Ciona Rouse (Poet Interview)

I had the great pleasure of interviewing a friend and an amazing poet based in Nashville, TN, Ciona Rouse. Ciona is a beautiful example of living poetry, and she is a great champion for fellow poets in the Nashville community and beyond. Her first chapbook was recently published by Third Man Books.  I wanted to talk with her about writing, inspiration, and going through seasons of creative drought. I was not disappointed by her ability to inspire or her honest love for words.

What was the first thing that made you want to put words onto the page and call it poetry?

My teacher in fifth grade guided us through several exercises with verbs and adjectives and then invited us to write a poem. I knew poetry, as my mother always talked about Langston Hughes, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Gwendolyn Brooks to me, but I think this might have been my first attempt at writing a poem. I wrote a poem about fireworks: Dancing angels go withering by / carrying a banner across the jet black sky / Listen to the whistle of their banners as the wind blows. There’s more, but that’s all I remember. I think back on that now and recall being so excited that I could make a magnificent thing (fireworks) into another magnificent thing (angels) with just words! Oh, the magic!

What are the benefits/blessings of hosting poetry events vs. sharing your own poetry and the other way around?

I think poetry should be a part of the daily dialogue of people. It is for me, as I’m a poet who’s found her poet people. But I want it to be that way for the poet who feels lonely in her poet thoughts. I want it to be for those who don’t think poetry matters to them and for those who just don’t think about poetry at all. I want it to be that way for the small child who believes he is “allergic to poetry,” as a little boy said at the start of a class I taught once. I want them, like this little boy, to then scream, “Noooo!” when I call time and say to put the pencil down. So I simply believe poetry is in the world, and I want to curate beautiful spaces to share it–whether that’s with my own work on the page or a stage or in giving other people an opportunity to share their work. Both are important to me and, hopefully, both create avenues for poetry to enter people’s lives and their conversations. I also love hosting poetry events because it helps me surround myself with good poetry often. When I didn’t have a poetry community in Nashville, I created these events, knowing only a handful of poets who could read at them. Now I have a great world of poet people to call my family.

How do you choose to write something as a poem rather than an essay, short story, blog, memoir, etc.?

Well, poetry is my primary writing genre these days. It’s the medium my body most responds to. When a poem speaks to me, it’s often punching me in the gut, tingling my spine, tensing my shoulders. So when I’m diving into the tendrils of my curiosities, it makes sense for me to embody them in poetic form. I rarely write much else these days. I’m exploring the haibun form, though, which begins with a prose poem that I think of as an “essayette,” if I may borrow Ross Gay’s lingo. Then it ends with a haiku.

What influences you as a writer in this season of your life?

I currently have 18 books right next to me within arm’s length; at least ¾ of them are poetry. So I’m most influenced by my teachers–all of these poets whose work challenge me. One of them is a nonfiction book about Prince. Artists who are wild and experimental and fiercely in love with their art inspire me, like Prince, Heath Ledger, Carrie Mae Weems, Nick Cave. I like to read about, watch films about these people and their craft, as well. James Baldwin influences my life and, hopefully, much of the nation right now as we address racial relations. Anything that impacts my life, impacts my writing. The eclipse. That moment of community & light & moon blessed me so much. I keep putting that moment back on my body; I can’t wait to see how I might wear it in my writing.

Do you go through seasons of deprivation or resistance creativity wise? How do you combat or deal with those? Or let go of those?

You know, I used to hit seasons of deprivation quite a lot. I felt empty and self-deprecating and would always judge myself for not writing. I finally realize it’s ok because I’ve finally figured out that all of it is poetry. All of my moving and being in the world is a part of the process. So what I’m reading and what I’m eating is part of the poetry. What I’m writing and what I’m avoiding are all a part of the process. Whether I’m on the page or not, I’m learning how to still be in the poem, to still embody poetry. I think it helps that even if I don’t write ferociously every day, I’m at a place where I do read every day. And when I read every day, I always go into myself and pluck out words or images that find their way to a page. So I do write something each day that lends itself to poetry. That’s all we really must do: show up to life every day, seek to be better humans. Poetry makes me a better human. It’s less about what I’m producing and more about who I choose to be each day.

Where is your favorite place to write? A place that makes you feel your most creative self? (Can be a room, a state, a writing retreat, etc.)

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, is still my favorite place to write. Mary Oliver has a poem about the place, actually. Neal Cassady died there. The food, the daily sounds of cannons and children playing, the evening mezcal, the way it takes only two days before you’ve met just about everyone in the community: it’s all magic. Someone says the places is built on quartz. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s a myth that’s not hard to believe. I can’t wait to return there.

What would you tell a writer who is experiencing discouragement about their gift? What most speaks encouragement into your life where your gifts are concerned?

You’re not the only artist who feels this way. Don’t get lonely in that feeling. I wanted to throw up the week my chapbook released. I wanted to take it all back. I am grateful for other poet people who tell me, “Yes, I’ve felt this way, too.” I would also tell them that there are so many paths. Trust that. Just a little over a year ago, I felt like I’d never get my work out there. I felt the weight of multiple rejections and kept saying, “Well, if these paths aren’t working, maybe I’m not supposed to be a poet.” I talked myself out of that emotion, though, and kept writing. I kept creating and surrounding myself with teachers. I kept showing up each day to be in poetry, which means to be more human. And I walked through doors that somehow started opening. Now I look back at dejected me of last year and am grateful that she’s stronger than she thinks she is.

What is the importance of story? Do you believe sharing our stories can heal?

Well, everything is ultimately mystery. We pretend to understand so much, but humans are mystery. Life and what’s next is mystery. We have only our experiences and the experiences we’re willing to take in from others–and even those stories aren’t always set in stone. Story is our way of getting closer to making sense of that which we’ll never fully comprehend. Metaphors can be healing. Seeing yourself in a story can be healing. Opening to someone else’s story is necessary and can be healing. We can’t get trapped or stuck in our idea of story, though, because all of it must give way to mystery. Story is important. But I think questioning even our own story is more important. Share it, question it, dive into the mystery. I think of poetry as more curiosity than storytelling. Even if I tell a personal story or a persona story in a poem, I’m entering into that memory or idea with questions and curiosity if I’m writing the poem well.

Is there a person or experience you’ve never written about that you just can’t quite touch yet?

There’s probably something, surely. I have many more poems in me. But I do try to write about it all. That being said, I don’t always share those poems, though. My aunt died a year ago, and I’ve written several poems about her death. None of them have found skin in the world yet, though. I have shared a few of those harder poems about my mother, and she especially hates them. I’m still learning how to do this well. I recognize that people have many angles to them. One poem may only capture one or two of those angles, and that may seem unfair to her (or to my father or sister or whomever may show up in the poem). I hope that she and others might see the body of my work and recognize that I see them and honor their many selves even as I honor my story and give into the mystery of my known experience.

Why did you desire to work on and put out a chapbook at this time in your journey?

Truly, the doors opened at just the right time, so I walked through. I’m grateful. But I definitely decided at the end of 2015 and wrote down that I did want to be more brave about getting my work out into the world. I had no idea how it would manifest, and I have loved the process of making Vantablack.

Tell me about the title of the chapbook.

Vantablack is the blackest black ever created by humans. It absorbs 99.965% of light. My goodness, it’s a fascinating substance! I could stare at it for hours. And I also couldn’t help but think about how this substance mimics a blackbody in the universe, and we laud and praise it. While human black bodies are not as celebrated. That gave way to the title poem of the chapbook, which I wrote a few years ago when the substance was created. It’s fitting as a title because I do write a lot about black bodies, including my body. I also address some darker things in my life, in the lives of people I’ve encountered over the years. Even the love poems have some darker aspects to them. Sometimes going into those seemingly darker places can be glorious.

Which poem was the most difficult to write in the book/which was the most healing?

My sister’s baby died only a few hours after she was born. I write a lot of poems to that sweet little girl, AJ. “There’s so much I want to tell you” is probably the most difficult one to share, not to write. I played Miles Davis and explored my curiosities, so there was a flow about it. But it’s so close to me–the pain of losing her, to love a person so much and never have touched her. It’s difficult. And it’s difficult to share since it’s also my sister’s story.

As for most healing, “On the Sidewalk of Troy, TN, 1904” is probably the one most healing to write. I pushed my normal tone and cadence and sought to connect with a man I never knew but who seems to represent a Black Everyman in America (and around the world, as white supremacy does not belong to the U.S. alone). I read a story by Thomas J. Pressly, whose parents told him about this man whom the people of Troy tried to lynch in 1904. Pressly’s parents helped him escape to Kentucky; they don’t know his fate after then. I like to think he got free. But I think of this poem as recognizing the power of owning your humanity even if others are trapped in not seeing you. We must see all humans as humans. And to not see another human as a human is really the most terrible of prisons. His freedom is in recognizing it in himself and claiming humanity even though the law didn’t allow it. The white girl on the sidewalk is the one trapped, lynching herself in a terrible lie. It’s unfortunate that a poem about lynching is relevant today. But a lot of White America still needs to be set free from this.

How do you approach readings? Do you like the connection with an audience vs. the solidarity that is involved in doing the work?

I’m comfortable sharing my work aloud even though I’m not a performance poet, per se. But I think poetry should be read and should be heard. And that people should get sticky/messy in it. I keep trying to think of ways to have people interact with the poems more at the readings. I’ve tried a few things and still seeking the best way. There’s so much about line breaks and sound in poetry, so some of those nuances can be lost in readings, but I like the challenge of still allowing the poem to have a life on a stage that might be different on the page.

Are poets still changing the world?

Yes. Absolutely. On the page, yes. Definitely. And I am also always made better by the way my poet friends and teachers move through the world.

What was the most challenging thing about putting this collection together?

My friend Tiana Clark said to me that I need to think of the chapbook as its own one poem. That was helpful advice to overcome a challenge of mine. Because some of these poems were written years ago and others are fresher, I had a way of writing and editing years ago that is different today. Even just how I placed the poem on the page was different. So my editor would suggest changing, say, the capitalization of a poem, and I was so hesitant. It had always been a lower-cased poem; that seemed important when I wrote it that way. Once I recognized the chapbook, though, as its own whole piece, I was able to give up the way I’d always done one poem so that it worked better in the whole.

Perhaps, though, the most challenging thing was turning it in and [to stop editing]. I’ve taken a red pen to it after publication even. Ai yi yi. Do we poets ever know when to stop?

Ciona Rouse is a poet, living in Nashville, Tenn, where she curates many poetry experiences and reading series in the city and teaches poetry workshops. Her poetry was recently acknowledged as “Best Dressed” by Sundress Publications and is featured or forthcoming on WPLN Nashville Public Radio, Nashville Public Television, Matter and Talking River. Rouse recently won the Literary Death Match at the Southern Festival of Books. Her poetry chapbook VANTABLACK was released in August 2017 by Third Man Books.

For more information on Ciona visit: www.cionarouse.com

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Interview

Call for Submissions: New Category

2018 has been an impactful year! It’s hard to believe we’re already at the halfway point. Nevertheless, this is a great time for us to pause and examine where we are in this moment. We want to thank everyone for supporting our literary journal. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the generous help of our staff, readers, contributing writers, and supporters. We’re several months away from our seven-year anniversary and this journey has been nothing short of phenomenal.

We have incurred a few changes with regards to our submission guidelines. As such, we are issuing an updated call for submissions. Contributing writers will now receive print copies of our literary journals. Additionally, we are now accepting cover art submissions.

We look forward to continuing with our efforts to bring our readers more of the literary material they enjoy. In addition to our journal, we’re also accepting requests for blog content. We’re looking for interviews, book reviews, guest posts, and author spotlights.

Visit our guidelines on Submittable for more information.

Torrid Literature Journal

Poetry

Fiction

Interviews & Book Reviews

Cover art (new category)

Blog:

Editorial Articles / Guest Posts

Author Spotlight Requests

Interviews & Book Reviews

If you are unfamiliar with our literary journal, please click here to read a free copy of Volume XIV Chaos before you submit. Each volume contains poems, stories, and editorial content.

Stay in touch. Like our page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

All the best,

Alice Saunders | Editor

TL Publishing Group LLC

Leave a comment

Filed under Journal, Submissions, Writing

New Release & Giveaway: TLJ Vol. XX Bend, Don’t Break

 

Title: Torrid Literature Journal Volume XX Bend, Don’t Break

Published by TL Publishing Group LLC Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Breaking News, Journal, Writing

Resistance is Futile

like a whole hive of bees that become comforting white noise instead of a savage warning, persistent sting of pain from not putting your words to the “page.” Words are powerful. Your words matter.

bees

The summer after fifth grade I got a desk in my bedroom. This is the same summer I was asked to watch a full episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation before announcing that I didn’t like it. The summer after fifth grade I became a serious writer. I began writing a Star Trek: The Next Generation novel. Much of this came about because I’d just started liking the show and it was going off the air in one more season. If you don’t know much about the show there is a race of aliens called the Borg and when they assimilate someone into their collective they repeat one line, “Resistance is futile.”

i-love10I feel this way as a writer. Well, as a human being. Resistance of the things I need to be healthy is futile, but sometimes it’s a lot easier than accepting, engaging, and pursuing. I don’t know about you but writing keeps me healthy. I write to live – to be alive. However, I have been resisting a lot lately. Writing is a call I have on my life but there are seasons where I push it away.

As writers and creative beings, how do we stop resisting what we need to be fully, well, us?

Things that fuel my resistance

No-Social-Media-300x300

Social Media. As writers, we use social media in many positive ways. I keep up with readings in my area, stay in touch with my creative community that spreads around the country/world, promote things, and share writing. However, if I’m bored or lonely, I scroll when I want to be writing. I flip through a feed, click through Instagram, and strain my eyes on Twitter. I never get to the point of pouring out of myself but instead overfill with things that are of little value to my creative life.

Fears. I am naturally a worrier. I have to work hard to keep my head in the right place, sift through the clutter in my mind, and focus on what is true. Imagination can help in writing. Fears and anxiety lead to exhaustion and if I’m not fueling them into my writing they weigh down my life.

Isolation. Okay, we’re writers. Solitude is in some form necessary. In fact, if I don’t have enough time to be quiet and alone, I can’t daydream enough to hear my creativity. However, if I am not engaging my friends that are creative, that are writing, that are seeking to help the world with their words; it is much easier for me to resist.

Fatigue. I struggle with chronic illness, but even the healthiest individual finds themselves fueling with caffeine and having to prioritize the spurts of energy they do receive. We get short periods of time to ourselves each day and have so many ways we want to fill it. The majority of the time I choose to veg out — YouTube, Netflix, (or read fan fiction) and then feel guilty that I’m not pursuing something that is “of use” or that I’m more passionate about.

 

change

Change.

Change is not fun most of the time. Even good change can be difficult at first. Resistance can become more comfortable and safe. So how do we get our creative “feet” to move?

Things that help me break free of a block

Watch movies or read books out loud. I love classic Hollywood movies. The writing is amazing and the language is rich. I love movies I’ve seen a million times — each one is like a comfort blanket or a childhood friend you haven’t talked with in a while. Go see a movie by yourself in the movie theater. You’d be surprised how it gets your creative juices flowing. Read poetry out loud. Going to a play also creates the same excitement inside of my spirit.

Nap. Okay. This one might feel more like a trick. However, naps help me. Nap in moderation. I will work on something for a while in my head before drifting off to sleep. That time before awake turns to sleep can be helpful and precious.

Go to a reading. Take a notebook. You’ll be amazed at how someone else’s creativity can inspire your own literary work.

Do a writing prompt. You can create your own prompt or search for one online. Prompts are a great cure for writer’s block. In addition, they can push and stretch the boundaries of your creativity by helping you to discover new strengths in your craft.

Take a walk. Being surrounded by nature helps me tremendously. I also get creative thoughts in the shower.

Join a writing group. Be around people that will encourage you. Writing groups create accountability for your literary projects.

Start a project. Last summer, I did an art project where I had to float in a sensory deprivation tank and then create. I had to write two poems each day. The first could be positive, negative, or anywhere in between. The second, had to be positive. It was during a difficult season and over the span of a month I did this to see if both poems would eventually be positive. In the end, I met my goal and had lots to show for it.

Listen to music. Listening to music can get a writer’s creativity flowing in abundance. Music creates an atmosphere that elevates the senses.

Engage spiritually. When I am seeking God in a deep and quality driven way or worshipping more often, I tend to write more. I believe God the source of my creativity. So, if I’m resisting Him, I’m more likely to resist writing.

DSCN0825

Let’s lift our heavy creative “feet” and seek to accept and engage. Resisting isn’t comfortable. It’s filling us up with more sand to keep us stuck.

Comfort Zone/ Challenge Sign ConceptChallenge: Here’s a challenge I’d like to put out and pursue with readers. Grab a notebook. If you’re like me, you have a million laying around your house. Every day date a line. Write one sentence at least. It can be a prompt you use later that you thought of, it can be something thoughtful about your day, or it can be something you’re grateful for. It can be a line of staccato words you paint into a poem or prose piece for later. Fill one line.

Are you resisting?

What are some of your “go to” ideas to unstick your creative stuck? How do you engage in the art of writing?

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing

Announcement: New Editors

We are pleased to introduce our new staff members: Poetry Editor Alisha Crump and Fiction Editor Justin Rose. Crump and Rose will aid our team in reviewing and selecting submissions for the Torrid Literature Journal. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Journal, Writing