Focal Ekphrastic: An Interview with Hedy Habra

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Hedy Habra has authored two poetry collections, Under Brushstrokes, finalist for the USA Best Book Award and the International Book Award, and Tea in Heliopolis, winner of the USA Best Book Award; and a story collection, Flying Carpets. She was a six-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Her work appears in Cimarron Review, Bitter Oleander, Drunken Boat, Gargoyle, Nimrod, Poet Lore, World Literature Today, and Verse Daily. Her website is hedyhabra.com.

Jon Riccio: The many gorgeous ekphrastic passages from Under Brushstrokes have me rethinking poetry’s relationship to visual art. One of my favorites is “The bride and groom listen all night long/ to the blue notes cascading over the red-tiled roof” (“Under the Crescent Moon”). What’s your definition of writerly beauty?

Hedy Habra: The concept of beauty is complex and evades specific definitions. Some artworks may lack harmony but will trigger deep aesthetic emotions in the viewer. In the same vein, a poem may not offer a harmonious, or coherent image, but should incite readers to appropriate it and reconstruct the inter-artistic dialogue in search for meaning.

I use the image as a point of departure for an oneiric or surreal recreation departing from the original. It is at times an attempt at transforming a two-dimensional representation into a three-dimensional, almost cinematic rendition that involves all five senses. I also aim at offering an imagined version of what might have happened before or after the portrayed scene, oftentimes from the point of view of one of the characters in the paintings.
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A Conversation: Francisco Cantú y Gabriel Dozal @ 5 Points

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Photo Credit: Beowulf Sheehan

Francisco Cantú is a former Border Patrol Agent and a 2017 Whiting Award winner. A 2016 graduate of the University of Arizona MFA program, his work has since appeared in Best American Essays and This American Life.  His book The Line Becomes a River will be published by Riverhead Books in 2018.

Gabe Dozal is an MFA Candidate in Poetry at the University of Arizona.  From El Paso, TX, he writes about the code-switching, camouflage, and chameleon nature of the borderlands.

(Competing with car horns, and police sirens on the patio, Francisco’s dog Walt, newly from the vet, has a cone around its head.)

 G: You were just here at Five Points this morning?

F: Yeah, every month I have breakfast here, with a group of so-called “desert rats,” writers and naturalists and other friends who share an obsession with the Sonoran desert. .

G: There’s a lot to congratulate you on but I’m most impressed with your “This American Life” piece. I like where the essay starts, with a scene of Border Patrol trainees on stationary bikes, sort of a metaphor for what their role might be like.

F: It was great to be on the program. The piece I read is sort of a hybrid—all of the writing is from the book that will be out next year, but some of the scenes were written years ago before I started my MFA and others much more recently. That’s one thing that’s cool about the book, it’s comprised of all these vignettes that are easy to pull out and present on their own. An earlier version of what I read on This American Life appeared in Best American Essays 2016. But that bicycle scene was one I remembered and added to the manuscript much later. It’s funny, when I was recording it the producers kept telling me to read “more flat” for radio.

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“Unbury What Has Been Hidden”: An Interview with Dana Diehl

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Credit: Jellyfish Highway

Recently, Sonora Review’s Web Editor, Eshani Surya, had the pleasure of talking with Dana Diehl, a former Sonora contributor whose short story collection Our Dreams Might Align debuted December 2016 from Jellyfish Highway. Diehl’s collection moves between spaces: locations, dreamscapes, wild worlds. Together, the stories create a collection that explores humanity, intimacy, and the natural world.

So many stories in Our Dreams Might Align deal with humans and animals encountering each other (and I phrase it this way because I believe the animals in your story often have as much agency as the humans do). How do you view the animal/human relationship? Are animals and humans alike or do they only intersect at times? 

I grew up in a rural part of Pennsylvania, my neighborhood surrounded by deciduous forest. Animals would come and go through our yard: groundhogs, rabbits, birds, squirrels, frogs, garden snakes, deer, foxes, and occasionally a bear. I spent a lot of my childhood watching these animals. My family taught me through example that encounters with animals are special and that we should be kind to the animals that share our space. If a bird laid eggs in the hanging basket on our front porch, my parents insisted that we use the backdoor for the rest of the season. If a herd of deer paused in our yard to eat from our apple trees, my parents would call me and my brother from whatever we were doing, we’d turn off the lights, and we’d press our noses to the window to watch until the deer moved on. This way of seeing has carried into my stories, and I absolutely consider animals as beings with agency, beings that take up space and have value.

I think animals and humans are alike, but that many of our non-physical similarities are subjective. Humans have historically anthropomorphized animals and turned them into symbols that reveal more about the symbol-maker than the animal itself. While writing this collection, I read a lot of ancient mythology and was struck by how attitudes towards animals varied wildly culture by culture. At one point in history, whales were seen as ferocious, peaceful, monstrous, or harmonious depending on who you asked. Animals become reflections of ourselves. In my stories, I wanted to use my characters’ evolving perceptions of animals to track how they see themselves and their relationships.

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Barnstorm and a Bullet: An Interview with Rachel Mindell

By Jon RiccioRachel Mindell Author Photo

Rachel Mindell is a writer and teacher from Tucson, Arizona. She works for the Montana Book Festival, the Missoula Writing Collaborative and Submittable. Individual poems have appeared in Diagram, Pool, BOAAT, Horse Less Review, DESTROYER, and elsewhere.

JR: Like a Teardrop and a Bullet opens with a ten-line poem, “Chile Ancho,” that commences at “4:30 p.m. Friday.” Do time and dimensionality set the tone for what’s to follow?  

Rachel Mindell: Interesting question. I think I began with “Chile Ancho” hoping it would embrace what follows: small instants, loss, heat. So in a way, yes, perhaps a tone is set for one moment being all moments, one door being all doors. These poems are a couple years old now – what I sense in the writing retrospectively is a willful push towards the precipice, something my friend Crystal Hartman intuited through her cover art. 4:30 p.m. Friday is what we jump off of.

JR: “Diamond City Ghost” explores the brittle courtship between outlook and environment –

Need brought us
this collapsing mine, rising dust and an aerial photograph
of what never was thrive, who’s to say
faith we haven’t and we won’t.

followed by “What luxury to simply up and leave our specter/ there’s so much cheap land still permissible.” How did moving from Tucson to Missoula change your definition of the word thrive?

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An Interview with Anselm Berrigan

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Anselm Berrigan will be judging Sonora Review‘s 2017 Poetry Contest. Deadline 4/1.

His recent books of poetry include Come In Alone (Wave, 2016) and Primitive State (Edge, 2015). He is the editor of What Is Poetry? (Just kidding, I know you know): Interviews from the Poetry Project Newsletter 1983-2009, due this spring from Wave Books. He is the poetry editor for The Brooklyn Rail, a former Artistic Director of The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, and Co-Chair, Writing at The Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts. Degrets, a chapbook from an ongoing series of combine-like poems, is due out from Couch Press in Portland, OR.

Gabe Dozal: In doing research for this interview I re-read the interview you had in Poetry with Bethlehem Shoals.  This was an awesome conversation.  I wish we could just reprint that conversation for Sonora.

Anselm Berrigan: Well, I’ll tell you that it was little J.A. who compared me to Sarah Palin. Does that qualify as a scoop?

GD: Are you writing separate poems or one long poem? Like, do you see your work as separate entities or one long epic poem?

AB: I like the feeling that it’s all one long poem — not an epic, but some kind of ludicrously scaled quilt. But in the writing the separate poems take their specific shapes, usually with very particular attitudes, and that feeling isn’t really there. So the long quilt feeling is probably more like self-hypnosis, though I have a tendency to write a lot of poems that go together as individual poems while being parts of long works.

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