Writers on Wednesdays: Ellen Sussman

Today’s post introduces “Writers on Wednesdays” by guest blogger Margaret Young. For her first post, Margaret interviews multi-talented author and teacher Ellen Sussman. 

author_photo_2010_hi_resEllen Sussman is the author of three bestselling novels – The Paradise Guest House, French Lessons and On a Night Like This as well as the editor of two of my favorite anthologies, Dirty Words and Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave. She was the San Francisco Library Laureate in 2004 and 2009 and has received fellowships from many, many institutions including The Sewanee Writers Conference, The Napoule Art Foundation, Wesleyan Writers Conference and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She now teaches through Stanford Continuing Studies and in private classes. She has two daughters and lives with her husband in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Margaret Young is a freelance writer who works at being a novelist when she’s not teaching children music.  She lives in Palo Alto with her family and can be found Tweeting at @MargaretYWrites.

MY:  If you couldn’t be a writer, but you could be anything else and succeed, what would you be?

ES: I’d be a singer in a rock band.

MY: When did you know you wanted to be a novelist and why?

ES: I decided to become a writer when I was six. I remember climbing on to my brother’s bookshelves (he’s a year older), and copying the titles of his books. Then I’d make up a story to go with the title. One of my first short stories is called, “The Little Engine that Could.”

I loved reading and wanted to write stories like the ones I read. That never changed throughout the years. I’ve been singularly focused on this career choice. The only surprise was that I needed a day job. And luckily I have loved teaching writing as well.

MY: What has been your best moment as a writer?

ES: Publication of my first novel. I waited for so many years to hold my own novel in my hands. It’s a remarkable feeling. And I love that moment each time a new novel comes out.

MY: What’s been your worst or most disappointing?

ES: I’ve written two novels that didn’t sell. That’s hell. You spend a very long time creating characters and a story that you love. And after too many rejection letters, you have to tuck that novel away somewhere. It’s a killer.

MY: As well as being a best-selling novelist, you’re known as a top-notch writing teacher, if you could make your students follow one piece of advice what would it be?

ES: To find a writing schedule that works for you — and to stick with it! I most highly recommend daily writing, especially if you’re working on a novel.

paradiseMY: Your break-out novel French Lessons was set in Paris and your latest The Paradise Guest House is set in Bali. Do you feel like you’ve found yourself a niche as a novelist of Americans in exotic locations? If so, is this a good thing, a bad thing or both?

ES: I may not stick to that for all my novels but I’m liking it right now. I think that we learn so much about ourselves when we leave home. And I love using the exotic setting in a way that really matters to the story.

MY: Can you tell us about what you’re working on and what intrigues you about it?

ES: I’ve just finished a draft of a new novel. The working title is A Stranger at the Wedding and it takes place in the south of France. I’m exploring love again and family relationships. In this novel, there’s also real danger.

MY: One of the things you talk about in your classes is the importance of structuring the writing process. Would you describe a typical writing day for you?.

ES: I write for three hours every morning, five or six days a week. That’s sacred time for me — I never make a doctor’s appointment in the morning or meet someone for coffee. And if I’m writing a first draft of a novel, I’ll write 1,000 words a day.

Thanks to Ellen and Margaret for sharing this conversation with us (and Ellen, when your first album comes out, please let me know !) ~ Ina

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Connections: a little time with Daniel Ari

Please welcome the co-winner of our first  Poetry Prompt Contest, Daniel Ari. We first encountered Daniel’s vivid and unique poetry on (surprise, surprise) Robert Brewer’s blog, Poetic Asides. I couldn’t wait to get my little paws on Daniel’s chapbook, Monster Poems, and was so glad when I finally did. The stunning black-and-white, evocative illustrations (by Daniel’s talented spouse Lauren) and Daniel’s poetry have created a household favorite – something I read with my six-year-old time and time again, not because it’s a book for children, but because it’s a book that appeals to the Grimm imagination that lurks in all of us. So was I surprised his poem “this glamorous profession” was one of the stand-outs in the contest? No. Was I delighted to get to interview him –  oh, yes! And I know you, as readers, will enjoy his words, as well ![IOB]

IOB [ina]: What was the hardest thing about writing the poem you submitted?

DA: It’s funny because I wrote this in response to a call for submissions of poetry found in the prose of Patrick Sokas, M.D. His daughter decided to create a poetry anthology of found poems, and she posted several essays of his as the finding field for poets. I had never heard of Dr. Sokas before, but it seems that he published articles in The Oakland Tribune, a local paper for me, though his articles were printed long before I moved to the area.

Anyway, that was the score. The hardest thing was staying open to moments of poetry within his prose. I read several essays without sensing the spark. Then I caught a haiku, which was accepted for the anthology. I like “this glamorous profession” more than the haiku, but it may have still been too prosaic for the doctor’s daughter.

Once I found the piece—which also resonated with a poetry prompt at the “Poetic Asides” blog at Writersdigest.com—I had to give myself permission to glean the poem with finer tools than cut and paste. I excised some words from the middle and split some of the dialogue so that the speakers changed. In sum, I took time to tinker this into a poem I enjoyed. That’s not hard for me, though. I like to write poems slowly.

IOB: Who is a poet you admire a great deal, and why?

DA: There are many. On the top of my mind right now is Marna Hauk. She deeply engages her experience of being human on earth. What she writes is astonishingly transcendent, but human—not disengaged at all. She has the insight to write to the heart of experience without getting bogged down in her own emotions. And beyond that, her life’s work is about getting to the healing medicine found in poetry. She is an educator who collaborates in pioneering this kind of poetry-as-world-medicine field.

And that makes me think of Natalie Goldberg, whose poems I have actually never read, but I think of her as one of the writers who has influenced me most. In the same field as Marna, Natalie Goldberg’s take on writing—poetry or prose—or making art of any kind—is about healing and revealing on the larger scale. I think her book “Writing Down the Bones” is required reading for any writer.[note from ina: me, too!]

IOB: Where can people find more of your work?

Monster Poems poster; rights reserved by poster artists

DA: I post poems weekly at IMUNURI. I post other creative things sporadically at Fights With Poems. I’m also placing poems hither and yon. For recent online publications, you can search for me at Poetic Asides, Defenestration Magazine, ShufPoetry, and (I’m very proud of this 2007 publication) McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. In print, Issue 3 of 42 Magazine, issue one of The Wayfarer, and several recent issues of Conscious Dancer include my work.

IOB: Daniel, thank you so much for sharing your poetry and your time with us. We look forward  to hearing about the new places where your poems appear and can be seen, read, heard, and experienced!

Connections: chatting with Jay Sizemore

Jay Sizemore’s poem, “The value of things,” was one of the two winners of our first In Our Books prompt-based poetry contest. IOB took a few moments to chat with Jay about, well, poetry.

IOB: What was the hardest thing about writing the poem you submitted?

JS: I would say it is always a difficult task to write something about a topic larger than one’s self, and yet try and retain the feeling that the poem is coming from that place of genuine emotion. I try to do that with all my work. After I write it, I ask myself, “Is this real, or am I trying too hard to make something work?” Most of the time, I think it is a challenge hard to live up to, because when writers tackle difficult themes, sometimes you have to write outside the scope of your own experiences, and that tends to muddy the waters of the real. Often it is best to, as cliche as it is, “stick to what you know,” and let others attribute themes to your work. But it is fun to try large themes anyway, and as if you couldn’t tell by my piece, I have strong feelings about what the concept of ownership does to society.

IOB: Who is a poet you admire a great deal, and why?

JS: My favorite poet for a long time now has been Bob Hicok. When I was in college, a professor of mine, Dr. Tom Hunley, let me borrow Plus Shipping, because we were writing papers on poets from one of our text books, and I had loved his poem “Absence” so much, I wanted to read more. The paper also had to involve an interview with the poet, and surprisingly he answered my emails, and we actually talked back and forth for a while, when I was going through my borderline-stalker-obsessed-fan phase. Anyway, Hicok’s work has an uncanny sense of realism about it, which I was immediately drawn to. He has a powerful command of language, and image, almost every poem driving that sense of awe into your guts, or twisting words into a kind of hypnosis. It’s the kind of talent you just can’t fake. One can always aspire to reach that level of greatness, but it’s like singing in the shower and thinking you can win American Idol. It’s rare.

[ina notes: just read through Hicok’s Animal Soul on Jay’s recommendation. Really remarkable collection – vivid and vital imagery as well as the rhythm and flow of each work. Great stuff.]

IOB: Where can people find more of your work?

JS: There is very little of my work online anymore, as I have discovered most journals don’t like publishing things that have appeared on even a blog, so I took most of it down. There are several pieces left up on my old blog, The Ghosts of Silence, and I do plan on posting things there that have already been accepted elsewhere. Other than that, what little I have had published you can find at the respective journals, like Red River Review, Wild Goose Poetry, Emerge, Siren, and a few others. I also have gotten some things in a couple poetry anthologies put together from a fairly tight-knit group of poets who met online at Robert Brewer’s Poetic Asides blog: Beyond the Dark Room [disclosure: ina is one of the poets whose work appears in this anthology. All proceeds from this volume will go to Medicines Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders] and Prompted: An International Collection of Poetry. I have also had some short fiction accepted here and there, online in Schlock, and Scholars and Rogues, and in the anthologies No Rest for the Wicked and Fantastic Horror Vol. 4. Most of my fiction is genre-based, I feel I must warn you, but it is fun to write that stuff.

IOB: Jay, thanks so much for talking with us, and for entering our contest. We’ll be watching your future writing progress with considerable interest!

IOB will post our interview with our other winner, Daniel Ari, within a week. Stay tuned!

Friday surprise: we connect with Cara Holman

I first “met” Cara Holman on the poetry blog Poetic Asides. Robert Brewer, the editor, posts regular prompts (every Wednesday, for those of you who would enjoy a regular source of inspiration, not to mention interaction with the interesting and supportive community that hangs out there) as well as periodic challenges/ contests. When I first read one of Cara’s poems, I was stunned. I hadn’t read haiku since I was in grade school, and her poem was a revelation: the sense of the first two lines launching the reader into space, and then the third line gently landing at the poem’s end. I realized that I had missed something important about the form, and when started looking at other haiku online, gosh, Cara’s name kept appearing, as the author of one beautiful poem after another. So naturally, with a new blog that gave us an excuse to interview her, I jumped at the chance. I know after reading her interview, you’ll want to sample more of her poems, so in addition to some of the journals we discuss in the interview, head on over to her blog, Prose Posies, to read more. [ina @ IOB]

IOB: Cara, for people who haven’t yet met you, can you introduce yourself and your work?

CH: After a breast cancer diagnosis in 2006, I was looking for a way to reclaim my life when I discovered a stack of flyers in my oncologist’s waiting area, announcing the formation of a writing group for women cancer survivors. It seemed very serendipitous. Never mind that I had not written a word, besides journaling, since college. Never mind that my undergraduate degree was in mathematics, and I did graduate work in computer engineering. And never mind that I had no idea what I wanted to write about. I just knew that this was something I had to try. Our facilitator guided us into writing gently, with prompts that were sometimes visual, sometimes a word or phrase, or sometimes guided imagery. And somehow, in that very nurturing environment, the words just flowed. Every session began with us reading poetry, round robin, from one of the Garrison Keillor anthologies, and soon, I found myself writing poetry, in addition to narrative prose. I stayed with that group for almost four years. Sometime in 2009, I was poking around online looking for sharing sites, when I discovered Poetic Asides. It’s been a wonderfully supportive community for poets, and I can’t say how grateful I am to have discovered it. Around the same time, I also tapped into the online haiku community, and am now totally hooked on haiku, senryu, haibun, rengay, and the occasional tanka. This is where I focus most of my writing efforts these days, but I still try to keep my hand in prose poetry and creative nonfiction as well.

IOB: Is there a poem that you’d be willing to share with us here?

CH:  I wrote [this] back in August of 2010 for a poetry sharing site called Big Tent Poetry.

Pineapple Summer by Cara Holman

The secret of pineapple upside-down cake
is that the pineapples have to start at the bottom
in order to end up on top. Eventually.
Life can be like this. Or not.
Some things start at the bottom
and stay at the bottom. Like fish.
Some start on top and fall. Like Humpty Dumpty.
Others just drift. Like milkweeds on the breeze.
Or summer days, which slide one into the next,
smooth as corn silk.

IOB: This is beautiful; thank you for sharing it with us. What inspired you to start writing poetry?

CH: I received my first poetry book as a gift from my cousins, when I was 5 years old—I still have that book, in fact, although it is a bit worse for the wear. It was the Big Golden Book of Poetry, and I delighted in the poems of Rachel Field, Robert Louis Stevenson, Hilaire Belloc, Lewis Carroll, and others.

I also remember reading John Ciardi’s You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You, Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, and a big green poetry anthology we owned, whose name I unfortunately don’t remember. My 3rd grade teacher had us memorize poetry for recitation, and also copy out poetry for handwriting practice. So poetry was always a constant force in my life. In high school, we had a wonderful poetry unit in AP Lit where we read a tremendous amount of classic poetry, and I encountered The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock for the first time. It wasn’t until I joined the writing group, though, that I actually tried my hand at writing any myself.

IOB: I recently read a post by Tien Ansari  on the blog Write Anything” in which she says

I’ve pointed out before that the medium is part of the message, and the form is part of the content; if we didn’t believe that, we wouldn’t write poetry in the first place. The same argument applies to writing formal poetry: You use a form when the form is an appropriate part of the message.

You specialize in Japanese forms (including haiku and haibun) – what is it about these forms that attracts you? How do these forms help you to write, or to communicate ideas, or do they provide you with something completely different?

CH: You know, I think I was initially attracted to haiku because the 17 syllable count was very precise and mathematical. However, I was soon to discover that syllables are rarely counted anymore in contemporary haiku. Still, there is something very clean and precise about haiku: a haiku generally consists of two images juxtaposed in a certain way. While I’ve certainly read some very “poetic” haiku, haiku poets, in general, tend to avoid overly flowery language. Instead, they focus on capturing images or feelings, without overtly expressing them, while still leaving something to the reader’s imagination. It fascinates me how in 6-12 words, so many different possibilities can be generated, and yet how each can still faithfully reflect the poet’s voice. I also admire the brevity inherent in the Japanese forms, and enjoy the challenge of keeping the prose and poetry crisp.

IOB: How do you combine your working life with your writer’s life?

CH: Well, sometimes I don’t, very well! However, being a mother for almost 27 years has honed my time management skills and self-discipline. I am learning to juggle all the components of my life (home, work, volunteering, and writing, which is not my profession, but rather, a hobby). Submission deadlines for haiku journals tend to fall quarterly, and at the end of a month, and those times can be very hectic, especially when lots in going on in my life, as it is now. I have had to cut back on some of my writing and other commitments. My family is always my highest priority, so I adjust other aspects of my life accordingly. I’m very excited to not only be attending, but also to be a presenter at, a local haiku retreat next month, which means that there’s lots of non-writing things I need to get under control before then, so I can go with a clear mind.

IOB: Sometimes I see what I think are glimpses of your life or the lives of those around you in your work – how does real life influence your work? Do you have any advice for poets and writers on how to balance reality and creation in one’s writing?

CH: I think everyone’s got to find their own way, but for me, my direction was suggested by the way I got into writing in the first place: for its therapeutic value. I almost exclusively write from my own life, and observations of the world around me. I of course tweak details of my writing for privacy—my own, and others—but everything I write has intrinsic truth and I try to focus on publishing only those things that I think others will find relatable. Most of my haiku, for instance, focus on the natural world around me, my cancer journey, dealing with my parents’ deaths, and raising kids. The more universal the theme, it seems, the more feedback I get on my writing, and the more dialog it generates. The other upside of writing from reality is that everything I do becomes fodder for my writing, so I am always thinking of what to write next while I am at the grocery store, the gym, driving around, and even at home washing dishes and doing laundry. I carry index cards with me everywhere I go so I can jot down ideas when they occur to me, and I get some of my best ideas at night as I am falling asleep and have released my conscious mind, or first thing in the morning, before I have to start my day.

IOB: A lot of readers, having read the poem you’ve shared with us, are going to want to see more of your work – where should they look ?

CH: I discovered early on that tracking submissions and publications is often more work than writing them in the first place! Thus, I trained myself to become very organized about tracking my publications. On my blog [Prose Posies], I keep a comprehensive list of all my publications, organized by type (Anthologies, Haibun, Poetry, Haiku, Rengay, and Tanka). These categories can all be accessed from the top level page of my blog, and contain live links for my online writings.

IOB: Can you direct readers to other places on the web where your work is available?

CH: Online journals that I have been published in include The Heron’s Nest, A Hundred Gourds [note from ina: one of my personal favorite online journals], contemporary haibun online (cho), Daily Haiku, Haibun Today, Notes from the Gean (which is sadly now defunct, but the archives still exist), Four and Twenty, Sketchbook, Prune Juice, and Multiverses. Links to the actual issues can be found on my blog pages. I also have a dedicated page on The Haiku Foundation’s Haiku Registry.

IOB:  What do you have planned by way of future poetic projects?

CH: I periodically assess the journals I read and submit to, and make adjustments accordingly. This year, I finally felt brave enough to submit to cho, Daily Haiku, Haibun Today, Acorn, and Modern Haiku. I’m pleased to have work appearing (or that will appear) in all of them. I also periodically re-adjust my writing focus. I started writing rengay and renku (collaborative verse) last year, and this is going to be a big part of what I focus on this year. Also, haibun. I have (literally) hundreds of short pieces that I wrote while in writing group, that I want to come back to with fresh eyes, and see if I can’t adapt some of them to haibun. And of course putting together my first haiku chapbook someday has long been a dream of mine.

In addition to actually writing, as I’ve become more involved with the haiku community, I have looked for ways to give something back. This year, I took on the role of maintaining the Haiku Oregon blog and also created a Facebook page for it. I plan to make the Seabeck Haiku Retreat an annual event, and look forward to attending my 2nd Haiku North America conference next year. There is always something new on the horizon…

Thank you, Ina and Andrea, for allowing me to be interviewed for your blog, and for your thoughtful and probing questions.

IOB: Cara, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat virtually with u s- it’s a pleasure to introduce others to your work.

Friday surprise: connecting with Pearl Ketover Prilik

IOB would like to introduce you to the multi-talented Pearl Ketover Prilik: author, poet, and editor of two international poetry collections.

PKP: I always see things on a multiplicity of levels: my point of view, what I imagine is “the other’s” point of view, what perhaps is some objective reality and how all of this fits into some grand scheme of things.  So that being angry at another human being is virtually (no pun intended) impossible. In fact during some eight hundred (I mean literally!) hours on analysis  I was often chided for not “exploring my anger.” I believe most strongly that anger is an understandable but completely nonproductive emotion – in personal relationships as well as in large global conflicts such as war – which inevitably at some point lead to peace with between the poles of which lie a trail of senseless death.  There are few exceptions to my inability to anger ;those involve the red outrage of which I am fully capable combined with an urge bordering on compulsion to speak up and take action when someone commits a grave injustice against an innocent, or I am called to action when there is an imbalance of power or extreme unkindness.  Perhaps, because I truly believe that all is connected somehow, I cannot tolerate as a potential part of myself such ugliness and must do whatever I can in my power to stop its course or at the very least to strongly bear witness.

IOB: Beyond The Dark Room, An International Collection of Transformative Poetry. One review contains this  description: “This book could be your gateway through healing to hope.” How is that?

PKP: The simple answer is that I believe that poetry is a window into the unconscious. Since I was a child I have found writing to be tremendously cathartic and organizational when dealing with stress and in working through intrapsychic issues.  As a practicing clinician, I often found that poetry was a medium which permitted articulation of certain felt understandings and explorations and have both written poems to patients and encouraged them to write on their own.  There is a freeing quality in the rhythm of poetry, in the ability to express experience in a multiplicity of layers that is quite simply lacking in everyday, linear language.  The poems in Beyond the Dark Room describe the various stages in the journey from trauma through empowerment and ultimately to a place of either transformation as the subtitle implies, transcendence or in many cases to acceptance of circumstances which cannot be altered but where perspective can be radically transformed.  I believe that poetry is not so much an ‘art form’ although undoubtedly it is, but is also a variation of communication using a deeper level of thinking and allowing for the articulation and the ultimate so-called working through of difficult issues.

IOB: Several authors contributed to Beyond the Dark Room.Please tell us about the poets. [IOB full disclosure: ina Roy is one of the poets whose work is included in this volume]

PKP: The poets who contributed to the Beyond the Dark Room are perhaps a grouping of the most dedicated, talented and, quite frankly, delightful human beings I have encountered.  For a complete listing of all the poets involved please visit Beyond the Dark Room’s page:

Beyond the Dark Room on Facebook

There is also a biography of each poet at the end of the book. There is a great deal of diversity in terms of where people live, from the country-side in Australia, to Canada, back across the “pond” to the UK, back to various points in the United States.Despite the diversity, there is a  unifying commonality of  poetic vision, a sense that we are all somehow ‘connected’ on what I like to call this “blue marble,” and that somehow we met at a poetry site and decide that this project was one in which we had a deep personal interest.

IOB: What was your role, Pearl, in conceiving, organizing, and publishing this collection?

PKP: I am the principal administrator of a the Facebook group/page for poets.  This group came together initially as a social group comprised of poets who knew each other from Robert Brewer’s  “original”  (before the latest updates) Poetic Asides blog which I often refer to as “The Street.”   We had become familiar with one another’s work through various challenges and many of us had been writing and commenting on each other’s works on a more or less daily basis for years.  Last year one of the members floated the idea of perhaps writing a collection “someday.” Frankly, in my ‘other life-time’ as a teacher of English responsible for perhaps 150 students’ writing on a daily basis, putting together an anthology of poems with some forty adult poets didn’t seem an insurmountable challenge.  I simply selected out a heaping handful of popular prompts from the Poetic Asides blog and we voted on ten which became the ten chapters of that book. I had to get permission from Robert to use the prompts which apparently were “owned” by Writers’ Digest.  I went as high as the new editor and suggested the idea of an anthology.  Robert was then able to get permission for us to use ten prompts.  Poets simply self-selected those that they thought were their best examples of these prompts that had been shared on the blog.  I wrote an introduction, asked Robert if he would write a Foreword, and kept following up with him tracking him down in his extraordinarily busy life. Many of the poets are wonderful photographers and we chose from a collection of submitted photographs using Survey Monkey which one of the participating poets set up and tracked to select an especially beautiful photograph for our cover. One of the other poets Michele Brenton’s husband Andrew is a printer/publisher and agreed to print the book and off we went, in what felt like a collective effort that mirrored my philosophy of all being connected very satisfyingly.

The second project, recently published, was a bit different.  I floated the idea of a collection perhaps about abuse or trauma and the incredibly capacity that human beings seem to have for moving “beyond” such assaults to their sensibilities.  (I am always awed and have the deepest respect as a human being and a therapist for the ability that some individuals have for not only surviving but thriving beyond trauma and all sorts of life challenges.  A small but vocal minority of poets took an immediate dislike to the project and at times it seemed to me!  Of course, all of this was sorted out with a wonderful open, vigorous dialogue and led to the twenty (twenty-one including myself) poets that decided to participate in the latest anthology.  I created a separate page for communication and voting on various stages and off we went.

Since I was interested in the interplay between the therapeutic value of the potential collection and the entertainment/educational value, I used some of my understanding and observation about ten typical stages that individuals most often pass through after trauma– and it was these ten passages (Stunned, Anger, Fear, Shock, Depression, Empowerment, Calm, Trust, Confidence, and Love/Happiness/Fulfillment/Peace of Mind) that became the chapters.  I wrote the introduction and solicited someone who was primarily involved with trauma to write the Foreword from a professional list-serve of psychoanalysts.  I was absolutely delighted when Dr. Nurit Nora Israeli responded and we are both still reeling from the synchronicities in our experience, perhaps most notably the fact that Dr. Israeli was involved in a workshop involving loss and moving “Beyond”  and is a poet in her own right using some of the very same words in her own poetry.  Our group included some staggeringly talented photographers who submitted photographs for our cover upon which we voted in almost one voice for a view from inside a dark room onto a beautiful flower garden taken by Jane Penland Hoover [IOB: more of Jane’s work can be found at her blog] that seemed painted to describe this collection.  Another of the poets, Laura Hegfield [IOB: more about Laura here], who herself is a beacon of inspiration in living her own personal challenges with grace, altruism, and sparkling beauty suggested some noted writers who might want to take a look at the book – they did and returned some wonder-full reviews – a portion of which you quoted as part of one of your questions.

I can say without braggadocio that I am extraordinarily proud to be part of this wonderful collection and that it has been one of the joys of my life to be able to collect, organize, and synthesize the poems of this talented and essentially kind group of poets into an anthology that will be dedicated toward bringing hope and light to the dark corners of others.

IOB: Is it possible to see an excerpt of the book somewhere?

PKP: [here is a link to the book] Beyond The Dark Room edited by  Pearl Ketover Prilik

It is difficult to excerpt poetry – except for the introduction and/or foreword which would seem self-serving and not particularly descriptive of the extraordinary talent and individual voices of the collected poems.  As far as where the book can be acquired, it is easily accessible on Amazon and Barnes and Noble in the US and the UK.  As part of our agreement as a collective of writers we again chose a charity to receive all of our royalties directly.  In the case of Beyond the Dark Room, An International Collection of Transformative Poems  all royalties are being donated to Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).  This organization was voted upon and chosen by an overwhelming majority as they have a mental health branch as well as medical services offered worldwide.   It is our hope that Beyond The Dark Room… will serve as agent of healing for those in need.

IOB:  In addition to an editor, you are a poet in your own right. You share many of your poems on your blog, Imagine; where else can  readers find your poems and writings?

PKP:  I have recently been published in several online and print publications.  I suppose that it would make some sense, since I am now comfortable with the ins and outs of independent publishing to collect my poems and publish them in a collection of their own – I’m not quite sure that I’d know how to work unilaterally without taking a vote on how the cover would look or goodness knows accepting any royalties that came my way.  Of course, I‘m only joking, but seriously, poetry began as a distraction, I had always written as a way of personally marking an occasion or event with my family, friends and/or patient,s and then as a way of decompressing while thinking about my “real” writing as a would-be novelist.  How delightful, to discover that I – while I have been searching for the “real writer” within – may have always been what I am only discovering that perhaps I am: a poet all the while.

IOB: You’re an author of a number of non-fiction works in your capacity as a therapist. How is your writing process different when you write professional non-fiction work from when you write poetry?

PKP: I believe I anticipated your question and so I’ll just continue.  Professional writing  is clean and easy:decide what I want to write, or accept the assignment offered, outline, research, check research, interview, add anecdotes, as I would teach children:

  1. decide what you’re going to tell them
  2. tell them
  3. tell them what you told them.

 Poetry, unlike other writing such as short stories and those novels simply comes from someplace else; I’m not quite sure where it is coming from, but most times what I write (and I mean no grandiosity here because there are no claims to quality)most of what I write comes to me immediately and is, if edited at all, edited as I go – I more often feel than I am “transcribing” the writing of someone else – in fact if I should forget to save something – what I was writing is often gone as a dream. I claim no ownership of the poetry I write, for I do not know from where it comes.  It holds no stress, because of this lack of ego involvement – instead it contains limitless surprise and relief of stress.   This is the kind of non-personally directed poetry I’m writing nowadays – greatly stream of consciousness – whose stream I am not certain – but definitely filtered through my own consciousness.

IOB: Would you share one of your poems with us?

I recently had this poem published in a wonderful print literary magazine titled “scissors and spackle.” I’m not quite sure where the poem came from and why it is one of my favorites but it is. I hope you enjoy it as well:

Girls in Plum Sweaters

what can girls in plum sweaters
be expected to know of loss
as they pass the shovel among friends
unorated letters on pretty stationary drift
in the wind – as earth hard-hits the coffin
inside sweatered pruning friend on white satin
outside they, fresh as dropped stitches
from a single skein of yarn
creating a forever hole
in matching plum sweaters,
dirt under fingernails
cold wind in their fresh washed hair

IOB: Where do you see your writing heading in the future? How can we help you achieve your goals?

PKP: I think it is the height of lunacy that I have not edited the two novels that I have completed. Both of these books, through my nonfiction connections have been read by major NYC publishing house editors with kind helpful comments even though they passed.  I was thrilled by their readings and their encouraging words and then SET THEM ASIDE!  My writing goals, the epitome of this chapter of my life would be to get my novels edited and published.  I think that this wonderful blog could be helpful to me and I am certain to others by providing a forum where partners could cheer each other on and provide a framework and focus for their daily personal goals such as the healthy competiveness of the NaNoWriMo challenges.  I am not suggesting the I would need anyone to read my work or I them, but the simple fact that I was in a sense “responsible” for editing a set number of pages of words a day and that I was not alone in this endeavor would be extraordinarily motivating.

I want to thank you Andrea, and Ina, for this opportunity. and for this wonderful blog which has the potentiality of being a major resource for so many writers.  I wish you everything that you hope to achieve and I already know that you have and will continue to bring as much joy to others as you have brought to me.