• Big Table Publishing

MAY 2022


Inside the amazing brains of Jennifer Martelli,

Connie Post, and John Cuetara




Jennifer Martelli (she, her, hers) is the author of The Queen of Queens (Bordighera Press), My Tarantella (Bordighera Press), selected as a “Must Read” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, chosen as a finalist for the Housatonic Book Award, and given an honorable mention from the Italian American Studies Association, and The Uncanny Valley (Big Table Publishing). She is also the author of the chapbooks In the Year of Ferraro from Nixes Mate Press and After Bird, winner of the Grey Book Press open reading. Her work has appeared in The Tahoma Literary Review, The Sycamore Review, Cream City Review, Verse Daily, Iron Horse Review, and elsewhere. Jennifer Martelli has twice received grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council for her poetry. She is co-poetry editor for Mom Egg Review and co-curates the Italian American Writers Association Reading Series.



BLM: Talk a little bit about the decade of the 80s and why it has had such a big impact on your writing.


JM: When I look through my Big Table book, The Uncanny Valley, I can see my first “true” 80s poem, “Honeymoon at the End of the 80s.” I loved this poem so much, I included it in my most recent book, The Queen of Queens, with a slightly different title, “Honeymoon at the End of the Reagan Administration.” This sounds so superficial, but most of my 80s poems began with the clothes! Remember that decade? We were leaving the discos and would end up in flannel shirts of the 90s, but for those years, I was dressed in huge shoulder pads, Madonna lace, and some Jennifer Beals-shirts torn at the neck! These strange fashion-choices are in my book!


But, beyond my clothes, that decade was formative for me. I began the 80s as a teenager, going crazy in Kenmore Square clubs and by the close, I was married and in recovery! This was such a time of excess. I lost friends from AIDS, and that weighed heavily on me. When I started writing The Queen of Queens, we had not yet been plunged into another pandemic, which would be ignored by another feckless administration, nor had Kamala Harris been nominated to the vice presidency (this was the good news). If I were to give The Queen of Queens a shape, it would be circular, like the pearls Geraldine Ferraro wore at her nomination.


BLM:What was your favorite record album when you were 15, and did you have any celebrity crushes? (Mitts off Shaun Cassidy, he's mine.)


JM: So, I was 15. Remember, disco was huge, and in my opinion, much maligned. Donna Summer’s I Remember Yesterday was a constant. But there was this new music I loved, too. When I heard “Psycho Killer” on Talking Heads: 77, my mind was blown. Then I listened to The Clash, and I knew something had shifted. Celebrity Crush: David Cassidy.


BLM: (Oh if the universe made more sense, you and I could have been sisters-in-law!) What do you feel is your best or favorite poem, and why?


JM: My favorite/best poem: “Corinthians 13:11.” I love the form of this (sonnet), but also, I so rarely write about kindness. Also, Marcia Brady??? When I posted it, Maureen McCormick commented with a heart.


Corinthians 13:11


I follow Marcia Brady on Twitter: Mo McCormick, Actor/Author.

She posts a video with her older brother and they dance, a fast waltz,

under an oak tree with dozens of hanging pastel paper parasols.

She holds his hands, looks up into his face: he watches her feet.

I wish we were friends. I’d call her Mo, too, one syllable, low:

prayerful, bovine. Mo asks her brother, do you have a girlfriend yet?

She leads, spins him around: I love her in a way I couldn’t back then.

As a child, I loved the middle girl, Jan, the jealous one, Eve Plumb,

Bible spondee fruit, with a TV J-name, and that blue crochet vest.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child.

When I was a child, I’d see Mo’s face on my tin lunchbox, but now I see

her freckles mirrored a small star cluster visible on clear nights—

Constellation of Bejewelled Silver Studs on Soft Velvet Bell Bottoms.

Constellation of Kindness. Constellation of Purple Devotion.


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Connie Post served as the first Poet Laureate of Livermore, California. Her work has appeared in Calyx, River Styx, Spoon River Poetry Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review and Verse Daily. Her Awards include the Liakoura Award and the Crab Creek Review Poetry Award. Her first full length book Floodwater won the Lyrebird Award. Her second full length collection Prime Meridian was released in January 2020 and was a finalist in the Best book Awards and was selected as a distinguished favorite in the 2022 Independent Book Awards.


"Connie Post takes on the most difficult subjects...human frailty, love, and loss."

~ Dan Veach, Atlanta Review



BLM: How important is the theme of family in your writing?


CP: Writing about family has been a main theme of my work. I write about my son who has profound autism and developmental disabilities. As a matter of fact, I started writing about my son’s disability which led me into a larger body of work in my thirties. I believe that our families form us and shape us in deep and significant ways. Our childhoods have the ability to form us but also destroy us, if we don’t deal with our histories. The power of our memories and subconscious drive us more than we know. I try to bring that awareness to the surface in my poems. I write about familial abuse and the tremendous impact it is had on my life. I feel compelled to get to the wounded places and then make something beautiful grow from those wounds.


BLM: Tell us about a moment where a shift in your thinking made you really shine.


CP: I was struggling with getting work published in national journals or magazines but could not identify what I was missing, what my work needed. I met with a dear friend and accomplished poet and he told me “Make sure the poems start in motion and end in motion” and that struck a chord. I implemented this approach into every poem after that. I started having success and had my first acceptance in a magazine from Florida called the White Pelican Review. After that, things took off. I always try to make sure my poems follow this basic premise. It has helped me a great deal.


BLM: Which poem you’ve written is your favorite, and why?

CP: My favorite poem is "Gardening." This poem won the 2016 Crab Creek Review Award. It is my favorite because it is a poem that was dormant in my mind for so long. I always carried the image of the flowers and how they were given as some sort of an apology. I find it remarkable that we can have an image but yet we can’t assign a meaning to it, sometimes for years or decades. One day, I was at the gym, and the poem started to organize itself and I ran home and wrote it down immediately. This is my favorite poem because it pulls on the deep roots of family. I’ve received some amazing e mails about this poem and how it affected people. It is close to my heart because it is about healing and taking our lives back, in whatever way we can, in whatever way the poem (or your psyche) allows.


Gardening


After my father

would beat one of us

he would place flowers

on the kitchen table

the next morning


he cut the stems flush

and laid the begonias in a circle

in an inch of water


the lavender and fuchsia

permeated the morning


we were called to breakfast

we ate waffles

and said nothing of the raging blooms


the apologies

buried in the ordered way

the flowers were arranged


we looked down at our plates

eating

eating

gorging

ignoring his

sun scorched hands


these days

I spend time

pulling petals

out of my body


placing a shovel

in the open earth

placing flowers

back into the ground


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John Cuetara has published several collections of short stories and poems and his work has appeared in over a dozen literary reviews. At Bennington College, He studied with John Gardner and Bernard Malamud. John works as a therapist and lives with his wife on the Mystic Lakes in West Medford MA.


“Spare prose poems—at once dreamlike and sharply observed—sketch unique experiences, moments in a life on the edge of events, and fill this volume like gumballs in a machine. Whether taken in sequence, or by random fate, these poems open a private window, just for the reader.”

~ Christopher Reilley, One Night Stanzas















BLM: You write about so many topics and almost always as a personal narrative. Tell us what it is about that genre that you prefer over descriptive or traditional poetry.


JC: My other job, aside from being a poet, is running a private practice in psychology. So I think I’m continually analyzing myself, my family and friends, trying to understand what drives us and how we got this way. At some point I may solve the riddle and move on to other topics … but I doubt it.


BLM: Is there a philosopher or scientist or artist who inspired you in some way when you were a kid?


JC: When I was six my family moved to Italy for three years. On the ocean voyage from Boston to Naples we met John Steinbeck. He was standing at the rail watching the Italian crew conduct an abandon ship drill. As we starting chatting, my father introduced us all and he responded: “I’m John Steinbeck and I’m a writer.” He then patiently explained the drill we were watching. We spoke to him a few more times on the long voyage and he was always polite and friendly though he seemed rather weary. Over the next ten years I made sure to read every novel and story by that nice man we met on the boat. I particularly love Steinbeck’s strong connection with the land around Salinas Valley CA and his kindly portrayal of everyone from farm workers to prostitutes.



BLM: What do you think is your favorite or most successful poem and why?


JC: This poem "On the Wings" is new so I can’t say if it will be successful. It was inspired by a very nice, very conservative man I became friends with in Florida this past winter. He actually served in the Army in Vietnam and was badly wounded there, which gave me some understanding of how his views evolved. Many of us are hurt and angry about the political situation in the U.S. and this poem addresses the need to bridge the gap and bring people back together.


On the Wings


I’m right and you’re wrong,

I go left and you go right,

I think your American hero

is an American zero,

you say my old president’s

out of gas but we both love

Chinese food, kids, dogs

and beaches and

get along well underwater

so forget about the

elephant in the room,

let’s order some Peking Duck

and remember that the

right wing and left wing

are part of the same bird.

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