November 1998 Café Society's Poetry News Update
Do you have any poetry news? Do you have any strong views about poetry or publishing that you would like to share here? If so, mail me on the email link at the bottom of this page. This is a non-commercial site - competitions and calls for submissions can be announced here free, because I believe they are of benefit to poets. If you have an announcement, click the email link at the bottom of the page and let me know...

AN INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL STEPHENS

Michael Stephens, poet, editor and musician
"For love, for yearning, for the puzzle,
the fine blue riddle of Wednesday we wake, leave behind the mystic realm of moths and mirrors, the halfmoon strangled night where dreams take hold and our bodies burn."

From "Wednesday We Wake"
© Michael Stephens.

This issue features an interview with Michael Stephens , Editor of the online poetry magazineAvalon and founder of The Maudlin Street Press.

Michael lives in Cincinnati, USA, with his wife Heidi and their two cats, Spot and Betty. Heidi co-edits these two websites with Michael.

*If you are interested in submitting poems for Avalon, Michael's email is:

Poetry L & T:Firstly, Michael, what made you first begin to write poetry? How old were you at that time?
Michael Stephens:I think it was songs I wanted to write at first. I was 13 or 14 at the time, though I think the urges were there earlier on. I'm not sure about that part of it really. I mean, I'd wanted to be a writer -- some kind of writer -- for as long as I can remember. What poet knows why? When I was 13 or 14, it just manifested itself in a clearer way. I took up the guitar, which was the cool thing to do in the 60s and 70s, and began writing songs. I hit the road with this guitar and these imprecise notions of writing in the fall of 1971 and headed west from Detroit. I experimented with poetry during this same period, though I had no idea what I was doing. I had an 8th grade education and was shooting heroin in Phoenix, Arizona a few months after leaving home. My songs were okay. My poetry was awful.
Poetry L & T:Are you influenced by any famous poets? Which one is your favourite?
Michael Stephens:I don't think I am influenced by any famous poets. As a boy, I never read poetry, nor books for that matter. Later on, I read a lot of fiction but still no poetry. A piece every now and then. I was very taken with T.S. Eliot's The Long Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: "In the room the women come and go/talking of Michaelangelo..." I also liked Robert Frost. (Ironically, Frost and Eliot hated one another. Did you know that?) But I don't think I was influenced by either of these two. Leonard Cohen influenced me, I think. Bob Dylan in a musical sense. I can't think of anyone else.
Poetry L & T:How did you first get the idea for the Maudlin Street Press, in the days before it was on the Internet? Was Avalon part of that idea or did it follow later on?
Michael Stephens:Maudlin Street Press was my wife's idea. She's a big fan of Morrisey and The Smiths. "Maudlin Street" is something from a Morrisey song, she tells me. But AVALON came first. I started it in prison back in 1991, a combination poetry/pen pal magazine. Very rough back then. Printed out on a law library copier. One hundred copies or so every month. Heidi -- my wife -- was my first subscriber. It's how we met. I got out of prison in 1994, moved to Cincinnati, and we were married five days later. AVALON became an online magazine last Christmas after we got a second phoneline and entered cyberspace. We've published a few chapbooks for Mykola Deminchuk and Ron Massa, also a few lesser known poets. But AVALON is what we're dedicated to.
Poetry L & T:What are the chief aims of Avalon?
Michael Stephens:To find and publish unknown poets who might not otherwise get exposure. I guess that's the long and short of it. We both love poetry and publishing AVALON every month is part of the affair.
Poetry L & T:Your websites for Avalon and the Maudlin Street Press have won several awards, some due to the excellent graphics. Do you do sketches of how you want a page to look, or just put them together stage by stage with a rough image in your mind?
Michael Stephens:Stage by stage with a rough image in mind. Let me say though that in the beginning we got a lot of help from our friend Kimberly Warzelhan who is an extraordinary web site designer and graphic artist. She's the one who designed the Maudlin Street Press logo and some of the backgrounds and buttons on our pages. Neither Heidi nor I knew anything about HTML, gifs, jpgs, and so on. Kimberly designed our first banner and has been our friend ever since. (Her site is located at http://www.frogfrau.com if anyone would care to check out her work.) But these days I design most of the AVALON-related graphics. I don't have any elaborate programs. Just MS Publisher and Paintbrush. Let me add, though, that without the aid of our computer, I can't draw a straight line.
Poetry L & T:Did you meet your wife Heidi through your common interest in poetry?
Michael Stephens:I guess poetry was part of it. We were separated by a few thousand miles for the first three years of our relationship. I wrote her several poems during that time which she later compiled into a chapbook: To a Woman from a Cave. We also dabbled in short prose pieces, writing things back and forth -- a kind of exercise. I still have these and look at them from time to time, remembering. Heidi is a wonderful writer.
Poetry L & T:Have there been any major happy or traumatic life events for you, which have inspired some of your best poetry?
Michael Stephens:Yes, several. I wrote a poem called Solitary Boy about the overdose of my first love. And of course the poems I wrote to Heidi. Most of these can be found at my personal poetry site: http://members.tripod.com/~mikestephens Some of the prose pieces I mentioned earlier can be found there as well. I am the kind of writer who can only write from my own experiences. Which of course limits me a great deal. Especially now, since my life is more mundane than its ever been.
Poetry L & T:What do you look for in a poet's work, when looking for new poets to be featured in Avalon?
Michael Stephens:Originality. Maturity. I don't know. I look for good poetry, whatever that is.
Poetry L & T:There is much discussion on poetry newsgroups about what makes a poem a good poem. Are there any guidelines you can point out, or pitfalls to avoid?
Michael Stephens:I'm not sure I can answer that. I've read those discussions you mention and I have yet to hear anyone say, for certain, what makes for good poetry. I know I've put myself in a position to judge by publishing a poetry magazine, but I don't have the foggiest idea what makes a poem good. It's like what the U.S. Supreme Court said about obscenity: We can't define it, but we know what it is when we see it.
Poetry L & T:Finally, Michael, do you have any advice for aspiring amateur poets who have yet to be published?
Michael Stephens:Yes. Keep at it. Everyone writes bad poetry, especially when first starting out. Listen to advice, but don't let people discourage you. If your focus is on getting published, expect a lot of rejection. Write about what you know. Write about what you see. Go after it. If a thing is beautiful, or ugly, or frightening to you, attack the beauty or ugliness or fear with words. And don't lie. Always tell the truth.

Find information about The Maudlin Street Press here:
http://members.tripod.com/~maudlinstreet/aboutmsp.html

Find Maudlin Press/Avalon index page here
http://members.tripod.com/~maudlinstreet


EDITOR'S LETTER, NOVEMBER 1998

Dear Poets,

In this issue I was pleased to be able to have the opportunity of interviewing Michael Stephens and doing a feature on Jan Sand. They are two of my favourite poets currently posting on alt.arts.poetry.comments.

You can find the feature on Jan Sand, along with some of his poetry and illustrations, below. You can find the poems of Michael Stephens on this site by following this link: Work By Guest Poets or by clicking the links under his interview, then following links from there.

Email Michael on: [email protected]

I still have the details of the Capricorn competitions that were announced last month. If you missed them, click on the link for October's issue, below, under Back Issues.
Any comments on this issue or back issues can be emailed to me on the link at the bottom of the page. Best Regards,
                              


THE POEMS AND ILLUSTRATIONS OF JAN SAND

Jan Sand, poet, illustrator, sculptor, industrial designer and jewellery designer, has kindly agreed to allow me to show some of his work here in Poetry Life & Times.

Jan spent 30 years in Helsinki, caring for his disabled son, before moving to his current home in New York. He is a regular contributor on the alt.arts.poetry.comments newsgroup, which is where his work first caught my attention, as I post there too.

Jan has loved animals all his life, which is reflected in many of his illustrations. His poems mostly deal with animals, space travel and philosophy. He has also written many humorous poems, some of which are included in the interesting examples below.

PASTORAL
© Jan Sand

We walked, fifty years and twelve ago,
Down an icy stream on naked feet.
The trees were stout with age, and so
Young were we, and so incomplete,
No inkling came to us of the coming death
Of wildness. Clear water, shadowed forest,
Was a given that we drew upon with each breath.
Fierce blue skies glimmered through the leaves. Birds chorused
Raining chirps and whistles. Hawks faintly shrieked.
Warm winds hissed and spider strands
Wrapped across our faces. Sharp beaked
Woodpeckers hammered high above. Our hands
Sprung branches that we met
That struck back in whooshing slaps.
Round stones beneath our feet, white, wet,
Seemed oval eggs, and in the gaps
The brown clay mud sucked our toes.
How strong still is that memory. It taps
The liquid grace of time and place that knows
How wonderful that world had been. That stream
From strong and far off memory still flows
And sounds its lively melody when I dream.


Exotic Bird © Jan Sand

NIGHT THOUGHTS
© Jan Sand

I do not sleep the long smooth sleeps of childhood now
Tight filled with wispy lights and gentle joys,
With black teeth dripping icy frights,
With coloured flapping flying toys
And fields of copper glinting dragons
Lolling beneath purple suns
On downs of golden chest high grass
Which hang above a clear green sea
That foams at cliffs of tinted glass.
Still, some nights I launch myself from rooftops
Flying in a swift and silent glide
Above the tiny streets to land again and launch again
And feel the freedom and delight
Of soaring, floating through the night.
Mostly now I taste my sleeps in smaller bites.
I slide in short swift skirmishes
Between the long and lonely memories
And the desperations crystalized
On the velvet matrix of the night
And think the things
That could have been
And should have been
And might have been
Had my life gone glittering
Like my jewels of the night.


© Jan Sand
THE SEA
© Jan Sand

Let me ride the tail
Of the blue-eyed whale,
Use the ocean for a pillow,
While the cobalt sea
Tosses me
On waves that hiss and billow.

Oh, the world heaves up
And the world falls down
While the waves rise up so high -
From their knife edged tip
Green teeth flip
Diamonds into the sky.

The sapphire wind
Herds ragged clouds
To the line at the end of it all,
while the pale moon floats
O'er the wind's wild goats
With a bounce like a ghostly ball.

Deep down below
Where shadows go
With thick snaky arms and teeth,
Great black things
On leathery wings
Move in waters as deadly as Lethe.

But the top of the sea
Makes me see, makes me free
Where the air stings my throat like a blade.
All the gulls tumble by
Through the eye of the sky
In a circus cavalcade.

First part of
THE BREAKFAST MOUSE
© Jan Sand

There is a Mouse
Inside my house
who comes outside to see
When he comes out
I look at him
And he looks at me

With his teeth
He mines my walls
To make his living room
and hall.
My architecture,
No conjecture,
For his pragmatic taste.
My house is just a warmer hole
To make his Winter living space
Where Summer always seems to be.
When he comes out
I look at him
And he looks at me.

Click here for the whole poem

or here for Jan's poem "CAROUSEL"


Breakfast Mouse illustration © Jan Sand
REFUGE
© Jan Sand

There is in dreams a magic transformation
So that fear appears as watching doors,
A clutching claw a hair behind your frantic run,
Frozen feet that push through viscous air,
Or something simple, like a painted square
Upon the sidewalk of a painted city.

In dreams there can be crystal cliffs
That glint within with fields of flowers,
Birds and insects captured in rock glass.
Time and Space are stilled in rocky depth.
Stars no longer compass ‘round the north
But strew like sugar on a kitchen table.

I've had dreams that swirl and drown in love.
Some girl I could not see, but know
By how I felt. She was a vacancy, a blank
Defined by feelings strong outlined
That flowed in me like buttered honeymilk.
Thus I spun in weightless space, in love.

In sleep the human mind falls into disarray.
No floors, no ceilings capturing the beast of feeling,
Wild to play strong games gone mad.
We free ourselves to flee through mazes
Sown with pleasures and with pain.
At night we all go wearily insane.

Part of a political cartoon © Jan Sand

HOMAGE TO EDGAR ALLEN POE
© Jan Sand

Somewhere between the cracks of chronic comic cosmic cackling
Seeps blood and choosy boozie floozie oozy fluids down the wall
To pool and run across the floor and corridor
To convert the bureaucrats to acrobats in spats and hats
So they slip and trip and skip and drip
And dance in funny capers dropping all their papers
Stained and mashed and crushed and trashed to make a mess galore.

But upper echelons of bosses
Look up from their naughts and crosses
Hexed and vexed by jerky clerks
Who pirouette and dance quadrilles
Across the floor, on window sills,
And slither here and there and thither.

"Goddamn!" They slam their bulky hams with palms so sly -
Threaten with their power drills to make round holes above the eye.
The clerks all scream, "It's just a dream we're all a team
And don't ask why." And so they cower in the shower
Confounded over corporate power,
Wheezing, coughing, sneezing, freezing -
Hoping that they'll soon be coping as they gracefully go loping
‘Round the wet and soppy soapy sloppy tessellated shower floor.

"Back to work!", the bosses rant, ties askew, eyes aslant,
"There's things you do and things you can't!"
But workers wet and workers weary
Fed with practice, jammed with theory,
Red rimmed eyes and vision bleary,
Hungry for a chicken salad topped with sauce but rather pallid,
Stuffed their ears with rubber foam,
Crammed the stairs and elevators,
Tumbled down the escalators,
Grabbed the cabs put on their tabs
And headed straight for spouse and home.


Rat - part of a political cartoon © Jan Sand

Jan can be contacted at: [email protected]


I asked several poets on two different newsgroups what they thought about writing poetry, what makes poetry good or bad and about poetry rules. Angie Bryce wrote back first with these comments:
Hi Pinky

Writing to me is a therapy, I have loved writing and reading, poetry and stories, and everything I could as I long as I can remember. I have used writing as a tool for releasing my thoughts, pain and happiness, I can express sides of me that a conversation would not follow.

My feelings on Poetry guidelines are this;
I feel that there is a need for guidelines as a form of teaching a writer format flow, etc., I do not follow a format, If I am writing from my heart and soul where I tend to, I use no rules except the even flow that inspires my pen to write. If I need to use guide lines, I will for a contest or if need be, I love to write in my own style, I was never one to conform to rules *yikes* People are so intimidated by rules of poetry....

I welcome all comments when I write as we need to be open to advice, As far as I tend to just go with my gut and consume a feeling and within everyword I write I leave a piece of myself, Poetry and writing to me captures the essence of the soul, a window to fantasy, the venues are infinite and that itself is alluring.

There is a real difference in style from a guided poet and a poet that just writes, I dabble in both to merely keep up my skills. But I prefer the no holds barred, write it out as it comes approach.

Writing is the best high! Expression and creativity in any fashion is mastery. If I could bottle the feeling I get from writing or reading something that makes me feel, I would hand it out on the street :) for all to experience. So I will end this with telling you that feelings translated to words without instructions, for me, Is the purist form.

Thanks
Be Well
Angie ô¿ô


Pinky/Sara,

Poetry is my other self, the one no one can guess by my clothing or companions, the one not revealed in the wrinkles on my face or my walk. I think of it as a shining jewel that makes me valuable in a new way, a secret that like a well tended fire keeps me warm. This is a good thing to have as I stare down my fortieth birthday.

I share my poetry by posting it on one newsgroup and reading in a nearby town. I have published some locally in calendars and newsletters, and on the internet in a number of poetry sites. If I did not have a place and means to share my work, I wouldn't have a sense of myself as poet. I would not write as much. When people would ask, at the occasional workshop, "Do you write?" my answer, "Oh, occasional family letters and memos. Not much else," would probably be true. Most of the people who know me as a poet have not seen me. I am unlikely to meet one in the local grocery store while stocking up on chocolate or at the drugstore buying personal items. I like this. I like to be known through my words, known through something I can manipulate more easily than my shape or children.

My defined selves are more public: mother, wife, teacher. They are the ones you might meet in town or at work, ones more or less determined by rules set by society and myself. Caretakers, pencil-pushers, purchasers, planners. Buy it, make it, clean it up. Record it. I recognize that poetry has its own set of rules, but I can *choose* to play by them. Sonnets rhyme. Ballads repeat. Language has rhythm. The consequences of adhering to or ignoring the rules are not effects that endanger that sense of myself as poet, whereas if I didn't follow the rules dictated by my other roles - didn't feed the family or share knowledge with students or do the paperwork for my employers - I would be guilty of not fulfilling my responsibilities. I want to be good at all those jobs.

As much as being a good poet is important to me, I judge my value as a poet differently. I don't deny the established practices of poetry; instead, I pay attention to them and try to join the community of practitioners as I am able. I am not ready to write a sonnet, perhaps not able, but I can capture a moment. Sometimes the words I use to hold those moments and ideas moves a reader and doesn't embarrass me. Then I am a poet, good at that job, too.

Julie Damerell


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September 1998

October 1998

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