Hi Ellyn,

Hi backatcha!


Tell us about your background.

As an incredibly shy kid growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I expressed myself through writing early in life. I scribbled stories about going to California and meeting Barry Manilow, I never imagined reading this work aloud.  I mean, I was too timid to order in restaurants or even to ask where the bathroom was.  My shyness, in part, stemmed from having a hyper-critical father (luckily my mother was loving and supportive), a proverbial dysfunctional family in general, and from enduring classmates’ criticism that I was “an unusual-looking girl.”



What are three things you want the reader to know about GHOST / LANDSCAPE?

KMD: In the poems, you’ll find a bank robbery, a lock on the door, and a freezer we keep forgetting we keep in the basement. One (and only one) of these things is real.

Now that you’ve entered the landscape, don’t follow the paths that seem most clearly marked. They’ll lead you further away from the guesthouse (and the truth about the ghost).

Lastly, and most importantly, the conference we keep referring to was really an elaborate cover-up. Even the panels were just for show.

JG: Things keep changing, you know? One moment the news is on, and it’s such very bad news from so many quarters (1). And then you’re shopping for new shoes (2). Both of these things are honest and true things about living in the world (3).

I was reading something the other day (you might’ve seen it; it was passed around facebook) arguing against the current conception of empathy, that it’s too easily swayed by individuals in crisis and not enough by long-term goals. And it reminded me of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where Riker gets turned into a god, and loses his capacity for empathy. Like most things, it’s a negotiation.


Who was your favorite teacher growing up?

I’ve always thought of high school or college teachers, but since you said, “growing up,” specifically, I thought of Miss Jackson, my school librarian. I still remember the day she let me graduate from “easy to read” books to “red tape” books (which were marked with red tape on the spines to indicate a higher grade level). It opened the world for me, and I’m forever grateful.




SDAI P&A #1--Michael Klam at Mic
Hello.  I’m reporter Michael Klam, and it is my great pleasure to interview myself for The Nervous Breakdown.   I was told by the mighty Rich Ferguson to read the other self-interviews on TNB, but I didn’t.  My ego is far too big for that, cosmic big, not like the cosmos of yesterday (we are the only galaxy, etc.) but “Kepler huge” like the infinite cosmos with all of its bits of dust and muck that barely fit into the pinky toe of my self-awareness and enlightenment.

Woah, woah, woah! Hello? Editor Michael Klam checking in here:  Was that last sentence a run-on? Should I fix it? Should I consult Strunk and White? I don’t think it makes sense.

Autobiography in ten words.

Brawled my way into the world. Survive is my language.


What’s the strangest place you’ve ever written a poem?

In a Porta-Potty at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, drunk off my ass on the first beer I’d ever imbibed. The poem didn’t make it past the cutting room floor for my first book, but that feeling of MUST WRITE A POEM NOW before I’d even really started identifying as a poet (I still thought of myself as a fiction writer, ha!) was exhilarating. Though the beer probably contributed to that.


In your most recent collection, The New Testament, you wrote in one of your poems, “Hustle”: “I eat with humans who think any book full of black characters is about race.” Overall, your work seems to revolve around issues of sexuality, love, violence, masculinity, family, spirituality, mortality, and race (among other things, of course). When someone attempts to categorize you exclusively as a “homosexual” or a “gym rat” or a “Southern black man” or a “’religious’ poet,” etc (while misrepresenting or failing to acknowledge the other parts of your identity), how do you resist such curtailment or oversimplification of your identity? 

Well, I don’t exactly “resist” any identifiers because I don’t automatically think of it as “curtailment” or “oversimplification.”  So yes, the parenthetical phase in your question is of utmost importance.



When did you write your first poem?

I wrote my first poem in 1967 when I was a freshman at the University of Southern California. It was my first time away from home, the war in Viet Nam was going full force and I was a confused, angst-filled adolescent who didn’t know what I thought about anything. I had a huge crush on my French professor, Dr. Robin Blake, and one day — I usually sat in the front row of class — he saw that I had scribbled the beginnings of a poem on my notebook. He stopped and picked the poem up off the notebook and said to the class that Ms. Bogen had written a poem and that it was pretty good. For the rest of the semester, I would strategically leave poems on the side of my notebook although he never singled me out again. I probably would have stopped writing but at the end of my freshman year I became the first freshman to ever win the (college) award from the Academy of American Poets at USC.



When did you start writing poetry?

I was drawn to poetry quite young. In the first grade I wrote a ‘poetry collection’- think rhyming couplets and magic marker drawings. When my teacher caught onto how I was spending my time, she allowed me to go ‘on tour’ to all the other first grade classes to present my work. This was my first poetry reading. I continued to read poetry throughout childhood and into adolescence, where I got simultaneously got very into sonnets (penning a few on the kitchen floor of my childhood in cleaning solution) and pop punk lyrics (Fall Out Boy, Brand New, Taking Back Sunday). Even a few years away from its general angst, I’m still a big fan of the genre- there is something piercing, illuminating and revealing (from a cultural standpoint) about a lot of pop punk and emo’s lyrical themes and qualities. More recently, I’ve paid a lot of attention to the poetry of hip hop- hip hop is doing a lot of important work right now. I would be remiss to not mention the lyrical and performative prowess of artists like Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper.

Photo credited to Michael Everett Crawford

Photo credited to Michael Everett Crawford


What is the best advice your mother ever gave you?

No one will ever remember how clean I kept my toilets; use your time for something else.


It’s so good to get a chance to talk to you about your first book of poems, Trouble the Water. So I wanna try something a bit different. I’m not that interested in asking the usual questions and just talking about writing. Let’s talk about your influences outside of literature as a way to frame the conversation.

Yes! Thank God. Haha.

jane's pic of liz


Why Chaos Theories? What is the significance of the title?

Many tenets from chaos theory appear in these poems. After reading a little bit about it, I became obsessed with the way in which chaos is actually a type of order. This contradiction continues to fascinate me and seems an apt metaphor for human emotions and relationships, and maybe even a metaphor for the writing process – or at least my process: through my poems I attempt to force order onto the disorder of the world. Plus I love all of the scientific language: strange attractors, bifurcations, butterfly effect, turbulence, dynamic systems, sensitivity to initial conditions, and on and on… There is so much gorgeous language to mine.


Do you imagine an ideal reader?

The ideal reader is someone who, upon reading a poem, goes immediately to find someone, another ideal reader, and she says, “Listen to this!” and reads the poem aloud as if she herself had written it. I grew up with parents who said often, “Listen to this!” And I listened. Maybe I’m someone’s ideal reader—I hope so!



Who is Soraya?

My poetic other who has been inspiring me since around 2003. Ah, revealing error, I meant to say 2013, when I wrote this book, but 2003 is actually the year I began seriously publishing in journals and started composing my first books, although I’d been writing full-time for about eight years prior to that. So 2003 was really the year I felt legitimized as a writer and knew for sure that was to be my career until the end come what may. Anyway, Soraya gave me license a few years ago to indulge in the exuberance of language, to break the shackles of narrative sense, to abandon linear logic, to give way to the free play of pure pleasure. Soraya is unrestrained joy, lack of inhibition, poly-everything, chockfull of every gluttonous pleasure countering the made-up envelope and container of our mortal lives. Soraya is immortality, lack of finite being, the dissolution of my congealed identities in the very processes of imagining and writing.