For Pulse, Breaking & Salving, & Our Poetry Prize: A Conversation with the Editors

Molly: It’s been three years since we launched this sweet literary journal, and I cannot fathom this journey we’ve been on. Three years seems like such a small cluster of time, but in that time, we’ve published hundreds of beautiful, gorgeous poems, we’ve launched a sister press, Tinderbox Editions, we have changed jobs and added staff and expanded our reach. We’ve had a table at AWP, we’ve had a contest judged by Ocean Vuong, and we’re about to start another, with Eduardo Corral. We’ve had so many conversations here and over email and in small Facebook gatherings. The poetry world, I have learned in this time, is immense, and terrible, and wonderful, and so many big, bright things. I’m so grateful to have had both of you with me in this journey.

 

Brett: It seems like a few days ago we were standing outside of a Thai restaurant celebrating the release of our first issue! Tinderbox has grown and morphed in so many ways, and I’m proud of the lit mag toddler she has become.

I think especially because we started publishing on the solstices and equinoxes, TPJ has become for me a kind of timepiece. Something extra to mark the seasons and count the days. I love that poetry can be that for me, and for those we publish, and for everyone who reads. So much has changed in my life in the past three years–some great things and some devastating–but poetry has remained constant for me, and Tinderbox is a huge part of that.

 

Jenn:  I’m incredibly thankful that I joined the Tinderbox team last summer and have been able to read and publish such gorgeous, moving poetry over the past year–last December’s prize-winner / finalist issue and all our issues throughout the year have blown me away.
 
The poetry world feels beautiful and terrible, yes–a mirror or window of the wider world, something I’ve always known in my gut about poetry but feels ever more insistent and necessary and real in our current social, political, and environmental climate.
 
The Pulse / Orlando massacre shook me to my core. It happens again and again. Life is fleeting and fragile and momentary. Lately I crave art that is likewise. Or maybe, life is strange. In the same day that I’m sobbing for our lost beautiful humans, our LGBTQ community, my brother and his husband celebrating Pride in Los Angeles where another man with bombs has been arrested, and I’m holding my mother who is sobbing for the other mothers, who is saying,
I don’t want anyone to hurt my boy–I’m also standing on the balcony at sunset, watching the monsoon roll into the desert over the mountains, staining the sky a chrome rainbow, and I am marveling, and I am thankful.
 
I’m thankful Tinderbox has given me a home, a place where I can catch those poems that break and heal and break and heal again.

 

We’d like to dedicate this issue to Pulse, to our LGBTQ community and allies, to every human creating (love, safe spaces, in power, in pride) in this beautiful terrible world.

 

Molly: It’s such a smart sentiment that we all echo here at Tinderbox. When I heard what had happened, I had to leave the room, and I sobbed in the shower. I couldn’t figure out if I was crying for myself–for my youth and the safety the the gay club in town provided for me and for my girlfriend when we weren’t even permitted in her own house, where our best friends didn’t even know–or even more, for my two children, sitting there in this newly minted summer vacation, who will grow up in this world where this is a thing that happens.

 

This harkens to what Barrett Warner says in his interview with Denton Loving in this issue: “To me, some of the best confessional writing is coming out of the LBGTQ community where self and other are two dreams which keep attacking and loving each other.”

 

What has moved me so absolutely is Tess Taylor’s movement in conjunction with Senator Chris Murphy’s recent filibuster in a call for common sense gun reform. Taylor called out to #holdthefloor and ask for #wordsnotguns by Tweeting poems to be read. Suggestions were so amazing, from “The Gun Joke” to portions of Citizen to Langston Hughes.

 

Jenn:Yes, absolutely. We poets have always known poetry is vital, but there’s something about tweeting poetry to our senators live, with the hope that these poems will be a part of the conversation late-night, live on C-SPAN, that our poet’s voices make a difference, that is both humbling and revitalizing. This week another poet friend of Tinderbox, Maggie Smith, had a poem go viral, featured across the country and in many other countries, translated into several languages within a matter of hours.

 

Brett: I’m reminded of a line from Seymour, an Introduction in which Seymour says “Poetry, surely, is a crisis, perhaps the only actionable one we can call our own.” And the outpouring of support in the poetry community through words in the past days has solidified that for me: we are doing what we can with what we do, which is poetry. I want to plug the poem “Restored Mural for Orlando” by Roy Guzman. It’s just one example of what I’m talking about. I’m hopeful that this issue of TPJ will be a sort of salve.

 

Molly: Oh, and now you have me blearing up again, as I sit in this training room in St. Paul, waiting for our lunch break to be over. Today’s my first day back in classes–I’m getting a certificate in Montessori elementary education–and we went around the room, introducing ourselves, talking about the journeys that brought us here. The woman sitting next to me said she’s passionate about this work because we teach peace. It’s so true. The instructor opened the class with Marge Piercy, another one of our contributors, and her poem “To Be Of Use.” I’m thinking, now, of Mr. Rogers and his edict to “find the helpers.” This is why I celebrate poetry so much–I think, so often, that’s what it’s about.

 

Jenn: The salve and helpers, yes. I think of Meghan Privitello’s poem in this issue of TPJ:

 

“When a child hears gunshots,

she will say Mom is beating

the pots and pans. She will say

It sounds like home. Let’s keep it

this way; our children

misinterpreting the sound of dying

as a crude percussion.”

 

Teaching peace.

 

Molly: Oh, how that gets to the heart of it–what I was saying earlier–about navigating the aspect of caretaking–of being a mother in the midst of it and finding the language to explain–but also about our own souls and identities.

 

Brett: I’ve been in conversation with so many poets in the past weeks and months about opening up opportunities for all identities, and making sure that everyone is represented in the poet community (among other things!)–doing the work of making sure you know whose story is being told and by whom. I’m excited for the voices that are being represented in this issue.

 

Jenn: Yes! We are so proud of the diverse range of voices and experiences represented in TPJ, honored and humbled to be a part of the stories told here. In this issue, Sarah Frances Moran in her poem “La Dama” gets deeply at the issue of individual, personal identity–and how it relates to the larger communities and social justice matters we’ve been discussing:

 

“Hello, my name is not chicana or guera, queer

or maricón.  

 

My name is not shelved.

 

It’s in the dustpan of her hands and I’ve

been molded.

 

She whispers, te quiero mucho

and I am broken.  

 

I,            am broken.

 

Hola, mi nombre es roto.

Yo soy de rota.”

 

Brett: Stunning. We’re hopeful that we’ll have a diverse spectrum of voices represented in our contest as well, which will be judged by Eduardo Corral. I’m excited to read the poems for this year’s contest, as I was totally blown away by the submissions we got last year. It can only get better, right!?

 

Molly: Last year’s submission pool will be a tough act to follow. We’re open now through August 21, so there’s plenty of time to get those gems to us. The crew of readers we have for this year’s contest blows me away too–we have many returning, such as Joelle Biele and Jessamyn Smyth, but we also have some new readers on board as well.

 

Jenn: Our new readers are gorgeous poets, and smart, empathetic reader of poetry. I could not be more excited to have these wonderful people on board: regular issue readers Nandini Dhar and Saara Myrene Raappana (whom we introduced in our conversation from Vol 2, Iss 5), as well as Siaara Freeman (whose poem “Urban Girl Feeds Her Heart to the Birds” we published in our last issue of TPJ) and Lauren Nicole (whose poem “I wore an eyelet dress and called you my man” we published in Vol 2, Iss 2). I’m ready for this poetry party to begin! Ready for you all to send us your powerhouses and strange beauties. Your broken and salving poems.

 

Brett: They will be read by competent, brilliant eyes, and they’re ready to be heard.

 

 

 

Jenn Givhan, a National Endowment for the Arts and PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices fellow, is a Mexican-American writer and activist from the Southwestern desert. She is the author of four full-length poetry collections: Landscape with Headless Mama (2015 Pleiades Editors’ Prize), Protection Spell (2016 Miller Williams Poetry Prize Series edited by Billy Collins), Girl with Death Mask (2017 Blue Light Books Prize chosen by Ross Gay), and Rosa's Einstein (Camino Del Sol Poetry Series, forthcoming 2019). Her two novels, Trinity Sight and Jubilee, are forthcoming from Blackstone Press. Her honors include the Frost Place Latinx Scholarship, a National Latinx Writers’ Conference Scholarship, the Lascaux Review Poetry Prize, Phoebe Journal’s Greg Grummer Poetry Prize chosen by Monica Youn, the Pinch Poetry Prize chosen by Ada Limón, and ten Pushcart nominations. Her work has appeared in Best of the Net, Best New Poets, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Ploughshares, POETRY, TriQuarterly, Boston Review, AGNI, Crazyhorse, Witness, Southern Humanities Review, Missouri Review, and The Kenyon Review, among many others. Givhan holds a Master’s degree in English from California State University Fullerton and an MFA from Warren Wilson College, and she can be found discussing feminist motherhood at jennifergivhan.com as well as Facebook & Twitter @JennGivhan.
Molly Sutton Kiefer is the founding editor of Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and she continues to stay connected to the journal by initiating an interview series with authors whose books have recently come out. Molly runs the sister-press Tinderbox Editions, which is a nonprofit press in southeastern Minnesota. Her book Nestuary is a full-length lyric essay explore themes of (in)fertility, the body as medical object, and pregnancy. She has three poetry chapbooks, most recently Thimbleweed, and her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Hayden's Ferry Review, The Collagist, and Fiddlehead Review, among others. She lives in Minnesota with her family, where she teaches Montessori elementary school.