The ever-mysterious Christine Holm was one of our esteemed poetry editors last year, but she continues her verse-selecting duties for the forthcoming issues 53 and 54, this time in collaboration with Dorothy Chan. Intern Kacie Wheeler caught up with Christine to get an update about what she’s been reading and writing, as well as to find out what she’d like to see show up in the submission queue. Will she ever show her face and reveal her true identity? Impossible to tell.
Christine Holm: I’ve got the Best American Essays of 2012 and Rodney Jones’ collected poems nearby. I’m also working through a book about ants. It is slightly less dry than you’d expect, but still a bit tedious. I’d been noticing ants near my apartment and was fascinated with how they move and coordinate; I think the author is doing her best to make the book readable, but so far it seems like their movements are still mysterious.
KW: What are you writing right now?
CH: Over the summer I needed to trick myself into writing, so I gave myself a bit of a project by writing a sonnet every day in response to a track from Kid Koala’s album Space Cadet. I’m revisiting that raw material, dismantling and trying to make some stronger poems through that exercise.
KW: Who is your favorite poet? Why?
CH: Can I say Jay-Z? My real answer is Jay-Z. Hip-hop has always been a big influence in my life, and in terms of writing, much of the work a rapper-poet does is play with language and vocabulary. Somehow I remember this play so much more when it is spit versus on paper.
My parallel answer is probably John Berryman. His work can be great for teaching; I recently brought the first “Dream Song” to an intro class and the conversation started with my students saying they didn’t understand or like the poem. I read the poem aloud and asked them to point out words or phrases they could start digging into and it led to a great conversation demonstrating they did know what was going on, and ultimately did like the poem. Berryman does that for me a lot too, makes me willing to work to discover meaning.
KW: What kinds of things do you like to see show up in the submission queue?
CH: I’m really interested in storytelling through poetry, so I like poems that play with those expectations and find a way to tell a story in a new way. Often this also means a strong, unique voice and an equally captivating setting - it feels a bit silly to write, but there is a difference, however slight, between hand-holding and holding the reader’s hand: I want to be made complicit in the poem, in a sense. It is such a great reading experience when you are put in that world someone has created through his language.
KW: How do you prepare for a reading?
CH: Usually I’ll practice a reading two or three times. I almost practice the banter between poems more because that is difficult for me, but also I think an important part of a poetry reading. You have to give yourself and your listeners a breather, but this can also be pretty darn awkward and kill a good vibe.
KW: What are three reasons a poem is rejected?
CH: Three reasons a poem is rejected? Oof. Poems with a last-line, one-note punch. If the poem doesn’t necessitate repeated readings, if it won’t be as good in a few years as it is right now, those are harder poems to welcome into the fold. There are a lot of great poems I’ve declined for that reason. Project poems are also difficult - we only have so much space and sometimes a poem is dazzling when in conjunction with four or five other poems in that series, but doesn’t stand as strongly on its own. Those are poems I really hope to see in chapbooks someday. Plenty of times poems also get rejected because they aren’t working with what we’ve already got - that is probably a pretty unsatisfying response to the question, but we’re trying to curate a collection here, so if I’ve got a whole bunch of bees making honeycombs of the heart, an image I find irresistible, I have to send a whole bunch of bees home after we’ve picked up the first one, unless there is something that echoes or bends another one in a really unique way. A lot of submitting is a huge gamble of timing, which is why being patient and persistent is so important.
Christine is a second-year poet in ASU’s MFA program. She enjoys bike rides along the Tempe Canal Trail into a setting Arizona sun, the papercuts and folds of book arts and attempts at discovering her true b-girl self.