Yoga Pants, Tiger Leaping Gorge & the Art of Overwhelming: A Conversation with Editors & Introducing Our New Readers

Molly: The first time I sat down at this laptop to create a conversation that would take the place of the editor’s letter, it was June 2014 and there were only two of us, hoping to goodness we were doing the right thing. Now our dear Brett is a contributing editor, and I’m so glad she’s managing things like our Twitter feed and soliciting some of those folks she has poetic connections to.

It’s exciting to change. As hard as saying good-bye to Brett has been for me, as I think of us as a team for certain (now, we will team up to conquer one another’s poems in writing group), it’s wonderful, too, to find ourselves in need of a new line-up to take on the growth that has occurred at Tinderbox Poetry Journal. Before, it was just two women and a magazine. Now, it’s a team with many members. I’m now Editor-in-Chief, so when I type these conversations I wear my fancy yoga pants, and Jenn has taken over the running of the poetry submissions. Congratulations, Jenn!

Jenn: Oh! Fancy yoga pants must be our team uniform, as I’m wearing mine as Poetry Editor!–a position I’m absolutely in love with because it means I get to say yes to so many gorgeous, haunting poems that get me in the gut and stick with me long after I’ve stopped reading. Warrior pose! Our submission inbox is growing as Tinderbox continues to grow, filled with powerful work from emerging and established poets, and so much strong and necessary work from poets of color, women, and the LGBT community. What a glorious time to get to read and edit poetry. But as our inbox fills up with this immense and urgent work, we’ve found that we need to keep growing as a team of readers so that we can continue with our goal of a relatively quick response time. I’m outrageously excited that our team now includes Saara Myrene Raappana and Nandini Dhar, both of whom are smart, empathetic, talented poets themselves.

Molly: I’m thrilled to introduce them to our readers. A little bit about each:
Saara @ Shitou-1

Saara Myrene Raappana is the author of the chapbook Milk Tooth, Levee, Fever (Dancing Girl Press, 2015), with poems forthcoming or published in such publications as Blackbird, Linebreak, [PANK], Subtropics, and Vinyl Poetry and Prose. She was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in southern China, and works for Motionpoems. For more, go to

Nandini Dhar is the author of the chapbook Lullabies Are Barbed Wire Nations (Two of Cups Press, 2015). Her poems and stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Puertro del Sol, Tusculum Review, Southern Humanities Review, Moon City Review and elsewhere. Nandini hails from Kolkata, India and works as an Assistant Professor of English at Florida International University. She also co-edits the journal Elsewhere with fiction writer Dena Afrasiabi.

Jenn: Tell us about yourselves, Saara and Nandini! What do our readers need to know?

Saara: I like ice fishing and grapefruit and cats (though not at the same time). I know a lot about Star Trek (for a non-Trekkie/er), pre-Load Metallica, and true crime. I hiked Tiger Leaping Gorge once (turns out hiking a gorge necessarily involves hiking up a mountain, so that was a fun surprise). In the umbrella picture, I’m in Shitou, Guizhou, China, which is a tiny village in one of China’s least-developed provinces that doubles as a vacation spot for adventurous French people, so the coffee there is *way* better than one expects coffee in an isolated Chinese village to be. To get there, I had to take a train and then a bus and then walk for a few miles. One of the prettiest places I’ve ever been, and I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of places.

Nandini: I tend to write my poems two lines at a time, often without thinking about line-breaks. That comes later, when I am revising them. I cannot function without coffee, love both early mornings and late nights. The landscape of South Florida (where I live eight months every year), in a strange kind of a way, reminds me of the landscape I grew up with: the estuarine landscape of the southernmost tips of the city Kolkata (Calcutta), a city in the eastern parts of India. I believe in staring hard at the world. And I also believe staring is what we are doing, as poets and writers and artists. I also believe in the feeling of being overwhelmed. Because, I find, it’s when I am overwhelmed, that I ask the hardest questions. As a result, I also believe in the art of overwhelming.

Molly: I’ve appreciated your voices being added to our editorial conversations. What I love most is that Jenn has suggested we also share some of your poems with our readers so we can get a taste of your own voices:


Winter Correspondence

Demeter to Persephone

You pulled that man up like a root—snake-limbed, sulfuric, old
—and followed him down south, foolish as a thresher tilling snow.

I wrist-tested sunlight, microwaved Lake Superior in a bowl.
Still, your toes grew icicles. He offered rugs that melted snow.

You write, call me a chainsaw. True, when I try to coo, I growl.
But saplings don’t run when groves rumble. They sprinkle leaves like snow.

Winter’s my new daughter. In our kitchen, sleet blows.
No lust can smolder hot enough to soften her bricks of snow.

I soak cod in birch-ash, won’t eat. I toss lutefisk to crows
and shiver. I cough up blizzards, spreading viruses of snow.

I do jumping jacks lying down: my second go at molding
angels. Both times, dear girl, I’ve failed. I’ve just built walls of snow.

For you, I’d drive as far as I could go, tire chains groaning road
to road, but I fear your trail’s gone cold. It died in drifts of snow.

Persephone to Demeter

Your e-mail says you’ve chilled the tussock sedge, taught it not to grow,
that the bowsaw of you, Mother, carves angels from hard-packed snow.

You grew me like your pear tree: boughs split, espaliered in rows
like candelabras. My elbows shook in sleeves as crisp as snow.  

Crowned in sweat and DEET, I herd mothers’ souls. They pluck “loves me / not”
from asphodel. Dunes of lonely petals shroud my feet like snow.  

They say your new child’s frigid, throws fits—flops to the ground and groans
no matter how your twilight skirts shush across her cheeks of snow.

I wish I’d met my winter sister. We’d make forts of pillows
and fjords. But if I’m home, she’ll vanish like dimes dropped in snow.

You say my love’s a combine that tries to throttle grain from snow.   
It’s true: though wheat frosts over, love works that field down to its bones.

I dial your number, Mama. I tap Morse Code into the phone.
I just hear static. Your lines are down. They died in drifts of snow.

first published in Subtropics, Spring 2013

A Moth

For two days, she, drenched
     in sunlight’s endless,
               miniscule amendments,
rested and rimpled
     like threadbare, piebald
               folds of mesh sifting

through the everglades.
     I’ve no clue why I
               stepped on her and then

assumed she’d died when,
     instead, she’d moored herself
               in a guise of death,

as if inside some
     couture dress, hand sewn
               so arabesquely

you forget there’s
     any woman in it.
               I, couchside, chewed

fresh dates, downloading apps
     for keeping track of coupons,
               perps who confessed on

SVU, and actions
     you can’t go back on,
               such as when, above

the bayou, you dangled
     your niece’s army doll,
               blinked, and then let go.

When one antennae,
     then a leg flittered
               in no millimeter’s

worth of wind, my conscience
     churned like a current
               damned by narcissistic

ballast, or maybe just
     by chance, to wash,
               day after minnowed

day, the gorgeous
     face of evidence.

First published in Milk Tooth, Levee, Fever (Dancing Girl Press, 2015)



When We’re Free, We’re Free

A moment is an old aluminum bowl, squatting down to eat. A volunteer in a relief-camp. Scooping up a spoonful of khichuri. Consistency like water. Yellow like shit. A fly in the bowl. Dip your fingers. Catch the fly in between them. Toss it out. Now continue to eat whatever is left.

Survival: cutting such moments into two, shoving them under the bed. Arrive at a moment by treading on many more moments. Home is a wall closing on another wall. Home is a disease. Home is a stamped passport. Home is a denied visa. Home is a chronic ailment. Memories of unrecorded famines, a fishbone sucked dry. Broken between old men’s teeth – the last remnants of nourishment. Re-draw the map of a nation. Make a list of its diseases. A historical geography of its ailments, afflictions and non-cures. A human body is an archive. Of stories, memories. And diseases. Re-draw the map of a nation through its diseases.

My sister Tombur and I were born into the knowledge that every bit of our skins preserve the memories of past afflictions, and we start sucking each others’ thumbs. Only if we could spit-erase the maps of past maladies that way. When we wouldn’t stop even when we reached the age of four, our mother began to dip our fingers in bottle fulls of kalmegh. We stopped. Because kalmegh was bitter. More bitter than neem leaves. More bitter than bitter gourd. More bitter than our mother’s wrath. We soon invented other strategies – chewing our own hair, biting nails, throwing water on cats – to try her patience. But we were forever cut off from the legacy of chronic diarrhea which plagues almost everyone else in our family and neighborhood. We are the citizens of a free and brimming nation. One that has bypassed the two and half generations before us.

                                    first published in PANK

Love Song That Broke Me Into Two

An insomniac clings to the soot-black dawn: the silhouette
of a star emblazened on the glass of the window-sill.

I am learning to uncurate the fate you chose for your very own
private museum: a dying metropolis, the empty strip-club,

the closed-off factory ground. A shared anthology of loss
and tears, compiled out of words that can never be formed

into poems. A crawl through the walkways of this language
fashioned out of machine-woven panties, the disfigured

harmonium, the tuneless rally-chant: we are yet
undecided about the musical instrument of our choice.

To save you from disappearance, I am staring. Staring
at how the city chisels its own fingers from the carfumes.

These blisters in between your toes: incurable, insistent.
Blisters that refuse to metaphor. A philanthropist is carving

the city’s poets. He has borrowed his chisels from a merchant
of yore. This is the drought-brown grass that survives

at the crevices of the public monuments. And you’re scattering
anecdotes in the hairs of a five-year old little girl. Scattering

anecdotes, because you’re refusing to buy your own metaphors.
Scattering, because you do not want to lose your stories in the salt.

                            first published in Red Paint Hill

Molly: Welcome, welcome, and enjoy the first issue of Tinderbox Poetry Journal in 2016. We have so much to share with you this year.

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 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.