Poets of SMITTEN Interview Series: Hoda Essa

Hoda Abdulqadir Essa is a New Orleans native with roots hailing from East Africa. Hoda is a maker, writer, lover, shapeshifter and soul traveler, searching for heaven or hoping to construct it with her own bare hands.

How does being a poet inform your views on expressing emotions through writing? 

As a poet, I’m consistently working from a place that many people call “emotional intelligence” – in other words, I am dreaming out loud when I open my mouth or put pen to paper. So, for me, being a poet comes with a subtle responsibility to always tell the truth. Poetry is not a soundbite nor is it a news-clip. To me, poetry is the rhythm that lives in each person individually. It’s important to express that and writing is a powerful medium to do so.

When you found out SMITTEN was about women who loved women, without the emphasis on erotica that is usually the case – could you immediately think of ways to express that love through writing? 

Absolutely! My friend and I talk about bringing intimacy to life and to me that is what art is. No one has ever written ballads about an intellectual conversation they’ve had but we pause to capture the gentleness of a lover’s brush against your own skin – to me writing is a way at grasping moments that we ultimately have no language for. The erotic, especially, can be more greatly understood as we wrestle with it on the page.

What does it mean to you to be part of something like SMITTEN and have your work alongside other women who love women? 

To me, this is a declaration of the time’s we are in. Standing together in creativity unity is the most empowered place for many women, myself included. It means to me that I have graduated into a time space reality that is being carved out by the very people writing and experiencing love for and from a woman.

Why is love a worthier subject than erotica to write on? 

To me they’re intermingled. You have to love a moment to be inspired enough to write about it. Erotic writing is being so in love with an intimate moment that you want to recreate it for others. The two are closely related as far as I am concerned.

Have you ever been SMITTEN and if so, do you feel it’s possible to summarize those feelings in poetry? 

I am smitten and often. As often as possible. And I love this word as the title for the anthology (kudos to you all) because that word encompasses how wistful it is allowing oneself to be overtaken by simply being fond of another. I’ve tried my entire life to bottle this feeling and give it to the world so yes! It is absolutely possible to summarize these feels in poetry, until we can market the sensation of course!

Your poem in SMITTEN was excellent, why did you choose this particular poem and what did you hope it would convey to readers?

I chose this poem because I was inspired by a woman who took my breath away. She was beautiful, inspiring, deliciously sad in all the right places and talking to her moved me. We never formally met but my hope in writing “WOMAN” was to zoom in on how explosive this connection was without any physical intimacy. I am not even sure if I felt romantic ideations towards this person up until this day – I just knew that I wanted her inner-flame to be safe. I wrote this poem to honor her fire; to protect it.

SMITTEN is available by ordering it in your Barnes & Noble, purchasing it online at Barnes & Noble or Amazon or asking your independent bookstore to order it via Ingram. SMITTEN is available on Kindle and in print form.

For updates on SMITTEN visit the Facebook SMITTEN page.

This is a huge project of 120 female authors – an anthology that is testimony to the power of love and connection between women. Support SMITTEN by purchasing a copy for someone who supports LGBTQ equality, women or poetry.

 

 

SMITTEN

For the sake of SMITTEN, a project I believe in more than anything I have ever done before, I have asked close friends to take over my social media rather than close it down, so that SMITTEN can continue to flourish and succeed.

In my absence, due to my severe eye-sight-issues, my friends will be running the SMITTEN Facebook page and all SMITTEN related materials. Our goal is to ensure SMITTEN is successful in all ways. Sales are one way of legitimizing a project and ensuring its authors are HEARD.

Obviously LGBTQ projects are harder to sell than others, but it is my hope SMITTEN can continue its success through the rousing support of all those who believe in LGBTQ equality and the rights a woman has to love another woman. Please consider supporting SMITTEN – each sale helps raise visibility and gives SMITTEN authors another opportunity to share their unique and beautiful voices.

SMITTEN news and updates can be found here

SMITTEN is for sale at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. If you support local bookstores please ask them to stock SMITTEN using Ingram. If you cannot afford a Kindle copy or hard copy please ask your local library to get a copy of SMITTEN via Ingram. It doesn’t take much and it means everything to the 120 authors and poets of SMITTEN. Indie publishing doesn’t flourish without our support as a community!

Poets of SMITTEN Interview Series: Wil Staley

I am a writer, painter, and more. I received my BA in Psychology, MA in Education, and 50 graduate credits in Counseling before coming out; as being queer was grounds for dismissal. I am now seeking my MSW, so I can help those marginalized by society and be a voice for the LGBTQ community. When I met my wife, I knew I had found myself and I’m learning to love the human I have become. Wil Staley

Do you find any stereotypes in lesbian/bi work that you would personally remove?

Absolutely! Most books for same-sex attraction focus on sex and erotica. Very little exists for same-sex love and companionship. Not only that, but I haven’t seen many books that have lesbian or bi characters who are just people; it almost always focuses on their sexuality. I think it’s important to remember we’re all just human and we are not our sexuality though that is an amazing part of us. Being a lesbian or bi is a normal part of life and I hope this anthology is able to portray that truth.

What does it mean to you to be part of something like SMITTEN and have your work alongside other women who love women?

This is such an honor to me. I’m being published alongside those like me who want to speak their truth for others. Not only that, but I can’t believe I’m in a book with so many amazing artists! I appreciate knowing so many other writers hope to make a change in the way our community is viewed.

Did you ever want to be a voice for the lesbian/bi community? If so, why?

-Being a voice for anyone is incredibly important to me but being a voice for the lesbian/bi community is even more precious to me. I know what it’s like to be hated for something you can’t control and to lose many people close to you because you want to love another human who happens to be the same sex. I come from a religious community who turned their backs on me when I came out. I still had a few people who stuck around and taught me what unconditional love was really like and I am so thankful for them. I hope I can help give others a voice and let them know they’re not alone.

Do you feel your voice is heard? Do you believe anthologies like this can help you be heard?

-Writing is really the only thing that has ever helped me feel my voice is heard and has made a difference. Being in this anthology will help my voice expand. I think anthologies like these are amazing because it caters to all types of people and offers many different styles of writing for our readers so they undoubtedly will find something that speaks to them and helps them feel heard.

Your poem in SMITTEN was excellent, why did you choose this particular poem and what did you hope it would convey to readers?

-I had three accepted pieces and the poem “Nakedness” really speaks volumes. I wrote this to show others how beautiful love can be; how healing it is to be able to give your all to someone leaving nothing uncovered; even the painful or ugly pieces of life. My wife and her love took away the shame I felt in being out and open and the pain I felt growing up in trauma. I am forever grateful for her gentleness.

SMITTEN is now LIVE and can be purchased in Kindle and Print format!

Please support this worthy and important project by purchasing a copy or more. Your support goes a long way to helping the visibility of LGBTQ authors, poets and artists. For up to date information please go to www.indieblu.net

The creation of SMITTEN; Interview with Kindra M. Austin

Interview with Kindra M. Austin one of the two co-founders of Indie Blu(e) publishing by SMITTEN editor, Candice Daquin.

Candice: Indie Blu(e) is a young, edgy and finger to the pulse type of micro publishing gig. What went into its inception? What forces created Indie Blu(e)? What influences?

Kindra: When Christine and I first encountered one another, we recognized straight away that we share a passion for not only writing, but for helping other writers hone their creative voices. I think we first began talking about joining forces to build a publishing company in 2017. In 2018, we realized we already had the bones to build upon with the Indie Blu(e) Network, which we co-founded. The IBN began as a source for readers and writers to discover indie authors, and authors published through small presses.

Our shared vision has always been to represent the unconventional and underappreciated. Knowing what we wanted to represent was the easy part: razor edged, badass, blow a hole through societal norms types of writing. Christine and I spoke at great length regarding our mission, which is to work in a close partnership with our authors to create books that shine, and reflect the talent of the writers. Speaking for myself, I can’t imagine operating a press that didn’t focus on the aforementioned. My influences come from those who do things their own way. I don’t have the heart to do anything otherwise.

Christine and I definitely bet on our combined reputations as writers and editors when we announced the birth of Indie Blu(e) Publishing, and I know we were both happily surprised by the volume of submissions we received early on. Our submissions list continues to grow, and that is a personal success because it speaks to the trust we’ve earned in the writing community. The level of faith these writers have in us is humbling, and drives us to best ourselves with each new project.

Candice: I was fortunate enough to be asked by the founding members of Indie Blu(e) to come onboard. It struck me early on that Indie Blu(e) are unique in that you are not just a typical micro publishing house. As conceptualizers and publishers you have a very strong principle in the choices you make with publishing and it can be said you galvanize and bring together people over very powerful themes.

What do you think are the reasons you operate this way? What benefits do you believe come from linking your beliefs with your publishing acumen? How has IB shifted the micro publishing world by combining strong ideas with publishing? Did you feel a moral responsibility to do this? Did you talk about why this was important? After the Kavanaugh hearings and the #metoo movement, how did We Will Not Be Silenced come to be created?

Kindra: We make it easy for one another to use our individual platforms, sources, and Indie Blu(e) Publishing as a vehicle for advocacy because we all believe in the power of the collective voice. Personally speaking, I have always believed that as a writer, I have the power, privilege, and duty to speak for those who aren’t being heard, and who are marginalized.

I’m incredibly proud that IB has marched to the front line with We Will Not Be Silenced, and that the proceeds from WWNBS go to charities. So yes, I felt a moral responsibility. During the Kavanaugh hearings, there was a fire burning in the pit of me. When Christine suggested a collection of writings and art imparted by sexual assault and harassment survivors, I was all in without hesitation. And I think that a micro-publisher willing to speak so loudly and intimately about its beliefs shows its golden balls. In my dreams of success, Indie Blu(e) Publishing will be at the forefront of anthologies that shatter the foundations built by bureaucrats, hatred, selfishness, fear mongering, and willful ignorance.

Candice: I came onboard to work with you during the creation of We Will Not Be Silenced. In turn this influenced me to consider SMITTEN. Thanks to your idea of bringing voices together, I could see the value of an anthology of poets writing about love between women. You were open to the idea – why do you care so much about giving voices to those who are usually not heard?

Kindra: I’m too empathic not to. A lot of people don’t get upset enough over injustice and uncaring to rise up and help. I don’t understand that at all, and I don’t want to. I never want to know what it’s like to live quietly while my brothers and sisters of this world are suffering.

Candice: Since I have known you both, I have seen a powerful wave of influence coming from ideas you regularly have, where you create projects and communities and collectives and this raises the awareness and voices of authors we may not otherwise hear from. What are your influencing reason(s) for being so socially conscious? Do you think it is a prerequisite of someone in your position as publishers?

Kindra: A lot of my writing influences are authors who are/were involved in raising awareness and advocating in one way or another. Again, I see it as a privilege, and my duty to do the same. A lot of writers we are introduced to have important messages and sensitive life experiences they want to purge, and we hear the call to give them safe and secure outlets to speak their truths. If I weren’t socially conscious, I’d make for a poor publisher, I think.

Candice: Recently you have had a very successful series of poetry prompts on feminism and feminist books including many lesbian classics. Many of the authors in SMITTEN have participated and become part of your growing community of authors – thanks to your inclusive approach to authors and good ideas. Is this a necessary part of being a relevant and sensitive publisher?

Kindra: Absolutely. If IB ever lost that, I’d have to walk away. But that would never happen, so no worries.

Candice: What goals do you see going forward with Indie Blu(e) based especially on the wide influence you have already had in the writers communities?

Kindra: I’d like Indie Blu(e) to publish fiction. I’m a novelist at heart, and I’d love to work on crazy good novel. Also, we have a lot of great anthology ideas. I’d like to see IB at the front of micro-publishers who represent the best up and coming writers.

Candice: Is Indie Blu(e) a publishing house with a social conscience and if so, do you believe we should all aspire to consider this when committing to creative endeavors?

Kindra: Yes, we have a social conscience, and IB gravitated toward social issues and advocacy naturally. While I do believe we should all develop a strong social conscience and stand by our principles, I don’t think that every project needs to address feminism, sexual abuse, domestic violence, etc. IB is in a position where we can represent both gripping, entertaining fiction, and collections like WWNBS and SMITTEN.

Candice: With SMITTEN you were gracious enough to be a huge support in its creation. Why are you able to tap into the depths of a project and relate to it, even if it’s not exactly like your own lives? How did you learn to be responsive to subjects diverse to your own lives? And sensitive to the needs of minorities when dealing with neglected subjects such as rape, sexual abuse, lesbianism and inequality at large?

Kindra: I don’t know exactly why I can relate to people and experiences different from me and my own, other than to say that I’m highly empathic, and I’ve been around diversity my whole life; I’ve always had friends who were different from the majority, and I saw them struggle with misunderstanding and cruelty. I’ve also experienced a lot of direct disparagement.

I’ve been close with women who’ve been raped, my mother and sister being two of them. I grew up around domestic and sexual violence. I’ve spoken up for my cousin, and the children of some of my friends who are mistreated because of their sexual orientation. For me, it’s all about being human. To see another human being suffering in any way makes me ill, and the only level of relief for me is to use my platforms to address the issues.

I’m incredibly proud to be a part of SMITTEN. There’s no way I could have passed on the opportunity, and I thank you, Candice, for including me in this stellar project.

For information on SMITTEN please go to https://www.facebook.com/SMITTENwomen/ and if you want to purchase SMITTEN it is now available via KINDLE and hardback at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1951724003/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=Candice+daquin&qid=1572275732&sr=8-3 among other book sellers. If we all purchase one copy we raise this projects awareness and make it more possible for future necessary projects to exist!

For up-to-date information about who Indie Blu(e) is publishing, check out their site at www.indieblu.net or their facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/indieblupublishing/\

Kindra M. Austin can be found at https://www.facebook.com/kindra.m.austin.author/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SMITTEN authors in the news! SMITTEN POET Carla Toney talks to LC about her life

Decked out in lipstick, earrings, a miniskirt, stockings, pump heels, my long hair down my back, I drove towards the lesbian bar I had heard about outside of Long Beach. It was 1969, I was 23 years old. Ordering a drink at the bar, I sat and looked around. Flannel shirts, cropped hair, workmen’s boots, I felt like I was surrounded by truck drivers. “I guess I’m not a lesbian,” was my thought as I exited the bar. Fast forward a year. With my M.A. from Cal State Long Beach in my pocket, I was celebrating in London, England. This time I put on jeans, a fancy blouse, earrings, and headed to the Gateways (the bar in the Killing of Sister George).

I arrived at 11pm. Unaware of the liquor licensing laws of England in 1970, I expected things to start about then. Instead they had called last orders (“Last orders! Have you no homes to go to?”) and everyone was on their way home. Not one to give up easily I returned the following week. My one outstanding memory of my first night at the Gateways was a woman who came up to me and asked, “Are you butch? Or femme? I can’t tell by the way you dress.” On my way out, a woman shoved a leaflet, “Gay Liberation Front” in my hand. Meetings at the London School of Economics. Women who looked butch, women who looked femme, and all shades in-between. Bam! I was home.

Fast forward again to 1971. I was 24 years old and I took part in the first Gay Liberation Front demonstration that ever marched through the streets of London and ended at Trafalgar Square. The “brothers” were up on the plinth speechifying, but there was not a single woman up there. Then I heard my name called from the plinth, “Carla! Where’s Carla?” The other GLF women did not want to appear on the plinth – for fear of their jobs or their photos in the News of the World (we always called it “News and Screws”), and I was six thousand miles from home.

Wearing an orange t-shirt with “LESBIAN” emblazoned on the front, I turned to my friend, Rosie Dadson, and asked her to please come with me. Rosie and I climbed up on the plinth. Rosie was wearing a purple wig (her mother was Scots, her father Nigerian). Rosie held my hand. All I said was, “Gay is good! I’m a lesbian and I’m proud!” and the crowd erupted into cheers. When Rosie and I came down from the plinth, a young girl came up to me. “I want to be a lesbian, too,” she told me. “All you need is courage,” I replied.

Fast forward again. 1974, I moved into a lesbian squatting community that centered on Broadway Market, Hackney in East London with other women I had known from the Gay Liberation Front. In 1976, after a one night stand with a French/Moroccan/Berber (there were no other options at the time), I gave birth to twins in The Mother’s Salvation Army Hospital on Lower Clapton Road. I named my daughter after my mother, grandmother and great grandmother.

My son I named Daniel. I decided that, if the first Daniel could survive a den of lions, then my Daniel could survive life in a lesbian community. Daniel ended up with a scholarship to Oxford (M.Sc.) and then Cambridge (doctorate). My daughter did her B.A. at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), and her M.A. at Goldsmith’s and then had three beautiful children. My nineteen year old granddaughter and sixteen year old grandson are half Tibetan. My 16 month old grandson is “black British” – his paternal grandparents both came from Jamaica. After living in Hackney for thirty years, I married a woman from a little village on the edge of Germany’s Black Forest.

Although I no longer live in London, I am still part of the “lesbian world.” (Three of my poems appear in “SMITTEN,” an anthology of lesbian poetry – the first appearance of any of my work in the United States. Publication: late October 2019 by Indie Blu(e) Publishing. It can be purchased through Amazon and Barnes & Noble worldwide. Website: https://www.facebook.com/SMITTENwomen/ . My historical research, No Man’s Land: “Multitribal Indians” in the United States, was inspired by my mother’s assertion that she visited the descendents of Tecumseh in California’s High Sierras as child. Using classic texts and original sources to verify the accuracy of her assertion, I traced a massive movement of British loyalists and First Nations peoples from 1780 in the southeastern United States to 1930 on the west coast. It will be published in 2020/2021.)

Originally published in LC October, 2019

SMITTEN Poets Interview: Talia Rizzo

Talia Rizzo is a lesbian poet studying creative writing at the University of Denver. Her work focuses on her experiences as a queer woman, the complexities of family separation, and the power of images. Talia’s work can also be found in Levee Magazine, Foothills, and Prometheus Dreaming. When she’s not writing, Talia can be spotted among the Colorado mountains, taking in the sun with the wildflowers or skiing until her legs are sore.

1.How does poetry and identifying as lesbian/bi come together for you? 

I don’t want to say my poetry would be nothing without my experiences as a lesbian, but I’m going to say it. In some way, when I read old poems from five or six years ago and when I read the collection I am working on now while living in Spain for a few short months, I see different reflections of one another. Sexuality is everywhere and for that reason, each of my poems has some type of image that can be traced back to a specific experience, thought, memory, fear of being a lesbian in the United States. When I began writing poetry, it became a catalyst for me to understanding my identity and my past relationships with women and how they have felt in relation to the men I have been with. It gave me a chance to create, to sit and think for hours over cups of coffee about the intensity, the vivid colors I felt when I was with women, even if it was just their leg grazing mine under the table. Over time, my poetry has shifted and taken on different forms, some I don’t even understand yet, but one thing has remained the same—my life as a lesbian is at the core of all my work; it is the way my world is shaped, the lens on which everything is always seen.

2. Whom are your favorite lesbian writers and why?

Alicia Mountain and Pamela Sneed. They are my two biggest icons in every way and I aspire to be half the writers they are. They have each, in their own very different rights, mastered the art of image, of storytelling. If the man drinking a beer at the table beside me reached into my backpack, all he would find is their two very different and sensational stories—Sweet Dreamsby Sneed and High Ground Coward by Mountain. Mountain’s collection of poetry has come to me in every moment of need, over and over again, and still each time I am able to get something new from it, something I didn’t see before. Sneed taught me things beyond myself and gave me the chance to reflect on and be thankful for all the privilege I have been given in my life. Their images are relentless in the best way, so specific and subjective to each individual woman, yet so universal to the community.

7. What does it mean to you to be part of something like SMITTEN and have your work along side other women who love women? 

It is absolutely thrilling. I am so excited to see all of their work. In countless ways, all lesbians, all bisexual women, all queer people are connected through a similar experience of identity, while simultaneously having so many individual differences. Love is both an individual and collective experience, especially when it comes to being a lesbian. I remember being eighteen in a restaurant with an old girlfriend and having to move tables because of a couple older, heterosexual couples next to us talking very loudly about how disgusting they found us. All we were doing was holding hands. I remember the way it felt when the waiters carried our plates full of food across the restaurant to a new table and every head turned to watch us get up and move. I remember my girlfriend’s eyes filling with tears and the excessive apologies of the employees. In some ways that night, a love I had never experienced before presented itself, as well as an experience I know is universal. As a community, we have been spit on, degraded, beaten, and killed for our sexual preference. While simultaneously, finding other people, other women, who love us, who accept us, who become a part of us. Being featured in SMITTEN alongside so many women from all over the world is an absolute honor for me, as all these words and stories bring us together—even when we are miles and miles apart.

SMITTEN is due out any day now. Please consider supporting this project by purchasing a book when it comes on sale. Even one purchase helps support the endeavors and hard work of these 120 authors and highlights the value of LGBTQ subjects. SMITTEN will be available via all good book stores please check the Facebook SMITTEN page for up to date information. 

Q&A with Poet Candice Daquin about SMITTEN Anthology – by Robert Okaji

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Candice Louisa Daquin was born in France, and has also lived in England, Canada and America. Daquin has worked in dance, publishing, as a psychotherapist and more recently she divides her time between teaching, editing and writing. Daquin is the author of five collections of poetry and numerous poems and reviews in magazines, websites and periodicals. Daquin was co-editor of We Will Not Be Silenced (2018) an anthology of poetry in response to the #metoo movement. This Is What Love Looks Like – Poetry by Women SMITTEN With Women is her first poetry Anthology as lead editor, and is due out October 2019 (Published by Indie Blu(e).

So what’s this Anthology all about?

This is What Love Looks Like – Poetry by Women SMITTEN with Women (SMITTEN for short) came about after Indie Blu(e) had published We Will Not Be Silenced, which was an anthology of poets throughout the world writing in response to the #metoo movement and the then Judge Kavanaugh hearings. It was the right time and the anthology went on to be an Amazon best seller.

There was something so powerful and such an incredible energy working on an anthology for the first time. Shortly afterward Indie Blu(e) asked me to work with them and I now do part time on some of their poetry publishing. I had been so positively affected by reading all these poems from writers throughout the world I wanted to see if it were possible to create another anthology but this time for women who loved women.

As a lesbian, I felt that lesbians were increasingly marginalized and invisible by the co-opting of the LGBTQ movement and I wanted to find a poetic medium to express lesbian voices that was not erotica (which many lesbian themed poetry collections were). Fortunately Indie Blu(e) backed my idea and we put the call out.

Truly I did not expect the response we received, it was so galvanizing and breathtaking to see how many women submitted and the quality of some of the work. Our youngest poet is 14 and our oldest, 87. I think that speaks volumes about the need for collections of poetry on various subjects and how it brings voices together and keeps poetry relevant and alive.

SMITTEN is due out October 2019 and we’re so excited to be part of this, because it’s already begun a really necessary poetic dialogue about the representation of emotions in poetry. For anyone, there is something lasting and beautiful to be found in this collection and it is my hope as many heterosexuals read it as lesbians and bisexuals.

Please tell us how or why you turned to writing poetry?

I wrote as a kid when I felt emotions I couldn’t put into prose. I think for the very young there is a natural doorway into poetry that sometimes we lose as adults. Poetry should be emphasized more, as once it was thought as the highest form of expression and I can see why. Having worked in publishing, teaching and psychotherapy it was always part of my life to write.

Would you offer up some of your influences – poetic and otherwise. What draws you to that work?

Shamefully I am less influenced by others than perhaps I should be. There is so much value to reading a wonderful poet for any creative and I’m sure it does permeate and percolate through to our creative sub-conscious. I tend however to write without direct influence so it’s hard to harness the exact mechanisms involved. Typically I am drawn to work that I find honest and brave. I think for me, as an ex-dancer, I find dance my greatest influence, and like music, it can produce poetry in me when I listen to and watch it. Likewise, reading a psychology book will often inspire me.

What is the relationship of your environment, your daily surroundings, to your writing?

Not as good as it should be. I work too much and never have enough time. Ideally I’d create a haven for writing and devote myself more stringently to the relationship between my environment and writing. Like many of us, I juggle multiple jobs and tasks and am lucky to get any time. Maybe if I retire in 35 years time I may have these things and I expect that is why some poets who are older are such consistently good writers. Working on SMITTEN I loved hearing the varied voices, different parts of the world, different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds, even different ways of loving. That has so much value.

What themes or traits will readers find in your work? What will they not find?

They will not find acceptance or tolerance of inequality or bigotry. As much as I may find something of value in the Bukowski and Billy Childish poets of the world, I would never embrace that inequity toward a group of people (women) and I feel strongly as a woman about being unapologetic and very honest. SMITTEN is part of this legacy, it’s lending a voice to those who usually aren’t heard very loudly.

List three favorite poets, an admirable animal, and your go-to beverage.

Oh dear! I’m terrible at listing ‘favorites’ because honestly, it changes all the time. I read a LOT of poetry so for today I can say, Anne Sexton is always up there, I recently re-read a lot of Tennyson and he’s always influential and lastly, I love the Metaphysical poetry movement of the 20’s and just finished a book on those authors – too numerous to mention. In SMITTEN I was absolutely blown away by our 14 year old’s poem. It gave me faith. That poetry has a real future. Equally, I loved that a woman who is 87 is still writing and has an entire history in her words. We also have three Native American poets, who are absolutely superb. Can I put those instead of the admirable animal and go-to-beverage? (Whale/Tonic Water).

And your creative process? Could you offer us a glimpse into how your poems develop from first glimmer to fully realized piece? Do you follow a regular writing routine? Do you listen to music while writing? Write in public or in solitude?

Let me talk instead about SMITTEN. Imagine having the honor of collating poetry from all around the world, written sometimes with the greatest emotion, sometimes the first time it’s been public, or admitted. I found such a brevity and depth to the poems we received and it was truly hard to not want to publish most of them. Obviously we had to turn a lot down in order to make a manageable collection, so we endeavored to seek the truest, starkest and most honest. At times they were not all ‘well written’ as a professor may grade, (having taught for many years I can attest to this!) but technique came second to message. Sometimes there is value in the message even if the technique is a little lacking. That was my approach and I’m proud of it. Many times people with poor technique never improve because they are not given a chance to flourish. I believe everyone can grow and improve, and giving them confidence is half the battle. Obviously a well written poem is like nothing else, and I literally read some whilst holding my breath. Ideally to have both a message and technique is the goal and this was about allowing voices of women who love women to come to the foreground and SPEAK. That was my process. I’ve spent literally hours on this project and I feel only pride for the courage and conviction of these authors. I’m a big believer in helping others, and one way to do that is give them a platform. That’s my greatest achievement. It’s so much bigger than me and I love that. I think I’m a very self-effacing writer and I get so much more from editing/publishing others (which I used to do in Europe) than simply promoting myself.
SMITTEN is due out October 2019. It will be available via all good booksellers.
You can find the incredible work of Poet & Writer Robert Okaji (whom I count as a dear friend) here