Building community post by post


Writers work alone, it’s true. But it’s equally accurate that writers work in community once the word by word composition is finished. I’m thrilled for Backyard Sisters to be this week’s stop on The Writing Process Blog Tour by hosting a self-interview with Sara Henning.

sara picSara Henning is the author of the full-length collection of poetry A Sweeter Water (2013), as well as a chapbook, To Speak of Dahlias (2012). Her poetry, fiction, interviews and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in such journals as Willow Springs, Bombay Gin and the Crab Orchard Review. Currently a doctoral student in English and Creative Writing at the University of South Dakota, she serves as Managing Editor for The South Dakota Review.

Here’s Sara…
The Writing Process Blog Tour
Many thanks to Catherine Keefe for hosting my installment of the vastly circulating Writing Process Blog Tour on her Backyard Sisters Blog!

 What am I working on?
I’ve been spending the past few months promoting and reading from my first volume of poetry, A Sweeter Water, as well as continuing to promote my chapbook, To Speak of Dahlias (2012). Both of these collections concern suicide, paternal order and the trope of longing. The reoccurring image of the dahlia weaves in and out of the fractured narrative as both a talisman and a taboo.

I have had the joy as of late to have been interviewed about these books by Laura Madeline Wiseman, editor of the groundbreaking Women Write Resistance, an anthology dedicated to resisting gender violence, and Sally Deskins of Les Femmes Folles. A collaborative interview with Laura Madeline Wiseman regarding these collections is also forthcoming on the Sundress Publications blog.

I’m also working on a collection of poetry entitled What Women Won’t Tell You, which I envision engaging with poetry as a means of embodied resistance to hegemonic narratives through both post-confessional protest and lyrical meditation.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
As a poet, my work explores issues crucial to the current contemporary moment. Most specifically, it tends to address the quiet war on women waged at home. In the wake of cases such as Ariel Castro and the kidnapping of Jaycee Lee Dugard, I brace myself for every time I watch the news. Every few months, another woman is found locked in a basement. Every few seconds, there is a woman suffering in silence. Now, if you will, pit this against the current state of poetry, with its focus on professionalization and bohemianism from within the ivory tower.

By writing work that engages with the current cultural moment, I’m trying to avoid being a McWriter.

Why do I write what I do?
Because I can’t help it.
Also, because I’m sick of reading writers who masturbate on paper.

How does my writing process work?
I begin with an idea, and I obsessively research it. I look for anything I can find out about it through disparate sources (Wikipedia, databases through my university, books, other articles, you name it).

I’ll then try to think about its narrative and lyrical applicability to a concrete moment or action. I then write long-hand in my journal until I feel like I have captured the moment.

I then attempt to weave in different incarnations of what I have researched, so what emerges is a patchwork of intertextuality—my lyric informed by empirical data.

I then type it all into an electronic document and obsessively revise it until I can’t look at it anymore.

I repeat the revision process until I come up with something I can live with.

Then I start sculpting.


Thank you Sara for stopping by the Backyard Sisters.
Next week, on another host blog, The Writing Process Blog Tour will feature words from the amazing Matthew Silverman, Daniel Wallace and Teniesha A. Kessler-Emanuel. I’ll post the links when they’re live.

Teniesha A. Kessler-Emanuel is a Master’s candidate in the University of South Dakota’s English Department and a graduate teaching assistant. A published poet, her work can be found in several journals including the South Dakota Poetry Society’s Pasque Petals, the Vermillion Literary Project magazine, and Scurfpea Publishing’s Siesta anthology. Teniesha is also a visual artist, & upon finishing her degree, she intends on joining her two passions by illustrating her poetry.

Daniel Wallace is studying his PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Tennessee. His work has been published in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Tampa Review, Fiction Writers Review, and Air Schooner. His first novel is being represented by Inkwell Management.

M. E. Silverman is editor and founder of Blue Lyra Review and Review Editor of Museum of Americana. He is on the board of 32 Poems and is a reader for Spark Wheel Press. His chapbook, The Breath before Birds Fly (ELJ Press, 2013), is available. His poems have appeared in over 75 journals, including:Crab Orchard Review, 32 Poems, December, Chicago Quarterly Review, North Chicago Review, Hawai’iPacific Review, Tupelo Quarterly, The Southern Poetry Anthology, The Los Angeles Review, Tulane Review, Weave Magazine, Many Mountains Moving, Pacific Review, Poetica Magazine and other magazines. He recently completed editing Bloomsbury’s Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry with Deborah Ager and is working on Voices from Salvaged Words: An Anthology of Contemporary Holocaust Poetry.

Happy National Poetry Month





Let’s have a party

By Catherine Keefe
Faced with a choice, I’d prefer to throw a party than offer almost any other gift.

invite 2

Invitation by Paperless Post

If you want to know how deeply I love to celebrate your new baby granddaughter, jubilate in your high school graduation, rejoice in your 79th birthday, or revel in your nuptials, just come in my open front door, grab a plate, some cheese, a glass of Viogner and we’ll dance late into the evening. Motown. Van Morrison. Maybe a little Michael Franti & Spearhead.

I want to hear about your trip to Crimea, your knee replacement surgery, the tai chi classes you’ve begun and what it’s like teaching English to newly arrived immigrants in Korea Town. When I hug you hello, I want you to feel like you’re home and when I kiss you goodbye, I’m not really ready for you to leave. Don’t even ask; I’ll refuse to let you do the dishes.

J will scrub the big pots and pans, stack the plates into the dishwasher while I hand wash and dry the goblets with a white cotton sack cloth. In my mind, your face is still smiling and I feel your spirit warming my home, sure as the candles flicker low.

Yes, we’ll talk about you. T looked good. D seems so happy right now. It’s too bad about G‘s brother. We’ll compare notes as we wipe the countertops, thank the dog for licking crumbs off the floor, turn off the lights and sink into bed.

For an introvert who can get physically exhausted by conversation, I have an amazing capacity to entertain.

For a joyful person, I write a surprisingly deep well of sad poems.

When I was a new writer and first realized this, I felt sure I was in my “tragic artist” phase, a period I’d outgrow once I left graduate school.

When I’d sufficiently drained my tolerance for this, I tried and tried to write happy poems. And I did. Write them. Over and over and then I edited them to death because they sounded like Hallmark card jingles that deserved to languish unpublished.

Then, like Goldilocks finding the just right chair, I discovered “The Party,” a poem by Jason Shinder. Reading it feels like looking into a mirror.

The Party by Jason Shinder

And that’s how it is; everyone standing up from the big silence

of the table with their glasses of certainty and plates of forgiveness
and walking into the purple kitchen; everyone leaning away from the gas stove

Marie blows on at the very edge of the breaking blue-orange-lunging-

forward flames to warm another pot of coffee, while the dishes pile up in the sink,perfect as a pyramid. Aaah, says Donna, closing her eyes,

and leaning on Nick’s shoulders as he drives the soft blade of the knife

through the glittering dark of the leftover chocolate birthday cake.
That’s it; that’s how it is; everyone standing around as if just out of the pool,

drying off, standing around, that’s it, standing, talking,

shuffling back and forth on the deck of the present
before the boat slowly pulls away into the future. Because it hurts

to say goodbye, to pull your body out of the warm water;

to step out of the pocket of safety, clinging to what you knew,
or what you thought you knew about yourself and others.

That’s how it is, that’s it, throwing your jacket over your shoulders

like a towel and saying goodbye Victoria goodbye Sophie goodbye
Lili goodbye sweetie take care be well hang in there see you soon.

Shinder knows that gathering friends is “warm water,” a “pocket of safety,” how true art captures the bead drop between celebration of life and death. Shinder wrote “The Party” after he was diagnosed with lymphoma and leukemia. It was published posthumously in Stupid Hope. I didn’t know all this when I first read the poem, but now it makes sense, this abuttal of celebration and loss.

On Monday my daughter tells me one of her 29-year-old friends has been diagnosed with Astrocytoma Glioma, a malignant brain tumor expected to kill her within the year. “It’s so sad I can’t even bear to think about it,” my daughter moans and I hug her close, impressing her sweet scent in my mother heart.

On Saturday, instead of writing or editing or grading or submitting poetry to journals, I’m hosting a baby shower for the daughter-in-law of one of my dearest friends. This isn’t my friend’s first grandchild and this isn’t the daughter-in-law’s first baby, so the event has surprised some. Why have a shower now, they ask.

Why not, I say. Faced with a choice, I’d just as soon compose in strawberries and champagne, a little Lorde music and pink lace. Is there any better gift than gathering young mothers with wise elders to sit and bask in the sun? For one afternoon, let there be nothing but joy.