Search Results for: shelley wong

Rare Birds — Shelley Wong

Women After Midnight
          after Christian Marclay

The red minute hand insists we sleep or commit to our rendezvous plans. On a deserted street, a woman exits the Opera House, clicking her heels toward me in a single long shot. Tick tick. It’s our secret. Who is calling at this hour? A dark-haired man kisses Michelle Pfeiffer’s spine with precision in digital clock light. Another man deletes a gagged woman from the closet. The camera says nothing. In black-and-white time, women sleep with painted mouths clasped shut like purses. A lamp comes on. For god’s sake, it’s two AM. Brigitte Bardot enters the kitchen, still clad in her red bustier gown, and sells the milk. A girl crosses the grandfather clock and flees from her shadow of a headmistress or mother. A girl wakes up when my hands clench her soft neck as if it were a bell rope. She flails for the baseball bat, but this is her dream at 2:18. The black heels come off first. A woman hangs up the phone and lies in bed like a floral question mark. The ferry departs on the half hour. 2:35. You’re so pretty when you sleep.












Ghost Bird
          (text from a scientist’s explanation of the euthanization of a male moustached kingfisher, a rare bird)

                                        For a quarter century
                    [     ] edges
                                        Our field:

                          not just
                                        [     ]

                                        I have spent time
   I have watched [     ]

           in the [     ] brief
                       its heart

                          like all
                                        threats to [     ]

                              if not
   in the heavens: [     ]

             from [     ] of us
                                        the specters

                among them

                                        out into
                     the world

                              [     ]




Salt on the sidewalk so I am far
from home. Salts from mountains and seas
in silver tins. Like ash, like sand.
Mother still takes the salt
out of every recipe. My spirit animal
is a bird, but not a seagull. No trace
of salt or sugar in my sister’s
white apartment. When snow falls,
I fly west, walking into the water that raised me—
an ocean of unnamable salts. My lover brought salt
into my kitchen. Never seen black salt,
black sand. We drove to the beach
in all seasons: I remember the taste of brine
in our bed. Maybe I’m an ibis, maybe I’m a swan.


Shelley Wong is a Kundiman fellow who lives in Oakland, CA. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Vinyl, The Normal School, Linebreak, The Collagist, Ninth Letter Online, and Devil’s Lake. She is the recipient of a 2017 Pushcart Prize, and the 2014 Normal Prize for poetry in addition to scholarships from Fine Arts Work Center and Napa Valley Writers’ Conference.

5×5: Diode Poets in Conversation

5x5: Diode Poets in Conversation
Assembled and edited by Paula Cisewski

In 2017, Diode Editions published three winners in their annual chapbook contest and the first winners of their inaugural annual book competition. The five poets, whose brief bios follow, asked each other a few questions.

Remica Bingham-Risher, author of Starlight & Error, winner of the Diode Editions Book Award, What We Ask of Flesh, shortlisted for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and Conversion, winner of the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award, is a Cave Canem fellow and Affrilachian Poet. She is the Director of Quality Enhancement Plan Initiatives at Old Dominion University.

Paula Cisewski’s fourth poetry collection, ​quitter​, won Diode Editions' 2016 Book Prize and her third, The Threatened Everything, was selected for publication in the 2014 Burnside Review Book Contest. Both are newly released as of early 2017. Cisewski is also the author of Ghost Fargo (selected by Franz Wright for the Nightboat Poetry Prize), Upon Arrival (Black Ocean), and a chapbook of lyric prose, Misplaced Sinister (Red Bird Chapbooks). Her poetry and prose have been honored with support from institutions including the Jerome Foundation and the Minnesota State Arts Board. 

Tina Schumann is the author of three poetry collections, As If (Parlor City Press, 2010) which was the recipient of the Stephen Dunn Poetry Prize, Requiem: A Patrimony of Fugues (Diode Editions) which won the Diode Editions Chapbook Contest for 2016, and Praising the Paradox (Red Hen Press, 2019.) She is edited of the forthcoming anthology, Two Countries. U.S. Daughters and Sons of Immigrant Parents (Red Hen Press, 2017.) Her poems have appeared in journals and anthologies since 1999.

Shelley Wong is the author of the chapbook RARE BIRDS (Diode Editions). She is a Kundiman fellow and a recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a MacDowell Colony fellowship.

Seema Yasmin is a poet, doctor and journalist from London currently living in the U.S. She trained in medicine at the University of Cambridge and in journalism at the University of Toronto. Her poems appear in The Coal Hill Review, Shallow Ends, Glass, Bateau and Diode, among others. Her chapbook, For Filthy Women Who Worry About Disappointing God, won the Diode Editions chapbook contest and was published in 2017.



Shelley Wong asks: How would you visually describe the progression of your collection? Is it a braid? A circle? An arrow? A spiral?

Remica: This is a smart question. I didn’t realize I’d been waiting to be asked this so I could figure it out, or name it, for myself. This links back to revisions and knowing when a collection is done. I’d say, before the collection was finished, it was just a ladder—it was moving toward the obvious, in the simplest way (chronologically through time) possible, and that made sense to me but was boring as well. Now, Starlight & Error is a complex braid or an elaborate natural updo—braids and three-strand twists interlocked in a chic coif.

Paula: Labyrinthine. A series of numbered ballads “from the labyrinth” fall between other winding poems in which the speaker is entering exits, retracing escape routes, and ultimately moving forward with effort, sometimes following a thread, sometimes in the dark.

Tina: I think a braid wrapped into a circle represents it best. The poems in my chapbook so strongly revolve around a period of time (not in a linear line, but back and forth.) and a specific person’s life (my father) that a braid in a circle seems appropriate.

Shelley: A series of arrows pointing toward and away places in landscape, memory and history. Some are connected, while others are broken off or repaired.

Seema: A tornado. The poems pick up momentum and guts.

Shelley also asks: How has doing readings to promote your [book or] chapbook given you new insights into the work? (eg, deciding what poems to read, noticing certain craft elements you hadn't noticed before, experience of reading the work aloud, etc.)

Remica: Doing readings with this book has been an experience because I don’t have set poems—I’m railing against having a planned set list—to read. Most often, I let what’s being read by others or maybe the mood or demographic makeup of the room dictate the poems. I’m learning the book is versatile, maybe even more than I hoped it would be, so I’m grateful for that. On another note, early on when I started reading the poems, I realized many were a great deal sadder or more melancholy that I thought—I swore I was writing happy family poems!—but sometimes the happy part is that I finally figured out how to work through the tumult enough to get it on the page.

Paula: For a while, I found myself with a few variations of that planned set list Remica rails against, and I didn’t like it. It was my own insecurity, I’m sure. I am so grateful when people have read the book and tell me which poem means something to them, because often it’s the one making me squirm that day or week, one I would not otherwise choose for a reading, and it’s a gift to see my work from someone else’s point of view.

Tina: I find these particular poems for the most part difficult to read in public, not because I get emotional, but because they deal with a pretty depressing scenario. Dementia is not exactly a crowd pleaser, but one that I am finding is very common in people’s lives. While reading them I feel I am bringing down the whole tenor of the room. So, I try to intersperse them with poems from my other collection and antidotes about my father that lend a lighter note. There are a couple of poems in the collection that I have found get a laugh from the audience or a sigh of recognition, so I try to stick with those for other readings as well.

Shelley: At readings, I tend to go with poems that musically read best, but I’ve been mixing it up with other poems and new poems throughout the year. My poems are mostly short lyrics so it took a while to figure out the right balance of briefly contextualizing a poem versus just going for it. I always include at least one Frida Kahlo poem (since she is so beloved) and like to read “To Yellow” as my shout-out to Asian Americans.

Seema: I was uncomfortable choosing poems from the chapbook for an offsite AWP reading. I knew the audience would be mostly white and I didn’t write my poems with that audience in mind. It’s one thing to imagine who might read your poems but another thing to see the audience bristle as you read. (That could have been my imagination.) It made me consider writing in Urdu.



Remica Bingham-Risher asks: Craft question: How do you approach revision? What are the markers for when a poem is finished (ready to be launched into the world)? A manuscript?

Remica: I should have known I’d be the one who ended up back at revision! I revised steadily throughout any writing process. I tell my students that I’m a “strident revisionist”; I usually revise any given poem 30–40 times before I feel it’s finished. This is also some of the joy of writing for me—the wrestling with the thing until it submits to itself more than to my on whims it, as—upon its completion—the poem is usually very different from what I thought I’d intended to write. I count a poem finished when it can be read aloud steadily without jarring interruption (from odd or imprecise diction, clashing sounds, etc.) and when the ideas presented therein have a sustained tension and clarity that create a kind of lucidity, though it may present itself differently depending on whether the poem leans more toward the narrative or, in contrast, the “lyric absurd.”

A manuscript is a more difficult animal to tie down. I had a sense that my most recent manuscript published by Diode (Starlight & Error) was done when I re-ordered the poems and was once again engaged by the body of the thing. There were multiple threads running through it—cosmos, progeny, soul music, brutality—and I knew the manuscript was finished when these elements felt interesting and balanced throughout.

Paula: My revision time varies drastically. I carry ideas around for a long time, take a lot of notes. Sometimes I pick a fight with a poem because my original idea won’t fit inside it, until I realize it’s been tricking me into having a stranger or more difficult idea. Then I surrender. However swift or prolonged the process, I have never once finished the poem or the book I thought I was beginning. Once I give in, I can begin to hear some resonant thing. It begins to come together after that.

Tina: This question has me thinking of the Paul Valery quote that says a poem is never finished; only abandoned. I think that is certainly true for some of my poems which I could have tinkered with endlessly and simply had to call it good. One of the questions I ask myself in the revision process is whether the poem is getting across my initial intended message or illumination, or is it going in another direction altogether and should I head in that direction? I remember a mentor early on telling me “Don’t tell me what you want the poem to be! Let the poem tell you what it wants to be!” So, I try to leave quite a bit of room for listening and flexible investigation, as opposed to imposing my will. Or as Billy Collings says “Tying the poem to a chair and beating a confession out of it” My approach to revision has changed over the years. I used to feel a strong sense of urgency to complete the poem at hand so I could move on to the next. That is a rookie impulse and one I think all poets must move through. Although I have never felt that version #2 or #3 constituted a finished poem. I might put the poem away for bit (out of sight) and come back to it weeks or months later to hopefully see it with fresh eyes. I sometimes find it helpful to make free association notes separate from the poem and just lay out my thoughts on the poem in plain prose. What do I think is missing? What was my original impulse for the poem and is that still needed or not? What images or metaphors might work? Which do not serve the poem? I find not having the poem in my scope of vision when this is done very helpful. I used to save every copy of each revision (upwards of revision #20.) I no longer do that, as I found that I very rarely went back to view previous versions. Unless I am playing with a change in form (say, single stanza poem to couplets) and I want to compare the forms before deciding on a final version. Now, whatever version I am working on is the current one and I move forward from there. That shift came with time and learning to trust my instincts and education. One of the indications to me that a poem is in good health and might be close to done is feedback from readers and other poets I respect. There often comes a point for me when I cannot see the forest for the trees and I need a clear-eyed outsider’s perspective. My writer’s group, poet friends and mentors from grad school do that for me. Another indication of a completed poem is when I feel a sense of emotional and psychological closure. That feeling is harder to put into words, but something takes place when the language, syntax, form and imagistic flow of the poem are working together that tells me I have served the poem well and told its “story’ as best I can.

With a manuscript it takes many readings, revisions (five years in the making for my full manuscript) and playing around with order and section breaks to begin to see it as its own completed life-from. I not only print out all pages and arrange them on the floor to contemplate order and how the poems talk to and support each other, but I have (thankfully) always had a mentor read the manuscript and give me feedback without any comment from me. Having the submitted manuscript come in as finalists in several contest and having press editors make positive unsolicited comments on the manuscript helps as well. At least I know I am on the right track and not BSing myself.

Shelley: I try to keep an open mind and look for different ways for the poem to come into being. Copying the poem again and again and reading it out loud is helpful, as is experimenting with the line and the field of the page. To send a poem out for publication, it has to be its own live creature or moment that I am willing to set free. It should be a poem I would not regret having online for eternity. I felt ready to send my chapbook collection out because the poems had similar themes of transformation and resilience. The poems related to one another, but each had its own outfit. My bird sisters!

Seema: I saw a tweet by Eduardo Corral where he said he spent an hour or so revising a poem only to disregard all his revisions and go back to the original version. For me, that can be utterly frustrating or enlightening because it can spark new ideas. My first chapbook was written over the course of a two-week writing residency and was sent soon after in a very raw form to the Diode editors. I thought Patty Paine would be all over the manuscript with a red pen, but she chose to publish it in its raw form. I’m learning more about revising through the AWP writing mentorship program. I’m partnered with master poet, Jehanne Dubrow, who’s guiding me gently through the process and I’ve found there’s a point when I feel a poem sits more comfortably on the page and asks to be left alone.



Tina Schumann asks: For chapbooks authors: Why did it make sense to you to put these particular poems into a chapbook as opposed to a part of a larger collection?

Tina: These poems came out of a very specific situation, that of my Dad’s diagnosis of dementia and the two years that followed. Because the title, architecture, atmosphere, and lingo of the poems came to me before most of the poems were written that also pushed me to put them in their own house as it were. I felt strongly that the poems would revolve around the world of orchestral music, Opera and Jazz as these art forms were so central to my Dad’s life. This self-imposed structure strongly dictated to me that they were of a piece and needed to stand out as such. However, I do, at this point include three of the poems from the chapbook in my full collection due out in 2019, but those poems support the surrounding poems in a section that deals with childhood and reflections on both my parents.

Shelley: I had been working with a larger manuscript and decided to focus on a chapbook length to understand how to create an arc with multiple threads. With so many short poems, it had been a challenge to wrangle 40+ poems into a full-length collection. A chapbook order was much easier to commit to. I organized my favorite ones and found that they echoed against each other to create a particular music and world.

Seema: Chapbooks are like amuse-bouches before the poet’s main course—I love how they whet the appetite for a full collection and how much care small presses put into producing them. I had written about two dozen poems and showed them to Joaquin Zihuatanejo who suggested I submit them. So I did. It made sense to group these poems as a chapbook because they were linked in time and theme and I had no plans back then of writing a full-length book.

Tina Schumann also asks: For full collection authors: How long (approx.) did you work on this collection and how many contests did you enter it in before you won? How were you feeling about your collection at the time that you entered it in the Diode editions contest?

Remica: I worked on this collection for about seven years, which is about average for me. I had a very atypical experience with contests this time around; I entered five and placed in all of them, then accepted the offer of the first contest I won because I loved the press and they really seemed to get what I was trying to do with the book from the beginning, so I withdrew from all the others. Usually, I enter well over twenty contests for each manuscript. I was just fortunate it fell to the right eyes and hearts early on this time.

I was feeling happy about the manuscript—I felt that I’d really gotten the progression right in the final big revision and I was grateful that someone else felt that it was working too. I was also very glad to be writing love poems, even the most difficult of which were still praise poems, so I appreciated—and still appreciate—getting to rejoice in that.

Paula: It’s difficult to say how long I worked on quitter, because for a long time I didn’t know I was working on it. I knew I was writing a memoir in lyric prose with lots of labyrinth imagery, and I knew I was putting the final edits on another collection of poems, The Threatened Everything. At some point I pulled out pieces that didn’t work from both of those manuscripts and realized the misfits were talking to each other: most of the collection that became quitter had taken shape. I worked on it another eighteen months or so, in no rush, and gingerly started submitting the manuscript to a handful of presses I admire, but then Diode announced their first ever book contest. I have loved Diode a long time. I sent the manuscript to Patty and Law, then walked outside to tell my husband, “This one’s really gonna sting when the rejection comes.” Lucky, lucky me.



Paula Cisewski asks: What was your desire for what your collection would do as it was taking shape? What is your wish for your collection now that it is in the world?

Remica: I am always interested in the collection sustaining tension; that is my primary interest for a book that I am writing or reading. My hope for this book as opposed to my other books was that I could paint a family portrait that all those in the family (the children too), and those outside of it, would understand and find compelling in some way—maybe they’d see glimpses of their own living or memories or maybe they’d just find ours striking enough to keep making their way through them. That’s still my wish for the collection in the world.

Paula: The book explores ways out of participating in broken systems, deadening habits, bad jobs, shitty internal dialogue. In that sense, it’s been a kind of liberation to wear the title “quitter” with pride. I would like to live up to that, which is more a wish for myself. As for the book in the world, I know I posed this question, but it turns out I don’t know the answer. I hope it speaks to someone. I hope it plays well with others.

Tina: I wanted to represent my father, his life, and his passions honestly. I wanted to represent the difficultly of watching a loved parent and an intelligent person lose their mind. My fear all along was that I was not only betraying my father by exposing his frailties, but portraying him in a harsh light, that there was not enough tenderness and understanding intertwined with the ugly reality of an being a long-distance caregiver to a father who was not always interested in being a parent. Now, of course I know I told the truth through my perspective, and after all it was my father who preached the truth above all else. If he were alive and in his right mind he would be proud of me for telling my truth. Which is a very odd paradox to image.

My hope for the book now is that an adult child who is in the position of care giver to an ailing parent can find some sense of support through these poems. I also hope that any reader will get something out of them, for whatever purpose suits them.

Shelley: It took a while for me to believe I had a place in poetry, and I am so thrilled to be part of this year’s Diode cohort of five women poets, including three women of color. I hope that my collection, in any small way, is an affirmation to Asian Americans and the LGBTQ community. When I wrote the poems, I was emerging from a long period of silence and the poems helped me think through that emotional space. I wanted to write about queer desire and the aftermath of a relationship, but not fall into the trope of queer women tragedy. That still holds true—I want queer women to be seen in all of our complex, messy, and beautiful humanity. And I want to take up some sky out as a rare bird, as a fourth-generation Asian American—to say that we’re here, and not just that we survived, but that we lived and are living.

Seema: I wanted it to speak a truth about religion and sexuality that I wasn’t seeing much elsewhere. Now that it’s out there, I’m just glad it exists. I’m not pinning hopes and dreams onto it.



Seema Yasmin asks: I come from a medical background where success is constantly measured and there are many metrics for it, whether it's how much your patient's tumour has shrunk, how many papers you published in a year. How does your history and culture affect the way you think of success? Do you think about success? What does a successful poet do?

Remica: What a loaded question, Seema! I am completely absorbed by the first part—How does your history and culture affect the way you think of success? This summer, I am writing lots of ethnographically-researched family and American history poems (I have also just read Octavia Butler’s Kindred, which I’m sure has made me drill deeper into the implications of history and culture on our being even now), so I am asking myself and my poems each day, what do we have to live up to? As I am researching my grandmothers, I am very aware that I am carrying their dreams on my back, so this puts a pressure on the poems that I’ve never really experienced before, though I write often about family. Something about digging into primary source documents and meticulously researched texts makes me hyper-aware of all of these people’s actual living, and I am trying not to be overwhelmed by the accountability that this demands of anyone brave enough to try and unearth them

I think about success in terms of how well poems are working. I hold them up to the light of others—other poems I’ve written and poems written by those I admire. Much of the poet’s job is to be original, to work to create the unique lens. So, a successful poet writes until the poem is moving and clear, as clear as possible for that poet in that moment. One has to say it as well as they possibly can in this place and time (and for me that takes months and sometimes years of revision) for a poem/poet to be successful to me.

Paula: Ideas connected to success—outside of saving a life or living and creating with intention as Seema and Remica mentioned—seem frequently tied to ideas about “worth” and “deserving” that feel destructive and that I would like to permanently quit. I don’t know what successful poets do, except continue to write poems that will make them better poets and better versions of themselves.

Tina: Good question and one I think that is most likely measured by the individual poet. Certainly, the worldly or visible success of a nationally known poet like Sharon Olds is a success level different from a poet who has had a few poems published and is working on their first full manuscript. But I would say they are both a success in the poetry world, considering the fierce competition. I know when I had my first poem published I told my husband I could now die a happy woman. In that moment I felt a huge surge of personal success. Something I dearly wanted had been achieved. Of course, I kept writing, pursued an MFA and kept submitting my work. The high of acceptance can become a bit of an addiction. The writing itself is a compulsion for me and so I have never felt that the process of writing a poem was a success as such. That was going to happen regardless of anything else. It felt more like breathing and eating, something essential. Although I do feel a kind of satisfaction with myself when I finish or start a poem, and a sense of peace since poetry serves as therapy as well. When I feel a poem is up to a certain self-prescribed standard (which is difficult to articulate) I then feel that something must be done with it.. Having it simple sit on my hard drive in status does not feel like success. I know that in academic circles one must have at least one full collection published and an MFA in order to qualify to teach. Is that a successful poet? I think it must be to those who wish to teach and publish. I have had no desire to acquire a teaching position (yet) and so for me getting my poems published in respected journals and anthologies felt like success on one level. Winning two book contests and having those books published felt like success on another level. It was particularly important to me that my work be published by editors who did not know me personally. I wanted to know that the work spoke for itself and was not influenced by a personal relationship in any way. That also felt like success. The poet and editor Christian Wiman wrote a very interesting book on this topic called Ambition & Survival; Becoming a Poet (Copper Canyon Press, 2007.)

As far as history and culture are concerned, my parents instilled in me a duty to finish what I started and to tell the truth. That was the two biggies for them. My mother was an immigrant from El Salvador and I think she was naturally attempting to prove her worth as a citizen in everything she did, including her children. Perhaps that rubbed off on me as well. Other than that my parents thought I was a success if I got out of bed in the morning, went to school and contributed in some way. They were not people who pursued career or academic success, they worked hard at jobs they did not like very much in order to feed and shelter their kids. Out of the five children in my immediate family only two of us pursued advanced degrees and that was through our own volition later in life. Higher education or public notoriety was not a goal of my parents for their kids or themselves. I think that idea felt completely out of reach for them. However, they both deeply admired artist and read widely, my father especially loved poetry, so I am sure that influence had something to do with me wanting to be seen as a “successful poet” by him and others. The addendum question to this question seems to be will one ever feel that they have “arrived” as a poet. I certainly hope not. I remember the poet Marvin Bell, who was then in his 70’s told us in a workshop that when he was a young poet just starting out he dearly wished to be published in Poetry magazine. He thought if he could just get one poem published in Poetry magazine he would be completely satisfied. Then one day he DID get a poem in Poetry magazine and he said his immediate next thought was that now he needed to get TWO poems in Poetry magazine! So, I think the pursuit of a new poem and another acceptance is probably as close as engaged poets get to any fleeting sense of success. I might feel differently when and if I make it to eighty.

Shelley: I see success in poetry as an engagement with poetry over time. I have a hard time defining professional success in poetry because it’s subject to who has access to that success. My success goal is to sustain a life with time for poetry.


Remica Bingham-Risher, a native of Phoenix, Arizona, is an alumna of Old Dominion University and Bennington College. She is a Cave Canem fellow and Affrilachian Poet. Among other journals, her work has been published in The Writer’s Chronicle, New, Letters, Callaloo and Essence. She is the author of Conversion (Lotus, 2006) winner of the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award, What We Ask of Flesh (Etruscan, 2013) shortlisted for the Hurston/Wright Award and Starlight & Error (Diode, 2017) winner of the Diode Editions Book Award. She is the Director of Quality Enhancement Plan Initiatives at Old Dominion University and resides in Norfolk, VA with her husband and children.

Paula Cisewski's fourth poetry collection, ​quitter​, won Diode Editions' 2016 Book Prize. She is also the author of The Threatened Everything (Burnside Review Press), Ghost Fargo (selected by Franz Wright for the Nightboat Poetry Prize), Upon Arrival (Black Ocean), and several chapbooks, including the lyric prose Misplaced Sinister. She has been awarded fellowships from the Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts, the Jerome Foundation, and the Minnesota State Arts Board.

Tina Schumann is a Pushcart nominated poet, the author of three poetry collections and editor of the anthology Two-Countries: U.S. Daughters and Sons of Immigrant Parents, a collection of flash memoir, personal essays and poetry from over sixty-five contributors (Red Hen Press, 2017.) Her debut poetry collection, As If (Parlor City Press, 2010) was awarded the Stephen Dunn Poetry Prize for 2010. Her second collection, Requiem. A Patrimony of Fugues won the 2016 Diode Editions Chapbook Competition. Her full collection, Praising the Paradox is forthcoming from Red Hen Press in 2019. This collection was named a finalist in the National Poetry Series, the Four Way Books Intro Prize, New Issues Poetry Prize, and others.

Shelley Wong is a Kundiman fellow and the author of Rare Birds (Diode Editions). Her poems have appeared in Crazyhorse, Sixth Finch, Southern Humanities Review, Verse Daily, Vinyl, The Volta, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a MacDowell Colony fellowship, a Peter Taylor fellowship from The Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, and scholarships from Fine Arts Work Center and Napa Valley Writers’ Conference. She holds an MFA from the Ohio State University and a BA from UC Berkeley.

Seema Yasmin is a poet, doctor, professor and journalist who lives in Texas by way of England. She is author of For Filthy Women Who Worry About Disappointing God (Diode Editions). Her writing explores how religion influences sexuality and the ways in which women of color reclaim their bodies, sexual agency and power. She trained in journalism at the University of Toronto and in medicine at the University of Cambridge.

Interview with Peter LaBerge by Heather Lang, and Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program Poet’s Feature

Heather Lang: Hi, Peter! It’s a pleasure to meet you. Thanks for chatting with me today. I’m going to start with a tough question—because I believe grilling people is the best way to make new friends! (Clearly, I am kidding.) Really, though, this might be a hard one: if you had to describe yourself as any one character from a book or any one speaker from a poem, who would you choose, and why?

Peter LaBerge: Hmm. If I’m honest, I think I’d probably have to say the speaker of Paradise, Indiana by Bruce Snider. I’m not from the Midwest technically, but the paternal side of my family stems from Ohio, and I find myself inspired with and preoccupied by the tension between sexuality and the traditional values encapsulated in that society.

HL Based on your online presence, you’re an expert in promotion, including self-promotion, and I mean that, absolutely, as a compliment. The ways in which you carry yourself benefit the writers that you teach, the contributors that you publish, and the readers for whom you write. From your on-point personal website to your stunning literary magazine, you seem to know yourself and your aesthetic, and you’re not afraid to let it shine, all the while being sensitive to the world’s happenings and how they affect your global and local communities.

In short, a large part of who you seem to be is a writer who carries himself with both edge and with grace, which positions you to give back to others. Could you please tell us a bit about your mentorship program?

PL Thank you, and sure! I founded the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program—an entirely free, entirely online program that pairs high school writers with established poets, fiction writers, and memoirists—in 2013, the summer after I’d graduated from high school and recognized the need for such a program myself. Oftentimes, even when young writers are supported and/or validated, they are done so in a way that tokenizes them, that separates them from the professional ‘adult’ world. It’s particularly dangerous because once this mindset is internalized (that teenage writers do not belong in the professional world of writing because they are teen writers), these writers emerge from high school and struggle to continue to engaging in writing, because those resources/contests/publications/etc. specifically for youth no longer apply to them.

In short, through the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program, these worlds are bridged. Conversations are started. Established writers realize just how terrifically talented teen writers can be, and teen writers realize there is no one way to be a writer. And historically I have heavily encouraged participation in the professional world of writing beyond the program, from submitting to applying for staff opportunities to simply reading publications and poetry collections they likely won’t encounter in the classroom! The students, I hope, emerge from the program feeling like they don’t need to identify as young writers.

This year, the brilliant Carly Joy Miller will be directing the program, which will host just under seventy students from a plethora of the United States, as well as Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, India, Iraq, the Philippines, and more! They’ll be working with such mentors as Meg Day, Chen Chen, Kenzie Allen, Dana Diehl, Lo Kwa Mei-en, Paige Lewis, Caroline Crew, Shelley Wong, Doug Ramspeck, and beyond. We’re all basically bowled over with excitement.

HL Shifting to another Peter LaBerge curation, I must tell you that I absolutely love The Adroit Journal’s aesthetic. I think back to Issue Seventeen, which might have been the first issue I read. If we zoom into the poetry alone, Stephanie Cawley, Kaveh Akbar, and M.K. Foster slay me. After the first three lines of Cawley’s “Disappearing Trick,” for example, I feel weak in the knees: “The music we like is half carousel, / half villain. I cut my hair myself / because asking for help is harder.” This poet speaks my language! Now, if I were considering this poem as an editor, I’d know that I needed this work of contemporary literature after only those first three lines. What’s your reading process, Peter? At which point, when you’re considering submissions, do you typically know that a poem or a story is meant for Adroit?

PL Ah! I love Stephanie, and I love that poem. (And Kaveh! And M.K.! And all the contributors in that issue!) It’s funny—I think I used to approach the submissions we receive a lot more formulaically than I do now. As my conceptions of poetry and prose have developed, so too has my desire to broaden the aesthetic offering within each issue. The staff and I used to approach each submission with the question of, Is this Adroit? I think the question now is, Could this be Adroit? Like Emily Dickinson roughly wrote, dwelling in possibility is always more exciting.

Of course, the journal has also become incredibly selective, and there’s so much fine work that we just can’t accommodate. But that’s exciting—knowing there’s too much stellar work being produced!

HL When I read your poetry, Peter, I sometimes find myself feeling as if I’m reading an origin story, or a number of origin stories. My experience diving into “Gust,” as published by Sixth Finch in 2015, is one such example. Also, while reading your poem, “Digging Season,” published at [PANK] in August of 2014, I experience lifetimes despite the poem being only five brief stanzas long. I love this! Have you heard this before? How do people usually describe your work to you? Does it ever surprise you?

PL Thank you so much! It’s funny—I never expect anyone to have read my work because I spend so much time interacting and swooning over other people’s work through The Adroit Journal and also just being a literary citizen. That said, I always think it’s really interesting to hear which poems of mine particularly resonate with people—mainly because they are never the same poems, and also because they are never the poems I would pick. (In fact, I think this is the first time anyone has ever mentioned “Digging Season”!) I think that subjectivity speaks to the versatile roles that poetry can fill for every reader. In a lot of ways, living in a world with such subjectivity applied to poetry can inspire insecurity and frustration, but I think also it provides the openness that keeps poetry read and distributed across cultures and across wells of experience.

HL Peter, I’d like to hear more about your own writerly work. What are you crafting these days?

PL To be perfectly honest, I actually haven’t been crafting all that much since November. I’ve been really focused on graduating with my B.A. in English from the University of Pennsylvania, securing a post-grad gig, and promoting my chapbook Makeshift Cathedral (recently released from YesYes Books—and which, by the way, includes my diode poem “Every Gravity”!), while also trying to process and resist the frightening political spiral. I’m grateful that writing has been there for me ever since I found it, and I’m definitely still writing poems when I’m able to write poems.

HL How do the voices of the writers you mentor, publish, and/or read inspire your own literary endeavors?

PL Oh, in so many ways. Sometimes literally—I actually just recently wrote a poem after a stunning mentee-turned-friend, Christina Im. In other ways, it’s more quiet: the nudge I get from a mentee to exchange work, the poetic growth spurts to which I bear direct witness, the genuine, unfettered passion I see to learn and grow. The students I’ve come to know remind me that we are never done learning, and also that the more valuable perspective to apply to the world—regardless of life stage or level of experience—is that of the student.

HL …and, with all that you do, when do you find the time to sleep?

PL I’m answering these questions and it’s 3:16 am! What is sleep?

HL Thank you, Peter, for chatting with me. Do you have any final parting words for our readers at home?

PL Forget that the work in this feature is by teenage writers. Let yourself first connect to it. Then remember.


Peter LaBerge recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied English and Consumer Psychology. He is the editor-in-chief of The Adroit Journal, a global literary publication he founded as a high school sophomore in November 2010. His recent work appears in Beloit Poetry Journal, Best New Poets, Colorado Review, Crazyhorse, Harvard Review, Indiana Review, Iowa Review, Pleiades, Sixth Finch, and Tin House, among others. He co-edited Poets on Growth (Math Paper Press, 2015) with Talin Tahajian, and received a fellowship from the Bucknell University Stadler Center for Poetry, where he studied with G.C. Waldrep, Mary Szybist, and Dana Levin in June 2015.  Peter founded The Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program in 2013, and continues to direct or mentor.

Heather Lang was voted Las Vegas' Best Local Writer or Poet this year by the readers of KNPR's Desert Companion. Her poetry and prose have been published by or are forthcoming in The Normal School, Paper Darts, and Pleiades, among others. Last year Heather was interviewed on Nevada Public Radio, and her writing process was on exhibit at the Nevada Humanities Program Gallery. Heather teaches literature and composition part time at Nevada State College, and she serves as World Literature Editor with The Literary 



Farah Ghafoor is editor-in-chief of Sugar Rascals and has had poems published in Ninth Letter, alien mouth, and Big Lucks, among other places. Her work has been nominated for Best New Poets, and has recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, Hollins University, the Keats-Shelly Memorial Association, the League of Canadian Poets, and Columbia College Chicago. She believes that she deserves a cat. Follow her @farah_ghafoor.


The Silver Chase

I fountain desire
like a knife, like a mouth
of dripping moonlight, and you are
a shadow running amok
through the city. I pale;
you find me around
your ankles in a hand
of white wine. The thrash
of sky does not faze you,
the bubble and froth settle
into a corpse and you
are gone to be some bastardized
mourner. You are gone
and I let blood as thin
as water. I let my lips pull
open like a door, a silent
thanks to an absence
that shined me so
silver and glad.



Noel Peng is a writer and musician from the bay area of California, who currently serves as co-founder and intern manager at Glass Kite Anthology. Her work has been recognized by the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and has appeared in The Cadaverine, and The Best Teen Writing of 2016, among others. She is fortunate to be an alumna of the 2016 Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship program and the 2015 Winter Tangerine Writing Workshop. She is eighteen years old.


City visits / as a stranger

I’ve eaten the guns barrel-
first          before self-immolation
was just          suggestion.          Then
came high noon the haggles

faced capital          punishment.
Nurseries begged          for more
myth, each child          fertilizing
under split-

skinned moon. (at that point, I knew
how they broke          each finger.
how to snap each one pretty,
the curvature of a back          bursting,
root budding)

They said, it’s always been about the bully
breeds: the children declawed
their own          kill and slept
without sheets.          I sang

open the entry wound then disowned
this mouth. Back then I swallowed
too much          this city poked
holes through me;

caged          I lay
prostrate on the gutter. I housed
the punctured softness from each
doorway,          (the sign language “vacancy”
for the early-risers.) I told them

somewhere: sirens were out-          singing Christmas
carols on wine-dark streets. a manger constructed
for a school fair,          the glue-
gun still smoking.

The heaviest thing to do was to open
someone else’s eyes.          In this case, the children
learned of sand, fell          in love & closed
their lungs like glass.

I had swallowed &          the city sent its streets
to the table. There I dined          on recoil,
spit out their blanks like morsels of a body after ravage.


Eileen Huang is a student at High Technology High School in Lincroft, NJ. Her work has been recognized by the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, TEDx, the Kenyon Review’s Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers, and the Poetry Society of the UK. From 2015 to 2016, she served as one of five National Student Poets, the nation’s highest honor for youth poets presenting original work. She currently serves as a prose editor for TRACK//FOUR, a literary journal that showcases writers of color.


Looking Through Photos of the Tiananmen Square Massacre

It depends—sometimes
there is no blood. College
kids with too much time.
Too much impulse and
not enough mouth. Too
much mouth and not enough
fist. Open your mouth too much
and it spills. White tiles painted
warm. College boy with
too much time, read a page
of Marquez, thinks he’s a genius.
Now, a cold body against cold
limestone. Not enough fist.
Students gathering in front
of tour buses, pointing.
Look at what you did. Look.
Soldiers in the uniforms
of their fathers. Man and woman
standing under a bridge,
umbrellas drawn. Trucks above.
Boys standing over a bruised
policeman, smiling. Look
what we did. Papers from the sky.
Papers burning. In the square,
they build a statue of a goddess,
Lady Liberty for those who
crave it. Girls with tanned faces.
Girls with green sweaters. Plaster drips.
Beijing, June 4th. I search
online for the word “candle.”
Outside, soldiers march. Blank
tiles, blank screen.


Rachana Hegde collects words and other oddities. She is dissonant in the company of strangers. Her poetry has been published in Lockjaw Magazine, Moonsick Magazine, and Hypertrophic Literary, among others. You can find her reading, or at



This day is all windswept
grooves and secluded high-rises.
A doorknob yawns awake under
my hands. Honey & flies & a breakfast
of cold oatmeal sticks to the roof
of my stomach. The trees have secondhand
fever, crackling alongside birds brimming
with milksongs. I am held captive
in a ballad that sews up my sweaters.

There are students ruminating with
slow gulps of lemonade, fish drifting
lazily in the school pond. Another
hazy memory floats in a clay pot.

A sordid figurine is smashed on the pavement.
Children prod the sap leaking from its finger joints.
The fish are mercurial, flopping awake &
a class president with sore knees blunders through
this year's harvest of confiscated phones, blades, and lighters.

Figurine is a boy, is dissected in the photos,
mouth: a crumbling hunk of sand.
His hands tilt with the quickness of glass,
wisps of paint caught in the stained smock.

We look at the body, at another boneless myth
splattered beside the pond & rainwater swills out
the bitter taste of the aftermath.


Katherine Liu lives near Chicago. Her work appears in BOAAT, Red Paint Hill, Alexandria Quarterly, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and has been nominated for Best of the Net. Katherine edits poetry for TRACK//FOUR.


Apologies in Tongue

If language is power, call me colonist. Call me postcolonial
orphan who traverses on self-made apologies. In English,
poetry lost its flavor. I spent years unlearning Mandarin, unwinding
the spool around my native tongue. Mía, it's imperceptible
why I would choose to beg in a language twice removed. Una vez,
you and me. Ni he wo, nosotros cambiamos por el bosque, la noche
the only one who watched us. Tried to touch us both. And I
mistook mo for more; you opened your palm and I put a maze
in it, said zhen mei because I saw the dead ends and meant it.
That night, I walked to you and if it could've made a difference,
if it could've changed una cosa, I would've tried it too. Here's a joke:
beneath the tree, la sangre con la sangría. And it's so haowan, it's so
funny how wan these lines really are. To know I am mute,
that I will only ever be one person in one place–but dios
isn't it miraculous to wonder, isn't it romántico to wander
language like a forest of its own, every old leaf new, every laoye
young. I apologize. Here's something borrowed: dui bu qi, I never
mail the words that could be. Por favor, don't forget I tried to speak.


Reuben Gelley Newman is a high school senior in New York City. A participant in The Adroit Journal's 2016 Summer Mentorship Program, his work is available in the Alexandria Quarterly.


Sad Reuben Listens to "Sad Lisa"

He hangs his head and cries
into skies dried up of everything
except his motion falling to the gutter.

Bitter thought-rain clatters
and slides through the drain;
he remembers hearing a song

when child & ignorant of music,
spins, ears leaping through the whirling
door of the past. He only knows

the tune his mother played on the radio,
the vague thought that it might be Neil Young
because that's what the other song he remembered was,

the other song stuck in his brain's groundwater, only
occasionally sucked to the surface
by his incomprehensible roots.

But in the Internet's cacophony he somehow found
that Cat Stevens wrote the song like Reuben wrote
the story of remembering this song, like Reuben wrote

the story of roots without reality in the hope
that this song—even without lyrics—
meant something. Reuben, who normally doesn't pay attention

to the words of a song, instead borne by the breeze
of minor harmony. Such weather he doesn't presume
to understand, Reuben who has no experience with the love

of Cat, but let him be the girl
Cat wants to love, to hold. So open
the door that sits on clouds by the corner of the street

where Reuben finally stops and begs for a boyfriend,
and when he never gets one and the roots
continue sapping

dreams and the water begins to drain
out his ears, carrying seeds shucked
and empty, let Reuben hop

into the tune, reside
in those vicissitudes of rain and never
think of himself

in another person again—
but oh the jump is long and when
in the wet will I fall.


Annabelle Crowe is a homeschooling senior living in Wilmington, North Carolina. Her poetry has appeared in Asheville Poetry Review and The Adroit Journal, and has been recognized by the Princeton University Poetry Contest for High School Students, the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, and the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She was a mentee in The Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program in 2016.


for Kaitlin Rose

In our city, clouds mount red tile rooftops
and a portmanteau of blue mountains.

Fathers sing a song about a mockingbird,
about replacing good things lost

with new and better things, a litany
of warranties. If that mockingbird won’t sing,

Daddy’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.
I’ve been writing this

since I met you, since our fathers
aren’t always here, or whole, prepared

to compensate us for realities they overturn.
Let me assure you that the galaxy is yours:

a silver-white rim like an old film reel,
pulsing with neutron stars like Astaire’s cufflinks.

I was once a girl mistaken for a boy
stealing third base, and you a teenager

who cut herself by accident. I am convinced
the world is like a Wright plane,

canvas underpinned by supple wooden
struts. Destructible, but sound. Aerodynamic.

I’m leaving on the 31st.

I don’t have any resolutions. You fold paper
pigeons for me as the band plays old standards.

Remember Paris last November? I read poetry
during the bombing and found out later you were

unharmed. The universe is full of gifts:
Shakespeare, F major, the terror of blank paper.

Your empty house smells like your hair.
The new year waits stage left in the dark wing,

ready to enter when you finish speaking,
so don’t stop. Give an endless soliloquy

of everything we’ve lost: pink faces,
versions of ourselves, and even you

a surrogate, a stand-in for the priceless thing
I never had or can’t remember.

The ocean there is nothing like a doorstep
          —it’s a basement laundromat,

low level, running endlessly, a hum
beneath the town’s unconscious.

I deconstruct my life one verse at a time.
The actors redact their armor.

Now just the black stage,
X’s taped where they should stand.


Tomas Kontakevich is a Lithuanian writer residing in Latvia. He writes in four languages, favoring English as the prime conduit of expression.


Brother of Sleep

Treading deep into a dream
where a crowd of poppies
drums its unraveled scalps
against a sky grown shut with longing.

Then a child cutting through—a wince of a mirror,
or a beast of delayed movements.

Its soles moulding the earth as it runs
pressing roots into tangled crowns;
eager to reach the harbour of its own making,
complete an errand within another's skin.

The idle red gums its dimming approach
in a series of wasted bows.

Its open mouth
the first rip in the landscape:
a slight curve of the alphabet
enough to tear the world out of sight.



Preface to Diode’s Tenth Anniversary Issue

Welcome to Diode 10.1!

Law, Jeff and I want to thank you, humbly and sincerely, for a wonderful decade, and to invite you to celebrations and events that will be happening off the page.

Come visit us at AWP. We'll be at tables 219T & 220T. We'll have tons of swag, and we'll be launching five new titles from Diode Editions.

Join us for our 10th Anniversary Reading & Reception:

2017 I St NW,
February 9th
Free Food (prepared by Chef Ken Kievit of the Arts Club)
Cash Bar

Kaveh Akbar
Remica Bingham-Risher
Catherine Pierce
Heather Lang
Peter Murphy
Michelle Bitting
Vandana Khanna
Anders Carlson-Wee
Tina Schumann
Paula Cisewski
Paisley Rekdal
Kai Carlson-Wee
Seema Yasmin
Shelley Wong

And for our joint reading with BOAAT PRESS, Octopus Books, and Gramma Poetry!
With live music from Jackson Pines
Friday, February 10 at 7 PM–11 PM EST
3222 11th St. NW

Meg Freitag
Stephanie Schlaifer
Jeremy Allan Hawkins
Amy Lawless
James Gendron
Noor Hindi
JP Grasser
George Abraham
Christine Shan Shan Hou
Stacey Tran
Sarah Galvin

And finally, please come by for our AWP on-site reading:

Title: Diode Poetry Journal's 10th Anniversary Reading
Number: R208
Date/Time: 1:30pm–2:45pm on Thursday February 9, 2017
Location: Supreme Court, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four

Victoria Chang
T.R. Hummer
Andrea Cohen
sam sax

volume 10 number 1 — Tenth Anniversary Issue

special features