CCPR is pleased to announce Alice Kociemba as the Guest Editor for our third issue. Alice is the author of the chapbook Death of Teaticket Hardware, the title poem of which won an International Merit Award from the Atlanta Review. She is a member of Jamaica Pond Poets, a weekly collaborative workshop, and directs Calliope, a monthly poetry series, and its winter craft workshops. Her recent poems have appeared in Atlanta Review, Cape Cod Poetry Review, International Psychoanalysis, Main Street Rag, Off the Coast, Slant, and Salamander. She is a member of the Advisory Board for the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, and her full-length collection of poetry, Bourne Bridge, is forthcoming from Turning Point Press.
CCPR: What brought you to poetry?
AK: I credit Emily Dickinson with saving my sanity after I suffered a severe head injury in 1986 and couldn’t read, drive or work for six months. Shortly thereafter, I wrote”seizure” my first (and only) poem, about that experience. Someday I may write a chapbook about MTBI (mild, traumatic brain injury) and how it has changed my life (hopefully for the better). I no longer shop in malls, for instance. People have commented on how “organized” I am. I had to be. I have simplified my life in order to focus on what is really essential. I did not have a great interest in poetry before my head injury, but reading and writing poetry is, for me, a spiritual practice in the art of paying attention and distilling what is precious.
CCPR: Can you tell us a little bit about what it’s been like to direct Calliope? What started it and what has it bloomed into?
AK: I have met so many amazing poets and wonderful readers and teachers, both on Cape Cod and throughout Massachusetts because of Calliope. The series began in January 2008 and at the time, there was no poetry series on the Upper Cape! I regularly attended two Boston poetry venues and “borrowed” the best of both formats: three featured poets and a limited open mic (one poem of one page.) In 2008, the other Cape Cod series had a longer open mic, and either one feature or an “opener” for another poet, or an all open mic venue with both musicians and poets. I have often been asked, “Why three features?” And the answer is because there are so many incredible poet-readers (often with award-winning, new books) and I hoped that Calliope could create “a community for poets.” Four years ago, Calliope began a series of winter craft workshops (low-cost, easy to fit into busy schedules) to enhance expertise in poetic craft for both experienced and novice poets. Six years ago, I began a monthly poetry discussion group, which involves people (not necessarily writers of poetry) who want to deepen their appreciation and understanding of contemporary poetry.
As we close our eighth season, Calliope is in a growth spurt! Heidi Stahl and Rich Youmans have come onboard as Calliope’s director and associate director, respectively. And Kathleen Casey will continue in her role as social media director (the look and creativity of Calliope’s Facebook page is due to her talents). I will stay very involved, as “founding director,” (which makes me feel as old as Benjamin Franklin). We are planning to add an outreach element and our new name/tag line is: Calliope: Poetry for Community. On an annual basis (to start) Calliope will organize a fundraiser for a non-profit so that our poetry is in support of the larger Cape Cod community. Stay-tuned for a new look, and revitalized series.
CCPR: What do you think is unique about poetry on Cape Cod?
AK: What is unique about poetry (independent of place) is that poetry, through its use of language, image, metaphor, music and story, transforms the unique into the universal. I am reading Jane Hirshfield’s new book, Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World. And I agree with her, that poetry’s work is to expand compassion by increasing an identification with others whose experience differs from my own.
Poetry on Cape Cod is special when it celebrates the outer and inner landscape of its people and preserves the legacy of those who came before us. Just as someone like Philip Levine or Ted Kooser captured the essence of the urban and rural landscape, with its people, Brendan Galvin, Marge Piercy, Mark Doty and Mary Oliver are poets whose work I turn to again and again, when I want to cherish and remember Cape Cod’s character and community.
CCPR: What are you looking for in a submission?
AK: First of all, I am so delighted to read all this incredible writing without knowing who wrote what! We have a rubric to evaluate the submissions (merit, integrity – i.e. well-written, diversity – which includes risk and innovation – and importance to the reader). I would say what I am looking for is fresh images, lively language, engaging topics – how well-written, from title, beginning-to-middle-to-end a poem is. I am also committed to the issue of diversity of voice and style, as well as risk and innovation. Those of you who know both John Bonanni and myself, could say we represent diverse styles in our own poetry. I may lean toward the lyric narrative poem. I do appreciate a well-written formal poem as well as a collage poem. Think of the work of Terrance Hayes, for example, or Reggie Gibson. So I appreciate variety as long as the writing is both excellent and accessible. I probably don’t appreciate what Tony Hoagland calls, “The Skittery Poem of the Moment.” It may be entertaining, but like junk food, isn’t nourishing. Cape Cod is not experienced in a one-dimensional way, so the Cape Cod Poetry Review editors will hopefully construct a three-dimensional jig-saw puzzle with a thousand pieces that will ultimately result in a portrait of our community of writers.
CCPR: What poets would you cite as your primary influences?
AK: This is like asking a grandparent (see I am feeling like Ben Franklin) who is your favorite? If I think of poets I turn to often, Naomi Shihab Nye, Jane Hirshfield, William Stafford, Mark Doty come immediately to mind. Right now, I am under the spell of Charles Wright’s poems. His use of imagery, language, lineation (white space) enchants me. And Seamus Heaney has a musicality that always sounds right to my ear. This year at the Mass Poetry Festival, I heard Richard Blanco read. WOW. And last year, Carol Ann Duffy’s poems were so witty and wise (at the same time). Also, I had the good fortune of hearing Philip Levine read some new and some iconic poems, right before he died. I frequently return to Natasha Trethewey’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Native Guard, which is so well-written. When AWP was in Boston, I heard Terrance Hayes and Jorie Graham read together. Both so innovative and such dynamic energy in their poetry. Both are bright lights to follow. At the poetry discussion group, we read Lucille Clifton and Derek Walcott’s work, back-to-back. Another contrast in diction and style, I so enjoyed. And I could go on endlessly!
CCPR: I understand you have a book coming out soon. Could you tell us a little about it?
AK: In January, 2013, I began putting together a full-length collection, Bourne Bridge. After two manuscript consultations, and over 40 rejections, Bourne Bridge will be released in March, 2016 by Turning Point (the narrative imprint of WordTech). Then we party! The book is divided into three sections: marrow which are mainly narrative poems about family and growing up in Boston, stone which is about entering the world of work (as a psychotherapist) and experiences beyond my “little” life. The third section, marsh, are poems set on Cape Cod that celebrate its seasons and people. Each section has humorous poems interwoven with the elegies, hopefully to create an experience of the joy and revitalization that is on the other side of grief. Probably the book was organized to give voice to the experience of losing a parent as a child. There is an old psychoanalytic paper which states when a child loses one parent to death, he or she loses the other to mourning. Just as with my head injury, the transformation of trauma and grief into survival and joy is what prompts most of my poems. Humor is one of the methods to connect my experience to those of others.