We asked the poets from our latest issue what questions they would want to ask their fellow Volume 6 contributors. A few then answered those questions, delving into their craft, their inspirations, and their approach to creating. Read on to learn more about poets Sarah Lilius, author of "Clean," Alex Wells Shapiro, author of "No Bins Are Coming," Patrice Boyers Claeys, author of "Asparagus," and Karen Paul Holmes, author of "Whoever Wrote, Rest Assured, A Peace Lilly is Not a Gift that will Become a Burden, Was Wrong." And make sure to check out their work in Vol 6: Fatal Flaw!
Patrice Boyer Claeys: How do you balance the reality of the personal with the artifice of the art form?
Sarah Lilius: Many of my poems contain elements of the personal. But, I often change things to make it more interesting. I think it’s true that writing what you know is a good place to start.
PBC: What usually triggers your poetry?
SL: I wouldn’t say there are consistent triggers. I often think of first lines or images when I’m driving or in the shower. Sometimes I just let my mind wander and see what I come up with.
PBC: What dictates the line length of your work?
SL: I think that where I want the line break to occur usually dictates the line length. I also like to write prose poems so then there isn’t a need to worry about line length.
PBC: Is there room for humor in your poetry?
SL: Yes, I think that sometimes I’m humorous but it can also go unnoticed.
PBC: Do you concern yourself with the sounds of words, or more with their associations?
SL: I would say associations first and sound second. I also find that the sounds of words just come naturally when I write.
PBC: Do you ever use constraints in your poetry, such as rhyme, meter, lines per stanza?
SL: I did when I was in college as exercises for homework. I have made sonnets a handful of times but otherwise I always write free verse.
PBC: Do you struggle with the publication process?
SL: Not usually but it can be challenging. Finding places for individual poems is much easier than finding a home for a chapbook or full-length. And, of course, contests can be frustrating.
Sarah Lilius: How did you choose your fatal flaw to write about?
Alex Wells Shapiro: I’m an organizer by day, so I’m often thinking about flawed systems and structures, and the way they impact and exploit the folks within them. TSA’s dystopian aesthetic and ineffectiveness makes it an apt symbol for larger broken systems, and it’s certainly a symptom too.
SL: Is the flaw true?
AWS: I was actually stuck without a bin at TSA, but the more surreal twists of course deviate from reality.
SL: Do you have a writing routine?
AWS: I’m taking notes and composing phrases in my notes app all day while I work. Then, when I’m able to create space for writing in the evenings and on weekends, those are my seeds.
SL: What’s the best part about being a writer?
AWS: Our ability to bend reality.
SL: What’s the worst part about being a writer?
AWS: Our inability to change reality.
SL: Do you have any pets?
AWS: Not yet! Though I did just find a bust of young Beethoven at a thrift shop and have been dressing him in hats and masks. That’s kind of a pet right?
SL: Who is your favorite contemporary writer?
AWS: Oh man that’s tough to narrow down, can I cheat and list 3? In this moment I’d say Joyelle McSweeney, Bifo Berardi, and Darius Simpson
Karen Paul Holmes: Do you have a special place where you mostly work on your poems? (If so, please describe it. Please tell us about where you're most inspired.)
Patrice Boyers Claeys: To the dismay of my physical therapist, I write on my computer while slumped into what I call “the divot” of our family room couch. Although not ideal for my spine, this cushy place near my garden window is friendly and familiar. I used to write in notebooks or even on scraps of paper, sometimes while walking in busy downtown areas, but since I started writing centos I need to have ready access to my source lines in order to compose my poems.
KPH: What made you submit to Fatal Flaw?
PBC: I submitted to Fatal Flaw because of its interest in looking at life through a cracked lens. I‘ve been writing for over a year about vegetables, and although some inspire songs of innocence (for instance, my poem about peas references shelling them as a child), others inspire songs of a slightly darker nature. Because asparagus has a phallic appearance, is associated with aphrodisiacs and produces a little red berry which is poisonous, it lent itself to a menacing sexual treatment that I thought Fatal Flaw might appreciate.
KPH: How often do you submit to journals / anthologies?
PBC: When I’m writing a collection for publication, I submit like crazy, sometimes several times a week.
KPH: How many poems do you have out in pending submissions right now?
PBC: At the moment I have 70 poems out at 17 journals. Many of these are simultaneous submissions, so in terms of discrete poems, I would say about half that number.
KPH: Are you working on a book (or chapbook) manuscript?
PBC: I have completed the manuscript for a book of centos about vegetables, Earth Cafeteria. It’s a collaborative effort with poet/photographer Gail Goepfert. She takes quirky photographs that add visual interest to the written words. In 2021 we completed a similar book, Honey from the Sun, showcasing fruits. Right now we are experimenting with photographing vegetables. Somehow parsnips and rutabagas are not quite as beautiful as apricots and strawberries.
KPH: What question do you wish I'd asked, and how would you answer?
PBC: Since I’m a cento fanatic, I would have loved a question about what draws me to the cento form. As you may know, centos are collaged poems made of written fragments. I build my centos using only single lines from different poems, meaning a 20-line cento contains snippets from 20 different sources. I find the multiplicity of voices gives me courage when I dig into personal subjects. I also enjoy the linguistic freshness that can result from different dictions and images bumping against one another. And finally, to me, beginning a cento is like putting my fingers on the moving plank of the Ouija board. I don’t know where the lines will take me, but if I’m lucky we go down hallways and around corners I may not have explored with my conscious mind.
Alex Wells Shapiro: What artists working in mediums other than your chosen ones do you feel most attuned to?
Karen Paul Holmes: Let me first say, these are interesting questions! Thank you!
Not intending to make a pun of “attuned,” I still have to say composers of music. Like poets, their work is meant to be heard out loud and hits deeper levels of emotion beyond the intellectual practice of crafting a “good” piece of music or writing. I’m especially drawn, and always have been, to poetic songwriters like Joni Mitchell. However, with a masters in music history, I also love classical music, which often serves as inspiration for my poems. I especially connect with Beethoven and Mahler.
AWS: Why do you feel drawn by the symbols or themes that repeat in your work?
KPH: I think we are naturally drawn to things that attract us or fascinate us, whether due to our natures or circumstances or both, and often without a reason that can be named. I’m drawn to music symbols and themes as mentioned above but I’m also obsessed with understanding human nature and the challenges: facing grief or simply trying to be a better person. I often write about real life, probably because I’m trying to make sense of it, and in doing so, find the humor, the beauty, or the hard lesson.
AWS: What's art for?
KPH: To touch that deeper emotion I mention in question 1.
AWS: What experiences have you had that have the greatest influence on your practice?
KPH: Attending poetry workshops by Thomas Lux. He offered them for free on Saturdays every spring, and his editing techniques and writing advice are always in my head when I’m working on a poem. Through Thomas, I also met other well-known poets and learned from them, including taking weeklong workshops at Sarah Lawrence and the Palm Beach Poetry Festival.
AWS: Who should I read?
KPH: Poets Laura-Anne Bosselaar, Ross Gay, David Kirby, and Barbara Hamby, just to name a few wonderful, widely published living poets. And I have to recommend a friend’s poetry too, because I admire everything he writes: Rupert Fike, who has two award-winning books.
AWS: Imagine a world where all animals can be ethically and lovingly befriended (I know, not a thing, but bear with me). Which would make the best day to day companion for your artmaking process?
KPH: Well, a talking bird might help me write poetry! But I will have to take the easy way out and say a dog. I don’t have one right now, but having a dog’s love and companionship nearby puts me into a safe place to write.
Sarah Lilius is the author of the full-length poetry collection, Dirty Words (Indie Blu(e) Publishing 2021) and six chapbooks. Some of her publication credits include Fourteen Hills, Boulevard, Massachusetts Review and New South. She lives in Virginia with her husband and two sons. Her website is sarahlilius.com.
Alex Wells Shapiro (he/him) is a poet and artist from the Hudson Valley, living in Chicago. He reads submissions for Frontier Poetry, serves as Business and Grants Manager for Another Chicago Magazine, and co-curates Exhibit B: A Reading Series presented by The Guild Literary Complex. His debut poetry collection, Insect Architecture, will be released in May with Unbound Edition Press. More of his work may be found at www.alexwellsshapiro.com.
Patrice Boyer Claeys is a Chicago poet with four published collections: Lovely Daughter of the Shattering, The Machinery of Grace, Honey from the Sun (with Gail Goepfert) and the chapbook This Hard Business of Living (also with Goepfert). Recent work appears in The Adirondack Review, Lily Poetry Review, Gyroscope and The Night Heron Barks. She has been nominated for both Pushcart and Best of the Net and can be found at www.patriceboyerclaeys.com.
Karen Paul Holmes has two poetry books, No Such Thing as Distance (Terrapin, 2018) and Untying the Knot (Aldrich, 2014). Her poems have been featured on The Writer's Almanac and The Slowdown. Publications include Diode, Valparaiso Review, Verse Daily, and Prairie Schooner, and many more. Holmes founded and hosts the Side Door Poets and a monthly reading with open mic. She's the 2022 Tweetspeak “Poet Laura.”
Elle Nash, author of the upcoming novella Gag Reflex, joined Fatal Flaw associate fiction editor Daniel DeRock for a conversation about her new book, experimentation in writing, and creating fiction more honest than reality.