- Big Table Publishing
Inside the amazing brains of Laura Rodley,
Tina Barry, & Robert Slais
Pushcart Prize winner Laura Rodley is a seven time pushcart prize nominee. and quintuple best of the net nominee. Her recent books are Turn Left at Normal by Big Table Publishing Company, Counter Point by Prolific Press, and As You Write It Lucky 7 printed by Leveller's Press.
BLM: What do you love most about writing poetry, and what is difficult for you about it?
LR: What I love best about writing poetry? The surprise. I’m never quite sure what I am going to find at the end of my writing time. I don’t plan my poems; I allow them to happen and invite them. It’s like having a character in a prose piece who has made their own decision about what they want to say and you have to allow them to say it, give them room. It’s also entering a space of creation that seldom fails. But I have to be tough and show up, take my seat. I also have to honor a poem that wants to come in, write it down before it’s gone.
What is difficult is the resistance. I have constant resistance, am resistant to the act of sitting down and writing. I am in two writing groups and we work against resistance to keep to our scheduled writing time. And then what we write is usually pleasing.
BLM: Who was your first celebrity crush and why?
LR: I have to say my first crushes were on teachers, not celebrities. The first was John Ivor Lewellyn, though his full name might be John Ivor Lewellyn Lewis. He was my teacher at a girls’ school in England. He was maybe 5 foot 8, had thick curly black hair, a squarish face. History and English were my favorite subjects and he taught one of them. I walked to and from school several miles each way with my friend Avril, time enough to tell her the whole story of Lorna Doone which I had read start- to- finish, because she didn’t like to read, in time for a test on the book. She shared her ready supply of chocolates, which, it appeared, all English people carried in their pockets. Something I encountered in school in England was the ready sharing of chocolates, triangle sandwiches carried in plastic containers for breaks, and strong tea. It was during my second half of 6th grade, which was called the 1st form in England. We had moved from the U.S. on Valentine’s Day, sailing across the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth, encountering a hurricane along the way, dishes flying off the tables and the pool water sloshing from one side of the green-tiled wall to the other, everyone but my father seasick. I didn’t even sit for the 11 plus test, I was thrown into the first form, and, to my surprise, came in first in several subjects. Except maths. Mr. Lewellyn was an anchor, just by standing in front of the classroom, wearing his suit jacket, in control. His beautiful self. His lookalike was on the other side of the ocean, Mr.Longo, an English teacher I encountered at Neptune High School when we moved back to the U.S. when I was in 8th grade. (We moved a lot and from 6th grade to 12th I attended eight schools) Standing in front of the class in his white shirt with a pencil behind his ear, he had minimal control of the classroom, but did his best, soldiered on.
BLM: What do you feel is your favorite or most successful poem and why?
LR: "Praise Me,:"published in Boston Literary Magazine and The Galway Review, continues to be one of my most favorite poems. It starts by “Minding my own business...” which is how all miracles happen. I did not want to be out there watering the garden: I am not a happy “waterer.” I am full of resistance to the act of watering, rather like being resistant to getting down to writing. Then the snake appears thirsty, unafraid, grateful. He drinks, his throat moving the same way our horse Cinnamon’s throat moved, another miracle. It always shocked me how she could swallow five gallons of water at a time. That I could contain all these miracles into one poem still makes me happy. Also, it’s a poem about the necessity of water, which I am constantly aware of, the state of water, its preciousness, the need to protect it. I’ve lived with city water, shallow wells and drilled wells, and am constantly aware of our usage. Until the recent flooding in California, one friend, prompt queen and Mass transplant Jean Varda, now from California, always wanted to hear about when it is raining here in Massachusetts, she missed rain so much. That I could speak up for the preciousness of water makes me happy too.
Minding my own business,
I adjust the setting
on the hose head, set it
to spray to water freshly planted
delphiniums, petunias, store bought,
not grown by me from seed.
Soil parched, it’s noon, not best
time for watering, spray filming
wide umbrellas of delphinium leaves,
forming cup sized pools:
praise me, from whom all blessings flow.
Feet braced for long haul, I hold hose
for dowsing, mist branching out rainbows,
then foot long garter snake edges forward
out of brush, red forked tongue darting
seeking droplets, slithering soundlessly closer,
head raised inch off ground, basks
underneath spray, turns to drape head by pool
formed beside delphinium, sinks head to eye level,
drinks, pale flaps behind jaw that allow
its mouth to open for wider prey,
expand, contract, just the way
you could see the horse Cinnamon swallow water
behind her jaw, drinking five gallons
like a glass of water. The garter snake
continues to drink, expand, contract;
my shoulders burning from sun, I turn
hose off, set it down a ways away,
as the pool recedes, snake consuming
every drop he can.
Tina Barry is the author of Beautiful Raft and Mall Flower. Her writing can be found in Rattle, Verse Daily, The Best Small Fictions 2020 (spotlighted story) and 2016, The American Poetry Journal, ONE ART: a journal of poetry, Gyroscope Review, the Fourth River, the Maryland Literary Review, Nasty Women Poets anthology, Feckless Cunt, South Florida Poetry Journal, Sky Island Journal, Thimble and upcoming in Trampset. She is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and has several Best of the Net nods. She teaches at The Poetry Barn and Writers.com.
BLM: Your book Beautiful Raft was about the artist Marc Chagall and his lover and her daughter. What was it about that story that prompted you to write about them, and do you often get inspiration from sort of random things like that?
TB: Well, I was a designer before I started writing, and I’ve always felt a strong connection to visual art. When my husband and I left Brooklyn, after 30 years, and moved to the hamlet of High Falls, in upstate New York, I discovered that in the late 1940s, Marc Chagall, his partner Virginia Haggard and Haggard’s young daughter Jean McNeil, had lived five minutes from our house. They had left New York City when Haggard became pregnant with Chagall’s son.
At first, I was intrigued because of Chagall—this famous artist in the tiny hamlet, and by the obvious similarities in our situations—my husband is an artist too, and we left the city to move here. But as I researched, their story became both more universal and more personal. More universal, in that the story of a woman eclipsed by an important man and largely forgotten in history is all too familiar. And more personal, in that the story of the daughter, Jean, paralleled much of my own childhood experience. Anyway, I felt moved to give the women in the story a voice, which is what launched the writing.
Do random things inspire my writing? Yes, absolutely. I’ll overhear a conversation, or read a poem, or a piece of fiction, and something in the words trips a memory or gives me an idea, and then I’m off and running.
BLM: In what ways are you like your mother?
TB: What a question! My mother is a complicated person, so it’s not easy to answer. Well, because of her, I appreciate visual art. We grew up in a suburb, about an hour from NYC, and it was important to her to show us a bigger, more exciting world. From the time we were old enough to walk, we were on the bus to “the city,” where we’d go to a museum or see a play, and often stop at Rumplemayer’s, an elegant café in the St. Moritz hotel, where we’d have cake and the best hot chocolate, served in silver tea pots. She has a lot of talent, and painted watercolors until recently.
It’s because of her that I’ve learned to make the best of lousy situations. She can be very critical, but she’s an optimist too. She’s 97, in a nursing home, and she still puts makeup on every morning and finds a nurse or an aide to bitch about. She loves deeply and adores her family. I do too.
BLM: What do you feel is your best or most successful poem and why?
TB: I mentioned the trip to the museum with my mother. “Lilies” is about the experience of seeing a whole room of Monet’s Waterlilies at the Museum of Modern Art, when I was about eight or nine, that moved me profoundly. "Lilies" was first published at ONE ART: a journal of poetry, and later appeared in Pawling Living and the Orchards Poetry Journal.
We hurried across 53rd Street, my hand in Mother’s,
both of us dressed fancy for a day in the city. Sun cast
a building’s dark diamond on the pavement,
and I thought, That’s art, too. And glamorous,
although I didn’t know the word,
couldn’t have told you why.
Inside, a swoosh of wool skirts, men’s sports jackets,
one dull gray. Eyes closed I saw (see, still)
the underbelly of a dove.
A vast room at the Museum of Modern Art,
on each tall wall, as if seeded and birthed
there: water lilies.
You’d say it was the flowers, crushed
from Monet’s days, their offering
of furled hearts, that moved me.
More than awe. But in my navy coat
and ugly galoshes, mouth wonder-dumb,
that’s the word you would have used.
When a stroke scrambles your brain, when my mother
loses words, when a ghoul levels a country, I consider
the soul. Wonder what feeds it, what gobbles it away.
I ask for a whiff of mineral pond water, the ting
of a lightly tapped triangle, some sign--
any sign--to learn the lilies live inside me.
R Jay (Bobby) Slais is an engineer, inventor, and writer living with his wife Susy in Washington, Michigan. His poetry publications include at Blue Fifth Review, Boston Literary Magazine, Poets/Artists, Press 53, 53 Word Story winner, and Shot Glass Journal. He has received nominations for The Pushcart Prize and Sundresses, Best of the Net and is grateful to Robin at Big Table Publishing for publishing his chapbook, Mouse Verses Man.
BLM: How have your recent health issues changed or influenced your writing?
BS: In July 2022, I was diagnosed with cancer. Fortunately, it was caught very early and surgery was successful before it had spread. I also had to go through four cycles of chemotherapy. So, as of February 2023, the cancer is thankfully now in remission. While is was healing from surgery and going through the treatments, I did not write many new pieces but I did go through my library of drafts and cleaned up a lot of these poems. Seemingly never happy, I usually do a lot of revising prior to publishing a piece. Some pieces have dozens of hours of work into them. Here's one piece revised "After Reading Sharon Olds for the First Time" that is sort of a metaphor for the angst I go through "finishing" a poem.
After Reading Sharon Olds for the First Time
I knew my poems where not precise,
so I practiced being succinct.
All I wanted to be was to be like her.
Those poems didn’t read easy.
I dream and gaze then gaze and doze,
the more I wanted it, the less I got.
I needed to let it go, the angst in her words,
forget that obliterated cunt in her poem,
the cock in our mouth, cock in our mouth bit.
I tried and failed and failed and tried.
A yellow sticky note on page 24,
glue unstuck, still marks my defeat.
I don’t remember why I put that there.
The poem on that page must hate me.
Blood is a burden I do not bear,
to understand her, just seems impossible.
Fuck it. I can never write like that.
Someday, I will not even try.
Someday, loss will have a meaning.
BLM: What recent celebrity death crushed you and why?
BS: Although Prince's death is not very recent, I am still very crushed by his passing. He sure had a God gifted talent and it seems like such a waste, especially the way he died. It was reported that he had a large library of unpublished work. What could have been? So sad. BLM: What do you feel is your favorite or most successful poem and why?
BS: Here is a poem titled "Love Solstice" that I am still happy with. I put a lot of hours into this prior to its original acceptance in Barnwood Poetry Magazine, my first paying poem. But this litmag folded a few years ago and its archives are not on the web any more. It got a second life when in 2015 it was published in Poets/Artists Magazine. Now, it will get a third life as this issue of P/A will be included in the Lunar Codex project. My poem is going to the moon via this amazing program: 30,000 CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS, WRITERS, MUSICIANS, & FILMMAKERS FROM 151 COUNTRIES, IN 4 TIME CAPSULES LAUNCHED TO THE MOON.
After her smile fades a bee sleeps in my mouth. The sunset has no teeth. Lips are frozen; a window thick with frost, all night, the cold finds lost needles. Widower in the wind, horny fleas construct their brothel on the wing of a flightless dove.
Breathing is a fierce storm when the sky is full of wet eyelids, the language of torn dead leaves, like the scurry of mice around the feet of a cold weathered monument. Her loss is a suffering that will never be carved on the subterranean stone.
In the absence of flowers, a bewildered man, even the fault line shake of morning wake does nothing but loosen the frail balance of growth. A single seed, endosperm cap weakened to permit radicle emergence, drowns in a rush of Spring rain, never to root in soil; the echo of sad voice despoiled by time and tears.
Waving at my shadow on concrete, a gaunt gray man, lacking contour waves back. That lonely walking dove one eyes the sun seeking nothing but warmth, a voice, a seed to split. We are blinded, unable to find the threshold, her name, only a memory on my mouth.