Poetry and literary websites new to me: Vassar Review (USA), Hashtag Queer: LGBTQ anthology (USA), The London Reader (UK), The Quill Magazine (Canada), The Fiction Week Literary Review (USA), Foxglove Journal (UK), A Portrait In Blue: anthology Platypus Press (UK), Rejected Poetry Journal (USA), Sankofa Magazine (Nigeria), Sapphix Magazine (USA), The Wild Word (Germany), and 22-5 (USA).

Please be sure to read submission guidelines for any poetry or literary website and pay attention to any demographic limitations. I do not believe any of these publications charge submission fees.

In the past week I finished Spirit Birds They Told Me by Mary Oishi. Worth full price.  Its poetry covers child abuse and recovery from that abuse, so be ready for heavy reading.

Also, I finished Flood Song by Sherwin Bitsui. Worth full price. I very much enjoyed his  language usage in describing his landscape and “indigenous eccentricities” (as Sherman Alexi put it on the back cover).

Poet C. K. Williams 2001 TED performance.

I found Robb Willer’s TED talk about political conversations and how to communicate with the other side successfully to be quite interesting and I believe accurate.  I bring it up because so much poetry has a political focus.  If we poets implement what Willer suggests maybe our poems will move people outside our local fan bases or communicate to the other political-side the emotion of what is important to us.

I decided that I will answer the interview questions just like most of the poets, but I will answer the questions one each week.

How did I get started in Poetry? What age?

As a child, I heard the poetry of A. A. Milne as it was read out loud to me by my sister and mother. When We Are Very Young and Now We Are Six are still two of my favorite poetry books.  But I did not latch on to poetry or start writing when young.

I had been a visual artist by university degree (B.A. in Drawing and Printmaking) and passion into my early thirties, when tragedy struck me repeatedly over a year and grief crushed the conduit of creativity from heart to artistic expression. Or in plain words, whenever I picked up a pencil, piece of charcoal, paint brush, or other implement my right arm froze up in a bundle of knotted muscles and strangled my elbow.

Three years passed from my loss of artistic painterly expression to taking up poetry.  It started over a pitcher of beer and onion rings with Milwaukee poet Wayne Roberts. We’d been through several rounds of brag and stories when he commented that I told my stories with a poetic cadence and he asked if I was a closet poet.  I laughed.  It had never occurred to me to be a poet.  Wayne said he knew some other people who showed interest in a writing group and if I joined up he would start that group.  I did. He did.  So, I started poetry at age 35. We met Wednesdays at Wayne’s apartment for six months before venturing out to open mic venues and slam venues to perform before audiences. (Wayne had us practice reading in front of each other in empty university lecture halls to get us accustomed to reading on stage.  Five or six of us in a hall for 300. The memory of it brings a smile to my face.)

How did I get past the frozen artistic creativity and knotted muscles? At first I did not. Every time I tried to write with a pen or pencil to paper, I felt that familiar constriction of muscles and that peculiar skew of the artistic mind.  One morning I decided to type poetry (instead of write) immediately after typing my journal on the computer.  It worked.  Something about using two hands (both sides of the brain) instead of my dominant right hand freed up the creative flow and poems came out: raw, grizzly, awkward poems at first.

At Woodland Pattern, I was able to attend two poetry workshops. One was lead by Carolyn Forché, the other by Jimmy Santiago Baca.  That was the extent of any formal poetry training I received.  I developed my poetry by writing voraciously, reading other poets, listening to criticism, being part of a writing group, going to 2, 3 or 4 poetry events per week, and being a member of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets.

It was wonderful having the ability to be artistic again, to release creative expression.  The advantage of poetry over the visual arts in which I was trained was the speed at which a poem (at least a first draft) was completed.  I used my painting professor’s theory of produce, produce, produce and at some future date determine which pieces are good for public viewing.  This theory of cranking out work is why I write between 300 to 500 poems per year.  Half do not make it into the light of public display, performance.

Many of the poets posted in Watermelon Isotope offered lists of influential poets they encountered early in their writing careers.  My early influences were Tim Grair, Sheila Spargur, Steven “Catfish” McDaris, Antler, Timothy Kloss, Jeanne Marie Spicuzza, Wayne Roberts, and all the other poets of the Milwaukee open mic and slam scenes. Outside of Antler, I would be pleasantly surprised if you have heard of any of them.

For the record: In my five years of regularly participating in poetry slams, I earned one win.  That win came on the night when most of the Milwaukee slam scene poets were out of state participating in the national poetry slam championship.

That is how I got started.  The need to express artistically and creatively when my trained method hid from me and forced me in another direction.

— Kenneth P. Gurney


3 thoughts on “Notes

  1. Great to hear more of your poetry history and process. Thanks for sharing so much! My takeaway will be “produce, produce, produce”. Agree heartily!


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