SR71 Contributor Interviews: Joseph Zaccardi

JoeZaccardi1What is it about the genre or cross-genre you write in that interests you/draws you in?

My journey to the prose poem took many years to develop. When I was in the seventh grade I wrote a 200-word essay on poetry using alliteration throughout the piece. My teacher, Sister Mary Francesca, impressed with my effort, said to me that I should try to write poetry, she said, “And Joseph, in a poem you don’t have to punctuate”; she knew I had a fear of punctuation. So I began there, and for a few years wrote a few poems, and because of the freedom of not having to use commas, periods, and that monstrous semi-colon, I sort of self-taught myself how to line break. Later in my twenties I embraced punctuation, found that it really was a valuable tool. It was in 2012, when I started work on a poem about the lynchings of African-Americans that I found that an unpunctuated approach gave me more freedom. Here are the first few words from that poem titled “Little,” which is the name of a soldier, Private William Little, who had just returned from serving in WW1 and was beaten up and murdered for wearing his uniform, the only clothes he owned:

“If he had the sense he was born with but he did if he’d taken off his doughboy

uniform that a hostile band of whites demanded but he didn’t …”

I quickly saw that with that freedom came a need to find the right transitions so that the reader wouldn’t get frustrated and give up. As you can feel in my poem in the Sonora Review, “What’s Wrong with That Boy,” there’s a tension that, I think, wouldn’t work as well in a more structured form. So I now think of my style as a prose poem in a poem-box, something both contained and free to bounce off the walls

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Blade Lineage: An Interview with Laura McCullough

unnamedLaura McCullough’s The Wild Night Dress, selected by Billy Collins in the Miller Williams Poetry Prize Series, was published  by University of Arkansas Press, 2017. Her other books  of poems include Jersey Mercy, Black Lawrence Press, Rigger Death & Hoist Another (BLP),  Panic (winner of the Kinereth Genseler Award, Alice James Books), Speech Acts (BLP), What Men Want (XOXOX Press), and The Dancing Bear (Open Book Press). She conceived of and curated two anthologies of essays on poetry,  A Sense of Regard: Essays on Poetry and Race, University of Georgia Press and The Room and the World: Essays on the Poet Stephen Dunn, University of Syracuse Press. Her prose and poetry have appeared widely in places such as Michigan Quarterly Review, The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, The American Poetry Review, Guernica, Pank, Gulf Coast, The Writer’s Chronicle, Best American Poetry, and others. She has had fellowships or scholarships from Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Sewanee Writers Conference, the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference, the Virginia Center for the Arts, the Vermont Studio Center, Marble House, and the New Jersey State Arts Council, among others. She teaches full time at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey and is on the faculty of the Sierra Nevada low-res MFA and has taught for Ramapo College and the Stockton University Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway. She is the founding editor of Mead: the Magazine of Literature and Libations.

 Jon Riccio: Two Bladerunner-infused poems—“Soliloquy with Honey: Time to Die” and “Saved from the Fall by Roy Batty”—usher us in and out of The Wild Night Dress. You juxtapose Batty’s essence: “Intelligent, handsome, struggling with emerging emotion, / he is real, yet temporary, despised,” with the properties that define his existence:

What a strange love story, Batty and Deckard,

and the writer, director, actor, co-creators of Batty,

making me think of sparticles, superpartners

in physics, bosons and fermions, the way

relationship forms a kind of supersymmetry.


How is Bladerunner a mirror for your writing process?


Laura McCullough: I love that you gave such attention to these two poems and their placement. One of them will appear in an anthology on film and poetry next year, and I’m really excited about that anthology since the new Bladerunner will be out, but also because I love cinematic ekphrasis. Yet your question is leading: does the film mirror my process? A film is a confluence of the creative, interpretive, and a variety of executed craft and skill. The idea must be ignited, the writers—screenplay requires both creativity and a technical skill set—the actors interpret and make manifest, the varieties of crews before, during, and post filming, editors, makeup, lighting, set design, costume, sound, and so on and on: I almost always stay for the credits after a film, which usually amount to hundreds of names, right?


In one sense, then, the poet is not like that at all—we work in often very deep solitude (I’ve wondered at times whether the solitude of poetry was an escape, a defense, or a necessary state, maybe all three)—yet the poet might also represent a mind in relation to and refracting many other beings and knowings. When I sit to write, maybe everyone I’ve ever known, everything I’ve read, experienced, and so on, is present and colluding. I love the DH Lawrence quote, “Not I, not I, but the wind that moves through me.”


But I am waffling, Jon. Here’s what I really think: increasingly I think less and feel more, and when I “think” of Bladerunner, it is about feelings: Roy and Deckard’s existential aloneness and sorrows, their struggle toward ethics and internal moral agency. They make me weep with tenderness and curiosity and admiration. Those three things are how I come to poetry, as well, as a reader and as a writer.

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Announcing the 2017 Contest Winners


Congratulations to the winners of the Sonora Review 2017 Poetry, Fiction, and Nonfiction contests!

Poetry, chosen by Anselm Berrigan: “I Want to Die in Designer” by Benjamin Krusling

Prose, chosen by Brian Evenson: “Luz, Milagro” by Kate Berson

Nonfiction, chosen by Irina Dumitrescu: “The Pace of Death: On Illness and Borders in the Sonora” by Easton Smith

The winners will each receive $1,000 and publication in the next issue of Sonora Review. 

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Gilded Flux: An Interview with Iliana Rocha

By Jon Riccio

Author Photo_Sonora_Interview

Iliana Rocha is originally from Texas. She earned a PhD in English Literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University, and she holds an MFA in Creative Writing-Poetry from Arizona State University, where she was Poetry Editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review. Her work was chosen for the Best New Poets 2014 anthology and has previously appeared in Bennington Review, Banango Street, Blackbird, Third Coast, and elsewhere. Her first book, Karankawa, won the 2014 AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry and is published by the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Jon Riccio: Karankawa opens with the poem “La Llorona as Andrea Yates,” a blend of folklore and modern infamy (“Somewhere in Texas, a crowd/ predicts my death. They say it will sound/ like the scream of a tuba being born.”). Why is today’s gallery of rogues so readily interchangeable with the centuries old?

Iliana Rocha: In a broader sense, I think it is because our mythology concerning women has not evolved much past the dichotomy of monster/angel—either women are destroyers or creators—the nuance and complexity of women’s identities is a deep erasure women writers are still desperately trying to rewrite back into grand narratives. To open the collection with two notorious female figures (one from Mexican folklore and the other from American pop culture) is not only an attempt to bridge hyphenated gaps between identities, but also to illuminate the one-dimensionalized approach we have to writing about women, particularly “bad” women.

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Letters on MFAs

Friends and strangers and old classmates and coworkers have all been asking me: What is an MFA? I’m sure I’m not the only one here in this program who gets asked this. I’d love to hear what you tell your friends you’re doing, when you get right down to it. Here are some excerpts from letters to and from questioning creative writers, TBC in other posts.

SD: …I hope this isn’t super creepy, but I was talking to JR a couple days ago and he mentioned that you just started your MFA at UA.  I moved to Tucson with my boyfriend in August…

Are you liking the program so far?

NS: …Were we in MB’s class together? If so, have you talked to him at all since graduation? I already told JR about how he totally ignores my emails…

SD: …No, I haven’t talked to MB (and yes, I’m pretty sure we were in that workshop together). I think the last time I saw him was at a reading at Shaman Drum and he made an awkward joke I didn’t get…

I’m thinking of applying here…

NS: …I do enjoy this program, although my relationship to it must be far different than most, having grown up in this town. Campus here is pretty typical, I’d say, although there are some gems, like the Poetry Center. The MFAers are pretty clique-y. I don’t mind, since I have friends outside of the program. I assume, too, that most programs are similar, since they are usually small when they offer as much money as this one does…

Mostly, you’re judged on writing, not teaching or sociability or grades…

SD: …It turns out one of my co-workers at the Honors College got her MFA here a few years back and when she and I were talking about it the other day, she said she wished she’d applied while she was working because she thought she could have done both…

NS: …I know a girl who works at a restaurant on weekends, TAs for a class, is taking 3 classes, and has a boyfriend and lots of free time to do fun things. Most people take 3 classes a semester, one being a workshop, another a “craft” class–Literature, basically–and, if you’re teaching, the 3rd is a “preceptorship” in which you hang out with an adviser and talk about grading, etc. once a week. The last semester here requires a “manuscript” class, in which you hang out with a professor once in a while (?) and talk about a novel or collection you’re working on…

I think I could have had a second job (other than teaching) this semester and been fine, because I’m only taking 2 classes and teaching 2 classes, but I knew I’d be busy with travel/visitors/applying for fellowships and I’m happy I just have the one job, especially since it syncs up with my school breaks…

I feel pretty taken care of here…

It is hard to tell people you’re busy when the thing you have to do is write. I did go to Vegas and had a crazy three days and then got stuck in crazy traffic on the way home and maybe that was a mistake but probably it wasn’t…

I might not go to this coming WIP because two of my friends are visiting now and I’m trying to juggle hanging out with each of their friend groups and my own, and getting ready for yet another visitor and then my sister, and then another visitor. Suddenly everyone wants to see what it’s like to live in the desert…

The great part about being “a writer” is you can count all the terrible decisions you make as “experience” to draw on in your work.

-N. Stagg