I was lucky enough to meet poet Grant Clauser at the Push to Publish event this past October. I grabbed his book, The Trouble With Rivers, and knew I had to interview him.

Below is the interview:

WITTLE: What books are you reading right now?

CLAUSER: The most recent poetry books would be Richard Carr’s Lucifer (sort of a novel in poetry form—he tells the story of a drug-addled guy who’s stuck with Lucifer hanging on his shoulder all the time); Mary Biddinger’s O Holy Insurgency (I just started this one last night); Brian Russell’s The Year of What Now (awesome—you must get this book); and James Galvin’s Resurrection Update (this is a collected poems from 1998 I think. He’s a very outdoorsy writer, which is something l like a lot).

WITTLE: Who has influenced your current writing style the most and how?

CLAUSER: Influencing my writing and influencing my writing style are two different things, I think. I hope I have my own writing style, but wouldn’t be insulted in anyone compared my poems to my favorite writers like Richard Hugo, Jack Gilbert and Harry Humes (a fellow Pennsylvanian). There are scads of poets I study to figure out how they do the things they do (or did): Jane Kenyon, Robert Lowell, Stanley Plumly, Jane Hirshfield… this could be a very long list.

Aside from the who, there’s the what. I’m deeply suspicious of poets who intentionally hide behind obscurity. A poem is a bridge between the reader and the writer, and if that bridge is half hidden in mist, then the reader is going to slip through the broken slats and die on the way to the other side. I believe the relationship between writer and reader, like any important relationship, should be based on trust, and if the poem isn’t trustworthy—if its intentions are veiled and secretive—then I tend to think the writer is interested more in playing tricks than communicating.

WITTLE: What appeals to you the most about writing in the genre of poetry?

CLAUSER: I’m not particularly good at story-telling, at least not in the traditional way. I like novels and short fiction, but know nothing about creating them. Plus, I have a very short attention span. That’s why most of my poems are short. I rarely go over one page. Thirty lines is a long poem for me. I also like the careful attention to words—how in a shorter poem there can be no room for waste. I’m attracted to repeated sounds, rhythms and odd rhymes. It all started in middle school when I memorized Poe’s The Raven, and I’ve been hooked since.

WITTLE: In your book, Trouble With Rivers, the poem, “Wishes for My Daughters” the narrator discusses the grief he feels for the fact his daughters will lose the magic of myths. How did this idea of lost myths influence your current book, Necessary Myths?

CLAUSER: I’m glad you made that connection between the two books. Most of the first section of the new book, and some of the poems from second section, are connected to the idea of myths in life, both personal and societal. In the new book I share a lot of stories (mostly other people’s stories, though sometimes I put them in the first person for effect). I play with the idea of how we convince ourselves of our own stories or myths in order to cope. Most of the trouble with life is just about coping with it anyway. A person’s life is the myth they tell themselves. Sometimes those myths are close to the truth, but often they’re not; either way they’re necessary, for a sense of identity or to just keep moving forward.

WITTLE: Why are myths important for people to hold onto?

CLAUSER: Myths give people structure, a sense of rightness in their world. They can give people a reason to persevere through hard times/difficult decisions (as in the poems “Putting the Dog to Sleep” and “The Man Who Works at the Swiss Hand Grenade Factory”) or to justify horrible acts (as in “Necessary Myths,” “ Remains of Two Infants” and “The Rapturist”).

People create their own personal myths or narratives about their lives, their families, etc. and then buy into large myths, such as organized religions, because those stories help them face things they don’t understand, and most of life is pretty much hard to understand.

WITTLE: Nature is a strong theme in your poetry. In your opinion, how are nature and myths connected?

CLAUSER: You’ll find a lot of nature or wilderness (even if it’s not very wild, such as in a vegetable garden) in my poems mostly because those are place I prefer to be, and when I’m writing from the imagination, that’s where my mind goes. I love camping, hiking, and fishing—basically being away from crowds.

Nature as subject matter also works a lot for me because I find wonderful metaphors there. You can look at a group of trees bending in a storm and immediately begin to form a metaphor around that vision for something internal. As for myths—everything we do or say is part of our personal mythmaking process. We believe our own myths about ourselves, and if our own personal story involves nature, then it’s part of our myth. I know it’s part of mine.

WITTLE: In the poem, “To A Miscarried Brother” the narrator discusses the importance of the brother lost to him. The last lines, “should have lived” is powerful in its simple complexity. How important is it to end a poem with a lasting line and why?

CLAUSER: That poem describes an interesting situation from my youth. My mother became pregnant, which was a surprise to the family, and then shortly after that news, she had a miscarriage, which revealed to the doctors that she had cancer. If it wasn’t for that pregnancy (and subsequent miscarriage) she may have died. So yes, the fetus (no one ever really knew what gender it was) should have lived, but of course we’re all very glad it didn’t because of the sacrifice it made for my mother.

But more to your question about last lines—I really like a poem to end with a bang. I know I don’t often achieve it, but it’s something I appreciate. Sometimes in workshops I describe how all (or most) poems are triangle shaped (not in words, but in ideas or focus). They either start wide and end narrow, or start narrow and widen at the end. I particularly like a poem to end like a funnel, where all the things you were pouring into the top come out at the narrow hole at the bottom. Think of a jar of muddy water scooped from a stream. When you let it settle, all the good stuff, the sediments, is at the bottom. That’s where the mind and the attention goes.

WITTLE: In the poem, “Ouija” the narrator plays with the idea the sensation of touch alone cannot be trusted. How do you see that idea relating to myths? What about a myth should not be trusted?

CLAUSER: Myths are nice guides, sometimes, but they get us into trouble when we trust them too much. Religions are the most obvious example. Societies have used the myths of their religions to justify hatred and violence throughout history. On a smaller scale, it’s best not to believe in your own bullshit too much.

WITTLE: The poem, “The Details” finds its power for me in the first line. The narrator chews on the idea a list can tell a person what to do but not help the person remember what was done. Do you feel this is something as a society we do with myths? As if we recite the myth so much we forget what the words mean?

CLAUSER: Similar to the last question, yes, taking our myths too seriously can get people, or groups into trouble. It’s like the cliché that you can’t see the forest for the trees. The details are a whole. But it works both ways. I’m the kind of person who will ignore all the warning lights on my car until the engine falls out the bottom.
In the title poem, Necessary Myths, the man kills his brother, and we’re left wondering if it was a kindness or a crime. That depends on how much of the brother’s myths you buy into, and to make matters more complicated, the poem references the Romulus and Remus myth about another fratricide.
“The Details” isn’t nearly that grim. In that poem I’m just playing with old memories of how my wife and I met 20-some years ago.

WITTLE: The poem, “What We Spent It On” has a narrator poking around in his memory as fall turns into winter. The last lines make a reader feel almost like a caught voyeur. In your opinion, describe the relationship a writer has with his or her reader.

CLAUSER: I said something about this earlier, but again, it’s a relationship of trust. I’ve actually taught a seminar called Writing Trustworthy Poems at a couple of writing conferences.

While a poem is a creative object, it’s also an act of communication. Communication requires a relationship, or at least the desire for a relationship (you can knowingly talk to a rock, but you’re not actually expecting to communicate with it, since no relationship with the rock is implied so it doesn’t really matter what you say).

Since the reader can’t talk back to the poet or ask questions all the responsibility is in the writer. When I hear writers say that a reader can get anything out of the poem they (the reader) wants, I think that’s being dishonest to the reader, and a bit lazy. As a writer it’s your job to take the reins and tell the horse where to go.
There are lots of ways to earn readers’ trust, but the easiest way is to not play games with them—the same way you wouldn’t play mind games with a friend or intentionally mislead a friend. Don’t do that with your poems. Too many contemporary poets seem to be more in conversation with themselves than conversations with their readers. It’s kind of an avant-garde trend I don’t participate in, at least I hope not. Of course a writer is allowed to expect a certain kind or reader if he or she wants, but that comes back to knowing your audience and what you can essentially get away with them. I want my readers to be at a level of trust with me, to believe that I’m not just twisting words to confuse or impress them, but to share something with them.

Grant Clauser is a frustrated gardener and hack fly fisherman. His books include Necessary Myths (winner of the 2013 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize) and The Trouble with Rivers. He teaches poetry writing at conferences and at Philadelphia’s Musehouse and runs the blog http://www.unIambic.com.

Necessary Myths can be purchased at http://www.thebroadkillriverpress.com

When I was in my MFA program, I only wrote one small sequence of Haiku poetry. I felt like I was missing the key element of the form because all I remembered about Haiku was the 5-7-5 symbols/stanzas I was taught in middle school.

Through my work with Philadelphia Poets, I found a master of Haiku, Dave Moore. Below is our interview where I pick his brain about the genre and his own writing.

Wittle: What book (books) are you reading right now?

Moore: New York Diaries edited by Teresa Carpenter (Random House, 2012). It’s a book of excerpts from diaries from 1609 to 2009, and features personal thoughts from Thomas Edison, Allen Ginsberg, George Washington, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Andy Warhol, and so many more. The book is filled with fascinating accounts of early New York City.

Wittle: For those not real familiar with the haiku form, could you give a down and dirty definition?

Moore: A haiku is a little poem that links us with nature.

That answer may confuse you, but that’s pretty much it. You may have been taught that a haiku is a three-lined poem of seventeen syllables in a 5-7-5 structure. While not totally wrong, it’s not totally correct either. Here’s the thing: haiku is a Japanese art, and they use sound units in their language; we use syllables in English – they’re different. To correct this little problem, many haiku poets writing in English try to keep their haiku around 12 or so syllables. Basically, anything we write in English will only be an imitation to a true Japanese haiku. The best we can do is to keep things short. Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t write 5-7-5’s. In fact, I love a good 5-7-5, but if I find I’m padding a poem just to hit seventeen syllables, I cut down without making it choppy. So, when I wrote:

skipping stones
the rings begin to touch
as they fade

(Ambrosia: Journal of Fine Haiku – Issue 4 – Summer 2009)

…it was fine the way it was. Padding that haiku would have added too much, and would have killed the spirit.

A haiku is a poem balanced on a pause. There should be a fragment and a phrase in the poem, and a slight turning of thought – two parts in a whole. Haiku are not complete pictures, don’t use literary tricks, always keep you in the present, can have deeper meanings than what’s written, and use language so simple a child can understand. Traditionally, haiku reference a season. While many, many English language haiku place you in a season, some haikuists don’t stress it too much. Your job as the reader is to fill in the gaps, and that’s what makes reading haiku both challenging and rewarding.

What about always being written in three lines? Many are written in three lines, but some poets use one, two, even four. And some poets like to blur the lines with concrete images.

Wittle: What poems or books have influenced you the most in becoming a haiku poet?

Moore: The most influential book for me has to be “Seeds From a Birch Tree: Writing Haiku and the Spiritual Journey” by Clark Strand (Hyperion, 1997). Strand is strictly a 5-7-5er, but he uses form as a spiritual practice. I’ve learned more from this one book than any other haiku book, and have re-read it so many times, I basically have it memorized. In fact, since I’ve gone back to it hundreds of times over the years, I felt fine with giving it away, even though it was the crown jewel of my haiku book collection. If you wind up picking it up, the back of the book gives a great list of reads you should check out.

Another important book for me:

“The Haiku Anthology” edited by Cor van den Heuvel (W. W. Norton, Third Edition, 1999).

Wittle: Please discuss your creative and revision process for your haikus.

Moore: Writing can be hard for me. I don’t sit down and crank out poems like some do. For me, a haiku comes from a clear moment of perception so strong I have to capture it in words. Every haiku that comes to me is a real event in life, and it’s not every day these little snapshots appear. When I do experience one of these moments, I often create a basic sketch of words on paper that don’t resemble a poem. Sometimes I’ll write a few words, try to outline a mood, or just write down what’s happening in front of my eyes. From there I often leave those words on the page to stew for a while before I attempt to form something out of that. When I do come back, sometimes months later, I’ll try to craft a 5-7-5, then whittle and polish from there (if I think it works better as a non-5/7/5). But every now and then everything comes together and a poem writes itself on the spot, but that’s rare. I have one of these on-the-fly poems in the latest issue of Frogpond – Vol. 36:2. It was written in a bar in Center City Philadelphia:

end of the night
the karaoke hostess
sings by herself


And another instant Philadelphia moment:



spied by the children

running from their name

(Philadelphia Poets – 2011 – Vol. 17)


And one I kept instead of seashells from Spring Lake Beach, New Jersey:


cleaning our pails

with the incoming tide

(Philadelphia Poets – 2013 – Vol. 19)


Oh, how about the time I was at a…


used car lot

the salesman’s shadow
covers a dent

Prune Juice: Journal of Senryu & Kyoka – Summer 2010)

…and a poem was forming in my mind instead of listening to a car salesman (I didn’t buy anything).


Wittle: What books or materials should one have at the ready when one is interested in writing haikus?

Moore: Just get outside with a little blank (no lines) notebook and something to write with. Use a notebook that’s not too big, something that fits in your back pocket or purse. I try to carry a small notebook with me wherever I go. Using one helps me not only with haiku, but since I’m a radio DJ, I’m constantly jotting things down to talk about on the air. Don’t worry about keeping things neat, just write. When I don’t have a notebook, my notepad on my iPhone comes in handy.

Wittle: What is the one thing you need to have with you when you are writing?

Moore: I do a lot of my writing outside so I need my hiking stick. It’s a gray, weathered piece of driftwood I fished out of the Delaware River a few years ago, and it’s been holding up pretty well. I like to hike Pennsylvania’s state parks and the desolate beaches of New Jersey, and at times my hiking stick helps me when I need to get up a rocky hill or steep dune. I’d like to add an English Setter to the mix one of these days.

Wittle: What is it about the haiku form that attracts you to write in it?

Moore: The simplicity, brevity and airiness of the form all attract me to the form. Haiku say so much with so little, and the most important part is what’s not on the page. Haiku are short, simple, to the point, but also mysterious. They say just enough to conjure up a dream.

Wittle: Have you ever created a sequence or a series from your haikus? If so, could you talk about your experience with creating it?

Moore: I have. This past year’s been very difficult for me personally, and a lot of my poetry from that time echoes it. I didn’t think I was writing much over the year, but after going through notebooks, my iPad, texts, emails, scraps of paper, even margins of books I read, I realized writing was one of the ways I dealt with the weight of life. There are four poems I wrote over this time that I like to keep in a sequence. The whole thing has a title and tells a story of an ebb tide, but it’s too personal to publish now. I’ll get it out there…maybe one day… Moving on…

Wittle: Have you experimented with other poetic forms? If so, which ones. If not, why not?

Moore: Yes. In addition to haiku, I write tanka, kyoka, senryu, haibun, mess around with flash fiction, even experiment with concrete poetry. I dwell in these when my haiku well is dry. Senryu are like haiku in shape and sound, but focus on the world of people, not the nature world. So, these are examples of senryu:

baby’s first steps
already moving

(Philadelphia Poets – 2011 – Vol. 17)

he and I
just nod at each other
lost in women’s apparel

(Prune Juice: Journal of Senryu & Kyoka – Summer 2011)


she tells me she’s four

holding up two fingers

(Philadelphia Poets – 2011 – Vol. 17)


daughter asleep

the argument resumes
in whispers

(Prune Juice: Journal of Senryu & Kyoka – Winter 2011)

A tanka is written in 5 lines. Traditionally, this form consists of 31 syllables in a 5-7-5-7-7 structure. Today, many poets don’t follow that rule, like with haiku. Kyoka are also written in 5 lines, and I guess you can consider them a lot like senryu. Most kyoka are playful, silly things. Tanka predates haiku in Japan, and both tanka and kyoka are growing in popularity with English language poets.


this fir
pines for the kiss of snow
for only then
will it not be hidden
bound by envy

(Modern English Tanka – Vol. 3, #4, Summer 2009)


the first present
of my 31st birthday
a book of poems
written on deathbeds

(Prune Juice: Journal of Senryu & Kyoka – Summer 2010)

Haibun is interesting because it’s prose with haiku mixed in, or as a cap (some use a senryu). The haiku doesn’t necessarily repeat anything in the prose, but it mingles with the rest of the piece or gives it closure.

Wittle: What are you working on now? What’s your newest project?

Moore: I just started working with someone on a book about the beach and how the beach can heal your wounds. This is something completely different for me since I mainly write short poems, not an entire book, but the idea’s been floating around in me for a while. It may include some haiku to make the reader think a little, to give he or she quick take-aways, but it’s still too early in the process to be sure. Right now the book is nothing more than notes on yellow legal pads with coffee stains, texts and some emails. Hopefully soon those yellow legal pads will have sand between the pages as the co-author and I get it into gear. I’d also like to put out a collection of my published work I call “A Bag of Ants”. I’m not sure if it’ll ever see the light of day, but so far the three people who’ve read the draft can recite their favorites from memory, and that’s a good sign.

Dave Moore Bio:

Dave Moore is the afternoon DJ for Philadelphia’s #1 radio station – B101. His poetry has appeared in Frogpond, Philadelphia Poets, this, Shamrock Haiku Journal, the 140 and Counting Anthology, Prune Juice: Journal of Senryu & Kyoka, Ambrosia: Journal of Fine Haiku, Riverbed Haiku, Modern English Tanka, Mad Rush, Time of Singing, and many other publications. You can find out more about him at http://www.B101Radio.com

The other day I was walking the Red Bank Battlefield and this little girl came up to me and smiled. Then she started waving at me. I did what anyone would do; I ran away.

No, I’m kidding. I waved back.

I wanted to run because children scare the crap out of me. I didn’t realize why until yesterday.

Children, like animals, see things I don’t see.

Therefore, I think I should pay more attention to what our children are saying and doing.

My nephew, who is about to be three in November, is a prime example. When I come over, he tells me to sit. I do. Then he grabs a book and starts asking me what everything in the book is and I tell him. He doesn’t know I’m stressed. He doesn’t know I need a distraction from my adult life; he wants me to simply sit and teach him. He wants to just be around me because he sees something in me I don’t see.

That little girl who waved at me? She didn’t know I was thinking about the news I read minutes before I started walking. She didn’t know I was thinking about how funny life is and how crazy death can be. She had no idea I was thinking about the sadness of a life cut so short. All she saw was a person to say hello to, and so she did.

Kids will look into our soul. They will see the good in us that we forget is there. They will wave hello to a stranger because they are fearless of rejection.

I want to be more like children. Say hello to a stranger. Run around and play. Be kind. Hug often. Love without fear.

For today’s interview, I was lucky enough to get the author of Blessed Sons (Wragsink 2012)  to talk with me about writing and about his book. Below we talk about what he’s reading, writing, and working on now.


Wittle: Who are some of your literary heroes?

McKinley: I am influenced by everything and I think like most writers I’ve gone through phases where some of the big names have been major influences during their particular phase. But, the three most consistent influences on my work are James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and John Edgar Wideman.

 Wittle: What book or books are you reading now?

McKinley: I am reading a really cool sci-fi, futuristic, adventure novel called Ready Player One. The author’s name is Ernest Cline. It’s an homage to all things in 80s pop culture with some social commentary thrown in for good measure. The last novel I read before that was the new Zadie Smith. NW. That was also well done.

 Wittle: You are a short story writer and a novelist. Could you see yourself working in another genre like poetry or creative nonfiction? Why or why not?

McKinley: My poetry is crap and I’ve never been 100% sure what constitutes creative non-fiction. Plus, my journey with what I can write is tough enough. So, I guess that’s a no.

Wittle: Could you briefly explain how you approach writing a novel verses how you approach writing a short story?

McKinley: The major difference is when I approach a short story I know where I’m going and how to get there. With the one novel that I’ve published, I had a solid idea of where I was going. But, with my two or three failed novels, ones that I’ve scrapped, I’ve scrapped them principally because I had no idea where the hell they were going or how to get them there. If I have a worthy conceit for a short story, I can get it done in a reasonable amount of time. Novels, not so much. For me, short stories are like trout fishing. Novels are like alligator wrestling.

 Wittle: Your novel, Blessed Sons (http://wragsink.com/#/ericmckinley/) is a richly layered book about a changing community and the impact this change has on the people left in the community. What was your inspiration for this novel?

McKinley: First off, thank you. That’s a very kind question. I read a non-fiction book in college called “Reasonable Racism” that ignited the flame for Blessed Sons. Then I drew inspiration from the characters who I knew inhabited the novel. This sounds trite, I know, but once I had the premise, I let the characters do the work.

Wittle: Did your novel start out as a novel or was it a short story that grew?

McKinley: It was always a three act, plotted novel.

Wittle: Is there a character or a scene from your novel that may have not made it to the final draft that you could see yourself expanding into a short story or another novel?

McKinley: Saul had a son named David who was cut from the final draft. Jon had a sister named Lynn. Perhaps they could join forces for a second novel. A Western.

Wittle: You said in an interview at Reading Baby (http://readingbaby.blogspot.com/2012/10/for-mommy-and-daddy-book-review-of.html) you made the city of Philadelphia a character in your book and said you felt your novel would be a different story if placed in another city. Could you describe a bit more what you mean by that?

McKinley: Well, the city drives the political implications of what’s happening in the story. The characters are mostly native Philadelphians who therefore have a distinct and inherent, toughness, integrity and skepticism. Also, music, food, vernacular, terrain, etc. are integral to Blessed Sons and would have made for a different novel if set elsewhere.

Wittle: If your book became a movie or a play, what would you hope the play or screenwriter would focus the story on?

McKinley: Well, I would hope to have quite a bit of input. But, if I had no input, I would hope that the story was centered on the characters and their respective journeys. Let the characters carry the narrative.

Wittle: What are you working on now?

McKinley: A new novel. Hopefully one I don’t have to scrap.


I’d like to thank Eric for taking time to chat with me.

To learn more about Author Eric McKinley:

Eric McKinley is the author of Blessed Sons, a novel, published by WragsInk in 2012. His short story collection, Intrusion, will be released in December 2013. Samplings of his published work and other stuff can be found at ericmckinleyfiction.wordpress.com.

To order your copy of his novel, Blessed Sons:



Creative Nonfiction Poetry Online Workshop

For five weeks starts August 12 and ending September 9th, I will be offering an online workshop teaching others how to write and revise Creative Nonfiction Poetry.

It will run like a normal workshop. There will be a writing prompt every week, you will get feedback on your poetry, and there will be suggested readings to help you further your craft.

The cost will be $50.


If this sounds like something you’d be interested in doing or want more information, please contact me at mmwittle@gmail.com


To check out my writing and bio, please go to: http://www.mwittle.wordpress.com

(You all should’ve seen this coming).

Today, I want to look at the how to go about crafting a poetic journalism poem. The key, in my mind, to this poem is to eliminate the “I” in the poem. The author should be concentrating on not the personal reaction to the event, location, or person but letting the chosen object tell the story. The author must also stay away from narration. I think that is another key to moving poetry into the creative nonfiction field; this staying away from the narrative poem.


I want you today go after something that is real familiar to you. Maybe on a walk today, you see an abandoned building, or an overgrown fenced in parking lot, a store that closed its doors. Find something you’ve walked by a million times but never gave it a second glance.

Then, start doing research on the building (or whatever you’ve picked). Try: to find newspaper articles about it, look up the town history, see if anyone who remembers what the building used to be is still around and is willing to talk to you about its history.

After you have your research done, then develop the time line of the building.

Once you have that, start writing.

It will probably come out as paragraphs and that is more than fine. Take your sentences and start chopping them up into stanzas. Look at your end words; look at your punctuation. Start sharpening your verbs and nouns. Eliminate adverbs and sharpen the adjectives.

Creative nonfiction has three subgenres: the memoir (dealing with the author’s life and looking back at an important event to discuss its meaning), literary journalism (an event, person, or location in which the author drives deep into exploring), and personal essay (the author examines a question that he or she will answer in the end).

Poetry has confessional poetry (the “I” poems-using personal experience to drive the poem).

But what if the ideas from creative nonfiction got together with confessional poetry?

What would it be called? Or is poetry already nonfiction?

When I was starting out in my MFA program, one of the first classes I took was a Creative Nonfiction class. The professor discussed how poets usually have an easier time coming to creative nonfiction because the genres are similar. Both genres deal with exploring an event; they look at how the author interprets the events. Also, both genres use their genres literary devices to propel the story forward.

However, I’m wondering what would happen if poetry was pushed further into a fictional form?

What if, like with creative nonfiction, poetry had a subgenre called Creative Nonfiction Poetry? In this, poets would have the three sub, sub genres: the poetry memoir (the poem must recall one moment in time and discuss its importance on the poet’s life), poetic journalism (the poet examines an event, person, or location-history to modern times), and the poetic question poem (the poet starts with a question and answers it by the end of the poem).

I know these things may already exist in poetry; however, I don’t know if they exist to the point in which I am forcing the poetry into the constraints of nonfiction.

Would poetry be able to mold itself into this kind of discipline? And what would it look?

I recently read Jess Walter’s book, Beautiful Ruins. There are many things I loved about this book: the way the author explores using the “I” who is present as the action is happening rather than the “I” who is looking back into the past and re-remembering what happened at the moment, the way the author reveals things to the reader using the above method, the idea of inserting a play a character wrote inside the narration, to name a few.

However, a minor thing that sticks in my mind is this idea a character said in the book. Americans talk around the issue instead of coming right out and saying the problem. I agree with this statement and I would go so far as to apply it to writing as well. There is this idea in writing that an author has to cleverly disguise what’s happening or not reveal the ending. But then, how do we account for Flannery O’Connor who tells the reader within the first paragraph the ending of all her short stories?

This is something I think writers need to get over. There is nothing wrong with telling the reader how things are going to end in the beginning because the story isn’t about what will happen to the character;  the story is about how the character got in that situation.

I also think writers need to stop writing around the issue. I DO THIS ALL THE TIME. If there is something I don’t feel like writing about, I gloss over it. But every time I do, someone calls me out on it and says, but you missed the point here.

For me, this writing around things comes from fear. I have this one flash fiction piece that can’t find a home. I took another look at it and realized I’m dancing around the story’s purpose. I revised the piece in a way that the first sentence tells the reader point blank how the character feels about the situation. Now the story unfolds for the reader why the character feels this way instead of the dancing around the issue of the character’s feelings.

I feel more confident in the story because it is now the one I really wanted to write all along but I was afraid of being honest with my reader. I won’t be there when a reader reads my story; I can’t open my brain and let the reader see what I was thinking. My story needs to tell the reader why and then explain how the why came to be for the character.

Oscar Wilde once said bad poetry comes from real emotion. I have three journals of teen angst poetry that proves Wilde’s point. There were plenty of emotions raging through those words I set down on paper; however, those words and line breaks did not make a poem.


Today’s writing prompt looks at the world of emotion that lies within your drafts of poems.

Take something that has an emotional charge for you. It might be a letter, an email, a picture, or a song, but whatever it is, I want you to get it and look (or listen) to it.

For about ten minutes, just write everything that comes to mind about this object.

Now, go deeper. Take the next five minutes and write your reaction to the object.

What you will do next is take a word inventory from your free write. Look for categories you can name and put the actual word you used in the category. Now, look at the categories and look for the one you have the most words filled into the category. In this, what you are doing is finding the true emotion you have associated with this object.

Take the three words that stand out to you the most and weave them into a metaphor for the object. Use only one metaphor (anything else will clog up your poem).

Today’s interview is with author Carla Sarett. I “met” her through Facebook and enjoyed reading her collection Nine Romantic Stories

http://www.amazon.com/Nine-Romantic-Stories-ebook/dp/B00ANQT2LO. Below is our interview in which we discuss short stories and their place in contemporary fiction writing.

WITTLE There is a theory that an artist gets his or her talent bug at around age 12. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

SARETT When I was a girl, I wanted to be an actress, and writing was the last thing on my mind!  I got the “bug” to write short stories after my mother’s death a few years ago. (I had written screenplays earlier on, but that came from a different side of me.) I was given a journal as a gift, and tried to write memories and instead started writing short stories.  After that, writing became more than a bug—let’s call it a late-life love.

WITTLE What books most influence your writing?

SARETT Dickens for his endlessly varied characters; Kipling’s  stories for their ironic tone and masterful storytelling; P.G. Wodehouse for laugh out loud humor and inventive vocabulary; and the Yiddish writers with their blend of the mystical and the everyday.  I read lots of history, and the “voice” of history writers like Jan Morris is a big influence too.

As for the living writers, I try to avoid reading contemporary short story masters like Deborah Eisenberg when I am writing—but they’ve no doubt seeped into my brain!

WITTLE From your work, I get the impression you are mainly a short story writer. What appeals to you the most about this genre?

SARETT Well, I love the form, and if you don’t write what you love to read, you’re sunk.

Why do I love short stories?

First, I’m not psychological and I get bored when writers “explain” characters in terms of personal history.  It doesn’t appeal to me.  I’d rather know characters through their stories.  Second, I enjoy super-tight structure, and that’s easier to accomplish in short fiction.   And finally, I love hiding things, hinting, revealing the shapes but not their insides. That’s what short stories do best.

WITTLE Some say the short story is dead and only other writers read short stories. Do you think this is true?

SARETT Not at all!  Mobile devices make short stories ideal reading—and if you combine that with people’s ever-pressed schedules, I think that we’re ripe for a rebirth in short fiction.  After all, we do have over  4000+ literary magazines online—and some of them publish darned good fiction.

But yes, there’s been a trend toward what is best termed “writing school” stories, recognized by the constant use of the present tense.   I guess that writers like these stories, but regular readers, well, not so much.  So potential readers get a few too many such pieces, and think, oh, I don’t like short stories. But that’s a fad, and like other fads, is sure to change.

WITTLE What do you think is the key to a successful short story?

SARETT Ideally, a story has something to say that’s fresh, original and true.  So, the styles that express that vision can differ – no two writers could be more different than, say, Kipling and Salinger, and yet they’re both so wonderful.   The other key, in my mind is a great ending.  It’s like figure skating – the performance can be great, but if the ending isn’t clean, the story falls flat on its face.

WITTLE Who are some of your literary heroes and why?

SARETT I worship Muriel Spark because I think her writing approaches perfection, and her religious/mystical content is amazing.  Spark excelled in novellas, a form I love— she can  be funny and lyrical at the same time.

Willa Cather is the writer whose content I admire most.  I’m awestruck by the depth of feeling in the late novels and her non-standard use of plot.

My other constant star is Dickens, because of his humanity.   Every one of his characters is different, recognizable, and has a soul of his/her own.  He never discards a character.  It’s a world in which all people count – that’s the world I want to live in.

But I read voraciously so there are many other writers in my pantheon—lots of comic writers, like Dawn Powell  and Ring Lardner get neglected, but are fantastic.

WITTLE Could you briefly describe your drafting style? Are you a get the story out from beginning to end and then go in and start picking or do you go sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph?

SARETT I have a great time when I write.  I start with a story in my head and my first draft flows quickly (by my standards.)   But invariably, I’ll re-think the arc or change the voice until it comes to life. And I tinker around a lot with word choice until it “feels” right.  I let characters take me in different directions.  But I do spent lots of time working on the ending – that’s always the toughest part.

I also like to put a story aside, let it rest, and pick it up as a reader might and seeing how it flows.  Most of the stories in Nine Romantic Stories went through another edit on this basis.

WITTLE  How do you know your story is ready to be published?

SARETT I read it to others and I read it aloud to myself.  To me, if a story doesn’t “sound” right when it’s read aloud, something’s wrong.   I will hear it if it’s false or sounds imitative (which is another form of false.)   With comedy, if I’m not hearing laughs, guess what, it’s not funny.

I submit stories often.  If a story gets rejected more than once, I take a good hard look at it, and think, what’s missing?   (And yes, it’s usually the ending.)

WITTLE  When you are putting a collection of short stories together, how do you pick the order the stories will go in?

SARETT Hmm, that’s something I need to figure out.  I don’t pay much attention to the order of stories in the collections that I read because I flip around, and read the short ones first.  But in ebooks, I guess order does matter.

WITTLE What are you working on now?

SARETT I’m working on a short novel based on characters whom I introduced in the short stories “Career Girl” (in the anthology, Love Hurts!,) “Skinny Girl, “ and “Bonny Lass” (in Nine Romantic Stories.)  It’s a romantic coming-of-age/comedy.  I’m having a lot of fun with this character, and seeing where she takes me.  It also allows me to write funny scenes that I couldn’t fit into a short story.  With a longer form, you can have these comic detours as long as you can get back on the road.

Many thanks to Carla for taking time to answer my questions. Below is information to find her and her books.

Carla Sarett’s Bio:

Carla Sarett is a Ph.D. who has worked in academia, TV, film and market research.  Her short  stories have been published in over twenty literary magazines.


Carla Sarett’s Blog:


Carla Sarett’s Books can be found at:

Nine Romantic Stories



Crazy Lovebirds:  Five Super-Short Stories