Magical Unicorns and Next Year’s Barbaric LAWP: A Conversation Between the Editors

Brett: HAPPY SPRING! My body is finally convinced that freezing cold is not imminent. That, coupled with the recent AWP conference, and I’m feeling on top of the world. I’m writing poems again, and reading books again (!!), and I feel like the ice floes are running their way out. I was so glad we connected (even if briefly) at AWP; everybody was running around like crazy. Is there anything you saw or went to that particularly inspired you this year?

Molly: Oh, Brett, there was so much goodness at AWP. I think the most important thing I want to say right now is: I (definitively) got my poetry mojo back! It’s been about a year since I was really feeling connected (and when I disconnect from writing, then I end up picking up needles of some sort–knitting, a spindle, sewing, felting, maybe a wooden spoon to jab the dye pot, so I don’t stop making), and this is the longest it has vanished since it has mattered so much to me. So it was nice to walk through those doors at the Minneapolis Convention Center, a home-court kind of experience–I remember bringing my year-old daughter there to watch a good friend in roller derby! Maya had a onesie that said “Tulip Crusher” for her derby name and her number was 42 because that was her grand total of labor hours. I can’t decide which moment was my favorite: I ran into a great number of people I had known from editing here, from a poet mom listserv, from the binders on Facebook, and from in person connections like folks from my MFA program, people I’ve read with, or gone to Bread Loaf or Palm Beach Poetry Festival or the Loft mentorship program… Walking through the bookfair and stopping at every other booth, either because I recognized someone or someone recognized me. So much hugging! So much gratefulness for all the beautiful words in this world!

B: Yes, my huggin’ arms got a workout, too!

M: I remember the second panel I went to, which was on the Marie Alexander Series out of White Pine Press, a series that focuses on prose poetry, how I love the lyric essay and the hybrid work and the genrelessness, and I hustled down to their table to buy a stack of their books (when I swore I wouldn’t buy any books this year–what a joke!) and saw Roxane Gay womanning the PANK table, and, you know, swoon. So just two hours in, and already AWP was the spinning, whirling entity that it is. So many more things! Like how Lidia Yukinovitch had her audience singing a choral “IIIIIIIIIIIII!” and Melissa Febos read a piece about loving one’s navel, how my own reading at Gamut Studio went really well not because of the usual readings (oh, thank goodness I didn’t fall on my face) but because all of the other readers were so magical that I was entranced the whole while (no chance to get nervous!). I mean, there were hard bits too–like I didn’t make it into the one panel I had circled and drew hearts around (you know the one, the Biss-Rankine-Nelson-Jamison one on lyric essays, though I heard rumors it was being recorded) and I got some news that startled me about past actions of mentors that made me really blue. I don’t know. It’s such a, well, gamut, isn’t it?

B: It really is a gamut–a gauntlet, even. At least that’s what the bookfair feels like! I went to so many readings (I don’t think I actually went to any panels???), saw so many people, and bought so many books! I think my favorite moment of the whole conference was the Beloit Poetry Journal 65th anniversary reading with TJ Jarrett, Jenny Johnson, Ocean Vuong, and Douglas Kearney. There were several points in the reading where I felt like my body was being electrified (in a good way!), and a few moments in which the entire audience was literally weeping together. It was like a church service, basically, is what I”m saying.

There were also so many great offsite readings and events! I was so happy to get to go to the dance party, RHYTHM, hosted by the Revolver Magazine crew (it was in a real mansion!) and lucky to host a fabulous crew of writers at the Maeve’s Cafe reading in Northeast. (Kelin Loe has magical unicorns hopping out of her hair.) I’m still riding the high of the whole weekend. What are your plans now that it’s back to Life As Usual?

M: Do you think they recorded that Beloit reading? Every time you mention it, I want to cry that I missed it, though I don’t really regret the way I spent any of my time in those 72 hours. My days were shorter, but I started with 9:00 AM panels each day, and I commuted home, so diaper duty awaited. It kind of knocked me around mentally, which is what I heard from a lot of people who are from around here, particularly those with kids or teaching gigs going on–we could always stop at the office, we could always read another bedtime story. My husband had suggested I get a hotel room, but I figured the more pennies I save with this AWP, the likelier I’ll get out to LA next year, which is where my press is located.

Life As Usual. Is it ever? It’s weird because I’m the sort of person who loves the concept of routine but needs to be bullied into one. I think just amping up what I’d let go quiet: reading the slush, participating in forums, writing reviews, working on that darn manuscript. I’m looking forward to a class on love poems at the end of the month at the Loft Literary Center with Rebecca Lindenberg.

B: I’m so jealous you’ll be taking that class! I wanted to do it so badly, but ended up paying Uncle Sam a metric assload of money this year, so I’m being a Good Person and not spending. My hope is to make it to AWP in L.A. next year, too! (LAWP?)

My life is back to the grind now that the writers have all gone away: teaching, grading freshman essays, reading Tinderbox submissions (!), yoga-ing away the residual wine haze from AWP, drinking way too much coffee, and trying to nurture that tiny flame that is still blazing after last weekend.

M: Sound your barbaric LAWP! Yes, the frenzy of panel-planning has begun, and I’m loving what I’m hearing. I think it would be smart to point out how there are so many other literary festivals going on between these massive ones. This summer I’ll be headed to Iowa to present on a panel on motherhood and poetics for the North American Review Conference. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my friend Jessamyn Smith’s Quest Writer’s Conference, also in June.

B: There’s so much to dig into. I also can’t believe that in June we will turn one year old! So we have that to look forward to.

M: Each issue gives me shivers. Each time I re-read a poem we took, that someone trusted us with, I feel so lucky. I feel so grateful we started talking a year ago about doing this big thing, starting a journal. This issue, we have blackout erasure poems, we have new poems from a poet we featured in our first issue, we have a section of a hybrid epistolary novel / poem by Laynie Browne, and so many gorgeous, gorgeous poems in between. I’m so proud to bring these poems to a broader audience, to share them with our readers, and I look forward to our second year with so much anticipation and passion. Thank you, Brett, for being my partner in this. I’m so grateful.

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.