Q&A with Robin McLean: ‘Pity the Beast’ and Living in Wild Places

by Peter Schlachte

Robin McLean’s first novel Pity the Beast (384 pages; And Other Stories), has all the trappings of a traditional Western—the grime and the guts, the hard people amid an austere, extraordinary landscape—but McLean isn’t satisfied with the traditional. The novel revolves around Ginny, a rancher in the American west who cheats on her husband Dan and is gang-raped in a flurry of vengeance and violence. Ginny, left for dead, escapes into the mountains and is pursued by a posse of five townsfolk: her husband, her sister Ella and Ella’s husband Saul, a tracker named Bowman, and a mule-driver named Maul. […]

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Q&A with Jackson Bliss: ‘Counterfactual Love Stories and Other Experiments’ & The Rules You’re Allowed to Break

by Peter Schlachte

Jackson Bliss’s debut book of fiction, Counterfactual Love Stories and Other Experiments (200 pages; Noemi Press), is exactly what the title claims—a collection of exciting, bold experiments that stretch the notion of what a story can be. Of the thirteen stories in it, no two share the same form. Yet underneath the narrative invention, the genre-bending fireworks, and the speculative characters, Bliss’s stories are meditations on classic themes: time, autonomy, race, and, of course, love. Bliss is the winner of the 2020 Noemi Prize in Prose, holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Notre Dame, and a […]

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Q&A with Jenny Qi: ‘Focal Point’ and a Full Picture of Grief

by Chiara Bercu

Jenny Qi’s first poetry collection, Focal Point (98 pages; Steel Toe Books), sees release this week. Written over the course of Qi’s graduate study in oncology, and upon the loss of her mother to cancer, Focal Point quilts together meditations on memory, bereavement, racism, divinity, and motherhood. Victoria Chang describes the collection as a “book of crossing.” Its sixty poems forward a fresh, intertextual probe into experiences of transition and bring delicate attention to life in the wake of loss. Qi was the winner of the 2020 Steel Toe Books Poetry Award, and her essays and poems appear in the […]

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Q&A with Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky: Into the Den

by Laine Derr

ZYZZYVA: In Thousands of Broadways: Dreams and Nightmares of the American Small Town (2009), you write fondly of your dad, a star basketball player, trophy in hand. Is there a game/sport you enjoy playing? Robert Pinsky: In high school I was not bad at the team sports, and as a Stegner Fellow at Stanford I was a standout in Sunday morning softball games, (Not saying much—as tiny a distinction as the Hemingway character’s boxing championship at Princeton.) For years I got great pleasure from tennis, but at some point, writing became the one theater for all my efforts of a […]

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Q&A with Kaveh Akbar: ‘Pilgrim Bell’ and Learning Out of Order

by Ray Levy Uyeda

In his new book of poetry, Pilgrim Bell (Graywolf Press; 80 Pages), Kaveh Akbar plays with the spiritual, familial, and corporeal. The poems meditate on the places of our origins; the land from which we came, the people through which we arrived, and the languages we spoke among and after those places and people. Kaveh is the winner of a 2017 and 2018 Pushcart Prize and is the Poetry Editor at The Nation. ZYZZYVA spoke to Kaveh, whose poems appeared in Issue 107, to discuss the book, God, and miracles. ZYZZYVA: The first and the second to last poem of […]

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Q&A with Matthew Clark Davison: ‘Doubting Thomas’ and Our Need for a Pariah

by Adam Winograd

Matthew Clark Davison’s first novel, Doubting Thomas (272 pages; Amble Press) tells the story of a fourth-grade teacher, gay and out, named Thomas McGurrin, who—while navigating the familial turmoil of his brother’s recent cancer diagnosis—is falsely accused of inappropriately touching one of his  students at a private school in Portland. The community, however unintentionally, goes from promoting Thomas as a symbol of their own progress to casting him as a pariah. Thomas, even after being found innocent, is forced to leave his job.  Davison’s writing has been published widely, including in Guernica, The Atlantic Monthly, Foglifter, Fourteen Hills, and other […]

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Q&A with Ashley Nelson Levy: ‘Immediate Family’ and Diverging from the Adoption Narrative

by Oriana Christ

In the opening pages of Immediate Family (192 pages; Farrar, Straus & Giroux), the unnamed narrator’s brother calls and asks her to give a speech at his wedding—and so begins the complex and careful family portrait that is Ashley Nelson Levy’s unshakeable debut novel. The time between this phone call and the impending speech is spent grappling with questions of what she should say, what she won’t say, what she has a right to say. In her attempts at finding answers, the narrator takes us through her life in the form of a letter to her younger brother Danny, detailing […]

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Q&A with Cedar Sigo: ‘Guard the Mysteries’ and Knowing Your History

by Ray Levy Uyeda

In his new book, Guard the Mysteries (126 pages; Wave Books), comprised of five talks presented for the Bagely Wright Lecture Series, Cedar Sigo draws from his experiences as poet, teacher, writer, and thinker to tell us about the life of a poet and the work of his poetry. In the lectures, inward reflections become outward, and what elements start as external (such as a listener’s question) are absorbed into the inside. In other words, poetry is revealed to be a metaphysical, transitive process, always in movement, and always capable of connecting dual sides of a truth. “More and more, […]

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Q&A with Mick LaSalle: ‘Dream State’ & the American Soul

by Zack Ravas

Local readers likely know Mick LaSalle as the longtime film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, where he’s worked since 1985. What they may or may not know is that he’s also an accomplished author: we featured his short story “Fresh Kills” in Issue 108, and he has several books to his name, including Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood, about the actresses who rose to fame during that brief window of time before Hollywood censorship took hold; and The Beauty of the Real: What Hollywood Can Learn from Contemporary French Actresses. His latest book, Dream State: California in the […]

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Q&A with Kelly Cressio-Moeller: ‘Shade of Blue Trees’ and the Presence of the Body

by Alana Frances Baer

Kelly Cressio-Moeller’s debut poetry collection, Shade of Blue Trees (79 pages; Two Sylvias Press), consists of thirty-seven poems, broken into four parts. Cressio-Moeller has long established herself as both a visual artist and writer, with her widely published poetry earning nominations for the Pushcart Prize, Best New Poets, and Best of the Net awards. Having spent most of her life in San José, California, Cressio-Moeller draws heavily from California terrain. She points to the heavy knots of human relationships, reminding us that love comes with grief. And she writes of and from daily life, mapping the jagged edges of relationships […]

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Spotlight on Issue 120: Q&A with Benjamin Voigt

by Owen Torrey

What do an iPhone and a lyric poem have in common? It’s a question that animates the work of writer and technologist Benjamin Voigt, whose poems forge nimble, unexpected connections between the poetic and the digital. In Voigt’s new poem, “Walden Two”—which appears in our Technology-themed Issue 120—we encounter a speaker sorting through layered circuitry of memory, thought, and language. “I’ve held onto that last line for a long time,” Voigt reflects, mid-poem, “and don’t know if I’ve used it right, / or if this is a glitch / in my programming I’m still debugging.” We recently spoke with Voigt […]

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Spotlight on Issue 120: Q&A with William Brewer

by Chris Carosi

As a poet originally from a former steel-town outside of Pittsburgh, I have a thirst for stories and writers coming out of the area, especially Appalachia and what is known, by turns accurately and inaccurately, as the “Rust Belt.” I am most interested in the writers from this part of the country that have been writing essential books that highlight the personal experiences of working-class communities. I’m thinking of presses like Belt Publishing and West Virginia University Press, not to mention the dozens of books from other small and university presses that seek to give writers from these areas platforms […]

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