Saturday, October 28, 2017

Interview with Judith Skillman, author of "Kafka's Shadow", by Carol Smallwood

      One of the many awards that noted American poet, Judith Skillman has received is from the Academy of American Poets for Storm while Red Town, and Prisoner of the Swifts were Washington State Book Award finalists. Her poems have been included in such journals as Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner, FIELD and her collaborative translations in various journals; she’s in Best Indie Verse of New England. Her latest full poetry collection is Kafka’s Shadow. Deerbrook Editions, Cumberland, Maine; 77 pages; $16.95; paperback; 2017. ISBN 978-0-9975051-4-6

      CS: How did you decide on Franz Kafka for your new poetry collection?

      JS: I read “Metamorphosis” again, and was very taken with it. After a span of thirty years since the last reading, the story took on new dimensions. Then I read “The Stoker,” “The Judgment,” and “Letter to His Father,” as these have been reissued in a new edition titled The Sons (Schocken Books, Inc., 1989). After a visit to San Francisco, I wrote “Kafka’s Wound” and continued to find myself thinking and writing about Kafka. It took awhile before I realized the series might become a collection.

      CS: What are some of the most interesting things about him you discovered?

       JS: I learned that his relationship with his father was extremely complicated, and that helped my understanding of his work. In addition, he suffered greatly from intense sensitivities as well as, of course, the chronic illness of consumption/tuberculosis. His passion to write, his insomnia, and the hours he kept made me feel some identification with him, and I continued to read more of his letters. In this regard the book Franz Kafka: Letters to Friends, Family, and Editors was invaluable (transl. Richard and Clara Winston, Schocken Books, NY, 1977).

      I was surprised to find that Kafka felt such self contempt that he viewed himself as a son who should be sacrificed, as in the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. At the point I learned this I’d written a couple poems on that very subject, and experienced the sense of an encounter with the author, apart from space-time.

      CS: The Notes section in the back of Kafka’s Shadow (3 pages) share some of the scholarship necessary for such an ambitious collection. How long did it take to write the book?

      JS: Kafka’s Shadow took about three years to complete. As mentioned earlier, the book Letters to Friends, Family, and Editors provided inspiration when coupled with his stories and, especially, “Letter to His Father.” The interest and support of my writing groups and colleagues, in particular Christianne Balk, provided impetus to continue.

      CS: When and how did you begin your interest in translations? What classes did you take in languages?

      JS: My interest in translation began when I went to the University of Washington in 1994-95, ostensibly to get a PhD in Comparative Literature. That journey didn’t work out, but in the process I fell in love with the theory and art of translation. I have taken French and lived in Paris for three months—just long enough to become a Francophile.

      CS: You have been nominated for the Pushcart, Best of the Web. Please share how you came to be a poet? What other kinds of writing do you do?

      JS: I began writing in a journal in high school, but even before that, I had an elementary school teacher who taught poetry. And while my parents were both scientific (PhD’s in physics and math), they were also avid readers and lovers of music and all the arts. They took us to plays and concerts. I think the years of voracious reading likely determined my interest in literature.

      I have written fiction and non-fiction as well. A ‘how to’: Broken Lines—The Art & Craft of Poetry is the most serious effort I’ve made so far in non-fiction. There are many projects I would like to pursue, but the reality is one has to pick and choose.

      CS: What poets have influenced you the most?

      JS: There are so many! In particular I like the associative poets, among them Celan, Vallejo, Transtromer, René Char, and Franz Wright. I taught a “Great American Poets” course for several quarters and fell again for Williams, Bishop, Dickinson, Plath, Stevens, Eliot, Pound, et al. I also feel a great affinity for Jack Gilbert’s work.

     Roethke, Beth Bentley, Nelson Bentley, Stafford, Wagoner—all the Northwest poets. Milosz, Levine, Edith Sodergran, Adrienne Rich, Cavafy, Lucille Clifton. Wakoski, and all the beat poets. The thing is to continue reading, knowing one will never plumb the extant canon of virtuoso poetry.

     CS: How do you decide the number of stanzas, length of lines in your poems: what is your progression, steps, in composing?

      JS: Generally a poem begins as a fragment and then gathers steam. There are times when the form pours out with the poem, (a poem pours out fully formed) but those are rare and far between. I like to follow David Wagoner’s advice—take of your censorial hat when you write, let it sit, and then go back to the piece with your editorial hat.

      To write anything at all one must be in a receptive frame of mind, and not add judgments as to whether the would be poem is ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ The formal arrangement can come later. Exceptions abound, however. If you want to write a sonnet, villanelle or other set form, then you have to be intentional: count beats and employ rhyme and/or half rhymes.

      CS: What is your usual writing schedule for the day?

      JS: I don’t adhere to a strict schedule. There are days when I revise, and days when I explore other forms of art, such as painting. Writing requires wide reading as well—it all takes time—so flexibility is key.

      Simply maintaining the body, house, and extended family takes longer as I get older, so there are periods when writing happens only in the mind, with ideas. If that kind of ‘air creativity’ becomes more serious it might take the form of note-taking, marginalia, and/or soft research. When I feel the need to stop what I’m doing and write, I take that seriously.

      CS: Have you begun working on another collection?

      JS: Yes! I have a collection seeking a publisher. It has been a finalist at a few contests. Time will tell. Writing poems includes so many aspects; publishing so many facets. I feel lucky and blessed to be have been given the chance to write.

      Fans can visit her on

© 2017 Carol Smallwood

Saturday, July 22, 2017

"Wreckage", by Roberta Iannamico, translated by Alexis Almeida

    Translated poetry is a fascinating, and sometimes risky venture, but one that offers the chance to read work by other poets who were previously inaccessible. 
    The art and success of translation primarily rests upon the translator. We may prefer one translation of Rilke, Neruda, or Akhmatova to another, and each new translation is hailed as an original and fresh way of accessing the poet's work. 
     The industry publishing standard for translated poetry is to include poems in their original language, alongside the translated work to gain an appreciation of the poet's message, the labors of the translator, and possibly, to acquire a unique insight from the nuances of reading poetry in dual languages. That standard's thrown out the window with Wreckage (© 2017 Toad Press), a chapbook of poems by Argentine poet Roberta Iannamico, and translated by Alexis Almeida.
     I was curious as to why Wreckage was published only in English. As an avid reader of poetry, I've grown used to, and made it my preference, to read poetry collections that include both languages. Wreckage, on its own, is a compact chapbook of simple, beautiful poems with imagist influence that draws the reader into the present moment (also, throwing out another standard; that poetry should have a timeless quality), of highly personal, as well as universal experiences. 
    Half the success of Wreckage can be attributed to Almeida, who, as a poet, and editor, has shown a great deal of respect and affection for Innamico's work. The poems in Wreckage are translated well enough so the music of the poems come through without a loss of meaning, as in the poem "The Cartwheel", pg 21:

When I was a girl
I didn't know how to do a cartwheel
when I brought my arms to the ground
I didn't dare
lift up my legs
I kicked lightly
like foals
as for the other girls
they all did cartwheels
some of them could cross the entire yard
doing one cartwheel
after another
they were stars
in the moment when your head is down
and your legs draw
a compass' circle
your hair braises the floor
like a broom of silk
when you come up from the cartwheel
you have to rest your eyes
a few seconds
I was older when I learned to do it
in the 6th grade
I practiced in secret
I cried in secret
at once I knew
something obvious
something natural
like the first time you understand
how to float on water
you don't have to do anything
my open body
was flying over
the surface of the earth
a brief contact
with each 
of my four points
one more flower
in the spring air.

   Iannamico's poems cover a variety of personal vignettes ("Road", "Evening"), wishes ("Birthday", "The Panda Bear"), and humorous anthropomorphic observations ("Vegetable Stand", "Porcelain Doll"), and, thanks to Almeida's efforts, no words are wasted, as in my favorite of Iannamico's poems,  "I Said Goodbye" , pg 12:

I said goodbye
and went to live among the lettuces
with those sheets
the nightgown
isn't worth it
the lettuce
it's a home
ideal for summertime
clear green
with transparencies
that allow 
for the passage of sunlight

    In the end, there's no reason to publish a dual language version of Wreckage, and this may become the new standard for translated poetry. However, if you're curious to read the original poems alongside their translations, you can do that here.
     We live in a world where the barriers between languages are fast falling away, due in part to globalization, technology, and, or course, the Internet. Enjoy Wreckage for the beauty of the poems, and for the commonality of experience. 

Wreckage, © 2017 Toad Press,, Roberta Iannamico, translated by Alexis Almeida, 31 pages, $5)

poems and translations © 2017 Roberta Iannamico and Alexis Almeida
article content © 2017 marie c lecrivain

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Interview with Genie Nakano, author of Colorful Lives: A Coloring-Tanka Poetry Book

       If you're an experimental poet, or a lover of various poetry forms, it's inevitable that short forms, including haiku, and tanka, will come into your life. Haiku, a three line Japanese poem, imbued with elements of nature and time, has made a successful transition to the Western poetry tradition, in part due to the popularity of Basho's Narrow Road to the Interior, and beat writers like Jack Kerouac, though not in its original form, and often, as an instructional tool by teachers to convey an appreciation for poetry to junior high/high school students. 
       Tanka, the progenitor to haiku, is a popular, and widely respected poetry form in Japan, and a recent import to the United States, Europe, and Australia. Tanka differs in form in that it has two additional lines, has more musicality (tanka, translated means "short song"), and gives the poet more opportunity to "tell a story", than haiku. Tanka can be more challenging to craft than haiku, but the results, in my opinion, are more satisfying. 
       SoCal poet/yoga instructor/tanka instructor Genie Nakano's newest volume of tanka, Colorful Lives: A Coloring-Tanka Poetry Book (© 2016 Chin Music Press,, is an unique type of poetry book, in that it employs tanka strings, a combination of interlinking tanka, and it's a coloring book, with beautiful black and white illustrations by artist Alvin Takamori. The combination of poetry and visuals provides the reader with a multi-sensory experience, and with the added opportunity to color, gives the reader the tactile pleasure of absorbing the poetry and illustrations on a visceral level. 
       Nakano agreed to an interview, to discuss the process of crafting tanka, her newest collection, and her creative process. For those interested in learning how to write tanka, Nakano facilitates a monthly workshop, Tanoshi Tanka Class, on the third Thursday of the month (this month, July 20, 2017), at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute, 1964 W. 162nd Street, Room 214, 7-9 pm. (Cost $5, $3 if you become a Tomonokai member). Contact Genie at 310-644-1186, email: genieyogini AT gmail dot com.

       1. What drew you to writing short form poetry, particularly tanka?

       GN: Tanka is very personal, emotional, often times of a confessional nature. A Kaleidoscope of emotions can be expressed in five lines. A whole story captured in 19 – 31 syllables or sounds. A friend gave me a copy of a tanka journal—Ribbons. I raced through the journal, reread and wanted more. The impact was direct. They were like Zen gardens where only the essence remains. Then immediately pages of tanka poured out of me. From then on I was hooked and obsessed with writing and learning tanka. Soon after, Ribbons published the first tanka I wrote.

       This is #1:
       my unborn
       clung to a fallopian tube
       no one knows
       of the hidden scar
       where life was sliced out of me

       2. What made you decide to combine two art forms - visual and written – into your latest collection?

       GN: Prior to working with Alvin, I included dance, photography and music in my presentations. I was a dancer for most of my life and collaborating with musicians and other dancers is the creative process. Where as many of my tanka are confessional or verge on Kyoka style. In Colorful Lives, so much of the imagery, hummingbirds, flowers, waterfalls call out for color and illustrations.

       is what flowers turn to
       Sensei says
       we are all flowers
       with colorful short lives “Colorful Lives”, page 43

       if I were
       to write a play
       about my life
       it would be
       a comedy of errors (Kyoka style) Genie Nakano

       3. What was it like to see poems translated into a visual medium? What advice would you give to ensure a successful outcome?

      GN: It was very exciting when Alvin showed me his first images of Colorful Lives. I remember smiling and laughing. We hadn’t planned to make a coloring book. But when I saw how Alvin transformed "A New Year" into an image it immediately said —coloring book.        I was almost apologetic when asking him to make the images into a coloring book, all his detailed work had to be converted into coloring book form.
       However, we are both very happy with the outcome.
       I knew of Alvin’s’ work because we both work and volunteer at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute. So I felt very secure knowing Alvin was responsible and reliable. I handed him about fifty tanka series and asked that he choose the ones that inspired him. From then on Alvin followed his own vision. We met over breakfast from time to time to discuss our progress. It was a wonderful surprise to see all his beautiful images.
       My advice--know your collaborators work and work relations. Communicate, bounce ideas and take your time. They are the illustrator and you are the poet.

       4. Every poet has a different writing process: some write in their heads until the poems come out finished, others write down fragments and then weave them together, and many will labor over a poem like a marble sculpture. What is your writing process of writing like?

       GN: I feel my best tanka are the ones that flow straight from the heart to the paper or screen. My editing consists of shaving off words or rearranging the order/sequencing. Over the years I’ve been experimenting with the many tanka forms such as tanka response, tanka strings, tanka prose. Currently I'm experimenting with the 3,5,3,5,5 rhythm. It makes, as Amelia says “the tanka sing”. The form is compact, notably asymmetrical and gets down to the core—right here, right now.
       My tanka mentor, Amelia Fielden, said, "Quantity, over time, makes quality."  I took it literally and at the beginning I wrote constantly. I carried a notebook everywhere jotting down observational shasei tanka. My favorite shasei poet was Takuboku. I practiced emulating his style. I didn’t want to judge myself—just write. I developed tanka muscle.

       night in
       my loneliness
       mingles with
       the crowds Takuboku, 1885-1921

       5. How has your background as a dancer and yoga instructor influenced you as a poet?

       GN: My dance background was such an integral part of my being. Too bad I had a hip replacement because I’d be dancing more. Dance requires discipline, learning the fundamentals. This is how I approached learning tanka. I wrote everyday and developed tanka muscles. Yoga integrates tanka into meditative act. Tanka settles me and often summarizes my day. The sound, rhythm the dance of tanka shapes my tanka.

       6. The tanka strings in Colorful Lives, function, on the surface, like a series of intimate confidences between the poet and reader. There’s a deeper level beneath the first where the reader finds herself wanting more, as in wondering what comes “after” each poem’s end. Would you agree/not agree, and if so/why/not?

       GN: Yes, many of the tanka in Colorful Lives are prompted by meditation. Some are conversations with myself, as in “Letting Go”, “Straight Ahead”. By talking to myself, I hope some sort of transformation will happen. I so much want children to love tanka, so some tanka are conversations with children. “Shush”, is a lullaby for a child ,and my insomniac mind. "Shushhh", is used in Chi Gong as a healing sound and a sound to calm our fears. Some tanka offer resolutions—“endings”, and some bring more “questions”—beginnings. I hope both were offered.

       as I cross the bridge
       straight ahead, Colorful Lives, page 43

       7. Tanka, or waka, enjoyed a time of prosperity in ancient Japan, with the central themes being love/romance/nature. It became popular again in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, where it was then considered an almost “everyman” form of poetry, often used for political and propaganda purposes. In modern-day Japan, tanka has become a popular form of poetry in Western Culture. Where do you see the future of tanka going next?

       GN: I think tanka is just beginning here in the United States. From my experience, many people are familiar with haiku ,but not tanka. Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg helped the wave of haiku. However, tanka has not yet reached that momentum. I hope to see tanka studied in the schools and universities. Tanka educates you about yourself. Tanka response offers exciting ways of interacting. The virtues of tanka are endless. I see tanka in USA going in many directions. We have over 1,500 years of history from Japan to pull from. In our diversity, I see minimalist tanka taking shape, the lyrical, longing “Golden Age” style tanka flourishes, kyoka is on the rise, and there is plenty of room in the frontier. 
       However, I hope the rhythm, or waka, of tanka is not lost. As a dancer, the rhythm of tanka lured me. I was pleased and surprised that there a good number of people who attended the Tanoshi tanka workshop held at Beyond Baroque. Let’s keep that movement going.

       8. Some authors say they feel a sense of regret/loss upon the publication of a new book. How do you regard this assertion upon the publication of Colorful Lives?

       GN: No, I don’t feel a sense of regret. I look forward to publishing another book of tanka. I would like to create another book of kyoka and also meditative themes with doodles and mandalas.

       9. What advice would you give to poets who would like to start writing haiku or tanka, as far as who to read, what rules to/not adhere to?

       GN: Start with the classics. Learn the history of tanka. It is fascinating. Read ancient tanka and go down the historical path to present. Read the lives of Japan’s tanka poets—what they went through—their passions—some went to prison for their beliefs. Their lives are inspirational.
       As I said, I am a stickler for rhythm. I hope the short, long, short, long, long pattern—no less then 19 sounds or longer than 31 is upheld. Traditionally, tanka builds and the last two lines should be powerful. However, there are always exceptions. Ultimately, its about content and sound. I believe poetry should be spoken to get the full impact.
       My recommended books, journals and tanka poets, are: Akiko Yosano, Tangled Hair, Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, TheInk Dark Moon, Takuboku: Poems to Eat, Modern JapaneseTanka, edited by Makoto Ueda. AmeliaFielden, an Australian poet and translator, has written many tanka books. Conversations in Tanka is a great book for Tanka Response.

       Atlas Poetica, editor M. Kei,
       International Tanka Journal, editor Aya Yuki
       Gusts, editor Kozue Uzawa
       Ribbons, from the Tanka Society of America.

       10. What insights do you hope our readers will gain from Colorful Lives?

       GN: Because of the triple nature of Colorful Lives—words, visuals and the interaction of coloring in the graphics, insight is multi-dimensional. Even children can respond to the tanka by visuals and coloring in “The undefined spaces require readers to fill in the unspoken with their imaginations”. . David Lanaoue professor of English. I hope my love for this earth, nature, animals and people can be felt. I offer my words, and hope they evoke insight, humor and wonder into my readers. Each person has their own interpretation from the ground they stand on.

Colorful Lives: A Coloring-Tanka Poetry Book, Genie Nakano, © 2016 Chin Music Press,, 55 pages, ISBN 9780990895312, $12.95 US

tanka © 2017 Genie Nakano
article content © 2017 marie c lecrivain

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Ron Lucas' "Mother Goose Market"

     There are works of poetry and fiction that emerge, full-blown, under extreme circumstance. These events inspire artists to data mine their psyches for inspiration. Quite often, an artist is not prepared for what lies beneath the polite society of their consciousness, while others face it unflinchingly, as in Ron Lucas' first chapbook, Mother Goose Market ( © 2017 Lummox Press).
Lucas, a self-professed autodidact, credits The Great Recession for spawning his first collection. Lucas, who's been writing poetry for decades, lost "my car, my job, my place... and my mind." He states, during this time, he stopped writing. A few years later, he found himself exploring his childhood, about which he'd never written, and Mother Goose Market grew organically from that process. (Note: Mother Goose Market is a real place, and is regarded as a beloved landmark by the residents of Hazard, KY).
Mother Goose Market, as one might expect, would employ simple poems infused with clever meter and rhyme to instill in children the consequences of not conforming to a moral society. Stylistically, Mother Goose Market does the opposite; while most of the poems are short, they are not clever, or endearing. Instead, they are direct, visual, and visceral. Lucas explores the themes of spousal abuse ("Greendale"), the long-term effects of PTSD ("Brut 33", "Whipping Boy"), the legacy of inter-generational family violence ("1. Baloney, 2. Bread, 3. Cereal, 4. Milk"), the conflicted love a child feels for an abusive parent ("Happy Father's Day"), and ableism ("Less Jacob, More the Latter"), among others. For a 30 page book, Mother Goose Market is a short, heavy-handed read, but it deserves repeated reading to appreciate the compact power of Lucas's poetry, and the way the narrative emerges, stronger, with repeated reading, as in the poem "Red '98 Escort" (pg 16):

Bloody murder
She should have screamed
Last night,
But she made
Not a sound.
When I saw her face
In the halls
I nearly wept.
I swear to all the Gods
I do not believe in,
All the Gods
I damn
That such things
I thought the sonofabitch
Across the hall
Was alone
Last night,
And a red ’98 Escort
Was all she had
In common

My mother.

I'm glad, though I wasn't comfortable reading Mother Goose Market, to recommend to readers an honest volume of poetry in a time where literature is being put through the grist mill of political correctness by a functionally literate public. Real literature does not exist to make peace with the reader, and the truth, especially the ownership of personal truth, is what separates the sleepers from those who are truly awake.

Mother Goose Market, © 2017 Lummox Press (, ISBN 978-0-9984580-0-7, 30 pages, $12.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review of the new Los Angeles poetry anthology "Angle of Reflection"

I’ve written quite a bit about the Los Angeles poetry community over the last 15 years; its diversity, micro-communities, and its outliers. I founded an online magazine in an attempt to harness the incredible ocean of literary talent that exists within its borders, which is why I was curious to read Angle of Reflection ( © 2017 Arctos Press), which showcases the works of ten of L.A.’s poetry elite: Marjorie Becker, Jeanette Clough, Dina Hardy, Paul Lieber, Sarah Maclay, Holaday Mason, Jim Natal, Jan Wesley, Brenda Yates, and Mariano Zaro, (with an introduction by David St. John).
Angle, in no way, is a measure of the rich totality of the LA poetry scene, but it does offer a testament to a group of poets who are, above all else, committed to their craft. As noted by David St John, Angle, in part, was born out of this group of poets affectionately named “The Monday Night Poetry Posse”, which got its start at Beyond Baroque, LA’s nonprofit literary center which hosts workshops, readings, and literary activities designed to engage the literary community.
For the record, I personally know, admire, and have published some of the poets whose work appears in Angle. As a small press publisher, I appreciate the hard work, as well as the time and care the editors of Arctos Press put into producing an anthology for lovers of poetry. I especially  admire the fact that Angle is favorably represented on the female side, which is often the reverse for anthologies I’ve read over the years - and this includes one I published. I also respect the commitment this group of poets has for each other, and the work each one produces.
However, my admiration ends where poetic “face” begins with three poets in Angle, Becker (woman/sex/romance), Hardy (abstraction for its own sake), and Lieber (restricted narrative). While the poetic mechanics are above reproach, and their command of language enjoyable, they’ve not, in my opinion, provided enough of a diverse selection of their best work. I understand the need to put one’s best poetic foot forward, as well as the constant desire that exists in every poet who writes with an audience in mind. I’ve read, and been moved by, the work of these three poets in other publications, and I strongly encourage all who read Angle to seek out the works of Becker, Hardy, and Lieber through their poetry collections and chapbooks, as well as the journals they’ve been published in over the last two decades.
That being said, there’s more than enough beautiful diverse poetry in Angle, from Clough’s philosophical elegance in her poems “Evocation” and “Salt”; Maclay’s enraptured darkness in “Night Text”, “Grille”, and “Woman Chained to Fire”; Mason’s masterful balance of modernity and myth in “Reciting the Water”, “Midpoint Mercury Retrograde”, and “Inside the Radio”; Natal’s shamanic vision in “Borderline”, “My Student Writes”, and “Rain in L.A.”; Wesley’s personal witness to history in “Double Exposure”, and “First Boy”; Yates’ cinematic “The Universe’s Clock”, “Martini II” , and “Objects at an Exhibition”; and finally, Zaro’s tender and engaging moments of family intimacy in “Figs”, and “On Being Jewish, Perhaps”.
No anthology, like any poetry community, is perfect, though, I do agree, with St John, that this group of poets have evolved, and their work overall, “blazes with and without the accelerate of the group". Angle of Reflection will take its place as another milestone in the evolving literary legacy of Los Angeles, and I recommend reading it for both its strengths and weakness, and to keep reading the work of ALL of these poets, long after Angle of Reflection gathers dust on a shelf.

Angle of Reflection, © 2017 Arctos Press,, ISBN 978-0-98978471-9, 181 pages, $20.00

© 2017 marie c lecrivain

Friday, April 14, 2017

Interview with Angel Uriel Perales, author of The Acadians


The writer who can successfully drop you into a world of her/his own creation, with no explanations, or preparation, is a writer to be reckoned with, particularly with Angel Uriel Perales’ new novella, The Acadians ( ©  2017 Rum Razor Press).
The Acadians, as its name suggests, is a wandering, loosely woven narrative of the modern day descendents of Acadia, the 17th century French immigrants who settled in eastern Canada (Quebec, and Nova Scotia). Over the course of two centuries, due to threats of deportation, they migrated down the eastern seaboard of the United States, where one group settled in Louisiana. Perales’ Acadians are as defiant and stubborn as their ancient counterparts, but with limited financial and cultural resources, which makes them mean, desperate, frustrated, and always trying to stay one step ahead of rampant poverty.
There are a handful of characters who are tied together by geography, as well as cultural identity, and Perales does not spare his creations any kindness as he introduces each Acadian through an arc of misfortune.
For the record, Perales and I have been friends for many years, and in my opinion, Perales is one of the finest writers of our generation. As a poet, he continues to break new ground, and now, as a novelist, he continues to do so. The Acadians intrigued me, and Perales was kind enough to answer my questions about his new work, as well as his writing process.

   AP: What inspired ed you to write The Acadians, and why a novella, instead of a novel? 

     AUP: A few things, works, and incidents are part of the inspiration which prompted me to write this tale. When I was younger and more adventurous I traveled to the area a few times. 
     I went to Mardi Gras for five years in a row from 1989 to 1994. On one trip my friends and I didn't even make it into the city and stayed at an RV park and partied with some people we met. I have always been fascinated with the locale, in particular the weird rural parishes north of New Orleans otherwise known as Cajun Country or Acadiana. The food is nonpareil.  
     Another inspiration is the memory of a girlfriend who is from that area. She was a bit of a traveler and gypsy type and the inspiration for both Seraphine and Evangeline. A few years ago she knocked unannounced at my door here in LA and overstayed her welcome by a few weeks but that is another story for another time. Of course, the epic poem, "Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a huge inspiration. In fact, I first started to write an epic poem in the same vein and only after outlining my idea did I realize that I had too many colorful characters and that maybe writing this tale in prose would be better. I wanted to write a story of modern Acadians who traveled back to Nova Scotia for different reasons. After all was said and written only one character returns to Canada and that character is not of Acadian descent.

    AP: You're primarily known as a journalist, and a poet. How did the process of writing a novella differ from writing poetry, or news? Do you like it better, and why/why not?  

     AUP: Writing daily news professionally, whether that is headline news, or public interest stories, or even obituaries, plays havoc with my personal creative input. 
    For years, after a long day at work, all I could manage to write was a few poems a month, all topics taken from the news headlines of the day. After about a decade I got burnt out and effectively quit writing poetry for a spell. Then I moved over into the technical aspect of news broadcasting.  And this was when I began experimenting with an enhanced poetic style and began writing more short prose and began to enjoy myself again when I sat down to write at home.   
    I developed my prose slowly over a few years.  This is actually my 6th finished book, after five poetry chapbooks, where the last two chapbooks are actually half poems and half short stories and a strange mixture of the two, what I like to call lyrical prose. 
   The Acadians is my first sustained prose novella and I would like to think that the prose is musical and instinctively lyrical after writing poetry for the last 25 years. How do the two differ? Not much in the laying down the bones. Both require the discipline to sit down and write on the story or on the poem daily while fresh in your mind until the project is complete with a first draft.  They differ more in the rewriting. Poetry rewriting is clarifying metaphors and substituting phrases with a perfect word and rewriting the lines and stanzas to create cadence and music. This could mean expanding on the poem if need be. Prose, I found, is tightening up sentences, to make them terse, and leave no waste, no extemporaneous words, or redundancies. 
    I have a few personal rules which I apply to all my writing: Rewrite any sentence which begins with it is or there are, for example. Another writing pass is to make all my verbs active unless the passage is a recollection or a memory. Cut back on too many adjectives.  Go through and take out or replace the words very and more and actually and literally and stuff like that.  Which do I like better?  I enjoy both.  Writing is difficult for me though.  English is my second language.  Im horrible with comma splices.  
     I'm at a loss if a comma goes inside the quotation marks or outside.  I tend to rewrite the entire sentence if the sentence looks funny to me.  I keep writing could care less instead of couldn't care less. My Spanish sometimes trips me up and I make subtle mistakes such as sit on the chair instead of sit in the chair and other assorted little personal writing discrepancies which I have to correct every time.

    AP: Your characters in The Acadians come off as real people, albeit, the kind of people that have become marginalized by polite society, through lack of opportunity, or through life's misfortunes, and also, through the machinations of others they're close to, i.e., Grady being denied his creature comforts by his wife, Evie. What made you decide to fashion a cast of characters who are, in your words, unlikable, and why?  

    AUP: One fact I learned from the Victorians, the Bronté sisters, Jane Austen, and their contemporaries, is that polite society as a virtue is a myth and, more often than not, is oppressive and used as a cudgel and a weapon for those who do not measure up to standards - Standards which most of the time are completely arbitrary and relative to the culture which produces the so-called polite society.  
     I'm also suspicious of virtue-signalers and, in fact, detest them wholesale for they usually turn out to be the most oppressive and fascist of them all. The societal puritans who purport to fight for social justice are mere exploiters of justice and pirates of culture and do so for their own nefarious means and gains. They practice a philosophy of resentment and act out replacement theory. They need to define who they consider to be the oppressors and the oppressed victims in order to attempt to mold society detrimentally into what they consider to be their own utopia, with them at the top doing the oppression and their supposedly former oppressors now being the oppressed. They are, in short, regressive and actually want to rule authoritatively over others.  
     The people who are marginalized and have suffered misfortune in their personal lives or, for a lack of a better term, been unlucky in life for any reason, dont care for politicians and activists speaking on their behalf. They are too busy surviving day to day, living hand to mouth, and paycheck to paycheck, to worry about identity issues or stupid little micro-aggressions. They are worried about having enough time to keep the house clean and their car filled up with gas and paying the cell phone bill.  They worry about working enough hours at work and keeping their family safe and fed. They worry about finishing a degree or keeping a business afloat or moving to the next level in their professional lives.  
    These are the characters I am drawn to and whom I want to write about and explore.They are consumed by their needs, wants, fears, lusts, and greed. In their personal relationships they make terrible mistakes and hurt each other deeply. And most of the time they think they are doing the right thing for themselves and for others.  Some understand the pressures society imposes upon them.  Some are more realistic and practical than others.  But they all navigate their worlds to the best of their abilities. Regret, resentment, disappointment, betrayal, these realities happen to everybody and we all must choose how to deal with these realities. No matter your station in life, somebody will always seem to be over you on top unfairly and somebody else will also seem to be under you on the bottom justifiably.  
     Everybody views themselves stuck somewhere within that spectrum. Take Dottie, she wants to desperately get away from her overbearing sister. She thinks Ernie is the man to help her achieve what she thinks is freedom from her sisters oppression. The Mademoiselle, thinking she was romancing a fit rugged man, actually used Ernie because he made her life easier. He fixed the crumbling house falling down around them and alleviated her life by mowing the lawn, replacing the plumbing, and other chores. Ernie was happy to live with them and horny enough to get intimate with both sisters, until the situation got out of hand, and then he experienced regret. 
     Evie and Grady tried living up to societal standards, they went to church, got married, wanted to have children. But how do you deal with a husbands porn addiction and suspected infidelities?  And then when Evie was ready to walk out on him Grady has his accident and now society dictates that a good wife must take care of an invalid husband.  She tries but her resentment is such that she does a horrible job.  Grady for his part is living with some childhood demons and cant maintain a job.  He forges checks. Images in his mind drive him to look at porn which creates problems within his marriage. Seraphine, his mistress, doesn't care about his porn habit, this is why she is his mistress.  She has a different habit of her own. When Grady can't supply her drug habit anymore she leaves and only after she leaves does she slowly realize she loved him because he took care of her in a way that she needed to keep her from returning to her troubled past.  
     Do these characters end up being despicable to each other? Do they seem like I plucked them all out from a basket of deplorables? Yes. Do they try their best to do right by the people whom they love? Some do. Some don't. Some try and fail. Oscar Wilde wrote, Yet each man kills the thing he loves, By each let this be heard, Some do it with a bitter look, Some with a flattering word, The coward does it with a kiss, The brave man with a sword! Some kill their love when they are young, And some when they are old; Some strangle with the hands of Lust, Some with the hands of Gold: The kindest use a knife, because The dead so soon grow cold. Some love too little, some too long, Some sell, and others buy; Some do the deed with many tears, And some without a sigh: For each man kills the thing he loves,Yet each man does not die.  
     The kindest character in The Acadians by Western standards is the priest, Father Noé-Cyr, and he evokes the greatest pity of all because he has imposed the worst kind of oppression upon himself because he thinks suppressing his natural wants and desires is the correct action to take before God. His kindness and virtue, which he demonstrates on others, is also his own type of self-oppression and his greatest vice.  I think the characters seem real because not all of them succeed and some come out to a bitter end.  
     Dr. Afridi, smart and pragmatic, we assume succeeds because he moves to Canada ostensibly to begin his medical practice. He left because he knew from the beginning that his residency at Deerpants Hospital was a means to an end and he could never stay in Acadiana and achieve a thriving career without some cultural acrimony. Evie succeeds in part because she escaped her situation. The same can be said of Seraphine but her price was high and she paid with the pain of facial disfigurement. Father Noé-Cyr experienced little change in his situation but we understand he will continue to live sad and lonely and the cliché of a Beatles song. The rest of the characters, for good or bad, do not overcome their respective tragedies.

     AP: What was the best part, for you, about writing The Acadians? The worst?  

     AUP: The best part is probably the dark humor or, rather, what I think is funny, which is mostly dark and ironic. I was laughing while writing and amusing myself.  For instance, one character dies while listening to Hells Bells by AC/DC. I also tried to come up with the longest most ridiculous French sounding Cajun names I could imagine. In 1989, I was in Lafayette, LA during Mardi Gras and I looked up a number in a phone book and those long names in the phone book impressed me and stayed with me.  
     The worst part?  This being my first novella length work and, me being insecure me, I thought I had to prepare before writing word one and before attempting my transition from poetry to prose. To that end I read exclusively short stories and novellas for over a year before I started on The Acadians.  I read some great works but I also read some dreck. I read some really exalting prose by Jack London, Truman Capote, Willa Cather, Flannery OConnor, etc…  but I also forced myself to read a lot of crap because I believe that I can grow as a writer by discerning what works and also what does not work. My favorite short stories I have been sharing on my Facebook account.

     AP: Throughout The Acadians, there are assertions, almost with the certainty of a Greek chorus, that religion, karma, and all spiritual practices are useless, usually after the performance of action by an Acadian. Why did you include this to the narrative, and why is it important for it to be there?  

     AUP: My answer to this question follows the previous question where I stated that in preparing to write this novella I read many subpar narratives. Allow me posit here that the current trend of activist social justice literature is the absolute worst kind of writing, in my opinion. These activist writers don't write a story, they simply preach a missive. Almost all of their stories must include key words which serve as a sort of dog whistle: White Privilege, Patriarchy, Racism, Sexism, Xenophobia, Islamaphobia, Cis-Genderism, Homophobia, Transphobia, on and on.  
     Many of their stories simply make vacuous assertions, such as, Whiteness means my yellow skin makes me invisible and crap like that, virtuous platitudes just thrown up into the ether of a narrative which serves nothing and doesnt propel a story forwards. Once I asked one of these activists, What exactly is whiteness? and the response was white people being white which I thought was an extremely racist answer. If I wanted to read a sermon from a religious cult, Id go to their church. So I included Shakespearean theatre asides to show how these types of ideological assertions can be weaved successfully into a narrative while at the same time augmenting the story, adding metaphor, irony, or humor, and propelling the story forwards. 
     On one aside I write that Karma is coincidence given too much importance but then we see Grady ironically get his comeuppance relative to Evie. On another aside I claim that Islam is also bullshit but this is immediately following a chapter which shows how the religion is important in Dr. Afridis life and an indelible part of his personality. The ideological assertions dont matter, they really don't. Any writer can claim any ideology as being good or bad, important or otherwise, toxic or virtuous.       
     What matters is how the ideology affects and molds the stories and characters.  A writer claiming that masculinity is toxic doesnt move me, the claim means nothing to me, whether I agree with the claim or not. The writer could claim this empty claim a thousand times in a story and I would not care. But show me in the story how masculinity is toxic, how the characters are affected in some way by toxic masculinity, how toxic masculinity affects their choices and personality, and I might begin to think more and deeply about the assertion. I was very careful to omit and exclude the new social justice activist dog whistle terms out The Acadians. I had some sections in the book which portrayed fat shaming and racism, and I addressed all the other -isms and -phobias which concern social justice activists, but I grounded each incident and portrayals in character choices, character histories, and personal actions.  Show dont tell and, whatever happens, do not self-righteously preach.  
     Once I established the asides and how they worked within the narrative concerning the big questions of life, I then used them to greater effect later in the story by inserting objective factoids which added humor, irony, or gravitas.  

     AP: Do you consider The Acadians to be a moral tale? Why/why not?  

     AUP: Moral in the sense that morality is relative and subjective to character and context, if I can call that a moral of the story. White Knights dont exist in my tales and neither do Black Hats. What I learned growing up in a religious household is that everybody is a sinner. What I learned by living life is that everybody is also hypocritical douche bag, on occasion, on top of being a sinner.  
     The Golden Rule is a social contract with others and we are defined as to how we react when the Golden Rule is broken or ignored. Some of the worst atrocities in history were perpetrated by good people thinking they were doing good things. And everybody is also capable of redemption in somebody elses eyes. The wisest among us know that human nature resides somewhere in the precipice of a grey nebulous morality.  
     he best we can do is to not fall off the cliff into the abyss which could happen at any time. Remy Rotgut Gautrot is probably the most morally compromised character in The Acadians by Western standards. But from his point-of-view, he doesn't believe he is doing anything evil. He is protecting his turf and living by the unspoken code of the streets. He believes his savagery is necessary to protect his girls and his business. He blames those he victimizes for their fate. Of course, his morality clashes with the morality of the Travelers who live in Delacroix and they extract their own warped sense of justice.  
     Who is right and who is wrong in this scenario? Both are right and wrong. The ying-yang of opposite and complimentary morality is explored in all the interconnected relationships found within the narrative, with the moral compass swinging one way or the other depending on the nature of the relationship in context.

     AP: What do you hope your readers will take away once they have finished reading The Acadians?  

     AUP: Life is hard and we all must cope in our personal way. Life is hard for the rich. Life is harder for the poor. Everybody has some type of privilege over another. Everybody lacks some type of privilege over another. This is true of every dynamic of any person relative to every other person. Babies are helpless but have their entire life ahead of them. Octogenarians are old and about to die but they have lived a long life and have seen and experienced many things. Fat Jenny may be rich and live in a fancy house with a pool and two Cadillacs but she is fat and homely and a widow with six kids. Evie may be young and beautiful and achieving her dreams of becoming a nurse but her husband is addicted to porn and is not faithful to her marriage and the parents of her new beaux scorn her for their own reasons. Dr. Afridi may be smart and clever and on his way to becoming wealthy but he is seen in a suspicious light by many Americans because of his religion. Grady may be paralyzed but he had two gorgeous women fall in love with him in their own way and he no longer has to worry about making a living because the state now will take care of his basic needs. All anybody can do is learn how to deal and survive anything that life may throw their way.

The Acadians, (c) 2017 Rum Razor Press, 80 pages,  ISBN-13: 978-1544683706, $9.99 

Bio: Angel Uriel Perales is originally from Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. He has written three collections of poetry and lyrical prose, Brown Recluse (Rumrazor Press, 2002, 97 pages), Long (Rumrazor Press, 2005, 87 pages), and The Curmudgeon and the Debutante (Offworld Publications, 2010, 50 pages). He has worked for Hard Copy, Entertainment Tonight, Paramount Pictures, CBS, Viacom, and HBO. He lives in Valley Village, CA and works as a freelance journalist and broadcast technician.