In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Jennifer Martelli

In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Jennifer Martelli

Picture by Clement Falize from Unsplash

The Hunter,” is a beautiful poem that uses many sensory images; you bring us to this ideal summer’s eve in the work. When did you first start writing this piece, and where did the spark to write it come from?

Thank you so much–both for your generous words and for publishing the poem in Water~Stone Review! I began writing this poem as part of a wonderful ekphrastic group I belong to. I came across the image, “Orion (Space Paintings Series),” by Alma Woodsey Thomas (USA, 1973). I loved the depth and movement, the color; the image looked like a curtain, a drapery. It has a very Twin Peaks energy to it! Orion is the hunter, which is where I got my title. My friends will tell you that I have many (too many?) poems that use these big sliding doors in my bedroom that look out to trees growing and being felled—the doors almost work as a vehicle into a meditation. So, to answer your question, the poem began in my ekphrastic group, but probably is part of a series of “looking out.”

I like how the titled hunter has multiple meanings, referencing both the bat and the speaker of the poem. How did the title come about in relation to the piece? In general, what is your creation process like?

Yes, I love all the meanings of “hunter.” Again, there is the reference to Orion—both the myth and the constellation. I love astronomy and astrology for all the great language and the sense of circularity, of being on a wheel. Orion is a Northern Hemisphere constellation (as opposed to The Cross, as the end). I have to think with all my looking out this window, that I must be hunting for something! The bat is so thrilling to me—this strange flying mammal! I used the image of the bat throughout my book, My Tarantella, which was about a murder. The bat, in that book, was a witness, but also a defense; the victim’s gloves were all cut up. D.H. Lawrence compared bats to gloves in this poem, “Bat,” and this stuck with me. I have heard, on warm nights, something heavier than a bird. But, to answer your question about my creation process: I have obsessions that I return to. This can be dangerous, though, and I have to make sure I’m not being lazy; that I just don’t want to think of newer concepts or images. I’m inspired by different things: collections of poems for their music; imagery through art or film. I belong to a couple of writing groups where we commit to daily writing for a month; sometimes, something sparks! I usually write in the morning. And I hate starting a new poem! I do love revision!

Your lines are filled with both story and visuals. When you’re writing, how do you find balance between keeping the poem moving and letting readers linger in the beautiful details?

This is a great question—and my answer is elusive and illusive! I can become lost in the beautiful weeds of music and imagery. Many times, I’ve sacrificed a narrative thread for loosely tethered images, that in my mind, go together. My mind alone. This is why my writing groups are so important. These are poets with whom I’ve worked for years; we don’t try to rewrite each other’s poems. We are very honest, while keeping the sensibility of the poet in tact. More than once, I’ve been told to clarify, or to make the connection just a bit clearer. I’m not sure if this answers your question, but any balance I strike between the movement of the the poem and letting the reader linger is truly collaborative. 

What themes do you return to in your work? What themes are you still developing?

“The Hunter” is a poem in my forthcoming collection, Psychic Party Under the Bottle Tree (Lily Poetry Review Books, Fall, 2024). The book concerns itself with long-term abstinence and recovery. This poem is in the middle section, which confronts the speaker’s atheism (thus, the constellation of The Cross, which would be in the Southern Hemisphere, is not seen by the speaker). But the book is also filled with snakes and knives and bowls and tarot—images that circle throughout the collection. I think, though, in terms of overall themes, I tend to lean to the political (lately, the attack on reproductive rights), and have been using these same images in these poems, too. I’m very interested in the sense of belonging—or, the opposite of that. Going back to your question of balance: in my life (poetry and otherwise) there is the need for being alone and the fear of being alone! This is a theme that is always in development.

What books are your favorites? What authors inspire you to write?

So many. I’ll start with the books/poets I return to over and over (especially when I can’t hear music): Lucille Clifton (Blessing the Boats); Elizabeth Bishop (Geography III); Laura Jensen—anything; Lucie Brock-Broido; Marie Howe.

Lately, I’ve been really into Yona Harvey’s You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love—very exciting structure! Also, Erika Meitner’s Useful Junk and Rachel Mennies’ The Naomi Letters; Monica Youn’s From From. And of course, anything by Diane Seuss.

I’m so into horror poetry too! Dorothea Lasky’s The Shining and Mothman Apologia by Robert Wood Lynn—amazing!

What projects are you working on now?

Speaking of horror poetry—I’ve been working on this series of poems that respond to Luca Guadagnino’s revision of Suspiria. I have about 20 poems—I’m interested to see where they go! This is a very horrific time; I feel like this genre meets the moment! 


Jennifer Martelli is the author of The Queen of Queens and My Tarantella, named a “Must Read” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book and awarded Finalist for the Housatonic Book Award. Martelli’s chapbooks include All Things Are Born to Change Their Shapes, After Bird, and In the Year of Ferraro. Her work has appeared in POETRY, The Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day, The Tahoma Literary Review, THRUSH, Cream City Review, Jet Fuel Review, River Mouth Review, and elsewhere. Martelli has twice received grants for poetry from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She is co-poetry editor for Mom Egg Review.

In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—David Melville

In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—David Melville

Your poem “Shelter” in Volume 25 focuses on the experience of two young boys who find a doe trapped in a coyote snare. What was the inspiration behind this poem? How did it come to be?

This poem describes a true event. I grew up in small town Nebraska, and was invited, on the spur of the moment, by another boy (whose identity is altered in the text) to drive out to check his coyote traps. Things happened much like in the poem with a few adjustments for clarity and pacing. As a country kid, he knew more of what would happen to her than I did. The choice was difficult, but it seemed the only humane one. The hardest part for me was when he let go, and I was holding her as he took up the rifle.  

I imagine the experience of finding a vulnerable creature caught in danger to be very profound, perhaps traumatic, for a young person. These boys have to make a very quick and mature decision that impacts the livelihood of someone else. The way the speaker locks eyes with the doe continues to reverberate throughout the poem. How do you work to amplify the tension and emotion in your poems? With this poem in particular, what helped you to mine memory and place yourself back into the younger self?

This poem originated more than a decade ago when I was working with David Biespiel who was a superb mentor to me and many other poets. He devised tasks to challenge me, and one was building tension through a delayed ending. That early draft was the first thing of mine I’d shown him that caught his eye, but I didn’t have enough skill yet to finish it. So I put it away and let it sit in a pile with other rough drafts. A couple years ago, I remembered it was there, composting so to speak. When I took it up again, it came together fairly quickly. 

The poem works by establishing the boy’s contact with the doe’s eyes. That contact was part of the experience itself. Brown and sensitive, they gave me this overriding sense of connection. Describing her eyes in the opening words was an intuitive choice, there from the beginning; it just felt right; but I can see now how it works on a technical level. The boys also have a physical connection with her through the silver wire. Our dilemma was the more poignant for it: this beautiful creature was caught, so close to us; not a carnivore like a coyote, but a gentle animal who was now literally connected to us. Once the stake popped loose, we understood there wasn’t much else we could do for her but this one thing. As we become adults, we learn, sooner or later, that hard choices can’t be avoided, not really; and we are called upon to do things we really don’t wish, and which affect other beings, choices which don’t seem ours by right to make, but we have to make them nonetheless.   

At that age, the experience was profound. Growing up in a rural area, I was closer to the natural world back then, and this friend who was from the country more so. As the years go by and I’ve lived in a city, I’ve become increasingly aware of the distancing effect of modern urban life. Not being able to see the stars at night is part of it, but only part. For some years, I would do things like climb mountains or kayak or dive which resulted in a few hair-raising moments; yet it was I who had sought out the wilderness. For those who earn a living from the soil, it’s different. They have a relationship with animals and the elements I just don’t have. Our modern life removes  us – and I am definitely included in this – from the sorts of choices they encounter more often, the kinds of decisions that our ancestors had to make.

One of the reasons these traps are used is to kill coyotes so the deer population will increase. These traps kind of “shelter” deer so there are more to hunt, and so it’s a kind of irony that in your poem “Shelter” the deer is the unintended victim of happenstance. Can you share with us about your intention in how you titled this poem? What did the word ‘shelter’ mean to you as a young boy out hunting with his cousin? What does that word mean to you now as the older poet?

That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought of providing shelter for the deer through population control of their predators. I like that. It does fit nicely with the title’s intended resonance: the ways we try to create shelter, and the ways that our sense of shelter can suddenly vanish. We have all these internal buffers that keep us from facing reality, and in certain flashes, something can open us. When we drove out there, I had never seen a coyote trap before, and neither of us had an inkling what was about to happen. That often seems to be the case; we don’t know when we are about to be changed. Shelter is something we look for, and try to build, and sometimes we let ourselves sense how tenuous it can be. 

Now that I’m years older and a city-dweller, I am sheltered from certain types of experiences like the one that happened with the doe. Living in the city, on the other hand, has offered other types of experiences I wouldn’t have had in a small town. It seems we grow, at least partly, through this kind of process, our sheltering and un-sheltering. 

We had the honor of publishing your poem “45” back in Volume 23, and one thing that I noticed that both your poems consider is an idea of shared empathy. They both make reference to something I think feels philosophical, as if the speaker is breaking the 4th wall to say ‘you’re not alone in this scenario or in this world.’ What are your thoughts on this? Do you see these two poems in connection? Do you think “45” and “Shelter” speak to other subjects you write about? 

I can see what you mean by the shared empathy in this poem and in “45,” now that you’ve mentioned it. Both poems do point towards connection within our isolation. Rather than a conscious intent, it comes more from my understanding of the world. We are all deeply interconnected, with each other and with everything around us – deer, the stars, the hills, the concrete, everything – in ways we don’t often see. It is more than a metaphor; it is how things actually are. Much of our pain comes from our loss of that sense of connectedness, which is the fundamental truth behind reality. Our human journey is that we lose that sense and have to grope our way back to it. Writing, at its most essential, for me anyway, points us back toward home. I believe the main reason we write, and read, is to know we are not alone.    

I know you used to work as a lawyer; you’re actually not the first lawyer-turned-poet we’ve published, which I find so interesting! These two forms of writing seem like such polar opposites to me, but maybe I’m wrong! What drew you to poetry, both as a reader and a writer, while you were practicing law? Is there anything about your former career that seeps into your life now as a writer? 

Law and poetry do seem polar opposites in many ways. The hidden link is an affinity for words. Lawyers spend their days wrangling over words and their meanings. A love of language – and the subtle shades words can have – is what drew me to poetry. It took a while to unlearn the kind of writing that works in the law. The legal practice, however, did underscore the importance of finding the right words, and taught me a certain amount of patience in going about that process.  

It’s a well-kept secret that some great poets in history had legal backgrounds. Wallace Stevens practiced law for a while in New York. Chaucer studied at London’s Inns of Court. And the one I’d never have guessed is Petrarch. Yes, it’s true: the most love-struck troubadour of them all had gone to law school! Who says that deep down, when no one’s looking, lawyers aren’t tender at heart?

Who are some writers that you gravitate towards or return to, and for what reasons? 

A.E. Stallings has long been a favorite; she’s so deft with poetic forms and I have a fondness for the classics, so her way of playing with ancient tropes appeals to me. Lately, for instance, I’ve been going back to the Romans like Ovid and Plutarch, and even managed to pick my way through the King James Bible. I also really admire George KalogerisDialogos, which pairs his excellent translations of everyone from Sappho to Cavafy so that poets of disparate times and temperaments speak to each other. Among contemporary fiction writers, John Crowley, who wrote Little, Big, both inspires and daunts me.

What projects are you working on now? I think I read in a bio of yours somewhere that you were working on a novel at some point; are you still pursuing that? 

Yes, my main project right now is a fantasy novel, which I’m in the midst of writing. It started by accident. For a role-playing game, a friend asked me to write a few pages, and the beginning of this story came out. The two people who read it wanted more. Their enthusiasm clued me in that lurking in those pages was a tale worth telling. So I decided to follow the fire and am devoted to finishing it.     

I’m still active in poetry too. I’ve been putting together a collection – organizing it, tinkering with the running order, and rounding it out with a few more poems. 


David Melville’s recent poems have appeared in journals such as The Atlanta Review, RHINO, and Tipton Poetry Journal. This is his second appearance in Water~Stone Review. His poetry has also been anthologized in the college textbook Listening to Poetry: An Introduction for Readers and Writers (2019). For many years, he earned his living as a lawyer. You can learn more about his work at his website.



In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Teri Ellen Cross Davis

In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Teri Ellen Cross Davis



You have two poems in V26 of Water~Stone, “River Phoenix at 46” and “The Brain Confesses About Those Six Weeks.” With “River Phoenix,” I feel like I get something new from the text every time I read it. What inspired this poem’s creation?

As a teen, I had a serious crush on the actor River Phoenix. I had a poster from one of his films, “A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon” on my wall. River seemed intellectually deep and  rebellious and open enough to maybe understand me as a skinny black girl from Cleveland, or at least that is what I dreamily told myself. When he died, so early in his career, it felt like fabric being ripped from the quilt of my dreams. I wanted more for him. I wanted him to have had an award-studded career, to have eventually stepped back from acting, to at some point have a complete life away from Hollywood’s lens. In this imagined world, he could have had a family of his own. Poetry gave me the space to imagine that longer life, to toy with ideas of Halloween and the veils between worlds, to summon an alternate path for the actor.

This poem draws up many vivid images and phrases. When writing this piece, what drew you to these images? What was your process building this piece and this world with River Phoenix in it? 

I tried to envision an alternate reality that could hold both Phoenix and some of the ways mainstream culture has grown to be more culturally diverse and inclusive since his death in 1993. I knew the legend of the Sunset Strip club “Whiskey a Go Go” from a crush on Jim Morrison and the Doors so it was a fun way to imagine the inside of places I had read about, but never experienced. As a poet, I could play director. I could create a 90’s style montage of Phoenix’s imagined life with language. 

In “The Brain Confesses,” the narrative explores the trauma and post-processing of rape, and how people often shut those memories away. The use of em dashes gives readers that painful, jolting feeling. Can you talk about your process in crafting this poem with short lines and specific punctuation?

I wanted to use the em dashes like gloves, or tongs handling something so toxic it could not be near the rest of the body. The brain is “reading” the body—being honest and unforgiving, but couching both in love. I wanted the shape of the poem to contain and direct that energy downward until it eventually escapes out of its own hypothetical hatch.  

In both pieces, I felt there were moments of double meaning; “a life well-heeled,” for example. When writing, how much of your original drafts do you keep, versus rewrite to add these gems into the work? 

Thank you! I have language I fall in love with in a poem and sometimes, when things go right, I can keep it. Trust me, there has been a lot of theoretical blood on the cutting room floor. From original to final version, there is a lot of whittling, of reworking lines and form—things move forward based on what the poem needs and sometimes, it may not need my favorite line.

What themes do you find that inspire you, and that you return to in your work?

Parenting seems to be a ripe vein at the moment. I feel this double vision of me at this age and now my child at this age. Each progression feels like a peek into my teen psyche and it is well, weird, frustrating, acute, blunt, nuanced, and comical. From tending my own vegetable and flower garden to understanding the long-term impacts of climate change, gardening and my relationship with nature is another area of my life that is fueling me.

As a poetry curator, what do you look for in your job? How does your interaction with other poets influence your writing? What texts or authors helped shape the writer you are today? I look for poetry that moves me and brings a fresh voice to the page or stage. To ignite my own creative appetite, I read Lucille Clifton, Linda Pastan, Rita Dove, Hayes Davis (my husband) and more. Right now, I admire the ancestry research and communing in Tracy K. Smith and Remica Bingham-Wisher’s work, the wit and brevity in Beth Ann Fennelly’s micro essays, and the expansiveness in Camille T. Dungy’s SOIL. 

What are you working on now?

I am working on a third collection and the moment I feel I have a handle on a new direction for it, I feel a pull to write poems about something else. It’s wild, but I am trying to hold on and get something on the page as I do. I hear my ancestors rumbling with answers and I am trying to figure out the right questions. 


Teri Ellen Cross DavisTeri Ellen Cross Davis is the author of a more perfect Union, awarded the 2019 Journal/Charles B. Wheeler Poetry Prize, and Haint, which won the 2017 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry. She is the recipient of the Poetry Society of America’s Robert H. Winner Memorial Award and a Maryland State Arts Council award. Her work has appeared in print, online, and in many journals and anthologies including Harvard Review, [PANK], Poetry Ireland Review, and Kenyon Review. She is the O.B. Hardison Poetry Series curator and Poetry Programs manager for the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.



In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—JC Talamantez

In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—JC Talamantez

When did you first get the idea to weave your poem about sexual assault and rape with the violent film, “A Clockwork Orange?”

I suppose it’s partly because I’m fascinated with that film’s complex reputation in popular culture. Many people find it when they are young and first becoming interested in film as a medium; I assume that, like myself, many admire its audacity while also struggling to make sense of its use of violence. The novel is arguably less morally muddied, and I’ve always wondered if the film’s ability to inspire mayhem is due to the shift in mediums—from written narrative to visual—or to the idiosyncrasies of the director. I am genuinely fond of Kubrick’s body of work, but he wasn’t particularly good at representing women as characters. 

In that sense, the use of “A Clockwork Orange” in this piece is perhaps a stand-in for that consistent experience of finding joy in art as counterculture, while also encountering exploitation and violence against women as representations of freedom, rebellion, or masculinity. While I tend to think we should be careful about how we moralize art, the need for such care shouldn’t preclude consideration of conflicting properties within aesthetic pieces.  

Which is all a long way of saying that it’s always been a bit of a puzzle as to how sanguine we are with raising children who will need to come to terms with the reality of sexual assault. Grief over that sad fact should cost us something, I suppose, both as persons and as a broader culture. 

You begin the poem with “—” which as a reader, I interpreted as a deep inhale before a release. What was your intention when you started your poem that way?

I also think of that element as a pause or an inhale, like a moment for gathering thoughts, or maybe as a way of interrupting some yet unspoken chain of events. Some poems seem to arise from a blank world, others in the middle of a river. This poem felt like the second to me. I suppose it’s a bit worrisome to begin a piece with an invocation, but maybe taking a breath is one gesture towards that older “o”/“oh” movement that now feels somewhat dated.  

I want to thank you for the line “all that grief/should mean something,” which resonates with me. When writing trauma-based poetry, do you find this cathartic, or as a writer, do you find that you need to set boundaries with yourself and your art?

Thank you! That’s a difficult question for sure. It’s a careful line that writers navigate between resonance and exploitation, or clarity and confession. On the one hand, poetry reflects human experience, and should be capable of incorporating elements of grief and trauma as part of that overall tapestry—all forms of art can help us make sense of loss and violence. On the other, poetry is not therapy or confession, and pouring our emotional souls into line breaks strikes me as mostly an act of blunt narcissism rather than of love. 

Writing about trauma seems to carry an additional burden as well, since the kinds of events that traumatize are experiences shared in some form by many people, and such representations require not just forthrightness but also, I think, kindness. The point there is not to shock, but to render otherwise inexplicable elements of living more visible and maybe thereby, at least give them some shape, boundaries, and conflict.  

It seems that movement in stanzas is something much of your poetry reflects; I’m thinking of Flower in Corridors of Sun, published by Hopkins Review or Insect, published by Frontier Poetry. How did you develop this method of writing?

I used to fuss a lot with trying to press my work into shapes that, in the end, didn’t really fit my voice, but I’ve gotten better about letting a poem unfurl with just a bit of guidance. Spiraling lines and stanzas seem to animate these pieces and give them a certain kind of life. I think I’ve slowly developed a style of spacing and line breaks that help to emphasize certain elements in my work. It has taken a lot of refiguring to get to here, and some pieces have been reworked too many times for comfort, but eventually you learn a bit what suits your voice, and accept it. 

What themes do you return to in your work? What themes are you still developing?

Part of developing an independent voice as a poet (which I’m now guessing is a life-long endeavor) is figuring out what you can bring to the work that no one else can, and leaning into it. I think that is one way in which very young writers eventually learn to temper themselves into maturity—as a young poet you kind of want to say everything, but you eventually learn to focus on saying one true thing well, with specificity and care. I used to think that the themes that come naturally to me—familial intimacies, petty injustices and cruelties—were too small to act as foundations for interesting poems that others might find compelling. But one small truth can be powerful. My more recent work has taken on a bit more of a political tone, and I’m happy to have that develop insofar as it is useful and honest.   

Who are some authors who have inspired your writing?

Prose-wise, I have a long-standing love of Larry McMurtry, Annie Proulx, Jose Saramago; James Baldwin writes an incredible sentence. More recently I’ve become enamored with Graham Green and W. Somerset Maugham. John Irving’s pair of novels The World According to Garp and A Widow for One Year are bookends to my adult life—I’ve returned to them numerous times and they seem to age up as I do. Jeanette Winterson often bridges the gap, if there is one, between prose and poetry, as does Cormac MacCarthy. 

Poetry-wise, I sometimes think that I completed an MFA just so that I could be exposed to Rilke—he is astonishing. James Tate’s use of broken narrative and elements of absurdity are utterly compelling to me. I’ve never grown tired of Leaves of Grass or Autobiography of Red. Also Galway Kinnell, e.e. cummings, Adrienne Rich. In high school I had a bit of an obsession with Richard Brautigan and Raymond Carver. Louise Glück’s simultaneously beautiful and dread-inducing tone has been a significant source of inspiration for many years.     

What projects are you working on now?

My focus so far has been on literary magazines, and I really appreciate the readership and community that I’ve found there. I have a completed book of poetry and another in development, (though the magnitude of editing an entire book has sometimes seemed a truly monumental task). Perhaps these will eventually see the light of day!

Thank you for taking the time to chat with me!


JC TalamantezJC Talamantez is a Mexican-American poet whose work has appeared in Poetry Northwest, New Ohio Review, Salamander, Smartish Pace, Hopkins Review, Frontier Poetry, Boulevard, Water~Stone Review, and others. She was a longtime student of academic philosophy and teaches writing and humanities courses across a number of disciplines.

In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—A. E. Wynter

In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—A. E. Wynter

Bowl of candy from above on a white surface.

Your two poems, “Retching,” which deals with generational trauma and generational choices that live within descendants, and “Now & Later,” which examines how people are taught to open themselves at a young age to experiences they don’t want, are beautiful, tightly-woven pieces. What was the impetus for their creation?

I think at the root of these two poems is an “I” that has both experienced and witnessed the ways that life can rob us of our innocence and choices. In “Now & Later,” we see a father impart unwanted teachings on a daughter, and I wanted to explore that assault on the self. Meanwhile,“Retching” widens the lens beyond our immediate, exploring the fear of what fractured histories our bodies may be housing. Can our genetic and ancestral coding dictate the future self and its options? But even more than fear, even more than life’s cruelty, these poems became a way to push back.

There’s a beat to “Retching” that pulses with the internal rhymes and repetition. What was your process for crafting the rhythm of this piece?

In “Retching,” I wanted the movement of the lines to mimic a sort of heaving—a burden being unloaded with very few pauses. So, I used very little punctuation, which I hope translated effectively to a quicker pace and rhythm. 

As for the internal rhyme and repetition, that seemed to come naturally in this piece and it felt present from the very first draft. In fact, I’d describe “Retching” as one of those poems that just came right out of me (which feels appropriate), and when I first shared this poem with my writing group, they said they could feel the ancestors talking through me. So, as much as I worry about what fraught and fractured histories my body might be housing, I also know it’s housing immense power. “Retching” felt born in this power, and I leave credit with my ancestors, who I feel had something to say to me the day this was written.

“Now & Later” emphasized the importance of a lesson it took me ages to learn: having the choice to say no. This piece really struck home. When writing, do you think about the impact your pieces will have on the audience, or is your creation more internal until the world sees them?

First, really glad to hear the poem struck home. Learning you have the option and every right to say no is so so important. And teaching others to hear and respect no is essential. For me, the act of writing is very internal. I am analyzing, distilling, questioning my experiences and this world through a very personal lens, one shaped by my identity as a Black woman and all of its intersections. I want that process to go uninterrupted. When, and if, the audience enters my creative space, it is during the editing stage. At that point, I have gone through my process of discovery, and I have learned for myself what a poem or story is about. Then, I lean even further into my formal choices—stanzas, line breaks, rhyme, rhythm—and how those choices might impact a reader.

When I initially wrote “Now & Later,” the final lines were: “each day the sharp animal in me spearing through / all I cannot digest.” But during the editing stage, I realized I didn’t want to leave the reader there, or myself. I wanted us to take something back. And in this case, the reclaiming was really an expelling: “we spit out toxins, bare red stained teeth / with wet acid muzzles.” I wanted that final image to be one of strength and prowess.

While these are separate pieces, they both end on a note of rejecting things you don’t want to include in your life. Was there a kinship between these pieces as you were crafting them, or is this a theme you find recurs throughout your work?

There was actually a lot of time and space between the creation of “Retching” and “Now & Later.” So, while there is certainly a clear kinship, this likely points to my writerly obsessions, and the ways that my interests and fears naturally weave into my work—across poems and stories, even in my drawings and visual art.

Nature versus nurture is one of the themes I often find myself returning to—what elements of a person (spiritually, emotionally, physically) have been passed down through genetics and generations? What elements of a person are circumstantial, environmental? I think both “Retching” and “Now & Later” end with images of spitting, of a forceful expelling, because I want to believe in choice more than anything. I want to believe in our ability to reclaim our bodies, despite all it may have unwillingly experienced or inherited. 

You’ve also published Poem With an Absent Father with West Trade Review, and To the Protesters on Vandalia with New Millenium Writings, among many other poems. What themes do you find you return to in your writing? What role, if any, do you see your poetry, and poetry in general, playing in relation to being in conversation with the community?

I’ve already spoken about some of my writerly obsessions above, but as you can imagine, the list is long and ever growing. I’m also interested in, and often return to themes of family and womanhood; of spirituality and inheritance; of religion and ghosts; of truth and rumors; of being Black and American; of my Caribbean heritage; of mental health and caretaking; of land, absence, and memory. 

Poetry is a medium of endless possibilities—it can be a record keeper; a justice seeker, a creator of worlds; a whittler of memory. But at its core, what I want my poetry to do, what I believe all poetry does, is create a container for the human spirit. And when that container is gifted to another person, I imagine they must, in that moment, feel seen, a little less lonely. I especially write for my Black community—to hold them, as they hold me, in love, in pride, in power.

What books or stories shaped the writing you do today? Who are some of your favorite authors?

Oh, dear god. I’m just going to write a very incomplete list of storytellers that impacted me at different stages of my life—from childhood to now. They are in no particular order: Lucille Clifton, August Wilson, Vievee Francis, Stan Lee, Hayao Miyazaki, Toni Morrison, Ross Gay, Mohsin Hamid, Helen Oyeymi, Edwidge Danticat, Jericho Brown, Yona Harvey. I’ll stop here, because I must stop somewhere.

You are a cross-genre writer, and were recently working on a novel-in-progress, Far Cry From a Woman, through the Loft Mentor series. How is that project going? What other projects are you working on now?

The Loft Mentor Series is such an amazing program. Shout out to its admin and organizers, and of course to the 2021 mentors and cohort. Everyone was so amazing! Far Cry From a Woman is in revision, and I’m feeling really excited about the direction the book has taken. I’m also working on a poetry collection and a graphic memoir, which is a very slow burn, mostly because my drawing skills are limited—but I love the challenge, and I love having a creative space to return to when my creative expression needs to move beyond words.

A. E. Winter is a Black writer from New York. She currently lives in Minneapolis, where she has received grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board, was a fiction fellow in the 2021-2022 Loft Mentor Series, and most recently, participated in a regional Cave Canem workshop. Winter won first place in the 53rd New Millennium Writing Award for Poetry, and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in West Trade Review.


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