*** A note for you, Reader— This is not a ping-pong back and forth of questions, but rather a more a contemplative and deep meandering exchange over months. Though we could not include all of our correspondence, we invite you to these passages. Warm yourself. Sit. Read.
KC: Julie! My star sister! Ah! I am so excited to talk to you in this intentional platform of shining light that Tinderbox has so graciously extended us. May we make a warm fire with the words we spark together. We met on Facebook back at the beginning of the pandemic— I think you sent in a poem for virtual Wednesday Night Poetry, so I just went back into all the FB messages we have exchanged since March 2020, and isn’t it just incredible how close you can get to another poet without ever meeting face-to-face? How much intimacy and dreaming you can create together on shared threads of light? You and I are not only pressmates with Sibling Rivalry Press (you with Slide to Unlock and me with INCANDESCENT), but we are like poetry soulmates, leaning into the mysticism, swimming in the synchronicities of the universe, and unabashedly writing about magic of all things. You helped make a bridge for Jane Hirshfield to join the Earth Day 2020 WNP reading with Joy Harjo and Naomi Shihab-Nye. (https://www.facebook.com/skailight8/posts/10157319855954422) What a trinity that was; I still pinch myself that all that came together. I would be remiss to not share what Jane Hirshfield said about the two of us— “I just had an email from Julie, in which she spoke of your sisterhood-friendship and how much it means to her. That made me happy. And from what I have seen of your spirit and hers, it seems a conjunction of two of the biggest hearts around. Like twinned stars.”
You and I love Jane Hirshfield so much, look to her like poetry’s true North. What is it about her that pulls you toward her spirit? Didn’t she write a blurb for your gorgeous debut? How did all that happen? Tell us about Slide to Unlock, and how it was to publish your first book during a global pandemic. Oof! I also know that you have had some current amazing news about the book. Do tell!
JB: Oh Kai, I hardly remember exactly how we connected, only that someone (Dustin Brookshire?) urged me to send a video to Wednesday Night Poetry. And in doing so, I learned of you–I immediately ordered your books, loved reading about you and your work. I was (and am!) truly astounded by your advocacy, your tenaciousness, your commitment to ensuring that WNP never missed a Wednesday, even as the pandemic raged onwards. Then to learn of your deeply passionate poems, to discover our sisterhood as pressmates, to see not only your beauty but the sheer force and bright of your energy in those stunning and connected WNP intros. The moment I saw you place your hand to the screen, to touch each one of us, I too placed my hand to yours, a sisterhood sealed. Though our touch has been “touch without touch” (a line we’ve talked about from my poem “Electric Mail”), I know that soon enough it will be touch IN touch. In person. And I can hardly imagine the joy and tears of that moment of serendipity, how beautifully aligned it all will be.
KC: Yes, I remember now how you joined the WNP chorus, and instantly it was like I knew you. Touch without touch was something that I was hesitant to do at first; it was the second week of lockdown, and everything was so scary and unknown, the isolation, the unity in this new solitary existence we were experiencing together, and I thought— what if I just put my hand out there? What if I just reach into the void with my willing hand, and touch someone who is totally alone, feeling lost, in a dark place, scared, or just looking to be held even for a moment? That’s how it started, those introduction videos to WNP, and me putting my hand up to the screen, welcoming others to do the same, welcoming anyone who might be watching to touch me back, through the liquid crystal displays, and transcend bodies into spirit. People from all over the world sent me pictures of themselves “touching my hand,” and it was then that I knew my purpose through the pandemic was to bring people together, was to hold space, was to touch people’s hearts and even direct the power of thought with light through this. I can’t wait until the day you come to Hot Springs in person, and feature for WNP. Touch IN touch. Hugs and tears.
JB: I love that you reminded me of that email from Jane. Indeed, swimming in the lakes of serendipity– twinned stars, aligned. And, my god, the energy of the Earth Mothers reading! Talk about a fire–a bonfire even!–full of light and joy and alignment. I remember the absolute electric of our exchanges–the immediacy of the back and forth, the excitement gathered as bouquet after bouquet, filled with nothing but every hue of YES. That this was merely a dream of yours, and that it became manifest–in a pandemic no less–was nothing short of magic and miracle. I remember listening to each of the readings, gobsmacked that this chorus of poets came together as they did. But then again, it simply could be no other way. For when we set that intention into the universe–when we believe and nurture with fire and conviction–the universe has a way of rising to meet us. And that particular WNP gave listeners so much hope, such a sense of solidarity. It was a call to action for the earth and planet, a call born of love and poetry. And none of that would have come to be without your vision, and your willingness to knock, door after door, to say come join us in this sacred circle, to lift the light.
I can hardly be succinct in writing about beloved Jane. She is and ever will be teacher, but she is also dear friend, mentor, love. Her emails over the years have been a balm and a light, a torch of encouragement, a reminder to live with ease and grace, to stay true to the work and calling in this poet’s life. When I lost my dear Grandfather, it was Jane that lit up my inbox, companioning and comforting. When I navigated darker chapters of my life–much of which I have not shared publicly–it was Jane who lit the caverns of grief and doubt with her spirit, to say, follow me. It reminds me of that line from Kim Addonizio’s poem: “listen I love you joy is coming.” Many people do not know that when my son was born I stopped being able to write. My full creative focus had to be attuned to motherhood. I thought–often–I may not write again. Once my daughter began preschool, the poems began to call me back. In that whole newborn/toddler time, I was still trying to read poetry–that is how I fell in love with Barbara Crooker’s work, through The Writer’s Almanac–and was trying to write here and there, but I was simply unmoored. I perceived this as a fallow period until I realized it was rife with the ripening. Meaning, when the poems did call me back, they called me back with authority. I thank God every day they found me again, but even in that interim, even when I was not producing and publishing, Jane was there, steadfast and believing. When I sent the manuscript of Slide to Unlock to her, every bit of self-doubt gnashed up. And she came back, glowing, supportive, asking the good hard questions, and ever in her gracious way of Jane, offered a blurb for the book. We kept that bit to ourselves while I was submitting Slide to Unlock for contests and reading periods. So, when Bryan Borland called to tell me Sibling Rivalry Press had chosen to publish it, he asked me where I was in the blurb journey; I can hardly tell you the unmitigated joy of surprising him with the news that I already had one from Jane, and one from Jericho Brown on the way.
Do tell me more about WNP, about which weeks resonated most with you and others, and why? How has the transition back to in-person been?
KC: Wednesday Night Poetry was started on February 1, 1989 by a vagabond poet and big heart in a top hat, Bud Kenny. Since its inception, WNP has NEVER missed a single week of poetry. Ever. Through blackouts and hurricanes, through snow storms and floods, there was always Wednesday Night Poetry. I started going in 2013, after moving to Hot Springs in late 2012. I had retired from teaching in Houston, and was focused on really getting back into pursuing my writing dreams, and working on my first manuscript. Since the first reading on that open mic I was hooked, and WNP inspired me to write a new poem every week so I would have something to share. The community lifted me, and inspired me. Bud and I got to be really close friends, and formed sort of a father/daughter relationship. He was ready to turn over the reins, and just wanted to be able to sit in the back and listen. So at the 30th anniversary in Feb 2019, Bud got down on one knee and asked me if I would “take Wednesday Night Poetry into the future.” I took over as the host, and by October of that year, unfortunately and devastatingly, Bud passed away. It was like he wanted to make sure the community was in good hands. Then the global pandemic struck, and there was no way in hell I was going to let our WNP streak break on my watch. The first week of lockdown, I called on local poets to send me a video of themselves reading a poem, I recorded one, and I posted it all on one post March 18th 2020, the same time we would have had WNP in person. And that’s how it began. I opened it up next week to poets all over the world, and over 75+ weeks virtually, over 3,500 poets from six of the seven continents have been part of the WNP virtual chorus. We helped each other survive. Every single week resonated with my core.
Getting back to live and in person last June, then having to go back to only virtual because of the rise in the Delta variant was definitely surreal. Thankfully, more people in Arkansas have FINALLY gotten vaccinated, so as of October 20th, we have been back LIVE at Kollective Coffee+Tea. I do my best to ensure safety measures are in effect. Masks are enforced. We wipe down the mic after every single poet. We try not to hug. It’s an adjustment. There is not that level of ease between each other anymore, that freedom, I think in any situation. We have all had to live in such a guarded and extremely vigilant way, in order to protect ourselves.
I have decided to still continue to hold it virtually as well, at least through the end of 2021, a hybrid of both each week. It is a lot of me to juggle, but again, it gives me purpose. For the last 70+ volumes and for the foreseeable future, I am reaching out my hand on that screen.
What I am loving is the convergence of both worlds— people who I have only known on the virtual WNP are now signing up to travel from out of state to feature in person. I think that is pretty amazing.
How are you feeling now, seeing people in person at the books signings that you have been having?
JB: Well, first I have to say, I cannot tell you what a moment of awe it was when you put your hand to the screen, or how overwhelmingly beautifully transformative that vulnerability became for all of us. You’ve changed lives and companioned us all. I felt your energy instantly, even though that seemed preposterous through pixels.
I can hardly begin to articulate how much I admire your advocacy and persistence, your inclusivity and the way you have given a space for voices that so need to be heard. I know WNP has been a touchstone and a buoy for so many, including myself.
I know it must’ve been difficult to weigh the safety of a community, but I know you trust your intuition, and I trust you. It goes back to so much of what we have talked about regarding setting an intention for our energy, and trusting in the alignment. That is my faith and guiding force in this life; I am stunned at the ways serendipity finds me again and again. My life is built on it.
KC: Oh thank you, Julie, for recognizing the responsibility I place on my shoulders, and the care, the earnest care I have for this poetry community. I am holding that intention to have you and Jane come here to Hot Springs in person one day, for us to revel in each other. Yes, my life moves through the serendipitous as well, the synchronicity and belief that the universe is always somehow conspiring to make our dreams manifest as long as we use our light for others, for the world. That magic. Have you found that in your events lately? Your readings?
JB: Readings in person have been the most bizarre mix of electric and surreal. I love that the universe saw to it that the first reading in person for Slide to Unlock was with two other Ohio poets that I adore (and one pressmate!), Ben Kline and Marianne Chan. We read in Cincinnati to launch Ben’s DEAD UNCLES, but Ben, ever in his expansive heart, insisted that Marianne and I both join in–Slide to Unlock was born March 12, 2020, and Marianne’s All Heathens just 12 days later. I would be remiss to not mention something else so significant. In releasing a book–especially a first book–in a pandemic, one never really has the sense that the birth of the book is complete. Why? We don’t experience the thrill and full circle of reading poems aloud to an in-person audience, to watch the energy of the poems visit each person listening–their verbal and non-verbal responses. We don’t get to see the poems be brought into their aura and expressions; we don’t get to witness laughter, or sigh, or pause, or contemplative gaze. We don’t get to hear personal stories after, one-on-one, to hear how the poems resonated or transformed the reader. We do not get the act of handing the book across the table, of signing while we share energy, of embracing. Given that this is my first-full length collection, I had never experienced the last layer of introducing a book to the world–reading in person. I felt as if I were finally heeding the final step of my calling, which was to give these poems, through my own energy of performance, to readers. It was heady, delightful, overwhelming, and ecstatic.
KC: Oh, Julie, that’s the best part of a book being born— reading from it in front of people! It is the full-circle, the culmination of years and years of collected thought and precise language pointed onto the page, finally hitting its intended target— the reader’s heart. And to feel that reciprocal magic and transmutation is what we poets live for! I am so excited that you finally got to feel that summit. How have your audiences responded? Is it what you imagined it would be?
JB: The audience was absolutely incredible, and the applause a music that traveled back to me and took root. We not only had a socially distant packed house; I was astounded by my childhood friends that drove in from all over Ohio to join in the celebration. Since, I have had a signing at Toledo Spirits, and a first Glass City reading (Toledo is my hometown). I was awed by how many folks showed up to both events–poets I have only met online, but also those that had never been to a poetry reading, childhood neighbors and friends, and even, to the immense delight of St. Ursula Academy alums, our high school government teacher. It was reunion and poetry and Toledo pride all rolled into one; I was glowing for weeks. But, how beautiful to at last be of service to the poems, to read them and release them, to sign books in person, to hear stories from readers, to hug them, to talk about the ways in which our boundaries of intimacy are ever in shift because of digital culture, apps, texting. I love that Slide to Unlock has raised so many questions and discussions around the impact and implication of the way communication—and our connections—have been irrevocably altered due to phones, computers, and social media. It is something I think we rarely slow enough to really see and reflect on, and now it is as if the pandemic emphasizes that we must.
KC: That is so amazing to hear, every word of it. Wow! I am so thrilled for you. I can remember these feelings so palpably from when I released my first collection PERISCOPE HEART in 2014 (shout out to Swimming With Elephants Publications)— everyone came out of the woodwork to see and support that I was now a PUBLISHED AUTHOR with a REAL book. I still remember the pride in the faces of my students in Houston, where I taught 9th and 10th grade English for a short stint. I left teaching to follow my dreams of becoming a poet. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, or what it meant in actual life, to work… as a poet. To make money… as a poet. But man, when I did a special book launch in Houston, there were HUNDREDS of people there from every facet of my life. My students were so proud. I chased my dream, and I caught it. I guess we take it sort of for granted, this whole writing life, this poetry business (PoBiz as the twitter whippersnappers call it), but is is not an easy thing to publish a book, to answer people when they ask, “so what do you do?” with “I am a poet.” And damnit we do. We are.
I still can’t believe you got Jane Hirshfield and Jericho Brown to blurb Slide to Unlock though, I can’t even! I know how much that means to have people you respect and admire so much, get behind your debut into the poetry world. Sandra Cisneros and Andrea Gibson were that for my first book, and it was like they lit a fire under my whole path. Now, I have my fourth book MINING FOR STARDUST that just came out in November (11.11) with FlowerSong Press, and I was stunned by the blurbs I received from some of my literal HEROES in the poetry world—Naomi Shihab-Nye, Ellen Bass, Juan Felipe Herrera, Richard Blanco, Minnie-Bruce Pratt, and a few others who so lovingly got behind the intention, tenderness, grit, and work of this book.
I am so thankful it is out in the world.
JB: Wow, Kai! Yes, ordering now! This sounds incredible. I love that that Naomi, Ellen, Richard and so many staggeringly talented poets are cheering you on from the back cover. Jane and Jericho are beacons, and their graciousness and generosity are a continual reminder of the true marrow of poetry, of nurturing one another in this poet’s life.
I must say, sometimes I think that is the calling of the poet too, not only to hold space on the page and within the poem–to create empathy for other realities and stories–but to also embody this in our lives as poets too. What do you think? Because I see you as taking on this mission. There is something about the writing from the raw that brings on a certain light, and those around us who need to be warmed by having someone say: I see. I am here. I companion. How you feel and what you experience is valid.
KC: Absolutely, we must embody that empathy if that is our calling, to be open and intentional poets, which we very much are. Now of course, this is not a blanket statement on poets, because just as in any art form, there is a wide and variable range of peoples’ behaviors and willingness to be vulnerable and authentic. I try to really lean into it. I lean into warmth and tenderness. There is so much darkness, Julie. So much pain and suffering. The planet is literally collapsing and burning all around us, and I cannot help but stare at the tiniest beautiful things– the milkweed pod cracking open and releasing dozens of parachuting seeds, watching patiently as 11 monarch butterflies unfold miraculously out of their jade green then black chrysalises (mind blowing), the soft sounds of my little dog snoring underfoot, my darling wife popping a tent up on the back deck so we can lay under the stars and watch the Perseid meteor shower shoot fireballs across the sky. I cannot NOT write about that. I intentionally want to share that tenderness, that warmth with anyone who will read/experience my work. Led by the tender poets before us, like Mary Oliver…
“ I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
In the jaded world, those tendencies toward the tender may seem naive, but I find it is the opposite of naive, indeed it is wisdom that plants seeds of beauty and light. Which leads me back to Jane…
Back in July, I entered a meditational period of writing every day by doing the Tupelo Press 30/30 challenge. I have done the April National Poetry Month 30/30 many times, and written in that season of Spring, but this July exercise felt so different, pulled such a deeper concentration from my being. I started with reading Jane Hirshfield’s Nine Gates every morning then watering the garden— every single day some glorious wonder was gifted to me in these moments, some life unfolding, some beauty that only MY eyes were seeing in that precise sliver of time, in the entire world. It was holy, a sacred focus, the images that were put in front of me, that I then poured into poems. Take this from Jane— “Image’s concentration, like sound’s, is a field where the energies of mind and body meet. The deepest of image’s meaning is its recognition of our continuity with the rest of existence: within a good image, outer and subjective worlds illumine one another, break bread together, converse… Keeping one foot braced in the physical and the other in the realm of inner experience, image enlivens both… In a good image, something previously unformulated (in the most literal sense) comes into the realm of the expressed. Without precisely this image, we feel, the world’s store of truth would be diminished; and conversely when a writer brings into language a new image that is fully right, what is knowable of existence expands.”
It became even more my purpose, to expand that existence.
JB: Oh that’s lovely! It makes me think of that beautiful interview between Judy Ireland and Jane, ( https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BF27swchn5A ) where Jane says, ”We must develop a ripened psyche as a human being, somehow learn the courage of exposing our own perceptions. Authority, authenticity, and author all share a taproot syllable, and this is the courage to see with your own eyes.” She also says, “The work of poetry is the conjuring of empathy for all beings, understanding our connection is built into the craft of poetry, the techniques of poetry. To make a poem is a way to experience life with greater intensity, authenticity, depth–a saturation of both emotion and intellect–heart, mind, and spirit. A poem expands the vocabulary of existence.” And how I love that. Jane lives and writes in the vocabulary of existence; I would like to think it is what I strive for as a poet, and I have a sense that is absolutely in alignment for you too.
Speaking of, I was utterly captivated and in awe by your writing process for the Tupelo 30/30 challenge. I am especially moved by the *how* of how that comes to you, and the range of poems you create—from love poems inspired by your dear Joann, to the bumblebees and milkweed seedpods, to the signs loved ones leave after departure, to your poems of advocacy. Can you share with me a bit about your process? How do you compose? Longhand or computer? Do you write as daily practice? How does editing factor in? I read somewhere the other day that poets are too exhaustively asked about their process of composition, but I disagree. As a poet that incorporates meditation and periods of marination into the poem creation, it is a source of intrigue to me how other poets navigate it. I suppose too, that this is born of the fact that I tend to be very slow not only in composing, but especially in editing and revising. (Have I mentioned to you that Slide to Unlock was a decade in the making?) Most of my poems start longhand, in an Ecojot spiral notebook and with a Pilot G-2 .38 pen. I am exceedingly specific. I loved the issue that Poets and Writers (Jan/Feb 2021) did a few months back on poets and notebooks. I instantly felt at home because this too, is how I create. My notebooks contain poem drafts, journal reflections, poem ideas I want to go back to, notes from readings and lectures I have attended, as well as notes on books I am reading. However, being that I am as tactile and sensory as I am–Earth sign–they also contain unexpected bits of ephemera that inspire or ground me: receipts and tickets might not be too surprising, but there are also wine labels, a tiny stamped brass leaf that I came across while walking, voting stickers, a pandemic mask, even a fabric swatch from the rhinestone fishnet stockings from that first in-person in Cincinnati in June. They were so delicate they were only meant to be worn once, a metaphor too in the venturing out. Memory for me is sensory.
KC: I love those details of your process so much. We are all so different and particular. For me, my writing is very image driven— something will materialize before me and I just know that I have to write about it. Or it could be a line or phrase that I make, and I turn it over and over and over. And the poem doesn’t start longhand or with little notes. It lives in my head and in my heart. It marinates in the ethereal space inside me, working itself, becoming tangible, making connections, tying the metaphor of it to something else perhaps, some previously unattached insight. All in my head. Then, by the time I sit down to the computer, it just pours out onto the page. I feel like letting it be in this non-tangible space for a while marries it to a collective consciousness that art is, the collective energy of what poems have the capacity to become. I leave the ego, and write with a pure heart, and sometimes the most infinitely beautiful things come “through” my fingers typing that I had not even perceived would come into the poem. What is already true, universal. I also play with sonics, hear the sounds of internal rhyme, assonance, and the musicality of the poem while I am writing. A lot of my editing happens there, in the moment, as I first sing the poem out into realness. I am not a constant editor, or someone who continuously picks apart a poem until it loses its meaning. I try to leave the energy intact, the lightning bolt image of beauty or that fiery rage against some injustice— I want that initial awe, wonder, power, truth to always remain.
So, maybe we should start wrapping up this lovely exchange— I could talk to you endlessly!Anything more you want to say about Slide to Unlock? Remind me of the updates? Are you working on anything new? I saw on Facebook that you are editing a lot of new poems— is there another collection brewing?
JB: Slide to Unlock has been shown so much kindness it leaves me without words. Have I ever shared with you how stunned I was by folks that bought two copies–one to keep and one to share? Or how many people bought copies as a surprise to send onto loved ones? Or that an editor took an extra copy to leave in Ireland–to be found by a stranger–and that I later heard from the young artist that found it and began a correspondence with her? These are the stories that leave me stunned–the way folks embraced this book and made sure it got into the world, even in the unexpected channels.
These are the stories that truly touch the tender in us, that people are always thinking in kindness even when we least expect it. Slide to Unlock was born March 12, 2020. I mentioned before that it was a decade in the writing, a time frame I think was necessary because of how and what it navigates—our ever-shifting perceptions of intimacy in our increasingly digital culture. The book plays on tech language and virtual ways of keeping “in touch,” but it also explores our relationships and desire by traversing through forms of communication: email, text, handwritten letters, phone calls. And yet, there is a narrative arc too, and forays into my obsession with the ekphrastic, and of course, love letters to place, especially my hometown of Toledo, but also Venice, Paris, London, to name a few. But that I worked on this book–so rooted in ‘touch without touch”–and that it came into the world in a pandemic? It was so eerie and unsettling. And yet, I believe the book chose its timing. So many readers confess they feel a sense of companioning in their social isolation because of the subjects that Slide to Unlock explores. And that leaves me incredibly humbled and grateful. There was a lot of pain and trauma that drove the creating of Slide to Unlock–in fact, there may be a memoir in that though I am not sure I wish to write it—but it was always my hope that all of the wounds that led to the poems alchemized to become something beautiful, and life-affirming.
However, I do not want to undermine–ever–all of those that went above and beyond to virtually amplify books and writers in the pandemic. The list is long, but I have been gobsmacked by the work and love that has gone into so many online events and series. I immediately think of Dustin Brookshire’s Wild and Precious Life Series, of Jason Myers and Travis Helms over at LOGOS, of Malaika King Albrecht and Redheaded Stepchild, of the Talking Gourds Poetry Series, Read it Again Books, of Georgia Center for the Book, of Theresa Davis with Java Monkey’s virtual Open Mic, and of course, you with Wednesday Night Poetry. So many books have gone so far and gotten to so many readers because of all of the digital curation that bloomed during the pandemic. There is just not enough gratitude for all of the vision, long hours, and passion that went into all of it.
And yes! Slide to Unlock updates! Staggeringly, it was one of two poetry collections chosen statewide (the other is Beth Gylys’ Body Braille, so stunning, you must read it!) as A 2021 Book All Georgians Should Read by Georgia Center for the Book. A high honor for a debut collection. I am also the 2021 Finalist in Poetry for Georgia Author of the Year. Fifteen poets were nominated; Carlos Andrés Gómez was chosen as the winner; I was chosen as the finalist. So, that Slide to Unlock has been so recognized and so loved by the Georgia community has been extremely humbling. I am awestruck.
KC: This is so amazing, Julie! I love that STU has gotten into the hands and hearts of so many people, and that the acclaim is continuing to come to you in waves. So well deserved after the labor of putting it together with such precision and intention. HUGE congratulations, sister!
And what is in the works?
JB: I am working with a pell mell sense of intensity on what I believe are now two separate manuscripts. I did some writing in my beloved Toledo this summer, and in residency at VCCA this fall. A few other projects are on the horizon: I have gleefully signed on as Associate Editor for South Carolina Review. Gordon Van Ness is releasing a new James Dickey literary biography in the spring; we have been back and forth with interviews over the years and it has been a joy to add to the legacy. I will be doing online workshops in the spring, featuring a series on generative work that taps into the intersection of meditation and verse composition, including one for Hudson Valley Writers Workshop. And stay tuned for some big Dolly Parton news in January 2022!
What are you pouring energy into right now, besides shining all of your stars at scores of virtual events I am sure?!
KC: Well, yes, I am definitely fully engaged in singing this book of stars to any audience of hearts who will hear me. I am so thankful to my publisher at FlowerSong Press, Edward Vidaurre, for being so easy to work with, and for giving me such agency in this book’s fruition. That mutual trust we have for each other is not always so easy to find in the PoBiz. I have been very lucky in my publishing journey so far— the four different small presses have all had heart-centered people at the helm. I am just so thankful to all the reading venues, bookstores, colleges, and online series’ out there who have already filled up my dance card for months to come.
And not to let the cat out of the poetic bag, but I am working on my fifth book right now, a manuscript of eco-poems very focused on the intricacies of the natural world, and how they can heal the soul and psyche after such a traumatic time we have all experienced together in this pandemic shift. The 30 poems I wrote with Tupelo and others with the same energy, are earmarked for that horizon. As you know, my wife Joann is a Master Naturalist, so this is also an homage to her, and the care and attention she gives to the natural world all around us. She even made our home a registered federal Wildlife Sanctuary. She has painted the covers for all of my books (except MINING FOR STARDUST, the universe painted that one, which still seems perfect to say). So for this book of eco-poems, I can’t wait to see what manifests from her boundless imagination.
Leave us with some lasting thoughts, Julie. Perhaps on how you find center within yourself?
JB: How do I center myself? Meditation has become a vital part of my life and mental health. When I speak of meditation, I speak of various forms. Sometimes this can be being in a meditative state, creating a circuit of energy within the body to ground oneself. Try this. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Place one hand over your heart and your other hand over a part of your body that is calling to you–maybe you are feeling tension in your head, or in your belly. Place that hand over this space, creating a circuit of energy. Often I will do this while lying in a fetal position, paying attention only to breathwork and box breathing, as well as staying utterly present. Part of meditation for me is prayer, spoken silently or aloud. Some of my meditative practice is chanting Om with a Mala–yes, 108 times consecutively– some is manifestation and visualization work. I also believe that what we speak to the universe aligns energy with us, and that too is integral for me. Some is energy work where I do rituals to cut cords of energy and past patterns that no longer serve me. Taking classes with The Tantra Institute of New York, reading Ernest Holmes and Eugen Herrigal, and following practitioners such as Robert Grey (@Robert_Grey) on Instagram have been instrumental in maintaining better consistency in my practice.
During the pandemic, I spent a lot of time teaching myself to do better at holding space, not only for myself, but for others. And I am really only just beginning. I also began revisiting some family systems/inner child work, where one sees ones thoughts, emotions, and perceptions as a temporary character, showing up to share a message. I began questioning the reoccurring thoughts I had, emotions I would go to without asking myself why, spending time with my knee-jerk responses and social conditioning. It is work that is glorious in its exhaustion, but when you become attuned in this way, you start being able to move through emotion and work with it, versus feeling hijacked by a past self or past pattern. You also begin to see where you sabotage your success out of fear. This highly personal and internal work had another mission in mind though–to teach classes where I invite poets into a creative space where we spend time with meditation and the subconscious as an avenue to generate new work. We all have certain dreams, are drawn to certain places and images, haunted by specific metaphors, captivated by specific colors, forms of music, shapes, works of art, geographic locations. There are reasons for this that trace back to our very early selves—and our ancestors!—and I am continually amazed by what giving space to that energy can mean for creation.
We are all divine, and part of what I believe we are called to do is to bring out our divinest sense— not only in how we create, but in how we show up in the world.
KC: Divine. Yes. Yes. Yes.
Kai Coggin (she/her) is the author of four poetry collections, most recently MINING FOR STARDUST (FlowerSong Press 2021) and INCANDESCENT (Sibling Rivalry Press 2019). She is a queer woman of color who thinks Black Lives Matter, a teaching artist in poetry with the Arkansas Arts Council, and the host of the longest running consecutive weekly open mic series in the country—Wednesday Night Poetry. Recently awarded the 2021 Governor’s Arts Award and named “Best Poet in Arkansas” by the Arkansas Times, her fierce and powerful poetry has been nominated four times for The Pushcart Prize, as well as Bettering American Poetry 2015, and Best of the Net 2016 and 2018. Her poems have appeared in POETRY, Cultural Weekly, SOLSTICE, Bellevue Literary Review, Entropy, SWWIM, and elsewhere. Coggin is Associate Editor at The Rise Up Review. She lives with her wife and their two adorable dogs in the valley of a small mountain in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas. www.kaicoggin.com
Order signed copies of MINING FOR STARDUST – https://www.kaicoggin.com/mining-for-stardust
Julie E. Bloemeke (she/her/hers) is the 2021 Georgia Author of the Year Finalist for Poetry. Her debut full-length collection Slide to Unlock (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2020) was also chosen as a 2021 Book All Georgians Should Read, one of only two poetry collections selected statewide for the honor. Currently an associate editor for South Carolina Review, she also recently served as co-editor for the Dolly Parton tribute issue of Limp Wrist Magazine and was a finalist for the Telluride Institute’s 2020 Fischer Prize. Her poems, essays, and interviews have appeared in numerous publications including Writer’s Chronicle, Prairie Schooner, Cortland Review, Gulf Coast, EcoTheo Review, South Dakota Review, and others. A 2021 fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, she teaches online workshops and is a freelance writer, editor, and guest lecturer. To learn more: https://www.jebloemeke.com
Slide to Unlock available here: