We Can Speak!

In case you were wondering what our founder's voice sounds like with a cold during an interview with Emily Stroia's Woman Rising Podcast, we got you covered. 

We worked on Emily's first collection of poetry, Into the Light, which is a memoir-inspired story about trauma, and it was a honor to chat with her a bit about our feelings, our past, and, of course, why we like to work with trauma survivors. 



Interview with Jen Karetnick

Jen Karetnick is the author of American Sentencing (Winter Goose Publishing, May 2016). Her work has appeared in Hospital Drive, Poet’s Market 2013, River Styx, Sou’wester and The Spoon River Poetry Review, and her poems were finalists in the 2010 Knightville Awards and the University of New Orleans Study-Abroad Prize. “Night Sweats” placed second in the Southern Writers Symposium Competition for poetry, and “After” was made into illuminated art and hangs on the wall of the B Bar in The Betsy Hotel, South Beach. She talked to Tell Tell Poetry about her most recent collection. You can purchase a copy of American Sentencing here.


Kallie Falandays: American Sentencing is, in your words, an "intense examination of the female body and the various indignities and ailments from which it can suffer." What caused you to want to explore these ideas and why do you think they're necessary right now?

Jen Karetnick: A good number of the poems in this book are about chronic, invisible illnesses, especially those that afflict women and are almost always dismissed by men as “imagined,” “made up” or “hysterical.” Personally, I’ve been ill with autoimmune disease as well as a neuro-endocrine-immune disorder, which some people refer to as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, an inaccurate name I despise, since I was 24, when I came down with viral meningitis and never got better. For almost two decades afterwards, I’d gone from physician to physician, seeking answers for some really odd, unexplainable complaints, and most of them were men who dismissed my concerns with shrugs, accusations about drug seeking and recommendations to psychiatrists. I would get comments that range from “You look like you’re in great shape, so you must feel well enough” to “You’re a Jewish woman, and Jewish women always complain.”

I was finally diagnosed when, long after I’d given up hope in my early 40s, I was sort of very casually referred to a famous immunologist, Nancy Klimas, who specializes in CFS. I was seriously lucky to be accepted into the practice at a rare time when she had an opening. I’ve since learned that CFS is estimated to affect more than 1 million Americans, many of them women. American Sentencing documents some of the struggle I’ve had with dealing with a disease that you can’t see, can’t prove and can’t treat, mostly because it wasn’t properly categorized from the get-go (back in the 1980s) as a medical problem and thus eligible for research funds from the relevant organizations. So while I don’t particularly like to talk about being sick – in fact, I’d prefer not to be sick at all, and simply have my life back – it’s time to acknowledge that sufferers from this illness aren’t likely to find answers and get better until we start speaking up, raising awareness and bringing the public’s attention – and dollars – to the fact that this very real disease is killing people. These poems are my way bringing attention to CFS in hopes of finding the mechanisms that cause it. That would be the first step toward creating a cure.

These poems also deal with a certain ignorance of disability issues that are rarely discussed in life, let alone in poetry. But the time, I think, has come. We see a lot of poems and acknowledgment about cancer, but not so many about, say, epilepsy. I’m even more convinced that we need honest poetry that doesn’t cringe away from these subjects after reading Adrienne Rich’s obituary in The New York Times. Margalit Fox wrote, “Triply marginalized — as a woman, a lesbian and a Jew — Ms. Rich was concerned in her poetry, and in her many essays, with identity politics long before the term was coined. For Ms. Rich, the personal, the political and the poetical were indissolubly linked; her body of work can be read as a series of urgent dispatches from the front.” Yet only a couple of paragraphs before, Fox had identified the cause of death: “complications of rheumatoid arthritis, with which she had lived for most of her adult life.”


So where is the recognition that Rich was also disabled? That for five or six decades, she struggled with a painful, crippling autoimmune condition, for which there is no cure and, in the end, caused her demise? That she wasn’t triply marginalized but, in fact, had a quadruple set of conditions against her?


Disability of any kind is difficult to acknowledge. I get it. Like admitting that whiteness is a privilege, healthy, able-bodied people simply don’t want to understand how good they have it. And that’s when they can see a disability. You can’t see pain or mental dysfunction – what we call “brain fog” – as a result of illness. Chronic, invisible illness is the ghost of disability: it haunts. If an obvious disability gets the wide eye, then chronic, invisible illness gets the side eye. I want these poems to make it go full frontal.


These poems are seeping with skin and ink and movement. What do you think tethers this collection to our contemporary experiences? What might a 21-year-old male be able to find in this collection?

Granted, a 21-year-old male might not be my target audience. But every 21-year-old male has come from a woman, so my hope is in that reading these poems, he might find some compassion for the one who birthed him, the one (if he’s cis-hetero) who might someday be his partner or the one who could be his daughter. I teach young men, and I have one of my own, and what I like about this generation is their willingness to accept that bodies are messy. They have an easygoingness about sex ed, too, that my generation lacked. I’ve heard teenage boys have conversations with their female friends about periods, and I’ve seen them carry tampons and pads in their backpacks for them and lend them sweatshirts to wear around their waists to hide accidental stains. That’s an unflinching generosity of spirit that wouldn’t have happened in my day, and I applaud the ease in which they share even the unsavory parts of their lives. So perhaps it isn’t too much to expect that a 21-year-old male would be able to relate not only to illness as disability but to how I see periods, pregnancy, childbirth and menopause as a series of illnesses and convalescences, lurking both visibly and invisibly. Which isn’t to say we all suffer from being sick just because we’re female. But it is to point out that we have more to deal with, bodily speaking.


On the other hand, a 21-year-old male isn’t likely to admit to chronic pain or illness, even if he’s feeling it. In general, because of the way our society is structured, men don’t often go to the doctor, even though statistically their symptoms are more readily believed than those of women, until the pain or illness is too much to ignore. Even then, they don’t confide in or rely on friends. I know this also anecdotally from my own husband, who dealt with Ulcerative Colitis for 12 years before he had his colon removed, and from my brother, who sadly passed away in February 2015 from complications with a few autoimmune diseases. So while my work is from a female’s perspective, I think a young man who is not feeling well could identify with it, and if it gets him to a doctor sooner rather than later, then I feel like I’ve contributed to the canon.


How do you think these poems fit in with the trajectory of American poetry? Can you position these poems within a certain vein or style of writing so that we might be better able to understand how we can absorb them?


I read the work of two particular poets on and off when I was writing the majority of this book: Rafael Campo and Lucia Perillo. The former is a physician specializing in HIV and AIDS patients (who have immune problems very similar to CFS patients, if only people would recognize that); the latter suffers from her own autoimmune disease, Multiple Sclerosis, which also runs in my family and which I am constantly being monitored for. They both write knowledgably but in a very real and humanistic way about medicine, health and the body. I think American Sentencing has this same “medic poetic” vibe that also fits in with up-and-coming theories about how medicine should be taught and practiced, and also written about. Medical programs around the country are now offering literary classes and running journals – basically teaching humanities in addition to medicine – because they recognize that it’s literature that adds the human element, the “art,” to the science of medicine. The narrative of patient and physician stories re-sensitizes doctors who, by the end of residency, have become desensitized to people and think of them only as body parts. Many of these journals – Hospital Drive, CHEST, The Intima, The Healing Muse – also solicit from the literary public. Narrative medical writing, from poetry to creative non-fiction, is becoming its own genre, and there are summer workshops and programs for non-physicians as well.


As far as the poetry in American Sentencing goes, it’s a bit on the confessional as well as the clinical side. I’ve been with my husband since he was a pre-med student – he’s now a neurologist – and he says I’m the worst kind of patient to have: I have just enough knowledge about medicine to be dangerous. But although I’m not all about feeling sorry for myself and being sick, I do enjoy discussing medicine from a clinical standpoint. I’ve always enjoyed hearing about his work, and I love diagnosing. I’ve even occasionally helped him parse out a diagnosis for his patients, and I often write health, wellness and medicine articles. (That said, I never could have been a doctor – I would have failed organic chemistry, and the smell of formaldehyde makes me vomit.) We have a mutual admiration society – he loves art and literature and brings home terms and ideas for me that he finds poetic. The first poem I ever wrote involving a medical term was called “Crossing the Blood-Brain Barrier,” which I re-imagined as a way of talking to my grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s and no longer recognized me. That’s not what the term really means, of course. But it spoke to me metaphorically. 


Can you talk a little bit about the process of writing this book? What was the first poem that you wrote in this collection and what was the last? What was the organization and publishing process for you like?


The poems actually span the entire length of time that I’ve been ill. I came down with meningitis on my husband’s first day of internship, and he had to take me to the hospital in the middle of the night, hold my hand through a spinal tap, then basically learn how to do one himself. One of the oldest poems in the book is called “The Match,” which is about graduating medical school and finding out where you’ll be doing your internship. It’s a very stressful process, filled with elation and disappointment alike. Some were written through my pregnancies and childbirth years, and my kids are now 15 and almost 18. But most were written in the chunk of time between 2010 and 2015, starting with the time I was finally diagnosed with CFS and began treatment with anti-virals and immune-boosting pharmaceuticals. It’s amazing how much I’ve picked up from immunology team about the immune system and how it works. Truly fascinating stuff. Which leads me to the last poem in the book, “On the Discovery of a Mouse’s Meninges Linking the Lymph to the Central Nervous System,” which is also about the blood-brain barrier. An MD-PhD researcher at the University of Virginia made a discovery this past summer that the brain was indeed connected to the lymphatic system via previously undetected vessels in the sinus cavity. It’s always been thought that the two weren’t connected and that the blood-brain barrier functioned as a gatekeeper. This may not in fact be the case, and the discovery is a game-changer. So I wrote a poem about it.


The forms in the book vary widely from strict villanelles, sestinas and sonnets to really experimental. This is how I feel my illnesses have progressed. Some have been diagnosed with a simple blood test: Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Boom. Done. Take Levoxyl. Others are “diagnosis by exclusion” – which means the doctors don’t have a single way of figuring out what’s wrong, so they knock out everything else with a bajillion tests until they’re left with something likely: Irritable Bowel Syndrome. And then there’s lots of experimenting with how to treat it, with sometimes causes other problems – a huge kidney stone, for example, the surgery for which took me almost two years to recover from, because it destroyed my digestive tract and gave me a paralytic ileus. That’s when the poems become fractured, found, erased and put back together again somehow. Some are obviously mournful, such as “Mourning the Body.” Some are resentful, like the ghazal titled “Routine for the Invisibly Ill.” And some are funny or ironic – at least I think they’re funny or ironic – like the one called “Women on the Verge Discuss Viagra.”


What is the most liminal piece of writing advice you’ve ever heard?


Write it down. Don’t rely on your memory because you will forget. Carry a journal and when you think of a good line or come across an interesting term or turn of phrase, jot it on a piece of paper. If it wakes you up in the middle of the night or occurs to you as you’re getting ready to go to sleep, ditto. Don’t allow it to make you an insomniac – a lot of that lucid dreaming stuff doesn’t always make sense – but some real nuggets will pass you by if you don’t note it somewhere. Then, when you’re blocked, you can pull it out and scan for titles, first lines, last lines, etc. Or use them as springboards for ideas. My first poetry professor, the wonderful, late Deborah Digges (there’s a poem dedicated to her in the book as well), called it a “good stuff file.” Keep a good stuff file. You’ll be glad you did.

Jessica Goodfellow- Design & Poetry

We sat down with Jessica Goodfellow, the author of Mendeleev's Mandala. See what she had to say about the intersection between poetry and space.

Traditional Japanese New Year decoration in front of hated paper doors.

TellTell: How would you describe your design aesthetic? JG: My design aesthetic is, unfortunately, completely at odds with a general principle I live by. I would prefer clean lines, open spaces, and only a few bold pieces. What I have is cramped spaces and lots of clutter. That’s because a principle I live by is that all the people I live with (my husband and two sons) also get a say in how our communal life (and thus our home) is arranged, managed, and displayed. The reality is that we live in a small apartment in Japan with little storage space and we share what little space we have. Sometimes I have to close my eyes to escape the chaos. So be it.


TT: How do you decide what goes in your space. How is that different from what goes into one of your poems? JG: What goes in my personal space goes where it does out of necessity; there simply isn’t anywhere else to put things. Books are stacked under my desk where my legs and chair are supposed to go. Books are stacked up on my side of the bed. Books are everywhere. We do have bookshelves, and those are stacked three deep.What goes in my poems also goes there out of necessity, but not out of the desperate necessity attached to the stuff I keep in my physical space.  What goes in my poems is only what is necessary—nothing superfluous—if I’m writing well. That sort of necessity is completely different from the necessity of storing our family’s belongings, which I’m sure we could pare down to the minimum as I have the luxury of doing in poetry, but since everybody in our home has a say on our belongings, that doesn’t happen.


TT: What are you working on creatively right now? JG: Right now I am working on a series of poems about my mother’s brother, who was lost in a mountain-climbing accident on Mt. McKinley when he was twenty-two years old and I was two. I’m writing about the tragedy and mystery of this famous accident (he was lost with six other climbers), about how the incident and the fact that his body was never recovered continues to affect our family today. TT: What is your favorite object in your home? JG: I have a strong affinity for fossils. I have a fish fossil from the Eocene era (about 50 million years ago) and an ammonite that’s about 412 million years old, which means that the answer I gave below about the oldest thing in my home isn’t correct. I also have a box full of sand dollars that I’ve collected on vacations, and a few of them are fossilized. I love all these things. TT: What is your least favorite object? I like the shoji screens in traditional Japanese homes (we have some) and I’ve come to terms with the rush mat flooring (tatami) of our one traditional Japanese room, but the paper doors of the closets in the Japanese room and the paper sliding doors that open up the living room to the Japanese room are the things I hate in our home. Their flimsiness does not make up for the atmosphere they do provide. In a family with children, they simply aren’t practical, and they’ve become tattered and shabby-looking from regular (not abusive) use. I routinely repaper the shoji screens myself, but cannot do the sliding paper doors. Many of my neighbors don’t bother to repaper their shoji screens very often, as they just get torn up quickly if there are children or pets around. In perfect condition, it’s a strikingly clean look, but that condition is hardly attainable for long in real living spaces.


TT: What poetry books have you been reading recently? JG: Last month I read Claudia Emerson’s Late Wife, Shane MacCrae’s Forgiveness, Forgiveness, Douglas Kearney’s Fear, Some, and Kate Tempest’s Brand New Ancients. Yesterday I finished Richard Siken’s Crush. Next on my list is Craig Blais’s About Crows. As far as poetics, last month I finished reading Edward Hirsch’s A Poets Glossary and Carol Maso’s Break Every Rule. Well, I didn’t read the entire Edward Hirsch compendium, but I read all the entries that jumped out at me, and that took months.
TT: What design elements have you been crushing on recently? JG: Texture is important to me. I love collage that uses texture. I also love collage in poetry.


TT: If you had unlimited time to create, what would you make? JG: I’m interested in weaving. I have some very crude hand looms that I bought at the local craft store, but I’d like to learn how to use a treadle loom. Of course, there’s no room for a treadle loom in our home.I’m also interested in collage. I’ve done a few that were successful, but more that weren’t. I’d like to take a class and see if I could get better at this.
TT: What is the oldest object in your home? JG: I have a pair of cameo earrings that were my great-great-grandmother’s. My grandmother, whom I was very close to, gave them to me when I was in college. I have only worn them once or twice; I’m afraid I’ll lose them—they are the kind of old-fashioned earring with screws. I also have an old Japanese sword hilt that was given to me by a friend’s father, from his private collection. I don’t know how old it is. But obviously the fossils mentioned above are older than either of these things.
Home8 TT: What do you love about your work space? JG: I don’t write at my desk, not poems anyway (though I type them up on the computer there after I write them by hand elsewhere). I write at the dining room table or in a coffee shop. There’s one coffee shop I especially like, and a particular seat I am keen on. The relative height of table and chair suit me, the lighting is soft but not too dim, and the window is visible but not distractingly close. I sit next to a brick wall, in a corner in a balcony, so the wall behind me is half open to the first floor, giving me a sense both of openness and privacy. I often ask myself what it is I like about that space because we are planning to redo our home office in 2015, and I’d like to recreate as many elements of that space as possible.Jessica Goodfellow's books are Mendeleev's Mandala (Mayapple Press, forthcoming 2015), The Insomniac’s Weather Report (Isobar Press, 2014), and the chapbook, A Pilgrim’s Guide to Chaos in the Heartland (Concrete Wolf, 2006). Jessica’s work has appeared in Best New Poets and on Verse Daily, as well as on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac. She is a recipient of the Chad Walsh Poetry Prize from the Beloit Poetry Journal. She has a graduate degree from Caltech, and currently lives and teaches in Japan.

Interview with meekling press

meekling press is beautiful and small and perfect. And they decided to chat with TellTell, so go support them!

Kallie: Why did you start meekling press?

Meekling: We (Rebecca Elliott, John Wilmes) went to The School of The Art Institute of Chicago together and got our MFA's in writing. We were good buddies for a number of reasons, one of which being that we had a similar distaste for "the established order of publishing as we saw it and experienced it." We also really liked to collaborate with brilliant friends across mediums. John was finishing a book in our final semester, and and had been reading way too many histories of DIY type things, and approached Rebecca about "starting something new."

Where did the name for your press come from?

 It came from a number of discussions about to call what we were doing. We like the way it sounds. It does not have anything to do with marijuana, as some googling may lead you to believe.

 What are some presses you admire?
We really like Graywolf, New Lights Press, New Directions, and Dalkey Archive.

What kind of work do you usually publish? What do you look for when people submit?

 We are lacking in any sort of clear "manifesto" of works or something like that. We work with people who titillate us—usually they are our friends, but we are looking to branch out. As of yet, we have not been in the Submissions game, and have no formal policy about it. Our contact information is freely available ( ) and we'll take at least a cursory look at whatever's sent, but we've got a full plate right now. Generally, we are not looking to put out straight-forward novels, poetry collections, short story collections. In short: we're open to lots of stuff. Try us.

If you could only read 3 authors for the rest of your life, who would they be, and why.

John: Thomas Bernhard tickles my anger into humor, William Carlos Williams turns words into shapes, and Javier Marias is a devastator of my soul.
Rebecca: Clarice Lispector because I have not read more than a couple of her books and they are wonderful.

What is a day-in-the-life of Rebecca/John like?

 John: I write basketball articles and ESL tutor for a living. Mostly I flop on my futon and gchat, reading and writing in insane bursts, pretending I am being an existentialist.
Rebecca: I work in an insurance office during the week doing data entry (& writing emails & chatting with John), then I go home in the evening and either try to do some work on meekling press stuff or I watch TV. On my days off, I like to write, make books, print letterpress stuff, play with the cats.

What are some of the things that you love about running a small press? "Doing whatever the fuck we want" is probably the crux of it. We get to develop projects at whatever pace we choose, which also means we get to let our projects take whatever shape we choose, because our style isn't cramped by deadlines, or expectations that aren't ours. "Formlessness," etc. The collaborating/community aspect is also huge—each of our books is assembled in an almost party-like fashion, and that matters to us! It is cool to blur and disable the usual power dynamics of publishing. We hope to keep that up.

 Where do you see Meekling Press in 5 years?

The White House.

Interview with J. Hope Stein

What's better than poets discussing their crushes? Chili Cheese Fries, you say? Waterfalls? TLC? No. You are wrong. There is nothing better than poets discussing their crushes. Check out Poetry Crush and see what poets are saying about James Franco, e.e. cummings, Joanna Newsom, and Jack Gilbert. J. Hope Stein, the founder of Poetry Crush, gave us the inside scoop on her crushes and who crushes on her.

What caused you to start Poetry Crush?

It was extremely impulsive.  I didn't know I was doing it until I had already done it.  I had very bad insomnia and I launched and in the same night. is a domestic short- haired cat poet who sleeps 12-16 hours a day.  He writes on a typewriter and always writes in lowercase, because he can’t manage to hold the shift button with his paw and type at the same time.  This was just an inside joke going on around our house and I just wanted to see what it would look like on its feet.

With  -- While I couldn't sleep, I was looking up everything I could find about the poet Bill Knott and came across an interview he did.  He was asked what he thought his legacy would be and his answer was that he would have none -that no one would read him.  He's been an influence on me for a long time and that combined with not sleeping for a few days kind of made my mind explode so I wrote a little piece and posted it.  I also had a poem I had just written about Ted Hughes & Sylvia Plath and I just posted that too & was like:  I guess I have a blog now.  Before that moment it never ever for one second occurred to me that I would have a blog of any kind.

How do you find the poets for Poetry Crush?  

They are usually people I meet along the way - People I've met at readings or at my MFA. Sometimes people write me.

 Who are the top 3 current poets you have a major crush on?

Alice Notley.  In 3D.

 When you were in high school, who was your biggest crush?

Well, by high school, I had already met my first love and was involved in a pretty all-encompassing relationship with the boy-next-door.  I was crazy about him.  It ended many years later, quite tragically, and I threw away all the letters he had ever written me in a trashcan on the corner of 22nd street and 7th Avenue.  But my parents are moving out of their house right now and they made me go through my box of stuff in the attic and my high school yearbook was in there and there’s a few pages that he wrote – basically a play-by-play, in his words, of everything that happened between us in high school.  And I was like I STILL have a debilitating crush on this person. There was something very comforting about that.

What would you do if James Franco asked you to prom?  

I would hook onto his elbow, walk out to the dance floor, ask the band to play some Springsteen and enjoy what would be an amusing night.

Do you think a crush can still be considered a crush if you are dating that person? Or once you start dating, does the "crush" become something else? In other words, is someone only a crush when you can't have them?

I think crushes are their own living energy and that they pass through us like the flu and they have different lifespans and that it all has very little to do with us. I also believe magic fairies conspire while we sleep to cast love spells on us.

 Have you played dream phone ( and if so, what are your thoughts on it?

I have never played this but it looks like a productive game.

How many poets have crushes on you?

Exactly 3 poets have a crush on me:  Not many people know this, but Robert Pinsky’s The Want Bone is about me.  (Sorry, Robbie!) And Frank Bidart’s Desire (sorry, Frankie!).

But it’s Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange being a poem in my eyes) whose pesky droog-ghost sweet-nothings me and gives me no sleep.

What are some of your favorite literary journals or presses?

Black Ocean, Copper Canyon, Verse, Ping Pong, Tarpaulin Sky, Poetry International, H-ng-m-n, Hyacinth Girl Press, Dancing Girl Press, Cleveland State, Alice James, Atlas Review, Future Poem, Octopus, Coconut, Poor Claudia. Ahsahta,  Birds LLC, Fence, Bloof, Coffee House Press & on & on.

 What are you currently working on in your own poems?

 I am writing a piece called “Prank Calls from Fish” and it’s written in an invented potty-mouthed fish slang.  So I am spending a great deal of time on linguistics at the moment. It’s basically a gang of very pissed off fish prank-calling humans.  This all began as a love poem –one of the first times my husband kissed me, he leaned me against a railing on the Hudson River and my cellphone fell out of my jacket pocket into the Hudson River and for years my friends would call and leave me voicemail messages from the fish who found my phone.  It started out as a love poem but it’s taken a violently environmental turn.  But anyway, I am just buried in onomatopoeia.