|November 1998||Café Society's Poetry News Update|
||"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"
This issue features an interview with Michael Stephens , Editor of the online poetry magazine
lives in Cincinnati, USA, with his wife Heidi and their two cats, Spot and Betty. Heidi co-edits these two websites with Michael.
Michael lives in Cincinnati, USA, with his wife Heidi and their two cats, Spot and Betty. Heidi co-edits these two websites with Michael.
|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 Maudlin Press/Avalon index page here
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,|
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.
© Jan Sand
We walked, fifty years and twelve ago,
Exotic Bird © Jan Sand
I do not sleep the long smooth sleeps of childhood now
© Jan Sand
© Jan Sand
Let me ride the tail
Oh, the world heaves up
The sapphire wind
Deep down below
But the top of the sea
|First part of|
THE BREAKFAST MOUSE
© Jan Sand
There is a Mouse
With his teeth
© Jan Sand
There is in dreams a magic transformation
In dreams there can be crystal cliffs
I've had dreams that swirl and drown in love.
In sleep the human mind falls into disarray.
Part of a political cartoon © Jan Sand
|HOMAGE TO EDGAR ALLEN POE|
© Jan Sand
Somewhere between the cracks of chronic comic cosmic cackling
But upper echelons of bosses
"Goddamn!" They slam their bulky hams with palms so sly -
"Back to work!", the bosses rant, ties askew, eyes aslant,
Jan can be contacted at: [email protected]
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 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.
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.