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Speculative Poetry

So Chicago Literati published five of my poems today, and it felt like a celebration. Not that my poems haven’t been published elsewhere, they have been – often, and in a variety of different literary magazines and websites. But this group of poems to me really feels like that start of a collection. For a long time I have admired speculative poets. I’ve also admired genre poets who write Fantasy and SciFi poetry, some great examples of poets that have inspired me are Matt Bialer (whose most collection – Tell Them What I Saw was published recently by PS Publishing,) Tracy Brimhall (whose collection Our Lady of the Ruins,) was a true inspiration, and also poets like Roz Kaveney (who I heard speak about genre poetry at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton last year and she truly inspired me as well.) All three poets are really different in style, but I admired them for different reasons.

ruins brimhall cover  bialer cover  Kaveny_2012a-212x300

It was hard for me to break out of realism. It’s hard for me in general because even though I studied Poetry in university, I started out as a Nonfiction Writer – I loved Literary Nonfiction – so much so that I combined it with a history degree. But I’m a big lover and reader of fantasy. It’s been a process this year. In my poetry at least, I’ve been trying to break free, trying to be a little less afraid not to tell the truth. I’ve been working on it in my fiction too – with a collection of short stories that are based in magical realism and that have speculative elements, but this is really the first set of poems that I am truly proud of.

I feel, for the first time since I started writing poetry again (after a long hiatus of about ten years,) that I’ve really found my voice and that these poems are the beginning of a collection. They are five poems that tell a story, they all speak to each other, they are all sort of set in the same “village” in my mind, they describe the desert and the surrounding area in which I live, but they take elements of that natural world and play with them, all in all I’m just super excited about them.

You can read them here:  http://chicagoliterati.com/2014/06/18/five-poems-by-rena-rossner/



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On Historical Fiction, Epic Fantasy, and Knowing Your Stuff

I’ve been thinking a lot about my writing this month. Partly because it’s Nanowrimo season, partly because I’m always thinking about my writing. But maybe this month I’m thinking a little more.

For most of my life I have been captivated by stories of the fantastic. Though my taste skewed more to the fantasy side of things, SciFi crept in there too – as it has been known to do (and vice verse with SciFi readers and fantasy,) but for some reason when I studied  writing in University I took only classes in Non-Fiction and Poetry. I even declared a triple major: Non-Fiction Writing, Poetry, and History. And I thought that was my triumvirate.

I never took a class in fiction.

Fiction scared me. Fiction was MAKING STUFF UP.

Of course, that’s part of what I was doing in poetry, and in non-fiction writing, and even in history, because telling it like you see it – any take we have on the world – is inevitably a fiction of sorts. But even though I loved fantasy with all my heart, I didn’t think I could write it.

I knew I had a way with words. And I had interesting things to say, but I felt dwarfed by the greats, and I looked around me and thought, the world is far too interesting to make stuff up, I can just describe what I see. And I did so, but in poetry and prose. No dragons or monsters, no golems or dybbuks, no fairies or wizards or trolls or witches.

For ten years I wrote non-fiction. For ten years I was a pen for hire. And it took me ten years to realize that was all I was. And I say this with the greatest respect for journalists and non-fiction writers out there. Literary journalism and literary non-fiction will always have a very special place in my heart, for it’s what I strove to write for years. But slowly I began to realize that fiction is just non-fiction in another guise. And I realized that speculative fiction encompasses much more than just fantasy.

And so without even one fiction workshop under my belt I set out to write a novel. There was a tingling of magical realism in there but no more than that, I couldn’t allow myself that. And then I wrote another novel which could have been and may still end up being completely speculative, but I still wrote in some psychology, some window to explain the unexplainable.

At the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton two weeks ago I attended a panel about historical fiction and epic fantasy. Two of the women on the panel had PhDs in history. (I was particularly impressed by Helen Marshall who won the “Best Newcomer” award)  And as I listened to everyone talk about all the research that informs their work I realized that what separates historical fiction from epic fantasy is but a hairs breath. That the same work that goes into one is needed for the other. And I had this epiphany moment that I realized: everything in my life has led me to this point.

I have a masters degree in history. I have a keen eye for narrative description and observation. I have lyric language from poetry. I CAN write the stories that I grew up loving. I just have to make that leap of faith.

The difference between the true and the fantastic – between science fiction and science fact, between history and myth and fantasy and reality, is really just a hairs breath. And I have everything I need to take the plunge.

I’ve been working on a series of linked short stories about the city of Safed (also called Tzfat or Tsfat) and I’ve been writing stories set in that mystical city – almost every one so far could have been a dream or a vision: Kissing the Messiah (in which a young woman has sexual encounters with Elijah the Prophet), The 614th Prophet (in which a wannabe vegetarian prophet tries to sacrifice a goat, and succeeds but not in way that you’d expect), The Ari (forthcoming from The Rampallian, which tells a tale of the ghost lion of Safed), and a few more as-yet unpublished ones. But last night I wrote about zombies.

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A Lie. New Poem From Day 2 of NaPoWriMo.

So it’s day two of National Poetry Writing Month or NaPoWriMo (yeah, I know it’s April 5th which means that it’s day 5, and this should be my 5th poem, but the second poetry prompt was write a lie, so I am going to pretend I’m actually keeping up with this!)

The prompt was to write a poem that’s a lie, or a poem about a lie, or a poem that tells a lie, and this was a very big challenge for me because I don’t do “cute” poems, my poems are usually muses or images or ideas, flitting things that come to me and then cross lines and somehow can only be expressed in poetry. I write about visions, dreams, odd juxtapositions of things, small objects, feelings, I don’t usually write “clever” or story poems. But that’s what I like about this challenge – it’s taking me out of my comfort zone.

So here is my attempt at a lie.

A Lie
By Rena Rossner

I rose to greet the dawn, some things stay true
the sun that rises, faithfully, the house
that never sleeps, though contents do.
I made a cup of coffee, silently, some
habits never die, and turned on the computer.
I didn’t intend to lie. The bounty of places,
names and dates, the possibilities, an open face,
a door, a chance to travel across lines. Caught
in the net, suspended there, I thought to spin
my tale, become un-trapped. It was a little lie,
my age, a different face, a new name for this thing
I call myself. It grew. Until I did not know who
lived inside my skin, and who had dared
to claim that she was me behind the screen.
I tried to take her down, to lose her cool,
but she had taken on an alias, her presence
known. She took my time, she wanted more,
she had the friends I never had, the views,
a platform on which to stand, and she was
young and she was free, and she was everything
that wasn’t me. I spent more time attempting
to be her, less time professing to be me, and then
one day I didn’t recognize myself, a husk
of flesh and bone, a fly, caught in a tangled web.
A lie.

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Napowrimo Day 1 (two days late)

So I finally got around to doing poetry prompt one from Napowrimo (National Poetry Writing Month) – a challenge during which I am supposed to write a poem a day for 30 days.

The first challenge (via the NaPoWriMo blog) is to take the first line of a well-known poem and make it your own.

This is the line I chose: Slowly, silently, now the moon

There is something ethereal about it. And sitting here in my comfy chair, large sliding glass doors to my left that lead out onto the balcony, I can feel the moon’s presence over my shoulder as it slowly, silently takes a peek at what I’m writing.

The original poem is called “Silver” by Walter de la Mare


By Walter de la Mare

Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in silver feathered sleep
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws, and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.

And this is my feeble attempt:

Different Flame

By Rena Rossner

Slowly, silently, now the moon
a spot of bother in the night
half past shoulder, quarter-
sized, appears. The balcony
is fraught with hassled light,
worried moths, long-legged things,
attracted by the glow, the hum, the other-
worldly radiance, my hands,
illuminated, insectile, tap
dance across the keys, my lap-
top, shaded in blue, in black on white,
in words fleshed out, fragile as wings,
dead things, insect markings
on the screen, flattened,
here be bug things. Moths
to a different flame.


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National Poetry Month, Napowrimo, and My Own Personal Brand of Madness

I am doing something decidedly insane this month, especially considering the fact that I am going to the London Book Fair in the middle of all of this, and I have to hand in edits for my cookbook (Eating the Bible, coming out in September from Skyhorse Press and already available for pre-order on Amazon!) in the next few days, and I am in the middle of working on the first book in a fantasy series. But, it’s NATIONAL POETRY MONTH and it’s Napowrimo so…I will be writing one poem a day for 30 days starting April 1 (I may have to double up on some days especially when I am in London). I am certifiably nuts. But some of you already knew that.

I will also be participating in the following: THE BIG POETRY GIVEAWAY 2013

My Try Poetry Giveaway

I will be giving away two books of poetry.

One by my favorite poet of all time: Pablo Neruda and another by a new, lesser-known poet: Traci Birnhall.

I haven’t decided which Pablo Neruda book yet. I’m still debating…Check back here to find out!

This is the Traci Birnhall book:


Very excited to be doing this (and a little nervous!) I’m not sure if I’ll post the poem that I write each day, because I would like to be able to submit them afterwards, maybe snippets of the poems and something about the process, the ideas I touch upon and where my inspiration comes from.

Please comment below in order to enter the giveway!


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Poets as World-Processors — A Review of PLACE by Jorie Graham


PLACE by Jorie Graham

I will confess, I had not read much of Jorie Graham’s poetry until I picked up her latest: PLACE. Sure, I’d read and poem here and there, but not enough to say that I really had a sense of her as a poet. A few things struck me about her poetry right away – the simplicity of her words. Seriously. I’m sure nobody would call Graham’s poetry simple, because it is not, but if you look at any on word, at any one sentence or line, there are no complex words or images, no turn of phrase that makes you stop and repeat it – turn it around on your tongue a few times and say “I must remember this.” Rather, in Graham’s work, at least for me, it is the totality of the poem that you remember – the feeling it gave you, the entire picture it drew in your mind. There is also an ease with which she mentions God – sometimes capitalized, sometimes not. There is a familiarity there but also a lack of fear. God for Graham is as much a fact as any bird, and I envy her the ease with which she mentions and engages with the word, which for me is always heavy, weighted, fraught with meaning.

What I also remember: her structure. I don’t think I could write a poem in Graham’s structure even if I tried, and if I did it wouldn’t come across as authentic. But there is a certain way she writes, a certain way she thinks, that she somehow manages to get down on the page in her own way – her own cadence, and it works in a way that for most might come across as strained, or put-on. Graham’s structure is more than just authentic, it is another way of being, another way of thinking and processing the world. Which is indeed what all poets are – world-processors. I suppose novelists are too, but in a different way. Poets see the world differently and poems are their way of outputting data, and for every poet, that output is different in form and energy, because every poet’s processor is different. It’s why I read poetry at least, and why I write it. To see the world anew through someone else’s eyes, and to find a way to show my vision of a snippet of the world to others.

Graham’s poems meander. There is no straight trajectory to her thoughts. And her poems come off as almost unplanned, as somewhat stream-of-consciousness, but they are not that. Not at all. Graham takes our minds on a journey. She travels with us, but she is very deliberate in the path she takes and the places where she wants us to get to. Reading Jorie Graham’s poetry is about trust. It’s trusting that she will lead us by the hand and take us to a place we weren’t sure we wanted to get to. Often, halfway through a poem I found myself lost, wondering where I was, wanting to go back and start from the beginning, but wanting to trust that if I kept going I would find my way. And then, Graham even alludes to it herself. There is a poem,  “A BIRD ON A RAILING” where she beckons the reader “…go back up / five lines it is / still there I can’t / go back, it’s / gone, / but you -” and that’s where I began to trust her, not to need to go back at all.

And I think that is what Graham is trying to do in “PLACE” is to make the reader a little uncomfortable. To cause us to question where we are both in the poem and in our lives. Each of her poems contains space – and place, sometimes more than one place, and we need to trust that where we begin is not necessarily where we will find ourselves half-way through, and certainly not where we will end, though we might, just might come back to where we started, but different, transported. In a different place entirely, even if we haven’t budged an inch, we will certainly have been moved.

My favorite poem in the book was “END” in which she describes a gate on hinges and a chain, fog, and also autumn. Each and every sound and motion that she conjures and puts together in the poem came alive for me and I could see and hear every moment of the poem. The gate, the chain, the fog and autumn are all together and sometimes separately a violin, a hammering, a silent crowd, a held breath, boots in a field, a farmer, breathing and a dying animal. And the images repeat and circle in around themselves. It is a poem I will never forget.

You can check out this book of poetry here

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Book Poetry

So Janet Reid – the fabulous literary agent who is know for her snarkiness and sharkiness often runs contests where she gives out a whole bunch of random words and asks her followers to string them together into something clever – usually and short story of some sort. Short stories are not my thing. So I’ve never entered. But then last week she put up this:

Because she had seen it done by Tahereh Mafi on her fabulous blog.

And so I had no choice. I had to enter.

I put up this:

And she’s put mine up on her site: http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2011/09/contest-entries-so-far.html

And I think this is just about the coolest contest ever and I have no idea what the prize will be and I frankly could care less whether I win or not because I just had so much fun doing it! I want to write 10 of these – I would love to write a whole book of these. I used to write a lot of poetry. What happened? I miss it. Maybe this is a call to start again.

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