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Episode Transcript (by Rekka, blame her for all errors)

Kaelyn (00:00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of We Make Books, a show about writing publishing and everything in between. I'm Kaelyn Considine. I'm the acquisitions editor for Parvus Press.

Rekka (00:00:07):

I'm Rekka. I write science fiction and fantasy as R J Theodore. And I might start writing some poetry as R J Theodore.

Kaelyn (00:00:15):

Yeah, really? Gonna, you're going to take that dive, that plunge?

Rekka (00:00:19):

Well, look, I've written a lot of poetry in my life. I've just spared everybody.

Kaelyn (00:00:24):

I didn't know that about you actually. I feel, um, not betrayed. Um, what's the word I'm looking for here? Uh, surprised.

Rekka (00:00:33):

Surprised. But not disappointed. I hope.

Kaelyn (00:00:35):

No, no, of course not. I've never disappointed at any of your writing. Uh, so yeah, we, um, We Make Books took a little bit of a turn—but it turns out not too much, if you listen to the episode—um, into the realm of poetry, because you know, it turns out people do actually publish poems and stuff.

Rekka (00:00:52):

Yeah, quite a few of the markets that publish the short stories that we sub out (and sometimes trunk) are also seeking poetry and some exclusively, and some anthologies are all about poetry, and some single author anthologies end up being all about poetry. So if you've got a poetic bone in your finger somewhere, maybe this is the episode you need to hear to, um, try and draw some of that out.

Kaelyn (00:01:16):

Rekka was able to interview poet A.Z. Louise, who, um, was kind enough to take the time to sit down and, you know, talk about like some things I really didn't know about poetry and the publishing industry.

Rekka (00:01:28):

Yeah, it was great to have A.Z.. A.Z. Louise is a lover of birds, a killer of houseplants and a former civil engineer. Their love of speculative fiction has been lifelong, but they became a speculative poet by accident. Their work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fiyah, and The Future Fire.

Kaelyn (00:01:45):

I think poetry is a little intimidating. I don't know why a poem is so much more intimidating than a full length, novel to a lot of people, but it certainly is for me.

Rekka (00:01:55):

I think there's a certain expectation of highbrow, um, of elevated intellect that is required for good poem or to understand a good poem. There, there seems to be some sort of requirement to get in the door to poetry.

Kaelyn (00:02:16):

Yeah. I think everybody's got this notion in their head that like to understand poetry, you need to have gone to school for it, which I don't know why nobody thinks that about writing.

Rekka (00:02:26):

Well, I hope it's not true about writing cause I didn't go to school for writing.

Kaelyn (00:02:30):

Yeah, exactly. Um, you know, and I think there's definitely a lot of theory and craft behind poetry to be sure. Um, and you know, this is, uh, it's an area of publishing that I think, in mainstream publishing, is not talked about as much. So, um, A.Z. was kind enough to spend some time with Rekka going through some of the nuances of it. It's very interesting.

Rekka (00:02:51):

I think so.

Kaelyn (00:02:52):

Yeah.

Rekka (00:02:52):

And I wanna try it now. I don't know when it will, but I'm gonna.

Kaelyn (00:02:57):

Well, um, on that note, we're going to let Rekka go, uh, you know, compose us a nice haiku about—.

Rekka (00:03:03):

Maybe a Limerick to start.

Kaelyn (00:03:05):

Oh definitely a Limerick. Yes. To start.

Rekka (00:03:20):

The world has just seen the first major American sporting event with a poem as featured part of the entertainment, um, which is just wild to consider. Um, because it doesn't feel like the world is getting more open to that sort of thing. But at the same time, this was scheduled like long before the same poet, Amanda Gorman, um, read a very moving poem at the inauguration of the president. So somehow poetry was already on the schedule for— I'm talking about the NFL Super Bowl. I just don't know how that happened.

A.Z. Louise (00:03:57):

It was so wild, absolutely wild to see.

Rekka (00:04:00):

And I love it. And um, so it is total coincidence that we're doing a poetry episode not long after that. just like I said, I needed a cohost and I jumped on A.Z..

A.Z. Louise (00:04:11):

Hello!

Rekka (00:04:11):

Because A.Z. was missing podcasting. Um, so yeah, I mean, I wouldn't be very happy if poetry, I wanna say came back. I don't know if that's fair to say, but it feels like poetry is more of a 18th, 19th century thing. And here we are in the 21st century and we are getting a lot of poetry, but it's in the form of like, "I have eaten the Lego pieces that were on the carpet and which you were probably building into the razor crest, forgive me. They were delicious. So sharp and so crunchy." There's been a different sort of poetry discourse lately, but there are poems constantly being published and there are poets out there constantly creating new poems. So let's, um, let's talk about poetry cause I want to acknowledge it. And if anyone in our audience has felt like, okay, I love poetry, but I have to write short stories to get published. Like, let's, let's put that in the bin. And so tell us, cause you write both.

A.Z. Louise (00:05:15):

Yes.

Rekka (00:05:16):

Um, what makes you write a poem instead of a short story? And when you write a poem, what's your thought process in terms of like where it's going to go when you write it, or do they just sort of happen?

A.Z. Louise (00:05:34):

So I kind of have two different modes for poetry. Uh, one is where I feel like I either miss poetry or need a break from prose and I just need to let the ideas and images flow. And the other mood I have for poetry is I'm processing something. So a lot of times for me, poetry is a first pass on emotions. So if you have wronged me, I've written a poem about you. Because frequently that's where I go when I'm really upset about something and I don't feel ready to talk to another person about it. And I just want to process it with myself for a minute first. Um, so frequently I will just have a line appear in my head and it will be too strange or too unstructured to be part of a short story. Um, and then after I put it down on the page, I can connect it to other ideas and that's how it becomes a poem.

Rekka (00:06:47):

Okay.

A.Z. Louise (00:06:48):

So it's sort of a connect the dots process, which is different from my short fiction process, because my short fiction process, I typically have a specific scene in my head, um, with specific people who are doing or saying specific things.

Rekka (00:07:08):

Okay.

A.Z. Louise (00:07:09):

So it's much more primordial. Um, however, I have written a poem and actually submitted it a few times and the other poems I had submitted it with got picked up, but not that one. And I was like, okay, there's something about this that isn't working. And I ended up writing a whole short story out of it

Rekka (00:07:33):

Based on the poem or using some of the words from the poem and just making the poem flow less like a lyrical experience.

A.Z. Louise (00:07:41):

Yeah, it was... So do you know what a Hide-Behind is?

Rekka (00:07:48):

I do not. And I bet some of our listeners, don't either.

A.Z. Louise (00:07:51):

So it's um, uh, a fearsome critter. Um, so it's this Appalachian cryptid. Um, and one of the things you have to do to protect yourself from the Hide-Behind is to drink being drunk will keep the cryptid from eating you, I guess. Maybe he's on the wagon. I don't know. Um—

Rekka (00:08:15):

Or he doesn't care or, you know, like you just won't care if the Hide-Behind eats you at that point and that's the going advice.

A.Z. Louise (00:08:21):

So that, um, that idea really stuck with me in part because my mom is from that area. So I felt that kind of cultural connection, but also because to me, the Hide-Behind is, uh, a creature who is dealing with trauma. Because if you were a logger back in the day in the Appalachians, your life expectancy was not very long and you were losing friends all the time because it's an extremely dangerous profession. And so that hit me because, um, I am Black and that hit me as "We are drinking. We are coping with an inter intergenerational trauma." So I wrote a poem about a father whose job is to hunt the Hide-Behind. So he is drunk a lot, but when he comes home and he's sober, he's teaching his daughter small scraps of his hide behind hunting craft, knowing that she'll have to go into it. Um, even though he wishes she didn't have to. So it is like a Black parent coming home and having to talk to their kids about all the horrible stuff in the world. And you wish you could shelter your kids from that, but you have to tell them, so in looking at this little poem and what I had done with it, I was like, "Oh, that's a whole story." Yeah. Obviously that's an entire story that deserves more than like 14 or 15 lines, which is my usual length of a poem. So it just sort of—the poem grew beyond being a poem and needed to be a story, which is not to say that a poem is less than a short story. It is that, for me with a poem, I'm creating mood and emotion and with a short story, I am creating, um, more of a scene. So a poem for me is like a piece of music that you listen to. And a short story is a play that you would watch or a musical.

Rekka (00:10:40):

Yeah. Or even the music video sometimes. Yeah. Okay. So yeah, I, when you try and I mean, the plural, you, um, when you try to define poetry in terms of how much it should encompass, I find that really tricky because I mean, you have the Iliad, which is technically a poem. You have Shakespeare, which is technically poetry. Um, what, like— English class taught me in public school, so many things about the structure of poems and how poems should behave, never really encompassed the subject matter of poetry and the kinds of poems that I liked, uh, such as the Highwayman, were nothing like the poems I was writing, which were these scraps of teenage angst. And I'm not going to give myself any more credit for them than that, even though, like, I did have one of them published, but it was one of those like "Send in your poem and $40" kind of thing. So I'm going to put an asterisk on that one. But it's funny, I recently considered going back and sort of writing like a response to that poem from this end of my life. And—

A.Z. Louise (00:12:08):

That sounds like a really cool idea.

Rekka (00:12:11):

Yeah. And it was a short poem too. I think it was like nine lines or something like that. And I feel like it would be so completely an interpretable to anyone else even paired like that, even if I gave you some context. So I'm always curious how publications can say "this is a good poem," you know, or, um, "this is the kind of poem we're looking for." Do you think there's a format that commercial or literary poetry magazines are looking for?

A.Z. Louise (00:12:46):

Uh, so I write almost exclusively speculative poetry. Like, I write other poetry, but I don't usually go out and try and get published because I just love speculative stuff. I didn't even know that you could write speculative poetry, and then I saw a call for submissions. I was like, "Oh, hey, that's a thing." And then I went back to the poetry that I loved in high school and college. And for me, poetry is very much about feeling and metaphor. And I write mostly very short form poetry. So if it's not more than a page, it's poetry, like, and if I feel like it's going to be longer, it's not poetry. But you know, I try to work, uh, the poetic phrase and metaphor into each line of what I'm writing when I write short fiction. But I think that when you're trying to sell a poem, it has to encompass something.

A.Z. Louise (00:13:57):

Uh, so I have a lot of poems about anger because I am a Black person, I am mentally ill, I'm queer on Earth. So when I'm writing a poem about something like that, I am trying to—usually through metaphor because it's about like a dragon or something—I'm trying to encompass the whole world of things, uh, that are causing that anger into a very small package. So every single line has to inform the other lines and frequently my poetry is... It works in a bunch of different orders and I have to work and work and work to figure out what the best order for each line is. Uh, and because short fiction generally has more plot and more character.

Rekka (00:15:03):

Right. There's a sequence of events.

A.Z. Louise (00:15:06):

You can't write character development, say, out of order, it's going to be weird. And obviously there are stories that are told out of order, but, um, there is still, uh, a basic structure there.

A.Z. Louise (00:15:23):

And, uh, obviously people talk a lot about how, uh, many editors are—and readers and writers are—trapped in a very Western sort of three structure. Plot-driven conflict driven structure. And while that is true, and I'm very mad about it, uh, because I do work outside of that a lot because of my mental illness—my brain simply doesn't put things together in the way that other people's do—um, there are still many different structures outside of the Western Canon, the editor or reader just doesn't know about it, you know? Um, they're not structureless. Um, they just have a structure that is not known to the reader. Um, now there— obviously poetry has structure, but I read mostly freeverse. So I'm just out there throwing things out. Um, and then sort of collecting them. It's like catching butterflies in a net. And then I was going to say mounting them, but that's like really sad. That's real, real sad. Um—

Rekka (00:16:40):

And, and studying them before, releasing them

A.Z. Louise (00:16:42):

Again. Yes, I am taking, I'm taking each little butterfly, I'm drawing a little picture in my field notes, I'm taking my notes and then I'm setting them free. Um, and then I collate my notes into something that feels whole, if that makes any sense.

Rekka (00:16:58):

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, the, the ultimate judge of when the poem is doing what you want is of course you, the composer of the poem. Yes. Um, I, and, and that part makes a certain amount of sense to me. I have, in my poetry that I've written, and we're talking years ago, um, though like making the bed like a week ago, a poem sort of started to come to me and I was sort of like piecing together. Like, I didn't know where it was going, but I felt like, "okay, you know, this piece or that piece might need to change." Um, which was weird for me to be like analyzing it before I ever wrote it down. Cause you know, making the bed. Um, but then in my head I'm immediately going "Okay, but someone's going to judge this without any of the context of where I wrote it from, and to me, the only way to take something that was coming to me from a deeply personal reaction to something was to make it so, either vague as to be universal, or specific as to have a plot structure or something, uh, if not plot structure, then like thesis statement and supportive arguments.

A.Z. Louise (00:18:18):

They give the context to the reader.

Rekka (00:18:21):

Yeah, In your experience, do you feel like the magazines respond better to something that feels, I mean, feels universal or feels deeply personal? Because like, for example, She's Not a Phoenix, which you had published in Strange Horizons is clearly deeply personal.

A.Z. Louise (00:18:38):

Yes, yes. For sure. That's an anger poem, that's a slight poem. I have been slighted!

Rekka (00:18:45):

But it's something I can relate to, even though I do not have the experience that you do, that the poem came from. Um, and I— like, I'm just, I'm in awe of it. And I want to know how you did it and how it, how it developed and like why did Strange Horizons pick it?

A.Z. Louise (00:19:08):

That poem is obviously a metaphor for something that happened to me and—

Rekka (00:19:14):

And our listeners can find it in the show notes it's available online publicly, which is why I'm using it as an example. Um, so that they can go read it and feel the space in the chest where the bird belongs kind-of-thing that I'm reacting to. Like, um, the line in specifics is, um, "My rib cage, a crucible too hot to hold her." Like that is a big feel, you know? And I feel like everybody can relate to that. And I feel like this poem at the same time is ineffable to me because it came from you and I don't know why, even reading it.

A.Z. Louise (00:19:59):

So that one was about feeling betrayed. I am a person who often feels like I'm too much. Um, so that line is about all the times I have felt like I'm too much. And the thing is, is that everyone on Earth has felt betrayed. Most people have felt like they are too much for somebody else. And I feel that one of the beautiful things about Twitter is that, um, it is easy to see that almost every feeling you've ever had somebody else has had too.

Rekka (00:20:38):

Right, yeah!

A.Z. Louise (00:20:38):

And so when I wrote it, it did feel, it actually did feel so personal that I didn't think anyone would pick it up. And then the first place I submitted it took it and heck, Oh my goodness. It's Strange Horizons! I love Strange Horizons!

Rekka (00:20:54):

Yeah. I mean, what a, what a bingo card moment too.

A.Z. Louise (00:20:57):

I was shook. So it was kind of like, "Oh, this is one of those things where somebody tweets something super relatable and it immediately goes viral." Like I felt like I had captured that feeling of seeing a complete stranger on the internet experiencing the exact same feelings I'd had. And nobody, I mean, it's not that everyone has experienced the exact same sequence of events that spurred me to write that poem. But I do feel like even if somebody didn't get the idea of betrayal out of that poem, they probably still felt it. Um, and I'm not saying that you have to make your feelings universal because we can talk about how the entire whiteness and, you know, straightness and neuro-typicality et cetera of publishing frequently tells you that say, your characters are not relatable enough. So I don't think you want to be writing to be relatable so that an editor will read something and say, "Oh, I felt that before, I will buy this poem." Um, but to know that whoever is reading your poem will assign meaning to it no matter what you put in it, I mean, your making-the-bed poem: somebody might get something totally, completely different from what you put into it, but you have to make, um, you'd have to make the metaphors, um, speak. If that makes sense. It's really hard to describe.

Rekka (00:22:47):

Yeah. It's almost like the way you write it, you make it more personal, but in doing so, you make it more relatable.

A.Z. Louise (00:22:55):

Yes, yes, exactly. Exactly. Yeah. The, the, the more you dig down deep into yourself, the more people will read it and get some crumb of what you're feeling and be able to apply it to their own feelings. And I think that's why poetry is really powerful. And actually I wanted to bring it back to when you mentioned the poetry we're taught in school. Um, because one of the things I was not taught about, because I went to a incredibly white school, I think there were a dozen black kids in the whole school.

Rekka (00:23:29):

That is more than I had in my, very, very white school.

A.Z. Louise (00:23:32):

Yeah. So one thing I didn't have a huge education on is rap and hip hop, and that's poetry! And so popular is because even if you are rapping about something that somebody else has never experienced, people love it so much because they feel it. So.

A.Z. Louise (00:23:55):

Also forget iambic pentameter, to hear somebody rapping, it is the most like awe-inspiring jaw-dropping thing.

A.Z. Louise (00:24:03):

Yeah. I truly wish that my poetry felt like it could slide into that because I love it. So the form of poetry can go so many places and touch so many people. And I feel like that's why it's super important to drill deep down into what you are feeling because you never know who's going to read it and really feel it because one of the poems I love the most is "This is just to say," because my mom was getting her English major when I was a child and she had this gigantic tome, like four inches thick of poetry. And she would read to me out of it, um, for her reading assignments. And one of the poems she read to me was that one. And it reminded me of my grandma's house, um, where we would go in the summer. And it gave me such a feeling of belonging that has stuck with me my entire life. So I am that very corny person, who says that "This is just to say" is their favorite phone, cause it hit me exactly right.

Rekka (00:25:13):

And you know, when you expand poetry into, um, you know, the different forms we've talked about, like, I grew up reading the Highwayman and like, other European poems, and I am—you know, like I enjoyed them. I got stories out of them. There was, there was something in there for me. But as soon as I got out of my, you know, Connecticut life and I went somewhere where I was exposed to other peoples whose experiences I had never been exposed to before. And suddenly my favorite poems were music, talking about things that my poetry classes would never have considered appropriate subject matter. We'll just put it that way. Like I looked at while we were talking, I looked up the definition of poetry because I expected irony. And here it is: A poem is a metrical composition, a composition in verse written in certain measures, whether in blank verse or in rhyme and characterized by imagination and poetic diction." Like, there is nothing in that about connecting to other people and their humanity and relating or anything like that.

A.Z. Louise (00:26:32):

I love it so much. I'm so happy right now!

Rekka (00:26:36):

It's just the worst, right? And I think that's, the problem is like we are, when we are instructed on what a poem is, we, we, I don't know. We get the implication that there are masters of it. And then everybody else who should not even try.

A.Z. Louise (00:26:53):

It, it, I think it's really similar to the way that, I mean, prose is taught, right? You get a book and then you dissect it into a million tiny pieces until it's no longer enjoyable. Um, and that's what your teachers teach you, is like, deep reading. And the thing is, I love deep reading and I love criticizing my favorite things. It brings me joy to pick apart the things that I love. Cause I'm the worst. Um—

Rekka (00:27:19):

No, I do the same thing. Like I exit a movie or something like that, and I absolutely spend the next hour and a half ruining it for my husband and he goes, "But I thought you enjoyed it?" I'm like, "I did."

A.Z. Louise (00:27:28):

Yeah. Yeah.

Rekka (00:27:30):

"But these things could be fixed."

A.Z. Louise (00:27:31):

My story brain completely turns off when I'm in the movie and that over the next week I start remembering things and I'm like, "Oh man, I have to annoy someone with this. Right now."

Rekka (00:27:43):

Yeah. So I understand like enjoying the, the criticism aspect of it. Um, but— I'm sorry, I cut you off to relate to what you were saying.

A.Z. Louise (00:27:56):

That definition is really funny to me because it reminds me of what's in the AASHTO manual, which is the manual of stuff you need to know to engineer a road. Cause I was a roadway design engineer. Um, and the thing is, is that this frigging book is impenetrable and all you really need from it is to know like what's the acceptable width of a sidewalk. It's five feet, because people who use wheelchairs need to be able to properly use a sidewalk.

Rekka (00:28:29):

Right. Let's say "clear space of a sidewalk." Exactly. Cause as soon as people start filling it with lamps and small gardens and railings and uh, let's say sidewalk dining, suddenly.

A.Z. Louise (00:28:42):

Yeah. Actually.

A.Z. Louise (00:28:43):

I'm sorry. I love accessibility. I — that's a whole other podcast [episode] we need to start.

A.Z. Louise (00:28:48):

The first engineering project I ever worked on was a sidewalk project. So I have a lot of feelings about accessibility for sidewalks and I will fight about it, and how much more frequently they need to be maintained. Let's be real.

Rekka (00:29:00):

Right. Yeah. Um, but I was, uh, I did a major in interior design temporarily before I switched to graphic design. And the, um, the rules of ADA were, um, like gospel to me, whereas everyone else in the room was like, "but I want to do this." So I, I have that. I have that sort of sense of like, "no, no, no, this is how it should be. And this is the bare minimum" versus all that. But this is unrelated to poetry, except that poetry is very accessible. Continue.

A.Z. Louise (00:29:34):

I'm metaphoring again, as you do. When you go into this manual, it's completely impenetrable and there's all this math and it sounds terrible. And it would never, in a million years be accessible to someone who didn't go to engineering school. But once you dig down, you actually have to use a lot of creativity to make your project work, because there's going to be a lot of stuff that gets in the way it's like, "Oh, you know what? The water resources guys are telling me that I have to put a manhole here." Or, "Okay. So the lady over in environmental engineering is telling me we can't disturb this because there's mussels." Um, so you have to use every ounce of your creativity to work around all of these things that are getting in the way of you just putting a straight dag sidewalk, um, and making sure it's wide enough to be useful for humans.

Rekka (00:30:29):

Right. Right.

A.Z. Louise (00:30:30):

That kind of idea is, uh, something I have taken into my creative life, which is that, when you write a short story, you're going to run up against stuff that you didn't mean to happen. Like, one of the things that writers say the most frequently is that "my characters are doing stuff I don't want them to make Them stop!" Um, so, um, you are kind of harnessing your creativity, um, to make it run in the directions that you want. You're kind of guiding the river. Um, and with poetry, you're doing that, but you're doing it in a little bit of a different way because it is so chaotic for me. Just immediate chaos. And you do, you have to go with it a lot more than, um, you might with like a short story or a novel, um, which you might be able to eat into your outline a little bit better. Right? So I think that's why I like free verse, because you take all of the rules and you slam dunk them directly in the trash.

Rekka (00:31:42):

And thank goodness for that.

A.Z. Louise (00:31:43):

Which is very freeing for me, someone who, uh, loves rules. It's also really counter intuitive.

Rekka (00:31:52):

I think in terms of like the, the rhythm of the piece. If even in freeverse, we sort of develop a rhythm to the way our words flow. It's not like no rules at all. It's, "I am going to honor my natural rhythm and the word choice is more important than, you know, how long the line is."

A.Z. Louise (00:32:14):

Yeah. I actually really mess with how long my lines are a lot, because I like a shapely poem. I like it to look nice on the page. But I think the best way to make a lyrical poem is to read it out loud. Because what is lyrical in your own personal voice is very different from what is lyrical in somebody else's. And if someone else reads your poem out loud, it might not sound as good, but you have to be true to your own personal voice, which is one reason that I frequently go to poetry when I'm sick of prose, because as an actual maniac—um, someone who experiences mania—as a complete maniac, I frequently have to wrangle by sentences into a form a non-crazy person, uh, will understand and enjoy. Um, in poetry, I can word it in the wildest possible way and somebody's looking at it might not like it, but they will be like, "Oh, this is, that person's style."

Rekka (00:33:21):

Right, right. It's a relief from fixing yourself for other people.

A.Z. Louise (00:33:28):

Yes. And so the more you are, the more you feel that relief, um, I think the closer you are to the bones of your poem, and I've read a lot of poems that I loved and hated the style, or didn't like the format was in, but because it was in that person's true voice, I was like, "Oh, this poem rules!" So I think that being true to your own voice is much more important than like trying to make it sellable. Because I do find that the weirder I write, the better my stuff sells. Uh, and that applies to, um, short fiction as well. I have started writing much more slowly because I am trying to poem every paragraph of my short fiction. The thing is, is that I get a lot more edits and the edits are, "This sentence is whack!" Because I'm writing more whack sentences. But the story itself is enriched by the poem, the poem that is, that lives within each line and within each paragraph. So, um, it needs more maneuvering. Editors are very helpful about that. They're very sweet.

Rekka (00:34:51):

But the fact is they're picking it up in the first place. So it's not like— having a lyrical quality is not barring you from, from sales. Like it's not like short fiction, it doesn't work and poetry, it does.

A.Z. Louise (00:35:03):

Yeah. I think because more of my true voice comes out when I am being more poetic-cal. Is that a word? I'm a professional writer.

Rekka (00:35:12):

Look, we all know professional writers can not talk.

A.Z. Louise (00:35:14):

Not at all. Or spell, let's be real. I do get a lot of feedback that, "Oh, this line is awkward." And because it is awkward read in somebody else's voice. So that's where the kind of line is. Like, how does the sound read in somebody's somebody else's voice? Which is one reason it's nice to have your computer reads your fiction aloud to you. Yeah. Because then it's like, "Oh." Because I feel like when you read fiction, you are reading it more in your own voice. And when you are reading poetry, you are just letting the voice happen. Yeah. You're just letting whatever voice is there wash over you. If that makes sense.

Rekka (00:35:55):

That, and that explains why you get editors more willing to correct that voice when you have it in prose. Prose, where in theory you have a plot, that they're going to be more willing to red pen it. Than when it's poetry. And therefore it's gotta be— I can't imagine being an editor for a magazine who acquires poetry and then has to somehow comment without completely trampling what's going on in the poem.

A.Z. Louise (00:36:28):

Uh, I, I feel like I'm lucky because my background as an engineer makes me better, I think, at taking criticism because I'm used to having a plan sheet handed back to me with just like red pencil all over it. Um, but most editors are very kind and they will tell you, "You don't have to change anything you don't want to." Um, but you can tell, you can hear the little, like, little tone in the comment. That's like, "I don't know what this means. You weirdo. You're so strange. But I like it."

Rekka (00:37:06):

Yeah. "I'm along for the ride. However, you might need some seatbelts."

A.Z. Louise (00:37:10):

Yeah, exactly. "You might want to strap your reader in on this one with a little bit, a little bit less, uh, poetic license in this sentence."

Rekka (00:37:21):

Which is funny because, um, in my short story prose, I don't feel like I get poetic and it's something I admire so much in a lot of my colleagues' short story prose is like, there'll be a turn of phrase and it'll just be like, "Oh, this is why I write! why don't I write like this?" And, um, so the occasion where I get a comment where it's like, "Wow, this sentence." I'm just like, that's what I'm going for.

A.Z. Louise (00:37:46):

That's my favorite type of comment. And I love it. It feels so good. And I have always been a very utilitarian prose writer.

Rekka (00:37:53):

And that's where I am now.

A.Z. Louise (00:37:55):

Yeah. And I think I started being more poetic in my prose when I started looking at sentence structure, which is completely counterintuitive, but you know how a sentence feels— a paragraph can feel really, really repetitive if all the sentences are structured exactly the same. So by going back and reading more deeply into each sentence for like commas and stuff, I am looking more at the words that I used and "why did I put this word here next to this comma? Why did I choose this word?" And that's where I'm like, "okay, so this sentence can have much more flavor." I write so many creepy forest stories and poems. That's just like my thing, I guess.

Rekka (00:38:49):

You have a brand. It's okay.

A.Z. Louise (00:38:50):

Yeah, I really have a creepy forest and like gay sentient plants brand. Um—

Rekka (00:38:57):

Hey, look its day is coming. This is going to be the next thing. I mean, we actually kind of like started that with Annihilation, with Jeff VanderMeer, like getting his book made into a movie and it's all about like plant body-possessing moss. So let's, uh, let's have more of that, please.

A.Z. Louise (00:39:14):

Yeah that kind of thing is totally my jam. So like, if a sentence is devoid of anything foresty, I will try and slip something in and then suddenly the sentence starts to read really poetically. So, um, I think that because I do write such short poetry, every single line has to be super punchy and has to contain a lot. And it's really easy when you're writing a longer form to accidentally not do that. Which sucks because I just really like to prose straight from brain to hands to keyboard with like no plan whatsoever. And then I go back and I'm like, "where are my metaphors?"

Rekka (00:39:56):

I think so often we focus on things like character development and arc and plot and, um, cutting words, as opposed to making sure our words are doing all the heavy lifting.

A.Z. Louise (00:40:09):

Yeah.

Rekka (00:40:09):

Like I'm really excited. Now I want to go write some poems after talking to you, because thinking about it in like a completely different way for poetry, not in "how short can I make this line," but in "how much can I make this line hurt my reader?"

A.Z. Louise (00:40:28):

Yes.

A.Z. Louise (00:40:28):

Okay. Maybe, maybe not every line has to hurt the reader. Maybe not all homes are meant for that, but you know, how much am I going to drag my reader with this line? And if I can develop that skill, one hopes that it would sort of trickle over on its own. And it sounds like in your experience, it does.

A.Z. Louise (00:40:48):

That's like extremely spicy because I started doing a wordsmithing pass whenever I write fiction. As someone who writes poetry and this may come as a surprise, my prose, uh, I'm very bad at writing descriptions. I love writing dialogue. That's just my jam. Uh, so my first pass is always, always, always description because my, my, uh, fiction is almost always 10 to 50% shorter than I want it to be.

Rekka (00:41:21):

The white room syndrome.

A.Z. Louise (00:41:23):

Oh, absolutely.

Rekka (00:41:23):

Especially when, when you love dialogue. And a lot of my, um, my prose short pieces also come to me as like, here's a snippet of conversation and like somebody's witty remark back. Or is it like sometimes it's, it's just the response. I don't even know what the response is to, and then I build a whole story around it. And very frequently, yes, it is a story. That's about a relationship between two people and they are floating in space. Because, you know, it's spec fic so there's stars, not a white room.

A.Z. Louise (00:41:53):

Yeah. It's space. It's space. Usually my description pass coincides with a world building pass, because it's so easy to have all the world building in your head and not on the page at all. So then once that's down, I will do a character pass or a plot pass. Those can happen interchangeably. There's no real rhyme or reason to which one I do first. Usually the one I feel is weaker. It's the one I get first. And then when all of that is done, that's when I do the wordsmithing pass. And I feel like that's a good, a good place to do it because then everything else is as fixed as you could get it. And it also allows you to skim the heck out of your previous reading passes. You don't have to be reading super, super deep and you can just be catching bullet points and then you get less of that feeling of having read your work so many times that it's meaningless.

Rekka (00:42:51):

Yes. Yeah. Anytime you can avoid having to actually deep dive into every sentence. For critical reasons.

A.Z. Louise (00:42:55):

Yeah. And for, for poetry, I write down my first pass and then let it simmer. I will touch it for like a week. So it's like, and then I might write four or five different versions of it and decide which one is better. Let that simmer for another week and come back to it. Because the same thing happens with poetry as with prose. Like, you just looked at it so many times that it's just nothing. You might as well be looking at a blank page. Who wrote this? Not me.

Rekka (00:43:25):

When the poem no longer gives you goosebumps.

A.Z. Louise (00:43:27):

Yeah. I do write a lot of very emotional poems. So like if I don't feel sad after I read it I'm like, "Oh, I read this too many times."

Rekka (00:43:36):

So, you know, you mentioned three or four separate kinds of passes. Do you do that with your poems at all? Or do you mostly do a pass for impactful language? And you figure what you had to say was already in there and it might just be reordering or rewording.

A.Z. Louise (00:43:55):

So, on my second draft of a poem, I that's, when I like identify the problems. sssss. Cause there's usually like one main problem. My frequent problem is that I love poems that just leave you hanging. And it's like, "well, where's the next line?" Um, that's like my favorite thing. And that's one thing I could tell you, editors don't like very much. So don't do that. So frequently, my second pass will be figuring out what is the punchy, uh, button to put on the end of this poem? Um, but usually if I just wrote something like in a fugue state, just like trying to get feelings out, I will probably need to add some metaphors in there. It's just a journal and it's just feelings. And that's where I'm like, "Okay, this is where the gay plants come in. Why am I like a gay plant in this poem?" After that one is where I will start reordering stuff to see where it works best. Because once the words sound really nice, you can start reading it all different orders and decide, "okay, this is where I want it to be." Especially if it's a poem, you want to be able to be read forward and backward. For me, I want all my words to be set before I start puzzle piecing it. I'm doing these very spidery motions with my hands right now.

Rekka (00:45:23):

They are good spider motions. I'm enjoying watching your hands. The process actually sounds pretty similar in terms of how set you want your piece to be. I love that you think about it in terms of "how do I edit this so that I still love it at the end and that I haven't overexposed myself to the story so that it no longer engages my brain critically so that I can create the best thing that I can?" Um, and it's funny that you mentioned, you know, the editors' comments and, um, editors wanting a story that feels like it wraps up at the end, cause I have a cheat for that.

A.Z. Louise (00:46:02):

Oooh. I'm so excited.

Rekka (00:46:04):

And it's one you probably already use. In fact, I'm looking at the poem still up on my screen and you have used it here, whether it was like the same thought process or whatever. But I basically take whatever my, um, my supposition at the beginning of the story is, and I rephrase it to create like almost a thesis statement, like reiterate what I was saying. And then, and then it has bookends. And then it doesn't feel like, you know—.

A.Z. Louise (00:46:30):

It feels complete.

Rekka (00:46:31):

Yeah. It doesn't feel like oatmeal running off a plate, it's oatmeal in a bowl. So I'm just looking at your, um, you know, She's Not a Phoenix poem and you have a line repeated multiple times, and it feels like it's got like, "this is my conclusion." Even though the line is very, very weighted with lots of different meanings, it's still a conclusion. Um, because "ah yes, I recognize this pattern and that feels like a properly framed, properly bowled oatmeal."

A.Z. Louise (00:47:08):

Yeah. That was, uh, I wrote that a zillion years ago, but I definitely, or for me, a person with ADHD is a zillion years ago. So like five. Could be dinosaur times, I don't know. But I didn't originally have that frame around it. It wasn't a structure and I kept looking at it. I was like, "this is like, like a wet t-shirt. It is just lying in a lump and it needs to be hung on something like it needs something more to make it feel like a thing and less like, just thoughts."

Rekka (00:47:41):

Well, in my opinion, you definitely found that thing.

A.Z. Louise (00:47:44):

Oh, thank you.

Rekka (00:47:44):

When you tell me that it comes from an angry place. Like, I feel this phrase as like the most like acid-dripping, like denial of the thing it's saying, you know.

A.Z. Louise (00:47:58):

Yesssssssss!

Rekka (00:47:58):

Like, um, the phrase is "it's better this way." And you're like, you understand from this poem, it absolutely is not.

A.Z. Louise (00:48:05):

Yeah. And you know, sometimes the thing you need to hang it up on is like a little bit of structure through like repetition, and sometimes it's, uh, so— I just, I love assonance and alliteration. Ooh. Sometimes it's metaphor. So those sort of poetic, um, tools are what you're using to hang the fabric of your, uh, your poem over. So you're just taking thoughts and it's like building a little tent.

Rekka (00:48:34):

You're creating a frame, you know, that lets people see the whole thing as it's meant to be, as opposed to the wet ball of cotton on the, on the deck.

A.Z. Louise (00:48:44):

I do think a lot of people feel roped in by structure because that's what they learned to write in high school because high school is always like, you have to write a sonnet. And you're like, "uhhh!" I find that limericks are really fun just for a warmup because I find that having constraints actually makes me more creative. Um, but a lot of people do feel really boxed in because that's what they learned. But they associate freeverse with like angsty teens and the worst slam poetry you've ever heard at a cafe. And so people are like, "Oh, if I do this without a structure, it's going to be a hot mess and it's going to expose too much of me. And people will think it is terrible and that it will hurt my feelings a lot because this is my heart I'm putting on the page." Yeah. So there's definitely, I think some people do have a fear of exposing too much of themselves in poetry. And—

Rekka (00:49:50):

But I think that's, you know, going back to what we were talking about before, like that's, what's going to sell a poem.

A.Z. Louise (00:49:55):

Yeah, yeah.

Rekka (00:49:57):

Which is cruel.

A.Z. Louise (00:49:57):

Yeah it sucks really bad, but that's a fear that you have to unfortunately work through. I'm not going to say get over because rude, um, and get over it implies that you simply stop feeling afraid, which will literally never happen because you're always emailing a stranger your feelings. So you will always be a little bit, uh, afraid. And um, so you have to find ways to work through being afraid and if that's structure, then good, if it's going to freeverse, then good. Um, if you have a specific metaphor that you love use that in every dang poem, if it makes you feel safer to send your feelings to somebody. Because artists always have those kinds of style things, like if there's a phrase you love just keep using it and then maybe it will change, but nobody's going to get mad at you for writing 10,000 gay plant poems.

Rekka (00:50:53):

Right. I feel like there's going to be, um, some like mycology references in my poems coming up.

A.Z. Louise (00:51:01):

Yeah. Oh, I, I love a good mushroom. They're they're so fun for metaphors and they glow and they're cute and they're just delightful. Yeah. It's definitely like maybe if you send poems with the same thing in it over and over again to an editor, they will be like, "can you stop sending those plant poems?" But there's so many outlets and you'll be sending so much.

Rekka (00:51:30):

Yes. Because even if they see it over and over again, they may not have accepted it yet. And it may be just a thing for them.

A.Z. Louise (00:51:36):

Frankly, they probably don't even know it's you. I do read slush and sometimes names look familiar, but typically you're just reading based on the merit of the thing itself.

Rekka (00:51:49):

Which is always good to hear.

A.Z. Louise (00:51:50):

Yeah. I mean, that's editors see so many dang poems and stuff. Like if you send two poems that are really similar, they will never notice. You don't have to be self-conscious about that.

Rekka (00:52:01):

How do you filter? Is like there, uh, a transformation process from taking an A.Z. personal moment and turning it into a spec thick piece of poetry?

A.Z. Louise (00:52:12):

I do sometimes send a piece of poetry, wondering if it's speculative enough. Because the line of what is speculative and what is not, is so blurry. Um, sometimes I go ham. Sometimes I will write some feelings down and I'll be like, "I'm angry. It's dragon time." Or, "I'm very sad. I'm very tired. We're gonna write about dirt and worms let's do that." Um, so I think that the most important part of the filtration process is to consume media. And I know that's like something people say all the time, you have to— writers read, you know? Um, but you don't have to be reading strictly speculative poetry. Nature documentaries have given me so much material because when you look at a beautiful eagle soaring, metaphors will come to you. And a beautiful Eagle and a Wyvern are not that different from each other.

Rekka (00:53:15):

Except in the way the word rolls off your tongue.

A.Z. Louise (00:53:17):

Exactly.

Rekka (00:53:17):

Or doesn't.

A.Z. Louise (00:53:19):

Wyvern's a little rough. You might want to go back to dragon on that one. So yeah, I think that, and since imagery is so important, I like to follow, um, on social media accounts that just post really beautiful photos of nature and things like that, or rad, uh, speculative art. Like I love those, um, like sixties and seventies, like fantasy and science fiction covers.

Rekka (00:53:45):

Yeah. Sometimes they are so painful. Like there was, there's a thread and it's just like nipples everywhere.

A.Z. Louise (00:53:51):

Butts all over the place. Butts all the way down.

A.Z. Louise (00:53:53):

Butts and nipples at the same time for the same person, somehow. But yeah, it's bizarre.

A.Z. Louise (00:53:58):

Well the great news is that there are a lot of really cool, uh, erotic, speculative poetry outlets. Um, I had, I had something out with Twisted Moon that is about gay plants.

Rekka (00:54:12):

I feel like I did you dirty by picking the one poem that I could that had no gay plants in it.

A.Z. Louise (00:54:17):

I know, right? No. Um, it's, it's, it's always it's, with me it's gay plants, it's like tearing your chest open, and it's dirt and worms.

A.Z. Louise (00:54:27):

Okay so we got the tearing your chest open part. At least, even if it was a phoenix poem.

A.Z. Louise (00:54:30):

Yeah we've got a bird inside of a chest. Yeah.

Rekka (00:54:34):

So, was that a decision—I mean, you said you did this ages ago, but—was it a decision to make a phoenix because a phoenix is a spec fic element that you could communicate this idea with? I mean, the poem itself does incorporate like the, the bird that you "thought was glass turning into ash." I mean, like there are phoenix elements in it. How early in the process did that come about? Or was it a decision because you wanted to submit it?

A.Z. Louise (00:54:58):

That, I think that what happened is when I got to that line that you read about "my chest to crucible too hot to hold," I was like, "Oh, this bird's on fire, baby." So that was me sort of following, uh, my maybe tortured metaphor down a little rabbit hole and finding a bird in there?

Rekka (00:55:20):

So it's not, like you said, like, okay, search and replace every instance of "Blue Jay" with "Phoenix." It's more than that. It's finding the spec fic element inside the metaphor you already have.

A.Z. Louise (00:55:32):

Yeah. That's, that's what I do a lot of the time. Um, and typically it's an elemental thing. Like I will have a reference to fire or dirt or leaves or something like that. Obviously nature is in my stuff a lot. Or if I want to get really weird and wild, I have one poem about stars. Like just like having a star relationship in space. Like, it doesn't make any sense, but uh, I have mapped feelings onto stars, so now we're in science fiction. Sure. Why not?

Rekka (00:56:10):

Yeah. No. And it still sounds to me, like most of these stories could get picked up in a literary poem magazine if you went that path because these metaphors— like, it's not like famous poems that we were taught in school don't reference stars, you know, it's not like they don't reference dragons. And how far toward spec fic it is, sounds like it's really debatable, honestly, because so many poems are metaphorical.

A.Z. Louise (00:56:42):

Yeah and sometimes I will write a poem where the only thing that seems speculative about it at all is the title, because I noticed something similar to folklore in there. Um, or something like that. Like I wrote a poem recently where I, I wrote the whole thing out and I was like, it feels mildly speculative, but isn't fully there yet. Um, but it's really, really similar to, um, the story of the snow queen. So, um, I titled it in reference to that. Has it gotten picked up yet? Absolutely not. But, um—

Rekka (00:57:18):

But it doesn't feel like an incomplete approach to that way of doing things.

A.Z. Louise (00:57:21):

Yeah. And the thing is, is that there are so many outlets out there that somewhere that says they take something like slipstream or, um, you know, like surrealism, they would be more likely to pick up something that only has a wisp of speculative elements. So I usually have a large bank of poems. And then when a call for submission comes along, I'll just yeet. But if I have something that I don't know how to place and I really want to that's when it's Submission Grinder time, baby!

Rekka (00:57:56):

Yeah. That's more poetry, obviously, than we've ever discussed on this podcast. And I loved every minute of it because... This is poetry centric, but I still feel like it's excellent advice getting in there and feeling your words and... Um, letting the reader feel your emotions through them is always good advice because we love when we feel things.

A.Z. Louise (00:58:22):

Yeah. You read to feel an emotion.

Rekka (00:58:25):

Yeah. And I think readers enjoy that moment that we referenced earlier when you're like, "Wow, that sentence." I think readers love that too. And um, so it's, it's good for everyone to get in your emotions and to be vulnerable as much as, um, as you think that doesn't feel right when you're going to market and trying to sell something. It's what we're all searching for, is that connection that someone else is feeling that too. And I am, I am feeling all squirmy and happy because I feel like maybe I'm not such a bad poet and maybe I do have some words to share and maybe that story will end up being, you know, a poem that I can share or if not, like I'm like just going to let the words start flowing a little bit more and, and write them down rather than just being like "oh that'd be a good poem."

A.Z. Louise (00:59:14):

My last thought on that is that some poems I write without meaning to send them anywhere at all. Some are just for you.

Rekka (00:59:22):

For you. Yeah. I think that's how you can allow yourself to be vulnerable from the get go. If you don't tell yourself like, "Oh, that one line is headed for Strange Horizons."

A.Z. Louise (00:59:34):

Yeah, and it's healthy to have things that are just for you, it's not healthy to try and monetize everything. As much as we live in capitalism and that's necessary.

Rekka (00:59:42):

Yay, Capitalism. But you did mention that sometimes you start your poem and it's more like a journal.

A.Z. Louise (00:59:46):

Yeah.

Rekka (00:59:47):

And, um, that's, I think that's healthy. That's a healthy way to approach any writing project is like, "this doesn't have to sell if I just want to live in it for a little bit. And then later I can decide, um, or..."

A.Z. Louise (00:59:59):

I have tons of trunked stuff.

Rekka (01:00:00):

Yeah. Yeah. And, um, it's healthy.

A.Z. Louise (01:00:04):

Trunk City in this computer.

Rekka (01:00:04):

Yes. I just really enjoyed that conversation. So thank you so much for coming on.

A.Z. Louise (01:00:07):

Thank you so much for having me.

Rekka (01:00:08):

And for all the bonus advice about editing and revising that I wasn't expecting to.

A.Z. Louise (01:00:13):

I wasn't either.

Rekka (01:00:15):

Thank you so much for coming on, A.Z. I really had fun.

A.Z. Louise (01:00:17):

Thank you, me too.

Rekka (01:00:33):

Thank you, everyone for joining us for another episode of We Make Books. If you have any questions that you want answered in future episodes, or just have questions in general, remember you can find us on Twitter @WMBcast, same for Instagram or WMBcast.com. If you find value in the content that we provide, we would really appreciate your support at patreon.com/WMBcast.

Rekka (01:01:00):

If you can't provide financial support, we totally understand. And what you could really do to help us is spread the word about this podcast. You can do that by sharing a particular episode with a friend who can find it useful, or if you leave a rating and review at iTunes, it will feed that algorithm and help other people find our podcast, too. Of course you can always retweet our episodes on Twitter. Thank you so much for listening and we will talk to you soon.

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