The Lightning Room with Josette Akresh-Gonzales



–Interview by Diana Clarke


January author Josette Akresh-Gonzales makes a case for for caring about commas after the apocalypse and remembering even when it would hurt less to forget.


1. I was so struck by one line in “The Trumpet Player”: “Mercy for caring deeply about commas/instead of migrant slaves.” I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what, if anything, poetry can or should do when the world is more visibly messed up than usual. By which I mean, do commas have a use? Why bother caring about punctuation?

Without commas, there would be no small intake of breath between phrases, no pause; it would be all hard stops, choppy and unforgiving, like a drill sergeant yelling at you. Of course, I’m a copyeditor, so I have to care about commas. But, do I have to be a copyeditor? That’s the question I ask myself. If the world were to end (I just read the MaddAddam trilogy, by Margaret Atwood, so this hypothetical situation is fresh in my mind), would survivors who know where to put commas be able to make a living? Or would it be more useful, would it be more valuable in a postapocalyptic society, to be able to grow wheat, to weave fabric, to hunt squirrel. Atwood argues in these novels that storytelling matters tremendously to human beings and to survival. Should poetry address the problems we humans face? I really don’t know how it can’t and still survive as an art form. Those whose work takes big risks with big, troubling narratives—like Jamaal May, Martín Espada, Allen Ginsberg—are so rewarding to read, because they are not selfish: they give a huge gift to us in attempting to take on these topics that matter.

2. The speaker in that poem says, “I have two kids so I’ve forgotten everything.” But whoever she is, she’s writing poetry—which is a kind of memory, not to mention that she’s lying, and that the purpose of the yizkor service is to give people permission to remember, and to mourn family members they’ve lost. What’s the relationship between loving and forgetting? Continue reading

The Lightning Room with Dalena Frost


–Interview by Diana Clarke


In “Winter’s Kitchen,” November author Dalena Frost wrote hunger and cold. Digest her words just in time for this new dark season.


1. I loved your use of apt and incongruous figurative language—the sun a “slow oil bubble” in a “denim sky,” its setting like “a witch deflating.” It rendered the ordinary experience of a sunrise strange, and therefore noticeable and tangible—but even moreso it made the whole idea of figurative writing strange. Why, so often, are we taught to write congruity? What happens when we reject it?

Thank you! If we reject congruity, I hope we can reject traditional or clichéd ways of seeing, and wake up to the present, to seeing for ourselves. The world is always strange and fresh and unsettling, but with familiarity, we forget.

2. There’s such darkness and estrangement in the arrival of the ant-man with his “gleaming, sharp” sword. The haphazard menace of something or someone with “a claim on [our] past.” But writing often demands that we confront history. How do you handle your own? Continue reading

The Lightning Room with Yanyi Luo


–Interview by Diana Clarke


Do you long to believe in Whitman’s transcendent vision but criticize his earnestness? November poet Yanyi Luo suggests laughter; it’s “the sound of power unhinging.”


 1. “Song of My Selfie” just slayed me with wonder and paradox. How you honor and also skewer Walt Whitman, make poetry out of shoutycaps while satirizing the hyperbolic (performed) enthusiasm that passes for joy on the internet. The search for a “NEW TRANSCENDENTALISM” feels just as urgent as when Walt was writing, and “a BETTER VERSION OF MYSELF” is still such a seductive fantasy. The American dream is so damn persistent. Do you think the internet changed it?

I think that internet technology has given us with the capability for rapid networked communities. This is most significant for those who have been buried, excluded, or misrepresented systemically and historically. We know that the American dream comes with exceptions, but now it is easier—not easy—to begin dialogues with these communities. Those conversations are making their way visibly into mainstream culture. The outlook isn’t wholly optimistic: the internet is a technology, not a leveling field, and the startup and blogger world reflect familiar demographics of overwhelming maleness and whiteness. Whatever change may come from dialogue is still to be seen. Yet, the internet provides the linguistic and satirical context that allows “Song of My Selfie” to exist. I criticize Whitman’s earnestness, but I also want to believe in it, and I sincerely long for a transcendental being that is self-loving but radical, not indiscriminately containing multitudes but constantly looking to enable them and change with them. Continue reading

The Lightning Room with Chen Chen


–Interview by Diana Clarke


I met Chen Chen this spring at a writing retreat in Amherst, MA, and was thrilled to find his name and poems in the August issue of [PANK]. Chen was kind enough to speak with me about making and reading poetry that’s “queer and hairy and kinda smelly. “


1. Within the first stanza of “for i will do/undo what was done/undone to me” I found myself thinking of Walt Whitman, that most American of poets. I mean, first you have the opener borrowed from the Pledge of Allegiance, and then you move, like Walt in “I Hear America Singing,” into a litany of parallels. However Whitman’s love for America is generous and earnest–your pledge is a great deal more bitter, or at least skeptical–towards American tropes, towards the lover…

Well, I will say this: I love Whitman and sometimes wish I had his totally embracing exuberance, but I think you’re right in your reading of my poem–it’s more skeptical. It’s studied up a bit on postmodernism and poststructuralism, and it’s feeling less certain about projects (like nation-building or committed relationships) that seek to consolidate knowledge, close off possibility. The poem expresses a desire to align or adhere to something, but has a lot of trouble actually doing that–so the “pledge” is a searching for and an exploring, rather than a true avowal.  Continue reading

The Lightning Room: Blog People

Welcome, once again, to Blog People, a venture here at the Lightning Room in which interview editors Simon and DeWitt interview their fellow denizens of The Blog. In our third installment, Simon interviews Randon Billings Noble, our reviews editor.


1. What do you do outside of PANK? I’m always curious to hear about the daytime lives of people working in the small press/literary magazine community.

I write – usually essays, right now a collection of them – and wrangle our three-year-old twins.

2. Where are you, spiritually and geographically? Our team is a far-flung one.

Geographically? Washington, DC. Spiritually? New York. Or Sunshine, Wyoming.

3. Can you tell us about your first-ever experience with PANK?

Nope. Continue reading

The Lightning Room: Blog People

Hello! Welcome to Blog People, a new venture here at the Lightning Room in which interview editors Simon and DeWitt interview their fellow denizens of The Blog. For our first installment, Simon talks with Sherrie Flick, author of the monthly column “Eat Drink Book.”

1. Can you talk a little bit about your column, “Eat Drink Book”? By my understanding, it seems to be a mixture of food and drink in literature, and literature in food and drink – what inspired it?

I have ongoing obsessions with both food and writing so it seemed natural to combine them when Sheila Squillante invited me to write for PANK. In my column I look at food/drink in literature on a variety of levels. Recreating food from some books and eating it and reporting in on the results/revelations, looking closely at food within the text, and sometimes including recipes. I want to discover and explore the ways food and literature intersect.

2. Did you have a particular journey-through-food-to-literature or journey-through-literature-to-food? Or have the two always gone hand in hand?

The two have pretty much gone hand in hand for me, although I’ve come to connect them more directly in recent years. I was an English Lit major with a creative writing focus as an undergrad at the University of New Hampshire, and I also worked my way through school at a wonderful bakery in the nearby town of Portsmouth. I continued to work as a professional baker (and write) after I graduated and moved to San Francisco. My creative process is tied to baking in so many ways. (Here’s an essay I wrote about that for Necessary Fiction.)

3. The community of PANK is such a widespread one. Where are you located – beyond the internet – and what do you do there outside of PANK?

I live in Pittsburgh. I’m a fiction and non-fiction writer, and I teach adjunct in Chatham University’s MFA and Food Studies programs. I work freelance as a writer and copy editor for (mainly) arts organizations, and I write a regular garden-to-table food column for Pittsburgh Quarterly magazine. I occasionally curate literary programs around town (previously, I was Artistic Director for the Gist Street Reading Series for 10 years). I cook and bake and garden, and I also play the ukulele.

4. How did you come to know PANK, and to be involved with it?

I’ve known and admired PANK through social media connections for some time and got to know PANK a bit more through Sheila Squillante.

5. What book – not a cookbook, that’s the easy way out – makes you hungriest when you read it? This doesn’t necessarily have to be about food; we’re talking appetites in general.

Wow. That’s a hard one. A book that was important to me in understanding how fiction and food can connect in amazing ways is Jim Crace’s The Devil’s Larder. It’s a book of fantastical flash fiction all focused on food – but in doing so it’s also focused on family and love and hate and lust too. So I’d credit The Devil’s Larder with whetting my appetite in many ways.

6. Of all the books you’ve read, what is one impossible food or drink that you’re dying to try? (This can either be ‘impossible’ as in ‘utterly fantastical’ or ‘impossibly impractical or difficult to prepare.’)

I would love to sit at John Singer’s table in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. He would silently serve me wine and gin and oranges that he’d pulled from his closet, and I would tell him my deepest secrets.

Sherrie Flick is author of the novel Reconsidering Happiness and the flash fiction chapbook I Call This Flirting. She lives in Pittsburgh.

Simon Jacobs curates the Safety Pin Review, a wearable medium for work of fewer than 30 words. He may be found at

The Lightning Room with Chris Terry

Welcome  to the Lightning Room, where DeWitt Brinson & Simon Jacobs take turns asking PANK authors extremely difficult questions about their work. Today, Simon talks with  Chris Terry, whose story “Graffiti” appeared in the August issue of PANK. His young adult novel, Zero Fade, is now available from Curbside Splendor.


1. This story is saturated with issues of identity – a biracial narrator terrified and compelled by the idea of standing out; like a public performance. How did you capture this delicate balance in your narrator?

Being a teenager is a form of public performance. “Graffiti” is an autobiographical story, so I tried to remember that teen feeling of wanting to assert my newly formed identity, but remain safe from scrutiny and suggestion. I was trying to capture that contradiction, while indulging in some blame-deflecting. I remember being in 9th grade, feeling like I had things figured out, and shutting myself off from criticism, in case it toppled the fragile house I’d built. That’s why there’s a lot of “And if this hadn’t happened” language at the beginning of the story. That’s the narrator denying any culpability.

2. Along similar lines, “Graffiti” is a story about hybridity and blurred barriers – can you talk a little about this?

I was drawing from my own experience. I’m a pale, half black, half white guy who spent the first fifteen years of his life in the Boston suburbs. I got in trouble for graffiti a couple of times in ninth grade, a time when my family was having a lot of financial problems that exacerbated my alienation in our fancy suburb. A lot happened all at once. I was forming my taste for alternative culture like skateboarding, hip-hop and punk while being forced to consider my racial identity while just starting to think of myself as black, having never thought much about race before.

I cut a section from “Graffiti” where I talk about being isolated from blackness at large in the ‘burbs, and learning to be black from pop culture. This was just after Rodney King, and police brutality was a big topic in early ‘90s hip-hop and black cinema. After watching Menace II Society and listening to Ice Cube, I expected the worst from the cops and turned that into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Continue reading