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The Poetry Saloncast


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Sarah Browning: Poetry, Politics and Really Hot Priests

“If we can’t face it, we can’t change it.” In our interview, Sarah Browning discusses her latest book, Killing Summer (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2017). It tackles subjects such as racism and gun violence, but also memories of being a nerdy girl in high school and the year she was lucky enough to live in Italy. What comes through is Sarah’s attention to both the personal and the political realms. Early in her career, one of Sarah’s mentors told her not to write political poems because they were propaganda. Over the years Sarah has written to change this dynamic, witnessing how the cannon has changed, co-founding Split This Rock poetry festival and writing poems of witness and self-exploration. Whereas some poems tend to point the finger at others, Sarah writes to explore and understand her own complicity. We end by discussing a funny poem called “Hot Priests,” because, when Sarah does a reading, she wants to include a balance of poems that focus on sex, love, politics, and something uplifting.


Kelli Russell Agodon and Susan Rich: Demystifying the Manuscript

Please enjoy our interview with Kelli and Susan on their new book! Here are the key take aways I got from our discussion.
  • You don’t necessarily need to go in chronological order. Start with the juciest parts or the most vulnerable poems.
  • Get an outside perspective. It’s the best way to be objective.
  • If you can you identify more than one theme, try organizing and titling your book after one sub-topic so that it becomes a main topic. Can you use the same poems to tell alternative stories?
  • Take writing advice from a ghost, not a muse. Make your book talk to another book by an author who has passed away, even if they have nothing to do with you.
  • When you get a rejection letter, it doesn’t mean your book isn’t publishable. Kelli rejects up to 75 publishable books each year. Small presses can only publish so much.
  • The book you send to the publisher doesn’t need to be the finished project. You will edit it even after it is accepted.
  • Your title needs to make people want to read it. Use images that pull people in. Find a title that opens possibilities rather than shutting them down.
  • Don’t assume you know what the judges want or don’t want.
  • There are no direct rules. Experiment. 
  • The more you say something, the less power it has. Avoid repetition.


Jose Hernandez Diaz: Realism and Surrealism

Jose calls his book, Bad Mexican, Bad American (Acre Books, 2024) “two books in one.” The first section is deeply autobiographical, but the second half is truly surreal. Jose and I talked about honoring his writing and life.
In the first section the speaker subverts stereotypes around growing up in economic hardship. Jose notes that though his family was poor they were, “Fucking happy, because his parents showed us so much love.” He felt that if he had only collected his surreal poems, people would ask, “Where are your Chicano poems? Where are your poems about social justice?”
Then his book shifts to an impersonal, third person narrator. Many of the poems begin with “A Man Wearing a Rage Against the Machine Shirt…”, creating worlds symbolic of what the poet is going through, but in some instances Jose says, they are him playing with his imagination and world-building. Though the language in all of the sections feels approachable, the surrealism draws out images that are otherworldly, archetypal and surprising. They have in common their use of imagery from Mexican Culture and modern-day pop culture. The “Man wearing the Rage Against the Machine T-Shirt” might encounter a jaguar, an eagle, a pyramid a magician, or he might turn into the same.


Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo: How Love Leads to Revolutions

Can you write love poems during a time of war? What about sex poems or erotic poems about your current “situationship?” In this interview, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo discusses her latest book, Incantation, Love Poems for Battle Sites. It started with a grant which allowed her to visit Gettysburg to write about national monuments when many were fighting over the meaning of those monuments and whether they should be kept or torn down. Around those central poems she wrote about children growing up during this time, her own love life, daily life with its anxiety, hope and acts of love. As she points out, the French Revolution kicked off because parents couldn’t get enough bread to feed their children. They fought not because of ideals, but because they wanted to protect those they loved. She continues this tradition by providing not only poems of witness, but poems of pleasure and comfort for all those who read her work. 


Nadia Colburn: A Dawn Practice to Call Yourself Back

In this interview Nadia discusses her second book of poems, I Say the Sky from published by University Press of Kentucky. You can take Nadia’s 7-Day New Year Writing and Meditation Program, starting January 17th, for free when you buy a copy of her book. 


Lindsey Royce: Writing With and Without God

How do you process the passing of someone you love? In this interview, Lindsey Royce discusses her latest collection, The Book of John. Already an established poet, when her late husband, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Royce wrote consistently about what she experienced during his last year of life. Her book documents the tender beauty, despair, anger and resilience of that last year and her journey into the next chapter. As the title suggests, The Book of John takes on a magnitude of biblical proportions, though it is not God who cares for John as he passes, but Lindsey. In this interview she discusses her influences, story, and what motivated the title poem of the book.  

Angela Penaredondo

Tresha talks with Angela Penaredondo about her third collection, nature felt but never apprehended (Noemi Press, 2022). Angela discusses how personal and world history inspired her book. She relies on reading and research to generate writing, but sometimes allows another voice, less conscious and more magical. She utilizes different parts of her voice, voices of others, and multiple themes to create a collection that is intricately layered and rewards a second reading.


Jane Muschenetz: Writing Home

We’re born in a specific place with a specific history. How do these arbitrary facts affect us as artists? In this podcast I talk with Jane Muschenetz about her collection, All the Bad Girls Wear Russian Accents (Kelsay Books, 2023). Jane was born to a Jewish family in Lviv, a city once under Soviet control, now located in Western Ukraine. As a resident of the US, Jane wrote poetry about a variety of topics. However, when Putin invaded Ukraine in 2022, Jane wrote about her roots and her experience as a Russian-Jewish immigrant. She writes, “Naming God is an ambition I do not share / I am only trying to unpack one girlhood’s worth of beginning”.  Enjoy this interview with our special guest. 


Deshawn McKinney: The Value of Deadlines
Can a writer finish a book in time to meet a deadline? In our interview with DeShawn McKinney we discuss the genesis of his first chapbook, father, forgive me from Black Sunflower Press, 2003. Deshawn explains that he wrote a large portion of the book in 12 hours in order to meet the deadline for Black Sunflower. How does this help the process and how can other writers learn to work with these kinds of deadlines to catch and capture the heat of their emotions? Listen to this interview to hear our thoughts on this and other topics.

References: James Baldwin, Ajanae Dawkins, Liz Barry, Sherman Alexie, Danez Smith, June Jordan



Joan Kwon Glass: The Tribe of Invisible People
How does a person deal with grief in poetry? In this interview Joan Kwon Glass discusses her first full-length collection, Night Swim, winner of the Diode Poetry Prize (2021), which explores the death by suicide of both her nephew and sister. Glass believed nobody would want to read her book, but she discovered many with similar issues who craved an open forum to discuss them. These are the “Tribe of invisible people.” Kwon discusses the poets she read to give her courage to write her own book, and what she learned about truth-telling along the way. 


Jon Pearson: A Creative Pep Talk

Do you struggle to make time for your creative self? In this episode, creativity experts and writers Tresha Faye Haefner and Jon Pearson discuss their different approaches to making time and finding motivation for their writing. As Jon notes, the difficulty is not writing but “starting” to write. Get some great tips to use in your creative process, from starting to celebrating, to just making the time! Listen now. 

Heather Bourbeau: The Poetry of History

-“We thought we knew a lot about our history. We were wrong.” – Heather Bourbeau

How do you write poetry about historical people and events? In this interview, Heather Bourbeau discusses the way she tackles the personal and historical in her new book, Monarch. Broken into four parts, the poems of Monarch illuminate aspects of history that schools often leave out of their curriculum, like the Miss Atomic Blast beauty pageant held in Nevada to celebrate the creation of the bomb, or the list of items left after Mt. St. Helens exploded. Heather gives useful tips for how to connect with historical events, how to write about sometimes difficult subject matter, and how to do good self-care along the way.


Jessica Cuello: Does the Lyrical “I” Lie?

How do we know what other people know?

In this interview Douglas Manuel and Tresha Faye Haefner talk with Jessica Cuello about her third collection, Liar, selected by Dorianne Laux for the Barrow Street Book Prize. Her book explores issues of childhood trauma that children are taught to lie about or to hide from adults. Jessica discusses her own ambiguous, uncertain relationship with the lyric “I” when writing, and asks the question, “How do we know what others know?” As James Baldwin says, all art is a form of confession.

Listen for references to James Baldwin, Dorianne Laux, and Mary Oliver. 



Lois P. Jones: How Seasons Stir the Imagination

In this interview, host Douglas Manuel gets his chance to interview Lois P. Jones, who interviewed him on Poet’s Café. Lois discusses how winter stirs her imagination for poetry (as Wallace Stevens put it, “One must have a mind of winter”) because of its mystery. Doug, Tresha and Lois discuss how poems confront readers, challenging them to use their own imaginations, and “complete” the poems as they read. She also references Lorca, Rilke, Neruda, Galway Kinnel and Joseph Fasano. Enjoy.


Edward Vidaurre: Waving the Flag of Activism

Get inside the mind of poet-activist, writer, and publisher Edward Vidaurre as Tresha and Douglas ask about his book Cry, Howl from PricklyPear Press and his work running FlowerSong Press. He talks about riding the bus to school and seeing others reading; how that inspired him to seek out authors like Miguel Hernandez, Wanda Coleman, Naomi Shihab Nye, Richard Wright, Claude Brown and others. Now he uses his writing to speak up about issues as a contrary political force in Texas and to use his position as an editor to elevate writers who might not get heard.



Kelly Cressio-Moeller: The Moon Wrote This Poem

In this interview Kelly Cressio-Moeller discusses how music, art and cinema play into her writing. As a student of art history and a drummer, Kelly describes how she created flow in and between poems to make her first collection, Shade of Blue Trees! When Pulitzer Prize winner Dianne Seuss gave her advice to “build a section” of her book, she had to make hard choices to cut out her darlings. Quoting Yusef Kommunyakkaa, she reminds us, “The ear is the greatest editor,” and as a poetry editor who reads hundreds of manuscripts, the hard work that makes things flow can make all the difference. Kelly also relates the story of her “easy poem” dictated to her from the largest moon she ever witnessed.


Ellen Bass: Try Try Again

Does a poem start with an image or with sound? In this interview Douglas Manuel and Tresha Faye Haefner ask Ellen Bass about her writing process. She tells us about ways she uses an image to start a poem and her use of tools like sound to distract her “overly logical mind” while her more intuitive mind goes to work. When things don’t go right the first time, though, she keeps trying, reorganizing syntax, talking with friends, etc. She tells the story of writing the title poem of her latest book, Indigo by writing many “failed” poems first, and only being “successful” after seeing the right image one day while out walking. There are good reasons why poets need to get out, she says, even if they are hermit introverts.


Kelli Russell Agodon: Why Poets Need Restrictions

How can you cope with anxiety? Try writing a book about it. In this interview Kelli Russell Agdon discusses her latest book. Originally she tells us that the book began with two separate manuscripts melding into one. One book was a collection of poems about the broken world, and another about the broken self. Together they become her manuscript, Dialogues with a Rising Tide, out from Copper Canyon Press. Hear Kelli discuss the way she channels anxiety into writing, how she uses constraint to help her choose titles for her poems, and why she has more fun and ease when writing with friends. 


Diannely Antigua: Speaking the words that are not allowed

Were there certain topics that were off limits to talk about when you were growing up? Any words you weren’t allowed to say? In this interview Diannely Antigua discusses her book Ugly Music, a book where the speaker explores her complicated relationship to sexuality against a strict religious background. Antigua tells us about her transformation from being a girl who didn’t want to fall asleep having impure thoughts to becoming a poet who can use the word p***y and d**k. If you have taboos to break in your writing, you’ll be able to relate.  

Tanaya Winder: When Poetry Makes Music

In this interview Tanaya Winder discusses the way she has combined poetry and performance with social advocacy to help others feel seen in real life and on the page. Once a student at Stanford driven to pursue a degree in law, Tanaya eventually turned to poetry seeing it as a way to help marginalized communities and survivors of trauma find their voices. Coming from a life rooted in music and ceremony she also tells us about the way she uses song and sound to help her access her poems and honor her own heritage. Find out more by listening to this podcast or watching Tanaya’s TED talk here.

Meghan Sterling: Every Child I have birthed

In this interview Meghan Sterling, author of These Few Seeds (Terrapin Books, 2022), passionately discusses the complexities of love and how profound that experience is as a mother of a four-year-old girl. She says love is, “An enormous braid of hope, fear, longing, joy, exhaustion, disappointment, exhilaration and feeling like a fraud.” People limit themselves because loving is so frightening. “In the veins of love runs the iron of fear,” but for her, writing poetry keeps her honest. Even in seemingly “mundane” events, there is a voice that says, “This means more than what you see on the surface.” If you give it space, the poem tells you what it means – that the tree is cut down, that your jeans don’t fit. The poems are under the surface of your skin.


Kai Coggin: Making the Moments Holy

In this wide-ranging interview, Kai Coggin tells her story of meeting Sandra Cisneros along with her middle school English class and how the famous author encouraged her to make time for her own writing as well as bringing writing to others. Now Kai Coggin on her fourth book Mining for Stardust, uses poetry to “freeze time”, recording the darkness and tempering it with the power of the light. She introduces young people to the kinds of poems that help them find and define their own identity and shows them that poetry is meant for everybody. This interview is packed with wisdom and insight to inspire any writer.

Welcome Doug Manuel and Season Preview

Oct 8, 4:41 PM
Big Announcement for the podcast:  Kelly Grace Thomas is stepping aside as co-host with Tresha Faye Haefner. Kelly has a new baby! With an infant in the house she’s focusing on being a new mother, and stepping into her prodigious shoes is creative powerhouse and high-spirit extraordinaire Doug Manuel, author of Testify.  Join us as Tresha catches up with what Doug has been doing since our interview with him a few years ago, and then the two of them preview the Saloncast interviews ahead! Welcome Doug!

Brian Sonia-Wallace: Poetry in Service

“What does it mean to call every stranger friend?” That’s a question poet and innovator Brian Sonia-Wallace asks as he discusses his unusual journey writing spontaneous poetry at events. In his twenties Brian Sonia-Wallace put out a typewriter on the street to write poetry for strangers and has been doing it ever since. He is the founder of “Rent Poet” and travels the world to write for others, including at a residency at The Mall of America. You can read about his adventures in his new book from Harper Collins, The Poetry of Strangers. In this interview, he discusses the ways that he, and others who write poetry for strangers find commonalities with their clients, how they write poems that reflect their feelings and the feelings of their clients. This is a rich interview with intriguing insights from the Poet Laureate of West Hollywood, and one of the more original, poet-entrepreneurs writing today.

Recommended readings and Poets Referenced
Danez Smith
Sam Sax


Lynne Thompson: Embracing the Unknown

Sonia Greenfield: Balancing Grief and Gratitude

Nancy Lynee Woo: Living Your Creative Mission

Jon Pearson: Unhinging your mind

Creatives in quarantine


Season Two Recap!

A Writing Prompt You Can Use Everyday

Dorothy Chan: Food, Sex and Sonnets

Terrie Silverman: The Magic of Mentoring Storytellers

Alexis Rhone Fancher: Work-Ethics, Sex and Power, and the Writing Community

Brendan Constantine: Defending the Moon, Making Big Mistakes, and Finding the Momentum in a Poem

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