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February ASPS Winter Meeting: Workshop with Beth Gylys
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The Alabama State Poetry Society's Winter Meeting will be held at the beautiful Story Tree Farm Retreats in Huntsville on Saturday, February 17th. This idyllic location is the perfect place to learn, think, and write!

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Our presenter will be Dr. Beth Gylys, Professor of English and Creative Writing at Georgia State University. Dr. Gylys has published five collections of poetry, most recently Sky Blue Enough to Drink (Grayson Books, 2016), and has won the Quentin R. Howard Award, the Gerald Cable Book Award, and the Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award in Poetry. She will treat us to a generative workshop on formal poetry.

9-10 - arrivals, socializing, continental breakfast
10 -12:30 - Dr. Gylys will present
12:30 -1 - optional catered lunch (details in separate post)
1 -2 - round robin reading (Bring a poem or two to share!)

$25 to attend
$10 lunch

To RSVP, email jessicatemple79@gmail.com. 

Payment will be taken at the event, but please let us know if you plan to attend!

Additional details and contact information can be found at the Facebook Event page for Alabama State Poetry Society.

An Interview with Ashley M. Jones by Ashley M. Jones.
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When Alina asked me to interview myself for AWC’s website, I was a little taken aback—I’m not someone who loves talking about herself, much less asking herself questions, so I did what any human of the new millennium would do—I sourced questions from my social media friends. Here are a million big questions for Ashley M. Jones, a new board member for AWC.


For so long, “Southern” writers looked a certain way and wrote about certain things, and so many of us are changing that image.

1. What does it mean to be the first Black board member of the AWC?

Since I was very young, I knew that in this country (this whole world), would try to keep doors closed for me—maybe even deny the door’s existence even if I see it squarely in front of me. I knew that to be Black in America, in Alabama, meant to carry the history of our segregated past and the reality of our still unjust present with you every day, in your poetry and on your person. It has been my goal, then, to make room for others like me, to step into doors we’ve broken open and make the doorway even wider. That’s why I returned to Birmingham after grad school in Miami—yes, the world is big place and there are lots of great opportunities elsewhere, but this is my home and I intend to be a part of its betterment. This is one such door—to step into one of Alabama’s oldest literary organizations as its first Black board member is a huge deal for me, and maybe for our literary movement in Alabama. For so long, “Southern” writers looked a certain way and wrote about certain things, and so many of us are changing that image. It only makes sense that the literary organizations would adapt such change, too. And, I take this as an opportunity to open that door even wider so we’re all represented in the literary bodies of our state—it’s vital that we include and reach out to all groups, especially those that are traditionally underrepresented.

So, yes, I’m the first, but one day I won’t be the only, and I certainly won’t be the last.

2. Who do you love? What do you love? 

I love Birmingham. I love cornbread and I love scalding hot showers. I love Lucille Clifton—she is my poetry mother, and I don’t’ know where my poetry would be without her example. If you want to know what it means to say it all without saying too much, to create metaphor in one clean punch, to make a whole world in a single line/break, then read her work. I love Gregory Hines—if you don’t know who he was, get out from under your rock! That man was a living poem—watch any of his tap performances, any improvisational tap he’s done, and you’ll see what a body can really do, how art is truly an explosion. I love Celia Cruz—again, get from under that rock if you don’t know her—she was a powerful force of good in the world, a brilliant singer, and she makes so many Black artists (and other artists) possible. I turn to her for strength and a fierce example of how to stay true to who you are no matter what.

3. Describe the moment you knew you were a poet.

Not sure there was a specific moment, honestly. In many interviews, I’ve said that I’ve been writing poems (at least, documenting said poems) since I was 8 years old. No one told me to write poems. I wasn’t really reading too much poetry back then—I distinctly remember reading Eloise Greenfield’s Honey, I Love several times in the second grade, and maybe that’s what planted the seed. Words have always been my mode of creating art—my parents made sure we were always surrounded by learning and creativity, and I just fell naturally into writing. I do remember deciding to commit to poetry as I wrote my senior thesis at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. Fiction was fun but it was always difficult (and that’s  not to say that poetry isn’t difficult—it is—but fiction was difficult in that I didn’t really desire to create stories in that way, so it was hard to complete them) and slightly unnatural for me—poetry always made me excited in ways no other form of writing did. When I thought of an idea for a poem, or when I saw a new way to create a poem, a jolt of something like lightning (but something less cliché…) surged and still surges through me—it’s a sort of discovery. I’m finding new ways to make language breathe and language is finding new was to shape itself into my experience. It’s thrilling!

5. What’s the subject matter of the latest poem you’ve written?

Right now, I’m writing about Harriet Tubman. I’ve been reading some biographies on her, and I’ve tried to tap into a more full exploration of Harriet the human rather than Harriet the historical figure. It has been really fun writing these poems—I’ve always loved Tubman. I have a poem out with Connotation Press called “Recitation” which tells the story of the time I dressed up as Tubman for a second grade poetry recitation project. I recited Eloise Greenfield’s poem “Harriet Tubman,” and, dressed as Tubman, I felt a sort of power that can only be attributed to the power Tubman had and still transmits through her memory. These poems allow me to draw closer to her and to explore what faith can do—Tubman was very religious, and she believed that she received visions from God about running away/the Underground Railroad after a master hit her in the head with a piece of iron. Although I had to iron to open up my third eye, I certainly feel like I’m being spoken to by the spirit of this incredible Black woman.

6. How do you know/ choose what you will write about?

It’s different each time, but often I’m simply reacting to something I’ve encountered in the world. Sometimes that thing is a poem I’ve read, a news article, a historical text, or an episode of Family Matters. A scent on the wind. The roadkill blocking my passage on the way home. The way somebody looks at my hair. Anything that hits me sideways and makes itself almost inexpressible in any other form than a poem is what gets written about. Things that trouble or fascinate me are often best worked out through poetry, too—other than prayer, writing poetry might be the most important version of conversation I  have in this life.

7. Did anyone ever discourage you? How did you overcome it?

Yes. I don’t want to go into the gory details, but yes, there were times in my life when people discouraged my poetry or tried to tamp down my self expression, and it’s hard. It’s very hard. I’m someone who struggled with (and I sometimes still do) low self esteem, and it can be difficult to try to tune out naysayers when they appear in your life, especially if they’re supposed to be mentoring you or helping you on your journey. But, I’m so lucky that I have a strong support system in my family and my chosen family, and they never let me forget who and what I am. I also try to remember that everyone’s journey and everyone’s art and everyone’s version of being a writer is different and that’s absolutely okay. Even if someone feels the need to put my version of writing/ living/ teaching/ talking/ walking/ existing down, I have to realize that I am the way I am for a reason, that there’s room for all of us in the house of poetry/life, and if I don’t live my truth and write the way I do, who else will put my voice in the conversation?

That, and realizing that people who discourage others from being who they are are often deeply insecure, and this is their way of making themselves feel important. I can only hope they find some light within themselves instead of trying to steal other people’s candles.

8. When you have writer’s block, what do you do to overcome that or do you just allow it to pass over organically?

Writer’s block is super annoying. But, I think it might be a false concept—that is, I don’t think we should expect ourselves to always be writing just because we’re writers. Like, we are other things, too. I’m a teacher but I don’t teach every moment of my life. I’m a touring poet but I’m not touring every single day. I take breaks. We are all eaters of food but we don’t constantly eat. We do it when we’re hungry. So, when I’m ready to write, I write. Yes, deadlines do force me to the computer or the page, but even then, I don’t force it. Sometimes, you won’t write or you won’t want to write. Sometimes you’ll sit down and be too frustrated with the blank page to put anything on it. Let that be permission for you to get up from the desk and do something else. Live your life! Watch a movie, dance, go shopping, talk to your mama, cook a meal, sit aimlessly for hours. When you stop thinking of the inability to write as a problem and more of a sign that you just haven’t filled up your life-tank enough yet (because writing requires life experiences, I think), things get a little easier.

That said, I do have some go-to methods if I really can’t seem to write and none of my attempts at living loosen up some of those ideas that are stuck. I talk to people I love—sometimes they give me ideas. I listen to music--if you want some suggestions, find me online, because I’m always sharing music I listen to. I open up the collected works of Lucille Clifton [insert your favorite writer here, although honestly you, too, could open up some Clifton because she’s universally amazing] and read a poem at random. Sometimes, that can work when I feel like my writer’s block is less of a signal that I’m tapped out of ideas but more of a sort of mental blockage.

9. What scares you most when tackling a poem?

I can’t say I’ve ever been scared when writing a poem. Maybe I’m scared if I write about my family, because they’re real people who have to give consent before I send pieces out for publication. But, I’m mostly excited when I’m writing a new poem. I can be scared of where my mind goes when I’m writing—when I wrote a poem about lynching postcards, I was disturbed by how grotesque I was able to get.

10. Which of the poets you admire really knows how to work a microphone when they read?

Danez Smith, for sure. If you’ve never heard them live, you need to re-evaluate your life. I loved Lucille Clifton’s stage presence—so bright and clear and deliberate. I recently saw Tayari Jones, who is a fiction writer, read, and I was struck by the clarity of her voice and the way words seemed to be so cared for when coming through her lips. Similarly, Campbell McGrath is a great reader and speaker—I could probably listen to him talk for the rest of my life just to hear the way he creates sound. It’s hard to describe, but you know that feeling when you swish water or mouthwash around and everything’s being touched, every nook and cranny, by this clean and wrenching sort of feeling? That’s Campbell’s way of speaking. Jonah Mixon-Webster is also an incredible reader (and honestly, just a plain genius—his book releases in February and you’d be doing yourself a great disservice if you didn’t pick it up)—we did a workshop together with The Conversation Literary Festival in Oxford Mississippi, and Jonah recited his poem “Black Existentialism No. 12: Da’ Bad Nigga Blues” and I was absolutely floored by his emotion and emotional precision. His reading in Tuscaloosa during that same week impacted me in the same way. I could, maybe, keep going, but let’s leave it here.

11. Where do you get your jumpsuits?

TJMaxx.com, mostly! It’s a one-stop-shop!

12. What other new poets should we check out?

Everyone who was on The Conversation Literary Festival tour this year—they’re truly incredible poets. Hasten to your nearest bookstore to pick up Jennifer Maritza McCauley’s Scar On / Scar Off. Julian David Randall (his book, Refuse, is forthcoming). Kwoya Fagin Maples’ book, MEND is forthcoming, and you absolutely don’t want to miss that one—she’s writing about the birth of gynecology and the role Black slave women played in that process. It is haunting and arresting and necessary.

13. What are you working on now?

I’m sending out my second manuscript, and I’ve started another project on Harriet Tubman, and I’m hoping to begin a series of poems imitating Gwendolyn Brooks’ formal pieces. Going to attempt to write love poetry (ick!) for Black women and for a few of those husbands in my head.

14. Do you keep a journal or notes to capture ideas and thoughts? If so, how much do you refer to it or use it as you work?

I don’t keep a journal anymore. I definitely used to keep the traditional tween journal, and my siblings and I have had many a laugh when reading them now. I do keep a notebook in my purse so I can jot things down when they come to me. Sometimes I rely on Siri to take down a note if I get an idea while I’m driving, but mostly I just hasten to a computer when I get an idea and start typing away. I like using the computer because I can do more with the format—I mean, yes, I do write in the format I’d like the poem to be in when I’m writing on paper, but I like to see what it would look like when it ‘s “finished” or printed, so I try to get it in a computer as soon as possible. Also, it’s vital that I save the pieces so they don’t get thrown in a pile of scribbled-on scraps, so the computer is the way to go.

15. How much of your poetry is written from your own experience? When you write from the experience of others, is anything out of bounds? Why?

Most of my poetry is from my own experience—but, even when it’s not from my own experience, I do try to still include my emotional truth. That makes the poetry more human, and it helps me as I endeavor to access whatever topic I’m writing about. And yes, some things are out of bounds when writing about the experiences of others (my family, specifically). If anyone is uncomfortable with any part of their story being told, I can’t tell it—just like we have to get permission before we borrow a material object, we have to ask that same permission when we borrow people’s memories or experiences.

16. What 5 pieces of media do you think a young person should consume?

This is hard….let’s see:

  1. Do the Right Thing and Bamboozled by Spike Lee – regardless of what we think of him as a person/thinker, I do think these movies challenged my way of thinking, and that’s vital as a young person.

  2. “Bemba Colora” and “Quimbara” by Celia Cruz (and the live versions)—I mean, every human, young or not, should listen to Celia Cruz. But these two songs in particular might appeal to younger folks because they teach me two distinct thing I wish I’d learned earlier in life. “Bemba Colora” talks about the ways in which Black people are discriminated against although we have vibrant and beautiful culture and soul. Yes, I knew being who I am was good when I was young, but I don’t know if I knew how to celebrate it with all the trumpets and vocal explosions that Celia does. And “Quimbara” just makes me want to dance, and I certainly didn’t do enough of that as a young person.

  3. Othello by Williams Shakespeare—yeah, blah blah blah Shakespeare is important, but I particularly love this play because of the way it challenges us to sympathize with a murderer. There are layers to why Othello does what he does, and of course the racial/social commentary is great, but I also love that I’m shown a dynamic character (Othello) who makes me love him and feel for him, even as he commits a violent crime. That sort of challenging emotional situation will help young people develop critical thinking and empathy skills. And, it’s good to try to connect with Shakespeare on a level other than the blind reverence we’re trained to have.

  4. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – I grew up on PBS, and Mr. Rogers was a huge part of that. Again, I really think developing a sense of empathy and wonder is so important for young people, and a good dose of Fred Rogers will do that and more.

  5. “A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi. Meanwhile, A Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon” by Gwendolyn Brooks—this poem has stuck with me since I was very young because it so brilliantly paints a picture of pain and injustice, even in the very home of the woman who caused Emmett Till’s murder. Again, empathy, but also such poetic skill. That poem gets in your bones.

Bonus: “Rehabilitation and Treatment in the Prisons of America” by Etheridge Knight –I mean, this is a political poem that hits you in the gut. We need to be made uncomfortable and more aware of the reality we’re living in, especially when we’re young.

Bonus Bonus: Tap starring Gregory Hines and Sammy davis, Jr.—yes, this is a movie starring the top three husbands in my head (Savion Glover is also in this movie), but! It’s also a chance for young folks to see some really great tap dancing. Tap dance isn’t as prominent as it once was, but it’s an incredible artform.  


(Alina thanks Ashley so much for being part of this self-interview experiment. To learn more about Ashley M. Jones--her poetry, her poesis, her activism, her jumpsuits, visit her website. )

Alina Stefanescu
Dear Joe: Tell Me About Pineapple
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"I am a child of meta-fiction..."

An epistolary interaction between Alina Stefanescu and Joe Taylor, author of Pineapple: A Comic Novel in Verse.

Dear Joe, you have altered my relationship to pineapples. What is it about pineapples that makes them fair game?

Dear Alina, 

Pineapples have lots of vitamins and minerals, so the fact that your relationship has been altered is good —unless of course, you are wearing them on your head as Carmen Miranda did. The historical reason I used pineapples comes from Los Alamos: after the Pacific theater war ended, the kids of Los Alamos—and there were many—were served pineapples in honor of Hawaii and Pearl Harbor. The Los Alamos scientists, however, came to regret this frivolity after the devastation caused by the two atomic bombs surfaced. Once committed to that fruitful title, I figured I needed to scatter it throughout: hence Dave’s unlikely reference to Lorrie’s breasts as such, the DC Doc’s saying, “We need to open the old pineapple” at the autopsy, and varied comments about the low-lying bush and American hand grenades. Inserting pineapples became a challenge, but by golly, I stuck with that title. And am glad I did.

Dear Joe, I wonder what inspired you to write such a formally-demanding novel with respect to rhythm and rhyme. Is this related to an underlying fascination with math or metrics? Please provide relevant data.

Dear Alina, 

Agh! You have uncovered my secrets: I am a thwarted mathematician and a closet musician. Mathematics is the queen of science, music is the queen of emotion. Combining both by composing a novel with set meter and rhyme was the closest I could get. That, as Thomas Aquinas might say, is the formal cause for the novel’s layout. The material cause came from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Byron’s Don Juan, such bawdy and happy songs. The immediate or efficient cause was a bet with a wonderful author named Josie Sigler concerning which of us could first finish a novel in verse. Josie wisely dropped out of the bet . . .

Dear Joe, two pages into Pineapple, I felt a compelling need to hear this novel read aloud. So I locked myself in the bathroom and admired the acoustics. Given its orality, I wonder if your writing method differed in comparison to other projects. I also wonder if you sung it. 

Dear Alina,

How could you possibly have known? I composed this entire novel in my bathtub, burbling out the lines underwater in various keys, though G major remains my favorite, for Gravity, not G-string. Actually, I “hear” all the prose I write in my faux-Southern, faux-Kentucky-hill accent. Certainly there was more emphasis than usual on sound considering the meter and rhyme involved with this novel. Hearing those work out became enjoyable, like completing a crossword puzzle’s clues and patting myself on the noggin with each success. By the way, I’m thinking of writing another comic novel in verse, likely combining the suffragette and Presidential candidate Victoria Woodhull with J. Edgar Hoover, Mr. FBI himself. Both were driven, both were confused, both were charlatans and hypocrites, both could have been saviors of sorts.

Dear Joe, are you planning any readings where for those of us who have an urge to hear it straight from the bard’s mouth?

Dear Alina,

I do hope to read on the lovely campus of UWA and I will announce the date of the same.

Until then, you may visit You-Tube and find two partial recordings—completed outdoors, not in a bathtub!  I plan on recording the entire novel on audio soonly.

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"I am a thwarted mathematician and a closet musician." 

Dear Joe, why did you bring yourself into the story? On a vaguely-related note, what’s the relationship between your everyday self and your persona? Which one feels more authentic and why?

Dear Alina, 

I guess I am a child of meta-fiction. I love Jane Austen’s sly use of the same, and of course Tristram Shandy, Tom Jones, and Kurt Vonnegut. (Also note Chaucer and Byron above.) I do think that adopting my persona as a character in this novel was particularly, even peculiarly, effective, especially as the author’s ever-insightful lover Trixie/Dixie/Pixie pulled that person from “writer’s blockhead,” then corrected and guided him along both in plotting the novel and in recognizing the truth about his secret daughter Lorrie. “The relationship between . . .”? Lord, my everyday self is a mess. I much prefer my persona, who is clever, upbeat, and takes a Zen stance toward the world and its worrisome woes, including atomic bombs and their big brother the hydrogen bomb.

Dear Joe, science is cool. Tell me about the Higgs boson as a muse.

Dear Alina,

The Higgs boson, “the God-Particle of Gravity,” was much in the news when I was writing Pineapple. I figured “Oh hell, if there’s a way we can turn this into a weapon, we will.” Instead, that is, of using it to make all of us walk more lightly on the planet or gleefully float over the Potomac and the Grand Canyon, or even propelling humanity toward the stars. Maybe it was an anti-muse?

Dear Joe, given the genre-bending, hybrid nature of this book, how did you find the wonderful Sagging Meniscus Press as a publisher? What advice would you give writers currently seeking to publish formally-innovative work?

Dear Alina, 

Several years ago I was at a huge writer’s conference in Minneapolis. I knew the guy sitting behind me, George Peabody of Gargoyle Magazine, and I turned to ask him if he knew of anyone who might publish a comic novel in rhyming quatrains. Being the polite guy he is, George tried not to roll his eyes and chortle too offensively, so he just shook his head. So what I did after I finished Pineapple was to go to www.spdbooks.org and browse their small press publishers, using their excerpts, to find publishers compatible with this weird novel. Sagging Meniscus fit right in, and the publisher, Jacob Smullyan, replied within an hour or so of my query, writing, “Say what you will about comedy, this is going to distract me from work I had to do.” What I said about comedy lies in the prologue:

                “The trouble with comedy, people think,/

                is that it’s funny. It’s not. To prove this/

                impels my high intent. A cat at nine lives’ brink,/

                I swear to die if you derive the smallest bliss//

                from these sad lines that follow. . .”

So, for literary authors, especially anyone working outside the expected, my advice is to do a bit of research and send out queries with a small excerpt and be both persistent and patient. For writers of the genre, such as mystery, romance, fantasy, I advise getting an agent. A warning, agents can be unbelievably terse and rude: I rec’d several returned query letters with the word “No” hen-scratched across them.

Dear Joe, what is “mini-destruction” and why does it matter in the Super-Size-Me era?

Dear Alina,

Even though the character Strickland, a.k.a Strictdick, promises the Mexican drug czar Boss Mo that he will use the Higgs boson weapon to wipe out an “entire section” of opera lovers in Santa Fe’s production of Otello, that destruction is small potatoes compared to atomic weaponry, biological warfare, and crashing jet planes into skyscrapers. Still, the weapon fits perfectly into the drug czar’s needs, for it effectively leaves no trace of the victim. And in this Super-Size-Me era, unimpeachable guilt stands of utmost importance. Who? What? Me? Must be fake news.

Dear Joe, have you ever written a Dear Joe letter? If so, why would you go and do a thing like that? If not, why don’t you do things like that more often?

Dear Alina,

In a previous incarnation, were you Postmaster General of the United States? Perhaps even Ben Franklin?

Dear Joe, did I mention that in high school people called me "Aliner?" And I doubt if I could be US Postmaster General since I was born in Romania. Dear Joe, did you know that I can't even be President of the United States? Dear Joe, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. I'm going to tuck them inside a traditional time capsule and hope for the best.


More about Joe Taylor
Helling—not hailing!—from various parts of Kentucky, Joe Taylor graduated with a B. A. in philosophy from U of Kentucky, his capstone course there being a correspondence course in microbiology, in which he drew endless cilia, protozoa, cells in mitosis and meiosis. Leaving Kentucky to pursue an unrequited love, he worked in West Palm Beach as a waiter and pizza chef. Leaving West Palm he moved to Tallahassee, where he received a Ph.D. in creative writing. He then taught at Kennesaw and Georgia State Universities in Atlanta. He then taught at St. Leo College in Florida for several years before moving to Livingston, Alabama, to teach at The University of West Alabama and direct Livingston Press, which he has done for nearly thirty years. He has three published story collections and three published novels, the latest of which is a comic novel in rhyming quatrains entitled Pineapple. He has a fourth novel forthcoming from NewSouth Books, entitled The Theoretics of Love. With his wife Tricia, he lives as an ungentlemanly farmer. Their main crop seems to be stray dogs.  www.saggingmeniscus.com ; www.livingstonpress.uwa.edu

Alina Stefanescu
A conversation with Anne Markham Bailey, publisher of Green Bucket Press.
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In our focus on local publishers and presses, Alina Stefanescu chatted with Anne Markham Bailey of Green Bucket Press on her journey into poetry and publishing.

You are the publisher of Irondale’s very own Green Bucket Press. What prompted you to start a small press and how did it happen?

After I finished my BA in at Barnard College in New York, I cast about considering options and my allegiance to living as a poet. I went through the Book Arts program at the University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, with a concentration on bookbinding. I worked in the field of commercial printing for years. A couple of years ago, I wanted to work on a book project, and it made more sense to just start a press, because of my particular skill set.

What is Green Bucket Press currently publishing?

We are currently publishing a variety of books, including our special VoiceBooks, which are blank writing journals; my own poem, Nancy Marguerite’s ChopinVoices of Resistance, an anthology of poems from Birmingham’s Sister City Connection; the Labyrinth Meditation journals; various features on the Sacred Path Series. Currently in the works, we have Innovate: VoiceBook for Entrepreneurs and Trauma: The Path of Unification.

In addition to books, we print associated merchandise including book plates, book bags, bicycle tech bags, t-shirts, and more.

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As an individual with a strong sense of visionary impulse, what do you envision for Green Bucket Press five years down the road?

Our work is to offer vehicles for the growth of true-hearted voice, the healing of wounds that comes from sharing our stories in a sacred space, by going inside and becoming intimate with our inner landscape and then returning to share our discoveries, monsters and grails.

  • Blank Journals
  • Themed Workbooks
  • Literary Projects
  • Creative Print Programs
  • Educational Programs
  • Community Engagement
  • Creativity Activism
  • Support Authentic Voice

In addition to being a publisher, you are also a published poet. I’d like to explore that for a moment. What brings you to the page or the poem?Why?

My love for paper, pens, ink, letters, words, printing, books, reading, poems, songs, the crafting of phrases, the space between words, the immersion in the subtleties of word order, of diving into the precision of expression rather than stumbling on the surface of things, the sorting of experience, the extended consideration that becomes written, spoken, sung or drawn. The sound of pen or pencil on paper. The act of sharpening a pencil. The small bowl in which the shavings collect. The relationship with a trusted pen. The care of the pen. The tin box that belonged to my great-grandfather in which the pen is stored. Opening the box to lift out the pen. Placing the pen back in the box. The particular sound of paper as it turns. The differing sounds of different types of paper. The scent of a book. The words on a screen. The feeling of settling in to read, or to edit. The rising of that potent moment when a word or phrase appears as a foundation. The way that time opens to allow language to manifest as a bridge between us. The breath before offering a piece to others. The sacred motion of handing a book or poem or drawing to another set of hands. This binding together of the entirety of living. This is where I dwell and I have always sought this place, and my tribe. I handed a poem to my mother when I was a young child of about 8, and I knew myself to be a poet. I like to explore, and so I write songs and I draw. I write stories from my life. I love to perform, to read and to sing.

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List five books that changed your life.

  1. Little Bear by Helen Minarek
  2. The Stranger by Albert Camus
  3. The Way of the Bodhisattva Shantideva
  4. The Sound and the Fury byWilliam Faulkner
  5. The Diaries Of Anais Nin

List five poems that enchant or intrigue you.

  1. Robert Collins’ “Origen’s Angels: The Fall”
  2. Diane Wakoski’s “Blue Monday”
  3. George Cooper’s “Come Little Leaves”
  4. Li Po’s “Alone on JingTing Mountain”
  5. Federico Garcia Lorca’s “Romance Sonambulo”

What inspires you visually?

Falling water. Breathing bodies at rest. The face of my son. The smoke from incense. Stone beaches.

I understand you are currently working on a memoir that chronicles your friendship with artist Alice Faye Love. Can you tell me more about this project and how it feels different from your prior writings?

This work was a promise that I made to Faye made long ago. Alice Faye Love was a brilliant and complicated person who suffered greatly from the trauma of long-term sexual molestation. She was exiled when she spoke up as a young woman and struggled for balance and stability in daily life and relationship. And yet she shined with the brilliance of an enlightened being. Because of Alice Faye’s courageous voice, I opened the sealed vault of my own molestation and abuse. When my marriage dissolved and I lost my husband to addiction, Alice Faye was a steady presence. And yet her mental illness caused her to behave so unpredictably that I had to construct tight boundaries.

Writing the manuscript has been an extremely painful process. I sought out sacred sites where I could work and be supported by the long-term spiritual practice that has taken place on that land, in that place. The work on the project has been a journey into the underbelly of being an artist and writer living into and through the intense suffering of our days, as well as the shining and ineffable glory, and then telling that story. This is always my role as a writer. I enter spaces and explore, and then return to tell the story. This particular project is a deep plunge into the eternal nature of life, and is demanding.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of being a small press in Alabama?

I don’t have an answer for this.

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How does your meditation practice enable your artistic process? What would you suggest to writers who are considering beginning a meditation practice?

My meditation practice opens and grounds my artistic process. The practice of meditation is simple and repetitive. It trains the mind to follow commands. For example one sets an intention of bringing awareness to the body breathing and resting there.

The repeated practice helps a person expand beyond the mental ruts that are a normal function of most minds. Mental ruts here include judgments, attitudes and opinions, even emotions that can cloud the unlimited brilliance and possibility of perception and experience.

Meditation helps us to open more fully, and then helps us to simplify and focus on tasks. The practice is very much like the process of breathing that brings the outer world in, and the inner world out. For me, this is the creative exchange, the covenant of my existence in this life. I experience the world, and I translate that experience back to the world through my work.

For beginners, consider that we are always meditating on something. What is it for you? Possibly something that you want? Something that you fear? We are all meditating constantly. It is possible for you to harness your considerable energy to move in a direction of your choosing, and mindfulness meditation practice is most effective. Buy a book, read an article, attend a lecture. I am getting ready to offer a new meditation class in Irondale next month, so check that out on my website, www.annemarkhambailey.com


Thank you so much to Anne for her time and sharing. To learn more about her journey, read this profile in Birmingham Business Journal. We are happy to have her as a new member of AWC. 

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Voices of Resistance: A Sister City Connection Anthology

Green Bucket Press is proud to offer an anthology of local voices of resistance, hope, and courage. You can purchase a copy for $15 online. Sister City Connection will be hosting a book launch and reading in late October or early November so keep your eyes peeled for the date. Our writers would love to meet you.

VoiceBook Journals

Green Bucket Press VoiceBook writing journals are available at the Green Bucket Press web store. Available in 2 sizes, in a lined or grid format. Custom printed journals are available for schools, business and non-profits. Contact anne@markhambailey.com to discuss your project.

Alina Stefanescu
2nd Annual Robinson Jeffers Poetry Festival at Gorham's Bluff
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OCTOBER. 7. 2017
10:00 - 3:00
$12.00 includes lunch

The Festival will begin at 10:00 AM with a workshop conducted by Barry Marks, followed by lunch at noon, the reading of winning poems, and an open mic. Readers are encouraged to read their own poem or a favorite poem. The Festival will end at 3:00 PM. There will be a reception Friday Night at Deb and Bill Jeffers house at 6:00 PM.

POETRY CONTEST

Winner will receive $250 for the best poem.

Please submit one original, unpublished poem no later than September 22, 2017 (postmarked) The poems may be about any subject, in any style, up to 42 lines (or 500 words if a prose poem). If submitting by regular mail, please send two copies- one with your name and contact information, and one without. IMPORTANT: Poet must be present to win cash prize.  

TO RESERVE YOUR SPACE

To reserve a spot, or to submit poems, send $12.00 to Roger Carlisle. Email by Paypal to wrogercarlisle@gmail.com or snail mail to: 

Roger Carlisle
4312 Overlook Road ,
Birmingham 35222

LOCATION

Gorham's Bluff is a two hour drive north from Birmingham. Lodging is available at the Bluff, in Scottsboro, and in Fort Payne. Please visit the Gorhams Bluff website for lodging reservations. Call the Lodge at 256-451-2787 to reserve overnight accomodations.

Emma Fox talks about writing (and reading) Y.A. fiction.

A brief conversation with AWC’s 2017 Juvenile Fiction Contest winner, Emma Fox.

Your YA novel won the 2017 AWC Juvenile Fiction Prize. Can you give us a little insight into what inspired this story? Any particular images, sights, or sounds? Why?

The Beast of Weissburg began as a loose collection of vivid images that kept clattering around inside my head: a young man holding a wounded fawn...bloody tracks in the snow...the yawning mouth of a cave. I could sense a story, so I followed up on these mental threads by asking myriad questions: Who? Why? What if...? I had recently traveled through the Black Forest region of Germany and the Bavarian Alps, and this experience provided the setting and many of the cultural details of the book.

How do you define “juvenile fiction”? Do you see any sharp lines between juvenile and “YA”? What, if any, is the dividing line for you?

C.S. Lewis famously said that "a book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then." I don't think there is a hard-and-fast line between juvenile and young adult (YA) fiction, or even between YA and adult. When I see adults referring online to their favorite books--the stories that have most impacted their lives--they often include titles that today's publishers would categorize as middle grade or YA (L.M. Montgomery's Anne series, for example). 

I think that a really good story, one that appeals to our common humanity, transcends cut-and-dried age boundaries. Really, the current distinctions between "juvenile" and "young adult" have more to do with length and theme: middle grade books often feature tales of adventure and camaraderie, while many YA titles wrestle with themes of identity, coming-of-age, and finding one's place in the world. YA also often includes an element of romance.

Who is your favorite audience? Who do you hope to reach?

There are a lot of fantastic young people in my life--former students, mostly--and I try to keep them in mind as I write. These young teens are my ideal audience: warm hearts, eager minds, courageous souls. Still, as I said earlier, a good story shouldn't be too tightly bound by age constraints. 

At its core, The Beast of Weissburg is for everyone who fights to do what is right, despite the lies inside their head: the voices that say, You're nobody. You have nothing to offer. You're unlovable and unloved. I want my readers to know that they are seen, heard and loved for who they truly are.

What short stories do you admire the most? Why? What have you learned from them?

Many readers are familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings cycle, but very few have read his short stories, which is a shame. Tales from the Perilous Realm, an anthology of five brief stories (plus some poems), is a great place to start. "Farmer Giles of Ham" is Tolkien at his witty, humorous best, and "Smith of Wooten Major" is probably his best example of pure "faerie" tale. I find anthologies like this one both helpful and fun, because I get to see the author delving into a range of concepts, and trying on various "voices." It's a wonderful way to study an author's technique in microcosm.

Do you have any current projects we should know about? 

I've recently begun work on a YA fantasy set in mid-nineteenth-century Russia. It's a story in which historical and magical worlds intersect, and at times collide, with dire consequences.

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Emma Fox lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, three young children, and an energetic border collie. Along with her love of books and writing, Emma's passions include art history, dark chocolate, heirloom plants, global travel, and music with soul. The Beast of Weissburg is her first full-length novel. Visit her blog, where she reviews YA fiction, or catch her on Facebook and Pinterest

 

Alina Stefanescu
Alabama State Poetry Society Contests & Mid-Fall Conference.
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This October, the Alabama State Poetry Society will host its annual mid-fall meeting in Pell City, Alabama.

Both members and non-members are encouraged to attend.  

Round Robin Readings & Meal
Friday 10/27 from 3:00-5:00 pm
(reservation required)
River Cruise: Coosa Queen Riverboat
Riverside Landing, 230 Depot Street, Riverside AL 35135

Round Robin Readings Extended
Friday 10/27 from 6:00-8:30 pm
(coffee and wine served)
Artistic Creations
2111 Cogswell Avenue, Riverside, AL 35135

ASPS Conference
Saturday 10/28 from 9:30 am - 2:00 pm
Pell City Library
1000 Bruce Etheridge Parkway
Pell City, AL 35125

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We hope attendees will bring their families to Pell City as it is Avondale Mills Day in the town. Also, St. Simon Peter Episcopal Church will host it’s Fall Festival with arts, crafts, and more fun for children.

Enter the Poetry Contests for Cash Prizes

Winners for the Poetry Contests will be announced at the October Meeting. Deadline for entry is August 18, 2017. Everyone on the planet is encouraged to submit to these contests. Learn more from the ASPS website.

How to Register for the Meeting

The cost for the conference is $20 for ASPS members and $35 for non-members. Additional and optional costs include:
- $15 for Friday Paddle Boat dinner
- $15 for Saturday catered lunch

You can register for the for the Paddle Boat Tour, Fall Meeting, and catered lunch in one of two exciting ways:
1) online: send Paypal payment to alabamapoets@outlook.com and make sure to include your full name. 
2) sending a snail mail check to ASPS, P.O. Box 2, Pell City, AL 35125.

Email Treasurer Myra Ward Barra at Treasurer@alpoets.org for more information.

Alina Stefanescu
Poet Carey Link talks about books, trees, and wonder

What is your favorite novel?

Annie Dillard’s memoir, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, is one of my favorite books. Dillard reminds the reader to look for the extraordinary in every day living and that life is a continuum of beginnings and endings. One of my many memories of this book occurs when Dillard remembers hiding a penny as a young child, and drawing arrows on the sidewalk for a stranger to find it.

What inspired you to start writing?

My grandmother encouraged my creativity. She died when I was eleven. I started writing poetry to work through the grief and depression that I experienced as a result of her death.

Do you have (or have you ever had) a muse? If so, who/what?

I don’t have a particular muse. In my opinion, creative inspiration can be found through any experience in daily life.

Are there any poems that are especially important to you?

The poems in Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass remind me of how we are all connected to each other and our surroundings.

“To have that feedback reinforces and helps you keep going. That’s my ultimate goal, to share my poetry.”
Carey Link

What is your favorite Alabama plant?

I love the brilliant red maple tree.

Off the top of your head, tell me five words that describe you.

Determined, insightful, curious, genuine, old soul.

Is there any way in which the Alabama Writer’s Conclave has changed or impacted your life?

The AWC community has helped broaden my connection to other Alabama poets and writers. My faith in myself as a poet has been strengthened by the invaluable encouragement and insight of other AWC members.

What are you working on right now?

My poetic sequence, I Walk a Frayed Tightrope Without a Safety Net, about my experience with advanced breast cancer. Poetry has helped to heal my spirit and given me a medium to share my journey with others. I plan to develop my literary sequence into a chapbook.

What is your favorite place in Alabama and why?

My favorite place in Alabama is to be among the trees on Montesano Mountain in Huntsville. I use a wheelchair and have never physically climbed a tree. Climbing trees in my mind gives me peace, freedom, and faith in unlimited possibilities.

As a poet, what do you find yourself needing right now?

Writers should never stop developing their craft. The support and encouragement AWC members give each other is deeply valuable important to me.

You can learn more about Carey and her poetry at the Alabama Writer’s Forum or the Arts Huntsville website.

Alina Stefanescu
Karim Shamsi-Basha, Winner of the 2017 AWC Short Story Contest

As first prize winner of the short story contest, what inspired this story? Any particular images, sights, or sounds? Why?

“A Tale of First Love” is very autobiographical, the same thing actually happened to me. I just retold it.

Dad’s hand on my back while I laid on the bed is something I will never forget. I wrote this because I believe that human love should be honored at all stages of life.

Many fiction authors maintain the line between fiction and nonfiction is a permeable one. Is this true for you? How do you decide when a memory or essay has crossed the line from nonfiction to fiction?

For me, the line is ever so vague and blurry. I use a lot from my own life in my fiction, after all, no one knows me any better!

What short stories do you admire the most? Why? What have you learned from them?

I love Eve’s Diary by Mark Twain, to me he’s a brilliant writer. He goes past what we know and expect, without us even noticing.

Do you have any current projects we should know about? Explain.

I have a novel with agent Rena Rossner with the Deborah Harris Agency in Jerusalem, we just submitted it to publishers. it is about a fifteen-year-old Muslim boy in love with a Christian girl during the civil war in Syria. I want people to stop labeling each other and just love.

What Syrian writers do you admire and wish you could share or translate?

The Syrian writer I admire the most was my father, Kherridean Shamsi-Basha. he was a noted poet in Damascus. Unfortunately translating his work would not work. In Literature, you lose many language merits.

Learn more about Karim from his unique blog, Arab in Alabama, as well as his columns and photographs for various media outlets.

A few questions Larry Wilson, author AWC 2017’s Flash Fiction Contest

What inspired your prize-winning flash piece?

The Unopened Present was inspired by a lonely night during the Christmas season when I was sitting alone drinking. My only decoration was the little Christmas tree I had bought in Key West almost 25 years ago on a Christmas trip with my late wife. The trip’s primarily purpose was to try and patch up a marriage that was a very bad state of disrepair. I’m not sure where the idea for the unopened present came from, but I often think of my daughter who died some four years ago, during the holiday season. The story is very much rooted in my own life.

Did the piece start as a flash or did it morph from a short story or poetic form?

The original draft was something over 1000 words and I had written it for our writing group in Montgomery. I decided to see if I could cut it down to 500 words for the flash fiction category and it turned out, as things often do, that less is more.

What writers inspire you to write flash and how?

My primary writing interest has always been the short story and I find writing something that really affects people in a small number of words a challenge. I have always been a big fan of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories and just recently I was introduced to Sonja Livingston at a Tennessee Mountain Writer’s convention. Sonja’s presentation and her book, Ghostbread inspired me to concentrate more on writing even shorter fiction. I recommend her book to anyone who is interested in flash fiction and creative nonfiction.

When did you begin writing fiction?

I started writing fiction casually in high school and college and then took a long hiatus during my working career. After retirement I joined the Montgomery creative writers group and rekindled my writing. I write because I truly enjoy it and have little interest in commercial success; however, winning a prize in the Alabama Writers Conclave competition is a wonderful ego boost. It is great to be recognized by your peers.

What two short stories or flash pieces do you think every aspiring fiction writer should read?

I highly recommend two of Hemingway’s short stories, Hills like White Elephants and A Clean Well Lighted Place, to all aspiring writers. Not only are they wonderful examples of brevity and show, don’t tell, but there are critical discussions of both stories online just a Google away.