Category Archives: Interviews with Poets

Talking with Amy Gigi Alexander-Part 2

In Part 1 of this interview, Amy Gigi Alexander talked about writing and travel. She has many projects in mind and this interview explores how you can take up so many projects and do justice to each of them. Very often these days, we find ourselves steeped in a quagmire of ideas and possibilities– the challenge lies in  taking your ideas forward.

You are a fan of bucket lists– you wrote one that was a huge motivation for you to experience life– what is the best way to create one?

I’m huge fan of bucket lists. I think a bucket list and what is on it shows the character of the person who wrote it. These lists are not always about quick experiences which are checked off in succession—sometimes they are tasks that take years.

I’m about to write a new bucket list this month, and one tool I will use is to imagine what I am afraid to do. I think bucket lists are useful to get over fears and overcome the blocks that we set up for ourselves. Anything I think I cannot do will be on my new bucket list.

In addition, bucket lists are a wonderful way to find your sense of humor. On my last list I had things which still make me smile that I did them: embarrassing silly acts that make me take life a little less seriously. Be in a parade. Sing in front of a crowd. Try stand-up comedy.

Bucket lists are not just about saving your life—they are also for helping you find your joy.

Tell us about your upcoming book projects and other social media projects and what inspired them.

I have three book projects happening right now. The first the Conversations series. This is a series of long format interviews with travel writers and writers of multiple genres about travel themes. The idea came to me because I was looking for such a series online, and couldn’t find anything. My dear friend Patricia Schultz who wrote 1000 Places to See Before You Die gave me the best advice once: “If you don’t see what you want out there, make it. Create it yourself.” So Conversations was something that came out of that advice. The series is online on my website, also on Facebook page, and will be published as a book in the future.

The second book project is the travel memoir I am writing about India. I lived-and loved—in India for several years, and this book centers on five months of those experiences in Calcutta, West Bengal, and a small village in Bihar. It is a story about falling in love with a city, a love affair that is passionate and intense, and at the same time, working with Mother Teresa’s nuns and questioning the validity of my beliefs and struggles with my own humanity.

The third book project takes place in Panama, and centers around an eight month period I lived in a remote jungle village with a group Ngabe Bugle indigenous people who had invited me to live with them. It is a story about losing oneself and finding oneself in a new way, and also it is the story of the proud and fierce people who I lived with and honored me with their experiences and teachings.

And of course, there are other book projects floating around– one is a travelogue about Varanasi and the Ganges. However, these are the first three to complete.

Online, I have my website, which features my own stories, a blog, the interviews and a guest collection of curated tales; the Walking Writing Women Facebook and Twitter pages; and my own personal Facebook and Twitter pages.

Tips on how to use social media. You curate multiple pages and causes- how do you do this effectively?

Well, first off I think people get the impression that social media is a time drain. I have the opposite feeling—to me it very fast, easy, and doesn’t take a great deal of time. I do schedule the amount of time I spend on it each day, and that time is divided into four parts: (1) my own posts (2) responding to comments and personal messages (3) seeing what others are doing on social media (4) sharing the work and posts of others. Once I hit the time limit, I don’t visit social media again that day. However, I still might go on it to have a messaging conversation. The trick is spread your time throughout the day in segments, so that you are always interacting and always seeing what interests others.

My social media tips:

(1) Be inspiring

(2) Make your page a destination that people want to visit because they feel good when they do.

(3) Share the writing of others

(4)Don’t use hashtags and other annoyances unless it is a theme or an event

(5)Thank others often and by name

(6) Use messaging to deepen the conversations that start on your posts

(7) Choose a few things that you are known for and consistently post about those things.

(8) Authenticity. Love what you post.

(9) Choose five random people each day to visit: look at their page, check out their links, and their websites, and comment on their posts

(10)Be okay with deleting comments without explanations and deleting/blocking and unfollowing people who harass or comment inappropriately

I usually ask every writer who is featured on this blog for a creative prompt- I call it Project Inspire. Give me your version of it. A picture, a story, a tweet…anything you think could get a blogger inspired to write or pack her bags and travel.

Project Inspire:

“I’ve always been fascinated by risk-takers. Maybe not so much risk-takers as people who listen to some inner voice and follow it where it takes them. They follow it even though they aren’t sure where they are going or how things will turn out. They go anyway. These people are the great travelers, voyagers, discoverers. And I’m not just curious about them: I need them. For life without them as guides is like being in a beautiful palace with all the lights turned off and the curtains drawn.

There have been times in my life I felt suffocated, that I walked as though there was a pillow in front on my face, blocking my sight, my speech. Muffled. Closed. Squinting at shadows. Sometimes it has taken me awhile to figure out that the pillow is there, and that my words aren’t being heard, that I’m blind. It takes me time to see that blurred lipstick shallow breaths are not sustaining. That’s when I start searching for risk-takers and I follow their trail, usually in the form of a road trip, a journey towards. Road trips, particularly of the driving-a-car-for-hours-and-hours variety, to some hoped-for destination, sight, or encounter, have a way of unshackling.”

-from Freefall in the Mojave


Thank you so much for your time Amy! It has been a wonderful experience talking to you and learning about how writing can be used productively to share experiences and learn from it. For it is not just the journey that matters but the telling too that makes the story a gem.


© neelthemuse, 2015
Check out my book Unsettled @ Amazon




Posted by on March 15, 2015 in Day to day, Interviews with Poets


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Talking to Amy Gigi Alexander-Part 1

I don’t understand Women’s day as a concept, as everyday is just another for some and The Day for others, but there are days when certain posts are appropriate. I had the opportunity to talk with the wonderful Amy Gigi Alexander- many of us must know her social media profile. She’s an inspiring woman and was kind enough to answer all my questions in time for International Woman’s Day. You must check her fb page: she combines her interests so magically and draws in people from diverse parts of the world with her enthusiasm- quite a refreshing way of looking at the world. She travels, she’s had her battles, she writes, she curates……


Amy Gigi Alexander is a writer, explorer, traveler and believer in goodness. She writes long form travelogues mixed with memoir and fiction for publications around the world, including Lonely Planet, BBC Travel, World Hum, The Hindu, National Geographic, and more. Her stories have appeared in collections by Travelers’ Tales and Lonely Planet, as well other literary anthologies and journals.  You can read more of her work at


How is a woman’s writing about her travels any different from the travelogues by men?

I see you’ve decided to start with the easy question first. I’m teasing.

When I go to place, everyone knows I am a woman, and I am spoken to as a woman, offered experiences as a woman, and this treatment colors how I see the destination, culture, and people. The same is true for men. There are simply different experiences for men and women because many cultures treat the sexes differently.

   There are places a woman usually will not go: especially in conservative areas of the world or places which are dangerous to women as the idea of women traveling is unusual. So you might see a story by male travel writers with story lines such as crossing Afghanistan solo by horse, or sailing the high seas with Senegalese pirates—but it’s very rare to see such stories by women. There are lots of exceptions of women in adverse conditions going at it alone, such as Dervla Murphy, Arita Baaijens, Ella Maillart, and more. But the vast majority of women’s travel tales will not involve such narratives.

But I think this fine, because women have access to a world that men do not have when they travel: the world of women. This insider view is impossible for a man to witness, but a woman traveler has instant access due to being female. Some of the things I’ve been invited to do because I am a woman are: sitting on a rooftop with village women talking about their life stories; attending a childbirth; walking with female nomads across a desert. There are many ways women are living around the world, and as a woman, I’m an instant sister and able to take part.

So as women travelers, we really have the best of both worlds: we have access to both men and women, and if we want we can have solo adventures which push risk, or we can take risks in more intimate ways, developing bonds with a worldwide sisterhood.

You have so many stories on your fingertips- how do you keep track of them all?

I don’t think about my stories too much: when I travel I take a lot of notes, and sometimes the story is complete when I return from my journey—sometimes not. Once they are done, I just file them away and take them out as I feel inspired. I keep a running list of what I have completed and what is still in idea phase.

How should a woman travel—alone or in groups—what is your advice to her, particularly when it comes to safe and meaningful travel?

A woman should travel as she wishes.

There is no wrong way to travel, and both solo and group travel have value even though they are very different.

I didn’t travel a lot on my own for many years, and traveled with companions and friends. At first this had its own ease and I enjoyed it. But after I got more comfortable with traveling, I disliked having to constantly take someone else’s ideas and wants into consideration, and felt I wanted more spontaneity. I started traveling alone simply because I wanted to invite serendipity, and it is hard to include that in a structured agenda!

I enjoy traveling alone, but I also love traveling with other women. Traveling in a group of women can give you wider berth in some areas of the world, and if you don’t have a lot of time to make mistakes and get lost, group tours are really advantageous. Still, I also think when you are on that tour, wandering off alone now and again is a wise idea: it helps you see yourself as capable and strong.

Tell us about Walking Writing Women– you share 365 stories this year about traveling women in history. Where did the spark for his idea come from and how do you go about with the research of these sometimes obscure determined characters?

Writing Walking Women started because I wanted to walk across part of Newfoundland, and mentioned this on social media. I got many messages from women who said that they wished they could take a trip like that, but that they could not think of doing it alone—or didn’t want to. It occurred to me that we could all go together. Why not? So Walking Writing Women was born! We do take several trips a year and we meet all over the world, and write about the places we go as we travel together.

The #365 women idea came from a search I did online one day: I was looking for women travel writers and the Wikipedia page came up. On it was a list of travel writers who were mostly men, and a few women, most of whom were long since gone and from the period of history rife with colonialism. I began doing research on women who traveled and wrote about it, and discovered hundreds of women that needed a voice: poets, novelists, explorers, botanists, historians, and memoirists. So many women travel writers from around the world!

The idea grew overnight: why not share a woman travel writer a day on social media? Why not give a biography for each woman and show pictures of her life and literary accomplishments? Then I decided to turn these Facebook posts into a database, and with the help of the other members of Walking Writing Women, that is becoming a reality. At the end of 2015, when you do a search online for women travel writers you’ll see that tired Wikipedia page—but you’ll also see a huge database on our website. We want to create a resource which inspires women to travel and write, and we can think no better way to do that than use the women who have gone before us.

Follow Writing Walking Women on the fb page here.

You write short stories and do travel writing. Where do the lines blur between these two writing forms and where do they separate?

For me, they don’t really stand separate. I know that travel writing has a formulaic reputation, but I find that the travel genre lends itself very well to weaving memoir and stories about place. The only difficulty is that there is a framework that a travel story has to have, a start, a middle, an end. These parts have to be very clear, unlike fiction of cross genre writing, where literary forms can bleed into one another without questions.


In part 2 of the interview, we will take a look at bucket lists, social media tips and Project Inspire with Amy. Right now, let me check one to-do on my bucket list: read more about Walking Women on their fb page and inspire myself to move out of the world in my head to the World, the real construct.

© neelthemuse, 2015
Check out my book Unsettled @ Amazon


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@ Ellen Kombiyil’s Poetry Workshop- I

I met Ellen one day during one of her workshop sessions. I just had to talk with her at the blog. She walks, talks, and dreams poems and I was ecstatic when she agreed to talk about her workshop process and future projects.

Ellen creates the right atmosphere for her students- she stresses the importance of  listening to others read. The first time you read out your poem in a group, you will only pay attention to your poem and your voice but after a while, you will listen harder and learn from the words of others. This is therapy in a way- sometimes when you write you learn little truths about yourself and when you read the words out, it changes something inside. By creating a space where people can open up to themselves and each other, Ellen teaches how words can be used not just to write poems but to heal as well.


Ellen Kombiyil is a poet, writer, and writing teacher. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Cider Press Review, Cordite Poetry Review, Hobble Creek Review, Poemeleon,Redactions, Revolution House, Silk Road Review, Spillway and Spry,among others. Honors include a nomination this year for the Pushcart Prize, and in 2012 she was nominated for Best of the Net. She is a Founding Poet of The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, which publishes first and second books showcasing new poetic voices from India. Her first book of poetry, “Histories of the Future Perfect,” is forthcoming in 2014.

Originally from Syracuse, New York and a graduate of the University of Chicago, for the past 10 years she has lived in Bangalore, India, where she leads writing workshops and teaches yoga.

Tell us about your experience of running a workshop in India. How are workshops here different from those in the US?

My workshops have a very simple premise. They are meant to be a safe space where people can come and feel free to write about anything. We write in silence and then we read aloud. We don’t comment on each other’s work during this time. I see my role as keeper of the space. In this sense, running a workshop in India is no different than running it anywhere else.

 How important is the idea of community building for an art form like poetry?

Writing can be — and sometimes must be — a solitary act. And yet, no one writes in a void. Sometimes we must get out of our own heads and be in the company of other writers and share our words and deeply listen to others. It keeps us pushing outward at the edges of our own boundaries. It keeps us connected to the human element of writing – not pen on page but reaching through and communicating to a person at the other end. Writing is communication, after all, and sharing our work is part of entering the larger conversation going on around us. So, to answer your question, community is tremendously important to the artist. It keeps us both grounded and striving.

In this time of MOOCs, how do you think online poetry workshops and real life workshops are different?

I love MOOCs. They are convenient. I do not have to leave my bedroom and fight the Bangalore traffic to show up to my class. They are multicultural and I get to interface with people from all over the world. There is a thrill to reading the same poem as 30,000 others, to knowing that ideas are passing around at the speed of light to a large, global community. But nothing compares with physically sitting across from another writer and hearing them share their work. And to witnessing the silence in the space afterwards. And the ripple that goes through the room.

What kind of preparation do you expect from your students before they attend a poetry workshop?

No experience necessary! Just a willingness to write and to listen. Listening to others is at least half the practice. Writing is the other half.

Natalie Goldberg is pivotal to your teaching method. Why?

I was first introduced to Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” by my poetry mentor in college. I immediately fell in love. Gone the rigidity that can sometimes occur around writing. Silenced the critic that lives inside my head, which could stop me cold. Instead, I keep the hand moving. I write about any image or idea that comes up, even it doesn’t make sense. It was a study of the mind. It taught me to trust myself.

I was so taken by her very simple writing rules and her way of inspiring you to cut through all resistance and just write, that I ended up studying with her twice:  once at a three-week intensive in the New Mexico desert, and once for three days in New York City.

I have been practicing her method for so long, I trust it completely. I draw from this trust, standing on Natalie’s shoulders, when I teach my students.

 Tell us about quantum poetry.

Quantum poetry is how I’ve come to describe the poetry manuscript I’m currently working on, titled “Histories of the Future Perfect,” which is due out in 2014.

When I was undergraduate, one of the requirements for my degree was to study Astrophysics for one year. There I was, a young poet, terrified by the large equations that could at times wrap around the classroom. It ended up being one of my favorite classes and the concepts I was introduced to:  theory of relativity, quantum physics, black holes, the possible geometries of space and time, have influenced my work ever since.

As a writer, I am drawn to trying to express those things that seem impossible to express. How do I, in the language of poetry, find an image or a sound that will express the observer effect in quantum physics? Or, how do I grapple with the very beginnings of the universe, when gravity breaks down – what image and language can I come up with to describe this? My main concern, as I use these theories as inspiration, is that the work itself should not be abstract. It should be grounded in image and in human terms and relationships. In a way, I’m taking these mind bending ideas and giving them a form, an image, a tangible expression.

I would like to say, looping back to your question of community, that I am  indebted to my two friends and colleagues, Shikha Malaviya and Minal Hajratwala. Having someone who believes in your work gives you incredible freedom as an artist to push your boundaries. I am certain that I would not have gotten this far in my explorations of quantum poetry without them.

In fact,Shikha, Minal and I are the co-founders of a brand new poetry press called The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, which publishes first and second books, showcasing new poetic voices from India. We just released our very first book this month, Shikha’s “Geography of Tongues.” Bringing a book out into the world is an act of community, and a testament to what community can bring to an artist.

 How has being a yoga practitioner influenced your writing?

Yoga, like writing, is also a way to observe one’s mind. I find that when I’m deep in my yoga practice, ideas and images run right through me, just as they do when I’m writing. The practice is to be an open vessel, to let them run through me, and I am the observer. In yoga, I observe and let go. In writing I try to observe and record, that is the difference.

There is also the quantum element that, for me, connects the two: reading the yoga sutras, it is clear that we’re talking about quantum physics.

 What are you reading right now?

“My Poets” by Maureen McLane. It’s  amazing. She was actually one of my advisors in college, which is how I came to know about the book. It describes itself as experimental prose, and is categorized as poetry/literary criticism/memoir. It’s taken me a long time to get through the book because I keep getting inspired when I read it – I put it down and write!

Thanks so much Ellen! Pleasure learning from your process.

I do hope you hop in again next week. Ellen has a Poetry Workshop as part of my little initiative called Project Inspire- a workshop just for you! Watch this space for more…….

neelthemuse@ 2014


Posted by on February 5, 2014 in Interviews with Poets


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Saved by a Poem–conversation with Kim Rosen

There is this status update symbol on fb that goes –feeling happy, feeling sad. When I talked to Kim Rosen I was feeling blessed.

Let me tell you about her voice- there’s so much clarity in there and an understanding of a subject that she loves to talk about and use as a tool to heal. Her subject being my favourite–poetry–it only made sense to try to connect with her and subsequently have a long conversation.

Kim talked about many aspects of poetry I haven’t dealt with on this blog. How for instance do you memorize a poem? What does forgetting the lines or maybe a few words of the poem mean? What does it mean to learn by heart? She furnishes every answer with a poem that she recites with so much sincerity, it makes me want to stop my cursory reading and become involved in a deeper way with what I read and write as well.

Kim Rosen, MFA, is the author of Saved by a Poem: The Transformative Power of Word. In the darkest moment of her life, when even the most profound psychological and spiritual teachings could not reach her, she found poetry. Now she combines her love of speaking poems with her background in spirituality and psychotherapy, offering poetry as a transformative agent for individuals and communities throughout the world. She has delivered poems in a spectrum of settings from conferences to cathedrals to a Maasai Safe House in the Great Rift Valley. She is the co-creator of 4 CDs and has been a featured TEDx speaker and her work has been featured in O Magazine, The Sun Magazine, The New Yorker and Spirituality & Health Magazine among other publications.


You say in your lectures ‘dare not to understand’….how do you reconcile the idea of close reading a poem, a great way of appreciating a poem, with this idea?

Poetry is like music. When we listen to a piece of masterful music without analyzing, we are actually listening to ourselves in the presence of this music– we are listening to our feeling, our thoughts, maybe the associations, memories or visions we have as the music unfolds. The same thing happens we watch a movie—we go on a journey with the characters. The journey happens within. My journey will be different that the person next to me, even though we’re watching the same movie. When you look at a painting, particularly an abstract painting, you are actually observing what comes up inside of you in the presence of that painting. People often forget this.

Since a poem is made of words, people think it has to be processed like a newspaper and not like a beautiful song. But MRIs scientifically prove that when a poem is read, what lights up is the music part of the brain as well as the language part. Poetry needs both parts of the brain- linear and non-linear. Some kind of understanding happens to you when you listen to a special poem- an understanding that comes from beyond the pragmatic mind. Tears spring out of your eyes. The hair stands up on your arms. You feel a sudden rush of joy or revelation.

 These kind of responses don’t happen when you interpret the world in a linear way.

It’s different when you are studying  poetry. You need to learn the craft that made the poem. You need to analyze it. I have a Masters in poetry myself and I love analysis.  But I also like the feeling of simply experiencing a poem and listening to what comes up inside me as i allow it to move me. 

 Your talks are very inspiring- is it poetry that urges you to inspire or your experience as a practitioner of healing?

I love this question.

Up until now, my talks have been for the purpose of awakening people to how they can be changed, healed and transformed by a  poem.  Reading, listening, or learning a poem open’s people’s minds like nothing else.

My note in the symphony of the world seems to be about how poetry can open us, both psychologically and spiritually. Sometimes only poetry can speak to the depth of ineffable feeling within us. In a profound life passage– be it loss or celebration.  How do we understand the big moments in our lives and the big questions that come to us after a loved one’s death? How do we deal with the disintegration of our bodies through disease and even how our bodies change during the process of birthing? How do we understand marriage and then separation? Great poets have asked and journeyed through all these questions. No text-book ever has.

Peruse these lines:

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God.  As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away —
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between  stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind each face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing —
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

~Four Quartets, East Coker, T.S.Eliot

See how this poem invites us so tenderly into the inner space we fear.  It lets us know that we are not alone. It opens us to look at new possibilities.

It is said that memorizing a poem is much harder than memorizing numbers or catalogues. So how do you do it?

In my book ‘Saved by a Poem’ I’ve spent a couple of chapters on how I learn a poem by heart.

Here in the West there is a lot of stigma when it comes to learning by rote.It’s as though you are being forced. Everything you memorize in childhood is stored somewhere in your brain. In the U.S there is an epidemic of Alzheimers, and yet patients are able to recite the poems they learnt in their childhood. Learning by rote or using techniques like the memory palace are things that I don’t believe in. I like learning the poem by heart.  It is a function of INTIMACY with the poem, not conquest. It is not about me mastering the poem, but rather surrendering to it, allowing it to become my Teacher, with a capital “T”. It is a beautiful process of discovery. I get to know the poem and by reading it again and again I make it more and more personal. I go deeper and deeper into the feelings it brings up. I notice how the poem triggers memories and how reading a poem even changes my breathing, my heart rate, my brainwaves. When you read the poem deeply, it leaves the page and enters your body. The ancient Buddhists called this “writing on the bones.” 

In school you learn about the meter and lineation of the poem. I call these properties of the poem the “shamanic anatomy”. Indigenous cultures emphasized the importance of chanting. Christian and Muslim and Hindu cultures know the power of chant and prayer. Poetry can be prayer, and all prayer is poetry. When I visited Varanasi and Delhi, I saw poetry inscribed on walls of holy places. 

The best part of learning a poem is what I call the Gift of forgetting. The places you forget  are windows into aspects of yourself that you haven’t explored. Learning a poem is not a Conquest or an Achievement. It’s counter-intuitive, but the more places you forget the poem, the more doorways you have to explore yourself. The places of forgetting are the arrows pointing to the path to deeper to knowledge of yourself.


Take this poem by Rumi:

Love Dogs
One night a man was crying
                                                    “Allah, Allah!”
His lips grew sweet with the praising
until a cynic said,
                                 “So!  I have heard you
calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”
The man had no answer to that.
He quit praising and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.
                                            “Why did you stop praising?”
“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”           
                                                                              “This longing
you express is the return message.”
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master. 
That whining is the connection.
There are love-dogs
no one knows the names of.
Give your life
to be one of them.
                        –Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks


I would always forget two words in this poem. The poem says Your pure sadness/ that wants help/is the secret cup. But I would always say Your pure sadness is the secret cup.

Why did I forget those words “that wants help”?  I was always afraid of wanting help. My mother never wanted to see my need so I worked very hard not to be vulnerable. I suppressed reciprocity and I was always giving. When I realized that I couldn’t ask for help, it took me on a journey with my self. When I remembered to say those words, it made me feel so vulnerable and transparent. That is my greatest aspiration- to be as open and vulnerable as possible.

Do you memorize contemporary poems?

This is so important. Many people in my world only read Kabir, Rumi, and Hafez.  But living modern poets can speak to us in a way that is important. Take Naomi Shihab Nye,  Marie Howe, and Ellen Bass. Their poems deal with the nitty-gritty of life, the parts that are not so pretty.

The Gate
I had no idea that the gate I would step through
to finally enter this world
would be the space my brother’s body made.  He was
a little taller than me:  a young man
but grown, himself by then,
done at twenty-eight, having folded every sheet,
rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold
and running water.
This is what you have been waiting for, he used to say to me.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This — holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This, sort of looking around.
                                                            —Marie Howe

Howe’s poetry always reminds me how I have to face the ‘human catastrophe’ of my life and discover redemption and healing in the midst of it, not in some idealized setting.



How do you create a relationship with the poem you love and how does that poem become your teacher?

Right now I’m working on a poem called ‘What binds us’ by Jane Hirshfield. Even when I try to stop working on it, it follows me around. For me, a poem happens to me. I make these long lists of poems I want to learn by heart, but the ones I end up learning are the ones that find me. Something involuntary happens- I feel sad, burst into tears, have goosebumps when that kind of poem enters my life.

The poetry of the inner life attracts me the most. These poems choose me as their student. Sometimes I’m obedient, sometimes I’m not.It’s like I’m personally in a relationship with the poem. So even when I try to leave, it won’t let go off me and tells me to stay with it. Like this poem…


For What Binds Us
There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they’ve been set down —
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.
And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong
than the simple, untested surface before.
There’s a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,
as all flesh
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest —
And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.
            – Jane Hirshfield

Thank you Kim! Utterly utterly lovely having you here!

neelthemuse@ 2013



Posted by on December 12, 2013 in Books, Inspiration, Interviews with Poets


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Illustrating Poetry with Julian Peters- Part 1

It’s not everyday that you come across someone who illustrates poetry. I think I must have found Julian on one of my obsessive fb rounds- I am trying to get out of the habit. But luck was shining on me and my scrolling up and down led me to illustrations of T.S.Eliot’s Prufrock poem.

I was floored.

It is a glorious poem to read but it never struck me that one would even attempt to draw it.


Julian Peters is a comic book artist and illustrator living in Montreal. His comic book adaptations of poems by François Villon and Arthur Rimbaud were included in The Graphic Canon (Seven Stories Press, 2012) and his ongoing adaptation of T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” was recently profiled in Slate magazine. Julian is also currently in the process of completing a master’s degree in Art History, with a thesis focusing on two early graphic novels: Dino Buzzati’s Poema a fumetti (“Poem Strip”) and The Projector by Martin Vaughn-James. You can follow his work on his blog:

Why do you choose to illustrate poetry and not fiction? What drove you to this art?

Well, I’m not the first person to have observed a certain affinity between poetry and comics (the Canadian graphic novelist Seth has called comics “a combination of poetry and graphic design”), and indeed to me the pairing comes pretty naturally.

Poetry is probably the art that has the capacity to move me the most, thus inspiring me to attempt to give expression to that response in the art form that I’m most comfortable with– comics. Also there’s the fact that Poetry Comics haven’t been done much before, and as an artist you always have to find a way to stand out somehow.  

How do you decide which poem works? What kind of poems/poets “deserve” to be illustrated?

Generally speaking, I’d say the poems that work best as comics are the ones that are both narrative (in the sense that they at least hint at a plot sequence of some kind) and also descriptive, but at the same time, not too narrative, and still somewhat abstract. If a poem is too narrative and/or too plainly descriptive, the accompanying drawings are likely to seem a bit redundant.

On the other hand, if the writing is too abstract and, especially, non-imagistic, then any comic derived from it would necessarily bear only a tenuous relationship to the original poem, and probably distract from it.

How do you decide the length of the comic strip and which parts of the poem you must leave out? Do you always stick to the author’s lines or the sequencing of the original poem?

 I never omit or alter any of the original words or tamper with the word order. It seems to me that would be a betrayal of the poem. Of course, partly with that consideration in mind, I have always chosen to adapt rather short works.

Describe a day of illustrating poetry.

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to work on my comics, so now a day of illustrating really sounds like heaven! And it is in many ways, but like all things it starts to lose its charm when you do it for too many hours or days in a row. I like to listen to music or The Young Turks online news channel while I’m drawing, and I take an unnecessary amount of coffee and bathroom breaks to procrastinate somewhat. The creative process also involves taking a lot of reference photos of myself in various poses, often wearing makeshift costumes and holding various cardboard props. 


W. B. Yeats and Manga. In your blog you say: The style is a tribute to the beautiful Shojo manga (girls’ comics) created by the “Clamp” collective in the early 90s. Tell us about that.

About a decade ago I came across a few volumes of the wonderful Tokyo Babylon series and I fell completely under its spell. Such elegance in the line drawings, and such emotional intensity, especially in the eyes!

As for Yeats’s “When You Are Old,” it has long been one of my favourite poems. I especially like the last line, “And hid his face amid a crowd of stars” (although I’m not sure I fully understand it). I began to realize at some point that the imagery that most readily came into my head while reading that line was of the kind found in Japanese Shojo manga.

Maybe because of the way the impossibly-romantic male love interests in these girls’ comics are so often depicted striking a weightless pose against a star-filled sky, or perching leisurely upon a star or a moon.  I am thinking for example of the character of Tuxedo Mask in the Sailor Moon comics.

Yeats was a hopelessly romantic figure if there ever was one, seeing as he spent almost his entire adult life pining away for a woman who did not return his affections, the beautiful Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne. And as a young man he kind of had the face, the costume and especially the hair of a male lead in a shojo manga.

So the combination, however improbable, seemed like a perfect fit to me.

More *illustrious* ideas with Julian in Part 2….stay tuned!

neelthemuse@ 2013


Posted by on November 21, 2013 in Interviews with Poets


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Lynne Potts on Editing Process in Poetry- Part 2

Last week Lynne Potts professional poet and  poetry editor @ AGNI introduced us to the poetry editing process in Part 1 of the interview, She talked about how important instinct is when you create a poem and how you can never overestimate the importance of the zing factor in your work.


Today Lynne looks at other aspects of poetry editing like getting over subjectivity, digital poetry and how to inspire the poet in you.

This question has to do with the tough choices that you have to make as an editor of poetry. How do you deal with idioms and ideas that may not be pertinent to the culture you are familiar with? Does it create some kind of bias in the editor’s decision?

I can’t really answer this.  I know a good poem (I think!) no matter what part of the world it comes from – as long as it’s mostly in English.  Foreign words can even work – if you do it right.  Hard to explain.  Poetry is not culture-specific.  It’s magic language.  It puts you under a spell.  It can even spook you.

  How do you overcome your subjectivity? This question helps readers as well- what makes a poem good? Many poems are “liked” in the social media but when it comes to acceptance in magazines they are mostly likely rejected. What is a good poem all about and how can a reader learn to recognize it?

I don’t overcome my subjectivity.   It’s there and I know it.  No use denying it.  And I don’t think anyone can tell you what a “good poem” is.  Think of the thousands that have been written that are not just good – but dazzling!   My best advice is to keep reading – and keep writing.  Eventually you learn what is good from what your own soul tells you.  (Hope that doesn’t sound too mushy.)

Could you recommend any book or literary exercise that will help poets who are serious about perfecting their poems?

Yes, I could recommend hundreds and hundreds.  Read all the poets whose names you recognize – then start reading the ones whose names you don’t know.  Of course everybody suggests, Triggering Town, and it’s excellent – but no “how to” book helps you be a poet, in my opinion.

 Your take on the plethora of writing groups online and otherwise. Has the tremendous overdose of how-to-write information(word count reminders, prompts, title generators,etc) improved the quality of submissions in the poetic domain?

Writing poetry isn’t about any of those things.

Is publishing online akin to literary suicide(as none of your poems will be accepted elsewhere for publication)?

Heavens, no.  We’ll be reading everything on line soon.  Lots of the good magazines publish print AND on-line.  AGNI does – if I may claim it as a “good” magazine.

 What are you reading right now?

I’m currently reading W.S Merwin’s The Carrier of Ladders, Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack and Honey (her lectures on poetry which are really poems themselves),  Mark Strand’s Dark Harbor , Alan Weisman’ The World Without Us (non-fiction on the state of the planet), and Wilfred Thesinger’s Arabian Sands (history) – and, to be honest, I have a bowl of chips here too. 

I’m ecstatic about this two-part interview. Thanks once again Lynne for your illuminating take on the editing process of this ‘magic language’ called poetry.


neelthemuse@ 2013


Posted by on October 30, 2013 in Interviews with Poets


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Lynne Potts on Editing Process in Poetry

Have you ever asked yourself when you write a poem: How do I know that this poem is good enough? If you find yourself wondering about how good your work is or why your poetry may not be making the cut in the lit world yet, the Editing process is what you’re thinking about.

Writing poems is not enough- you have to work on them and then work on them again.

Many poets have discussed the writing process @ this blog. Here’s one interview where we look exclusively at the editing process.

I talked  to Lynne Potts, presently the poetry editor @ AGNI to understand more about the process of polishing your work until it shines .She advocates that every serious poet must build his/her poetic instinct by working hard. I asked my favourite question about whether digital poetry means literary suicide. But that is in Part 2 of this interview.


Work by Lynne Potts has appeared in Paris Review, Nimrod, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Southern Humanities Review, Oxford Magazine, Southern Poetry Review, DrumVoices, New Orleans Review, The Journal, Cincinnati Review, Art Times, 2River, American Letters and Commentary, Denver Quarterly, Broken City, New Millennium Writing, Seneca Review, Karamu, SPEC and many other literary journals – more than a hundred poems in all.  She won the Bowery Poetry Club’s H.D. Award in New York and was the winner of the Backwards City Review 2007 Poetry Contest. Her work has won finalist prizes from New Issues Press, Alice James, Ohio State Press, Colorado Review,  Marick Press and Crab Tree Press.  A poem from Paris Review was selected for Poetry Daily.  Virginia Colony for the Creative Arts, Moulin a Nef (Fr.) and Ragdale have all awarded her fellowships to their colonies.

Lynne was a featured poet on WKCR and Poetry Daily.  She has read at the New England Poetry Club and venues in New York including Poets House, Cornelia Street, Ear Shot, Gallery 440, and Columbia University.  She began the poetry group BY INVITATION ONLY at Boston University and has taught poetry as an adjunct in New York and Morocco.

She lives in Boston and New York.


How should a poet edit her own poem before submission? There is one view that too much pruning can spoil the energy of the poem. Another is that if you incubate a poem for a long time, you may rewrite it in a completely unflattering style. What can the writer do to save her poem?

This is hard to answer.  Really, you have to develop an “instinct” to know when your poem is done.  No one can tell you.  Some poems come out almost “finished”; others you may go back to and change over a period of years.  Just no rules in poetry.

How important is knowledge of form before you embark on experimental poetry?

You can never read other poems too much.  Learn about everything! You can’t “experiment” if you don’t know what you’re experimenting “against”.   I contend you have to understand what a poem is before you can make one – of any kind!  Experiment or no.

 What is the difference between editing a single poem and editing an entire manuscript of poems?

It’s different and it’s not.  You work on a single poem and that’s your focus;  you work on a whole MS and that’s your focus then.  In both cases you are trying to “polish” – make the work shine.

 What kind of metaphors make the editor in you sad? What do you think contemporary writers should continue to do and to rephrase that differently what should they Never do?

Avoid the familiar, the cliché!  Don’t say things the way everybody has said them for eons. Good poems bring fresh perspective and fresh language.

 Describe your own editing process. It would also be interesting to know  the way you edit your own work as opposed to the works of other poets.

I do the same thing editing my own work as I do when I’m making suggestions to other poets.  Make the work zing.  If it doesn’t, put it down or throw it out.  Please don’t send poems out when you haven’t been reading other poets.  It’s like trying to ride a bike with no chain.

Have you started throwing out your poems yet? I sure have. Thank you Lynne for demystifying the poetry editing scenario!

Look out for Part 2 where Lynne talks about perfecting the poem, digital poetry and what the editor is really looking for.


neelthemuse@ 2013



Posted by on October 22, 2013 in Interviews with Poets


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