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Gloria Mindock, Editor   Issue No. 100   May, 2020




May, 2020 Cervena Barva Press Newsletter

Welcome to the May Newsletter. Next month, there will be virtual readings by Cervena Barva Press. Two readings this summer are sponsored by Tipp City Public Library in Ohio. Thank you to Marc Zegans (The Snow Dead, Cervena Barva Press, 2020) for putting me in touch with the librarian in Tipp City. I am so excited about all the readings that are going to happen. Stay tuned.

Interviewed this month are Mbizo Chirasa and DeWitt Henry.

Bill and I are still busy working on putting the used books online in The Lost Bookshelf. It is a slow process but we are working on it.

Interview with Mbizo Chirasa by Gloria Mindock

I am so happy to bring you this interview from Zimbabwe. Mbizo speaks out about his country, fighting for change, and social justice. Writing can make a difference. Mbizo is brave and courageous. I am honored to interview him.

When did you first start writing?

I began writing in the late primary school period. I was in Grade six at Zvegona Primary School. My class teacher was literally blessed. He loved reading and arts. Mr. Basvi headed our school drama club. I was a staunch member and organizer of that sterling youthful drama club. You know we lived in dust laden, poverty ridden rural settings and newspapers were a luxury to our community lot. Major things tucked in most parents mind was food supplies, planting seasons, Mugabe rallies, traditional ceremonies and school uniforms. Fortunately my teacher brought me new and old newspaper every time he went to the nearby district town of Zvishavane. I grazed through acres of stories in those papers like a ravenous hyena. I swigged the beverages of political vibe accompanied with a refreshment of humor on entertainment and court sections of Gweru Times and Ziana News. Literary insignia was automatically glued on my mental plaque and my DNA got dipped in poetic vibe. My father shaped readership culture, he taught me a lot of grammatical signals at a very tender age. Despite living in squalid rural settings. I romanced and slept with any form of reading on my lap, whenever I was angry, I would run into a book to escape the devil of anger and stress. I wrote my first poem based on ENVIROMENTAL issues on the demise of vegetation through deforestation with afforestation. My first great recital was at a District World Environmental Day Celebrations. I won the heart of then Zvishavane District Education Officer Hlambelo, who then decided to help I look after his cattle and ploughed fields during holidays I became a young shepherd in the pastures and terrains of Ngomeyabani every school holiday. I read voraciously while manning the large head of the cattle. After holidays owned by the District Education Officer. And he had large library of books and newspapers. When it was back to school time, he would buy me me new uniforms, shoes and other school paraphernalia. That motivated me greatly. The griot in me grew rapdly, I read Animal Farm and Mayor of Casterbridge. I got very much inspired and then followed Things Fall Apart and The River Between as well as Crime and Punishment by a great Russian author, Interesting literature. I was baptized into the into the poetic dominion when Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Jack Mapanje, Musayemura Zimunya, Dambudzo Marechera And the Metaphysics, John Donne, Keats and Yeats, Emily Dickson and the writing expedition though feeble, unnoticed but growing. In MID 1996 WHEN I was worked Zimbabwe's former Ambassador to Yugoslavia, KD Manyika in Gweru third largest city of Zimbabwe in the Midlands Province, I multitasked as a cattle herder in the large paddock, gardening and manning fowl runs ,the daily rhythm accompanied with these humble but great responsibilities is amazing. These duties taught me and shaped my being a lot in life . Every time when I go delivering in city shops, I would pass through Gweru Times dropping my Letter to the Editor or Opinion pieces. I was overjoyed and got a column. Thanks to the great Dukes Mwanaka, the then Editor of Gweru Times and Oliver Shambira, the then Deputy Editor. Interesting years. Humble beginnings. The Manyika family had a more bigger library, every I swept and dusted the library, I would take volumes of Victorian Poetry. I was introduced to Shakespeare Writings, TS Elliot, DH Lawrence and I also grazed through the Canterbury Tales. A more over my village carried with it a poetic rhythm, I was rondavels when growing sat the edges of a Dayataya Mountains adjacent to Zvagona hills. I enjoyed the beauty of mist clad Dayataya, birds sang incessantly as if responding to the echoes of ever yelping baboons were a common feature in our land. Monkeys Facebooked on tree branches like rock rabbits jiving to the discord of laughing hyenas as wild hens quacked tenor in synch to the soprano of Mutorahuku stream while our mothers with the armed with zeal and loyalty to their homestead thrashing and grinding millet in wood mortars to brew the beloved village beverage, traditional beer. Drunks, scumbags and talented singers drank the brew to the dregs, their stupor griped hymns and songs carried succulent rhythm and fat meanings. The accompaniment of my the village rhythm, reading culture and stories of my father carved a griot in me as much global views and political affairs are other ingredients to the balanced of my writing career. The rest is now history.

Who are the biggest influences in your life?

My father was a great storyteller. He told me many stories about Zululand, Clansmen stories, African cultural anthropologies, detailed histories of the world. We read an English and Shona novel every evening before sleeping. So, the art of story telling stories was carved into my heart cave long time ago, during my teething ages. Poetry was injected into my DNA like BCG and I became a poem myself and later a poet. I believe every poet is a living poem before he becomes a poet. I am influenced by the village rhythm, the chirruping of small birds over soot- clad rondavels, the soprano of doves as they imitate angels of dawn towards sunrise. The footsteps of the sun as gigantic rays walk over horizons in a triumphant march like battalions to war. I cherish to see mountains dressed in grey gowns of mist and pastures donning the heavy green like military Jackets, the baritone sound of yelping baboons on the fontanel of our hills of home, Facebooking of monkeys on top of three canopies, the jiving of rock rabbits, the beat of rain thunder, the stitch of lightning bolts on our gyrating earth. I love the smell of cow under milk, the scent of grass soot dangling on rondavel roofs inside out. The ceremonial and traditional village songs are part of the catalytic influences to my writing, poetry and griot career. As I carried my bag sagging with traditional hymns, village rhythms and the scent of village smoke, I got into the city where life is a competition, I learnt the language of hustle and bustle in Harare, the city of no sleep. I got a lot to write about, hermits vomiting the snort of illicit beer remains on street pavements without restraint, harlots mad chasing potbellied sex imbeciles in the thickets of night, fake prophets cheating and raping their miracle hungry clue-less congregants. Politicians preaching peace during daylight and kill at night. Propaganda songs rattling from impoverished and congested suburbs were voters feed on plain porridge and stale bread. And even after voting to the from resounding victory of the ruling regime, beggars making more children despite the famishing challenges of hard rock city life. Sisters pimping their dignity for political party positions and the next in dingy brothels. slogan chants, gun shots and baby dumping episodes, Big chinned political imbeciles promising famished youth vast tracks of land later to dump them after rewarding them with drugs and alcohol. Presidential motorcade swirling dust into the face of pedestrians queuing for meal-mealie. As I indicated, the journey to maturation is trailblazing festooned by resilience, faith, dedication and goal getting. I read a lot of books from crime, fairy tales, fantasy, journalistic, biblical and several African anthropological texts. I am influenced by African griots in South Africa, West Africa. The former Zimbabwe International book fair was a great exhibition of talents, so I met several WRITERS including the author of Cows of Shambati Taban Liyo Long. I shared a performance poetry stage with Mutabaruka and other great names. The Zimbabwe media shaped and influenced me greatly for they supported me through profiling articles and they followed my performances with great literary zeal. By the way I began as a spoken word poet, a griot and then I sort to expand my wings for global market reach, thus why me and you are chatting now. It has a been a great but an arduous journey. Decades of washing in sweat and bathing in salt tears. While in Harare, I worked alongside the great Charles Mungoshi, Tsitsi Dangaembwa, David Mungoshi, Memory Chirere, Dudziro Nhengu, Shimmer Chinodya and many great voices. I salute.

What is the writing community like in Zimbabwe?

We have abundant talent. Talent is like a pot of stew puffing out the scent of goat meat, we are a country blessed with Protest poets, griots and underground poets as well as revolutionary poets. We boast of great writers and doyens of literature. A lot have received prestigious awards home and abroad. The likes of Dambudzo Charles Marechera, author of House of Hunger won the Prestigious Guardian Prize in the early 80s. Charles Mungoshi, storytelling meastro won the Commonwealth Prize with his great Novel Waiting of the Rain. Tsitsi Dangarembwa won scholarships home and abroad with her first classical Nervous Conditions. Shimmer Chinodya won Visiting Writer Program at a prestigious Lewis Clark University in USA and also won NOMA award with his thriller Harvest of Thorns. These are some of our acclaimed writing voices of Zimbabwe. We have a whole rising writers also doing well with their new modern styles to mention Brian Chikwava, the winner of 2005 Caine Prize with his captivating narrative Seventh Street Alchemy, Memory Chirere and Writer Publisher Ignatius Mabasa, with his famous Shona Novel Mapenzi rocking the world and included as one of Africas 100 Best Books. Not to be outdone is Chirikure Chirikure, our spokenword poetry maestro. Today the writing and literary arts community has fallen into dark times. Everything is upside down, publishing houses have since closed shop, there is rampant pirating of books and writers are greatly impoverished and their reputation has gone to the dogs. I can say writers and few remaining organizations are trying rekindle the dead literary fire. The government systems are not doing to revive the literary arts terrain of the country, improve readership culture, education literature sector and restore dignity to lives of writers and the book industry. We have few organizations that are rising at least to bandage scars of our failure and are trying their best during these dark days that include LitFest Harare founded by great poet Chirikure Chirikure, now to have a full year Calendar and their program covers all provinces in the country. British Council Zimbabwe does a number of poetry readings and literary arts activities. Pamberi Trust is also doing lineups of Poetry Slams and Literary Arts Culture Workshops in Harare and Mutare. The Zimbabwe Germany Society continues to host a number of book launches, discussions and readings. The only remaining sound and established publishing house is WEAVER PRESS owned by Writer Publisher and Editor Irene Staunton. A lot of budding writers has since ventured into self-publishing. Times are bad.

You have spoken up against injustice and dictatorship in your country. Have there been any threats on your life because of this? I would think this would make you a target. Have you known any artist that have disappeared or been killed?

It is a common norm that in any African country if you speak truth to political power and justice to autocracy or speak human rights to the dictatorship, you become a target and usually you have to take an option of living in exile or you to silence yourself before you get silenced. The Zimbabwean system does not take Arts Activists and Human Rights Defenders lightly, a lot of mechanism are always put in place to track, to silence, to threaten or imprisoning dissenting voices. Yes I became a target, I was attacked by an electric gadget set in my sleeping house on the 4th of December 2016 that was followed by incessant tracking and stalking as well as threats, I changed places for more than 4 times in 3 months and then I decided to leave. It's not easy to be a VOICE OF THE PEOPLE in my country and other countries we know. It calls for boldness, bravery and resilience. It is public knowledge that Itai Dzamara, a stauchy human rights defender, writer, journalist disappeared after a lot of one man demonstration against the late President Mugabes regime, he wanted the president to resign, those who witnessed his abduction say he was bundled in a number plateless vehicle and he was never seen again. The Zimbabwe Human Rights have to do a beat to find out about this comrade. Alas nothing up to now Many dissenting voices died during the genocidal 2008 elections including journalists and activists. But we need to continue to speak hard truth to corrupt systems that thrive on abusing the POVO through cheap propaganda laced doctrines and systems that do not respect human rights and violate the living rights of its own people. Poor and bad governance, the value of our currency, the value of banks, the dignity of our voters, the integrity of our people is lost completely, many people live like scavengers. And we speak still and write still. Time shall come and Time heals more calamine lotion or paracetamol.

Being a voice for the innocent is vital. When did you become aware of what was going on in your country and speaking up against it? and with your writing?

After the death of JOSHUA Nkomo, father Zimbabwe in 1999, Zimbabwe fell into bad times. Our leadership used land invasion gig not as way to redeem the people of their hunger to land and natural resources. Alas the Mugabes regimes weapon to remain in power and land issue was handled badly. They were a lot abnormalities, a lot of killings, displacements. Political charlatans took advantage to loot the land and everything it. That created a lot of diplomatic gaffes, we lost international trust, friendships and important trade deals due to political leadership and lack of sound domestic affairs management. The economy crumbled, corruption became rampant, we suffered a lot of diseases including cholera and other deadly endemics, typhoid, dysentery and HIV/AIDS, while the masses were suffering leadership was globetrotting, squandering the few revenue resources of the country, hoarding cars and building Mansions home and abroad. Zimbabwe became unbankable. VOICES OF REASON were maimed and silenced, human rights abused, activists imprisoned, we were not a loud to speak. I wrote protest and resistance poetry to international journals since 2006, the system didn't get a whiff of it that time but with time due to the essence and growth of diverse digital media platforms, I suspect and am sure they found my writings and literary arts activism activities were discovered with such, you are automatically dubbed enemy of the state. Even now the Zimbabwean economy requires a miracle to survive, 80 percent of the people are suffering under the yoke of economic malaise and the bondage of political decadence, we have to work hard to return to the bread basket of Africa status. The national leadership need to put stern measures on corruption, money laundering and oil barons. Many economic saboteurs are walking free, while masses are writhing under the yoke of poverty and bondage of perjury. if we are not careful, we slithering into becoming Banana or Cassava Republic.

Have you tried to have another country help you with political exile?

I have a lot of Comrade Supporters locally and abroad and just recently I received a six months Freedom of Speech Scholarship from the Germany PEN through their Foundation of Free Speech and Writers in Exile Program. I want to pass my profound and heart felt thank you to my Literary Arts Activism Partner Jamie Dedes, the Founder of Bezine Arts and Humanities as well as The POET A DAY Webzine has been and she is tirelessly working hard to find me safe harbor on top of that I got a lot of goodwill and care from a number of organizations, including Artists at Risk Connection, Free-muse. I thank Thomas Block and the International HUMAN RIGHTS Art Festival for appointing the inaugural international Fellow me in 2019 that was a great eye opener and a wonderful opportunity for me. Above, I would like thank my illustrious publisher of the book A LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT, Mwanaka Media Publishing led by the ICONIC Tendai Rinos Mwanaka. I salute great goodwill from comrades around the world and Africa, some chipped in with internet bills, accommodation bills, traveling and other upkeep bills. I thank you all supporters, friends and comrades. Brother Keepers Beatrice Othieno Ahere, Samuella Conteh, Omwa Ombara, Nancy Ndeke, Tracy Yvonne Breazile, Elke Lange, Munia Khan, Corina Ravenscraft, Rebecca Robinson, Martina Mwanza, Robson Shoes Lambada, July Westhale, publishers of journals, Zines and reviews. A shout to Comrade Nsah Mala and more comrades. The issue of my exile stay is in pipeline. A big shout to the Poetry Chef Comrade Dr. Michael Dickel. Aluta Continua, Together We Rise.

Discuss "Letter to the President?"

A LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT is experimental writing in style combined with the hard truth against super power supremacy, African dictatorship regimes. It is a poetic whip to the unrepentant pseudo revolutionaries rotting the state with corruption to the core, the poetic verses in there spit into the remorseless fat cats, big chefs sleeping during parliamentary sessions and sometimes wield fist fights like pick pocketers while masses are rotting with disease and hunger. It is a weapon of mass instruction, was written as a chronicle of political, economic decadent in my country first and other countries. It speaks against xenophobia, Afrophobia. It a story of the people and for the people sharply angling on the unbalanced state of the world. It is chlorine to clean murky waters of economic malaise and disinfect the country from the dirty mud of political decadence. We fear to be killed when we say the truth but I have decided contain my fears and bravery in a book form. This collection itself is different in delivery, presentation and scope. It is a scholarship of global and African political patterns, a social justice commentary and insignia of freedom of expression while we fail to enjoy freedom after expression. I suffered threats and scurry stalking in Zambia after the launch of A Letter to the President, it tells you our political elites are still in fear of the voices that chronicle and tell the truth to power, it gives you a clear indication that democracy is just a word easily spoken but not acted. Actors of democracy are scarce. I implore political science students and those studying political histories, Arts and humanities to graze this my nerve shredding poetry collection, Yes, the verbatim and the vibe in there is scurry but you know truth is always scurry, few people wants the truth. A LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT is a fusion of spoken word and page poetry, influenced by the hardships we experienced with our parents after independence and how they walk to rallies to wait for a politician who will bring them a 2kg of rice after a full day of scorching sun and rumbling stomachs and after those daunting rallies, the politician will disappear into the clouds with a furnished and secured helicopter while masses walk for distances back home empty handed but armed with fake promises, anger and slogan smacked faces. A Letter to the President talks to the president to repent, any president, every president who is not doing the right thing. It seeks leadership to rethink, to restart, to reform, like in Zimbabwe we need corruption top stop ASAP, we need the worker to be restored his/her dignity, we need cash barons, oil barons and killers of the economy to nabbed, we want a robust approach to the governing of the country, A leadership that respect artistic voices, human rights defenders and other actors of positive activism, let the country restore the integrity of the masses, people have suffered for long time now. A LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT.

Recently, there has been an uprising and many have been shot while protesting. There has been an invasion of privacy, skyrocketing prices, a strike, human rights violations, and hunger. How do you inspire hope for your country with your writing?

My country has been in the economic intensive care for the past twenty years now and people have suffered enough and has some people lost lives in the process. My writings continue to give courage to the masses, to invoke dialogue but now our people no longer read as much, most of them are busy hunting for food and other upkeep materials. Readership culture has fallen apart. Things have fallen apart, but I want to assure you, one thing, Zimbabweans are a resilient humanity, they thrive in this economic struggle. It pains me to see masses scavenging for dear life in other countries while the economic wealth is enjoyed by the few. It stinks really. I have written a lot of new poems. And I have developed a new writing style through social media platforms reading communities are reading through and there is some feedback as well. So even so, we write still, we read still, we speak still, Time heals and Freedom from Corruption and politically caused poverty shall end. I am also completing a Chapbook on my nasty experiences during COVID 19 lockdowns and the farce of exile. A lot of my writings is froth for change, freedom, resistance and resilience on digital thickets across the globe.

You are the creative director of Girl Child Creativity and Festival. Can you share with the readers what this is.

Girl child creativity is a project designed to mitigate under-representation and unbalanced participation of young female writers/poets in areas of creative writing, literature, literacy and poetry performance development. It further enhances the ability of the girl child to develop herself mentally - the motto is: freedom of mental media air waves for community development. A creative nation is a developed nation. The project featured a lot of writers and arts activities in schools, out of school communities and in colleges, we also partnered with the 100 thousand poets for change global founded by Michael ROTHENBURG to hold the first of its kind GirlCHILD talent Festival in 2013 and 2014. We have produced and inspired great talent that is practicing its chores across Africa and the world, we drilled talent in more than 20 schools and this project now has involved into the now most popular WOMAWORDS LITERARY PRESS to continue further the empowerment sister's creative energies through digital spaces and platforms. We aim to feature more than a 1000 artists, writers, leaders and activists from Africa and abroad. We believe that every revolution begins with WORD.

Talk about being curator for "Brave Voices Poetry Journal." When did you start this?

When I got into exile, I thought it was and is vital to continue the struggle in a different way, to start a virtual program that would strengthen the literary activism revolution that I had already lit. So I started the platform online on Facebook through the 100 Thousand Poets for Zimbabwe an affiliate to the Zimbabwe We Want Poetry Campaign and 100 Thousand Poets for Change Global. The project got a wide response from many young voices in Zimbabwe, Africa and abroad, so I began compiling poetry by brave voices every fortnight that we then sent to Tuck Magazine in Canada for archiving, I had then negotiated a content archiving deal with Michael Val Tuck, the Founder of Tuck Magazine. Sometime in December 2018, the Brave Voices became a full-fledged and a globally known activity by young voices that we later hosted on MIOMBOPUBLISHING another online space I founded and is also archiving TIME OF THE POET DIGITAL SERIES with most popular offing SECOND NAME OF EARTH IS PEACE, #GLOBAL CALL FOR PEACE PROJECT that saw the featuring of more than 50 poets from around the globe. We have produced so far more than 60 issues of BRAVE VOICES POETRY JOURNAL since inception and the voices are strong and are shaking the walls of JERICHO.

For Womawords, you interview many women poets giving them a voice and a place to talk about their work. I learned about many new writers because of this site. How have these writers enriched your life? What have you learned by these interviews?

It is a beautiful project I founded in 2019 through my Fellowship with the International Human Rights Art Festival. I wanted to use the quarterly grant I got from the IHRAF Fellowship to do something different. I found it worth some to involve girlchild creativity into WOMAWORDS LITERARY PRESS. Yes the interviews and prolific writings abound has influenced my career in a positive way, I have learnt whipping out copy or manuscripts, I am still learning, learning is a process is not event, beating and working according to deadlines, to be true in everything I do and respect women artists and especially those who have with themselves the zeal in them to change the world, to shape their communities in a very different, those see their voices bringing freedom and success promise. The project has taught me patience and communication etiquette and more advanced creative skills. I have since improved in my work presentation, writing and delivery, it's a beautiful process as much it requires the tenacity, due diligence and resilience.

You have written articles for Cultural Weekly. What article stands out with you and why?

Cultural Weekly is a great literary experience and I thank fellow writer and Curator Adam Leizipeg at Cultural Weekly for affording me the golden opportunity to be read widely, it's heartening in a positive way to see your writings read by people across the world. I am excited and humbled that you also passed through my column at Cultural Weekly. These are some of the outstanding articles of mine at Cultural Weekly

  1. Everything Remembers in Michael Dickel's Nothing Remembers, a critical review.
  2. Talking in Poetic Tongues.
  3. Jongwe's Fist: Mugabe and His Magic of Paradox
  4. POETIVISM, a new art of resistance in Zimbabwe. Other articles are also good but it depends on the angle and theme of any given work.

In 2020, you received the Freedom of Speech Literary Activism Culture Fellow at PEN-Deutschland, Germany, Poet in Residence at the Fictional Cafe. Congratulations to you. What has this experience been like?

I am greatly humbled and of course excited when afforded an opportunity a scholarship/fellowship to write, to express and to weild the pen, a weapon of mass instruction. Its strengthens me, it cultivates, it evokes the poetic tiger in me. It settles in me the promise to remain defending, speaking for the voiceless and my people through literary arts activism. It is greatly important to have more organizations that supports writers in exile, writers at risk, free speech, artists at risk and defenders. I want to take this wonderful opportunity to thank the Vice President of Writers in Exile PEN-Zentrum Deutschland Leander Sukov, the Writers in Exile Commissioner, the Writers in Exile Project Head Sandra Weires-Guia and the whole PEN-Zentrum Deutschland board for affording me an opportunity to continue defending rights with free speech And literary arts activism with great support. It humbles me greatly, the struggle continues we write still. Yes the Fictional Cafe, I am working with Jack B Rochester, the Baristas and the editorial team, they have created my page as their Poet in residence. I have read submissions sometime last where I helped to make choices on the publication, yes of course for you to get the Poet IN RESIDENCE role, you have to be outstanding and a refined poetry barista. Its great taking part in great literary initiatives for they continue shape us and hone our career. I thank you greatly.

Mbizo Chirasha

Interview with DeWitt Henry by Betsy Levinson

Who inspired you to write essays?

I began by writing realist fiction inspired by Richard Yates; then narrative memoir inspired by Frank Conroy, where I dramatized "about-ness" and was sometimes misread as being "too personal." In my collection SAFE SUICIDE: NARRATIVES, ESSAYS, AND MEDITATIONS, I started using central symbols or topics as a kind of lattice that framed emotions, such as my essay on "Gravity," which was partly inspired by Tim O'Brien's device of listing the physical weight of things carried by soldiers in order to describe their moral and spiritual baggage. I also loved Thoreau's way in WALDEN of leading readers to explore a topic such as "Economy." I pushed this lattice idea still farther in my new collection, SWEET MARJORAM: NOTES AND ESSAYS. I focus on laden moral topics-topics that seem at best tired, and at worst empty in the era of Trump. The idea of human dignity, for instance, as we debate assisted suicide, "the right to choose," or immigration policies. The idea of empathy ("surrounded by and blessed by larger hearts than my own," I write, "I wonder if I suffer from 'empathy deficiency disorder'...I hang up on charity calls"). I wonder about dreams, American and otherwise. The idea of silence. The ideas of privilege and oppression ("Aesthetic distance...where readers have no chance to intervene, is different from social distance, small acts and large, we can reject oppression and take our place in a braver, more generous world"). The mysteries of conscience. Of courage. I keep my reflections brief, associational and fragmentary, more like poems. My models became Hamlet's soliloquies as well as Stephen Dedalus's stream of consciousness and the rambling associations of Montaigne's essays. Half-mocking conventional form, I invented a form, where the fun is in "the act of the mind finding what will suffice." I do my best to weigh our beliefs and our collective wisdoms against both personal example and what I can learn and absorb from language, imagination, and the findings and theories of science. I feel that I am an average, sentient, thoughtful person in a universe of human expertise beyond my grasp, an expertise that merges with mystery. I try to be well-informed. I weigh the dialectics and obligations, and I'm responsible for choices. I hope I lead the reader to deliberate and choose also; and to find fun, surprise, and beauty in the process.

When did you know you wanted to do it for a living?

At 8, I wanted to be a G-man; at ten, an executive like my father. At twelve a newspaper man and printer, like Ben Franklin. I was divided in my senior year of high school between working for a printing company and going to college. I chose college, where my writing was praised, I studied English literature, and edited the college literary magazine for three years. If there were no draft, I may have pursued a New York career in magazine publishing for livelihood; as it was, I continued on to graduate school in English, confident that I would find a teaching job, but when I finished my PhD, there was a depression in the humanities. I taught composition as an adjunct, worked on a novel, started Ploughshares fifty years ago as a volunteer with other writers in The Plough and Stars, a local pub, married a Head Start teacher, built up the magazine and lived on grants, until I was hired full-time at Emerson in 1982. I wrote and edited for love, never for a living.

Who or what influences your work now?

Shakespeare, forever. But the wired media has also offered me, now in my seventies, a seemingly infinite store of references. In addition, I have renewed access to my print library. After emptying my Emerson office, I built walls of bookshelves at home. Many of my books had been boxed for storage, now they faced me like forgotten friends. As I free-associated on a given topic, I could revisit memorable authors and relate their meanings to the topic and my life. I could follow my whims and instincts. That was freeing, outside of classroom teaching. It may also have grown from my earlier editing of anthologies and from the editorial dialectics of Ploughshares. I feel some affinity with David Shields's Reality Hunger: A Manifesto (2010). I enjoy the collage approach that Shields invoked, both in poetry and prose, as well as his own mental sprezzatura. Since finishing SWEET MARJORAM, I've gravitated towards writing poems-like-essays rather than the other way around. My models have been Eliot, Frost and Lowell, and the work of friends and colleagues including John Skoyles, Bill Knott, Thomas Lux, Joyce Peseroff, Gail Mazur, Seamus Heaney, and many others from my Ploughshares years.

What are the challenges and joys of editing an online website/press?

At best, online magazines are communities of far-flung readers, writers, influencers, and editors. One edits, of course, at home, on a screen, keeping hours at will. The pleasure is always discovery, and the mission of widening the tunnel vision of trade publishing and culture. The economics and immediacy of online publishing widens opportunity for both readers and writers. There are many niches and room for innovation. Novelist Sandra Tyler began The Woven Tale Press ( ) as a monthly magazine that is at once a literary journal and an art publication, with full-color graphics. She began it in 2013, and once long ago having been my intern at Ploughshares, she asked me on as a contributing editor in 2016. The format, quality, and professionalism caught my imagination and I've worked on the prose side of it ever since. At first I wrote a regular column where I reviewed online resource sites for writers, ranging from places to publish to places to learn about editors and agents or to find model writers' websites. Since 2018, I've served as Prose Editor and enjoyed the variety and excellence of unsolicited submissions, which we respond to within a few weeks. The discoveries of writers new to me is my greatest joy, along with watching our community and readership grow.


Bury Me in the Sky by Sara Comito
Nixes Mate Books, March 2020
Review by Anne Elezabeth Pluto
May 8, 2020

Sara Comito's debut collection invites the reader into a world divided into five spaces, where we are the mosquito in the amber looking out from the beautiful but permanent line joining life and death. The pull of each poem's magnificent lines can be summed up in her poem "A Charming Rub":

            Even in its mating does a wolf
            know the taste of foal-
            newly standing, newly felled.

Each poem reminds us of this brutal dichotomy - an alchemical marriage in nature that is always life and death. In the "In Tidal": the horizon curves dizzingly for our floating - and we float through the poems as "Iodine" is the heaviest element and "Spill" where Comito is heir to Elizabeth Bishop: seeing the clown grimace of grouper. It is an unexpected catch, the biggest fish I've ever had on.

Comito's book is a "catch" - these are the poems to read as we move through social distancing, quarantine, and uncertainty of COVID 19. We are: in cobalt twilight the whole, world wants to scream - are you touched or just simple. She demands in "Vengeance":

            I want
            your tears
            as verses
            as semen
            in grass.

Comito's poems are lessons for the reader. We learn in "Permission to Expand" :

            If you can work on your posture - you can work
            on anything

In "The Flea Market Sells Our Sacred Origins From Under Us" we learn that our sacred origins disappear in the preposterous liquidations of human epoch. Exactly where we are now.

In "If Blake Had Only Known" we learn that Sundardan Tigers - too much salt in the diet has unpredictable effects. The tigers burn bright and eat humans.

In "Religion at the City Pier":

            Some things get bigger over time, others shrink with the
            Evolution. Some just sag under the surface for finding.

In "Night in the Tropics" we feel the heat and distance of nature - see what humans have built to disturb the alchemical balance.

            High rises spring up
            like teeth - as we
            finally inhale -
            false mountains
            and a moon drips
            off the page.

Comito's images drip off the page and stay with us. Ever present are the relationships between "felled" objects - In "Overdone" The speaker address the other:

            You were felled thing too
            And I was the bereaved.

In "Microscopic" the speaker allows us into their young self - haunted by everything antediluvian:

            everything that lived still a coelacanth
            until one pulls one up

            what to ask of history

            when it looks you in the eye?

What are we asking if history now in the age of new born plagues -

            Dust dances like a devil.
            It always does.

In the title poem "Bury me in the Sky" we slide backwards -

            Hold tight to the dream
            With the balled fists
            Of an infant. Prayer flag tatter
            As bald griffons in search
            Of those things earth
            Loves to offer sky - life
            That fed now feeds
            And is carried as mudra.

Perhaps the mudra which is her poem "Dedication":

            For dead dogs
            and stolen children
            a special heaven
            with rubber balls
            and each other.

In the last section, Sargasso, the book spirals down, standing us on our heads in "Pristine Creature"

            The edge of a bridge
            carries up the rain
            a slate tombstone to the sky.

In the poem "Sargasso" the portal becomes stronger:

            My heart is a shadows of clouds
            tin vapors hiding in the sun.
            My heart is horizon
            a peeling back of the skin of day.

            You are neither destination nor origin
            but Sargasso - a swirling eye of ocean,
            that confounds the efforts
            of all my sweating, displaced natives.

The dead keep returning and we must welcome them, in "Husk of a Whale"

            I loved you like a war zone in haunted,
            full of unknowing dead. A leviathan
            Isn't supposed to die: get big as a 16-wheeler
            And you set an example. Rivers traverse

            counties inlaid by slavery and ill-financed
            railroads; the tracks still birth flowers
            Of bees...

            ...its bell consigned to rust, the bones
            of its shadows mined like phosphate grants
            purchase on shifting sand....

            Beaches, a husk of whale, once
            The fossils tell us, they were mammoths.

The fossils the key; the reader must be aware of the proof of the alchemical marriage - the actual mosquito in the amber.

In "Dark Island Landing" we go back to the antediluvian past -

            In the forest edge dark
            The god screeches.
            the frogs
            the night lilies
            the open throated
            children to the suckling sky

Expertly, in her final poem - "All There Is" Comito, a beekeeper, bring us back to the beginning of the book. Her first poem "Sweet Formincation":

            if there's poetry in this sacking
            it's food meant for one queen has
            at least gone to another.

Her final poem "All There Is": Ruin your eyes

            it always comes back to the mother


            We are not equipped to
            deal with speeding trains, that step
            off the platform always on skirting
            of two unknowns.

The two queens - one must leave - the mating wolf and her thoughts, her mouth tasting newly felled foal. And, the mare, the mother who knows that terrible scene that may come.

            The relief of meeting with something
            solid. Let them step over my fetal
            form. All the subway police need to know.

            here is all there is.

Bury me in the Sky is a compelling haunting book. Nature, history, geography, life, and death. All of it is precious; perhaps now more than ever.

Cervena Barva Press Staff

Gloria Mindock, Editor & Publisher
Flavia Cosma, International Editor
Helene Cardona, Contributing Editor
Andrey Gritsman, Contributing Editor
Juri Talvet, Contributing Editor
Renuka Raghavan, Fiction Reviewer, Publicity
Karen Friedland, Interviewer
Gene Barry, Poetry Reviewer
Miriam O' Neal, Poetry Reviewer
Annie Pluto, Poetry Reviewer
Christopher Reilley, Poetry Reviewer


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