The Lightning Room: Blog People

[PANK] Interviews Editor Diana Clarke is a facilitator of the unexpected. She is a brilliant asker. Her approach both to writing and to conversations with other writers is vivid and curious, articulate and pointed. The fiery result of this approach comes across not only in her interviews, but also in her other work – including her film reviews, her writing about urban space and culture and her work translating Yiddish women poets. The stories she tells – and the ones she draws out of her subjects so deftly – are deeply dimensional.

Below, Clarke talks Lolita, lightning, pleats, vulnerability and Yiddish.


–Interview by Temim Fruchter


1. Many of us are scattered across the country and only know one another, and our writers, from the internet. Where do you blog from?

Mostly I blog from coffee shops. I find I can do the work much better–much truer, with more presence and intention–away from my home. My favorite cafe in Northampton, Massachusetts, where I’m living these days, has huge windows and great people-watching. I love sitting in the ambient communal energy, able to be still because of all the motion around me.

2. Okay, maybe this is a cheating question, but here goes: What is your dream question, the question you’d want any interviewer worth their salt to ask YOU? Continue reading

The Lightning Room with Tyrese Coleman

Tyrese Coleman’s compact, powerful story “How to Sit,” from the March/April issue, contains three generations of women, explosive in their anger and love. Below, Tyrese talks pride, beauty, and the stories we carry in our bodies, our bodies carry into the world.


–interview by Diana Clarke


1. The narrative voice in “How to Sit” is so raw, furious and vulnerable, in particular where you describe how the grandmother’s “toenails are close to my leg. They are daggers. And if they were attached to her fingers, and if she were forty-seven and not sixty-seven, she would use them to scratch my face for pitying her.” How did you write into that place of anger and imminent violence?

I was mad, spitting mad, about a situation that I could not control when I wrote this. And in trying to understand who and what I was mad about, I considered the idea of being so frustrated that physical violence, down right fighting, is the only possible release in some cases.

But, what brings a person to that level? I personally feel it’s the failure to meet your own expectations. A woman like the grandmother in “How to Sit” is not a person used to being suffered. She was a star! And the worst thing that could happen to a woman so fiercely independent, to the extent of debilitating selfishness, is to be caged or told there is anything at all she cannot do. Pride causes that. Pride and having certain expectations out of life. And when the realization happens that, despite the visceral desire to change the situation, you are trapped and now, indeed, you are someone to be pitied, well, there is nothing left to do with your arms and legs and nails, but to scratch and fight, to show whoever it is that thinks they know you better than you know yourself, enough so that they have the audacity to pity you, that you are still someone to be reckoned with. Continue reading

The Lightning Room with Jenny Xie


–interview by Diana Clarke


Is it too much to say that Jenny Xie’s story “Wendy Beside Herself,” Wendy finds herself even as she loses her own arm? Of course it is. Wendy doesn’t find herself—none of us ever do. But, in Jenny’s words, “our remembrance of loss is an acceptance of that fissure; it becomes a part of our architecture.” The search, the gaps, is all there is.


1. The opening line of “Wendy Beside Herself” does such interesting things with time. By writing “Three years after Wendy Tsai loses her right arm…” you situate the reader in a present informed by loss. Before we know anything about Wendy, we know what she is missing—and even though the loss happened three years ago, the news of it is delivered in the present tense. How do losses shift and change with age? How do we integrate them into our sense of self?

There’s an element of traumatic loss that always remains incomprehensible. I think it’s our tendency to return to a moment of loss in an attempt to understand it, but it’s an intellectual and emotional orbiting that never really brings us closure. As we change and age, our remembrance of loss is an acceptance of that fissure; it becomes a part of our architecture.

2. Just looking at your story, I was struck by the form, the em-dashed dialogue tags rather than more standard quotation marks. That formatting made each piece of speech visually startling, an upset to the urgent, visual descriptions in the rest of the piece. What inspired you to shape dialogue in that way? Continue reading

The Lightning Room with Amy Blakemore


–Interview by Diana Clarke


In Amy Blakemore’s story “Exit Strategies,” a woman whose body is a paper bag begs outside a diner. Below, Blakemore names and claims desire, hunger, and the way trauma seeps past the edges of its occurrence and into our bodies, our lives.


1. You make such interesting use of juxtaposition: “Crispy bacon. She’s been on a diet since she was fourteen. It took me years to pop the question.” What do hunger, forbidden food, marriage, and fear have to do with one another?

This is a story, among others things, about suppressed appetites. I think it takes bravery to accept and fulfill our hungers. It requires us to accept that we are not always in control: that we are not always rational creatures. I wanted to write about two characters who, like most of us, had not accepted this—a girl who thought she could undo years of deprivation, a boy who thought he could help her without allowing his own desires to influence the texture of that “help.” Writing this story, at points, felt like a game of Whac-a-Mole: when a character pushed something down, a new and unexpected face appeared. Food became love, love became fear. When our desires are held down, for long enough, they start to shift and change—think of bones under pressure, and how they splinter. Continue reading

The Lightning Room with Allison LaSorda

–Interview by Diana Clarke

Allison LaSorda’s poem “Playdate,” from the March issue, gets intimate with the iamb and an unnamed partner. It’s pretty hot.

1. “Playdate” is so dense and chewy, it feels like it must have taken ages to get just right, yet in its compactness the poem feels naturally a whole. How did you go about tweaking the thing into place? How long did it take?

I started with the first line, “you’ve got me where you want me,” which initially felt kind of flat and familiar, and wanted to pull it apart for meaning. The poem grew more in the direction of a creepy nursery rhyme as each line came out. I left about a month before doing any edits, just letting it sink in and feel comfortable for me, but really, the poem is very close to what I initially wrote down. I wanted to work quickly and go more by sound and playfulness rather than overthinking, which I usually tend towards. Continue reading

The Lightning Room with Arielle Greenberg


–Interview by Diana Clarke


Arielle Greenberg sees clothing as costume change, a way to perform for the world the identities we inhabit and move between:“ teacher, parent, activist, poet, sex kitten.” In January, PANK ran excerpts from Greenberg’s forthcoming book, Locally Made Panties. Below, she talks people-watching, punk, Buddhism, and George Saunders.



1. How do you, as a person—not a writer, or not only as a writer—engage with fashion and performance when you go out into the world? That is, how do you decide what, actually, to wear?

Oh, I love this question! The truth is, there’s probably some kind of algebraic formula which I’ve never quite figured out, a combination of factors that determine various parameters, eliminate certain choices, etc. Probably the primary factor is weather: I live in a place with four distinct seasons, and so the first question is always how cold or hot is it going to be. I check the weather on my phone. Is it going to rain or snow?

From there, I can make decisions like “wear those black wool leggings, and find a sweater that looks good with those.” A second factor is what’s on the schedule for the day: sometimes I’m running errands with kids, sometimes I have to look professional, sometimes I’m sitting at my desk all day, sometimes I’m going out on a date later. These things determine if I’m going to wear something that needs to be dry-cleaned (which are generally only broken out for interviews and special occasions) or if I can show a lot of cleavage or what have you. Probably the third factor on the list is how I’m feeling about my body, which is highly influenced by where I am in my cycle. I can almost guarantee that if I’m wearing a form-fitting little dress and heels, I’m about to ovulate, and if I’m in a big comfy sweater and dark stretchy leggings, my period’s about to arrive. Continue reading

The Lightning Room with Leslie Blanco

–Interview by Diana Clarke


Chew on Leslie Blanco’s bite-sized fictions in the December issue of PANK, then come back here and ask yourself if they were really stories at all.


1. Workshops and publishers often demand that writers categorize their work along tradition lines of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, but I see short shorts, such as your pieces here, as something like poems and fiction at once. Where would you plot your own work on the genre continuum?

 Interesting that you should ask this question of these particular stories, because I have categorized all of them alternately as nonfiction, poetry and finally, fiction. Many years ago I went through a difficult divorce, and I could only write about the emotions I felt by jotting down tiny little scenarios. Anything longer was too painful. At the time I thought of them as autobiographical prose poems, which I thought I was writing only for myself. Before long I had an entire divorce memoir written in “poems,” which I entitled, tongue in cheek, Screw You: Angry Divorce Poems for Women. I had a vague idea some day of anthologizing the divorce poems of other angry women. I put this secret manuscript away for many years. I got remarried. One day I took the secret manuscript out, selected a few “poems” and showed them to my poet friend who also happens to edit a literary journal of poetry and flash fiction. Nope, he said. No way. Not poems! These are flash fiction. Eventually, I realized that memoir will always be too vulnerable a form for me and that yes, these could work as flash fiction.

When I started to rework them as fiction, I loved the way that imagining they were poems had changed my patterns and habits as a writer. I began to see that I had granted myself permission to let language drive the stories, to rely more heavily on imagery, and on blank space, the meaning of which could be interpreted by the reader. Finally, I began to see the form itself as a metaphor. This is how our relationships are! So much of what’s important is unsaid. So much is left out or taboo. So much emotion collects in the vacuum we don’t fill with words. For me, flash fiction is simply its own genre, a hybrid, stealing elements from poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and uniquely suited for the efficient and intense laying-bare of emotional truth. Continue reading

The Lightning Room with Bree Barton


–Interview by Diana Clarke


December author Bree Barton talks lust, secrets, spiders, and how she uses “fiction as a landfill for all the banal little happenings in my day.”

1. Your character is a ghostwriter, and so are you. How do experiences from your own life transmute when you write about them, and especially when you assign them to characters who might be entirely unlike you?

I hope this character is entirely unlike me, the poor schmuck. But of course the “you” in this story bears the marks of my own experience. I, too, ghostwrite books for a living. I, too, am driven mad by inconsistencies in hyphenation. I, too, have an intimate relationship with spiders (don’t ask). Sometimes writing a despicable character gives you more freedom in borrowing from your life; you can infuse him/her with your own troubling obsessions or rank desires. I’d much rather create an unlikable character than be unlikable myself. For me the real trick is to harness that transmutation and make it serve the story, rather than just using fiction as a landfill for all the banal little happenings in my day.

2. The line that turns the story does so much work: “Then you see the pound sign has grown legs.” The mechanical keyboard becoming animate, suggesting words taking on form and life of their own, words creating action. The narrative power of a spider as a symbol more than itself. Does that resonate? Continue reading

The Lightning Room with Christine Gosnay


–Interview by Diana Clarke


Christine Gosnay’s poem “The Pleasures of the Gut” appeared in [PANK] back in January, we sent her questions about it in June, and she answered them in October. Fortunately, good poems don’t get old, just wiser—or, in reading them, we do.


1. Early in “The Pleasures of the Gut,” the speaker is fixated with hunger, but by the closing section she throws untouched food into the trash, while her bowl of oatmeal “leaves four bends of a circle on my two legs/proof of the butter, and the grain, outside my body.” Can you speak to the long cycle you depict here, food moving through the body and also outside it, the speaker’s body participating in some bigger turn of consumption and digestion?

I think about food constantly. Hunger trains the mind and the body; food rewards. Real hungers, hungers you remember, individually, as physical and emotional experiences, shape consciousness and behavior as much as anything from love to abandonment to art. A market thrills me, any place to see piles of food lain out piece by piece, food waiting to be touched and seen; I love to watch people and animals eating, to see a person choosing a meal, to watch plates being cleared of bones, gristle, greens, crusts. Because consumption is a choice and digestion is automatic, there seems a lot to say about what happens to the mind after the body has eaten. Guilt, confusion, sometimes disgust, and sometimes pleasure, if everything was done right. I find it difficult to look at the world after I have eaten and impossible to look away from it when I have not. Continue reading

The Lightning Room with Matthew Landrum


–Interview by Diana Clarke



This month [PANK] published a translation of Faroese writer Sólrún Michelsen’s The Rat. Here we talk to the piece’s translator, Matthew Landrum, about reading“Michelsen through Landrum-colored glasses.”


1. You mentioned in an email that you’ve just arrived in the Faroe Islands. What’s your relationship to that place? How did you encounter Faroese writer Sólrún Michelsen’s work and decide to translate it?

I found about the islands by accident while reading Shetlandic poetry in a dialect influenced by the Norn language, a dead kissing cousin of Faroese. Fróðskaparsetur Føroya, the university here, has a summer program in Faroese. I came for that and it was love at first sight.

It’s a special place here – grass covered basaltic mountains eroding into the North Atlantic, a language and culture, persistent and triumphant in the face of years of foreign domination, and an arts and literature scene disproportionally strong and large for a population of 50,000. All that has kept coming back and, over the last years, I’ve worked with several poets and writers in translating their work. An organization promoting Faroese literature hired me last fall to translate a few fiction pieces including Sólrún Michelsen’s work, my first dip into prose since some abortive novellas in college. Continue reading