- Big Table Publishing
Inside the amazing brains of Catherine Arra,
Jim Deuchars, & April Linder
Catherine Arra is a former English and writing teacher. Her poetry and prose have appeared in numerous literary journals online and in print, and in several anthologies. She is the author of Solitude, Tarot & the Corona Blues, (Kelsay Books, 2022), Deer Love (Dos Madres Press, 2021), Her Landscape, Poems Based on the Life of Mileva Marić Einstein, (Finishing Line Press, 2020), (Women inParentheses) (Kelsay Books, 2019), Writing in the Ether (Dos Madres Press, 2018) and three chapbooks. A Pushcart nominee, she lives in upstate New York, where she teaches part-time, and facilitates local writing groups.
BLM: Please tell us about your lovely book of poems about the deer who visit you.
CA: Yes, my relationship with a wild doe inspired the book, Deer Love. The poems in Deer Love evolved from a special, loving bond I had with a wild doe over nearly five years. I named the doe Forest and wrote the book for her and perhaps for all wildlife that has suffered at the hands of humans. I wanted to celebrate the beauty and transcendence offered through communion and understanding between humans and animals when we take the time to see, feel, and connect.
I write from the heart, from intuition and feeling in the way Robert Frost said: “A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a homesickness or love sickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”
Before it’s written, a poem will often follow me around and cripple me with heartache, gut-ache, confusion, grief, and also great joy until I’m compelled to write it. The process becomes a union of emotion and thought wherein I am balanced and in the best possible and most honest relationship I can have with myself. When I write from this place, I know my words are authentic.
I’m not an intellectual writer, though in revision and editing, my head and teacher skills will dominate. I will often research a topic before I write, as I did for Her Landscape, Poems Based on the Life of Mileva Marić Einstein. Ultimately though, I learned so much about Mileva, that when I began writing the poems I felt as if I was channeling her feelings and experiences as a brilliant scientist, mother, and woman who was marginalized by her famous husband and the times in which she lived. So, I’d say empathy as well as an intellectual interest motivated me to tell her story.
My recent book Solitude, Tarot & the Corona Blues came from a deep loneliness and heartache caused by the end of a 20-year relationship-marriage, the death of my father, the death of Forest, and the isolation of the pandemic. During that deluge of emotion, I could either write or become a depressive alcoholic and drown. I wrote, and the words became rungs on a ladder out of depression.
BLM: Tell us about a moment where a shift in your thinking changed your life.
CA: There have been more than a few moments when a shift in my thinking changed my life. Most of those moments were rooted in seeing through an illusion or lie I had been groomed to believe such as: what a girl or woman can and cannot do, what romance, love, and marriage are, what success is, and what it means to be authentic. One shift was to not take what others say and do to me personally, but instead to see these behaviors as projections of the reality of others—their dreams, expectations, and disappointments in themselves. This shift in thinking has taught me how to live and create authentically by redefining what is important to me. Life is about change and accepting loss. Sometimes we need to let go of certain situations and people and to move on without animosity.
BLM: What do you feel is your best or most successful poem, and why?
CA: Oh, tough question. I think I’ve written several strong poems, but I’ve never ranked them. I guess right now I’d choose “Tooth Fairy,” which was published in Thimble Literary Magazine and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The poem is in keeping with the shifts I’ve talked about—loss, change, grace, and resilience.
Bring me the gift of loss—
baby teeth, big girl teeth
this dead old molar, done
chewing down years, rootless,
separated from the body
surrendered to silk-sack departures—
mother, father, lovers, husbands, friends
this house, that job, the accumulations
and cost of having.
Teach me to put youth, beauty
fire, fury, gutting want
under the pillow.
Jim D. Deuchars is an American poet born in Waukesha, WI. His work has appeared in a variety of print and online publications. He has released 10 chapbooks and two full-length collections, including, Mockingbirds Con-templating Semicolons (Kung Fu Treachery Press, 2020).
Deuchars embraces a wide variety of techniques and wordplay to craft a poetic style that resonates equally in academic and outsider circles. Mixed with a generous portion of humor, this results in work that has been described as, “a special brand of doggerel, nonsense & foofaraw.”
See and hear him rendering poems on youtube!
BLM: Do you have a favorite theme when you write poetry?
JD: I wouldn’t describe it as having any particularly favorite theme. I don’t want to go into it with any preconceived notions, whether small-picture within an individual poem, or in the greater sense, when considering my oeuvre in its entirety. The poet is the last person who should be tasked with determining meaning, subject, and theme in their work.
I do juggle a few theories behind my personal process. Perhaps that’s the same thing, filtered through semantic quibbling.
When tasked with making a choice, it will be whatever best serves the poem. To that end, I’m willing to work with the widest possible range of technique, form, and stylistic flourish. I may travel from an expressionistic splatter of word paint to a classically metered pastiche, within one poem, and from one poem to the next.
Whatever feeling, impression, or picture the reader has at the end of all those words is the meaning of a poem. So my preferred theme is that, but across the whole pile of poems.
I also embrace the idea that everything is a metaphor for everything else.
BLM: What is dangerous about you?
JD: Dangerous? In the end, I’m pretty harmless—I play with words, not sticks & stones. Where and how do I inflict the most harm? With other humans, I’m capable of a moralistic cruelty I forgive as extreme self-care and thoroughness. With myself, I can get bogged down in a sort of operational paralysis that seems beyond mere procrastination. With readers of my poetry, that post modern “anything goes” dynamic I mentioned above can be off-putting. Sometimes, I fear a reader is discouraged from playing the game if they’re not sure whether a given stanza is hopscotch or football.
BLM: What do you feel is your favorite or most successful poem, and why?
JD: Dang! My first thought is pretty impractical, as it’s my poem Symphony in B-flat Major, where I spend 6000 words arguing for concision of language. So, I’ll respond in the other direction, with my shortest “successful” poem, coro egipcio, which abides all the traditional isms of poetry. It means something. It could mean anything. As poetry, it’s more concise than Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes.:
April Lindner is the author of two poetry collections—Skin (winner of the Walt McDonald First Book Prize from Texas Tech University Press) and This Bed Our Bodies Shaped (Able Muse Press). She has edited or co-edited a number of anthologies including Contemporary American Poetry, an anthology for Penguin Academics, and Lineas Conectadas, for Sarabande Books. She also is the author of three novels, Jane, Catherine, and Love, Lucy, (Poppy), and a digital-exclusive novella, Far From Over (NOVL). Her poems have appeared in The Hudson Review, The Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, Italian Americana, Literary Matters, Measure, and many other journals and anthologies. A professor of English at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, she lives in Stockton, New Jersey where she raises chickens and three small rescue dogs.
BLM: Are you a poet if you write poetry, or does it go deeper than that?
AL: I would never tell anyone who identifies as a poet that they aren’t one! I’m more comfortable discussing the poems themselves. For a given bit of writing to aspire to poetry, it should explore language’s resources and bump up against its limitations. I feel like writing poems is an exercise in trying to say the unsayable, and always falling a little bit short.
BLM: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself that you wish you could tell to yourself as a teenager?
AL: I’d tell my teenage self to loosen up and care less about what other people think. What I’ve since learned about myself, and about people in general, is that our friends and beloveds are out there, waiting to be found. Do what you love, be who you are, and travel where you will. Before long you’ll find your tribe and make your way, even faster than if you try to please everyone and play it safe.
BLM: What do you feel is your best or most successful poem, and why?
AL: When writing about the weeks leading up to my father’s death, I set myself a challenge: to only tell the literal truth. I’m ordinarily a big believer in poetic license, but I didn’t want my memories of that period to be eclipsed by a truth I invented for writing’s sake. I made the task of writing this particular poem more exacting by tossing rhyme and meter into the mix, and I feel like jumping through those hoops helped me get to a kind of emotional truth I might not have reached otherwise.
Beneath three days of clothes, compressed,
they waited to be washed. I leant
to fish them out—a clot, a knot--
the blood-red sheets that held his scent,
Grave men swooped in to bear him off,
his cooling flesh to ashes spent.
I crush them to my face at night,
the deep red sheets that hold his scent,
the ones he lay on, hour by hour,
embossing into them his bent
and wasting frame—a question mark
in dark red sheets that hold his scent.
I cannot choose but weep to think
stray molecules are all that’s left,
and they too must disperse in air
from these red sheet that hold his scent.