Friday, February 24, 2017


Cynthia Atkins is the author of Psyche’s Weathers and In The Event of Full Disclosure, and the forthcoming chapbook, Still-Life With God (Hermeneutic Chaos Press, 2018).  Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, BOMB, Cleaver Magazine, Cultural Weekly, Del Sol Review, Florida Review, Green Mountains Review, Harpur Palate, Hermeneutic Chaos, Le Zaporogue, North American Review, Poetry Fix, Prairie Schooner, Seneca Review, Tampa Review, Tinderbox, Thrush, Valparaiso Review and Verse Daily.  She is formerly the assistant director for the Poetry Society of America, and has taught English and Creative Writing, most recently at Blue Ridge Community College, where she curates a quarterly Reading Series, Lit-Salon. Atkins earned her MFA from Columbia University and has earned fellowships and prizes from Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, The Writer’s Voice, and Writers@Work.  She lives on the Maury River of Rockbridge County, Virginia, with artist Phillip Welch and their family. More work and info at:

In what ways has the current political crisis stymied or transformed your actual process as a poet?

I feel nervous in the groin and it’s a different kind of nervous than my normal personal angst. I feel true panic and worry for all of humanity since the 2016 election. This is not hyperbole. We have a narcissistic madman at the helm—and I worry for all of us, but especially the people who are imminently vulnerable—refugees, undocumented, POC, LGBTQ, anyone marginal—all these communities are immediately at risk  The bigotry, racism, xenophobia and misogyny that have laced this administration have set us back years. They have appealed to fears, and work to be divisive, not uniting a broken country. June Jordan said it well, 'I am a stranger, learning to love the strangers around me.'

The realization that this guy holds the nuclear code--his misinformed and bullish tweets undermine national security every day. The news changes by the hour—it has been impossible to go about daily routines, let alone, the 'creative' process.  Yes, it has interrupted, but it has also awakened. But writers and artists have faced persecution and oppression throughout history.  This new regime has made us ‘wake up’ and take hold of our Democracy—and maybe that’s the only good thing—realizing that our liberties cannot be taken for granted. This devil is a TV Evangelist with hurricane hair and hubris—so we best batten the hatches!

The combination of extreme nationalism and extreme religion is dangerous. 'Potus' and his henchmen have surmounted a campaign of hate, greed and fear-mongering. But they have also trumpeted the working class and made them feel ‘seen.’ This last election proved that Neo-liberalism has also failed. We need a new system. The election was a perfect storm of chaos and malfunction in every part of the system. Yes, it has stymied me, but it is also propelling me—toward new subject matter, and a stronger impetus to use art as activism and make some sense of the senseless where I can. Under brutal oppression, Akhmatova said, 'I am in the middle of it: chaos and poetry; poetry and love and again, complete chaos. Pain, disorder, occasional clarity; and at the bottom of it all: only love; poetry. Sheer enchantment, fear, humiliation. It all comes with love.'  I think we are holding tight to our humanity now—feeling the love deeper too.

Marcuse, a Marxist refugee who fled from Nazi Germany, said the first step toward social transformation is protest, refusal. How can poets refuse through their art?

One of the things I realize most is that artists and writers need community, need solidarity to accomplish and transform intent into action. Personally, I am such a loner, an introvert--although I hide this well too—but I know for any movement to take shape, people need to piggy-back in force and will. We need to start locally—in our own neighborhoods and streets and homes. We need to vote in local elections, turn out and show up. Also, the work we do as writers is key—writing to local newspapers, speaking out in print and in conversation, also calling out racism where we see it—even with friends and family. The apathy has been thick. It is a wake-up call for all of us. Democracy is fragile, it is a living and breathing thing, it depends on our participation. 'Action, as distinguished from fabrication, is never possible in isolation; to be isolated is to be deprived of the capacity to act,' admonished Hannah Arendt.  So I am trying to step out of my ‘reclusive baggage’ and connect where I can.

 #AWP #WritersResist The White House Vigil---to 'wake from sleep'--protect the marginal and afflicted, to speak up and speak out, to hold on to our liberties and rights, call out indignities, racists and fascists. To rally for a free press and be stewards of justice and our civil and human rights.  Photo by Mai Der Vang

What do you see as personal/creative challenge(s) for the future and how do you intend to overcome it/them?

The challenges are many in the immediate future. I always grapple with the worthiness of what I do as a writer—how does it contribute to the better good. I think it is important to keep focused, to not get ‘spread out like a warm breakfast’ as my late father-in-law, Kenneth, used to say. That is what is so exhausting as of late—it is not one or two things we have  to worry about—education, the environment, our bodies—it is everything we hold dear in our flawed democracy. In just a month, these guys have gutted everything. But the things I was focused on before the election—my writing, my advocacy for mental health, and more fairness for adjunct professors—these things are still important, and in my own small ways, I want and need to stay on course although now, I will also add calling my senators, trying to help protect those that are most vulnerable in these dire circumstances. So I am also trying to stay focused on the things that mattered before—because they still matter now.

My brand new manuscript, Still-Life With God, has just been accepted for publication by Hermeneutic Chaos Press, 2018, I’m very elated to say. It deals with some of the same obsessions as in my two previous collections—family bonds, mental health—illness and wellness, love, sex, death. In this book, I am attempting to take ‘God' back from religion for myself—also grapple with the questions of the self, in relation to this new paradigm that has sucker-punched us, ala social media. The beast has us plugged in 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and I’m afraid it has drugged us stupid. It is the new drug of the 21st Century, and we are addicted. If I were sociologist, I would be doing an autopsy on the cultural effects, but I am a writer, so I am probing with a pen. Ultimately, I think it is stealing our souls. It is also a forceful tool, one that allows us to come together--‘bandwidth’ and all--unite us with numbers and strength. It is a double edge in a culture crippled by selfies and the endless loop of the endless loop. By the same token, we have also created the monster, the evil portent of Trump—as a culture we have fed on the teats of the media and his megalomaniacal ego. We have engaged in this circus too—yes, in horror, but we are also part of the problem. We have a lot to work on—living together as humans in harmony.  

                                                                                                  Author Cynthia Atkins
                                                                                           Photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher

Friday, February 17, 2017


Samuel was born in Toronto in 1960.  He has been teaching composition for a number of years as a member of the adjunct faculty in the English department at Youngstown State University in Ohio.  He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in French in 1983 from Middlebury College of Vermont, and his Master of Arts degree in English in 1987 from Youngstown State University. He has written for the Metro Monthly, a local monthly publication in Youngstown, Ohio.  A serous film buff, he has also written reviews for 

How would you describe yourself as a reader? When did you first become aware of your love of books?

I don’t think there was ever a time when I was not aware of my love of books.  I don’t even think I can remember a time when I didn’t read. I’ve seen some old pictures of me as a toddler with my father. He would be sitting in a chair reading the newspaper, and I would be standing on the other side reading the back page. We just couldn’t get very many pictures of me where I wasn’t reading.

My mother was even more of a reader than my father, and the house was always full of books. I was always very curious about books and language, and began reading well before I started school. When you’re that young, you have an instinct that the world is a much bigger place than anybody lets on and I always thought reading was one of the keys to a world bigger than my house, my street and my city.

At the risk of sounding like the worst sort of snob, I would describe myself as a cultivated reader. In other words, I keep making an effort to be a better reader and to be more widely read. Every so often while I read, I might put the book down and savor a line of dialogue or a particularly vivid description or piquant turn of phrase.

How has your taste changed over the years? What has influenced it most?

I went through a long period of favoring nonfiction over fiction. As an English major in graduate school, I was fascinated by linguistics rather than literature. Maybe that’s not all that unusual for a former French major. However, one of my first steps toward a greater love of fiction was discussing literature with an equally passionate group of readers. That’s probably the age when most of us first find that sort of environment.

If you go off to graduate school and major in English and you got your bachelor’s degree in something else, it’s easy to feel like a foreigner. It seems like everybody has read all the same books and you’re not quite part of that conversation. So I started reading and I kept reading. 

After graduation, I found a few lists of the top 100 books, the 100 best books, the books everyone should read and so forth. I’ve worked my way through a few of them, starting at 100 on the list and counting my way down to the top. I also started keeping a log of books that I had read. I would include the date that I finished the book, the title and the author’s name.

What are you reading now?  What would you recommend?

At any given moment, I probably have at least one fiction book checked out from the library and one nonfiction book. The nonfiction book is Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. It’s awfully timely with its focus on how ego gets in our ways and that those who pursue their goals rather than their egos are the real winners in the long run. 

The fiction book is A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi. I’m not even halfway through, but it is the story of an Afghan widow who has been charged with the death of her husband. I like to get as much variety in my reading as I can: not so many white writers, not so many male writers, not so many Westerners, and so on. It may sound a bit compulsive, but every so often I like to look at my log and see how much of a balance I have in my reading so far for the year. 

I would recommend that readers have some sort of plan, but to feel free to branch out as needed or wanted.  If you consider yourself young and inexperienced, read those books on the top 100 lists and see what the fuss is all about. Otherwise, you can do what I do. I go straight to the new fiction books in the library. They’re stacked alphabetically by author.  Start in the A authors and look for the first one in the collection that appeals to you. When you’re done, pick up where you left off and work your way through the alphabet. You should find a few books that are a lot of fun and that your friends haven’t read.


Friday, February 10, 2017


Theresa was born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1953, and is a Japanese/American. She is an artist, poet, mother, widow, and grandmother. Her work has been featured in numerous galleries and she has made a living as a professional artist. She has been a resident of Chester, Conn., since 1999.

At what point in your life did you realize your were an artist? How has your idea of what an artist is and what her responsibility is changed over the years? 

I wasn't willing to label myself an artist until I was 25, after landing a career in graphic design and after selling my first work of art. Since the time I was a child my life has been art-driven, even if I had yet to determine that I was an artist myself. Others labeled me as an artist long before I did. 

Being brought up in two very different cultures--American and Japanese--has given me a unique point of view. I love traveling the world and have painted places where time stands still for me. Plein-air painting evokes an experience of a sense of place for me, and the serenity of the human spirit.

Who are the artists you admire? Why? 

The first artist I ever took notice of was Kandinsky, in my early 20s, due to his use of color and hard edge technique. A few years later I found myself drawn to Winslow Homer, and Charles Demuth's watercolors. The latter launched my career with watercolor. I have admired so many artists. As a young woman I was influenced by the writings of Robert Henri--The Art Spirit.

Has the current national crisis sparked by "the-one-who-shall-go-nameless" inspired or detracted from your work? Can you cite examples, please. 

The current national climate of politics has me distressed for our country. The moral compass has been lost. This can only lead to a dystopia in our minds and hearts.

We are a melting pot. Nationalism is on the rise globally. We have been at war since 2003. I am fatigued. But I will continue to fight for our democracy. For now, I will attempt to paint beauty.

                              "Amaryllis" - by Theresa Zwart-Ludeman, 2017

"My Room" - by Theresa Zwart-Ludeman, 2017

                              "Purple Cloud" - by Theresa Zwart-Ludeman, 2017

 Please note: "Purple Cloud" was accepted into a juried show at the National Academy of Design.

Friday, February 3, 2017


Christal Ann Rice Cooper was born in 1969 in Wichita, Kansas and reared in Texas, Germany, and Georgia, where she moved in 1980.  She received her Criminal Justice Degree from Georgia State College in 1994 while working as a bank teller.  In January 1996 she married her military husband Wayne and the couple moved to Kansas, then Oklahoma, Illinois, Florida, and Alabama.  During these migrant years she worked on her Creative Writing Degree, focussing on poetry at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville.  Christal, her husband Wayne, sons Nick, 15 , Caleb, 11, and cats, Nation and Alaska, now reside in the St. Louis area.  

You blog about many subjects that range from poetry to humanitarian issues to literature. And you have played a generous role featuring the words and works of many poets and writers. What motivated you to start a blog? Has its focus changed?

In August 2011, I learned my publisher of the Asian American Times had died in a car crash in Los Angeles. My publisher Shwuing Fu was a wonderful publisher/ editor/ boss. I was Features Editor for the paper for seven years and she gave me creative control, so I could feature individuals of all colors and backgrounds.

The new publisher had a different philosophy for the paper and wanted me to only feature Asians in the art field and also wanted my features to be shorter. As a result, my stories ran in installments, all of which was stifling to me.

About a year later, I was still struggling to write the way the new publisher wanted when my husband was assigned to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery. We moved in July 2012.  It was a terrible experience for us –I felt isolated and experienced culture shock. I found one part of the community to be close-minded, another, judgmental and, on the whole, racist. More importantly, I was extremely isolated from one-on-one friendships and found myself lonely and artistically starving.

During this time, my psychiatrist was trying to find the right recipe of medications, which I was fully willing to try, although I endured numerous side effects, which only made my depression worse. I was also walking hours a day and participating in cognitive therapy with a kind and patient therapist.

Still, it was a very mentally despairing time, especially around January 2013 when I had my last installment published in the paper and realized that I was a writer with no medium, no place for which to write. This was a shock because for I’d been writing for newspapers or news magazines for almost 20 years.  

Finally, out of pure desperation, I decided to start my own blog – to post features. I went to the local bookstore and purchased Blogging For Dummies and in April 2013 launched my blog. 

My original intention was to include stories of individuals from all backgrounds, places, cultures, religions, and races. I wanted to blog in a photo-journalistic style, so each paragraph would match an image that would help flesh it out. The image could be a photograph, painting, or representation of other artworks. I thought it would be interesting to use all artistic aspects to support the feature, which would allow the reader a full experience, using all senses.

As I began the inquiring process, the people that were the most open and gracious to me were other poets. I soon found that the majority of my blog posts actually focused on poets. The Facebook community was also extremely supportive.  People I didn’t know would answer my calls for help on how to improve the blog, what I was doing wrong, and so forth. I couldn’t have done it without my Facebook friends.

The blog and my expectations of it have not necessarily changed, but they have expanded. I would like to include all voices – especially voices that do not agree with my own. The only exception would be voices that promote violence and racism such as the KKK and Nazis. 

Then I received a few Facebook requests from artists who wanted to know more about me and my own voice. So I wrote a post on my personal experience of 9/11; then one on how Whitney Houston’s death affected me; then one on my personal experience of having mental illness.  

Another blog component was adding excerpts from poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Again the community of Facebook, publishers, and writers helped me in this. 

I also started sharing my voice through poetry, posting my own poems, mostly persona poems on real-life individuals.

What is most important to me about my blog is that it's not about me, it’s about the person I am focusing on or featuring. I like to remember that scene from  The Help where Ms. Abilene asks Ms. Skeeter what would happen if she didn’t like what she said about white people and Ms. Skeeter responded, “This isn’t about me.  It doesn’t matter what I think.”

Your poem, “Words Become Flesh,“ about poet Miklos Radnoti, a Hungarian Jew who was shot and killed during the Holocaust, essentially for the act of writing, and other blog posts on resistance and the Holocaust, for example, demonstrate your avid interest in justice and the role of the arts as a tool for protest. What role do you see for yourself as a poet and writer in these critical times?

There are numerous aspects of my life as a poet that I want to express and that reflect who I am:

First, I want to champion the rights of victims of violence, poverty, and political oppression and never let their memory fade. I like to do this through the persona poem or what I call a “monologue” poem or biographical poem about the person.  

Sometimes, when we see a person, we only see a victim – and I want to write poetry that shows this person was so much more than a victim.  An example is this: I’m working on a feature and poem on Kitty Genovese, a young woman who was murdered outside her Kew Gardens apartment in New York and who sparked a debate about the apathy surrounding circumstances of her death in 1964. But my focus is who she was during the 29 years she lived, instead of the last 30 minutes of her life.

Secondly, I want to be able to indulge a fantasy in order to combat a certain reality or situation I wish were different – this usually deals with victims of violence. I have a tendency to dwell on the last minutes of a victim’s life and this can send me into a bout of depression. So I like to “create” a new “idea” of this person’s last moments on earth – where he or she finds some sort of victory, spiritual catharsis, despite what the perpetrator is doing to him or her. This may also apply to literary figures, and I like to call these works “beautiful conquering poems.”    

I’d also like to be known as a historical poet who strives to bring actual occurrences from the past to life in a poetic form. These poems have a wide range and usually focus on notable events such as The Dust Bowl, the Civil War, the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp.

Much of my poetry deals with mental illness, which will always hit close to home for me. I have been diagnosed as bi-polar, with OCD, anxiety, and mild PTSD, and I take five different medications a day for my mental state and I am proud of it. I like to think when writing a poem about my own mental illness that I am releasing someone else who suffers from mental illness from the chains of ignorance and prejudice. Mental illness is very real and affects many people and no one should be ashamed of having it. 

Last but not least, I’d like to be viewed as a poet who writes poems about the Trinity of God (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost).  In these poems I want to make the Holy Trinity more authentic and accessible than the far religious right does. The far religious right often focuses on the rules and regulations God has set forth, whereas I want to focus on the PERSON of the Trinity, which has, I think, has led me to the best love poems I’ve ever written.  

A lot of my poems tend to contradict the way some far right individuals, and even far left individuals, interpret scriptures and the way they treat human beings, especially those who are different from them. I find the best lessons the Holy Trinity teaches us are not about right or wrong but about how to love instead of hate. I hope readers also find lessons of love in my poetry.

As a writer, I would like to be the person that gives everyone a voice.  Recently, I recognized I was so busy listening to victims' voices that I didn’t hear the voices of those who have been falsely accused and the imprisoned. I’m sure as I mature and grow, I will recognize more changes that need to be made.

One of your posts featured poets on the subject of 9/11 and spirituality. What is the connection for you between trauma, art and spirituality? How do they inform one another?

I was not a happy child – at least from what I can remember--and I don’t remember much. Out of respect for those I love, I don’t want to go into great detail, but I always remember hating myself, completely and deeply. I lived in fantasy worlds, pretending, and denying my reality in order to make it from day to day. There were things I experienced and witnessed that I pour into my writing and art.    

As a little girl, my father was Kojak, Roger Staubach, Clint Eastwood, and John Wayne.  I had an older sister named Farrah Fawcett, and I had a fixation on the sitcom Good Times, where James was my father, Florida my mother, and JJ my brother. I had all kinds of conversations with these imaginary fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers. I remember walking up and down the railroad tracks conversing out loud with them.  

I’ve had counselors tell me that it took great courage and creativity for that little girl in me to develop these behaviors in order to survive and maintain sanity. As a child, these behaviors were creative ways of escape, but in adulthood, they became inhibitors. 

I had to change--all but my fascination with the figure of Jesus, who was always in my mind.  I remember wanting to be a nun because I thought if I was a nun the chances of Him choosing me as His bride would greatly increase. That all changed when I learned from my mother that the bride of Christ was not a princess who would be Jesus’s wife, but the Church itself.  I didn’t want to be a nun anymore, but I always found relief by talking to Jesus, telling Him about my day. This was not always complicated. Sometimes I just described a movie I had seen, or a flower that I had smelled, speaking to Him as one would an internal friend. I was prone to nightmares and to sleepwalking, even with my Fred Flintstone nightlight, but what really helped me fall asleep was imagining Jesus standing at the foot of my bed, watching me with smiling eyes. 

I keep that same image in mind when dealing with my trauma. And I view my art and my poetry as a way of communicating with Jesus. 

Most of my artwork consists of women's and little girls' faces, and I guess a part of me is in those faces. When I see a victim, I see myself; when I hear them speak, I hear my own voice. I feel like I am helping myself while at the same time communicating with the Holy Trinity that goes far beyond any words I could muster or utter.


Chris maintains a blog at and can be reached via email at, or via Facebook at