Vol. 113 (2022)

 Catching Up with
Stay Thirsty Poets

By Abriana Jetté, Ph.D.

Matawan, NJ, USA

Five years ago, the dream of creating a new global platform focused on shining a light on established and emerging poets became a reality when Stay Thirsty Poets Vol. I was first released. In celebration of the upcoming release of Stay Thirsty Poets, Vol. II, I caught up with some of the featured poets in Volume II about their new and upcoming projects.


Catching Up With: Kim Addonizio

Kim Addonizio

ABRIANA JETTÉ: Can you talk to us a little bit about the process behind writing Now We're Getting Somewhere?

KIM ADDONIZIOI go through pretty much the same process with every book of poems: just writing for a couple of years, at least, and eventually realizing I’ve got enough decent work to start putting things together. Once I reach critical mass, which is, say, about twenty poems I can stand, I start feeling like I’m working on a book. Then I just keep writing, but in the back of my mind I’m thinking about what I’ve got and what my current obsessions/themes are. Truthfully, they’ve been pretty much the same over time, so maybe it’s more that with each book, I’m figuring out different ways to write about the usual. Time, death, love, suffering, joyAKA mortal life.

ABRIANA JETTÉ: Were there any surprises for you while putting the collection together?


KIM ADDONIZIOI realized I had this very … present … voice in a number of pieces. Kind of in your face, bratty, witty, full of metaphor. So I tried to amplify that with some of the new work. A lot of that work came out in a longer line, which was somehow tied up with the voice.



ABRIANA JETTÉ: If you had to pick a theme song for Now We're Getting Somewhere, what might it be, and why?


KIM ADDONIZIOA while ago I did a short essay on the music and created a Spotify playlist for the blog Largeheartedboy. I broke down the playlist according to the sections of the book. Some in-your-face political stuff, then some “sad girl” songs, like the Civil Wars’ “Poison and Wine.” I discovered them after falling in love with the music of John Paul White, who I heard at City Winery in New York. Music has often been connected to my poetry and creative life. I’m all over the map, used to play guitar, then studied classical flute for a few years, then took up blues harmonica, and now I’m learning the banjo. I’m a rabid amateur. If I hadn’t become a successful wealthy poet, I’d have become a happy broke musician. Just kidding about the wealthy bit.


Catching Up With: Kwame Dawes

Kwame Dawes

ABRIANA JETTÉ: Can you talk to us a little bit about the process behind writing the poetry that formed unHistory? Was there a difference in writing that poem cycle in comparison to your previous work? 

KWAME DAWES: Everything I might say about our process should be prefaced by the gentle disclaimer that John and I embarked on this project fully at ease with the exhilarating uncertainty of collaboration and the function of the individual imagination. What I say here will not be the same as what John would say, but as with everything in our collaboration, I believe there is riming in the richest sense of things. We set some basic parameters (almost always formal) for each “book” in the collection, and then proceeded to send “missives” to each other on a regular basis in response to what the other had written. At some point, we would “check in” to see how we felt the work was shaping up, and this is typically when we would start to develop an instinctive sense that the work was moving towards an “end”—a point at which we felt we had arrived at a satisfying settling of the particular movement

ABRIANA JETTÉ: Were there any surprises for you while putting the collection together?


KWAME DAWES: Every poem I received from John was a new thing, a new moment, a new expression of his imagination and his life. In other words, it was a discovery of the unknown. In this sense, the whole project is predicated on “surprise,” if by surprise, one means, being taken aback by an unexpected turn, idea, or spot of beauty. Of course, I believe John and I share a view of making poems that is driven by discovery. In other words, I write to discover what I do not know of myself, my world, my feelings, and much else. And so when I am in the middle of writing poems, I am in a constant state of surprise, if you will. It is addictive, and it is also quite intense. The “putting together” of the book, that is, the ordering of the sections, the revision and editing, was quite affirming. In a sense, it constituted the first time I was actually reading the work as a reader, and this held exactly the kind of delight that one would associate with positive surprise.

ABRIANA JETTÉ: If you had to pick a theme song for unHistory, what might it be, and why?

KWAME DAWES: The collection makes reference to a number of great musicians and their compositions. This would be true, certainly, for the poems coming out of my space and sense of self. I believe that we can track down how music feeds John’s own work in the sequence. Music is important to us—the art of others, if you will, can arrest us and obsess us and consume us in these poems. Lee Scratch Perry returns again and again for me in these poems. During their making, we lost him, and I venture to say that unHistory is an elegy to Perry for me. Ours is a grand dub conversation. 


Catching Up With: Kathleen Balma

Kathleen Balma

ABRIANA JETTÉ: Can you talk to us a little bit about the process behind writing From Your Hostess At The T&A Museum?


KATHLEEN BALMAThe poems in this collection were written over a sixteen-year period, from 2001 to 2017. Most of them were composed when I was no longer a student, and I hadn't been in a workshop environment for many years. I had also removed myself from the worlds of academia and the American creative writing scene as much as possible. I had no aspirations of making it in either of those communities, nor was I thinking of ever writing a book. I was just writing poems one at a time, for pleasure and survival, as the need arose. And I had no agenda for my writing: nothing to prove, nothing I was trying to get off my chest. I was just following my best, or weirdest, thoughts. I think I was also teaching myself to fall in love with poetry again after years of wrestling with it in classrooms. My friend Zach Harrod recently said that he had to break up with poetry for a while after grad school, and I think that's what happened to me, too, but then we had to get back together, of course, and form a healthier relationship. I think this book is the product of that new and healthier relationship that I formed with poetry.


ABRIANA JETTÉ: Were there any surprises for you while putting the collection together?

KATHLEEN BALMAThe fact that I had written a book was the biggest surprise, and someone else had to inform me of that. I had no idea. A former professor asked to see a portfolio of my recent work, and when he read what I gave him, he let me know that it was, in fact, a book. I was really surprised by that, because I had thought, maybe there were only about twenty pages that were even worth reading, and I didn't know which twenty. But apparently, I really underestimated my work at that point.


The other surprise was the last poem in the book, which is also the longest poem I've ever written. I didn't realize I was even writing a poem at first. I thought I was taking notes on a nature documentary, but then my partner found those notes sitting on the breakfast table and said, This is the best poem you've ever written! I laughed and said, That's not a poem! Those are just some notes I was taking. And he said, Are you sure about that? It turns out he was right; I was writing a poem, and the moment I realized that I froze up and couldn't finish it. Then I spent two weeks at Rivendell Writers' Colony. I got myself unblocked there, thankfully, and I was able to finish that poem. 


I want to say, too, that it wasn't just the fact of being at a writer's colony that helped me get where I needed to be mentally in order to finish that piece. It was also Carmen Toussaint, who managed Rivendell. Carmen is an extraordinary person who was somehow able to help me relax and sink back into my creative brain with just a few words of gentle encouragement. She really is a marvel. I will always be grateful for my time there.



ABRIANA JETTÉ: If you had to pick a theme song for From Your Hostess At The T&A Museum, what might it be, and why?


KATHLEEN BALMAThis question is hilarious. It's also damn hard to answer! Honestly, it was hard enough choosing an image for the book cover that would represent this collection as a whole, and I really struggled with that, by the way. My publisher struggled right along with me. I was very difficult to please, but I love what we ended up choosing. It is not what I imagined it would be, but it feels perfect now.


I am going to have to say that, while I don't think there is a theme song that really represents this book, there is a novel that could be nicely paired with it in a library book bundleThe Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes GowarGowar is a novelist who could have easily been a poet, and maybe she is one! I honestly don't know if she writes poetry. I do know she writes beautiful sentences; she creates compelling, believable characters; she has a weird and beautiful imagination; and she is one of the only novelists I have read who writes believable, authentic, dignifying portrayals of sex workers. I couldn't put that book down. I just adored it from beginning to end.


I will also say that the Chicago musician Joel Styzens does make an appearance in one of my poems. (Full disclosure: Joel is my cousin, and I am very fond of him, but even if he weren't related to me, I would love his music.) His first album, Relax Your Ears, is my favorite, and it's completely instrumentalno vocals. It is often playing in the background while I write. My book is a lot wackier than Joel's music, and I wouldn't say they go together exactly, but I do think this book would not exist without Joel's music, so there's that.



Catching Up With: Nancy Reddy

Nancy Reddy

ABRIANA JETTÉ: Can you talk to us a little bit about the process behind writing Pocket Universe?

NANCY REDDY: I started writing Pocket Universe when my older son (who's now 8) had just been born. Early motherhood was really hard for me, and the book captures a lot of that struggle–the bodily horror of the early postpartum period, the challenges of nursing, the way that sleeplessness can just wreck your brain. But it also reaches out to space and to the animal world and back into history and into our prehuman ancestors to try to understand what motherhood is and how the whole world feels so different once you're responsible for a tiny new person.


In terms of the actual process of writing the book, it took a long time! I wrote the book through two pregnancies and two births and through finishing my dissertation and moving to New Jersey and starting a new job, teaching writing at Stockton University. There was at least a year where I was certain I wasn't writing at all, but when I got to the end of my first academic year at Stockton, I opened up my notebooks and my digital files and I found I had lots of bits and pieces I could use. I'd been grabbing what I could–at least one poem was scrawled in a notebook on my steering wheel as I sat outside daycare, and other poems began as voice recordings during my commute–and I'm so glad I wrote those little fragments through that time. So if I were to give advice to anyone writing through a busy time, I'd say to just capture everything you can. Even if it's not good, even if it's not complete, even if it scares you a little to write it down–-just write what you can and know that it will be there for you later.

ABRIANA JETTÉ: Were there any surprises for you while putting the collection together?

NANCY REDDY: Yes! The biggest hurdle was finally admitting to myself that I was writing a book about motherhood and babies. Motherhood is still such a stigmatized subject in the writing world–poems with babies in them so quickly get labeled 
sweet or sentimental, and I didn't want to be seen as writing those kinds of poems. (I had the truly maddening experience about part-way through of a male writer at a manuscript workshop dismissing my work as sentimental–and the poem he was talking about does have babies and small kids in it, yes, but also has dark humor around the physical trauma of childbirth and cracked nipples in early breastfeeding. It ends with a moment of tenderness, but it's the last poem in a book with moments of real darkness. And besides, if we can't have tenderness, why are we even writing?)


In any case, I had to overcome that kind of internalized idea about what a serious book could do and be about, and once I got there, the book came together. It has a generally chronological structure, starting with an early ultrasound and ending with a five-year-old's birthday party. It dips into the history of birth and family history and current events, but it has a narrative skeleton, and when I realized that, I was able to shape it as a book.



ABRIANA JETTÉ: If you had to pick a theme song for Pocket Universe, what might it be, and why?

NANCY REDDY: I'd like to say something cool, like Phoebe Bridgers or Florence and the Machine, but realistically the theme song would just be the soundtrack to Umizoomi and the other appalling TV shows my kids watched as I was hiding and writing these poems.



Catching Up With: Rosebud Ben-Oni

Rosebud Ben-Oni

ABRIANA JETTÉ: Can you talk to us a little bit about the process when writing If This is the Age We End Discovery?


ROSEBUD BEN-ONI: I am fascinated by multiverses, simulations, and theoretical particles that continue to go unproven; poetry allows me to explore these ideas through, say, strange syntax and spacing on a page. Poetry is a large step in shape-shifting the languages that shape our understanding of each other, our world and the universe. I say that knowing theoretical physics hasn’t led to the many new discoveries once promised; that this may be the age that we might just never be able to understand many aspects of the universe. But as a poet I can imagine what it means for our lifespans to just seem long enough to skim surfaces, to ask questions, albeit often the wrong questions, in the hope that they might lead to less wrong questions. For me, “discovery” is not about possessing or taking over; it’s about curiosity itself.

ABRIANA JETTÉ: Were there any surprises for you while putting the collection together?


ROSEBUD BEN-ONI: It put itself together. To be honest, it just fell into strange patterns of unplace that came together.

ABRIANA JETTÉ: If you had to pick a theme song for If This is the Age We End Discovery what would it be, and why?


ROSEBUD BEN-ONI: Just one? But there's many in the multiverses in which all books exist and those almost written and those to be. Let's say one that can be found in all of them is "Dark Clouds" by Lee Taeyong


(Kwame Dawes photo credit: Chris Abani)



Other notable works by Stay Thirsty Poets:

Owen Lewis’s poem, “First Inoculation,” featured in Psychology Today.

Richie Hofmann’s recently released collection, A Hundred Lovers.




Kim Addonizio          

Kwame Dawes            

Kathleen Balma                 

Nancy Reddy              

Rosebud Ben-Oni       


Abriana Jetté


Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Abriana Jetté, Ph.D., is the editor of the anthology series Stay Thirsty Poets, as well as a poet, essayist, and educator. Her work has appeared in The Seneca Review, Plume Poetry Journal, Poetry New Zealand, River Teeth, among others. Her research interests include creative writing studies and alternative pedagogies. She currently teaches at Kean University and is a regular contributor to Stay Thirsty Magazine.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.