By Deb A.
By now you've heard that Agave Press will be launching its children's magazine, Prickly Pear Kids, in winter. That isn't the only exciting development in children's literature recently...
If you want your child to learn a lesson, those bunnies and bears just won't do. Researchers at the University of Toronto have discovered that only stories that feature human beings can increase children's altruism.
Speaking of bears, A.A. Milne was desperate to escape his own creation, Winnie-the-Pooh.
This year's Klaus Flugge Prize for the most exciting and promising newcomer to children's picture book illustration has been awarded to Francesca Sanna for her book, The Journey, which tells the story of a mother and her two children fleeing war at home to find a new life in a foreign country.
You've read Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and you've probably seen at least one of the films, but what you never realised was that Charlie Bucket was originally black.
There are boy heroes, there are (significantly fewer) girl heroines. But chances are they aren't playing together. Amelia Hill takes a fascinating look at gender equality in children's books, and even offers a few titles for starting your non-sexist kids' library.
By Deb A.
After 23 years of dedicating his weekends to writing poetry, the immensely talented Larry D. Thomas became a full-time poet in 1998. A decade later, he was named the Poet Laureate of Texas, and in 2009 was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters. Sophisticated but accessible, his meticulously constructed poems are the best illustration of his belief that the poem "is a perfect vehicle for capturing the purest essence of something through the concise, artistic use of language." Larry's work has been with Agave Magazine from the very beginning: "Gingerbread and Coffee" was featured in Agave's inaugural issue, "Agave" appeared in Vol. 2 Issue 2, and "Ice and Fire" can be found in the most recent edition... so it was definitely time for a chat.
AGAVE MAGAZINE: Your poems can drop your readers into vast Texan landscapes just as effortlessly as they can slide us into urban art museums; while you address a wide range of themes in your work, do you find you have a predilection for any particular one?
LARRY D. THOMAS: One “trigger” which seems to keep inspiring my poetry is the borderlands region of the Great Chihuahuan Desert of far West Texas (I was raised in Midland). Although a harsh environment of dust, rock, thorns, stingers, fangs, claws, and precious little rain, it is also a place of haunting natural beauty. I find this juxtaposition intriguingly fascinating. The people who eke out a living in this desolate place are obdurate, resourceful, and highly self-reliant, and I have looked up to them my entire adult life.
Within a few sparse but perfectly worded lines, your poetry manages to be both beautifully rich and relentlessly honest; why do you tend toward this style rather than something more ornate?
I always attempt to write poems which are “ostensibly” accessible. I like to write poems which the average college-educated person can get something out of, yet poems which are intricately crafted with an artistry appreciated by the sophisticated literary establishment. It is much more difficult for me to write well-crafted free verse poems than poems in traditional form. I work without a blueprint and must achieve the elements of form through the use of internal rhymes, rhythmic structure, irregular line integrity, etc.
How do you write, and what balance do you strike between inspiration and perspiration?
I attempt to dedicate several hours each day (from three to five hours) in the composition of new poems. The elements of poetic composition are ruthlessly demanding, and necessitate an extremely high level of focus and concentration. My poetry is usually “muse-driven,” and I rarely know when I sit down to write a poem what it will be about that day. It often begins with a single image or phrase around which I start “building” the poem. Early in my writing process, I pay scant attention to “shaping” what I write. I let it flow as freely as possible so as not to stifle my creativity. And then the “perspiration” comes! I revise my work very extensively (through twenty or more revisions) until I end up with what I feel is a solid first draft of a poem. I will revisit the poem for several days after I have written the draft for final tweaking.
Although I feel that both inspiration and perspiration are central to the crafting of a poem, I sincerely believe that the perspiration is the more important of the two. A poem, as a work of art, should be crafted with consummate skill, and no poet, regardless of the level of her talent, can successfully complete a poem without the sweat of extensive revision.
When are you satisfied with a poem?
That is an excellent question which defies a simple response. In the interest of concision, I look carefully at each word, especially those in excess of two syllables, and eliminate them or substitute them with another word, unless I feel that the word is crucial to either the meaning of the poem or the poem’s musicality. I look especially carefully at modifiers (adjectives and adverbs) to see if the poem will work more effectively without them.
I can’t honestly say that I am ever truly satisfied with a poem, because I am an “imperfect” human being who strives to create a “perfect” work of art. After I have revised a poem as much as absolutely possible, I seem to know “in my gut” when it is time to lay it aside and begin another poem. That “gut” seems to improve with each additional year of my writing experience.
What has been the most challenging aspect of your career as a poet?
Not allowing myself to become disappointed with the size of my audience. Serious poetry has always enjoyed a relatively small audience, yet a most discerning and well read one! And the audience we enjoy is most loyal and supportive.
By Deb A.
Mercedes Lawry's impish poem, "This Be The Day", featured in the Summer 2014 edition of Agave Magazine, comes in stark contrast to her short prose piece in the inaugural issue, "My Nuisance". She is a reader and writer of many things whose motivation to communicate and commitment to doing so authentically is constant, but whose methods are multifaceted.
AGAVE MAGAZINE: “This Be The Day” is a light, airy poem – did it come into existence in a light, airy way?
MERCEDES LAWRY: As best I can recall (full disclosure – my memory falters), the first line came and the poem just went from there – often the case for me. I spend a lot of time in the garden (not that it appears that way) in the spring and so that is where I am primarily centered, or was when the poem came along. I am always cognizant of insects because many of them bite me.
How often do you write?
I would love to say I write every day but I would be a horrid liar. I am dreadfully lazy, easily felled by depression and willingly distracted by a Netflix show. I tell myself I am always brewing some piece of work in my head but that too is actually a lie. I write when I write and feel twinges of guilt the rest of the time. More in fall and winter, less in summer.
Alongside poetry and fiction, you also write humour. What are the particular challenges of the latter, and how do you address them?
My “brand” of humor tends to be dark or wry and I am well aware it’s not for everyone. It’s about being true. When I find something (or someone) funny, I try to discern why I find it so. Where is the line between glib and funny? You must kill your darlings when writing humor as avidly as you would in a poem.
You’re an avid reader – what do you like to read? Do you find that your favourite books are often similar somehow to your own writing style?
I read a lot of contemporary fiction. I tend to scour the longlists of the Bookers, the Gillers, National Book Awards, etc. and look for things I might not have come upon otherwise. I am usually reading a book of fiction and a book of non-fiction at all times (as well as a book of poetry). I have my 50 reserves at the library booked and read as books become available. I don’t think “favourites” have much to do with my own writing aside from the fact that some may inspire me (George Saunders, Lydia Davis). I am still thrilled to find an author I hadn’t been aware of who stirs my soul.
Who are your favourite authors and poets?
Favourites come and go and frequently morph into someone else. I do like Hilary Mantel and have read everything she’s written. I’m a hopeless Anglophile. Poetry-wise, I like Linda Gregg and Jack Gilbert. Lately I’ve read and enjoyed Hadara bar-Nadav. It’s more a question of the specific book or poem. Even favourites disappoint.
By Deb A.
As bloggers around the world wonder exactly how many blogs entries in late December of any given year begin with "As the year draws to a close," we at Agave are looking back in gratitude at 2013, when we reached out to the world with a desire to bring the most remarkable original art, photography and literature together in a continuous experience for all those who yearn not only for beauty, but also for context and connection in an increasingly fragmented environment.
In no time, poets, writers, photographers and artists were responding to our call, inundating us with exceptional works that struck an oft-elusive balance between potent creativity and precise clarity. We found renewed motivation in collaborating with an array of talented individuals to bring their finest efforts to our pages, and in feeling the magazine take shape through the combined voices of nearly 60 contributors from around the world.
We proudly launched the inaugural edition of Agave Magazine in August. Its reception and the sheer amount of tantalizingly good submissions quickly made it clear that there was more demand for our vision from both sides than a biannual publication could sate.
And so, after just one issue, we are thrilled to announce that Agave will become a quarterly publication in 2014.
We would like to thank all our contributors for sharing their exceptional creations with us, and you, our readers, for joining us on an exhilarating adventure. May we together continue to cultivate a space where the best art, photography and literature can intersect and interact for many years to come.
Ariana, Anna, Issraa, Deb and Grant
By Deb A.
Rafael Ayala Páez is a Venezuelan poet and author whose works have appeared in publications around the world. He is a founding member of the Municipal Writers Network of Zaraza. His poem, Vaisvanara/Agni, was included in the inaugural issue of Agave Magazine.
Your poetry has been translated from Spanish into English, French, German and Hebrew. What do you believe is the most important thing for someone to keep in mind when translating your poetry?
Rafael Ayala Páez: I believe the translator should be as faithful as possible to the original text. Fortunately, I have had good translators, who are also poets. And because of their own poetic talents, they have been able to capture the feeling of my poems extraordinarily well.
What motivates you to write poetry?
A constant curiosity about the world.
What is the starting point for your poetry? Do you search for ideas, or do they find you?
My poetry is a response to my need to save my core childhood perceptions, fantasies, and experiences from oblivion, without idealizing them. As the Spanish poet Marta López-Luaces says, "we write to recover, to find, to convene what we yearn." But my poetry is not strictly autobiographical – one good example being Vaisvanara/Agni.
As to whether I search for ideas or they find me, I would say both. There are ideas that always escort someone. And others are found by chance.
The title of Vaisvanara/Agni is a reference to a Hindu deity. Tell us about the connection.
In Vedic mythology, Vaishvanara/Agni is the god of fire. He represents fire's duality, which is both helpful and destructive. In my poem, Vaishvanara/Agni is the representation of man's beneficial and destructive qualities. Ultimately, the poem arose out of my own spiritual connection with the culture of India.
Vaisvanara/Agni is succinct and sparse, but strikingly rich. How do you know when a poem is finished?
Thank you very much for your beautiful description of my poem. I know a poem has reached its culmination when I have the distinct sensation that it has finally succeeded in capturing an atmosphere, an idea, an image. Until then, it's not as simple as it seems. It requires a lot of corrections to finish a poem. And intuition.
The next issue of Agave Magazine will be published in February 2014. To receive a copy delivered directly to your inbox, subscribe here.
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