RHINO Contributors Garner Prizes and Honors

RHINO Interns

Rhino Man by David Csisko

Join us in celebrating our contributors’ recent and forthcoming book publications and prizes! 

These listings including information new since the poet published in RHINO. Past and current issue contributors to RHINO are encouraged to email their major literary updates to editors@rhinopoetry.org.


Jose Araguz‘s second poetry collection, Small Fires, is forthcoming from FutureCycle Press in 2017.


Michael Bazzett‘s You Must Remember This (Milkweed Editions, 2014) was his debut full-length collection and won the Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry. Horsethief will publish OUR LANDS ARE NOT SO DIFFERENT in early 2017.


Jan Bottiglieri‘s* first full-length book Alloy was published by Mayapple Press in 2015.


Claudia Cortese’s first full-length book, Wasp Queen, will be published by Black Lawrence Press in 2016.


Jessica Cuello‘s first full-length manuscript Pricking is forthcoming from Tiger Bark Press in November 2016 and her second book Hunt won The 2016 Washington Prize from The Word Works and is forthcoming in March 2017.


Emari DiGiorgio‘s debut collection, The Things a Body Might Become is forthcoming from  ELJ Editions in July 2017. She won the 2016 Auburn Witness Poetry Prize Honoring Jake Adam York.


Chelsea Dingman‘s first full-length book Thaw is a winner of the National Poetry Series Competition (2016), chosen by Allison Joseph, and forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press (2017).


Katie Hartsock‘s book Bed of Impatiens is forthcoming from Able Muse Press, where it was a finalist for the 2016 Able Muse Book Award (and garnering finalist status for the Yale Younger Poets and New Criterion Poetry Prizes).


Rochelle Hurt‘s collection of poetry In Which I Play the Runaway won the Barrow Street Book Prize and is forthcoming in fall 2016.


Sarah Katz appeared on the PBS Newshour in a feature about the Deaf Poets Society, a new digital magazine she founded.


Virginia Konchan published the chapbook Vox Populi in 2015 (Finishing Line Press).


Nancy Chen Long‘s first full-length book Light into Bodies has been selected as the winner of the 2016 Tampa Review Prize for Poetry and is forthcoming from University of Tampa Press.


Marco Maisto‘s first full-length book Traces of a Fifth Column won the Hillary Gravendyk National Prize from Inlandia Institute.


Matthew Minicuccis book Translation (Kent State University Press, 2015) was chosen by Jane Hirshfield for the 2014 Wick Poetry Prize, and his book Small Gods forthcoming from New Issues Press in 2017. 


Jennifer Moore‘s first full-length collection, THE VERONICA MANEUVER, was selected by Mary Biddinger as the Editor’s Choice for the 2014 Akron Series in Poetry and was published in 2015.  She was recently granted an Artist Residency Fellowship at Artsmith.


Jamie Mortara published a bundle of chapbooks: ANYONE CAN PAINT THEIR NAILS BECAUSE GENDER IS IMAGINARY EVERYTHING IS MEANINGLESS LOVE IS A MYTH SEX IS GROSS WE ALL DIE ALONE AND OUR STUPID BODIES WILL SOON RETURN TO THE DUST FROM WHENCE THEY CAME, congratulations you are prequalified for the darkness that consumes us all, and shit i said on the internet while taking prozac, or: side effects include every side effect ever.


Aimee  Nezhukumatathil was awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Art. Her forthcoming book of illustrated nature essays is WORLD OF WONDER (2018, Milkweed Editions). 


Raul Palma won the 2016 Leo Love Award for the UNM Summer Writers’ Conference in Santa Fe. 


Kenyatta Rogers* was a 2016 Breadloaf Writers Residency Fellow.


Kathleen Rooney‘s second novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in January of 2017.


Erika L. Sánchez‘s  debut poetry collection, Lessons on Expulsion, is forthcoming from Graywolf in July 2017. Her debut young adult novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, will be published by Knopf Books for Young Readers, scheduled for fall 2017. 


Sam Sax won a 2015 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and his book MADNESS is a winner of the National Poetry Series Competition (2016), chosen by Terrance Hayes, and forthcoming from Penguin (2017).


Philip Schaefer‘s  first book [Hideous] Miraculous won the Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize and is forthcoming in 2017 from The University of Utah Press.


Laura Van Prooyen‘s Our House Was on Fire, was awarded the McGovern Prize (Ashland Poetry Press 2015) and the 2015 Writers’ League of Texas Poetry Book Award.


Ocean Vuong published Night Sky with Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon Press, 2016), winner of the 2016 Whiting Award.


Keith S. Wilson won the Baltic Kentucky Writers Fellowship.



*Also a RHINO editor.

“Questions kept stacking upon themselves. . . ” – Interview with Joshua Young

Joshua Young’s poem August ’82 appears in RHINO 2014.  RHINO Associate Editor Kenyatta Rogers interviewed him in September 2014.

Young is the author of THE HOLY GHOST PEOPLE (Plays Inverse Press), 2014); The Diegesis (Gold Wake Press, 2013), co-written with Chas Hoppe; To the Chapel of Light (Mud Luscious Press/Nephew 2012) and When the Wolves Quit: A Play-in-Verse (Gold Wake Press 2012). His latest feature film, Do You See Colors When You Close Your Eyes? was official selection at Seattle International Film Festival, Athens International Film Festival, and Montreal International Black Film Festival (2011). He is Associate Director of Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago where he teaches. He lives in the Wicker Park neighborhood with his family.



KR: First off thanks for interviewing with us Josh, it is a pleasure to have your work in our journal.

JY: Thanks for publishing me then asking me questions! I’ve been a long time admirer of RHINO, so it’s been nice to have work in its pages.


KR: How is it you heard about RHINO?


JY: It was either AWP, while wandering the aisles of the book fair in Denver years back or seeing an issue on the bookcase of a friend. I remember reading a couple issues and really liking the work inside. I’m not sure exactly, but one day RHINO was on my radar. When I moved to Chicago I realized it was a Chicago journal.


KR: When did you realize you wanted to make writing a career? And was anyone else involved? Teacher, relative, friend, poet?


JY: I was playing in bands in Seattle and doing little tours, putting out records and whatnot. It was the late 90s and there were some really cool films coming out—Fight Club, Election, American Beauty, Rushmore—that had this literary quality or something. They felt like different films. Anyway. I remember sitting in the front room of my parents house and telling my dad I wanted to be a writer. He just reached over to his pile of books on the floor and handed me Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates by Tom Robbins and Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. Later some folks recommended the-holy-ghost-people-spreadme a bunch of Generation X minimalism (Bret Easton Ellis, Douglas Coupland, Chuck Palanuik) and that started off my fiction pretty fast.

I didn’t start really writing and reading poetry till later in college. In fact, my only real contact with poetry were the bands Sunny Day Real Estate and Mineral lyrics. Yeah, yeah, I know. Lyrics aren’t poetry. On 107.7 The End (Seattle), Sunny Day was doing an interview about their reunion and new record, How It Feels to be Something On, when the interviewer asked, “What’s that title mean?” And Dan Horner (guitar) said, “It’s poetry; figure it out.” So that was my poetry. Even my poetry classes at community college were a bust. We just read the old stuff I had read in high school. Nothing excited me. I was like Yeah, Cummings is cool, Whitman is cool, but I can’t connect to this. I could connect to music. So that was my link to poetry, till I took Oliver de la Paz’s poetry class at Western Washington University. I almost failed it, but he had us read contemporary poets of color: Ruth Ellen Kocher, Victoria Chang, and Arthur Sze. I loved these books; they were nothing like the poetry I had read before.

It’s funny when I think about it, but once I started writing, I was always going to be a fiction writer; I was always going to films. But that started to change when I started reading contemporary poetry. Oliver is to blame for this. I still write fiction and make films, but poetry became my focus for a few years, or I guess poetry led me to start think about hybrid forms, and how to move between genres and modes. Sometime around there I started realizing that I wanted to teach. I went to grad school. I decided my career would be teaching, and that would allow me to write.


KR: Do you have any themes or preoccupations that you keep returning to in your poetry?


JY: For the longest time I’ve been writing about religion/ faith, and my many many many many issues with it. I grew up in the church and planned on spending my entire life hanging loose with Jesus, but questions kept stacking upon themselves, and when the answers (that I gave myself and others gave me) were mere excuses, rationalizations, justifications, hateful utterances, or flat-out flawed logic, I had to leave. Or I was kind nudged out. Basically I walked out, but I don’t think these people wanted me around. I once made my youth group kids listen to Tool for an entire Wednesday night service and talked about why they shouldn’t break their “secular” cds. If you haven’t heard of that, it happens. The funny thing is that these kids started breaking cds of bands that are secular but all their members are cool with Jesus. Anyway. I have been writing about that for the longest time. But after I finished The Holy Ghost People I felt done. Though all this recent shit with Mars Hill and Driscoll have dragged out some “feelings” because I was around Seattle when they were growing and a lot of my friends were enamored by this “leader,” and I think some of them are still at that church. So, yeah, this preoccupation is probably gonna sneak back in. There are also earlier books I haven’t published yet that deal with this, so in many ways I will never stop talking about religion. Sorry.

THE HOLY GHOST PEOPLE | A Play in Verse | Trailer from Caleb Young | Director on Vimeo.

Another preoccupation I have is the idea of myth, especially in American culture, and the little sub-scenes of certain youth and art movements. My most recent projects tend to be centered on a historical figure who’s a part of some burgeoning movement (I’m being so vague), and the myth surrounding it. Examples: 1980s Hardcore Punk or Independent film.


Currently though, I think I’m writing about academia, poetry, and the lit scene. Probably out of frustration and love. Though, really, I’m trying to write “poem” poems, you know. Not a project or concept, but a poem about a chair or a moment or something. We’ll see how that goes.


KR: I know your most recent book The Holy Ghost People is a play. Can you tell us how that came into fruition?


JY: I’m sure I’ve talked about this before, but I never get the facts straight. So in a way I’m creating my own myth surround this book. After I finished my first book, When the Wolves Quit, I definitely felt that as a hybrid collection it really worked. It was part epistolary fiction, part poetry, and part play. But the play of it was simply there for structure and continuity. It provided a space to couch a narrative in: A stage. I needed a stage because I 9780983700111_covneeded things to happen offstage.


I was writing these little pieces in notebooks and slowly typing them up. They were these little prose blocks about neighborhoods and religion. I didn’t know what they were. I was at the place where I was like, “I don’t know how to write a book anymore.” Which is complete BS. It was me being impatient and forgetful. All of my other books, I wrote extremely fast, but the format and structure came way later, after the books sat. The revision takes a long time and through that process, these books end up becoming something they’re not through that process. So, here were these pieces. I didn’t want to do a play again (even though it felt kind of play-like), and I didn’t want to do the film format either, because my second book, To the Chapel of Light was formatted as a screenplay/film. These pieces needed a structure. They weren’t just prose blocks. They weren’t little fictions. There was an arch, a roof that they needed to be under. They were speaking to each other. Little dialogues. Contradictions. So I emailed them to my friend, Daniel Scott Parker (a wonderful poet and multimedia artist from Chicago), and he was like, “Dude, this is a play.” And so I put it together as a play.
When it finally got to Tyler at Plays Inverse Press, I was just showing him as a peer. He said he wanted to publish it. But the manuscript was with another publisher for consideration. When they passed (no offense to them, but Thank God), I sent it to Tyler. He loved it. He loved it so much he wanted to edit it, and make it better, and bring my ideas out. Clarify. Question. We did maybe 30 revisions. I like to exaggerate, but I’m pretty sure we did something like that. I mean he’d send me a bloodbath of notes, and I’d freak a little, respond, and revise. Then he’ d send me more. Some were huge. Some were small. We had to have a dialogue. The final book is clearly better because of those conversations.

 KR: Do you have a writing regimen or do you just kind of squeeze it in when there’s time?

JY: I have a kid at home who’s about to turn 4. I can’t keep a regimen. BUT I will say that when I really need it, Emily (my wife), is really is cool about giving me time. But mostly, I just write when I can. In front of the tv, on the train, while walking I’ll write some notes in my phone or on a receipt or whatever. Lately, I’ve been writing at night while we watch Criminal Minds, or a Ken Burns documentary on Netflix.


I used to get up every morning make a pot of coffee and grab my cigarettes, and read for an hour or two, then write for an hour or two. That was in college. Then I got married, quit smoking, stopped drinking caffeine, stopped eating meat, became a dad, starting running (again). I just don’t have the time/I’m exhausted always. Now, I piece together whatever I can. It works. The idea has to live in my brain for a while before I actually commit it to paper/screen.


images-5KR: Do you belong to a writing community or group? If so, how has that helped you?

JY: People always ask me to join writers groups, but I just don’t have time. I love the idea of them. But my poet friends and friends from graduate school sort of operate as my writing community. We send each other stuff through email. My friends are amazing. I tell my students that you need a couple readers who really know your work. That’s all. I trust them to tell me when something is bad or not working. I think having honest readers has helped me prepare for working with an editor, especially if there are lots of edits forthcoming.


KR: How important are poetry workshops, writing retreats, poetry residencies, etc…?


JY: Workshops are key. But not forever. After you get out of a writing program, I don’t think you need them anymore. You just need your honest friends. Real honest. No bull-shitters. I think workshops aren’t about getting feedback or hearing what others think. They’re about learning how to frame your work, learning how to take criticism, and learning who really knows and cares about your work.


I’ve never been to a retreat outside of work retreats and (back in the day) church retreats, and honestly, I don’t think people want to hear my opinions of them. I guess I don’t like what they represent. It’s this magical place where you’re away from the world and you can just write without distractions, and there’s fellowship with other writers, and blahblahblah. I have friends and colleagues that go to these, so I hope they aren’t mad at me for saying this, but really, I tell my students not to waste their time. I tell them to work on writing and publishing and talking about writing. I’ve noticed that this a lot of this new generation of writers don’t need their retreats and residencies to write, they need to pay the rent and support themselves and their family. Sure they’d be stoked to have this privilege, but that’s not the reality. I tell my students to carve out time to write because that’s what they should do. The idea of needing “a writing space” and a “routine” is dying. This post-employment era makes that impossible. People write when they can. I guess I’m saying I don’t think people need the sunrise flossing the peaks of a mountain, while a mountain streams laps against rocks outside the  door, and a deer drinks from a mountain pond in order to type out that great American novel. Maybe it’s sour grapes that I probably won’t ever go to one (unless something drastically changes in my life).


Residencies are great though, especially those paying ones that gives poets and writers a chance to write and teaching. I get stoked about those.


I guess what I’m getting at is that grad school, retreats, and residences are places of privilege. I am complicit in this. I know this part of creative writing education is flawed and yet I support it (well some of it). I think MFA programs are good, but they are not there to help people find careers. To go to get an MFA you have to realize that it is an anti-capitalist decision. There’s not money in it. Probably not a job. Unless you’re lucky. I am lucky. I got a job. You get an MFA because you care about art, not because you need this to get a job. This is about craft and community. Sure, it’s required to get a job, but the market is so fucked right now, it’s just depressing to think about. Thinking of MFAs as trade schools makes them this kind of a conveyer belt to high-expectations that are never met. My students ask me, “What do I do with my degree?” I tell them find a job they don’t hate and work. Write when they can. Send their work out. If they want to teach, well that’s a longer conversation. I think the biggest issue is that this has become an industry and within that industry people take advantage of people. I’ve heard some horror stories about MFA programs, residencies, and retreats. I think those people who take advantage should be ashamed of themselves.


I don’t know. This is complicated. I’m gonna move on.


KR: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a poet?


JY: Read all the poems. Read everything. Go to readings. Write. Don’t think everything you do is gold. Keep pushing yourself. Also good poetry is not just what you think is good. Listen to why other people like the stuff you hate. It will make you a better poet, and honestly, a better human.


KR:  Since your most recent work is a play, how do you perform it? If you had the time and resources how would you envision it performed?


JY: With THGP there are two dialogues, so I read one a little calmer, logical; and the other like a preacher might. When the Holy Ghost People are speaking I preach. When the Speakers are speaking I just sort of read it.


If it were staged, I would like to see it on a decent sized stage. Each location built next to each other on the stage, like a tic-tac-toe game, but each location at increasing heights toward the back of the stage, so everyone can see each location as a scene unlocks. The locations are big enough to fit a few people, but small enough that when all the players on are stage it feels overwhelmingly crammed. The stage is dark for most of the show, the scenes work through the use of a spotlight. The players are constantly moving in and out of the darkness.


We need sound effects and the ability to harness and pull a big hunk of metal off the stage in darkness without affecting the other locations.



KR: How do you prepare for your readings/performances? Where do you like to perform? What venues, reading series or Open Mics do you particularly enjoy?


JY: I just read them out loud and at home; it drives Em and Elliot nuts. And then I read it how it needs to be read. I’ve seen pics and videos of me rocking as I read. I don’t even know I’m doing it. Basically I just practice out loud and then read it. I have these punk poems (you published one of them in RHINO) and they need to be read (at least most of them) like a punk singer. Kind of shout it a bit.


I haven’t read at Open Mics in a while. Mostly it’s a time issue. I like reading at bars and house readings. Something about those two crowds that allow for a certain kind of energy.


KR: Do you have any readings scheduled in the near future?


JY: I’m doing a mini tour thing with my friend Kat Finch who’s studying at Michigan’s MFA. She has a chap coming out. I think we’re doing Chicago, Wisconsin, and Ann Arbor. In November. We’re booking it now.


I’m also reading Wed, March 4th at 5:30pm with Craig Santos Perez at Columbia College Chicago.


I’ll be reading at AWP too. And I’m working on a couple other tours (Northeast and Southwest).


KR: Do you have an agent and/or publisher? How important are those relationships to you?


photo 1-9JY: I don’t have an agent. I would like one. For film and writing. So if you know anyone. My fiction friends tell me this is super important, so I’ve been sending my novel out for consideration. SO I can’t yet talk about agents, but I can talk about editors.


In terms of publishers: I worked with Gold Wake Press on my first and third book. Mud Luscious Press for my second book. Now I’ve been working with Tyler Crumrine from Plays Inverse. He’s brilliant. A lovely human and a damn fine editor and publisher. He publishes plays or play-like literature. I wish I had more of that for him.


The Holy Ghost People wouldn’t be what it is without Tyler and his editorial guidance. My ego definitely thought Who the fuck is this guy, telling me to change my work!? But he was right. And when he wasn’t right, he was asking the right questions. My advice to poets and writers: When an editor gives you a comment or suggestion, it is not personal. It is because they care about the work and want it to the best it can be. They are the intermediary between your vision and the reader. A lot times the work exists so much in the writer’s mind that without an editor to guide it, things can get lost. If your editor thinks you should change something, at the very least, you owe them a discussion about it. Usually, I’ve found, they’re so right it’s scary. Tyler really helped reshape The Holy Ghost People into the thing it is. It was good before. It worked, but some of the subtlety or contradiction that I really wanted to be known by the reader was lost or hiding behind these moments of language gymnastics—overwriting. I can’t even measure how valuable his edits and our conversations were. And I’m not just saying that because we are close friends now. I think part of why we became friends was the process of working on this book. I respect the hell out of him. Also he’s always a wizard with puns.


KR: Can you tell us a bit about your press, The Lettered Streets Press, and how it got started?


JY: I’ve been wanting to start a press for years. My dad and I were going to do it back before I started grad school. But that just kept getting put off. I met our prose editor and co-founder Ian Denning while working on my first Masters. We started the press and then I met Abigail in the MFA program at Columbia College, and saw her read, and thought, She’s my poetry editor. I asked her that night. Luckily she agreed. We solicited our first few releases, starting with Nicole Wilson’s Supper & Repair Kit. This book had been a finalist in all these contests, and we got to page three when we knew we had to publish it.


So we publish three books a year, four authors/poets.  So far we’ve published Nicole Wilson’s Supper & Repair Kit, and our Split Series Volume I: Aubrey Hirsch’s This Will Be His Legacy w/ Alexis Pope’s Bone Matter. Next up is Ryan Spooner’s Regret, followed by Robert Alan Wendeborn’s The Blank Target, and our Split Series Volume II: Melanie Sweeney’s Birds As Leaves, and Jasmine Dreame Wagner’s Seven Sunsets.


KR: Do you have anything else you’d like to add, or mention?


JY: No man, this covered everything. Thank you!!


For more information about Joshua Young, visit http://thestorythief.tumblr.com.


Do You See Colors When You Close Your Eyes? | Trailer from Caleb Young | Director on Vimeo.

RHINO Contributor updates – prizes and honors abound


Join us in celebrating our contributors’ book publications and prizes from the last few years!

Past and current issue contributors to RHINO are encouraged to email their major literary updates  to editors@rhinopoetry.org.


Carl Adamshick received the 2010 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets judged by Marvin Bell. His book, Curses and Wishes, is published by Louisiana State University Press. Carl is also the 2012 Stafford/Hall Oregon Book Award Winner.


Jeffrey Alfier is the winner of the 2014 Kithara Book Prize for his poetry collection Idyll for a Vanishing River (Glass Lyre Press, 2013). He is also author of The Wolf Yearling (Silver Birch Press) and The Storm Petrel – Poems of Ireland (Grayson Books, forthcoming). His recent work has appeared in Spoon River Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review and Tulane Review.


Jeffrey Allen received an Illinois Arts Council Agency Literary Award for his poem “Johnny” in RHINO 2013.


Karina Borowicz won the Codhill Poetry Award for her book Proof, which was also finalist for the National Poetry Series and the Nightboat Press Poetry Prize, and semi-finalist for the Akron Poetry Prize and the Felix Pollack Prize.


Lauren Camp is the author of two volumes of poetry, most recently The Dailiness (Edwin E. Smith, 2013), winner of the National Federation of Press Women 2014 Poetry Book Prize and a World Literature Today “Editor’s Pick.” Her third book, One Hundred Hungers, was selected by David Wojahn for the Dorset Prize, and is forthcoming from Tupelo Press. Other honors include The 2012 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Award, writer’s residencies with the Mabel Dodge Luhan House and Opus House, and juror for the 2014 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.


James Capozzi is the author of Country Album (Parlor Press, 2012), winner of the New Measure Poetry Prize.  He was also awarded the 2012 New Letters Prize for Poetry.


Kyle Churney received an Illinois Arts Council Agency Literary Award for his poem “Desert Ghazal” in RHINO 2013.


Elizabeth J. Colen is the author of four books including Waiting Up for the End of the World (Jaded Ibis Press, 2012) – a collection of poems on contemporary conspiracy theories (the first of which appeared in RHINO in Spring of 2010) – as well as The Green Condition (Ricochet Editions, 2014) – a book-length hybrid lyric essay / long poem. She completed her MFA in poetry from the University of Washington in 2013 where she was the recipient of the Nelson Bentley and Frederick Ingham Fellowships.


Lisa Fay Coutley is the author of ERRATA (SIU, forthcoming 2015), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition Award.


Albert DeGenova has published four books of poetry; his 2014, A Good Hammer, is a limited edition hand-made letterpress chapbook from Timberline Press.  He earned an honorable mention in The Allen Ginsberg 2014 Poetry Competition sponsored by The Paterson Literary Review and the Poetry Center of Passaic County, NJ.  Albert continues as publisher and co-editor of After Hours, a journal of Chicago writing and art.


Matthew Dickman published 50 American Plays (co-written with his twin brother Michael Dickman, Copper Canyon Press, 2012), and Mayakovsky’s Revolver (W.W. Norton & Co, 2012)


Andrea England is the recipient of a Gwen Frostic Award in Poetry (2013) and a month-long residency at the Vermont Studio Center (2014). Her chapbook INVENTORY OF A FIELD is available now from Finishing Line Press (2014).

Jennifer Fandel
was selected by the National Park Service to serve as a writer-in-residence at the Homestead National Monument in Beatrice, Nebraska. She spent two weeks in June 2014 working on her poetry manuscript, The Cold Reaches.


Kim Farrar‘s second chapbook, “The Brief Clear”, has been accepted for publication by Finishing Line Press.


Brett Foster‘s second poetry collection Fall Run Road received Finishing Line Press’s Open Chapbook Prize and appeared in 2012. Last year his poem “On the Numbness That Will Be Our Future” was awarded Baltimore Review‘s 2014 Poetry Prize and he was a featured reader in Yale Divinity School’s “Literature & Spirituality” writing series.


Carol Frith won the Gribble Press 2012 Chapbook Contest with her poetry manuscript Elegiacs in a Closed Room.


Meredith Davies Hadaway served as the 2013-14 Rose O’Neill Writer-in-Residence at Washington College. Her third poetry collection At the Narrows is due out from Word Poetry in 2015.


Rochelle Hurt‘s first book, The Rusted City, was published by White Pine Press in 2014 as part of the Marie Alexander Prose Poetry Series. She was selected for inclusion in the Best New Poets 2013 anthology, and she received the 2013 Richard Peterson Poetry Prize from Crab Orchard Review as well as the TQ3 Poetry Prize from Tupelo Quarterly.



Don Judson won the 2012 Boudreaux Prize in Poetry from Cream City Review; he has also recently won the Thin Air poetry competition and received a nomination for a Pushcart Prize from Palooka Magazine as well as being a prize winner in the 2013 Joy Harjo Poetry Prize and receiving an honorable mention in the 2013 Nimrod Literary Awards.


Virginia Konchan received an Illinois Arts Council Agency Literary Award for her poem “Zsa Zsa Gabor Learns to Read” from RHINO 2013.


Diana Lueptow was selected by Peter Campion to receive the 2013 Wick Poetry Chapbook prize. Her collection, Little Nest, will be published by Kent State University Press in January 2015. One of its poems, “Peripherally Yours,” appeared in RHINO 2014. Diana was also chosen for a 2014 Individual Excellence Award by the Ohio Arts Council.


Donnelle McGee is the author of Shine (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2012). His first book of poetry – Naked – is forthcoming from Unbound Content and his novel – Ghost Man – will be published in Fall 2015 by Sibling Rivalry Press.


Kathleen McGookey’s chapbook, Mended, is forthcoming from Kattywompus Press this fall, and her full-length collection, At the Zoo, is forthcoming from White Pine Press in 2016.


Rachel Mennies‘s first book, The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, won the Walt McDonald First-Book Prize in Poetry from Texas Tech University Press and was published in March of 2014. She recently received a grant from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.


elena minor’s book of bilingual poetry, TITULADA, was published by Noemi Press in 2014.


Travis Mossotti‘s chapbook My Life as an Island won the Blue Moon Chapbook Contest and was published by Moon City Press in 2013. His second full-length collection Field Study won the 2013 Melissa Lanitis Gregory Poetry Prize and will be published in 2014 with Bona Fide Books. Mossotti is currently the Poet-in-Residence at the Endangered Wolf Center and a professor of creative writing at Maryville University. He’s been awarded grants from the Sustainable Arts Foundation and the Regional Arts Commission. More information about Mossotti can be found at his website.


Elisabeth Murawski won the 2013 Mudfish Poetry Prize for “Waking Alone on Sunday Morning,” selected by Charles Simic. Her poem “Gaithersburg Bus Stop Accident” received a commended in the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine contest (UK) and was published in the 2013 Hippocrates Anthology.


Rodney Nelson’s chapbook In Wait was published in November 2012. Bog Light and Sighting the Flood appeared subsequently. The chapbook Fargo in Winter took second place in the 2013 Cathlamet Prize competition at Ravenna Press, Spokane. Directions From Enloe won third in the Turtle Island Quarterly contest. Nelson’s chapbook of prose narratives Hill of Better Sleep is out from Red Bird Chapbooks. Mogollon Picnic, poems (Red Dashboard), is already in print and the poetry ebook Nodding in Time (Kind of a Hurricane Press) is “up.” Another chapbook, Fargo, came out in April 2014. Directions From Enloe has been accepted at Popcorn Press.


Jeffrey Oaks‘s new chapbook, Mistakes with Strangers, was published this summer by Seven Kitchens Press


Ladan Osman‘s collection, The Kitchen Dweller’s Testimony, is the winner of the 2014 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. The award includes publication of her book with the University of Nebraska Press and Amalion Publishing in Senegal.


Diana Pinckney won the Atlanta Review’s 2012 International Poetry Prize. She also has a fifth volume of poetry forthcoming, titled The Beast and The Innocent. Her fourth collection, Green Daughters, included the poem, “Out There” that was published by RHINO.


Kenneth Pobo has a book forthcoming from Blue Light Press called Bend Of Quiet.  In June 2014, Spruce Alley Press published his chapbook When
The Light Turns Green


Octavio Quintanilla is a regular interviews contributor to Voices de La Luna: A Quarterly Poetry and Arts Magazine. Octavio’s first poetry collection If I Go Missing (2014) was published by Slough Press. His poem, “Tell Them Love Is Found,” included in the collection, was published in the most current issue of RHINO and was a 2014 Editor’s Prize honorable mention. He has also been selected as a CantoMundo Fellow for 2014.


Jim Redmond’s poetry chapbook Shirts or Skins won Heavy Feather Review’s chapbook prize and was published as an insert in Issue 3.2.


Christopher Robley is the 2013 winner of Boulevard’s Poetry Contest for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of “Short Works Poetry.”


Jenny Sadre-Orafai‘s debut poetry collection Paper, Cotton, Leather was published Fall 2014 by Press 53. Jenny’s prose was also recently published on The Rumpus and The Toast and she was a Hambidge Center fellow in May 2014.


Michael Salcman‘s  anthology, Poetry In Medicine, The Anthology of Poems on Doctors and Diseases, will be coming out late this Fall from Persea Books in New York.


Erika L. Sánchez was named One of Chicago’s 25 Writers to Watch by The Guild Complex. She won the 2013 “Discovery”/Boston Review poetry prize.


In 2013 Penelope Scambly Schott published LOVESONG FOR DUFUR, a  chapbook about a small wheat-growing town in central Oregon, and LILLIE WAS A GODDESS, LILLIE WAS A WHORE, a verse history of prostitution.  Her newest book, just out, is HOW I BECAME AN HISTORIAN.


Peter Sears is the new Oregon Poet Laureate, and his book Small Talk, New & Selected Poems was released this spring (2014) by Lynx House Press.


Claudia Serea received the New Letters Readers Award in 2013. Claudia is a four-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and for Best of the Net. She is the author of three full-length poetry collections: Angels & Beasts (Phoenicia Publishing, Canada, 2012), A Dirt Road Hangs From the Sky (8th House Publishing, Canada, 2013), and To Part Is to Die a Little (Cervená Barva Press, forthcoming). She also recently published the chapbook The System (Cold Hub Press, New Zealand, 2012.) Serea also translated the Romanian Adina Dabija’s Beautybeast (North Shore Press, Alaska, 2012). In 2013, she co-founded and currently edits The National Translation Month blog.
Joan Siegel won Poetry Quarterly’s Rebecca Lard Award and Atlanta Review’s International Merit Award in the 2014 International Competition. Joan has two books, both published by Shabda Press — the first is Light at Point Reyes (2012) and the second is The Fourth River, forthcoming in 2015.


Kevin Simmonds wrote the music (and co-wrote the text) for Emmett Till, a river, a Japanese Noh-inspired oratorio that debuted at Theatre of Yugen in late 2013. His most recent collections are Bend to It (Salmon Poetry 2014), Ota Benga Under My Mother’s Roof (University of South Carolina Press, 2012), the final work of the late writer Carrie Allen McCray, and the poetry anthology Collective Brightness: LGBTIQ Poets on Faith, Religion & Spirituality (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2011).


Danez Smith‘s poem “Dear White America” makes Upworthy from the 2013 Rustbelt Midwest Regional Slam Champion. His full-length collection, [insert] Boy, is forthcoming in 2014 by Yes Yes Books. He was awarded a 2014 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship.


Paul Sohar won first prize in the 2012 Lincoln Poets Society contest; second prize in Rode Island Writers’ Circle prose contest (2014); and the Translation Prize from Irodalmi Jelen (2014, Arad, Romania, celebrated in Budapest, Hungary). He published two poetry translation books: Silver Pirouettes (TheWriteDeal 2012) and In Contemporary Tense (Iniquity Press, 2013); he published two prose works: True Tales of a Fictitious Spy (new, revised edition from SynergeBooks in 2013 and the collaborative novel The Club at Eddy’s Bar (Phaeton Press, Dublin, Ireland, 2014).


Sidney Thompson‘s now serves as the Assistant Fiction Editor for the American Literary Review and teaches at Texas Christian University.


Nhã Thuyên is the author of several books of poetry, flash fiction, and some tiny picture books for children. She currently co-edits the bilingual magazine Ajar, based in Hanoi, Vietnam, an online, printed space for poetic exchange. Nhã has had two books published since 2012: Poems of Lưu Diu Vân (Vagabond Press, Australia) and Màu c xanh trong sut / The Transparent Greenness of Grass -flash fictions, five authors (Tre Publishing House.)


Brian Turner’s forthcoming book, My Life as a Foreign Country, is published by W. W. Norton & Company and is scheduled to be released in September 2014.


Laura Van Prooyen’s second collection of poems, Our House Was on Fire, nominated by Philip Levine, was awarded the McGovern prize from Ashland Poetry Press and will be published in 2015.


Megan Volpert edited the anthology This Assignment is so Gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2013). It was a Lambda Literary Award finalist for best anthology, honored by the American Library Association’s annual Over the Rainbow list as one of the ten best books of the year, and honored by Split This Rock as one of the top three anthologies of the year. Megan herself is currently serving as her high school’s Teacher of the Year, and her own collection of prose poems, Only Ride (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2014), is currently short-listed for the ALA’s Over the Rainbow consideration.


Ocean Vuong published the chapbook No (YesYes Books, 2013), won a 2014 Pushcart Prize, the 2012 Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets, and the 2013 Beloit Journal Chad Walsh Prize. He was awarded a 2014 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship.


Charles Harper Webb‘s collection of poems WHAT THINGS ARE MADE OF was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2013.  They will publish his next book, BRAIN CAMP, in 2015.


Nicholas Wong’s poems were finalists for the Tupeolo Quarterly Contest and in the August issue of Better.


William Kelley Woolfitt‘s poem “Memento,” which first appeared in RHINO, will be in his book Charles of the Desert, forthcoming from Paraclete Press.


Bill Yarrow published Pointed Sentences (BlazeVOX) in 2012, Incompetent Translations and Inept Haiku (Cervena Barva Press) in 2013, and The Lice of Christ (MadHat Press) in 2014. He was one of nine commended poets out of 6000+ entrants for the 2013 Erbacce Prize. His poem “Cranshaw on a Boat” was nominated for a 2014 Illinois Arts Council Literary Award by RHINO. His poem “We Don’t Need No Education” was nominated for a 2013 Pushcart Prize and a 2013 Best of the Web award by Blue Fifth Review. His poem “Chapel Access” was nominated for a 2012 Best of the Web award by Friction: Review. He was poetry editor of THIS Literary Magazine in 2012 and guest poetry editor of Scissors & Spackle in 2013.





Illinois Arts Council Literary Award Winners: Jeffrey Allen, Kyle Churney, Virginia Konchan


THREE of our nominees from the RHINO 2013 issue have won a 2014 Illinois Arts Council Literary Award!!

Read and listen to their poems here:

Jeffrey Allen for Johnny 

Kyle Churney for Desert Ghazal

Virginia Konchan for  Zsa Zsa Gabor Learns to Read 

Thank you, Illinois Arts Council!

To read and listen to more poems, or to purchase for only $6, click here




Book Prize RHINOs

RHINO Poetry is so proud of our contributors who have won book prizes since their poetry first appeared in RHINO.

John Mann‘s collection of poems, Able, Baker, Charlie, won the 2011 National Poetry Review Book Prize and is scheduled for publication in August, 2012. Two of the poems, “Caritas Defined, Mr. Mann Readies His Clothes” and “Mr. Mann Goes for Shiatsu, Has a Whopper Instead” appeared in RHINO 2003.

Rae Gouirand‘s first book of poetry won the 2011 Bellday Prize for Poetry!  Her poem “Zero at Sea” appeared in RHINO 2009.

Matthew Olzmann‘s first book of poetry, Mezzanines, won the 2011 Kundiman Prize and will be published by Alice James Books in April 2013. His poem “After I Introduce My Brother To Person X, I am Asked if I was Adopted” appeared in RHINO 2011.

M. Ayodele Heath‘s collection Otherness has been nominated for the 2012 Georgia Book of the Year (Poetry). His poem “The Stuttering House Negro Diviner Speaks:  Heath Plantation, 1863” appeared in RHINO 2011.

Matthew Dickman‘s first book, All-American Poem, was winner of the 2008 American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize in Poetry, published by American Poetry Review and distributed by Copper Canyon Press. He was also the winner of the 2009 Kate Tufts Discovery Award for that book, and the inaugural May Sarton Award from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. His poem “Drummer Boy vs. Thunder Clap” appeared in RHINO 2003.

And our book prize-winning poets whose poems have recently appeared in RHINO:

Carl Adamshick (RHINO 2009) was selected by the poet Marvin Bell as the recipient of the 2010 Walt Whitman Award for his collection Curses and Wishes, published in 2011 by Louisiana State University Press.

Dilruba Ahmed (RHINO 2011) is the author of Dhaka Dust (Graywolf, July 2011), winner of the 2010 Bakeless Literary Prize for poetry, selected by Arthur Sze and awarded by the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

Elisabeth Murwaski (RHINO 2011)’s collection Zorba’s Daughter was selected for the 2010 May Swenson Award by the distinguished poet Grace Schulman.

I just let the poem go – Interview with M. Ayodele Heath


M. Ayodele Heath is a graduate of the MFA program at New England College. Heath’s honors include a 2009 Dorothy Rosenberg Prize and a McEver Visiting Chair in Writing at Georgia Tech. He has been awarded fellowships from Cave Canem, Summer Poetry at Idyllwild, and the Caversham Centre for Writers & Artists in South Africa and received a grant in Literary Arts from the Atlanta Bureau for Cultural Affairs. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in: Crab Orchard Review, diode, Mississippi Review, Callaloo, The New York Quarterly, Chattahoochee Review, and Mythium, as well as featured in anthologies including Poetry Slam: the Competitive Art of Performance Poetry (2000), Java Monkey Speaks Anthology I (2004), and My South: a People, a Place, a World All Its Own (2005). His book of poems, “Otherness” was published in 2011 by Brick Road Poetry Press.

His poem, The Stuttering House Negro Diviner Speaks: Heath Plantation, 1863” appears in RHINO 2011 and you can hear him perform it here. Associate Editor Jacob Saenz interviewed M. Ayodele Heath in late April, 2011.

JS: First, congratulations on receiving an Editor’s Prize in RHINO 2011! It is truly an honor to publish and award such a great poem.  Thank you for submitting it to us, which leads me to ask: what prompted you to submit to RHINO? How did you hear about us?

AH: First, let me say, thank you for believing in the poem, and thank you for the opportunity to showcase it.

I first heard about RHINO in Best American Poetry 2003, when Yusef Komunyakaa selected Susan Dickman’s  poem, “Skin,” from RHINO 2002. I’ve been knocking on RHINO’s door ever since!

JS: I notice on your website (www.ayospeaks.com) you are listed as a performance poet w/numerous awards and honors to your name. As someone who appreciates performance/slam poetry, I am curious as to how you became involved w/slam poetry. Who are some of your influences?

AH: My first experience with a poetry slam was what I would call an eye-opening lesson in the human condition.  In 1995 at a bar in Atlanta’s Buckhead now-defunct bar district, I advanced to the final round with another poet, who, before reading her final poem said to the audience, “I’m not sure what to read, so I’ll let you decide.  I’m gonna read a poem about my pets.  Do you wanna hear about my puppies?  Or my p*ssy?”  The audience went bananas, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how that story ends.  But that poet taught me something very valuable about rule number one of public speaking: Know your audience.

My next significant experience with slam wouldn’t be for another 4 years at the 1999 Southeastern Regional Poetry Slam in Knoxville, TN.  About 40 or so poets from around the Southeast competed in this 3-day competition and I found myself, again, in 2nd place going into the final round of the competition.  This time, the opponent was Knoxville’s Daniel Roop.  But this time, something very different happened.  Daniel was ahead of me by about 2 full points, which is basically insurmountable in the final round of a slam competition.  He took the microphone and proceeded to do a 5-minute long poem, purposefully taking about a 4- or 5-point time penalty.  In other words, he threw the competition.  Three days of competing and this stranger sabotaged himself so that I could win!  I was speechless.  In all my years growing up playing competitive sports, I’d never seen such selflessness.  That gesture—that act—completely changed how I viewed the world of slam.  It shifted my paradigm: I went from viewing performance as an act of receiving to an act of giving.  And it was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

My influences are endless.  Here’s a short list: Yusef Komunyakaa, Pablo Neruda, Jean Michel Basquiat, Patricia Smith, Ai, Allen Ginsberg, Ingrid de Kok, Lucille Clifton, Jean Paul Sartre, Jorge Luis Borges, Charles Baudelaire, Gil Scott Heron, Charles Simic, Fela Kuti, Galway Kinnell, Q-Tip, Andre 3000, William Carlos Williams, Amiri Baraka, Lynn Nottage, William Shakespeare, Langston Hughes.

JS:  How important is the oral versus the written in your poetry?

AH: To me, poetry, like theater or like music, is first and foremost a performance art.  I start with the premise that the “poem” is a spiritual thing and that what appears in print is only a representation of that spiritual thing; the oral performance is another representation.  Of the two, I see the oral poem as closer to the essence of what that spiritual thing is than the written poem.

That being said, I believe the oral poem and the written poem to be two different experiences with the oral as slightly more important because it is closer to the essence of the poem.   I recognize that there are things which can be done on the page which are difficult to approximate in performance and that there are things which can be done in performance which are difficult to translate on the page.  To try to make the oral and the written the same experience is to fail at both.

So, my job as a “performance” poet is to be as true to the written and the oral independently of each other – like a photograph of an object versus a video of an object.  Each operates according to its own rules, its own physics, but each reaches toward its most accurate representation of that spiritual thing; each strives for its own fidelity.

When I think of my poetic lineage, I think of myself belonging to the ancient tradition of poets which predates a literate public – when the masses experienced poetry via the human voice: the epic poetry tradition of ancient Greece, the izibongo praise poetry of the Zulus, the griot tradition of West Africa.  I generally believe that a poem is not a poem until it is read aloud (though there are exceptions.)  I view the written word as technology that allows a different experience of the ‘spirit’ of a poem – technology no different than the internet or video.  My objective is to use the technology most efficiently and most effectively, regardless of what it is.

JS: As a hip-hop fan, I love that your poem in RHINO, “The Stuttering House Negro Diviner Speaks: Heath Plantation, 1863,” contains many samples.  In hearing the audio version, the samples clearly come through, especially with the great reading you give. I love how the poem starts out as a hymn and progresses into more of a hip-hop song. During the writing process, did you know you were going to use so many samples?  Did one sample lead to another? Do the record companies know you sampled their work (ha!)?

AH:Thanks for recognizing the beginning as a hymn, because I’m not much of a singer!

I had no idea I was going to use so many samples.  The poem was actually borne from a prompt at my first Cave Canem retreat last summer.  Cave Canem is a week-long retreat at the University of Pittsburgh with African-American poets from all over the country.  On the first night of the retreat, the 50-or-so attendees sit in a big circle and give a 2-3 minute introduction of ourselves, saying how we came into this space.  There are generations of poets from age 18 to nearly age 80 expressing isolation and unity and in tears of joy and humility – it’s this incredibly moving experience.

After introductions, we were given a prompt that night to write a poem that night about why we were there.  Alone in my room, I thought of the idea of the circle and what was being passed around that circle… and the wisdom entering that circle from the generations before… and the wisdom that would be carried from that circle for generations to come.  And I sat down in front of my blank sheet of paper… and I thought of hip-hop cyphers… and drum circles… and records spinning… and atoms… and how all of this – this music, this pain, this struggle, this tradition of words – how this energy and data were being cycled around and around.  And so I thought of a charge being passed around the circle.  And my subconscious began humming a hymn from the old Baptist church of my childhood, “A Charge to Keep I Have.”

I had no idea where it was going, and no idea how many samples I would use… but my eyes got wet.  I was moved by the earlier experience of that night… and I was frustrated because here I had this concept for a poem, but I had no idea how to get it on the paper.  So, then I found myself crying tears of wonderment and frustration… and I stared at the screen… and I remembered where I was… in space and in time… and of all the supportive energy I’d felt in that circle… and I decided to just go with it.  Cave Canem is such a safe space for a Black poet – where you don’t feel the need to footnote your experience and explain your cultural references, where you feel a freedom to just be your self.… and I just let the poem go.

It was like a kite I was chasing across a hill in a windstorm… The samples just led from one into another.  And then the interruptions in my process gave me the idea to incorporate scratching… and then stuttering as a performance device.  The first draft finished itself about 3 or 4 in the morning, and one of the first times since I was a child, I, Mr. Logic and Reason, had allowed sound to overtake sense – had allowed myself to write something that I didn’t even fully understand.

And no, the record companies don’t know that I sampled their work.  But maybe they need to know.  I could use the publicity!

JS: Who are you reading lately?  Any writers that get you excited about the future of poetry?

AH: A lot of writers have me excited about the future of poetry.  I’ve recently read Terrence Hayes’ ‘Lighthead, ’ Suheir Hammad’s ‘Breaking Poems,’ Douglas Kearney’s ‘The Black Automaton,’ Adrian Matejka’s ‘Mixology,’ and Christian Campbell’s ‘Running the Dusk.’   I’m looking forward to Rupert Fike’s upcoming debut, ‘Lotus Buffet.’

JS: What are you working on now? Any projects?

AH: Currently, I’m busy promoting my recently-released debut poetry collection, Otherness (Brick Road Poetry Press).  And recently, I completed a video project called ‘Poets Make Black History,’ directed by Reggie Simpson, where I performed 28 poems by African-American poets for Black History month.

JS: Finally, do you have any advice for other poets submitting their work, whether to RHINO or elsewhere?

1)     Read, read, read.

2)     Write, write, write.

3)     Never give up.

Stories are waiting to be gathered – Interview with Melissa Roxas

Melissa Roxas was born in Manila, Philippines, and grew up in Los Angeles, California. Melissa is a poet, writer, and human rights activist.  In May 2009, while doing community health work in the Philippines, Roxas became the first American citizen under the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo administration to be abducted and tortured by members of the Philippine military. When she surfaced six days later, Roxas became one of only a handful of survivors who lived to recount her ordeal.

Her poem, “Returning” appears in RHINO 2011.  RHINO Intern Vincent Nguyen interviewed Melissa in late May 2011.

VN: How did you hear about RHINO? And what made you want to submit a poem?

MR: I first heard about RHINO through other poet friends who were published in the magazine. I’ve read RHINO and like the diversity of voices and styles of poetry published in the magazine.



VN: Who are some of your “go-to poets” that you like to read? (Whether that is for inspiration, new ideas, or simple desire to read).

MR: I love reading poetry and many poets inspire me. This is not an all inclusive list, but some of them include: Pablo Neruda, Cesar Vallejo, Mahmoud Darwish, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Nazim Hikmet, Yusef Komunyakaa,  Philip Levine, Carolyn Forché, Li-Young Lee, Adrienne Rich, Ai, and Lucille Clifton.

VN: Do you have any poets that you would recommend to our readers? (Local and/or widely known?)

MR: I would like to recommend one of my favorite anthologies, “Against Forgetting, Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness,” edited by Carolyn Forché.  This is an important collection of poetry from around the world by people that have been witness to the worst of human rights violations.  Their words live beyond the times and circumstances when it was written, and reminds us of what horrors humans are capable of, if power rests in the wrong hands.  At the same time, these poems allow us to look at a deeper side of humanity, one that can create something beautiful out of that horror, the art of creation as a form of protest and resistance.

VN: Do you identify with a particular style of poetry that you like to incorporate within your poems, such as the New York School style, contemporary, confessional, postmodern, etc.?

MR: I don’t particularly identify with a particular style of poetry. However, my poetry often deals with socio-political issues.  My poetry developed at the same time as my political consciousness and awareness of issues going on in my community and in the world.  I became very active in community work and social justice work.  My poetry was a product of what I observed and experienced around me, as both an observer and a participant.  I cannot imagine seeing poverty, oppression, and injustice and not be deeply affected by it—I cannot imagine not writing about it.  After my abduction and torture, it takes even more meaning for me. It becomes about survival and a protest against erasure.


VN: Where do you like to write?

MR: Before, I used to need a place where I can be quiet and alone.  However, having traveled quite a bit, I’ve learned to be more flexible, writing whenever the opportunity presents itself, regardless of where, or what circumstance.  After being in secret detention, I realized I can write even without pen and paper, relying on my memory, even under extreme circumstances. So now, I write when I can, where I can. Even if the situation is not ideal, I tell myself I have been through worse.  What matters is my determination and will to write.

VN: Do you have any reservations about submitting to poetry magazines?  Are you ever afraid/tentative of submitting poems at all?

MR: I did have reservations about submitting to poetry magazines because of the subject that I was writing about, mostly about socio-political issues.  I was not sure how it would be received.  I also did not prioritize sending out my work.  Looking back, I didn’t know much about the process.  I was not part of any formal creative writing program.  I felt very intimidated to submit.

I would share my poetry with audiences through community readings and when I was invited to read at festivals, the library, or other public events.  I enjoyed very much sharing poetry with the communities that I worked with.

Now, my views about publishing have changed a bit.  It is still intimidating but I’ve realized that there are a wide variety of poetry magazines out there that do publish diverse styles and forms, and diverse subjects of poetry.  I just have to find the right ones to submit my work to.  I am only starting to send out my work.  Rhino is one of the first poetry journals to publish me.  This has been very encouraging for me.

When I was abducted and tortured in the Philippines, among the items the military took from me were unpublished writings, notes, and poems.  Since then, I have tried to reconstruct some of them, while others were born out of that experience.  Submitting my work to poetry magazines have a different meaning for me now.  I have made more of an effort to submit my work because it is a resistance against erasure.

The military has tried to erase my existence from the world but they did not succeed.  They tried to take away my voice.  They thought they erased my memory of the things I was witness to.  They tried to erase what I had written in observation of the harsh conditions and sufferings of the people.  They tried to erase the human rights violations that I had recorded in those poems.  So continuing to write and share these poems with the world, including submitting to poetry journals, is a way to resist the inhumanity of torture, a way that I can reconnect to my voice, and a way to continue to speak out against human rights violations.

VN: Do you ever participate in poetry readings? What is your favorite/least favorite part?

MR: Yes, I have often participated in poetry readings, both community readings and more formal readings at festivals, events, libraries and universities.  My favorite aspect about readings is meeting other poets and hearing them read.  I especially like meeting local poets whose work I would not have been introduced to.  I really enjoy reading at community events, because it is a chance to connect with the community.  In a sense, they relate to my poetry because they are familiar with the issues and concerns that I address through my poetry.

VN: Do you have any sort of writing regimen that you stick to? Writing a poem a day or just choosing to write whenever you have the time?

MR: I try to write every day.  Especially after I surfaced two years ago, all I could do was write. When I was in secret detention, the Philippine military made a point to tell me not to write anymore about human rights, not to write any more about people’s stories.  So every time I write, it is a form of resistance for me. To remind myself that I am alive, I am free, I can create.  So I must write, I must write those stories, and I must resist erasure.

VN: Has your interest in writing poems / poetry caused any consternation in your life?

MR: Yes, the favorite subject for the military when they tortured and interrogated me was my poetry and my work as a writer.  They had my journal and notes that contained my writing and poetry. They would often refer to that when they interrogated me.

VN: Do you work in any other artistic mediums such as photography, painting, sculpture, etc?  If so, how has this impacted your poems?  If not, do you have any aspirations to experiment within other mediums?

MR: I have done visual art pieces and installation art before.  A recent art installation I did was for a human rights art exhibit that I co-curated with Liza Camba called “Get Up, Stand Up for Human Rights!” at the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock this past January 14 – February 5, 2011.  The art exhibit consisted of works from local artists that were produced as a result of a series of art and educational workshops about human rights.  My art installation was composed of more than a hundred boxes, each with the face of a person who was disappeared in the Philippines.  Most of them are peasants, workers, students, women and even children that were abducted by the Philippine military.  It was an interactive piece, where the audience could open certain boxes and see pictures, read stories, poems, and letters that the family of the disappeared wrote about their loved ones.  I wanted to do this piece because oftentimes when people hear about the disappeared, also known as “desaparecidos,” they just mention their name with the date they disappeared.  I wanted people to know who they were—they were poets, musicians, students, farmers, workers, human rights activists; they were mothers, fathers, daughters, sons; they had dreams and aspirations; they helped the poor, the needy, the exploited.  Most of them were disappeared by the Philippine government because they dared to speak out against repression.  Others were ordinary civilians targeted by the military to intimidate their family members. I wanted to remember them and for people to know their stories.

I also created visual art pieces in the past that incorporated my poetry along with the painting.  Most of the art pieces that I create are usually inspired by, or are an extension of my works of poetry.

I also do a lot of collaboration work.  When I traveled as a human rights speaker throughout North America last year, I facilitated human rights workshops that culminated in a collective creation of murals for human rights.  I created the “Art Beyond Barriers Live Art Petition” and worked with diverse groups, ages 2 to 65 years old.  I always incorporate poetry into these mural makings, and encourage people to include both visual images and words to create poetry with the art piece.  I was really amazed and inspired by the pieces created.  It was inspiring because these murals were created as a petition, in visual form, to release a group of 43 health workers in the Philippines that were illegally detained and tortured.  It was inspiring because it was a mural created as a petition in promotion of human rights.

As I mention in another part of this interview, I am also a member of the Habi Arts collective.  I collaborated with a comic book artist, Franz DG.  I would write the script, we would discuss, and Franz DG would illustrate.  It is a different process of writing. It is interesting to see the comic develop from the script to the final illustration.  It is a bit like writing for a film—I write each scene, complete with background description, dialogue, and what angles to focus on.  It was challenging in a good way, and I am finding that I like this new process of creation. I look forward to creating more.  The last one we collaborated on was a story about the “Desaparecidos” or the disappeared in the Philippines.

VN: Do you belong to a “writer’s group” in which you get together with other writers and ‘workshop’ or do you work mostly independently?

MR: I am not part of a particular writer’s group, although I am part of an arts collective called Habi Arts whose focus is on promoting and producing art for social justice and change.  We are a group of artists that do different art media—photographers, visual artists, poets, writers, graphic designers, and musicians. We often collaborate on art projects, most often multi-media art, murals, comic books, etc. I have conducted poetry workshops with the community to create poetry that is reflective of the issues and conditions they are currently facing, many addressing issues of human rights locally and globally.

In regards to my own poetry, the work of the past two years was mostly work I did independently, although there were occasions where I would have the opportunity to ask a poet friend to help with editing a poem.  This is a more out of circumstance than by choice.  Most of the new work that I produced over the past two years came from a very painful and horrific experience.  It is often difficult to find a writing group or writing community that has a good mix of providing critical feedback about the form and structure of the poem, as well as understand the place where the poem is coming from. Especially because of the type of poetry that I write, the latter is very important to me.

There were instances where in the past I found spaces like the Kundiman Poetry Retreat.  This is a great space where Asian American poets can meet, get support and feedback.  Some of the poets that I keep in touch with today are ones I met in Kundiman a couple of years ago.  This retreat, however, is only once a year and most of their activities are centered in the East Coast.

Many poets friends that I know now are either out-of-state or enrolled in a structured creative writing program.  So it is difficult to try to form a writing group locally.  I hope to re-connect again with other local poets.  I am hopeful that I will get to participate in and even create a writing group that can provide this type of support and feedback in the near future.

VN: What advice would you give to poets, young and mature?

MR: What I can share are the realizations that I’ve made in my journey as a poet and a person. Surviving torture and near death has made me realize that there is an essence inside our bodies that has the ability to hold on to our voice and spirit.  People might try to take it away, but ultimately, the choice is ours whether we will let them.  I surfaced alive.  Being able to move my body now without being bound in chains, to look at the world without blindfolds, and to think and express what I want is something very precious.  The freedom to write is something that not all people have.  I experienced what that felt like when I was in secret detention and tortured.  I am one of the few that survived.  There are many of the disappeared whose stories exist in the shadows that have not been heard.  Their presence can be felt in the vibrations of the earth, the composition in the air, and in the echoes that linger from rooms where they have been.  These stories are waiting to be gathered, to be written, to be heard.  I continue to write, not only for myself but for the many others who have been silenced.  I have the freedom to write, so I must write.


Read more about Melissa Roxas at http://melissaroxas.com/ and http://justiceformelissa.org/.

“Every translation enlarges the possibilities…” – Interview with Jose Edmundo Ocampo Reyes

“Every translation enlarges the possibilities of the target language’s poetic tradition.”

José Edmundo Ocampo Reyes

Associate editor Angela Narciso Torres interviewed José Edmundo Ocampo Reyes, winner of the 2011 RHINO Translation Prize for his translation from the Tagalog of “Song of Hong Kong” by Filipino poet Cirilo F. Bautista. This interview was conducted April 30, 2011.




AT: At the participants’ reading the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference where we met almost 8 years ago, you read two translations of poems written by a mutual teacher of Filipino literature, the esteemed Filipina poet Benilda Santos. How long have you been translating, and what got you started?

JR: I first got into translating formally about ten years ago, during the last semester of my MFA. Before enrolling in the program, I had viewed it simply as an opportunity to hone my craft as a writer of poetry in English and to fill in the gaps in my literary education, particularly my knowledge of Western literature. Translating was the last thing on my mind.

Having been raised in a household that spoke mainly English, and, on occasion, Spanish, I was, and still am, much more comfortable with English than I am with Tagalog. I effectively grew up as the Filipino equivalent of a limited English proficient student, a stranger in what should have been a familiar land. I remember staring blankly at a test in first grade, asking my seatmates what to do, since I couldn’t understand the words on the mimeographed sheet. In high school, we had to memorize excerpts from works like the epic Florante at Laura (Florante and Laura) and recite them in front of the class. Though I could understand some of the words in isolation, their Tagalog was so deep that memorizing these texts was like memorizing strings of random syllables. When it was my turn to get in front of the class, I would stumble over the first two or three lines before having to go back to my desk, humiliated. Given all my struggles with the language, I was content to immerse myself (with a few exceptions) in literature written in and translated into English, from my elementary school days until well into my MFA.

What changed? As one of two foreign-born poets in my MFA class, and the only one not previously educated in the United States, I began to realize that literatures from the Philippines, whether, to use the terminology of Deleuze and Guattari, the “minor literature” of Philippine literature in English or literature written in another Philippine language like Tagalog, were unknown. Thus, the only authors I could discuss with my classmates were generally Western authors. This was in contrast to the time I was still living in the Philippines, when both Philippine writers in English and foreign authors were regular subjects of conversations with my writer-friends.

When my professor, the poet, translator, and editor Richard Howard, offered a translation seminar during my final semester, I immediately saw this as an opportunity to bring Filipino poets into American readers’ consciousness. Though this meant that I would have to wrestle with a language that has given me trouble all my life, I nonetheless felt that it was important for me to try to reclaim the tongue that I had, in a sense, forsaken. Translating Filipino poetry was something I felt had to be done, not only for my tradition, but also for myself.

AT: You have been a two-time recipient of the Der-Hovanessian Translation Prize from the New England Poetry Club.  Considering that you translate from your native tongue, and that you do it exceptionally well, how important would you regard one’s fluency in the poem’s original language, in making a successful translation?

JR: If my experience is any indication, it’s not. That may seem a bit flippant, but in many respects, I’m the last person who should be doing this. When I read a poem for the first time in Tagalog, I often don’t fully comprehend it. I may have a rough idea of what is happening, and some lines may be perfectly clear to me, but there could be gaps in meaning that I will need to fill with the help of dictionaries or friends. Translation, then, becomes for me an act of discovering a poem’s meaning. It also becomes a risk, because I may not know if the translation I produce is worth sharing to the world until I work my way to the end of the poem. But even in these cases, the effort is not wasted, because it helps improve my fluency with the language and my understanding of the tradition.

This isn’t to say that I undervalue precision or ignore what the author may have been trying to accomplish for a Tagalog-speaking audience. If I feel I have a translation that I think is worthy of being sent out into the world, I show it to the original poet whenever possible. But as G. K. Chesterton once claimed, “If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” That’s exactly how I feel about my own experience translating Tagalog poetry. I don’t know that my translations are successful, especially given my limitations with the language. If someone published flawed translations of, say, Rilke, that person would be criticized, largely because there’s already a large body of masterful translations to which his work would be compared, translations that have collectively brought such poets into the world’s consciousness. But in the case of Tagalog poetry in translation, there isn’t a lot being published in the United States. I hope that because of this absence, a lot of my translations’ faults will be forgiven, and that other translations sprout up, even and especially ones that are superior to my own.

AT: In Cirilo Bautista’s, “Song of Hong Kong,” the poem’s elegant two-part  structure is provided by the speaker’s inventive translation of Hong Kong’s first and last name into “Water” and “Money,” respectively.  Bautista uses these extended metaphors to evoke, in a lyrical voice the poem’s title suggests, a compelling sense of place, while making commentary on social, economic, cultural, race, and identity issues of an earlier Hong Kong.  What drew you to the task of translating this aesthetically complex and multi-layered poem?

JR: “Song of Hong Kong” had me at its first two lines—“The first name of Hong Kong / is Water”—and propelled me forward with its short, energetic, often enjambed lines that enact the movements of water and money in the poem. Though the word doesn’t appear in the translation, I feel the poem embodies the meaning of current, which is etymologically related to currency (as Bautista writes, “Water that has become / Money…”). Like you, I love the poem’s various currents that converge in mysterious ways, from the in medias res beginning that places the reader in the middle of the choppy waters of Victoria Harbour, to the depiction of the streets of Kowloon, to the meditations on the simultaneous permanence and anonymity of labor (“How many have died / working stone that / rose into skyscrapers?”), to the surreal image at the end of “stars / at the bottom of the sea / unable to weep.”

On a more personal note, before coming to the U.S., I lived and worked in Hong Kong—in finance, of all fields, which by definition involves money—for over three years. I held in my hands the currency, the “paper, green / or blue” (or, in the case of the HK$100 bill, red) issued by one of three banks, HSBC, Standard Chartered or the Bank of China—an interesting aspect of Hong Kong’s monetary system—and used it for my day-to-day transactions. One word I might use to describe the place is efficient. The Hong Kong I remember is a well-oiled machine—both its people, who go about their business day in and day out, and its infrastructure—so much so that when I left for Manila a few days before the Handover in 1997 and came back a few days after, there didn’t seem to be any significant change. For instance, its currency was still pegged to the U.S. dollar (it still is, by the way, at roughly the same exchange rate as when I left in 2000), and people, both the locals and the expats, acted as if nothing had happened. Though Bautista’s poem predates my sojourn, I think it captures very well the efficiency that was once part of my reality.

Victoria Harbour

Since my family and most of my friends were in the Philippines at the time, I spent many hours in solitude, with no companion but Hong Kong itself, and became intimately acquainted with landmarks that find their way into Bautista’s poem. I crossed Victoria Harbour countless times by ferry; though it was a more time-consuming mode of transportation than the subway, I looked forward to gazing at the skyline, the lapping waters. I often walked past the Standard Chartered building in Central, a narrow skyscraper with a distinctively beige color and topped by a narrow slab that, so I’ve been told, was added for no other reason than to ensure that the building would be taller than the adjacent building of its rival bank, HSBC. On weekends I might take the tram up Victoria Peak, and admire the view of the city’s skyscrapers and harbor. Or go to an art cinema in Wan Chai, where the race track is located. And at night, after a long day at the office, I would go home to my apartment in Ap Lei Chau, an island just off the coast of Hong Kong, and looking out my living room window at the South China Sea, in the general direction of the Philippines, I would leave the worries of the workplace behind. So when Bautista writes of the

ten thousand



[that] come and go—

without any kin

save for stars

at the bottom of the sea,

unable to weep,

those lines really resonate with me, as I once was one of these souls. At the risk of sounding trite, translating the poem brought me back to a place that I remember fondly.

AT: Just as there are many English words that have no equivalent in Tagalog (for instance, Bautista uses the English word “ferry” in his poem), several Tagalog words have no direct English counterpart.  Did you encounter any such linguistic complications in translating “Song of Hong Kong”?

JR: Early in the poem, Bautista writes:

…pareho ang saligang-batas

ng gatas, pindang-pindang

lagi ang prutas at baboy

sa makinang tuloy-tuloy ang tahol.

Translated literally, these two clauses might look like this:

…identical the constitution

of milk, lots of jerkies

always the fruits and pork

in the machines with continuous howling.

In English, it’s customary for the predicate adjective or noun to come at the end of a clause. In Tagalog, though, it’s the reverse. The first clause begins with the adjective pareho, which means “identical, the same, equal.” Saligang-batas is the fundamental law of the land, the constitution. But when the phrase gets completed in the next line with ng gatas, “of milk,” things get really complicated and interesting. What is the “constitution of milk?” Is it the fact that milk is our original source of sustenance? Is it the idea that we all milk each other dry? That being milked dry is a fundamental part of the human condition? In a poem that derives a lot of its power from a series of confident, direct declarations, this one phrase is like a lenticular image that changes, depending on the angle from which it is viewed. And I think that having a phrase that I can’t quite fully wrap my head around in the published translation (I decided to go with the Old English “law” that “all are subject to,” rather than the Latinate “constitution,” since there’s something more primal, more fundamental about this monosyllable) is fine, creating a sense of mystery.

The next clause was even more challenging. In Tagalog, a writer can intensify a noun or adjective simply by repeating it, something you cannot do in English. For instance, pindang means “jerky,” so pindang-pindang suggests a profusion of jerkies, quintessentially Chinese delicacies. Tuloy means “to go ahead,” so tuloy-tuloy means “continuously.” What’s tricky about this clause is that syntactically, “jerkies” is the predicate noun, so it belongs at the end, e.g., “the fruits and pork in the continuously howling machines are always lots of jerkies.” That just doesn’t sound right. I felt that it was important to try to replicate the placement of the ideas in the clause, that it was more important to start with the visual image of jerkies and end with the continuously howling (in anguish? in pain? in joy?) machines, than the other way around. I decided to translate makina into “machinations,” which is etymologically related to the more literal “machines,” but also carries the idea of device, a deep-seated conspiracy or plot. But what to do with the fruits and pork? I stumbled across the phrase “swinish fruits,” which admittedly is my own, but I’d like to think that this image is consonant with the overall experience of the original poem.

AT: I imagine that translators often feel pulled by the opposing forces of translating a poem’s literal sense and creating an effective poem. Where do you stand along that continuum?

If I may, I don’t know that it is a continuum. I think a translation must be an effective poem in its own right; whether it is literally accurate or not is a separate issue. But keep in mind that translation acts as a bridge between two different two poetic traditions. What may be permissible in one tradition may be eschewed in another, at least until translation happens. Perhaps it may be better to say that every translation enlarges the possibilities of the target language’s poetic tradition.


José Edmundo Ocampo Reyes was born and raised in the Philippines, and holds degrees from Ateneo de Manila and Columbia Universities. His poems and translations have appeared in various journals, including American Literary Review, Crab Orchard Review, Pleiades, Subtropics, and Two Lines.Two of his other translations of Dr. Bautista’s poems can be found in Poetry International.

Cirilo F. Bautista, author of several books in English and Tagalog, is Professor Emeritus of Literature and University Fellow at De La Salle University-Manila, Philippines. His epic poem The Trilogy of Saint Lazarus, portions of which have been published in such journals as TriQuarterly, Manoa, and World Literature Today, received several honors, including the Palanca Award, the Philippine National Book Award, and the Philippine Government-sponsored Centennial Literary Award. He was awarded an honorary fellowship in creative writing from the State University of Iowa, and was a visiting writer at Cambridge University.