RHINO Reads! at Normal, IL | TUES Nov 15, 7pm | Stephen Frech, Jannett Highfill, Tim Hunt, Kathleen Kirk, Matthew Murrey, Valerie Wallace #RHINO40Readings40Cities


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Join us Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Normal Public Library – Library Cafe on the 1st Floor

206 W College Ave.

Normal, IL


Doors open at 7pm

7:30p Featured Readers (all former contributors with RHINO)

Stephen Frech

Jannett Highfill

Tim Hunt

Matthew Murrey

Valerie Wallace+

Host: Kathleen Kirk+

+former RHINO editor

We’re thrilled to help sponsor this event as part of our 40th Anniversary Year!

Click here to find out more about our #RHINO40Readingsin40Cities initiative



RHINO at #AWP16 Issue Launch Reading & Open Mic 3/31 featuring JoAnn Balingit, Aricka Foreman, Tim Hillegonds, Safia Jama, Sarah Katz, Kyle McCord, Justin Phillip Reed, and Cintia Santana


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Los Angeles, CA – March 30 – April 2, 2016

Associated Writers and Writing Programs Conference (AWP)
RHINO’s Bookfair table number is 1264 – Come celebrate our 40th year!
New t-shirts, our famous bookmarks and pins, and discounts galore!
Follow us @rhinopoetry w #poetrychangeseverything for discounts & prizes!

Hygge-Bakery-Exterior-460x640RHINO 2016 Issue Launch Party – Poetry Reading and Open Mic*

5-7 pm, Thursday, March 31 |Hygge Bakery Downtown Los Angeles

1106 S. Hope Street

Join us for a reading and open mic* celebrating 40 years of RHINO and kicking off our “40 Readings in 40 Cities” initiative! A perfect opportunity to grab a snack or light meal and hear some amazing poetry before heading out for evening events.

Featured Readers:

JoAnn Balingit

Aricka Foreman

Tim Hillegonds

Safia Jama

Sarah Katz

Kyle McCord

Justin Phillip Reed

Cintia Santana

Hygge features a fantastic array of authentic European pastries, sandwiches, and Lavazza coffee and is just a 7-minute walk from the Convention Center.

*All current or former RHINO poets are invited to read a poem at the open mic (spots will be limited, so we’ll take sign-ups at our Bookfair table 1264.)

Meet RHINO editors and poets, purchase a copy of our new issue, and have a piece of birthday cake with us!

In addition to their RHINO duties, our editors can be found at the following #AWP16 events:

Kenyatta Rogers: Friday, April 1, 2016 1:30 pm to 2:45 pm  ||  F217. Room 501, LA Convention Center, Meeting Room Level

Angela Narciso Torres:  Thursday, March 31 10:30am – 11:45am || R134   Location: Gold Salon 3, JW Marriott LA, 1st Floor

Creating Opportunities for Writers of Color: A Continued Urgency

Valerie Wallace: Friday April 1st. 4:00 pm || The Last Bookstore, 453 S Spring St., Los Angeles

POOL, SMC MFA, AND WAVE BOOKS READING  Featuring: Featuring: Molly Bendall, Candace Eros Díaz, Brenda Hillman, Tyehimba Jess, Valerie Wallace, Juan Alvarado Valdivia, and Matthew Zapruder



RHINO at Chicago Book Expo 11-21-15 Meet the editors, pick up swag, and special reading @ 4pm with Kyle Churney, Joe Eldridge, Chris Green, Katie Hartsock, Ladan Osman, Pablo Otavalo, Kenyatta Rogers, Jacob Saenz, Angela Narciso Torres, Donna Vorreyer, Valerie Wallace, Rachel Webster, Keith Wilson


Join us Saturday, November 21, 2015

Chicago Book Expo

Columbia College Chicago, 1104 E Wabash Avenue

11- 4: Stop by our table to pick up one of our beautiful annual journals, famous bookmarks, poetry t-shirts, and more! 
4-5:30: We’re staging a 40th anniversary reading with poets from past issues!
Emceed by editors Kenyatta Rogers and Jacob Saenz
Kyle Churney
Joe Eldridge
Chris Green
Katie Hartsock
Ladan Osman
Pablo Otavalo
Kenyatta Rogers
Jacob Saenz
Angela Narciso Torres
Donna Vorreyer
Valerie Wallace
Rachel Webster
Keith Wilson

Save the date!

#chibook15 #rhinopoetry

“And if I hadn’t filled the wall with visual narratives, I wouldn’t know what to write.” –Interview with Rachel Slotnick

Rachel Slotnick won the RHINO 2015 Founders’ Prize and her poem “Tales from my Fisherman Father” appears in our 2015 issue and will be nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Associate Editor Valerie Wallace interviewed Rachel in September 2015.

Originally from Los Altos, California, Rachel Slotnick is an author, muralist, and hybrid artist. She received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in May 2010.  Her work is on permanent display at the Joan Flasch Artist Book Collection at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  She has recently completed murals for the 35th, 39th, 46th, and 47th wards. Her publications include Mad Hatter’s Review, Thrice Fiction, and The Brooklyn Rail, among others. Look for her debut book of poetry entitled, “In Lieu of Flowers,” available through Tortoise Books. Rachel currently resides in Chicago where she works as Adjunct Faculty at Chicago City Colleges, the Illinois Art Institute, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Rachel Slotnick


Valerie Wallace: Is your father a fisherman? 
Rachel Slotnick: Yes, my father was a fisherman in Alaska in his youth, and he absolutely loved it.  I grew up with his tales about shark sightings and ocean swells.  There was always bait sloshing on the kitchen counter.  When my mother agreed to marry him, she did it on the condition that 1) he give up smoking and 2) he give up fishing– it was dangerous, but also it was far away.  So my father became a businessman and worked the 9-5 for the rest of his life.  He still took us fishing on vacations and even bought and restored an old boat off Craigslist (which my mother was convinced was a firetrap).  Even in his business casual attire, I always felt like I could smell the ocean on him, and there was something wild and oceanic about his mannerisms.

I think it was listening to his romanticized tales about his youth that was the kindling for my passion for story telling.  So the fish still swim through my stories, because in a sense they still swim through his veins, even though he no longer spends his days on the ocean.  He may have only spent a few years in that life, and 50 in the other, but when he closes his eyes, he’s back at sea.
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VW: What was the genesis for your poem in RHINO, “Tales from my Fisherman Father”?

RS: I was reading a lot of Lyn Hejinian and thinking about post hoc fallacies and whether sentences needed to follow each other.  I suppose I can’t avoid elements of narrative, even in my poetry, so although that poem was an attempt at sort of non-objective experience, it has a sense of narrative in its residue.  I’ve always been very interested in the way we remember– that our lives are not composed of story arcs, but rather fleeting moments of beauty and confusion.  I think it’s fascinating that as time passes we begin to forget, and we also begin to elaborate or exaggerate the high and low points in our residual memory.
A lot of my work also deals with my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s, and watching her short term memory disintegrate while her long term memory seemed even more prevalent.  In that poem I was prying through my childhood memories, hyperbole as they may be, and hoping that in sequence, a reader might attempt to connect the dots.  Because even stuff that’s not inherently related, if it shares page space, can open up a conversation.
VW: Tell me about your new book!
RS: “In Lieu of Flowers” was a really exciting project for me because I have always considered myself an artist having an identity crisis.  I had these two very separate worlds of painting and writing, and I spent most of my time in graduate school trying to figure out where the paths crossed, or if they should.  That tension caused by the marriage of art and text, and questioning what sort of stories need to be painted instead of written, is book cover_what keeps me passionate about both forms. I’ve always known that I’m more comfortable with abstraction in my writing, and less comfortable with it in my painting.  I admire abstract expressionism, and color field painters, but I always have to have a character, a sense of narrative, in order to invest in my paintings enough to get lost in them.  Writing is different.  I find myself collecting shiny sentences, and caring less about how they relate to the rest.
So, when Tortoise Books had this idea of making an illustrated book, I was thrilled, but a little anxious.  I hadn’t ever truly seen how these stories and paintings might work together.  I suppose my fear was that the paintings would be merely “illustrations,” and to me, they are poems too.  I want them to play off each other, like different characters or perspectives.  Most of these paintings very clearly connected to a story for me, and a big part of publishing this book was letting go of control.  And when I stepped back, I was amazed by the way my poetry was already talking to my paintings, and maybe was talking to it all along.
VW: Tell me about the book’s title.  And, what do the flowers mean in your body of work?

RS: I am fascinated by our relationship to flowers.  My awareness of them started out as a didactic tool– literally, I used them in the

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classroom to set up still-lifes for students.  I was making these fabric paintings, using the fabric collage to challenge my color palette, and also I liked that fabric played into feminine identity.  But these 3-d flowers gave me sculpture.  They were all about surface and helped me enter that world of abstraction that I struggle with in my painting.  Then I got to thinking about them as flowers.  Keats said that lilies represent the return of the soul to innocence at death.  I’m fascinated by the roles flowers play in our rituals– that we designate some flowers for funerals, and others for weddings.  And I think it’s very interesting that there’s some overlap.

Some flowers have their roots in two worlds, and I guess I relate to that as someone who is a little confused.  Most of my work is about memorial, and while the sections about my grandfather are true elegy, the parts about my father are more about the loss of memory and time.  And I suppose I’m planting words like flowers to make peace with my memories.
VW: I’m interested in hearing how mural making is part of your writing process. Is it?
RS: That was actually kind of an accident.  Painting murals was never my idea.  It actually started with a client years ago who asked me to paint the side of a horse barn.  But I instantly fell in love with mural painting.  Sometimes both writing and painting can feel very lonely, like sending work out into a void.  Hanging a painting in a gallery, while it’s a wonderful experience, still only invites a limited audience to view your work.  Mural painting is much more visible, and more immediate.  People may love or hate it, but they see it.  And I felt more like I was having a conversation rather than looking at my own face in the mirror.

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I have a dear friend who was killed by a drunk driver a few years ago, while he was riding his motorcycle to work.  I painted a mural for him under Lake Shore Drive.  I did it for his family, but also I really did it for myself.  My art is mostly memorial because unless I paint it or write it, I don’t really understand loss.  I painted a large motorcycle with plants and flowers sprouting out of it.  I designated certain areas of the wall for text, and his family held a memorial service for him there, lit candles, and everyone signed messages on the mural.  I also was teaching my first classes at City Colleges, and I was astounded by the heartbreak due to illness, gunfire, or accident that followed the students into the classroom.  I felt I needed a place for

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those sentences to go, rather than always writing “run-on sentence” in red pen.  So, I invited students out to sign the wall, and opened the space up as a communal memorial.  I still invite students out today to sign.  When I stepped back, I was amazed at the power of a wall as a tool for combatting grief.

The Logan Square mural was a little different.  I was figuring out my book in that painting.  I have quotes from it on the wall, along with fabric, and 3-d flowers.  It was definitely part of my writing process but not in a very strategic way.  I had to ask questions on the wall.  Usually, artists come into a project of that size with a pretty specific sketch and design, but that wall just kept growing and changing.  It is still changing a year later.  I keep adding figures and removing them.  I think it’s a sort of revision process.
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There’s that old saying about knowing a story is done once you’ve taken all the commas out, and then put them all back in.  I think that’s how I paint– without a story arc.  If I can see where I’m going, I lose interest.  But if I hadn’t had the text to start with, I wouldn’t have known what to paint.  And if I hadn’t filled the wall with visual narratives, I wouldn’t know what to write.  That painting filled my sentences with color, tempo, and confidence.

VW: Chicago has always seemed to me to be good place for artists. Do you experience it that way? How long have you been making art here?

RS: I love Chicago as an artist.  I moved here for graduate school and only ever intended to stay for two years.  The winters frightened me, and even the humidity in the summer was overwhelming!  But I found that the winters were actually really good for writing.  I spent most of my graduate
program in underground studios under Wabash, having to hold my paintbrush steady as the train rattled by overhead.  Part of me found that very foreign (I’m from a very small town) and very romantic.  It felt like a really big city then.  I loved that I could walk and walk and walk and never see a familiar face.  That kind of anonymity was intoxicating for my art.  But I definitely struggled at first upon graduating.  It seemed really hard t10609611_10102511315974668_5218647767628327515_no break into the galleries or to find a publisher.  But, really it just took some time.  I kept applying to things, and one after another, three or four years later, those things started happening.
My favorite thing about Chicago is what a small community it is.  I can’t go to a gallery opening or a reading without bumping into someone I know.  So what was once anonymity feels more like familiar terrain now, and what’s more surprising, is that that environment is even more conducive to art.  Every night there’s a reading or a play or a lecture, and I feel truly stimulated by this city. What’s even more is that all my closest and dearest friends are artists too.  So, I get to share my passion with a whole community of Chicago creatives.
VW: What do you do to keep your environment conducive to writing/making art?
RS: I probably don’t do enough.  I always think that I should make a schedule and force myself to work.  But that’s very hard for me since I’m such an impulsive artist.  I tend to go through spurts of making a lot, then I get bogged down and busy with teaching.  I’m trying to improve that balance.  Because if I can keep my studio active, I think that excitement follows me into the classroom.  I do try to spend a lot of time in my studio– even just reading.  Since I teach at SAIC, I try to walk through the museum every day, and push myself to go into rooms I don’t frequent.
I think the biggest thing I can do to keep myself making work is to remain an active part of that Chicago creative c10612695_10102511316488638_3385341298000909234_nommunity- by attending readings and openings. It’s so important in my dry spells to see other people’s work, and hear what they have to say.  One of my favorite Chicago authors, Kathleen Rooney said that in the literary community you are a star in a greater constellation of artists, and it’s only all together that you can light up the night sky.  All together we can illuminate the darkness.
VW: Who are your non-literary influences/forces?
RS: I find a lot of inspiration in street art and graffiti.  I think my real love is for revision, so I like artists who alter their work, or leave the process visible.  There’s an Italian muralist who I just love, named Blu.  He animates his murals, and his animations are very clear narratives– they just happen to be dinosaurs and monsters walking on sides of buildings.  He paints whole city blocks, and I was fortunate enough to see an abandoned Metro station he had painted every inch of– the railings and undersides of balconies, in Lisbon.
I also really love Vhils.  He is a Portugese street artist, who uses anything from a jackhammer to explosives to work with the natural decay of buildings, making kind of low relief sculptures that are all about their own rubble.  I also love that he celebrates the real people who live in each community making them into billboards to combat Hollywood.  My last one would be William Kentridge.  I have dabbled in animation, and it’s magical, but so unbelievably difficult.  I just love the way Kentridge allows the residue of what came before to blur into his charcoal animations.  I also find so much inspiration in the way he builds text up into a figure, and then devolves back in to text.  It’s seamless.  I strive to be able to tell that kind of story.

 What are you working on now? And what’s next? 

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RS: I just finished a new mural on Irving Park in the North Center neighborhood, on the side of a children’s preschool. It was really fun and different to make something for children, because while my writing can feel very dark, I think my painting lends itself very well to children’s books or even fairy tales. I think I’m spending my adult life painting things I would have wanted to see as a kid.
I’m also finishing a novel. I’m still very impacted by my grandparents and it was only after they both passed away that I felt I could ask hard questions about their lives. My grandfather was a physicist who worked under Robert Oppenheimer developing the atomic bomb during WW II. My grandmother followed him to a life of secrecy and seclusion in Los Alamos, never knowing what was being built. They both experienced a lot of guilt later in their lives and my grandmother wrote a book about it, and they even moved to Japan.  So I’m trying to write the sequel.
My grandfather was one of those people who sometimes communicated better in physics than English, so I’m really enjoying writing his mathematical language, with math equations masquerading as love and fear.  First, it’s a fascinating and important story that illuminates so much

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about our problems with each other as humans. Also, it helps me when I miss my grandparents. Writing them gives them a second life, and I feel like I’m getting to know them as a grown up, with an adult consciousness about the trials and tribulations that they kept hidden from me when I was a child.

VW: What do you want from art? from writing?

RS: What a question! I don’t know if I want anything. I mean everyone wants readership; we all want audience.  And I think once you get a first taste of that, it can be very addicting.  But what I’ve always admired are the artists who worked their whole lives without recognition.  There are the obvious ones, like Van Gogh, and then there are the outsider artists who I just love like Henry Darger who spent his life as a recluse in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago, and filled his apartment with his tomes, the longest book ever written complete with illustrations, which was only discovered when he died and the landlord had to clean out his apartment.
I guess I’m attracted to the artists who made their work because they were compelled to.  Something in that seems more honest.  I don’t know what I want from my art, and I don’t know if I’ve ever stopped to ask myself that before.  What is the end game?  I guess there’s a notion of eternal life through art, that these paintings and sentences will outlive us all.  And maybe that’s why I’m writing memorials, because if I write love letters to the people I’ve lost, in a sense, I can keep them alive.



To learn more about Rachel Slotnick and her work, visit www.rachelslotnick.com




“The Poem is a Sort of Horse” – Interview with Rodney Gomez

Rodney Gomez won the RHINO Editors’ Prize for his poem Drag Racer,  published in RHINO 2013, along with his poem Cornelio Smith.   An Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize finalist and CantoMundo fellow, Rodney Gomez has held residencies at the Atlantic Center for the Arts and the Santa Fe Art Institute. His chapbook, “Mouth Filled with Night” won the Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize from Northwestern University.  I caught up with him in August 2014 about his writing, work life, and current obsessions.

~Valerie Wallace, Associate Editor




VW: One of the things I love about your poems in RHINO (Drag Racer and Cornelio Smith) is the restraint of the narrator, or maybe in another light, the very subtle presence of the narrator. The story in each poem is so much bigger than the speaker. Can you talk about this in these poems/your work?

RG: Well, I suppose that to some extent I wanted the narrators in these poems to be slaves to larger issues, larger concerns, which they tell you in graduate school is a really a horrible way to write poetry sometimes, but you go where the poem wants to take you, since the poem is a sort of horse. I tried to balance the universal with the particular, and there are some very quotidian concerns running through these poems too; they aren’t just about abstract political concerns.

The tendency towards abstraction is mitigated by the reality of the stories — in these cases, I am writing about what I know to be the reality of Border living, of living in the interstice between the United States and Mexico. In “Cornelio Smith” for example, the inspiration stems from a friend of mine who lives adjacent to the border wall–the wall is literally in her back yard. I was struck by the immediacy of that wall, of that political construct come to life and bothering her, and the allegory of Cornelio came from my contact with her story.


VW: What is your everyday relationship with writing?

RG: Time for writing can be infrequent and brief. I write in numerous journals I keep and in my phone and tablet. I write whenever I can–during a lunch break at work or in the car at a stoplight.

It’s been that way since I was a child. I remember writing riddles for friends during lunch and writing during boring class time. I seldom write in long stretches. But I get cranky and anxious when I don’t write for a few days.


VW: Do I have this right – that you are an urban planner, and that you live in the South? (Please correct me!).  Is there a relationship with this work, and your creative language work?
RG: I am indeed an urban planner. My specialty is public transportation. I work for a regional council of governments in a town called Weslaco. We primarily serve very low-income people who are transit-dependent, which means that without our programs they would have no other way to get around to get to their jobs, medical services, education, shopping, etc. I do all the busy work that is required to keep the system running without having to actually drive a transit bus–I administer grants, coordinate projects, supervise, train staff, manage budgets, and so on. It’s a small public service job and I take it seriously. But it has very little connection to my writing.
I have managed to divorce my paying job from my writing, and it’s worked fine for me. They each exercise different parts of my brain. I do try to engage politically in most of my creative work, but I don’t fool myself into thinking that I can affect real political and social change through it, at least not in ways that are easily seen and felt. So I am happy to be able to do both. I may not be changing the world in my day job, but there at least I see the concrete results of my actions and I see a real benefit.


VW: What themes or preoccupations are you interested in lately? (writing or otherwise).

RG: I have been working for most of this year on a book about loss. I’m approaching it from many levels, and I’ve collected many full-fledged poems, bits and pieces, scraps, drawings, and various odds and ends. I’ve written a few short stories too, and philosophical fragments (my formal education is in philosophy). This is the first time I’ve ever set out to create a book with a theme in mind. I’m not sure where it’s going yet.

VW: What kinds of loss? What led you to this project?

RG: The origin of my loss project is the death of my mother, who passed away on New Year’s Eve 2010. We were very close. She had suffered a stroke in 2008 that left her unable to speak, walk, or care for herself. My sisters and father and I took care of her at home until her passing. During the same time, I experienced several other kinds of difficulties–job loss, massive weight gain, divorce. There was a period there of several years that my mind sort of blurred the events of my life together into something like cotton, and it’s only in the past couple of years that I’ve been able to get out of it. As with many other poets who’ve tackled this kind of project, I’m trying to make sense of what happened. I’m also trying to memorialize. The project is in its infancy, so I don’t know where it will go.

Another big idea I’ve been wrestling with lately has been the refugee situation here in the lower Rio Grande Valley. Living in Brownsville, right along the Border in Texas, I’ve been an eyewitness to so many women and children who’ve come to the U.S. to escape the violence and poverty of their homes in Mexico and Central and South America. I’ve watched the warm reception we’ve given them locally and seen the vitriol directed at them from places like Murrieta. I’m also aware of the abuse they’ve suffered at the hands of coyotes, the Border Patrol, and others. (Just a few weeks ago, a mass grave of immigrants was discovered in Brooks County just north of here.) I’ve been writing, chronicling, responding.


VW: I’m so sorry to learn that your mother passed away.  Thank you for sharing what you’ve been through. 

For your Border in Texas project, how do you decide when to write a poem, and when to write a short story?

RG: Confession: I’ve never published a short story! I sent my first story recently to one market. I’m still very tentative about sending my fiction out for the world to see. I write narrative poems and prose poems and flash fiction, but I’m not too sure where the dividing line is between those different animals other than length. I suppose that if I can’t sustain the imagery or metaphor or language for a long period of time, the piece is closer to poetry than fiction. But poems can be very long. Or a whole series can spring up for a particular occasion. My stories don’t necessarily have plots, so that can’t be a divider. I guess I don’t know. This is a very difficult question.


VW: Does your creative writing contain influences from your philosophical training?

RG:  I don’t think that my philosophical training informs my creative writing to any great extent. The kind of philosophy I studied was what used to be called, sometimes pejoratively, “analytic” philosophy, to contrast it from other kinds of philosophy. I don’t think anyone uses that term seriously anymore, but its salient features were a copious use of formal logic, a concern for language and its uses, a great interest in science and the scientific method, and an attempt at clear use of language without jargon in presenting work. This does not mean that I don’t write philosophically. Certainly I have work that could be called philosophical in nature. This means that the poetry appears (on its surface) to tackle what might otherwise be the province of philosophy — metaphysical questions, for instance. But this is all just an unintentional rouse triggered by old habits of presenting work.

Some years ago I used to think that my poetry was just another way of doing philosophy–that is, trying to understand things using the tool of language. Those “things” were the deep perplexities of life, those absurdly huge things like love and death. But poetry is really a very poor way of doing philosophy, and it’s a horrible way to try to arrive at meaning. At least by itself. It needs to be propped up by music or religious affirmation or something. My poems were just bad. They sounded horrible. There was no music in them. I was writing those epiphany or observation poems where the poem tries to resolve itself in some insight or new perspective. But that’s the thing with philosophy–by its nature, philosophy is trying to get at some kind of understanding. But a poem shouldn’t necessarily do that. A poem is its own gem.


VW: How did you hear about RHINO and what made you decide to submit your work to RHINO?

RG: I think I remember how I first came upon RHINO: I discovered an issue at a bookstore somewhere — it might have been in Minnesota during a business trip–and I loved the work. I decided to submit when I had some poems I thought would fit naturally with the journal’s aesthetic. RHINO to me is about superb poems that have a wide appeal. The content is not arcane, and the work can be appreciated by an educated audience of non-poets. There’s no navel-gazing there.


VM: Please tell us what poetry events and poets have inspired you most recently. And, what do you do that is NOT poetry which feeds your creative life?

RG: Right now, I am inspired by all the great current work in Chican@ and Latin@ poetry in the U.S. I follow poets such as Eduardo Corral, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Sheryl Luna, and others. Locally, the Rio Grande Valley is experiencing an awakening, with new poets publishing books and new events showcasing their talents. Some of my favorite poets live and work here. My former professor and mentor, Emmy Perez, is working on a new collection and has been deeply influential in my own work. Jose Rodriguez (another RHINO poet) has published two outstanding collectionsmouth-filled-with-night. Edward Vidaurre, and Nayelly Barrios (who I hope will release a book soon) also live here. It is an exciting time to be engaged.


A few months ago I was a featured poet at the Valley International Poetry Festival which is a public poetry gathering of local and international poets, including several from Mexico. A few weeks ago I read at a release for my chapbook Mouth Filled with Night (Northwestern University Press, 2014) at South Texas College, which is a community college that has become a home to many different poetry-related events. Jose Haske, a wonderful poet in his own right and a very powerful fiction writer, has been key to this development. To have these activities take place in the Valley, an area with such low educational attainment and high levels of poverty, is a true sign of progress.


VW: I love this representation of the words: Chican@ and Latin@ . Can you say more about the usage of this symbol?

RG: To me, the use of the ampersand in Chican@ and Latin@ is inclusive. It’s another way to write ‘Latino/a’ or ‘Chicano/a’, but the shape of the symbol–with its curvature and melding of the a/o–is to me a better physical representation of the association claimed by use of those words. It’s an expression of solidarity with many different sorts of people who all share a common political and social struggle.

For more about Rodney Gomez and his work, visit here and here.



RHINO Reads! Open mic and featured readers Valerie Wallace and Rachel Jamison Webster 2-28-14

Valerie for the Reader

Valerie Wallace



Rachel Jamison Webster

Open Mike        6:00 pm – 6:30 pm

Featured Poets        6:45 pm – 7:30 pm

Brothers K

500 Main St.




Valerie Wallace teaches poetry at the Newberry Library and City Colleges of Chicago and is an associate editor with RHINO. She also serves on the advisory board and as a mentor for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project.  Her work was chosen by Margaret Atwood for the 2012 Atty Award, and has been supported most recently by the Midwest Writers Center, Ragdale Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, the Barbara Deming Fund for Women, and the Illinois Arts Council. She is the author of a chapbook, The Dictators’ Guide to Good Housekeeping  (Dancing Girl Press 2011).

Rachel Jamison Webster grew up in the small town of Madison, Ohio, on Lake Erie and now lives in Evanston, Illinois, where she teaches at Northwestern University. She is the author of September: Poems, (Northwestern University Press 2013), and a chapbook, The Blue Grotto (Dancing Girl Press 2009). For several years, she designed and taught writing workshops for urban youth, helping to develop Words 37 with Chicago’s First Lady Maggie Daley and co-editing two anthologies of writing by young Chicagoans, Alchemy (2001) and Paper Atrium (2005). Rachel is also the editor and director of the online anthology of international poetry, UniVerse. Her most recent work with UniVerse has involved creating a radio series about poetry for Chicago Public Radio, called “The Gift.”


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“The Writing Life is Now” – Interview with Kevin Simmonds

Kevin Simmonds won the 2004 RHINO Editors’ Prize with his poem, “The Smell of Nutmeg“; we also published his poem “The Poet, 1955” that year.  I met Kevin when he gave me a ride to and from the Squaw Valley Poetry Workshop where we were both fellows in 2010 — but discovered our RHINO connection when I was putting our new website together two months later. This interview was conducted March 10, 2011. ~Valerie Wallace, Associate Editor

VW: I love this photo of you for many reasons, but one is that it shows an aspect of your personality that I think is connected to your physicality — that is, you carry yourself like a performer, you use your body in your art. The two seem interconnected. Is that the case?

KS: No one has ever said that to me. I do know that I tend to overuse my body, especially my shoulders and neck, which stems more from stress than any kind of grand performer’s carriage. I did have a strong interest in dance. Unfortunately, my mother and stepfather didn’t take notice of me running around the house kicking up my legs.

VW: What took you to San Francisco? Tell me about the poetry community there, and your poetry community specifically.

KS: I moved to San Francisco in 1996 to live with a very accomplished composer and conductor. We’d met 3 years earlier when I was senior in college. I did love him but it was more awe than love. He was much older and doing everything I thought I’d wanted to do. We were together for a short time before I moved out.

San Francisco is a very disappointing place for someone (like me) trying to find a poetry community. It’s a very expensive place to live and people are always hustling, trying to get their work out into the world while making rent. Frankly, I have not found one person here that I consider poetry kin. No one commits to long-term, involved relationships. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I expect more than people are willing to give. Whatever the case, despite all the hype, the poetry writing groups, readings and all that, I find it an insular, mostly uninspired place for building community. I know many would probably disagree with me, especially those who are connected to the spoken word scene and the older, Beat or political poetry scenes. I know nothing about that.

VW: During our trip back from Squaw Valley you told me about your Hugging Asians project. Please explain it, and where things are at with it.

KS: Last April, Tian Sheng Yu, a Chinese Oakland resident, was beaten by two intoxicated Black teenagers. He died as a result and the media spun it as yet another example of Blacks targeting Asians for crime. It bothered me because, as a Black man who has an Asian partner and who’s lived and worked in Asia and with immigrant Asian communities in San Francisco, I know we certainly won’t benefit from reports amplifying perceived and real tensions between these groups.

I started thinking about what happened three years earlier, in 2007: Imus’s “nappy-headed hoes” comment and New York DJs JV and Elvis’s (Jeff Vandegrift and Dan Lay) racist call to a Chinese restaurant happened within a day of each other. Why didn’t Asian activists stand with the Black community? Why didn’t Blacks stand with the Asian community? Where’s our solidarity? To begin processing these questions, I wrote a poem entitled “Orient.” Then I decided I wanted to create a website featuring the poem and photographs of me hugging Asians — strangers and friends. I grew up in the South and we hug. I lived in Japan for a few years and, though it’s not at all culturally acceptable to hug, I did it frequently. It was my way of embellishing my language skills. An additional way to communicate. huggingasians.com went online last spring. Some people thought the site was great, others derided it. Regardless, huggingasians.com was part of my process and remains online. I add to it occasionally.

A few months later, I had the idea to create a multimedia performance piece entitled “ORIENT: a new anthropology,” which I’m working on now. I got a 2011 San Francisco Arts Commission grant for it. ORIENT will trace the lives of Asians and Blacks in America, beginning with the divisively racist work of early anthropologists in the mid-to-late nineteenth century.

From the beginning, Asians and Blacks were pitted against each other as each group tried to build lives in a country that resisted their very presence. I want to underscore our interconnectedness, not just as people on the margins but as two groups that have stood together historically. Richard Aoki, a Japanese American, helped start the Black Panthers. He donated some of the first weapons. I learned that very recently. I know of a Black woman in LA (the mother of a friend) who, during the Japanese internment, took care of the belongings of a Japanese family. ORIENT is helping me get an education. And I think it’s especially pertinent now. The 20th anniversary of the LA Riots is next year, 2012. 20 years ago Asians and Blacks were killing each other on the streets. Have racial tensions diminished at all? I’m going to travel to LA several times to interview people whose lives were affected by the riots. Much of the poetry, music and images in ORIENT will emanate from interviews.

VW: What else are you working on?  Do you have any themes or preoccupations that you find yourself returning to?
KS: I’m putting the finishing touches on Ota Benga Under My Mother’s Roof, a collection by the late Carrie Allen McCray Nickens. I can’t tell you how very special this project is to me. I met Carrie through Cave Canem in 2004 and, while I was finishing my Ph.D. in South Carolina, she and her sister Rose were my family. I’m talking about them cooking for me, opening up their home and giving me my own room during my return trips to complete my dissertation, telling me stories, coming out to my performances, giving me strength to endure and understand the grand (wizard) peculiarities of South Carolina. Carrie was 91 years old at the time and an accomplished and widely published writer. Rose was 92.

The collection tells the story of the Congolese pygmy Ota Benga who was infamously exhibited at the Bronx Zoo in 1906. Shortly after that, Carrie’s family took him into their home in Lynchburg, Virginia. I edited many of the poems for a theatrical adaptation we did in 2007 and, after Carrie’s passing in 2008, a team of extraordinary people (poet Kwame Dawes and Carolyn Micklem, the former director of Cave Canem, among them) helped get these poems into print. The collection will appear in early spring next year.

I’m editing the first LGBTIQ anthology featuring poems about faith, religion and spirituality. It’s called Collective Brightness and the title comes from Benjamin Grossberg’s beautifully odd poem “Beetle Orgy.” It’ll be published by Sibling Rivalry Press this December and I’m extremely excited about it. Religion has done major damage to LGBTIQ people and this anthology will show how resilient, observant and resourceful we are. I hope it travels into the most dangerous places for us in America.

VW: You’re also a composer. I recall from a session we shared at the workshop a poem of yours which included a rhythmic hitting of the table.  Is that a typical style for you?

KS: That was new for me. I was trying to bring musical notation into a poem. It was effective for that one poem that one time.

VW: How do your music and poetry feed each other?

KS: I have a good ear for phrasing, tempo and timbre. I think that comes from growing up in New Orleans in a household with music. My mother played Motown and jazz records quite frequently. And it’s true what they say: music fills the streets of New Orleans. I heard it at school, walking in the neighborhood, at Catholic church and, of course, in the French Quarter.

But I’ve  always been in love with words, too. I’m pretty sure I get that from my mother and her sister, my Aunt Trina (now deceased). They loved books and reading. The first trophy I ever won was for a poetry contest in 2nd grade. My ear feeds my music and writing. It’s a body-based practice. No matter how much I try to get away from my ear — and the sounds and subject matter I keep wanting to manipulate — there’s no use. I actually feel a physical discomfort if I sing, play or read something that’s willfully intellectualized outside of my own personal “powers.” I’m not sure how to say this.

VW: One of the most revealing questions you asked me on the way home from SVWW was “Who do you want to publish your first book?”  This question forced me to consider myself beyond “being” a poet to consider how I wanted to activate my goals.  Tell me how your forthcoming book came about, and what your goals are for it.


KS: It’s a great story. Salmon Poetry, one of the foremost poetry presses in Ireland, had an anthology call for poems about dogs. I sent “Seeing Eye,” the only poem I have about dogs and, about a month or two later, got an email from the publisher. She poked around online and saw my other work and asked if I had a manuscript. That’s how it happened. (And they did use “Seeing Eye” in the anthology.) My first collection, which will appear in September 2011, is entitled Mad for Meat. The title comes from the final couplet in the poem “Inheritance.” The poem is about, among other things, my appetite for food, substantive human interaction, especially with men — in their various “cuts.”

I figure a debut collection should tell you about the poet and his concerns while leaving room for readers to want more — a second collection, perhaps. There’s growing up in New Orleans, being an altar boy, gay, Black, the child of divorced parents, my travels (especially my years in Japan), music of all kinds, struggling with Christianity and racism — the list goes on. There are also persona poems in the voice of historical figures. Before I became brave enough to write more directly about myself, I wrote loads of persona poems.

VW: I remember when I was back in Chicago working on the new RHINO website, and came across your poem about Jacqueline du Pre. It blew me away and then I found out you wrote it in college!  What was your relationship with poetry then, and how did you find out about RHINO?

KS: I’m pretty sure I wrote that poem when I was finishing my master’s degree, not college. I didn’t write in college but did take a poetry survey class with Dr. John Plummer my sophomore or junior year. Dr. Plummer was extraordinary and everything I learned in that class affected how I would read poetry for a number of years. And it was music that influenced my decision to take Dr. Plummer’s course. I studied voice very seriously in college and was drawn to American and British art songs, especially the works of Barber, Britten, Copeland, Finzi and Vaughan Williams. I adored the sonic properties of their melodies, harmonies and all that, along with how the text transformed.

Kevin Simmonds composed the music for the “Voices from Haiti” Pulitzer Center project with Kwame Dawes.

A poem on paper is different than its incarnation as song. Two different musics. I’m still fascinated and confounded by that. Often, as a composer, I’m unable to find “additional” music in poetry. It’s a running joke between Kwame [Dawes] and I. I’ve set several of his poems to music and, anytime we begin a new collaboration, he wonders aloud if I’ll be able to find that music. He’s funny.

I’m pretty sure RHINO entered my consciousness because of an edition of Best American Poetry.  To date, you’re the only journal that’s ever awarded me a prize. It meant so very much to me. At the time, I was finishing my PhD and overwhelmingly miserable. You published two very different poems of mine: one about famed cellist Jaqueline du Pré; the other about the racially motivated murder of 12 year-old Emmett Till. Many journals don’t include such range in subject matter.

VW: Any advice for managing and advancing the writing life?

KS: Unless you have a benefactor, you’ll always have to do something to make money. You better figure out a way to compose in your head, make notes during your lunch break and in the bathroom. The writing life is now, not later. Sure, there will be blessed moments when you get a residency or your partner takes up more of the burden so you can get away. You might get some breaks. But chances are you won’t get very many. And certainly not enough to conceive of something, develop and finish it. Don’t be selfish: send out your work and give readings. No one will know you and your work exists otherwise. Don’t be selfish: support other writers by attending their readings and purchasing their books.

VW: Please tell us what poetry events and poets have inspired you most recently. And, what do you do that is NOT poetry or music which feeds your creative life?

KS: I’ve been enamored by poet Nikky Finney for years. Her latest and long-awaited collection, Head Off and Split, takes me to church and school each time I crack it open. It’s next to my bed right now. She’s one of the most important poets writing in America. I was lucky enough to hear her read at the book launch at Howard University during AWP. That experience will carry me for a long time. I can’t say enough about how much contemporary art/performance art and dance inspire me — both live performances and film documentaries of those things. San Francisco has a strong contemporary dance scene and I take advantage of that. We also have art galleries and world-class museums everywhere. All that inspires and sustains me. Other than that, I enjoy swimming, finding new restaurants, traveling and working on my Japanese.


Kevin studied voice at Vanderbilt University and taught middle school in Maryland for two years. Then, after stints as a teacher and part-time graduate student, he finished a masters degree in music at Middle Tennessee State University while starting Tono International Arts Association, an international arts presenter in northern Japan that sponsored the 2001 Tono American Music Festival.  Simmonds Company, a gospel choir that grew from workshops he led for amateur singers, won Second Place at the 2002 All-Japan Gospel Competition at Toyko’s Nakano Sun Plaza; the Company continues to perform throughout Japan.

He returned to the States, started his fellowship with Cave Canem, and finished a Ph.D. in music education at the University of South Carolina. He received a Fulbright fellowship to Singapore where he got hip to the work of Kumar, Alfian Sa’at, Cyril Wong and Su-Chen Christine Lim. Kevin has published poems, essays and reviews in journals like 42opus, American Scholar, Black Issues Book Review, FIELD, jubilat, Kyoto Journal, LA Review, Massachusetts Review, Poetry, Rhino and Salt Hill, and in the anthologies Beyond the Frontier, Gathering Ground, The Ringing Ear, To Be Left with the Body and War Diaries.

As a composer and performer, he’s collaborated with poet and writer Carrie McCray on a musical adaptation of Ota Benga, Under My Mother’s Roof and with poet and writer Kwame Dawes on I Saw Your Face, Hope and Wisteria: Twilight Songs of the Swamp Country. Wisteria was the subject of a 2007 BBC Radio documentary and Hope received a News and Documentary Emmy in 2009. His music has been performed throughout the US, Japan, the UK and the Caribbean. sfexhale.com features his photography.

Kevin has received fellowships from the Atlantic Center for the Arts, Cave Canem, Fulbright, Jack Straw, Squaw Valley, Napa Valley and the San Francisco Arts Commission. His debut poetry collection, Mad for Meat, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in late 2011. He creates and teaches privately in San Francisco and can be reached at simmondskevin at gmail dot com. http://kevinsimmonds.com/.

RHINO Reads! – Open Mic & Featured Poets Valerie Wallace and Donna Vorreyer 9-24-10

Open Mike           6:00 – 6:30

Featured Poets       6:45 – 7:30

Brothers K

500 Main St.

Evanston, IL


Valerie Wallace‘s poems appear most recently in Waccamaw, Margie, Potomac, Valparaiso Review, and Santa Clara Review.  She received awards from the Illinois Arts Council and Illinois Center for the Book, and fellowships from Writers in the Heartland and Squaw Valley Community of Writers. Valerie works with the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, is an associate editor of RHINO Poetry, and leads poetry workshops throughout Chicago.

Donna Vorreyer‘s poetry has appeared in many journals including New York Quarterly, Cider Press Review, Apparatus, Umbrella, qarrtsiluni, and After Hours.  Her chapbook Womb/Seed/Fruit is available from Finishing Line Press.  Donna spends her days teaching middle school, trying to convince teenagers that words matter.  Visit her online: www.donnavorreyer.com.