<art nerd alert>
I find this city edgy. Edgy like when it still was a concept difficult to grasp. Like when your art professors tell you your work is "edgy" because it's good beyond trendy and too raw to fit in. Berlin still feels like that, but it also feels like it's changing fast.Read More
Bosmat Gal became interested in the country of Georgia after hearing stories from friends about how beautiful and pleasant this country was. Gal knew this location had become particularly popular amongst travelers looking for low budget flights and backpackers, but she was actually interested in exploring a country originally home to many fellow Jews.Read More
Gustavo Herrera, a.k.a Kad Montes, was born in Medellin, Colombia. Due do the violence in the 1980s his family moved to Garagoa, a town in the region of Boyacá. He currently resides in Cali, Colombia, where he's been living for the past 10 years.Read More
Melissa Angel Cabrales is a 31-year old artist from Cali, Colombia and a graduate of the Universidad de los Andes. Her work tends towards the experimental and eclectic, which is reflected in the diversity of materials and imagery she employs in her paintings.Read More
Maja Lukic is a writer/attorney in New York City. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prick of the Spindle, The Brooklyn Quarterly, and Small Print Magazine. When not writing, she is playing with a camera and developing recipes for her food and cocktail blog veggiesandgin.com.
In this interview with letters editor Dariel Suarez, Lukic talked about balancing professions, about drawing inspiration from the past, and about being persistent in order to succeed, among other things.
Dariel Suarez: You mention in your bio that you practice law in NYC. Could you tell us about your job, and how it might influence your writing? How do you balance your profession and your writing time?
Maja Lukic: I’m in litigation and 80% of what I do in the office involves either writing or reading. The legal work requires a different writing style--more direct, declarative, and highly structured. The assumption is that judges are busy and I have limited space/time to convey a convincing argument for my position. Legal writing has encouraged me to be concise, clear, and laconic, which are characteristics of strong writing in any context.
Finding enough time to write is a definite challenge. The legal profession demands long and often unpredictable hours. Also, stress is a massive detractor and I’m most creative when I feel calm. I write in the morning. It’s the first thing I do when I wake up at the insane hour of 4:45 or 5 a.m. I make coffee and write for as long as I can before work. Vacations are also a fantastic time to work on pieces. Writing in the morning and swimming at the beach in the afternoon is my idea of bliss.
DS: What first inspired you to write poetry? Which poets do you consider to be your main influences?
ML: I’ve always had a roving, passive interest in poetry. I took poetry classes in college and wrote pieces here and there, as most people do, I think. But I never considered poetry seriously until I discovered a well-known Charles Simic poem called “The White Room.” It was unlike any other poem I’d read before. I think I read it twenty times that first day. It struck me as dark and imagistic, strange and surreal, and yet there was something disarmingly familiar about the tone and the texture of the piece. It struck me as the sort of writing I thought I could do-or at least, the sort of writing I thought I could try to do. In that sense, I would say that Simic has been a massive influence––his work gave me permission to write and accept my own poetry, which is also surreal and atypical. And like me, he’s Serbian and perhaps I see something darkly humorous and Balkan in his work. Of course, to be clear, Simic is a master of his art and when I list him as an influence, I am in no way comparing my words to his. But I do admire his style.
Also, I will probably never stop loving Leonard Cohen, which all Canadians say, I’m sure. It’s the sadness and dark humor in Cohen’s work that intrigues me. I also appreciate and respect the works of Mark Strand (another Canadian), Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman, and Sergei Yesenin.
DS: Can you share with our readers what “Rail Station Bohemia” means for you? What led you to write this poem?
ML: “Rail Station Bohemia” is about leaving home and, more broadly, about releasing the past. I’m Serbian but I was born in Croatia and lived in both countries before my family moved to Canada in 1994. I was nine years old at the time. That’s part of it. The other part is that I’ve had a moderate obsession with trains and railways for as far back as I can remember. My grandfather worked at a rail station and I have distant memories of riding in trains with my parents as a little girl. I suspect there is something about that form of travel that inspires a certain romantic fascination for Europeans generally and Serbs in particular.
In any case, moving or leaving a country is a disorienting, displacing experience even under the best circumstances. In the end, you carry your own name, which has more significance once you leave your ethnic origins, as a connection to a place that is now lost to the past. Once you leave a place, it changes and ceases to be what it was thus, the image of the train tracks detaching. You can’t go back the exact way you came in, essentially. It’s an irrevocable alteration of you as a person but also the place you left behind. Which is normal but it’s sad, too.
The poem first came to me as a series of images: a train waiting at a station, a crowded platform. A lot of my writing starts out like this—as a series of images accompanied by a mood or a certain tone that I’d like to convey. I try not to question it. And going back to the earlier discussion on finding time to write, I actually wrote this poem in the office in between assignments.
DS: How would you say your background has impacted your writing? What aspects of your personal life find their way into your work?
ML: Because we moved around a lot when I was growing up and because I’m a reserved person by nature, I have a lifetime of observation from which to draw ideas. As a taciturn and shy person in unfamiliar surroundings, what you end up doing is either reading books or observing and listening (this was before smartphones, obviously). I’m a detail-oriented person, too, so I focus, almost obsessively, on unusual details, interesting objects, odd and inconsistent human behaviors—these form the beginning of every piece. From there, I try to intuit some larger meaning or narrative.
Anxiety is a theme. I tend to write characters that seem burdened by anxieties, people who feel isolated and detached from their environments, who struggle to communicate or gain control of their lives. Not that I would change any aspect of my life story–I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have discovered a number of fascinating places and to have met tremendous people along the way. But this peripatetic background has given me some insight into what it is to feel disconnected from one’s relationships and surroundings.
DS: You have a few publications under your belt. What advice would you give aspiring poets looking to submit their work?
MK: If there’s a brilliant secret to submitting pieces, I haven’t figured it out yet. Submission is rough—there is a lot of solitary work involved and the process requires an inordinate amount of persistence and patience. The best advice I can offer is this: refine and perfect the writing in the first instance–it’s the only thing you can control in the process (other than choice of journal). Allow yourself enough time between revisions. Editors reading a journal’s past issues to get a sense of the sort of work they publish. That’s fantastic advice, too. There is a lot of inspiring and interesting work out there and it’s important to have a sense of whether and how your work might fit a particular publication.
Be persistent and submit widely. Keep careful records of rejections, invitations to submit again, and any constructive criticism you receive. Always be courteous in your interactions with editors. Rejection is part of the process. It’s a numbers game, at the end of the day. Be confident in the quality of your own work and the knowledge that you will be published–it’s a question of when and where.
DS: What are you working on at the moment? Where else can readers find your work?
ML: I’m always working on a few short stories and poems at the same time. I’m hoping to start sending out one or two next month. There’s also a “novel-in-progress,” which is an absurdly generous term for what it actually is–70,000 words of incoherent imagery and character work that I am trying to subdue into a clear narrative. If it never sees publication, that is fine, but I’ve had it for two years and I have to finish it.
My story “Golden Rectangles” will be published in the fall issue of A Prick of the Spindle. I’m pretty excited about it for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it was inspired by Cohen’s song “Suzanne.” I had a poem on The Brooklyn Quarterly in September. Links to my other pieces on the web are available on my website: majalukic.com.
Stephen Sonneveld won the Kennedy Center Outstanding Playwright Award, has freelanced for publications as diverse as the LGBT-themed Windy City Times and MAD Magazine, and written and produced various independent film and publishing projects. He has won writing awards from Warner Bros. (the Short Romantic Story Competition, judged by Rob Reiner), as well as collegiate and local competitions. His screenplays have placed in fests such as the New York Television Fest, and the Austin Heart of Screenwriting Festival.
In this interview with music editor Álvaro Morales, Sonneveld talked to us about being a screenwriter writing other genres, about coming from a bloodline of artists and craftsmen, and about using political issues as inspiration for his pieces.
Álvaro Morales: You have worked in screenwriting and other writing genres before, what made you choose the comic strip format for Greye of Scotland Yard and what was the transition like?
Stephen Sonneveld: Before I answer any questions, I would like to thank MiddleGray and the MiddleGray readers for taking an interest in my work.
Greye actually started as an idea for a screenplay, somewhere between wanting to create a detective along the lines of a Columbo or a Poirot - an iconic character you could plug into any situation, and wanting to do a heist movie.
I did my research and could not develop a feature-length story that I was satisfied with, but I had all these other good ideas for crime scenarios. So, it occurred to me to create a detective to solve all these unconnected crime plots. That evolved into the five cases he solves, with the big arc of this once great super detective realizing he no longer is.
I do not honestly recall the bridge that brought me to making it a comic strip. I greatly enjoyed the Chester Gould and later the Max Allan Collins Dick Tracy strips, so maybe the impetus was that if it wasn't going to be a screenplay, it would make sense as a detective strip.
AM: Did you have any prior experience working in the format?
SS: No, but I wanted the challenge of telling a story in 4 to 5 panels on a daily basis. I love the format and admire what so many great storytellers, from Winsor McCay and Segar to the modern creators, have done with it. I wouldn't call it a competitive streak, but, as an artist, you always look at things and wonder, "I would do it this way."
Initially, I wanted to see it published on a daily schedule in a newspaper, because I wanted to challenge the notion that a comic strip has to run on forever. This was intended from the get-go to be finite, 298 strips. I pitched it to the papers and syndicates as a special limited run event, but it fell on deaf ears. I wrote and drew it for an adult audience, figuring that they're reading a newspaper full of terrorism and murder, then go home at night to watch the same on their TV, so why not do a strip that addressed mature issues, as well - something that would bring new eyes to the comic page? I love the format, but I wanted to challenge it as much as it would challenge me.
I also liked the idea of drawing something that seems so abstract just by itself, that readers would scan the newspaper page and it would catch their eye; they'd look at it and say, "What the hell?" But then be intrigued enough to see what happened the next day, and before too long, have all of these individual abstractions coalesce into a complete image.
AM: You have a very distinct visual style. Did you have any formal illustration training prior to this?
SS: To be honest, illustration/the visual arts is inherited from my father's side. As far as pursuing it professionally, my great-great-grandfather was an immigrant craftsman hired by Mr. Pullman himself to design the gold work for the Pullman rail cars.
Drawing was literally in my DNA, and it was an activity my parents encouraged since I can remember. I would write and draw stories about my favorite heroes on newsprint art pads, rip out the pages and staple them together in book format. It wasn't until high school that I took formal classes and experimented in different media and did life studies.
But even at that point, I was actively pursuing creating comics. All art tells a story, but this unique, American way of merging words and story was a medium I knew I wanted to explore. For instance, our English class was given an assignment about the Vietnam War over Christmas break, and I took those two weeks to write and draw a 50-odd page comic book about a veteran trying to make peace with his past.
AM: Who are some of your visual inspirations?
SS: The first name on that long list is Steve Ditko, best known for co-creating Spiderman. My uncle, a fine artist in his own right, had a tabloid-size Spiderman book filled with Ditko art. Few artists convey a sense of movement and lead the reader's eye like Mr. D. His art just grabbed me, and that book - Spidey facing the Green Goblin for the first time - lit a spark.
I would later learn that Ditko went beyond design and ended up scripting his issues, contributing to the development of the Spiderman character. He had a falling out with the publisher and never drew his co-creation again. To have the courage to walk away at the height of your run and not look back, I admired him even more for being a person of conviction.
I would pour over Leonardo da Vinci books. His drawings of fabric, when you follow from the sketchy top into the fabric, it appears to be a three dimensional piece of fabric sitting atop a page. Genius is too small a word for a man such as that. I love that he tried things, too. Would I like to see his lost paintings? Of course. But the story of him experimenting with paints that later betrayed him is almost better, because it reminds you, especially as an artist, not to be complacent. He had to bribe crypt keepers to let him draw the anatomy of dead bodies. He had to scrape away a mountainside until he found sea shells miles above the sea. He had to keep moving forward.
In drawing Greye, I realized how much of an impact David Llyod's V For Vendetta had on me, both in the content he and co-creator Alan Moore brought to life, but also in Lloyd's sublime artwork. It is one of those books that elevated the form in every respect, and, for my money, is the best comic ever produced.
The story and the lush quality of Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon comic strip stirred my imagination, the Walt Disney Studio delivering works of art in Pinocchio and Fantasia and so many others, Jim Henson's designs and humor, Berkeley Breathed's style and satire... there is a lot of art in the world to admire.
AM: In your experience, what are some of the differences between telling a story visually and telling it only through writing?
SS: A friend once told me that no Tarzan on the silver screen ever lived up to the one he read about, that he, as a reader, in a sense helped create.
I think the best answer to your question is that the more words you use, the more you will editorialize, and the reader will either revel in the confines of your horizon, as my friend did with his Tarzan books, or you will push people away from that emotional connection, even if your craft is sound.
For instance, I really enjoyed the first half of the movie Wall-E, because it was a silent film. The robot went through his experiences and I, as a viewer, told the story in my head, according to me and my worldview and biases. But the moment people in the film started talking, and the filmmakers started editorializing, telling me what the movie was about, however well done, and however valid their theme, I lost interest, because they took my movie away from me.
AM: You have also worked in film and television. Would you say you draw from that experience in your comic strips and other writing work?
SS: Yes. I was fortunate enough to participate in theater and forensics in high school, and I had a marvelous teacher, Mr. Sackett, who encouraged me to create original scripts.
I found I have a good ear for natural dialogue that I think is owed to being an actor and struggling to deliver a line naturally, and not falling into a cadence. When you are forced to deliver lines someone else wrote, you, as a writer, begin to have an appreciation for the economy of words.
Arthur Miller wrote a wonderful scene in All My Sons where the lovers agree to marry one other without ever mentioning anything as blatant as a proposal. The audience knows it, the actors know it, and it never needs to be so explicitly said, because Miller crafted his words so brilliantly. He wasn't playing a game with the audience, or anything cheap like that, he was an artist making a scene his own.
I heard a story that the only writers Brando ever memorized were Tennessee Williams and William Shakespeare, because they respected the language. Whenever I put pen to paper, that crosses my mind, a mini-challenge, would Brando memorize this?
The commonality of plays, films and comics - for me, anyway - is to boil it down for what really needs to be there. Look at Chaplin - a great actor can tell you with his or her eyes all you need to know, so why bother bringing down that moment with overkill dialogue? The critic Pauline Kael once said that movies were nearly perfect, and then they added sound.
So, yes, these thoughts and experiences are definitely in the back of my mind when I am laying out a page: Can I show this, rather than tell this? Is my dialogue believable, is it respecting the language?
AM: What draws you to topics like terrorism, espionage and government secrecy?
SS: Those terrible George W. Bush years really laid bare just how fragile our systems are when amoral people such as Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld are at the helm. Bush was Republican, Congress had a Republican majority, it was their chance to deliver on political promises and make the world a better place. Instead, all their policies have resulted in are dead American soldiers and a destabilized region that makes groups like ISIS possible.
Showtime recently aired a documentary about Muammar Gaddafi entitled "Mad Dog," where Gwenyth Todd, former White House NSC director for Libya, recounted with disbelief how an oil exec cried when he was told oil sanctions would not be lifted; then, during a State Department meeting to discuss lifting sanctions, how government officials proposed discrediting the families of the terrorist attack victims on Pam Am 103 so as to make Gaddafi look good by comparison. (link to video, timeline 10:47 - 12:55)
Though I feel with Greye and some earlier work, like the comic book W.M.D., that perhaps I've said all I need to about terrorism and government secrecy, I am drawn to the topic because the topic does not have to be that way. We look at these Grecian columns upholding our government buildings and are in awe, that maybe the people inside them have some special knowledge or key that the rest of us don't. No. They're people, same as you and I. We do not have to accept their incompetence or their outright abuse of power. We do not have to settle.
Is Greye an artistic achievement anywhere near Guernica? No, but it's something. It's still a canvas to express an idea.
Social systems affect everyone at once, such as the stock market crash that caused the Great Depression. Art affects us one at a time. The Gene Hackman Civil Rights-era film Mississippi Burning got good reviews, and award nominations. Some people liked it, some didn't. But it also made a South African apartheid police officer question if he and his police force were acting in a racist way. The film changed his mind, and he became part of something that, in time, changed his society.
There is no reason why we cannot change the world.
AM: What other topics would you be interested in exploring in the future?
SS: I have an idea for a feminist comic that I might publish on my Tumblr. Beyond the idea, I'm interested in creating a work specifically for the endless scroll of Internet readability. Rather than just paste a comic book page on to a site or blog, how else can you tell a comic story without it morphing into animation?
The way women are treated the world over sickens me. Stoned to death, burned for witch craft, every other headline domestically and internationally is about gang rape. Enough is enough. Religious and social institutions need to be held accountable for their part in perpetuating the ideas that lead to these terrible events.
In addition to that topic, a few years ago, I started writing what became a series of articles on Bleacher Report about the NFL's lack of common decency to change the racist name of "redskin." I'm proud to be a voice in that debate alongside so many others who are all wondering what year we are living in and why the NFL is allowed to be racist against American Indians. I may write more on that.
AM: What are you working on at the moment?
SS: Since being featured in the latest issue of MiddleGray and then published on Comixology (link), Greye received some great reviews and responses, so I am hoping to build on that and collaborate with editors and publishers on projects they might be developing; get out of my comfort zone.
AM: What can readers expect from you in the future?
SS: Something different! You don't need to reinvent the wheel every project, but there should be some growth, some new idea, hopefully a maturing talent evident in each new work.
I am as interested as you are to see what I do next. When opportunity meets inspiration, we'll find out!
Katrina Johnston is the winner of the CBC/Canada Writes True Winter Tale (2011). Works of short fiction may be found at several on-line sites and a couple of print issues. She lives in Victoria, BC, Canada. The goal of her fiction is to share a human journey.
In this interview with letters editor Dariel Suarez, Johnston talked about her plans for the future as a writer, about what inspired her to write “Once Upon a Time on Elizabeth Avenue," and what she'd like readers to take with them when they read her work.
Dariel Suarez: What inspired you to write “Once Upon a Time on Elizabeth Avenue”?
Katrina Johnson: The accident (at a busy intersection) really happened. I thought it useful to explore what occurs in terms of feelings when a stranger witnesses this type of misfortune.
DS: Do you write mostly nonfiction, or do you delve into other genres as well?
KJ: I usually write short fiction.
DS: What themes are you most interested in exploring?
KJ: I am interested in themes of aging, belonging, and finding a purpose or connection.
DS: Where can readers find more of you work?
KJ: Works of short fiction may be found a several online publications: carte blanche, Sliver of Stone, The Missing Slate, DeadBeats Literary and others. Occasionally, I've broken into print, but only a couple of times. Lots of rejection. Tons of rejection. Waterfalls of rejection. A short essay of mine may be found at CBC/Canada Writes - True Winter Tale.
DS: What plans do you have in relation to your writing for the near future?
KJ: I try to write everyday - aiming to finish one short story per month. I want to get published, not for fame or money, but just to feel accepted. Okay, money would be lovely. Yeah, send money.
DS: What would you like readers to take with them when they read your writing?
KJ: I would like readers to feel thoughtful, to have a clear sense that we've shared a journey together.
Resa Blatman received her MFA in painting from Boston University in 2006, and her BFA in graphic design from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 1995, and she taught advanced level graphic design at MassArt since 1997. Resa received several grants and awards, including a nomination for the 2010 James and Audrey Foster Prize at the ICA, Boston. Her work is included in private and corporate collections, including Fidelity, Twitter, the Hilton Hotel, and the WH Ming Hotel in Shanghai, China, and her work is reviewed and featured in numerous magazines, journals, books, and online blogs.
In this interview with visual arts editor Catalina Piedrahita, Blatman talked about the process of crafting her cut-edge paintings, about the content of her most recent work and about the Boston art scene, among other things.
Catalina Piedrahita: The first time I saw your cut-edge paintings was at Liquid Art House a few months ago and I thought they were stunning. The intricacy, the detail and craftsmanship in your pieces are unbelievable. I feel I could spend hours looking at one piece and always find new shapes hidden in the layers and layers of lines and color. Can you tell us about the process of putting together these pieces? How and why did you choose this medium?
Resa Blatman: Thank you for the generous compliment about my paintings. I'm always grateful to hear that my work inspires people so much.
The layered, laser-cut paintings are put together almost like a puzzle. I have an idea in mind of what the surface should look like before working on it, but it's rare that the layered pieces stay as I initially imagined. For the ongoing series of paintings/installations called "Gaia," I generally start with long pieces of black, dripping sludge/oil, then I'll add land and sea animals, birds, fauna, invasive plant species, etc. Over those pieces I put layers of clear plastic with hand-cut and painted swirls. Many of these surfaces jut out from the wall, but the painted swirls protrude the most, and undulate, coming about 10-12 inches from the wall. The last thing I add are the flowers.
I chose the medium for its durability, lightness, translucency, and ease when laser-cutting.
CP: It’s my understanding that your most current work speaks about climate change issues, why did you decide to focus on this theme? Why is it important to talk about climate change?
RB: Global warming is an enormous issue. We need to tackle climate challenges quickly and with as much dedication as possible for the well-being of our health and the earth itself, which is the only home we have. I've always been worried about the environment and brought those concerns to my paintings, but after seeing the documentary "Gasland" a few years ago, it became clear to me that I needed to explore the climate issue more thoroughly in my creative process. Since then, the work has expanded to be much more than I ever imagined. The interest in my new paintings/installations, discussions around them, and the issues, have been very enlightening and satisfying.
CP: Can you tell us about your graphic design work? How does it coexist with your fine art work? Do they influence each other?
RB: I've been a professional graphic designer since I graduated from MassArt in 1995, and I taught design there for 15 years as well. I love graphic design, typography, and making things look good, and it was obvious from the start that my painting style influenced my design. However, when I started painting full-time again, I was surprised to see how much my graphic design influenced my paintings. I create the laser-cut edges using my design skills but, without realizing it, the paintings themselves were also influenced by graphic design. Over time, the work has found its own stylistic voice, and while I still use my design skills to create the laser-cut surfaces, the paintings are made with more organic, free-form spontaneity.
CP: What are your thoughts on Boston’s art scene? In your eyes, what’s great about it and what is it lacking?
RB: Unfortunately, Boston's art scene has always existed in the shadow of New York's, but I'm not sure that's the hindrance it used to be. The web has changed the way we view the world, including the art world, and has evened the playing field a bit. Boston's museums have increased and expanded to make us an art destination, but the gallery scene still lacks in size and force. It's expensive to run a successful gallery and it's hard to know what the future holds for Boston's galleries as the price of rental space continues to increase.
CP: It’s always an honor to be able to include well-accomplished and established artists in our issues, so thank you for helping MiddleGray expand its community and visibility. Thinking back when you started your career as an artist, what would have been a valuable piece of advice you wished someone had given you? What would you have liked to learn back then that might have made things a bit easier to launch your artistic career?
RB: It's hard to say exactly, as there is so much advice that could be helpful. But while advice is often given, it's also often ignored until we're ready to hear it. I suppose the most important suggestions would be to be persistent; stay open to feedback; work with purpose, integrity, and confidence; and remain brave in the face of rejection, as it comes often.
Jordan Gilbert was born in the small town of Chickasha, Oklahoma, where he spent the first 18 years of his life. He recently graduated with an MFA in poetry from the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Oklahoma and now resides in Yukon. His work has appeared in The Orange Room Review and T(OUR) Literary Magazine, and is forthcoming in Conclave: A Journal of Character.
In this interview with editor Dariel Suarez, Jordan talks about his writing process, about the role of poets in society, and about the feeling of being "other".
Dariel Suarez: Could you tell us a bit about what first inspired you to write poetry? What writers would you say are your main influences?
Jordan Gilbert: I’ve always had fascination with language. I first started writing poetry in middle school, but I didn’t begin to think of myself as a poet until the first year of my undergraduate. I write largely from memories and personal experiences, so much of my poetry is autobiographical, bordering on a lyric memoir.
The writers who have most impacted my own work are Sharon Olds, Kimiko Hahn, Natasha Trethewey, and Toni Morrison.
DS: What led you to write the poems featured in Middle Gray? How would you describe your writing process, from getting an idea to completing a final draft?
JG: “Homo sapien homosexualis” is a reflection the way that gay culture is perceived by outsiders, as well as on what I’ve felt within the gay community. Since I grew up in the South and in a Baptist family, I was always taught that being gay was a sin. This poem is an attempt to portray the feeling of being “Other.” “Things Nanny Taught Me” is in homage of my grandmother. She always had words of wisdom to give in times of need. I wanted to capture the beauty and complexity of those words, as well as to illustrate both the power of language, as well as the transience of life.
My writing process is, like I imagine most writers to be, a work in progress. I have days where I get what I deem a brilliant idea, and I start writing. Before I know it, I’ve created a full poem. I have to let the poem rest at that point, give myself enough space between birthing the piece and revising it. I’ll come back to it, maybe a day or two later, and then start playing with sounds, tightening my lines, clarifying images. Eventually, after reading the poem enough times and removing a few articles here and there, the poem gets to a final draft stage.
DS: Can you describe your experience as an MFA student? What advice would you give to those who are considering applying to MFA programs?
JG: The time I spent working on my MFA was a great experience. Perhaps the most beneficial part was being forced to write. In order to get the end product of your MFA, your thesis, you have to write regularly. You always have to be thinking about your poems, what edits you need to make, what you need to be reading. When I started working an 8-5 job, I found myself not having nearly the amount of time for reading and writing that I had previously.
Go for it. If you enjoy writing and want to get better, try an MFA. If you don’t have enough time to write or have trouble making time, sign up for a few classes. You’ll find yourself surrounded by other writers, which will inspire you and challenge you to become even better at your craft.
DS: What role do you believe poets play in today’ society?
JG: The role of the poet is the same as I think it’s been since the birth of language: to challenge people to think, to imagine, and to become more fully human.
DS: How have your background and upbringing influenced your work?
JG: Since much of my poetry is based on memories or personal experience, my background and upbringing are my work. I write from the perspectives of male, homosexual, white, Southern, Baptist. My writing centers on the tension of the intersection between all of these pieces.
DS: What goals do you have regarding your writing? Are you working on any book-length projects?
JG: I would like to get a full-length chapbook or manuscript published in the near future. If possible, I want to turn my master’s thesis into my first book.
Michael Gray studied at the Art Institute where he received his Bachelor’s Degree and is now working on getting his Masters of Fine Art Degree at Florida International University. He has shown at several Miami art shows and has illustrated various children’s books including “The Coldecott Chronicles” and “The Hummingbird”. His works revolve around themes including the chaos of nature and also focuses on the language of the body. His recent work “Lolita” reveals the chaos of the natural world and depicts the negative effect of the presence of man upon nature through the body language of the whale being trapped.
In this interview with visual arts editor Catalina Piedrahita, Gray talks about protest art, spaces for this kind of art and the importance of using the skills as an artist to contribute to activist conversations.
Catalina Piedrahita: First of all, welcome back to MiddleGray Mag! It’s always a pleasure to have recurring artists featured in the zine, specially when you can witness their artistic progress. Can you give us an update to where you’re at with your career? What are some projects you’ve participated in since you were first featured in MiddleGray?
Michael Gray: Since my first appearance I have been busy getting into the FIU Graduate program for fine art. Since then I have worked on the “Oceanus” mural project with the Peace Mural foundation on Miami Beach (1601 Washington Ave). I am currently working on 7 portraits of the people who make Art Basel possible for Brickell Magazine. These portraits will be featured in their December Art Basel edition.
CP: Let’s talk about “Lolita.” How did you get involved in the creation of this mural?
MG: Since I have been working with the Peace mural foundation, I have been exposed to a different utilization of art skill. We were working on a huge mural based around the ocean and it’s conservation. We began talking about specific species that may need some public attention and our local Orca whale Lolita was brought up. A few sketches later we had a plan and within a week we had the Masonite panels ready to paint.
CP: Do you think there is a need of more available spaces to create political/social art in Miami?
MG: Absolutely, there are so many things we are ignorant to and so many things we need to be aware of. I, like many, really care about our ocean and our natural Florida habitat. More needs to be done in the conservation of these things not only for future generations but for our environment itself. I never realized that using my artistic skills could cause such commotion and awareness. It is definitely something I will continue doing because it is something worth doing.
CP: How important do you think protest art is? Do you think more artists should utilize their skills to create different kinds of awareness?
MG: I believe that if you feel strongly about something or care for something so much, you should use every means available to you to express your thoughts or views. If you have artistic talent, even better. Sometimes people can’t be told what to do but they can be shown an image that might change the way they look at something and that is what I aim to do with my murals. I hope that others can follow and really help make a difference.
CP: For those artists trying to get more involved with social/political/ecological issues, can you advise how to go about it or where to find spaces or groups interested in this kind of art?
MG: I found my way – by accident actually – to the Peace Mural Foundation on Miami Beach (http://www.peacemural.org/) and there is always something happening. They (Anna Huong in specific) really taught me how to make a statement with my work. But ultimately it’s a fairly simple process, find something specific you would like to stand for and make the work. It takes some research on the subject and on your audience but it’s a great way to get your statement and your artwork exposed on a larger scale. There are groups almost everywhere, it’s really up to you to find them and show them how you can contribute.
Eden Shulman is a 21-year-old English student at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. Born and raised in Bellvue, Colorado, he has spent significant time in Vietnam, Cambodia, and southern China. He is the Vice President of the Northeastern University Write Club, and his poetry has appeared in Uppagus, The East Coast Literary Review, and Up the Staircase Quarterly. Having written since a young age, he performs many short stories and poems at various open mics around Boston. His poetry attempts to combine humor, naturalism, and a love of the outdoors and humans' place within it. After graduation, he is hoping to go into the Peace Corps and continue his writing overseas. He is currently working on a novel, hopefully completed by 2015.
In this interview with letters editor Dariel Suarez, Eden talked about his experience studying literature at an engineering and sciences focused university, about his influences as a young poet, and about his career aspirations, among other things.
Dariel Suarez: Could you describe your experience as a student and writer at Northeastern University?
Eden Shulman: Northeastern is an interesting school to be a writing-focused student at, because the school is known for, and promulgates in, mostly engineering, science, and technology. The arty students that I know are a dedicated bunch, focused on their craft with a sort of engineering-like intensity.
However, Northeastern can be attractive to a lot of potential arts and humanities students due to the co-op program, in which students take semesters off in order to work in their choice of industry that specifically hires students from Northeastern. This means that you graduate with a stacked resume, no matter the degree that you hold, which is nice for students that don’t have as much of a guarantee of a job when they leave the university. Basically, most students are very career focused and intense about their interests, which is perfect from my perspective, as I approach the world in a similar manner.
The writer scene in Boston is also pretty great for networking and workshopping pieces with a variety of talented people. The location is perfect - a city that is scene as a center of the arts in the Northeast, with easy access to New York and to the more rural areas for a variety of inspiration. Massachusetts is far from where I grew up, in northern Colorado, so I have had an amazing opportunity to expand my horizons and meet people who could provide guidance and feedback.
DS: What was it that first drew you to poetry? What poets do you enjoy reading the most?
ES: When I a kid, I loved the work of Shel Silverstein. I knew multiple of his books pretty much by heart, and I read them so much that the bindings became tattered and ripped. I started writing my own poetry around the fifth grade, mostly emulating the Shel Silverstein, but then as I got a little bit older, I started to copy the works of poets that my father kept in his collection: TS Eliot, e. e. cummings, Silvia Plath, and Alan Ginsberg. Mostly these were just experimental little scribblings that I kept in a notebook in my desk, but occasionally I’d type them up and show them to my friends or my teachers at school.
In high school, I was in the International Baccalaureate Program. During my sophomore year, we were assigned a project in which we could choose any type of venture that we wanted to do, be it music, painting, art, volunteerism, etc, and see it through to the finish with the help of a mentor. I decided to write and illustrate a book of poetry, in the style of Shel Silverstein. My mentor was a colleague of my father’s, a professor in the English department of Colorado State University, named John Calderazzo. He helped me shape my poetry into the crisp, humorous rhymes I wanted, and he taught me how to edit poetry, how to look at a poem and decide what is unnecessary and what is essential, and how to craft a line that leaps off the page.
Since high school, I have kept writing and reading an ever-expanding trove of poets. For a while, I read a lot the modernists: mainly TS Eliot, e. e. cummings, and Wallace Stevens. Recently, however, I have been getting into the works of contemporary poets: Joseph Millar, Derek Walcott, and Naomi Shihab Nye, to name a few. I will also always harbor a deep love and respect for the work of Walt Whitman.
DS: You mention in your bio that you’re the Vice President of a club at your university. Can you tell us a bit about what the club entails?
ES: I am the Vice President of the Northeastern Write Club. We’re a pretty informal group. We meet weekly, on Thursdays, and basically just write. Our sessions are split into two parts: in the first, our president chooses a writing prompt, which you can respond to in the style of your choice (poetry, prose, song lyrics, etc). The prompt is mostly to get the creative juices flowing rather than a hard and fast guide for the content of the piece; more often than not, a work will go off the rails halfway through. Our writing and sharing of the prompt pieces takes about an hour. Second, we either share our pieces that we wrote at home, or we do a second prompt depending on the day and everyone’s mood.
We also like to have some meetings in which a speaker or one of our members runs a workshop. Last year, we had a workshop on spoken word poetry hosted by Corey Depina from Zumix. We also have an open mic every month at afterHOURS at Northeastern.
DS: What inspired you to write “To Which” and “The Bath”?
ES: “To Which” came about after a long break I took from writing, in the fall of 2013. It represented a new style I was trying out, a transition from angrier, political stuff into more personal, lyrical poetry. I had witnessed a certain personality type among acquaintances of mine and the poem is my attempt to describe it, and what kind of consequences this personality could have on a person.
“The Bath” is a more personal poem, written about my memories of my time staying on the island Phú Quốc, in the southern part of Vietnam, and the detritus that would wash up on the shore near our hotel. All of the objects were nibbled by the ocean, eaten away in places, warped into almost unrecognizable shapes. The poem is about how the ocean is a force of change, neither for good or for bad, but simply entropy. It’s about change not just to objects, but to the people who live and work on the ocean, and how simple combination of time, salt, and water can twist a personality into a whole new direction.
DS: What aspirations do you have as a writer? Where would you like to be in the next 5-10 years?
ES: As a writer, my ambition is to craft works that are both personal and universal. I want to write stories and poetry that people can both connect to once and come back to later, works that you would want to share with your friends, works that combine pathos, humor, and a love of life. I find writing to be a deeply personal, intricate art form, and I would love to be able to communicate a little bit of that intricacy and infectious love to others.
On a more realistic level, I would hope my next step would be the publication of my short stories and a writerly resume that I could build off of into something concrete. Right now, I’m working on a novel, not one that I ever expect to be published, but rather a work to acquaint myself with the practice of writing long form. In the next five to ten years, I hope to be able to publish a novel, or a collection of stories or poems, in a book that people could hold in their hands and read on the train. To be able to do this in the next ten years, by the age of 30, would be a great personal achievement, and one that I’m going to devote the majority of my time and energy to accomplishing.
DS: What advice would you give to other young writers like yourself who are just beginning to send out submissions for publication?
ES: Treat each of your poems like a mango (or a banana, if that’s more your speed). On the outer edge, there’s a hard, unpalatable peel that needs to be stripped away to reveal the sweet fruit at the core. Each poem is also surrounded by hard, unpalatable bits that need to be stripped away, and part of your job is recognizing the parts that need to be cut. Even if you like a metaphor, or a line, or an entire stanza, if it is clunky and doesn’t fit, it needs to go.
Also, use all technologies that are at your disposal. I recommend Duotrope, a site which aggregates thousands of different magazines and publication into one database, so no more random Googling needed to find publications that fit your particular interests.
Lastly, don’t be afraid of rejection. Each rejection is a learning experience, and each piece was rejected for a concrete reason. Try to figure out why it happened, if the publisher doesn’t tell you. Was your poem not a good fit for the market? Was your story a bit too long and a bit too rambly? Every rejection I’ve had has helped my writing immensely, and each has required analysis.
by Raul Fernandez and Austin Ashe
The Grind is a unique coffee shop concept that will be located near a Boston-area university. What’s different about The Grind is that it has been designed as a social business – one that puts community development before personal rewards, with 100% of the profit supporting innovative programs and charitable causes chosen by community members.
The Grind's founders
The Grind team is led by friends Austin Ashe (left) and Raul Fernandez, educators with deep experience in student development and community building. Both are driven by an intense desire to improve our world, and believe that motivating people to get involved in issues that matter to them is a great place to start.
The Grind Kickstarter
As you might expect, there are many costs involved in building a business, especially one where the profits go to charitable and community projects. The final cost, including the build-out and equipment, will be upwards of $150,000, but they've set the initial target at a more achievable $30,000. That still means they need to raise an average of $1,000/day to meet their goal – no small task.
If they reach the initial target of $30,000, they'll have enough capital to get started and the proof of concept needed to secure more funding. "The closer we get to our total cost, the sooner we'll be able to open our doors. It's important to note that there is some urgency here – we've got a hold on the perfect location, but it won't be there forever. If you'd like to give, now would be the time!"
To learn more about The Grind and its mission please visit their website www.grindwithus.com
C.S. Fuqua’s published books include White Trash & Southern ~ Collected Poems ~ Vol. I, Hush, Puppy! A Southern Fried Tale (children’s picture book), Rise Up (short fiction collection), The Native American Flute: Myth, History, Craft, Trust Walk (short fiction collection), The Swing: Poems of Fatherhood, Divorced Dads, and Notes to My Becca, among others. His work has appeared in publications such as Main Street Rag, Pudding, Dark Regions, Iodine, Christian Science Monitor, Cemetery Dance, Bogg, Year's Best Horror Stories XIX, XX and XXI, Amelia, Slipstream, The Old Farmer's Almanac, The Writer, and Honolulu Magazine.
In this interview with editor Dariel Suarez, he talks about exploring themes in an intimate level, about personal relationships, and about poetry. He also discusses his hobby of crafting and playing Native American Flutes.
Dariel Suarez: Can you share with us what prompted you to write “Radical” and “Trips”?
C.S. Fuqua: “Trips” is based on how experience changes the observer as well as the observed over time, in this case, a place I visited many years ago and fell in love with, only to return to find it no longer appealing, completely different from what I remembered. “Radicals” was inspired by personal experiences with acquaintances of fundamental faith condemning fundamentalists of another religious faith.
DS: What themes do you usually explore in your writing? Do you often draw from personal experience?
CSF: Most of the poems I write are based on personal experience enhanced by “what if” and explore themes that range from family relations to global warming, but the poems explore these themes on a personal and intimate level rather than on a grand scale. I much prefer the “personal,” especially when the poem conveys “story."
DS: Do you write in other genres? If so, what would you say is your favorite?
CSF: I publish in nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. And though I enjoy all forms, I prefer writing poetry. It’s extraordinarily challenging and rewarding to tell a story effectively in so few words. When it works, it’s a wonderful feeling.
DS: On your website you mention that you’ve had a lot of different jobs. Which ones would you say have impacted your writing the most?
CSF: I’m not sure that any particular job has had more or less influence or impact than any other on my writing. Personal relationships within each situation has affected my writing and my worldview more than the job because people are basically the same, no matter their roles or occupations in life.
DS: Can you tell our readers a bit about the books you’ve published?
CSF: My most recent, Muscle Shoals: The Hit Capital’s Heyday & Beyond, is a revision, expansion, and update of my first book, a history of the Muscle Shoals music industry, exploring the extraordinary affect and contribution artists and producers of the area have had on popular music. Last year, my first collection of poetry, White Trash & Southern, was published, collecting mostly previously published poems spanning the last three decades. A second collection is in the planning stage now.
DS: You also mention on your website that your hobbies include music and “crafting Native American flutes.” Can you tell us more about these hobbies?
CSF: I learned guitar when I was in my early teens and then became interested in the Native American flute after hearing the duo Coyote Oldman. In the early 1990s, I played a flute crafted by Coyote Oldman founder Michael Graham Allen and fell in love with the sound. Over the years, I learned to craft native flutes while exploring their rich history. That research resulted in the book, The Native American Flute: Myth, History, Craft, which is available online and through many bookstores. It also led me to produce two CDs of Native American flute instrumentals for meditation with a third one slated for later this year or early next. Music has been a refuge, that place where I escape when the world becomes just a bit too daunting.
DS: What can readers expect from you in the near future?
CSF: I’ve recently contracted on a science fiction/fantasy novel, entitled Wolfshadow, I cowrote with a friend who died a few years ago from cancer. It features a Cheyenne American Indian and positive, strong female protagonists, and I’m delighted that the book, based completely on my friend’s idea, has found a home. Other projects due in the coming year include a third CD of Native American flute instrumentals, a children’s book, and a second collection of poems spanning my career.
DS: What advice would you give young writers who find themselves interested in several different artistic mediums?
CSF: As Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss.” Explore them all. Don’t arrive at the end of your career, muttering “I wish...” or “If only..."