Adam Soldofsky’s The Blind Swordsman Poems

Friend and former contributor to Paperbag Adam Soldofsky has been up to some interesting work lately, not the least of which is his current Tumblr project. A series of short poems built on screenshots with and without subtitles from a classic samurai film, Soldofsky is proving the value of ekphrasis, erasure, and visual poetry all at once.

But then again, as a lifelong admirer of Zatoichi, I could be biased.

Check out Adam’s poems out over at


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Instructions from Ali Znaidi

Another Instructions submission called “Words Rattle” from Ali Znaidi in Tunisia. A visual/poetic interpretation, monochrome and full of guitars. Just how we like it.

Ali’s bio:

Ali Znaidi (b.1977) lives in Redeyef, Tunisia where he teaches English. His work has appeared in Mad Swirl, Stride Magazine, Red Fez, BlazeVox, Otoliths, streetcake, & elsewhere. His debut poetry chapbook Experimental Ruminations was published in September 2012 by Fowlpox Press (Canada). From time to time he blogs at and tweets at @AliZnaidi.

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Author Update

Hi, friends! Hope everyone’s ready to tear it up at AWP. Looks like it’s gonna be a good time.

We got a little update from former Paperbag contributor Joshua Marie Wilkinson. You can find his forthcoming book, The Courier’s Archive & Hymnal, up for pre-order over at Sidebrow Books.

He’s also stepping up to captain the helm at Letter Machine, go check them out!

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An Assignment by Luka Fisher

Some lovely work from Luka Fisher, who sends in some assignments (as per our loose guidelines).

And a folding instruction:

Some Saint Genet types
have cruel hands
in a single sheet of paper
out you in the mail.

Some would see you
Placed in some clear glass home;
like it is temporary.

It is dusk
In your order.
Your draped over rocks.




over some young bird.

The small bird,
A mail
Does only thing–
Inside you.

It is some carnal in out,

The small bird rocks its
inside you.

A foil–

Say these words
in whichever order you
Would choose.

You like young birds
over gold.

You have the rushing
two create.

Personify water.

Salute your river.

You can keep up with Luka’s work here.

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Monica Wendel and Kate Shults–BRAIN SCIENCE Video

We sadly slept on this for far too long (so much email!), but eternal friend of the Paperbag show Monica Wendel has had one of her poems transformed by video artist Kate Shults. The poem is from her forthcoming Thrush Press chapbook, Pioneer.

We’ve always found Monica’s work to fit right in the spirit with assignments and experiments, so we’re delighted to be able to share her and Kate’s video with you:

And you can buy Monica’s book (after it is eventually reprinted) over at SPD.

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Paperbag No. 6 Launch Reading

Hey Friends!

Our latest issue, Paperbag 6, is live. Check it out!

And we’re having a reading. TONIGHT!

Pete’s Candy Store, 7 to 8:30pm

Readings by:



Musical Performance by:


Come celebrate with us! Invite all your friends! Tip your bartender!

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Interview with Monica McClure

Cathy Linh Che: When reading through your poems, I felt some sense of family history in them, but the poems didn’t feel like direct storytelling. They felt slippery, though grounded in a kind of vernacular and an aura of desire (something akin to what I get when I read Tennessee Williams.) Could you talk a little more about the impetus of Mother’s Day and Notes Passing?

Monica McClure: I’m afraid there is personal history in these poems. When I first started writing these poems they were (and still are) juvenile attempts to make grief into art, a practice I used to feel queasy about from an ethical standpoint. Now I’m more concerned with the aesthetic failings of this kind of poetry. I was inclined to elevate a place, my hometown, with baroque description, and to make it complicit in a narrative.

The truth is, I don’t understand the place where I grew up the way I imagine Tennessee Williams, who was genuinely interested in the intrinsic life of places, probably did. And I don’t think good art takes this kind of mythologizing and metaphorizing of one’s life’s events as its formula. Oh well. Quite irrationally, I remember having a foreboding feeling as a child about this place, Luling, where my mother’s mother’s family settled a very long time ago, and I regarded that feeling as an explanation when I suffered a painful loss.

“Notes Passing” chronicles some of the drama that played out between a beloved (first love?) and myself shortly before he died when we were sixteen. A few years later, the main witness to that drama and a dear friend (lover?) died too. That’s when I started to feel like I would lose this story if I didn’t turn it into a kind of monument. There was also a letter, one with ominous closing words that I meant to deliver to Tom the day he unexpectedly died, but that mysteriously disappeared a few weeks after. So you see this whole story is so fraught with the metaphors, symbols, and sentiment of poetry as it’s traditionally contrived that I couldn’t resist writing about it like this: in an epistolary style, syllabic lines, and the vernacular. But really its impetus is the sense I had—especially after I lost another friend—that I was cursed and living in a cursed place, which is a convenient delusion that’s easier to accept than the pedestrian truism that bad shit happens to everybody.

Thanks for saying “aura of desire.” There was a lot of longing for the memory of the physical feeling of the deceased’s body that I hoped would show through because that’s one of the most interesting things about grieving to me—the sensuality of it.

Out of a similar inclination to elevate a banal, personal story in “Mother’s Day,” I versified stories I’d heard about my grandmother’s glamorous pretensions and the manifestations of self-loathing that led her to rejoice in the marriage of her daughters to white men. The stories are cute, which makes them more disturbing. One example is, she once sent her first white son-in-law on an errand downtown just so she could call the drugstore and ask, “Is my son-in-law there?” The aunt recounting this said it was her way of bragging (her word). When you think of it like that it feels like a cultural and historical effacement. And that’s not how I want to feel about being biracial at all! But it’s hard not to; to be both is to be neither.

I was also reading Martin Espada’s poems then, and felt like I could empower those who had lived their lives as disempowered people (In this case, women in a fiercely patriarchal culture) through poetic reification. I think I ended up doing the opposite: I made the concrete more abstract.


CLC: I have to admit, right before reading your submission, I’d just finished Mary Karr’s three memoirs, which are rooted in Texas. So, when I read your poems, I read Texas into them. Am I totally bonkers, or can I ask this: how does Texas show up in your writing, if at all?

MM: People compare me to her a lot. We’re both from the lower socioeconomic ranks of rural Texas. When I hear her talk I recognize the flash, sass, and I-will-have-the-last-word attitude of a Texas woman, and I like that. Like a lot of writers, I felt like an outsider at “home.” Now that I’ve been away for a long time, there’s a tendency to glorify it through exaggeration. Motifs of familiar mesquite trees, languid droughts, wild grass fires and mean, curly-haired cattle—they’re all symbolic of my ambivalent relationship to the state where I lived for most of my life.

Texas was created when U.S. settlers illegally invaded Mexico, killing and cheating its farmers to seize the land. And the campaign to exile and alienate and even kill Mexicans continues to this day, so to be Mexican-American in Texas is to be geographically too close to that historical trauma and—not to mention—a literal border war, to feel at ease. I mean, I don’t have to tell you all the reasons it’s shitty and why that might complicate my love for it. But, yes, I close my eyes when I’m hugging the walls of a poem I’m writing and see oil burbling around the base of a pumpjack. It sticks to me.


CLC: I know that you’re working on an anthology of poetry from biracial or multiracial poets. How/why did that project begin and where are you now in that process?

MM: The formidable Brenda Shaughnessy, who was my professor at NYU, held a roundtable discussion at Harvard in 2008 with the poets Monica de la Torre, Monica Ferrell, Paisley Rekdal, and Aimee Nezhukumatathil about hybrid ethnicities. She needed an assistant to help her transcribe the conversations and develop it into a publication, so we spent a year soliciting poems, stories, and essays from other biracial writers. The conversation spans Obama’s campaign and his entire first term, examining the way Americans perceive race, especially an ambiguous ethnicity, now that we’ve got a biracial president who is called our first African-American president. It’s crazy that we’ve only recently started to shift from thinking about and representing whiteness as the American norm to acknowledging the decades-old reality that we’re thoroughly miscegenated.

At the same time, this is the last moment to talk about this, I think. I’ve had trouble reconciling my identities, trouble with my lack of control over how my race is “read”, trouble with being a secret brown agent among the white, racist world, and Brenda and the other women have experienced more overt discrimination. But multiracial children growing up now might not even bother to call themselves that—or anything—but American. And good for them! At our AWP panel, a woman came up to me after I presented my essay about the apparent sexiness of the ethnically ambiguous person as portrayed by the media, and seemed pleased that we’d gotten to this point in the conversation. She said that when she was my age, to be biracial was just to have a family secret, not a real identity; it certainly didn’t appear in the Lana Del Rey video I was describing. The discrepancy of the experience of this identity across generations is just one of the fascinating parts of this ongoing discussion. We’re hoping to sign a contract with a publisher soon so everyone can read our rants! In the meantime, you can hear our panel on the AWP podcast series for a teaser:


CLC: Are there any artists/writers you find especially compelling these days? Any recommends?

MM: Read the poet Dana Ward’s “The Crisis of Infinite Worlds” because it deals so viscerally with the struggle to know art’s worth in any context—art world or real world or otherworld. I loved Spring Breakers, and like anyone who’s read a little theory,  wanted to go back to Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation. Of course, I watched the other Harmony Korine movies and felt like I was writhing through a pulsing, creative ectoplasm. Katherine Mansfield’s lush prose concerns itself with the libidinal relationship between objects, something that David Lynch takes to its logical conclusion in his films. I’m reading her biography now, excited by the way she longed in her diaries for sexual liberation and artistic realization in one breath. It think it feels like that when you’re young or in the 19th century. Everything that emits from Jenny Zhang’s mind is bread of life to me. Lara Glenum’s “Pop Corpse” raises (lowers?) the bar for subterranean writing. She dances you to a filthy, post-collapse deep sea rave with all the wisdom and way more flourish than Virgil leading Dante.


CLC: Are you working on any projects? Or, are you currently obsessed over anything these days?

MM: In what was maybe my first prolonged burst of inspiration I wrote a bunch of poems that are being published in a chapbook called Mood Swing, to be released by Snacks Press Inc. this July. I’m still going-obsessively-forward with that, and trying to finish up all these short stories that have everything but the endings. Do I need an ending? I’m obsessed with buying and wearing Mandate of Heaven’s clothes, and looking for a secret pleasure garden to wear them in.

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Interview with MRB Chelko

M.A. Vizsolyi: Can you talk about the impetus for the poems in “Mother May I”?

MRB Chelko: Sure. “Mother May I” is actually a series within a longer series which I wrote from December 2010-November 2011. I like to make arbitrary rules and constraints for myself as a generative tool. So, in December 2010 I told myself that, in that month, I was going to write a series of prose poems with the refrains rest and silence. I wrote a whole bunch of them and called them, “December Songs.” Basically, I had so much fun writing “December Songs,” that I decided to write one new series, each with its own set of rules, every month for a year. I wrote one in January, February, March, April all with strict forms or obstructions. But in May it got warm, the earth itself loosened up, and I felt like it was time for me to loosen up a little myself. So, I wrote “Mother May I” – a big energetic free verse list of desires: May I have sentimentality! moaning! insanity! midnight!


MV: You authored two chapbooks, “The World: after Czeslaw Milosz” & “What to Tell the Sleeping Babies.”  Do you see these poems collected similarly, as a whole, or part of larger thing?

MRB: What to Tell the Sleeping Babies and The World: after Czeslaw Milosz are quite different. What to Tell the Sleeping Babies was my first chapbook, and my first attempt at collecting unrelated individual poems into a little manuscript. The poems in it are simply works I felt at the time, intuitively, would provide a satisfying  experience for the reader. I had help from the editor of sunnyoutside press, David McNamara, in selecting and arranging the poems in the final version of that book, which he then beautifully letter pressed and hand-bound.

The World: after Czeslaw Milosz was my first, and I think only real writing, “project” so far. In December 2009, I was having a terrible time trying to quit smoking, mostly because my writing process was really more of a smoking process at that time. Not smoking meant not writing. Not writing meant I was miserable. I had to do something. That month, I happened to be devouring Milosz. To keep my hands busy, I copied down the poems from his 20 poem series, “The World.” And then, I began writing responses to the poems. It was an exercise completely outside of my normal smoking-as-process process, and therefore kind of freed me from the problem of that moment. In the end, I had my own version of The World. It took me two more years to quit smoking.


MV: These poems seem to be a part of what’s being coined a ‘project,‘ as do the poems in “The World.”  How does the ‘project’ work for your poetry?  Do you find it helpful to write with the larger collection in mind?

MRB: For the last three or four years, nearly every poem I have written has been, in one way or another, part of a series. I don’t really like the word “project.” But I think, at some point I just stopped conceiving of my poems as autonomous little objects, and started exploring them as parts of a larger whole—sometimes that whole is comprised of 100 poems, sometimes more like 5, but always more than one.


MV: There has been some recent debate about the value of poetry ‘projects.’  One opinion is that the individual poem suffers when it is necessary for it to be read as part of larger series.  It would seem, however, that poetry has always been ‘project’ oriented.  I’m thinking of “The Divine Comedy,” “The Canterbury Tales,” and, more recently, “The Dream Songs,” among other books.  What is your opinion on this matter?

MRB: In my opinion, every individual poem within a series should stand on its own legs, see with its own eyes, break with its own heart. As long as that is the case, I see no reason why those poems can’t stand and see and break as a group. But maybe there are two kinds of writers: those who could live in a world with only one Dream Song, and those who couldn’t.


MV: Have you participated in any cross-medium artistic/writerly collaboration? If so, what were the results? How was the experience? If not, is there anything in particular holding you back?

MRB: I have not participated in any formal collaborations. Though, a musician friend and I did record a few experiments together a few years back. I think we both ended up feeling like the music and the poetry caused each other to suffer. They are nasty to each other, you know, spoken language and instruments. My friend and I had a fantastic time watching them fight. But eventually we were like, “Okay guys, that’s enough,” and pulled them out of the ring.


MV: What are your thoughts on digital, internet-based journals and publications? Is the internet the harbinger of doom, the doorway to the future, just another tool for communication, or something else entirely?

MRB: I love the internet—the rightnowness of it. And, lately, it has been fantastic for me to listen to the audio recordings so many journals have started including alongside their printed work. My daughter is very young, so I don’t get out to many readings, and it has been great for me to be able to hear new poetry from the comfort of my own pajamas. If they stop printing books on paper with ink, I will take to the streets. Until then, digital media’s fine by me.


MV: Paperbag works to establishing a more substantive footprint for individual writers and artists by asking for more work rather than their best singular poem or piece. Do you feel that the magazine accomplished this for you? Why/not?

MRB: A venue like Paperbag is perfect for me. It’s always great to have a poem published anywhere. But I do prefer to have two or three or four published together a group. That way the reader gets a sense of the series’ scope and gets a more thorough introduction to my work. Likewise, as a reader, I always prefer to encounter a handful of poems by a single poet.


MV: What are some of your most recent influences, direct or otherwise?

MRB: Right now I am most influenced by Radiolab, Gugot’s Series Elementary Geography (this crazy old textbook from 1868 that begins “People live, or have their homes, upon the land. Upon the water people only travel from place to place. Every where we go we are upon the land, or upon the water. In some parts of the world the land extends so far that we may travel many weeks upon it and see only  streams and small bodies of water…”), and all of the brightly colored cardboard books with the corners chewed off scattered on the floor of my apartment.


MV: What is your relationship to your readers? Do you believe in conveying a particular message, or do you regard reader response as relatively open?

MRB: A few really generous English teachers have used my work in their classrooms, and I’ve become friends with a handful of other poets who have reached out to me after coming across my work in journals… but if there is someone out there, wearing away the upholstery on the edge of her seat as she eagerly awaits my next poem, I certainly haven’t met her… and maybe, if she exists, I shouldn’t. Truthfully, I don’t worry a whole lot about audience. Of course, I want to be successful. I want people to read my stuff. I’m not an idiot. But it just isn’t helpful, for me, to think about that directly as I write. However, I do consider all of my poems to be extremely public acts. At some point, if they work, they belong to everyone else, not to me.


MV: What are you working on now?

MRB: A novel for young readers.

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By: J/J Hastain

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By: Luka Fisher

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