Friday, December 15, 2017


Kim Bailey Spradlin is a 2016 Pushcart Prize Nominee, published poet and writer, and was a columnist for Five 2 One Literary Magazine from 2016-2017. Kim teaches writing courses online and works as a freelance editor. She lives in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., with her husband, poet S. Liam Spradlin.

It's gratifying to see we're on a similar path of empowering women and getting to truth, demanding that it hold a central place in our lives, communities and government. How do you feel as a writer who is a woman on this journey nearly one year into this terrifying roller coaster ride with 45 at the helm? In what ways do you feel most affected by the beliefs and actions of this regime?

I love this question, because it validates that the current administration, as we are learning, includes Republicans in Donald Trump’s regime, and has and does affect so many of us, especially women.

It’s been a hard year, but I’ve written more to controversy, politics, and truth than ever before.
The stress has, however taken a toll on my life and writing. It takes more effort to write anything, but I have learned to persist and persevere. I don’t want to write unless it has a chance to illuminate our current situation as a community and nation. I suppose my writing has become more invective, and my poetry, more political.

I’m freaking tired, though.

As a woman, writer and mother, you wear many hats and have encountered diverse obstacles and circumstances. What have been the greatest obstacles you've encountered as a mother of trans kids? How has this shifted your focus as a writer?

My greatest obstacle has been to be out of relationship with one of my trans kids because he felt I “dead named” him and outed his former self. I’ve stopped writing to his journey and mine specifically related to his, while I ask my other son’s permission when I write about the trans journey as his mom. I’ve learned that my story often intersects with theirs and to write anything about them may encroach on their privacy.

I suppose my focus has shifted on me and my relationship with self, how I experience the world, and what I hope for in this life.

Empowering women and girls, a long-held mission of Hillary Clinton's, is one that desperately needs to be embraced by as many people as possible for us to change the present course of the planet, which seems to be toward self-destruction. And for Americans, an end to gun violence--gun control. What specific steps do you envision women need to take to create a safer future for themselves and their children?

We need to be heard and believed by all other men and women. With the #MeToo stories, women are beginning to find their voices, share their experiences more openly and, what I think is most important, we are being heard by more than our best friends or therapists.

That being said, our safe futures will never be fully realized until we have more women in key roles of government, business, religion, the arts, and education who are independent and free from expected patriarchal norms.

This means we must write about, interview, sing of, make movies with and for, hire, and vote for these strong women.

It’s time we truly smash the patriarchy and have an enlightenment of equality and respect. This starts at the grassroots and moves up, while we use the leadership we work for to move outward.

I also believe we need to educate women and girls about the importance of self-empowerment and self-protection. Not enough of us know the hard side of boys and men until it hits us in family and community. There should be zero tolerance of abuse, supported by law enforcement and the legal system. If we are attacked and hurt, we need to know we can tell someone and be believed.

Writing about our experiences is an important step towards this transformation. The more we break our silence, the more we are heard, and ignorance is no longer perpetuated. The taboo of speaking about domestic and sexual abuse must be eradicated, and we women who write are the ones to do it.

Effective gun control is vital. The installment of women who support women and peace is critical for this to happen. Again, women writers can affect change and movement in policy too.

What sorts of risks do you see yourself taking and have you encountered as a woman writing about her life at this time?

I’ve risked and lost relationships, been targeted by men and women who hate anyone different, and I’ve effectively branded myself and my writing as rebellious, outspoken, and unwelcome in my family and community.

I began writing about my experiences years ago. My truths were an embarrassment to the men in my life, and sometimes to my children.

None of that has stopped me.

How has your literary focus shifted? What are you most fired up to write about? What are your current hot topics?

Ahh, great question. I find I’m extremely passionate about women’s rights, women’s voices, and women’s ability to reveal the abuse and neglect suffered in childhood and adulthood to listening audiences so the revolution of humane treatment becomes more desirable and imperative that any wealth or power.

I am ready to dig deep, to excavate the bones, clean the grounds, and raise up alms for love and peace. I am fired up about opening the windows and doors of the petrified patriarchy and eradicating its stench and existence from our world.

I continue to get a lot of push back from some people in my life. Although my husband Shan is supportive, there are some men and women in our lives who are sick of my platform and voice. Such rebukes used to bother me. What they don’t realize is their attempts to silence or shame me become more fuel for my words and passion for telling my story.

As we transition through the holidays and upcoming new year, I have a long list of writerly tasks to continue working on.

The more prominent topics are:
  •    Breaking the Legacy of Silence (continued but somewhat softened and more refined): women’s voices.
  •       How to support and install women in politics, leadership roles, and the arts (writing, publishing, poetry)
  •      Teaching women and men healthy boundaries, how to recognize abuse, and resource management. This comes from self-awareness, which is an individual job, but one that writing to my own experiences will help facilitate and start meaningful conversations. A group of women doing this could amplify such a mission.
  •       I’m focused on getting my memoir, poetry collection, and my novels published this next year.


Friday, November 24, 2017


Noah Cicero is an American novelist, poet and short story writer. He is the author of seven books of fiction, two e-books and a book of poetry. Originally from Ohio, he now lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Here is a link to his most recent book, Blood-Soaked Buddha, Hard Earth Pascal:

I'm very curious about your latest book, BLOOD-SOAKED BUDDHA-- HARD EARTH PASCAL. Starting with the title, can you tell us a little bit about it. What was your intention or aim?

The title comes from two things. Blood Soaked Buddha comes from when Dazu Huike waited outside of Bodhidharma’s cave. Dazu Huike kept asking Bodhidharma to teach him the way, but Bodhidharma wouldn’t teach him. Eventually Dazu Huike cut off his arm to show Bodhidharma his sincerity. A person must bleed to become a Buddha. The Hard Earth comes from how Pascal tells you, that you are embarked on life, you are on the earth, and must make a philosophical choice about how you will live, and this choice is hard.

The book starts with some statements on time, bitterness and ethics. And then it goes into thought experiments, what if there is heaven? What if there is reincarnation? What if there are ghosts? And ends with Pascal’s Wager. But of course, I have a different take on the wager than Pascal. Basically, I have never been satisfied with the philosophies surrounding the fact, what if there is heaven and what if there is nothing? I have never been satisfied with the explanations on how to live by the Judaic Religions and I have never felt satisfied by Western Atheists. This book springs from that dissatisfaction.

Congratulations on the publication of your latest poetry collection, NATURE DOCUMENTARY. I'm assuming it's about your relationship to nature, which seems significant in recent years. Can you speak a bit to your evolving relationship to certain themes like nature in your poetry? What are other subjects that draw you, poetically speaking?

“Nature” really has two meanings. One means “outside of the urban” and one means “How something behaves” in an Aristotelian sense. I have spent a lot of time outside urban environments. Growing up in Ohio gave me the chance to walk the woods for hours at a time, to look at beetles, cut up vines in the forest and lick water out of them, to see snakes and deer. I’ve also been to many national parks, and lived at the Grand Canyon. And now I go hiking every Sunday somewhere in either the Spring Mountains or Mojave Desert. But people who live in urban settings often have an unnatural view of the forest and desert. The urban view it as beautiful, but that is projection. Nature isn't beautiful. Everything is eating each other, everything is dying, rivers are smashing through rocks, snakes are eating mice, mice are being eaten, and animals basically rape each other. Nature is brutal. It is totally Hobbesian.

I had this moment standing with a young woman looking at the Grand Canyon. She said, “The Colorado created the canyon.” I replied, “The Colorado destroyed the land before it.” But neither are true. The Grand Canyon was not created or destroyed. It is, just is, and for some reason, we like to look at it.

But the poetry book is also about the nature of humans, that we are often consumed with halcyon days. We make bad choices and have to live out ruined lives, and sometimes have to do things we don’t want to do, but we have to forge ahead and do it.

The book might be about, how brutal it is, to be human.

I really draw a lot from the inability to change, how we can stay the course even though it is a real disservice and obvious punishment to ourselves.

Your connection to the Latin American literary scene seems completely natural. It makes perfect sense to me. With what and whom do you most ally in that scene?

I have made a great friends in the Latin American writing scene. From Spain to Argentina they have become connected via the internet. There is a poet named Luna Miguel that has worked hard to bring Spanish speaking writers together. She has done lots of promotion by word of mouth and the internet for years. You go to Mexico, Chile or Peru and people will talk about their love of Luna Miguel. I’ve had the honor of meeting some of these great people, some of the best minds and hearts. To think about the people I’ve met, and the kindness they’ve shown, my heart grows warm.

It seems too long since we've actually talked, but one thing that has evolved for me from this distance in terms of my perception of you as a writer is your relationship to the art as a kind of ambassador of truth. Can you speak to that--disputing or denying it is cool too.

Truth has died out, there is no incentive to be interested in truth anymore. This is how we do things in the 21st Century. We all have these ideologies/brands/identities and we seek art that reflects our ideologies/brands/identities. When people read Dostoevsky in the 20th Century, they knew they were embarking on a journey, that they would stumble onto passages that made them doubt truths they held dear, but they did it anyway. We don’t read or write books like that in the 21st Century. No one is going to read a book on the Barnes and Noble table and feel self-doubt. This is why the books stop selling a few months after they come out, because they are DOA, Dead on Arrival. The words are dead, the books have no life.

The search for Truth in Being, is not about seeking, it is about experiment. It is about starting your novel or article with an experimental idea, dissecting the idea, and allowing the answer to arise out of the dissection. But we don’t believe in that anymore. We have answers ideologies/brands/identities that we have to maintain. We are nothing more than marketing niches.

I believe in Truth in Being. I think people should think about enlightenment. It breaks my heart, really makes me sad, when I look at a group of people rushing around, maintaining their ideologies/brands/identities. I can really tell, none of them are thinking about enlightenment, they aren’t worried about what it means to be happening.

What drives you to write most now? What drove you to write initially?

I have always felt this terrible pain inside me. An unbelievable agony. I am really exhausted of it. I know why writers kill themselves if you asked me, “Noah, tell me why writers kill themselves.” I wouldn’t do it. Just believe me, if I took the pain out of me and put it in your body for even a minute, you would scream, pull at your hair and beg me to take it out of you. I don’t know why, but writing keeps it at bay. Writing is a release valve for it. Probably years from now scientists will discover that this terrible pain and the need to make sentences come from the same place in the brain, but as of now, I don’t think we know, and if we did, would it matter?

                                                            NOAH CICERO

Friday, November 17, 2017


Wolfgang Carstens is the author of numerous poetry collections, publisher at Epic Rites Press, and organizer and host of Poets Underground, a poetry show that celebrates and showcases the best and brightest authors currently working the marrow of contemporary poetry. He lives in Canada with his wife, five kids, grandson, mortgage and death.  His poetry is printed on the backs of unpaid bills.  More information at

Firstly, I feel very fortunate to have been given a peek at your latest collection of poems, Hell and High Water. They are sexy, funny and feel deeply authentic. Each poem is like a short story that leaves the reader wanting more. Being only familiar with this selection of your poetry, I can only wonder whether humor has always been a part of your oeuvre. It lends the whole a kind of lightness--I would hesitate to say, levity. Is the humor, that is often dark, unique to all your work, or just this batch? And from where do you feel it comes? Please expound.

I am the most obnoxious person—the guy who always has a witty retort, a sarcastic comment, and a joke about everything. That being said, my first two books Crudely Mistaken For Life and The Abyss Gazes Also are two of the darkest books on the planet. There isn’t much humor to found in those pages. These books were written during a period when Death was working overtime to snuff out everyone I knew. My grandmother, whom I loved dearly, had recently died. My friends were dropping like flies. A family member had been murdered. I had been pallbearer at six funerals in ten months. It was absolute brutality. Hell, I almost died myself. That was the background for my first two books. Death had become so commonplace in my house that even my seven-year-old son had started asking questions.

“where was i before i was born?”

my son asks.
“you were a part of me,”
i answer.

“where will i go when i die?”

“you will again become a part of me.
we’ve always been together—
we’ll always be together.”

“will you bring me back to life
when i die?” my son asks.
“yes,” i answer,

“i’ll always bring you back to life.”

“and if you die,” he says,
“i’ll bring you back to life.”
“then you will be my daddy,” i say.

“yes,” he says,
happy in this thought.

“wonderful,” i say,
thankful that the serious questions
have passed.

as my son runs back outside to play
this question of nothingness
surfaces like an ugly, unseen monster
and i think:
if only it were that simple.

            —from The Abyss Gazes Also

By the time Factory Reject rolled around, things were starting to get back to normal. The poems in Factory Reject, although still quite dark, have an edge of humor to them. As the poem “listening” illustrates:


to the old ideas CD
in the Chevy,

Raven asks,
“is this that guy
who likes to talk
instead of sing?”

“yes,” i say “his name
is Leonard Cohen.”

“he sounds ancient,”
she says, “how old
is he?”

“he’s turning seventy-nine
this year,” i say.
“that’s really old,”
she says, “he’s gonna die soon.”

“well, then every birthday
must be pretty special for him,” i say.
“what would you write
on his birthday card?”

Raven thinks for a minute,
then says “happy birthday Leonard.
don’t look into the light.”
            —from Factory Reject

Every book from Factory Reject onward incorporates humor in some way to make the poems work.

You've made several references to Bukowski in your work. What do you love most about his writing? Any reservations where his work is concerned? Who, besides Bukowski, has impressed you as a poet?

I have never read Bukowski. Not a poem, story, or a single book. I simply have no desire to read his work. I did create a poem in Hell and High Water from a Bukowski quote a friend shared with me—but, in my entire body of work, I have never referenced Bukowski. Funny, when my first book Crudely Mistaken For Life came out, one reviewer wrote that he “could clearly see the influence that Bukowski had on my work.” I wrote him back asking “Who the fuck is Bukowski?” I had no idea who he was. I had to Google him. Now, while I could expound upon the reasons why I have no desire to read Bukowski, my efforts are better spent talking about authors who have inspired me. The list is very small—three authors, in fact: Rob Plath, John Yamrus, and Henry Denander.

I was introduced to the poetry of Rob Plath in 2008 and it revolutionized the way I looked at poetry. Prior to reading Plath, I believed poetry was reserved for lofty ideas and emotions. Plath, however, not only encouraged writers to reach into the marrow of their bones and write about their darkest beings, he also encouraged writers to write like an ogre was banging on their door. Plath taught that life was short, urgency was paramount, and that nobody should go to their graves with songs still trapped inside them. That was 2008. I have been writing like a maniac ever since. Plath also taught me about writing in everyday, ordinary language—about how to write poems like 911 calls—“pared down, to the point and urgent.” The analogy here is that you would never use rhyme and meter when you phoned 911 for help—nor should you in poetry.

Now, to fully understand the importance of reading Plath and the impact his work had on me, you need to understand that I cut my teeth on 19th century French surrealist poets like Baudelaire, Mallarme, Verlaine, etc., the British Romantic poets like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake and Keats, etc., and on Edgar Allan Poe. Prior to being exposed to the work of Rob Plath, I was writing sonnets! It wasn’t until I started reading Plath that I started writing free verse.

John Yamrus, in turn, taught me four important lessons. The first was to eliminate titles from my poetry. Titles, as Yamrus put it to me, are unnecessary additions to the poem that only serve to treat readers like idiots—which, clearly they are not. If the title doesn’t add something necessary to the understanding of the poem (meaning, context, etc.), it has no business being there. It took me a few years to come around to Yamrus’s way of thinking—but by my third book Factory Reject, I had abandoned titles completely. In my newest book Hell and High Water, only two poems have titles: “Slave Lake, 2014” and “caught watching porn”—both of which serve to add context to the poems. As my poem “Slave Lake, 2014,” reprinted below illustrates:

Slave Lake, 2014

we were on vacation.

my wife was mad at me.
she’s always mad at me
about one thing or another.

we were at the beach.
she wanted to leave
and i wanted to fish.

she made her stand on the shore
with the kids and the dog.
i dragged my lawn chair
twenty feet in the water
and sat down.

come hell or high water,
i wasn’t leaving.

i got both.

and high water.

—from Hell and High Water

The work of John Yamrus also taught me some of the most important lessons about writing. It has taught me about the importance of economy in language—about cutting extraneous words from the poem—about cutting everything away until you reach bone.

It has taught me about line breaks and how to use the negative space to create flow and tension in my work. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, how to get the reader involved in the poem and make them a willing participant in the interpretation. When I look back to my first books, they seem wordy to me. The poems are constructed like furniture, with every screw, hook, and fastener in place. They are sturdy. When you reach Factory Reject, however, the poems start getting shorter, more economical, more “choppy,” and I start taking greater risks with the material. This is especially true in my newest book Hell and High Water, as the poem “Len” illustrates. Here, success or failure, depends entirely on the reader to “get” the joke:


always thought
the van
that he’d seen
driving around town
was fucking hilarious.

that is,
until the day
he came home
early from work
and found it
in his driveway.

—from Hell and High Water

Finally, the work of Henry Denander had a profound impact on me. The first book of his that I read was The Accidental Navigator, released through Lummox Press. Denander’s blue collar, everyday style of writing immediately hooked me and his courage to poke fun at himself in these poems was a revelation. I found myself writing poem after poem while reading his book. Factory Reject, in fact, was inspired by reading Denander. I have since purchased copies of all Denander’s books and he has become my favorite poet to read.

As for Bukowski—I don’t know his work from a hole in the ground. I prefer to keep it that way. I do, however, encourage readers to search out books by Rob Plath, John Yamrus, and Henry Denander. If you want to put your finger on the pulse on what’s happening in underground literature, this is a great place to start.

Is poetry your main genre as a writer? Have you written flash, or thought of expanding some of your poetic ideas into different kinds of narratives? 

Poetry is my main genre, although I have written flash fiction, short stories, screenplays, philosophical essays, book reviews, and am presently working on a book of non-fiction. The way it works for me is ideas have particular forms—or perhaps better put, the ideas choose their own vehicles. Some are poems; some are stories; others become essays. I have three short stories coming out in print soon in Brenton Booth’s print magazine The Asylum Floor. I strongly encourage readers to check it out. Keep your eye on my website for more information and ordering details.

In what ways do you envision expanding as a poet in the future? 

One of the main goals in my work is to hammer home the idea that readers should “Live today because tomorrow never comes.” Don’t take tomorrow for granted. It may never come. So, while it’s easy to put items on a bucket list and be content that you will accomplish these things when you have more time, when your kids are grown, when you retire, you need to be aware that Death always has his hand on your shoulder—and He loves to ruin your carefully laid plans. Live ferociously!

i bought

Clare’s unfinished watercolor landscape
(the one she always said she’d finish “tomorrow”)
for two bucks at the estate sale.

it was a running joke between us
for over half a decade.
whenever we’d run into each other
at the bank or the grocery store
i’d ask, “how’s my landscape coming?”

“almost finished,” she’d say,
“maybe tomorrow.”

when i brought it home,
i took a black sharpie
and printed “Live today!
Tomorrow never comes!”
in the white space
where the mountains should’ve been.

i always knew the landscape
was meant to be mine.
i just never guessed
i would be the one to finish it.

            —from Factory Reject

I mention this because, as a writer, you never want to keep writing the same book. That is, my Crudely Mistaken for Life, The Abyss Gazes Also, and Bulletproof are—for all intents and purposes, the same book. They all scream my “Live today” message. And that’s fine—but it’s also important to stretch your wings and write books that are completely different. I have done this with my Rented Mule, released through NightBallet Press. It’s a collection of “working” poems; with my Enjoy Oblivion, a collection of poems about my father; with my Savage Love, a collection of poems that explore the “size matters” phenomena; with my books Only the Dead and Raising the Dead, released through Svensk Apache Press, and are fully illustrated by Janne Karlsson; with my newest book Hell and High Water, released through Six Ft. Swells Press, which is a collection of “relationship” poems; and next year my From Dusk to Sandra Dawn, a collection of poems about my disastrous first marriage, will be released through Bareback Press. As a writer of poetry, I want to keep bringing new and different collections to my readers. Beyond that, I want my poems to keep getting more economical—I want to keep cutting until I hit bone. Also, I want to keep getting better at promoting my work. I owe everything to my publishers—without their support and hard work, my books would not exist—so it’s always important to me to bring home a winner for them.