Mar 16

See you at Split This Rock!

I’m looking forward to this year’s Split This Rock Poetry Festival, which features too many amazing poets and panel topics to name. I hope to see you at my reading/panel below.

Split This Rock Poetry Festival
Thursday, April 14th, 11:30-1:00pm
Eco-Feminist Poetry, Intersectionality, & the End of the Earth
Jess X. Chen, Safia Elhillo, Clara Chagxin Fang, Cecilia Llompart, Hila Ratzabi
AFL-CIO Gompers Room [Map]

Solastalgia (n.): the pain experienced when the place that one lives is under immediate assault. Today, rapid ocean acidification and rising CO2 levels drive the Earth and its eight million species closer to collapse. As the colonial world expands, borders are being violently redrawn, further pushing what’s left of the wild out of their homes. As climate change endangers our material, physical, and spiritual wellbeing, our response must be both intersectional and radical. As eco-feminist poets and environmental activists of diverse backgrounds, we respond to this crisis with fierce and visceral poems. The poets will each read and perform new work and then participate in a Q&A with the audience. A multimedia visual art presentation featuring interactive examples of eco-feminist art, music, and activism will accompany the reading. Through poetry and discussions of eco-feminist activism, we will explore the ways women, immigrants, indigenous peoples, and the Earth are entwined not only in the violence and silencing they face, but in their struggles and resilience.

Jul 14

The Earth Needs Our Poems

The news around the world is particularly grim lately, with the horrors of war and violence at the forefront of our minds. In the face of such senselessness, it seems fair to ask: Does poetry matter? Can it make a difference? 

I think about this a lot in the context of my writing on climate change. And I keep returning to the same conclusion. That poetry opens up spaces in the human imagination that didn’t exist before. It is a way of processing and making sense of the incomprehensible. And when it can’t make sense, it complicates. Like a diamond, poetry is a many-sided, shining thing. It reflects, refracts, reveals, conceals. And it is necessary. When all we seem to have left is outrage, when we reach for words and none are to be found, when all is helpless… poetry sings, hums beneath the surface. Even before it gives us words, it offers its music. And that music can soothe and heal, even if only temporarily.

With that I invite you to a special event this Saturday night in Philly. I’ll be reading poems with a group of wonderful poets, some of whom contributed to the anthology The Lake Rises: poems to and for our bodies of water. Please come listen to these voices of imagination and reason as we share poems of and for the Earth. Because the Earth needs more poems. We need more poems. 


Johnson, VT. Photo by Hila Ratzabi.

Saturday, July 26, 7:00pm.
For the Love of This Blue Planet: an Evening of Eco-Poetry, featuring Hila Ratzabi, Anne-Adele Wight, MaryAnn Miller, and contributors to The Lake Rises: poems to and for our bodies of water: Elliott batTzedek, Lori Wilson, Sam Hall, and Lisa Wujnovich (co-editor).
Contemporary poets write on, in and through water to examine humans’ responsibility to this endangered resource. These poets calm, quench, transport, cleanse as they protest derogation and mourn drowning. Editors Lisa Wujnovich and Brandi Katherine Herrera achieve a fluid weave of innovative and contemplative poets to usher in climate change. The poems in The Lake Rises: poems to and for our bodies of water reach coast-to-coast, asking readers to drink a diversity of voices that resonate with each other in astounding ways. Some splash. Some sink. Simple narratives and experimental structures become meditative sieves readers can flow through to renew awareness.

Jul 14

The Next Big Thing: Poems on Climate Change

Thank you to poet Ti Kendrick Hall for tagging me in the Next Big Thing! I realize now as I’m writing this that I was tagged once before, a year ago, but at that time I wrote about the story behind founding the Red Sofa Salon & Poetry Workshop. This time I could probably talk forever about my current poetry book project, and I’m excited to share!


Welcome Home, by Vaughn Bell, photo courtesy of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education

1) What are you working on?

The short answer is that I am working on a book of poems that addresses climate change. The poems respond to recent news reports, speak in the voice of the Inuit goddess Sedna, imagine how humans might evolve to respond climate change, sound out a cry of grief and anger, and even occasionally engage in satire as a way of processing the psychological effects of knowledge of climate change. It’s a large, ambitious obsession of a project. It’s the first time I’ve ever written poems that actually have an identifiable theme.

2) How does your work differ from others’ in the same genre?

Since starting this project I became aware of the existence of the “ecopoetry” sub-genre. I started reading as much as I could find that fell into that category, and discovered amazing books, like Redstart: An Ecological Poetics, by Forrest Gander, Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, edited by Camille Dungy, and Eco Language Reader, edited by Brenda Ijima, among many others. Much work that is considered “ecopoetry” is experimental in style and form. I was inspired to experiment formally in a few poems, but I know that much of the poems in the manuscript are fairly straightforward in terms of their shape and style. So my poems differ from other forms of ecopoetry in that they are not incredibly formally inventive. However, the use of Inuit mythology in this manuscript, specifically the story of Sedna the Arctic sea goddess, is different than other poetry I’ve come across. Sedna has taken on a life of her own in these poems, showing up all over the world, like a superhero, taking revenge on us humans for our folly in destroying the planet. I’m proud of that and excited to see where she will lead me next.

3) Why do you write what you do?

Hurricane Sandy broke open this well of poems for me. At the time I didn’t realize that’s what was happening, but as months passed after the hurricane, I realized my poems were taking on a strange and anxious tenor. It was also the first time in a long time that I was really writing a lot of poems and feeling motivated in my writing. I’ve always cared about the environment, but for some reason it was only after Hurricane Sandy (perhaps because it was so close to home, here in Philly and my hometown Queens, New York) that I really felt terrified about the imminence of climate change.

4) How does your process work?

It’s very interesting to me to be writing into a book of a poems that has a clear theme, as I’ve never done this before. Having a theme is quite helpful, because even when I’m stuck I have material to fall back on in which to go deeper. I’ve been collecting lots of sources for reading––books, articles, etc.––to educate myself about climate change. I scan news articles, follow climate change news on Twitter, and I look for stories that pique my interest. I’ve been reading all kinds of indigenous mythology and have been weaving that into the poetry. My goal as I continue is to push myself in terms of how poetic form can lead me to deeper psychological investigations of the topic and to more profound explorations of my own and our society’s fear of what is happening right now to our planet.

If you’d like to stay in touch and get updates on my most recent publications, readings, and Red Sofa workshop and reading series announcements, please subscribe to my e-newsletter.

Passing along the torch to the next few “Next Big Things”… Look out for Yasmin Belkhyr next week!

Yasmin Belkhyr is a writer in NYC. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in PANK, Word Riot, the Adroit Journal and SOFTBLOW. She is also the Founder/Editor-in-Chief of Winter Tangerine Review. She will soon move to South Africa and write poems about honeydew and heat. You can see more of her work at yasminbelkhyr.com and her blog is wildflowerveins.tumblr.com.


Nov 13

Your Writing Is Your Work––It’s Not You

IMG_2800Yesterday I got an email from a poet friend that began: “I hope all is well with you and your poetry, not that the two are really separable.”

I was struck by this line. Am I separable from my poetry? What does the assumption behind that statement mean? At first glance, the statement made perfect sense. To some extent my very well being depends on the health of my writing practice. This logic can apply to any type of artist, writer, musician, actor.

But on second thought, as artists and writers we are separate from our work. If we become too identified with the artistic process we may develop an unhealthy relationship to it that can hinder it. If my writing a poem is all about “me” it may never reach beyond “me.” And if I’m writing poems for egotistical reasons, they probably won’t turn out any good anyway.

My friend’s statement had further resonance. I recently created a fundraising campaign to help fund my poetry book-in-progress about climate change. I really hesitated before deciding to go ahead and create that campaign, as I’ve outlined here. No one likes to ask for money. No one wants to annoy their friends and family for money––let alone acquaintances and strangers.

It wasn’t just that I’d never done a fundraising campaign before, so had no experience to build on. What was much harder for me was the feeling that I was asking money for myself. You often see fundraising campaigns that support a worthy organization or charity or that help fund a start-up business or product in development. But for some reason the idea that artists and writers need money to support the production of their art and writing is seen differently. Society still tends to view art as a hobby. There is very little money in this country for the arts.

Who was I to presume that anyone would take me seriously enough to support my venturing out into the woods to write poems?

The assumption here was that my writing poems is intimately tied up with “me.” On a deep level, of course this is true. My writing comes from my experience of being in the world, and is inseparable from that. But so is everything. Every business, product, idea arises from a human being interacting with their environment. But poetry? Somehow it’s viewed as more interconnected to the poet’s personality and whims.

But poetry is work. All art is work.

It can be liberating when you’re stuck on a particularly difficult creative project to try to extricate your “self” from it. The poem is not me. It’s on the page. It’s something I’m making.

When I told my husband that I felt uncomfortable with the idea of asking for money for my project, he said something that changed my perspective. He said that people won’t be donating money to me, they’ll be donating money to help me create my book. Therefore, my campaign is really no different from investing in the development of a product––except that my product, like all poetry books, won’t yield tons of money as a reward. But it will yield poetry, which, of course, is priceless.

Oct 13

How to Ask for Money as a Poet: A Drama in Ten Parts

1. Start by actually writing poems. Find that you’re sneaking in writing time wherever you can get it to fit.

2. Realize you have a book inside you.

3. Get really excited you have a book inside you.

This is what excited looks like.

This is what excited looks like.

4. Apply for artist residencies so that you can have the uninterrupted time and space you need to get that book out.

5. Get accepted to said residencies (if you’re lucky).

6. Realize you need money to help fund residencies.

7. Get nervous. Consider not going to residencies if you can’t afford it. 🙁

8. Tell friends why you’re nervous. Listen as they encourage you to ask for money. Furrow brow. Frown. Smirk. Make awkward face.

This is one version of awkward face.

This is one version of awkward face.

9. Fret for a few months about the prospects of asking for money.

10. Realize this project means more to you than any other before. ASK FOR THE DAMN MONEY.

P.S. Thanks in advance. 🙂

Sep 13

(Re)Introduction: Blogging My Beautiful Mess


Rainy Labor Day, Philadelphia

I’m sitting here in my home office on a rainy Labor Day in Philadelphia, my fat cat splayed across the desk as I type my way into meaning. I’m finding my way back into blogging after a few starts and stops. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with blogging, and I blame it on Montaigne. If you’ve never had the pleasure of being introduced to Montaigne’s essays, please stop reading this blog immediately and go read them.

I remember attending an AWP panel a few years ago about essay writing and the Internet and how Montaigne might be described as the first blogger (or proto-blogger). I love that idea, but I’m hard-pressed to find a contemporary Montaigne in the blogosphere (though if you know of one, link away!). It was holding myself up to that standard that made me feel I couldn’t blog. Montaigne’s essays are fresh, beautiful, insightful meanderings of the mind. His topics are at times mundane, quirky, and profound. He allowed himself to follow trains of thought without worrying about where they would lead.

If you read advice about blogging, you’re often told to find a niche. What if someone had told that to Montaigne? He definitely did not have a niche. He wrote about very random stuff, but it wasn’t the stuff itself that was interesting but the way he allowed his mind to wander across the page. Nevertheless, I came back to the idea of blogging because I actually do have somewhat of a niche, or at least a clear topic.

I am going to blog about my writing process. This is something I’ve resisted for some time. As an editor, I tend to be overly critical of my own work. The idea of revealing the messier parts of my work and myself is scary. I fret over my poems, and I wouldn’t dare keep a 30/30 blog in April (30 poems in 30 days) and show the world my horrible first drafts (though now that I’ve said so, maybe it will be an interesting challenge). But at the same time, there’s something valuable in allowing oneself to get closer to the mess. Writing can be scary, difficult, intimidating. I’m often paralyzed by my own fears of not writing a really great poem so much so that I won’t write for a while (though one book has helped me immensely with embracing this fear: Writing from the Inside Out).

So here’s what I’m doing. I’m working on a book of poems that respond to climate change. It’s weird to say it out loud. Saying it out loud means I’m beholden to it, and I’m telling the world it matters. It does matter. It’s just taken me some time to get used to the fact that I really have something to say. I’m going to blog about this project to keep myself on track and to examine aspects of the writing process, to see what I learn along the way, and what might be useful to others.

As I listen to the rain coming down here in Philadelphia, the awkward rhythm of drops tapping on the roof, I’m thinking about nature as both chaotic and patterned, like the mind. I’m reminding myself that I, too, am a beautiful mess, full of thunder, splashing this way and that. And I’m going to put that beautiful mess on the page and see what comes.