DD: Susan Howe famously ends her book, My Emily Dickinson, with the lines: “Poetry leads past possession of self to transfiguration beyond gender. Poetry is redemption from pessimism. Poetry is affirmation in negation, ammunition in the yellow eye of a gun that an allegorical pilgrim will shoot straight into the quiet of Night's frame.” Using these lines as a point of departure, could you begin by talking about the transformative power of poetry?
CM: Every great poem that I’ve read (or any great work of art for the matter) has so deeply engaged me that I have the feeling of being completely separated from myself and fully incorporated into the world of the speaker. I liken it to a religious and mystical out of body experience. I get this way every time I read the work of Theodore Roethke, and hearing him read it work only enhances this experience for me.
RG: I’m especially moved by “Poetry is redemption from pessimism,” as I spent much of my younger days mired in unnecessary negativity. I cannot overstate the vital role poetry played in pulling me out it. I think if I’d had a more passionate introduction to poetry earlier in life, I could have saved myself a lot of self-imposed trouble. Big claim, I know, but I think about reading Joe Bolton for the first time. Up to that point, I’d never read anyone that I found more authentic, more familiar. It seemed to me that he tore himself apart attempting to rend meaning from a world that he either didn’t understand, or that he understood all too well, and so the world didn’t get him. That, of course, I realized was a better evaluation of myself than of his work, and that realization proved to be quite the gut-check, as Bolton killed himself when he was just 28. My redemption from pessimism began with Bolton. That’s the transformative power of poetry.
DD: How did Arcadia come into being?
CM: Arcadia started as a project of some MFA students at the University of Central Oklahoma. I didn’t start the program until a year after the other guys, and I joined them during production of our second issue. I find it funny that a lot of people, including founding editors, sometimes mistake me as being here from beginning.
RG: Yes, Arcadia began like I expect many lit mags begin: a small group of writers in a program think they have something to add to the literary conversation. And so it was with us. I can’t speak for the others, but I’m not sure I had the confidence at that time to think I had anything to add, I just really wanted to be a part of it.
It was Chase Dearinger’s idea. After a fiction class, he told fellow students what he wanted to do and invited us to participate. I was shy, so I didn’t speak up at the moment, but I hurried home to email him. Man, it’s funny to think about, but I was scared he wouldn’t need me, that my shyness had cost me a spot. I imagined everyone in the class had already bombarded him and filled all these imaginary positions. I don’t know how many classes he solicited, but in the end, only four reached out to him.
DD: Arcadia Press has published two poetry chapbooks, so far, and is soon to publish its third, With Porcupine by Jacob Oet. Could you tell us about this poet and this collection?
CM: I believe Jacob Oet is the next Russell Edson. Oet’s excellent use of dark humor, absurdity, and surrealism—that Edson was so well known for—is presented flawlessly here. It’s a hilarious but thoughtful read. We were very lucky to snag this.
RG: Very lucky. Jacob Oet is a gifted young poet. Reading through, With Porcupine, for the first time, I kept thinking about Wallace Stevens’ comment, “The purpose of poetry is to contribute to man’s happiness.” By the end, there was no doubt Jacob is making his contributions. This is one wildly imaginative, funny and cohesive collection of poems that continues to surprise through to the last page.
DD: The first two chapbooks you published, Nicole Santalucia’s Driving Yourself to Jail in July and Sharon Charde’s Incendiary are united by their direct engagement with different forms of personal trauma. What did you find most compelling in these two collections?
CM: What really struck me about these two collections is that they are so very personal and yet, so universal. It’s very easy for less-skilled poets to dive too far into themselves and completely alienate the reader. These women didn’t do that. They accomplished the difficult task of making their own struggles completely relatable, which shows their great skill.
RG: Nicole’s lasting effect on me is her gritty, late turns. She can really end a poem. I still go back to that collection when I need to remind myself how it’s done. Reminds me a little of Diana Goetsch’s work in that way. Sharon, on the other hand, struck me with her refined way of dealing with grief and longing without ever slipping into maudlin territory.
CM: I was born here, grew up here, and went to college and grad school here. I haven’t lived anywhere else, so Oklahoma inevitably shows up in all of my literary work. Because of this, I tend to personally favor and enjoy works that feature Oklahoma, the Southwest, or rural areas in general.
RG: Same here. Small town Oklahoma born and bred. When I grew up, there was no writing community that I was aware of. Creative writing/reading wasn’t stressed in school, at home, or the community at large. What was most emphasized was good manners and work ethic, so it took quite a while before I even knew I liked literature. I credit The Doors for that. Thank goodness the internet existed by that time or I may have never read the inciting piece, Oedipus Rex. I bumbled around in my thirties hovering between careers, trying to figure out if I was a writer or not, then I learned UCO had plans to offer the state’s first MFA program. I jumped on it. That gave me my first look at a writing community. Perhaps it was there all along, and I just couldn’t see it. Small towns are pretty insulated.
I think having lived so long in limbo concerning the quality of my own writing drives my desire to foster lasting relationships with those we publish, particularly young writers. It’s refreshing to see them already into it, far better than I was at their age, and then getting to participate in some small way in their growth.
DD: How has your work as an editor and chapbook publisher influenced your life as a writer? In what ways has your writing life, in turn, influenced your editorial and publishing work?
CM: I’ve had many bouts with writing block, but I find that every time I review a submission, it inspires me to write and gradually helps me out of my rut. Because of this, when I was a poetry editor, I tended to put an intense focus on reading every single submission, because it was not only beneficial for my own writing but also guaranteed each writer received fair consideration.
RG: Reading submissions does have a way of keeping me fresh and ever-critical of my own work. It’s a constant reminder of how every single line and word must move, else the dreaded rejection. It’s also a reminder that good poems are rejected for many reasons beyond whether the work is good enough or not.
I am extremely critical of my own work. As a result, I have to sit on most poems a long time before I consider sending them out. Usually, there must first be a moment when my whole being screams out, “Damn, that’s it, you got it.” This makes me a very critical editor. Other people’s poems must hit me the same way. As a result, our acceptance rate has historically been low. I remember one issue where I found only two poems that I wanted to publish. And I recall this tense half hour reading Nicole Santalucia’s chapbook submission where I could scarcely breathe I was rooting for her so hard to finish as strong as she began. You see it all the time. A great start then the line goes slack. What a rush when it doesn’t.
DD: What is the most encouraging experience you have had as an editor?
CM: The best experience I’ve had so far is working with Jacob Oet on some pieces from With Porcupine. I’m a huge fan of the chapbook, so I had a great time going over some suggestions with him, many of which accepted. Having him accept my suggestions was incredibly motivating in creating my own work, not to mention it was like having one of my favorite bands ask for input on some of their song lyrics.
RG: Monet Thomas. I’ll never forget her. This was about five or six years ago. I was poetry editor, and though we were still learning how to do what we do, we were receiving thousands of submissions by that time. She had sent three poems, her first poetry submission ever I believe. One of the poems, “Another Confession,” was just on the cusp of working. I was sending out dozens of rejections a day, but I kept hers in my queue, until, finally, I rejected the poem. I did, however, take a moment to explain why and then encouraged her to keep working it, which she did. A few months later, she resubmitted the poem. After some back and forth editing, I published it.
What made had this such a beautiful editing experience was that, as a writer, I knew how encouraging it could be to receive ink from an editor. That’s why I took the time to do it in the first place. But I learned very quickly that providing ink doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be received with the same mutual appreciation and admiration that it was written. Ms. Thomas got it. She got it, she ran with it, and it paid off.
Not long after sending her the rejection, a friend of mine called to say she’d been doing a search for Arcadia online and came across a blog entry from Ms. Thomas in which she describes the initial rejection experience from her perspective. She was encouraged, elated. It was inspiring. For years now, when those rare discouraging moments as an editor arise, I pull up that blog. Thank you, Monet.
DD: What is the most encouraging development you’ve witnessed in contemporary poetry?
CM: The quality of work coming from young people is astounding, and makes me very excited about the future of poetry. We often don’t read cover letters until after we read a piece, so Roy and I were discussing how we were shocked to find out Alex Greenberg, a contributor and featured poet for our newest issue, was only 16. If we have writers in their teens writing such great work, I can’t imagine what they’ll write as they get older.
RG: Couldn’t agree more. It’s always exciting to publish young writers.
DD: What is one thing that American poetry needs more of, in your opinion?
We are living in trying times with all of the police brutality, the Flint Water Crisis, The Dakota Pipeline, and a vicious hateful xenophobe is a nominee for President, just to name a few examples. With the current climate, it’s easy for poets to immediately spew angry and emotional responses to cope with the injustices. I think the problem with this heavily emotional type of poetry can actually keep the reader from engaging in the work. The piece can become more about the speaker’s anger rather than the collective anger present in society today. Stephen Dobyns has this wonderful passage in Best Words, Best Order in which he states “the main reason this sense of self damages the poet is that it violates the poet’s relationship with the audience. Instead of audience and poet being in the same boat, the attitude of the poet as hero creates a situation where the poet is in a special boat.”
Like Dobyns, I always felt that that overly emotional and angry poems all but eliminate the reader’s involvement with the piece. If the poet can simply take some time to reflect on an injustice, and present the subject with a newfound perspective, the piece could become more successful by actually incorporating the reader.
RG: I can’t believe I’m about to go where I’m about to go, but to me, what American poetry needs is more support from beyond the subculture of poetry and more active efforts from poets to engage with communities outside of poetry. There’s a great article about this online at The Atlantic, by Dana Gioia called, “Can Poetry Matter?” Poets will always read poets. But you know who really needs to read poetry? Everyone. And start them young. I don’t mean have them read a bunch of critical theory designed to help students pass state tests. How is critical theory going to inspire teenagers? I mean the reading of poetry for the pure joy of it. Many teachers agree, but there’s little they can do. They’re judged quantitatively, not on graduating well-rounded, open-minded young adults. The same goes for most of the arts.
I don’t think this answers what you were asking, but I just read the article recently, and it has been on my mind. My primary point is that I think poetry itself needs nothing from us. It will evolve naturally and the geniuses among us will always emerge. You asked earlier about the transformative power of poetry. Well, that power is severely limited if the only ones reading and caring about poetry are poets.
DD: If you could only read and say and remember one poem (written by someone else) for the rest of your life, what poem would it be?
CM: “Let Us Consider” by Russel Edson. It’s easily his most beautiful work, and I can’t say how much it’s inspired my own poetry.
RG: Oh wow, just one? For a long time I would have said Joe Bolton’s, “The Ohio.” Today, the happy, married me, I think I could chant forever Anita Barrows’ and Joanna Macy’s translation of Rilke’s, “The First Elegy.” “Fling the nothing you are grasping / out into the spaces we breathe.”
DD: The Arcadia Press website has recently been relaunched. Can you tell us about the recent changes?
CM: Since the magazine has evolved and grown so much, we thought our website should, too. We wanted something more professional without betraying our rustic roots. I think the new website accomplishes that.
RG: Yes, now that we have a real handle on who we are in terms of mission and what we want to contribute to the Oklahoma and Great Plains literary scene, a rebrand was in order. We’ve been designing our own websites up to this point. It was time to bring in a professional.
DD: Arcadia Press has also published some excellent fiction chapbooks and some albums of regional music. Can you tell us about these endeavors? Also can you tell us a little bit about the other members of the Arcadia team?
CM: We wanted to distinguish ourselves from other literary magazines. Poetry chapbooks are everywhere, but you don’t see a lot of fiction chapbooks. A lit magazine with a CD is even rarer, but it fits with our goal of showcasing all types of art.
We founded the magazine as students and most of our department editors are students or joined when they were students themselves. Our Editor-in-chief, Chase Dearinger, met Michael Palmer, Chad Abushanab, and John Peery when they were all students at Texas Tech. Alban Fischer has been designing for us since issue 9.1, and we like his work so much that he’s now also our art editor. Ann Glaviano is terrific copy editor and has done invaluable work for us with our grant proposals. If you need either of these, I suggest you check her out. And of course, there’s Benjamin Reed.
RG: Our history with Ben goes back to 2011 when we published his fine story, “King of the Apes.” As soon as we decided to incorporate guest editors into our scheme, he was first guy we thought of. He was great to work with, and he assembled an exceptional issue, so when we had an opening for a fiction editor, we offered it to him. He graciously accepted and has been killing it ever since.
And Corey’s right on the money concerning Ann and Alban. The addition of these two has instantly leveled up our game in terms of professionalism. Besides ensuring clean copy, Ann also streamlined our editing processes and was instrumental in giving shape to our new mission. And Alban’s design aesthetic never fails surprise me. Just stunning work.
I’m really happy with all our recent additions to Arcadia. We’ve found some really talented, passionate editors, all of them. Michael, for instance, over the last year, has taken the nonfiction department from the fringe to battling for the forefront. His selections for the current issue blew me away. Chad hasn’t been poetry editor long, but he’s already bringing a lot to the table. His selection for winner of the Dead Bison Editor’s Prize in poetry was splendid. He has a keen eye for craft. And our music editor, John is a godsend. I don’t know how we ever put together an album without him. I loved what he did with the Roanoke album.
CM: Being a Chicano myself, it was wonderful to have an entire issue devoted to my culture, and to expose our readers to this culture through such talented writers and Vincent Valdez’s mesmerizing art. We had the pleasure of meeting most of these writers in person at our launch reading for the issue, and my signed copy of 10.1 is one of my dearest possessions. I’m also convinced there’s no nicer and talented guy on earth than Ito Romo.
RG: Man, it was an excellent issue wasn’t it? And beautiful, too. It’s no accident that it’s our bestselling issue to date. Over the last couple of years, we’ve come to realize that we haven’t been doing enough to seek out and provide space for marginalized voices.
Enter Ito. This is a guy you can’t find enough good words to describe how amazing he is. Talented, humble, big-hearted, absolutely the most entertaining reader of his own work I’ve ever heard. And his writing. If you haven’t read his book of short stories, The Border is Burning, you should. It’ll destroy you. Just when you think he can’t hurt you further, the next story will. But what really makes his writing so appealing isn’t the grit, the devastation, or even the humanity he never fails eek out of the darkness. It’s his authenticity, so clear and pristine it affects every word, every image, and that’s the editorial focus he brought to the issue.
He selected just four writers and one visual artist to fill out his vision, which, given that the magazine is 100 pages, functions almost like mini-chapbooks for the contributors. We wound up with a stark, gorgeous black and white collection of brilliant work that pops with more arresting visual art than anything else we’ve produced. I also appreciate that Ito included not only Texas luminaries Sarah Cortez, Tim Z. Hernandez, Octavio Quintanilla, and Vincent Valdez, but he also incorporated work from new writer, Luke Neftali Villafranca. In Ito’s intro, he writes:
“I wanted to put together a group of artists who, with their art, be it visual or literary, tell a story honestly and beautifully—those were my only criteria. I’ve chosen a group of Mexican American artists who have recreated for us, with images and words, the current strange and dark malaise of the invisible, of the forgotten.
It is a new social realism, a mestizaje of artistic form and commentary that takes from the old as well as from the contemporary to forge an original voice that imagines for us that which we can no longer imagine, or choose not to—a world whose painful and miserable realness distracts us, shakes us, wakes us from our somnambulistic media dream.
[These artists] shatter the many levels of the American illusion of stereotype and fetishization with unmatched artistic skill, and most importantly, because they demand we recognize the human dignity of the people in their work, I call them the New Chican@s.
I hope they make your heart beat faster. I hope they make you feel again.”
Ito Romo accomplished his goal.
DD: What does the future hold in store for Arcadia Press?
CM: We’re currently working on an online feature called Dead Bison where we highlight art and literature from marginalized communities in the Great Plains region. We hope to have the first installment out sometime late this year or early next year.
RG: Last year we partnered with the downtown location of the OKC Metro Library System, OKC Red Earth MFA, and the Oklahoma Arts Council to organize the first OKC LitFest, which, like Dead Bison, plays an integral role in our new mission: to cultivate and promote the voices of the Great Plains through the development of Oklahoma City as a celebrated center for literary arts.
We’re working hard to expand our partnerships this year to help us accomplish this task.
DD: Could you leave us with a favorite poem from Arcadia’s archives?
CM: This piece from volume 6 always make me smile.
Orange County Cartoons
By John F. Buckley
The Happiest Place on Earth
contains no legal abortion clinics,
so Mickey had to drive Minnie over
to the breakfast-cereal cartoon-mascot ghetto,
where the Kellogg’s Raisin Bran sun
carved out two scoops of baby, its instruments
shining red in its never-dawn rays.
After the procedure, two twittering bluebird
nurses tried to criss-cross comical white band-aids
across her sore black patootie,
but Minnie peeled them off.
No one back home must suspect.
The mice ran into Dig’em Frog in the parking lot,
rubbing the insides of his elbows,
blocking the shortest route to their jalopy,
croaking for more Smacks, a little sugar,
a little honey,
a little puffed wheat.
Were they holding?
Could they help an amphibian out?
Mickey peeled off a ten and avoided eye contact.
Then another twenty for the frog to forget he had seen them.
Once back in the car, they locked
the doors, rolled up the windows,
and drove in near-silence back to Anaheim,
speaking only in falsettos to negotiate
what to order from Zankou Chicken.
They decided on shawarma,
but Minnie broke into squeaky sobs
when the cook started carving slices
off the meat rotating on the spit.
Maybe it was time to give vegetarianism another try,
just for a while.
RG: I always loved this one by Johnathon Williams:
The whole world took to dwindling,
that summer my father bought the saw –
the black pines sapless, moaning
in the wind, the apple tree blighted,
its fallen fruit pockmarked by crows,
their delicate, Y-shaped feet.
We watched from the porch
as fireflies lighted lost in the ghost wheat.
The barn door glowed like the ambulance bay
at the county ER, hot steel
screaming through the tender boards,
each pallet still warm from the kiln.
Months later, the banks began to call,
my father’s credit exhausted at Sears
and every other store, and he slumped
over the dinner table, blinking sawdust
into a plate of black-eyed peas.
No one spoke. The phone wouldn’t stop ringing.
Roy Giles’ poetry and fiction have appeared in Eclectica, Eclectica Magazine 20th Anniversary Fiction Anthology, Ninth Letter, C4 Fiction Anthology, among others. His critical essays in theater won him a fellowship to the National Critics Institute at the Kennedy Center, and he has had several plays produced regionally. He currently serves as senior editor for Arcadia.
Corey Don Mingura received his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Oklahoma in May 2011. His works of fiction and poetry have appeared in The Acentos Review, The Writing Disorder, Westview, Eclectica, Midwestern Gothic, and The Oklahoma Review, among many others. He currently serves as Managing Editor of Arcadia. Mingura is a Mexican-American native of Hollis, Oklahoma and currently resides in Edmond, Oklahoma.
Dante Di Stefano is the author of Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight (Brighthorse Books, 2016). His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in Brilliant Corners, Iron Horse Literary Review, The Los Angeles Review, New Orleans Review, Obsidian, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, The Writer's Chronicle, and elsewhere. Most recently, he is the winner of the Red Hen Press Poetry Award and Crab Orchard Review’s Special Issue Feature Award in Poetry. He lives in Endwell, New York. He is the poetry book review editor for Arcadia.