoir (Future Tense Books, 2014) and the forthcoming Hollywood Notebook (Writ Large Press, spring 2015). She wrote the year-long, monthly column “On the Trail of Mary Jane” for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Nervous Breakdown, and The Rumpus, among many other places. Wendy is co-founder, curator, and host of the decade-old Rhapsodomancy Reading Series. She is a registered marriage and family therapist intern in Los Angeles.

Check out her website and her Tumblr to read more about her current projects.

Please join us for an exciting evening with Wendy C. Ortiz, Thursday, November 6th at 7:30 pm in Colusa 100A. Thanks to contributions made by the Department of English and the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, Writer’s Voice readings are free and open to the public.

By Jill North

Writer’s Voice Spotlight: Doug Rice


CSU, Chico Writer’s Voice is proud to present author, Doug Rice, Thursday, October 23rd at 7:30 pm in Langdon 300. Rice has authored more than a half dozen books including Between Appear and Disappear, Dream Memoirs of a Fabulist, A Good Cuntboy is Hard to Find, and his first novel, Blood of Mugwump that was selected by Kathy Acker as a runner-up for the FC2 First Novel Award. He has been published in numerous literary journals, anthologies, and magazines including Avant Pop: Fiction for a Daydream Nation, Biting the Error, Discourse, Zyzzyva, and Gargoyle.

Doug Rice earned his BA in English from Slippery Rock State College, a MA in creative writing at SUNY-Binghamton, a MA in English Literature at Duquesne University, and studied for his PhD in Literature at the University of Pittsburgh. He spent some earlier years teaching at La Roche College and Kent State University-Salem and is currently teaching Creative Writing, literary theory, and film history and theory at Sacramento State University. He is also an artist-in-residence at the Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart, Germany. His work has been translated into Polish, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and German.

Rice will be reading from his two recent publications, Dream Memoirs of a Fabulist and Between Appear and Disappear, as well as showing work from his book When Love Was. Though the genre distinction “memoir” is used in title and description of his more recent work, it is far from the traditional notion we are drawn to when we hear that word. These books share and explore the story through text and photograph, between narrative and poem. Threads of identity and relationship between individuals are layered upon the relationship between the author to the words on the page with consideration to the reader being an integral part of the pages, words, photos, and structure in the landscape of the physical book itself. Rice wants the reader to be aware of the importance of their interaction with what he is offering in the conjunction between story and art.

When asked about Rice’s more recent work, Professor Paul Eggers said, “He’s unlike any other writer we’ve brought to campus, in that he’s avant-garde. Though his two latest books are called “memoir,” they represent, to my mind, the farthest reaches of what you can do and still call something in the realm of memoir. His work combines narrative—I don’t think it’s possible with Doug to further classify it as fiction or nonfiction—photography and even, in the case of Dream Memoirs, incorporating a tactile element to the act of reading. I think it’s fair to say that he attempts to break down our habitual distinctions between self and other, between gendered identities, between memory and reality, and between language and the material world.”

For a peek into his handmade book, Dream Memoirs of a Fabulist, check out this video about his collaboration with Stephanie Sauer of Copilot Press.

Here he discusses his unique approach to storytelling

Please join us for an exciting evening with Doug Rice, Thursday, October 23rd at 7:30 pm in Langdon 300. Thanks to contributions made by the Department of English and the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, Writer’s Voice readings are free and open to the public.


By Charles Walker

2014 Best of the Net Nominations

Watershed Review is pleased to announce our nominations for the 2014 Best of the Net anthology. Thank you to our contributors for the honor of featuring their work in the the Fall 2013 and Spring 2014 issues!


“Poem That Contains an Emotional Truth” by Mark Haunschild, Fall 2013

“Worksheet” by Natalie Peeterse, Fall 2013

“Summertime on the Family Farm” by Nathan Slinker, Fall 2013

“CATCALL #27” by Michelle S. Reed, Spring 2014

“Designation” by Caitlin Scarano, Spring 2014

“At Thirty-Seven, In Bed” by Neesa Sonoquie, Spring 2014


“What Harold Saw” by Christie Hinrichs, Spring 2014

“Glass-Bottomed Boat” by MaryRose Lovgren, Spring 2014


“Qualifications on Twenty Things Said About Dover Cake” by Matthew Gavin Frank, Fall 2013

“49: The Last Five Days” by Eva Saulitis, Spring 2014


Writer’s Voice Spotlight: Joanne Harris Allred


Chico State Writer’s Voice is proud to present poet, Joanne Harris Allred, on Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 7:30 PM in Colusa 100B. Allred is the author of three poetry collections, Whetstone, winner of the Flume Press Chapbook award, Particulate (Bear Star Press), and The Evolutionary Purpose of Heartbreak (Turning Point Books). Allred spent many years teaching in the English department at CSU, Chico, and currently lives just outside of Chico with her husband, dogs, and a few chickens.

Allred’s work delves deeply into the human condition and explores the interconnectivity between the self and nature. Her words are a quiet meditation on living, loving, and losing. She often takes something ordinary and reveals its extraordinary essence by using metaphoric language to zero in on a specific experience or emotion. The speaker of her poems is often an observational one that acts as a guide into this meditation and connection to nature. Her poem “Plum in Early Spring,” from Whetstone, for instance, does this:

For three rainy weeks my plum tree

keeps a thousand small fists.

Then one warm day it explodes.

The sweet tethered cloud blazes

angel white, innocent of consequence,

not caring for how long the rain

has gone or if frost lurks

a few days away. The blooms don’t inquire

have the hives dried, will bees be out

in time to nuzzle their open hearts.


Unconcerned with plans for harvest

they ignore my pleas to be patient, to reflect

before taking an irrevocable step.

Trees simply answer the season’s necessity,

unable to deny the spirit

moving through by drawing silly

distinctions between the self and soul.

This poem begins with the simple image of a plum tree, but as the poem progresses a parallel between what is happening to this tree and what sometimes happens with humans emerges–a sudden burst of inspiration and an urge to follow one’s desires, to be wild in spirit without stopping too long to think about it, to “simply answer to the season’s necessity.” This poem also unveils the yearning and sometimes impatience humans have to control the natural world, which cannot be contained. Even though this poem starts off simply, it makes leaps to ultimately arrive at something much larger.

Please join us for a lovely evening with Joanne Harris Allred, Thursday, April 10th at 7:30 pm in Colousa 100B. Thanks to contributions made by the Department of English and the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, Writer’s Voice readings are free and open to the public.

By Kris Wheat

Book in Common Reading: Brian Turner


The Book in Common Committee presents a reading of poetry and memoir by Brian Turner, Tuesday, April 1, 7:30 p.m., PAC 134.

Brian Turner is the author of My Life as a Foreign Country: A Memoir (W.W. Norton & Co., September 2014; Jonathan Cape/Random House UK, August 2014). His two collections of poetry: Here, Bullet (Alice James Books, 2005; Bloodaxe Books, 2007) and Phantom Noise (Alice James Books, 2010; Bloodaxe Books in October of 2010) have also been published in Swedish by Oppenheim forlag. His poems have been published and translated in Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Polish, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, and Swedish.

Turner earned an MFA from the University of Oregon before serving for seven years in the US Army. He was an infantry team leader for a year in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Prior to that, he deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina with the 10th Mountain Division (1999-2000).

His poetry and essays have been published in The New York Times, National Geographic, Poetry Daily, The Georgia Review, Virginia Quarterly Review and other journals. Turner was featured in the documentary film Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, which was nominated for an Academy Award. He received a USA Hillcrest Fellowship in Literature, an NEA Literature Fellowship in Poetry, the Amy Lowell Traveling Fellowship, a US-Japan Friendship Commission Fellowship, the Poets’ Prize, and a Fellowship from the Lannan Foundation. His most recent book of poetry, Phantom Noise, was short-listed for the T.S. Eliot Prize in England. His work has appeared on National Public Radio, the BBC, Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Here and Now, and on Weekend America, among others. He is the Director of the new Low Residency MFA program at Sierra Nevada College and he lives in Florida with his wife, the poet Ilyse Kusnetz.

Writer’s Voice Spotlight: Daryl Farmer


CSU, Chico’s Writer’s Voice is proud to present author, Daryl Farmer, Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 7:30 PM in Colusa 110. Farmer is author of Bicycling beyond the Divide: Two Journeys into the West, which won the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writer’s Award and was a Colorado Book Award finalist. Along with his book, Farmer has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Laurel Review, Quarter After Eight, and Isotope. Farmer also had a short story published recently, “Where We Land,” which ran in the Summer 2013 issue of The Whitefish Review. Currently, Farmer is a Professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and teaches Creative Writing and a Film and Literature course that examines the short story in relationship to film adaptation.

Farmer’s first book, Bicycling beyond the Divide: Two Journey’s into the West, is a beautifully woven piece of literature that seamlessly grounds its reader in time and place, allowing for us to follow him on his journey amongst the diverse population and ever changing physical and social landscapes that make up America, as well as the most difficult leg of the trip through his previous, current and projected self. But as we follow along with Farmer, we realize that part of the load he’s carrying is us, the reader, whom he’s placed on the handlebars of his Trek 520 and given us a firsthand view of the world as he sees it unfolding, opening our eyes to the world around us and forcing us to find ourselves within it:

I looked up at the mountains now as I rode through the falling snow. The aspen trees that once covered the hillsides were gone. In their place stood condominiums packed together so tight, it was hard to tell if there were many buildings or just one, fortress-like and stretching for what seemed miles.

Was it the world that had changed, or was it me? Now, during a time of heightened security, it was difficult to imagine that I would get away with camping on a resort town golf course. Terrorism and war. Civilian Minutemen with guns “protecting” our southern border. It was a time when a government-issued color code was used to gauge our risk, and freedom itself was being reconfigured to fit the changes. A dosage of fear was fed to us daily. Vitamin or sugar pill, who could say? The news seemed gloomy, yet in 1985 the news had been of starving children, environmental degradation, crisis in the Middle East.

At twenty I had feared nothing.

From this brief excerpt, we see how Farmer puts the physical surroundings into perspective with brief descriptive detail, yet leaves enough room for us to fill in the scenery with our own experiences of diminished vegetation and urban sprawl within our community. He paints a vivid picture of the social climate that we reside in, while reflecting on what it was like for him and all who were there in ’85, prodding us to ask the very question he asks of himself:  “Was it the world that had changed, or was it me?”

Please join us for a wonderful evening with visiting author, Daryl Farmer. Thanks to contributions made by the Department of English and the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, our readings are free and open to the public.


By Jeremy Wallace

Writer’s Voice Spotlight: Peggy Shumaker


CSU, Chico’s Writer’s Voice Reading Series is proud to present the acclaimed writer, Peggy Shumaker. Peggy Shumaker’s most recent book of poems is Toucan Nest, a book of poems set in Costa Rica.  Her lyrical memoir is Just Breathe Normally. Professor emerita from University of Alaska Fairbanks, Shumaker teaches in the Rainier Writing Workshop. She is founding editor of Boreal Books, publisher of fine art and literature from Alaska.  She edits the Alaska Literary Series at University of Alaska Press.  Peggy Shumaker was Alaska State Writer Laureate for 2010-2012.

Shumaker’s prose in Just Breathe Normally is rhythmic and lyrical, organized in small chapter sections. Her memoir invites the reader to consider the ways genre can blend, overlap and elevate past a single set of conventions or constraints. Her short prose-shaped chapters, consider the poetic image as well as the story threaded between them. The reader is invited to witness the way writing constantly moves, evolves, and anchors itself to the stories we share with one another.

As a poet, Peggy has published seven poetry books, two chapbooks, and is featured in twelve anthologies. In her most recent book, Toucan Nest: Poems of Costa Rica, Peggy uses the Costa Rican landscape and its inhabitants to remind us how to re-examine our world with new ways of seeing—questioning and observing, as in her poem, “Ramon’s Eyes”:


Ramon directs us

to the roadside stand

where on the last day


he picks up queso,

mango, heart shaped

milk candies. Home.


If you ever fly north,

Ramon, nuestro casa

es su casa.


Ramon’s eyes fill—

Y mi casa es suyos…

is small, my house,


but yours.

Ramon, whose daughter chose

for her quinceanera


six friends from school,

a cake her mama baked,

and her family.


Ramon glances cloudward

for the rains, season

when he rests


in his own nest

after months on the road

barely blinking.


Please join us Thursday, November 14th, 7:30 pm for Peggy Shumaker’s reading in Trinity 100. On Friday, November 15th, 3:00-5:00 pm, she will be part of the Humanities Center discussion, “Looking Both Ways: Translation in the Literary & Visual Arts,” also in Trinity 100. We look forward to seeing you at both of these exciting events.

Writer’s Voice Spotlight: Jon Raymond


The Chico State Writer’s Voice is proud to present author Jon Raymond.  Raymond is the author of the novel’s Half-Life and Rain Dragon, and a collection of short stories, Livability, winner of the 2009 Ken Kesey award for fiction.  He’s also a screenwriter whose credits include Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff, Night Moves, and the HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce.  He lives in Portland with his family.  Raymond’s work was described by Publishers Weekly as, “Gorgeous…Raymond reveals how close failure (and worse) lingers,” and Booklist has described his work as “delicately refined and sublimely electric.”

You are strongly encouraged to see Jon Raymond read his work on Thursday, Oct. 17th at 7:30 pm in Ayers 201.

Writer’s Voice Spotlight: Brenda Hillman


The Butte College Literary Events Committee and CSU, Chico’s Writer’s Voice Series are proud to present poet Brenda Hillman. Hillman will be reading from her new collection, “Seasonal Words with Letters on Fire” at the 1078 Gallery, Tuesday, October 8th at 7:30 pm.

Born in Tucson, Arizona in 1951, Hillman has earned degrees at Pomona College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is currently a professor of creative writing at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, California and is the author of nine books of poetry. She has received a number of awards, including a Pushcart Prize and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award, as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Society of America. Hillman was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for her collection Bright Existence (1993) and a finalist for the National Book Critic’s Circle Award for her collection Loose Sugar (1997). Her latest collection, Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire (2013) is a nominee for the National Book Award.

Says Publishers Weekly: “Hillman’s fast-moving, energetic, and ample 10th collection blazes with indignation . . . . It’s one page lyrics its one-page lyrics connect the origins of the Roman alphabet, children’s reading habits, topical cries against our present-day wars, the evils of genetically modified seeds, the structure of Greek tragedy (“Tiny first with hurt earth spirits/ as in Aeschylus”), prose essays on poetry and protest, daily life on a West Coast campus, and larger-scale objections to the way that human beings have treated the earth…‘Around each word you’re reading/ there spins the unknowable flame.’”

Hillman’s poetry explores the way we use and interact with both the written and spoken word.  Her poetry works to displace our familiarity with language: the same letters we use to communicate “drone strike” or “mother” on one page have, on another, been literally turned on end as she does in “Autumn Ritual With Hate Turned Sideways.” In the case of “Two Summer Aubades, After John Clare,” she reduces lines to linguistic building blocks:


I.  towhee [Pipilo crissalis] wakes a human


                pp cp cp cp chp chp


cppppcpp   cpp   cpp


         (a woman tosses)

             Gulf disaster  ster sister

                aster    aster as   asp

         ppp cp cp p    bp  bp BP BP

           scree  screeeeem  we

       we we didn’t

         neee neeed to move so fast

2. woman in red sweater to humminbird

   sssssss  we  sssssss weee

no i’m not not  sweet not

 sweeeeetie i’m not

    something to eeeeeeat   


“Two Summer Aubades, After John Clare” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgxCNYzuHxI

The bold poetics found within the pages of “Seasonal Works With Letters On Fire” are further expressed through Hillman’s approaches to form. Take for instance a haibun entitled “The Body Politic Loses Her Hair,” which not only does not include a haiku, it does include a 1”x3/4” image of the poet holding a protest sign embedded within the text. Or a seemingly new form: a series of double columned “galaxies” dedicated to Helen Hillman and Ruth Gander. Hillman is also a vocal environmentalist, so Mother Earth as a potential subject is easy to imagine.


Ringed Galaxies Work With Our Mother

as they clean                             in skinny time

in desert autumn                                      drip on verbena

scraps of toast                          sorted rubber bands

scraps of string                         saved for the least

did she have to                     could someone else save

bits of matter                                could fail to rise

ask your doctor                        if cosmic fire

is right for you                                    when you were born

kingdom to creature                                  qui coisa

their iambs                                     of those

some galaxies rise                        as a furnace

needs cleaning                                               its arcing noise

the mom is our sheperd                her diving down

hummingbird baroque                   freedom you know

my substance                was not hid

from thee                  where I was

made in secret                   the visible talks back

her areas            of power   

just need                           not to worry

behind the tiny pizza                      behaviors

aren’t essences              you know that

Hillman’s poetry is at once deeply activistic while at the same time capable of transmuting language into its most basic parts. In doing so, she forces her readers to reevaluate their perspectives, their “new haircuts” and their “bosses” with their “new wars.”  She has distilled the fire of our language and the fires burning in the world around us into lines, stanzas, and dedications.

We hope you will join us in celebrating the work of Brenda Hillman.

By Stan Upshaw and Danielle Fernandez

A Conversation with Mari L’Esperance, Interviewed by Sabrina Derr

Mari L'Esperance

The Doll Maker

Long before I knew what would become of you,
I sat at the kitchen table, your small daughter,
while you fashioned their brilliant robes
out of colored rice paper: persimmon,
indigo, mustard, silver and gold leaf, your
fingers whispering across the dry sheets
as they creased the layered folds of a kimono,
working the stiff fibers so they would go
where your hands willed them to go—

until they lay quietly, bright leaves
on the surface of a pond. The wide obi
emerged from the richest patterns, was cinched
around the tiny waist and fastened
at the back. Black crepe became hair
coiled in the style of old Edo, adorned
with a splash of crimson. Here my mind’s eye
falters, struggles to complete the image—

and then I remember: the dolls were faceless,
a blank oval of white tissue where eyes, mouth,
and nose should have been—sightless, speechless,
floating gracefully on their slender frames,
hothouse orchids, mute and ephemeral.

        When I first met Mari L’Esperance on October 7th, 2010, I had recently finished reading her full-length collection of poems, The Darkened Temple.  Mari was invited to read her collection at California State University, Chico, and I was honored to have been given the opportunity to introduce her remarkable work to a diverse audience of listeners.

        The Chico heat was slowly laying itself to sleep, as autumn stirred the rustling leaves, and the sycamore trees left the University streets lined with crackling fragments. I remember what Mari said as we made our way to the reading, my palms moist with anxiety–a fear of speaking before others that I still can’t seem to overcome–but in her words, soft and contemplative, she said, “I love the dying season best.” We walked along the University grounds, in near darkness, crumbled leaves underfoot, and I suddenly realized that in those few words, Mari had inadvertently framed the complexities of The Darkened Temple for me, a collection with strong ties to memory, loss, and rebirth. Much like the transformation of the seasons, time and again, the eternal rest of a fallen leaf, this collection spoke to the transformation of the soul, the embrace of grief and its suffering, and the realization of one’s personal legend along the way.

        It is wondrous how successful poetry can make the reader feel so suddenly, intimately involved with the poet, as if the words have intentionally inspired a correspondence. After reading Mari’s poems, even yet, I experience so many different emotions: with poems like “The Dollmaker”, I carry the speaker’s suffering for loss and the nostalgia for her heritage, and I mourn with the speaker in the poem, “Trying to Carry It”.  I find that all of Mari L’Esperance’s poems are graceful, compelling, and evocative. Please join me for a conversation with Mari L’Esperance:

Sabrina: Can you describe your drafting and revision process for The Darkened Temple?
Mari L’Esperance: First, thank you, Sabrina, for inviting me to participate in this interview and for your kind words about my poems. I also enjoyed meeting you in Chico two years ago and fondly remember visiting your class, taught by the lovely Jeanne E. Clark.

As to your question: it’s a tough one to answer, mostly because several of the poems in TDT were written quite a few years ago, so my memory’s fuzzy. What I can say: I was writing poem by poem and did not have a manuscript in mind as I was writing; that came many years later, once I realized I’d amassed enough publishable poems that might cohere into some kind of integrated whole. In terms of revision, I often tweak and fiddle with poems for months, sometimes years after they’ve been drafted and really only lay them to rest once they’ve been accepted for publication (and sometimes even that’s not the end of it!). It’s my obsessive nature, I suppose—not uncommon with poets!

Sabrina: You consider yourself a Hapa poet, so your identity is very much connected to your Japanese heritage. How has that influenced your writing?
Mari L’Esperance: I’d say my Japanese heritage significantly influences my writing and creative process, but in ways that are mostly not conscious to me. Japanese culture has traditionally been an inward-focused culture, where the interior life is deeply felt and resonant. This stance is reflected in Japan’s traditional arts and worldview, although there’s begun to be a shift in recent years, most noticeably post-3/11. I know that poems for me almost always begin with a feeling and an image (remembered or imagined), or an image that invites a particular feeling response. The beginning of a poem is a deeply interior experience for me and needs to evolve just like that—internally—and sometimes over many months before I’m ready to commit anything to paper. Therefore, I am not a particularly “productive” poet in the sense that I don’t write daily, or even weekly. This inwardness, the internal gestation and shape shifting of emotional and psychological material over long periods of time, could be attributed to my Japanese self, but I also know of Western (and non-Japanese/Hapa) poets who work in a similar fashion. Temperament has a lot to do with one’s creative process—as much as cultural influence, I think.

Sabrina Derr: I understand that much of the inspiration for The Darkened Temple was a coming to terms with the disappearance of your mother. How do you think that has ultimately shaped this collection?
Mari L’Esperance: Yes, the central concern of TDT is the disappearance of my mother in 1995 when I was studying poetry as a graduate student at New York University. Understandably, her disappearance has become a core theme for me and will likely infuse my writing for the rest of my life, in one form or another. There are a few poems in the collection that predate my mother’s disappearance, but in gathering poems for the manuscript back in 2006, it quickly became apparent to me that loss and the integration of loss were central themes in most of the poems. Since the book was published in 2008, I’ve come to realize the collection as a whole also speaks, indirectly and symbolically, to the devaluation of the archetypal feminine in our troubled world, evidenced by the havoc being wreaked on the environment, not to mention human rights violations in many countries and the systematic dismantling of social services, education, and healthcare as we’ve known them here at home. So although the collection is largely “about” my mother’s disappearance and its aftermath, I do believe it speaks to loss (and transformation) on a more universal scale as well.

Sabrina: I recall you telling me once that when you initially saw the cover of the book, you cringed. Did you have much of a say in the selection process, and looking back on it now that it has been well-received, what do you think of it?
Mari L’Esperance: You have a good memory! Yes, when I first saw the cover, I’ll admit I was taken aback—the colors and design were so bold and graphic and did not at all seem aligned with the content of my manuscript, which I felt was quiet and understated and needed a cover design that reflected this understatedness (that’s my Japanese self speaking!). But over time the cover has grown on me and I’ve come to appreciate its dark beauty and intensity. It really does reflect the transformational aspect of the manuscript accurately— “Below the furnace, the ash,” to quote Brenda Hillman—so there was clearly wisdom involved in its selection. The design team at the University of Nebraska Press did not involve me much in the selection process, but were open to my input.

Sabrina: What is your process for submitting new writing?
Mari L’Esperance: I’ll admit that I’ve not been sending out work for a while now; I’m not at that stage. But when I’m in submission mode, I’ll send poems to editors who’ve generously invited me to submit or to journals I admire and think will be receptive to my work. I know I’m not alone, but I really do despise sending my work out—there, I said it!—but realize it’s a necessary stage in the life of a poem if one wants it to be read. That said, I’m resigned to being in non-submission mode a while longer. I’m preparing to move to Los Angeles at the end of November and it’ll be some time before the dust settles. I’m curious to see how a change in surroundings, geography, and climate will influence new work.

Sabrina: What advice would you give to new writers beginning the practice of submitting their work?
Mari L’Esperance: As someone who’s spent time on both sides of the transom (until recently, I served as an Associate Poetry Editor for Connotation Press: An Online Artifact), I humbly offer:
– Don’t rush to publish. Make sure your work is ready, and then send out only your best work.
– Submit to publications whose aesthetics are aligned with your own (which means subscribing to/reading a wide array of journals, as your budget allows).
– Follow the submission guidelines! This means: if the guidelines specify “Submit 3-5 poems,” don’t submit 10. If the submission period is September through May, don’t submit in July. This process is hard enough without making it harder on yourself by not following the guidelines.
– Be courteous and brief in your cover letter (if submitting by snail mail—a disappearing practice, it seems) and address the editor(s) by name whenever possible.
– Do say something brief about why you’re submitting to Journal X and do mention a small handful of recent publications in your cover letter.
– Don’t include a five-page bio; no one will read it and (I think) it’s a turnoff. Your poems should be front and center.
– If your work is accepted for publication, send a brief note of acknowledgment and gratitude; editors like to know their often-invisible toil is appreciated. Also: publishing is all about relationships, and editors have long memories; I say this only partly in jest.
– Have faith: if the work’s good, it will find a home. Rejection is part and parcel of the writing life. Have your feelings of discouragement and disappointment (I have them often!), but then turn around and resubmit. This is another reason to submit seasoned work rather than work that’s fresh out of the gate; we’re often more emotionally attached to newer work and rejection can sting that much more. Build up that rejection callous!
– Believe in your work. If you don’t, no one else will.

Sabrina: Which of the poems in your collection was the most difficult to write?
Mari L’Esperance: I suppose they were all difficult to write, each in its own way. But if I have to choose one, I’d say the 10-section “White Hydrangeas as a Way Back to the Self” because I really had to descend to a deep place within myself to access the poem, while at the same time struggle mightily to convey authenticity of feeling and experience; avoid gratuitous sentimentality; and incorporate form and shape and appropriate language/diction, images, and sonic effects that allowed the poem to succeed on the page. I also feared being “too self disclosing,” but ultimately let the poem speak the way it needed to speak.

Sabrina: Do you have a special writing ritual?
Mari L’Esperance: It’s not “special,” but I do need adequate (thirty minutes to an hour) time and space to daydream and stare into nothingness before writing. Reading, intuitively and without external directives, often has a part in this wool gathering phase. I’d call this process “creating transitional space,” which is necessary (at least for me) to access the deeper layers of my psyche, where the beginnings of poems reside. I do carry a small notebook in which I’ll occasionally jot things down, but I don’t necessarily translate my jottings into poems; it all simply goes into the pot and somehow results in Art—somehow, sometime.

Sabrina: This is kind of a strange question, but what is your favorite animated film?
Mari L’Esperance: Oh… so hard to name just one! But I absolutely love Isao Takahata’s “Grave of the Fireflies” (1988) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095327/ because it powerfully connects me with my mother’s experience as a young girl in Japan during World War II. Although it’s not easy to watch, I highly recommend it. Following closely are Hayao Miyazaki’s “My Neighbor Totoro” (1988) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096283/ and Yoshifumi Kondo’s “Whisper of the Heart” (1995) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0113824/; the former is now well known in the United States, the second less so. “Whisper of the Heart” has a special place in my heart because it’s set in pre-Internet/cell phone Japan and brings me back to pleasant memories of my childhood there (although I was mostly raised in the United States, I visited Japan often when I was growing up). I also now realize the film was released the year my mother disappeared; I hadn’t noticed this before, but this might help to explain its significance to me.

Sabrina: It’s been an honor, Mari. Thank you.
Mari L’Esperance: Thank you kindly, Sabrina, for this opportunity. It’s been a pleasure.

To find out more about Mari L’Esperance, her books, and upcoming readings, visit her website at: http://www.marilesperance.com/


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