Introducing Flip Flop: Haiku Collaboration with Miriam Sagan and Michael G. Smith

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Flip Flop Interview

1. Why did you decide to not attribute each haiku to an individual author? What is it like to see that in the finished book?

Miriam – It’s rather magical to see it in the finished book. The process was one of deep collaboration, where the individual voices can merge as well as being distinct. It takes away some of the egocentric energy of writing to have the haiku unattributed. When I was a kid, I thought “anon” was the name of an actual writer—I didn’t realize it meant “anonymous” unit my mom explained that! Anon might be the greatest writer of all! Our work isn’t anonymous, but it doesn’t have a fixed author—which ask draws the reader in.

Michael – We wanted readers to focus on the haiku and their connectivity. Of course, our individual prefaces provide signposts pointing to who might have written a certain haiku. Further, readers might discern flavors and patterns among the haiku and have an inkling from whose pencil it flew from. Finally, having only haiku on the page reinforces Flip Flop is book of haiku that hopefully speaks to some of the commonalities of human experience. Attributions would be a distraction. I’m quite pleased with the result.

2. Did the process of collaboration change how you view and/or write haiku? In what ways?

Miriam – The process of collaborative haiku sequences is a bit like renga, or linked verse. One thing leads to—inspires—another. Michael and I actually wrote a renga, but it ended up being more of a part of our working together than something that stood on its own. I’ve always seen haiku as an offshoot of renga, so this continued that feeling.

Michael – Most definitely. I found it enlightening to see how my haiku elicited unexpected and fresh responses from Miriam, and how they changed the direction of subsequent haiku. Thus the creating and writing process was more akin to the randomness of life, one whose every erratic moments are still linked to an infinite number of things. I am now more attuned to the creative tension and triangle linking subject, writer and reader of haiku. The result is that I aspire to make my haiku ones that a reader can use as a launch pad for a haiku of theirs.

3. Did the collaborative process feel any different when you were on opposite sides of the Earth versus being “co-located” in Santa Fe? If so, how and what effects did this have on your haiku?

Miriam – I think it was actually more intense. The desire to communicate by “letter” (in this case email) was stronger and so the haiku have a kind of epistlatory feeling. Also, what Michael was seeing was unfamiliar, foreign, far-away…his imagery made me see more familiar surroundings freshly.

Michael – I was quite comfortable with our correspondence and the haiku we were writing. It was fun imagining the scenes and images Miriam conjured and how they related to the new, interesting and very different (relative to my western experiences) things I was seeing in Nepal and India. Conversely, there was a tremendous amount of overlap between cultures. Hence, I had a plethora of material to work from.

4. The best haiku generally is the result of a spontaneous event. Your book being composed of several themed sections, how did it feel to write haiku framed by a theme? Did this help or hinder spontaneity?

Miriam – Pascal said—inspiration favors the trained mind. I’ve followed that much of my writing life. I like a theme, a project, a prompt. It seems to help insertion, and in a way it creates MORE spontaneous event, just because I’m looking.

Michael – Being a scientist and a Zen Buddhist I take little as fixed in time and space. The themes supplied a focus to examine the freshness that spontaneity provides. For example, how did swimming look through the lenses of my physical disabilities, or if I wrote the Beatles “A Day In the Life” what might I have included? I’ll note that the latter theme helped me examine my daily routines a little closer, and that continues as a fun and rewarding experiment.

Inside Story by Julia Goldberg

1. Julia–you’ve just published your first book–INSIDE STORY. The focus is a guide to writing creative nonfiction. I found the tone and approach very helpful. What in particular can the reader expect to learn?

My hope is that the book has appeal to many different types of creative nonfiction writers, from students to working writers and everyone in between. Inside Story delves into various categories of nonfiction—from memoir to journalism to the lyric essay. Each chapter endeavors to provide explanations about craft, writing exercises as well as references and resource lists. So, it’s a way to both learn more about the genre but also very much a practical guide to reporting and writing creative nonfiction. I have read many craft books myself, so I tried to distinguish my book in terms of it sounding like me—it has, I hope, much of the information one might find in a textbook, but it has a voice as well.

2. Was it easier–or more difficult–to write a book than you expected? You’ve been an editor in numerous capacities, including the Santa Fe Reporter but this is a different kind of endeavor. What surprised you?

I was surprised at how challenging it was! I’ve written on deadline my entire adult life and have written many long-form reported pieces. I worked as an editor on another book (Best Altweekly Writing, 2009-2010 from Northwestern Press). So I am familiar with many of the components needed to write a nonfiction book, such as research, reporting, organizing and, of course, the actual writing. But the accumulative process—writing for hours every day, day after day, and still not being finished, was a challenging—invigorating and difficult—experience. It set a bar in terms of my appreciation for the stamina it takes, for sure.

3. Anything else you want to add?
The book isn’t just my take on reporting and writing. I’ve been lucky in my career to both meet and read many amazing writers. I interviewed and reference numerous people for this book, whose own perspectives and experiences are in each chapter, and I’m very grateful for that.

4.How can readers buy a copy?
If readers are in Santa Fe, they can buy it at Collected Works. The book also is available on Amazon and all other online retailers. I’m also doing a giveaway on Goodreads May 24-June 23, so they can enter and maybe win one!

Amazon link:

Goodreads giveaway link:

What Are You Reading and Where? Part 2

Do Mi Stauber: Ellis Peters, The Knocker on Death’s Door (one of her George Felse mysteries, because I just finished all the Brother Cadfaels and couldn’t stand it). In the hospital with my daughter, who is going to be okay.

Rachel Ballantine: Color about the history of artists colors. in bed.

Marjorie Kamine: Sapiens while dog sitting in Abiquiu

Debbi Kapp Brody: I am reading several things right now, but the ones that might interest you most are; Leaping Poetry (Robert Bly) and Revisioning Activism (David Bedrick, JD, Dipl PW) Finished Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier and Split Second by Douglas Richards yesterday. Where? Everywhere, home, work, car, etc.

Kate McCahill: SFLR proofs at my kitchen table!

L.j. Mulry: Tana French, In the Woods, at night in bed.

Wednesday Nelena Sorokin: The New Yorker in my dining room, and The Gift by Lewis Hyde and What is Art For.

Devon Miller-Duggan: The Liddard book on Chaco/Mesa Verde ( at the breakfast table) and a right-wing post-apocalyptic trilogy (before bed).

Jane Shoenfeld: The human stain. Philip Roth. Dingle, Ireland

Linda Durham: Secondhand Time (The Last of the Soviets) by Svetlana Alexievich. It’s so rich! I have been reading it aloud to myself–off and on–in the bathtub (good acoustics) with a Russian-ish accent.

David Oates: Haiku and Inspector Rebus novels.

Nancy Sutor: The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit. Volcanoes by David M Pyle. And Transatlantic by Colum Mc Cann. Day bed in my studio and night bed in the house

Jane Rosemont: The manual to my new camera, in every room of the house.

Jeanne Simonoff: smart phone in orthopaedics office Taos

Marie Longserre: “NOFAs – Notices Of Funds Available” – several 100 page documents from the US Department of Commerce and others – in bed at night. Supplemented with an occasional paragraph or two of “Fortunes Children, the Fall of the House of Vanderbilt” – in bed in the middle of the night if the NOFAs keep me awake.

Virginia Oppenheimer: The Exiles Return by Elizabeth de Waal, about post war Vienna, in my living room, taking a break from gardening

What Are You Reading And Where?

I was having a cup of coffee with a friend who was telling me about his travel plans, and also about what he was reading. This led me to muse on where we read as well as what. Putting the question up for crowd sourcing led to great answers! I’m going to share them in a set of ongoing posts.


Janet Brennan: Anne Hillerman, Song of the Lion. Read several chapters each night.

Isabel Winson-Sagan: 2nd sex on the couch with a tiny dog

Michelle Holland: The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Alice Hoffman. Listening to the audio tape on my commute from Chimayo to teaching every weekday at Los Alamos High School. I’ve been listening to novels rather than the news for the past four months or so.

Judith Sherman Russell: Space operas sitting in the car waiting.

Hannah Duggan: Saga Vol. 2, in my bedroom.

JenMarie Macdonald: The Neapolitan Quartet next to my napping babe

Wednesday Nelena Sorokin: Half a Yellow Sun, in my bedroom.

Nate Maxson: Disgrace by Coatzee. On the bus.

3 Questions for Theresa Senato Edwards

Theresa Senato Edwards, MA, MFA


1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.

The poetic line helps me hear the music of the poem, share a particular phrasing—like in a musical piece—showing where the poem needs to rise or resolve, be quick or slow, where it needs to hold its breath or breathe.  The poetic line can be very freeing, especially when risks are taken, using enjambment, caesura, and white space.  But it can also be strict, helping structure the progression of the poem.  It is an important, even sometimes unpredictable, thread of a poem for me. 

2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?

I absolutely do find a relationship between writing and the human body.  In my most recent manuscript “Wing Bones,” I maneuver in and out of the concept of genetics, how addiction can take hold of generations, and how obsession can help build or destroy the body.  My first book Voices Through Skin devotes an entire section on the body.  And my other books also connect in some way or ways to the real and surreal idea of body—living or dead (The Music of Hands), natural or supernatural, even though each book has its own poetic style and content: full-length or chapbook poem collection, poem/art collaboration in response to the Holocaust (Painting Czeslawa Kwoka), or long poem fictional narrative (Green).  The idea of the body is fluid in much, although not all, of my work.

3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?

What has become so disheartening for me being a poet is the publishing world.  The poetry field is very competitive and very subjective; so although many great poets’ work is being shared, there are many potentially influential poets’ work that is not being published, recognized, and/or read at all.  I know this is true in most industries, especially in the arts.  And, I guess, I wish this would change.  The world could use more creative, poetic/artistic truths and insights to help generate a more lasting, universal understanding and peace.  

Theresa Senato Edwards’ poetry books include Voices Through Skin, (Sibling Rivalry Press), a poem from this book entitled “Her Rituals” was a poetry finalist for the OCD Foundation’s Dare to Believe Contest; Painting Czeslawa Kwoka ~ Honoring Children of the Holocaust, a full-color collaboration with Painter, Lori Schreiner (unbound CONTENT), which won the Tacenda Literary Award for Best Book; and two chapbooks: The Music of Hands (Webbook, Seven CirclePress; print edition, self-published); and Green (republish Finishing Press; first published by Another New Calligraphy). Excerpts from Edwards’ manuscript in progress, “Wing Bones,” can be found in Gargoyle Magazine and online at The Nervous Breakdown, Hermeneutic Chaos Journal, and Amethyst Arsenic.  Edwards was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and received a writing residency from Drop Forge & Tool.  Her website:
Excerpt from her long narrative poem “Wing Bones,” the title poem of her new manuscript.

Middle Child
When you had breast cancer, she called you regularly
the only time
you knew she’d call
like children’s
tin-can conversation
she saved mother’s thickest bluest yarn, put the knitting bag
of memories in the right-triangle closet under the steps,
found that one blue vein that mothers saved for daughters
through death, your mother tightened the string,
a story’s presence in the metal—
and when she walks into your wake,
she already knows what is on the brink of being gone


3 Questions for Alison Carb Sussman

What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? How do you understand it? Use it?

My poems can be prose poems, or they can be in verse with rhythm and line breaks. When I break my poem into lines it is usually because I want the reader to read it slowly and to concentrate on each line as a separate unit. When I write a poem in block text I want the reader to concentrate on the poem as a whole. Which one I use, prose poem or verse, depends on what I hear when I begin writing. I usually know by hearing where a line is going to break. I try hard not to have too many end-stopped lines in a single poem because they can shut it down rhythmically but sometimes the poem just dictates what it wants to be. I like using enjambment because each line runs over to the next and creates a forward flowing rhythm which pushes the poem along but again that type of poem will often dictate itself. I follow where a poem takes me, kind of like a worm feeling its way along in the dirt.

Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?

I notice that in my writing body parts always appear. They either appear as the central focus of the poem or are mentioned in it. Bodies seem to dance through my poems, naked or clothed, bodies collide, run, faint, shake their heads. Large feet and toes do the foxtrot. Hands draw themselves. Shoulder blades sink, arms fold, and so on. Like some children I didn’t have a whole lot of control over my body, and I think using the body in my poetry is one way of taking back some of that control.

Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?

There’s really nothing I dislike about being a poet. I went into it with my eyes open. I knew I was going to be both ecstatic and miserable for the rest of my life.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 2016
After Patrick Kavanagh

To Them he would always be brown, never golden
brown skin and eyes and teeth,
to Them he would never be summer,
always winter,
his future, pore by anguished pore,
his hair, a thistle-wild grave,
to Them he was beneath soot,
less than rot,
hit for hampering the way,
a maturing shoot rising stifled
in Their spray—

Alison Carb Sussman’s poems “Acting Like a Woman” and “Reuniting With Mother at the Zoo” won the Abroad Writers’ Conference/Finishing Line Press Authors Poetry Contest. She was awarded a conference registration and stay at the Butlers Townhouse in Dublin from December 12th to 19th, 2015. Her poem “Anhedonia” was a finalist in the 49th Parallel Award for Poetry in Bellingham Review’s 2016 Literary Contests. Her chapbook, On the Edge, a semi-finalist in Finishing Line’s New Women’s Voices Chapbook Competition 2012, was published by Finishing Line in May 2013. Her poems have appeared in Gargoyle, Levure litteraire, Emory University’s Lullwater Review, The New York Times, and Southword Journal. Other poems are forthcoming in Atlanta Review and Rattle. Alison was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2015. She lives and writes in New York City.

3 Questions for W. D. Ehrhart

1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.
Wow, when Miriam Sagan asked me if I’d be interested in being interviewed, I had expected something—I don’t know—more traditional?  When did you start writing?  What poets influenced you?  At least a few warm-up questions before we got to the more esoteric questions.  But what the heck; I opened the door, so now I can’t very well say, “Forget it, go away”

The only thing is: I don’t really know how to respond to questions 1 & 2.  Let’s take #1, which is the more difficult of the two, for me at least.  I suppose I must have some kind of relationship to the poetic line.  I write poetic lines all the time, or try to, so there must be some kind of relationship.  But I’ve never really thought much about it, certainly not in these terms.  I do think about line lengths, and as I’ve gotten older, I notice that my line lengths—generally speaking—tend to be longer than they were 40 years ago (I’ve been writing a long time: 52 years); I think more in syllabics now, and often end up writing in rough tetrameter or pentameter lines.  But I can’t explain why that transition occurred.  I have always tried to shape lines that work, that do what I want, that say what I want.  As you can probably tell, I don’t really know what I’m saying.  So much of what I do—I suspect this is true of many other poets, though I can’t speak for them—I do intuitively, by “feel,” by some kind of instinct.  One might call it dumb luck or guesswork, though I think there is something more deliberate about it.  But what that is I can’t explain, have never tried to explain that I can recall, and as you can gather from this rambling response, we’re all probably better off if I don’t try to explain.  What matters to me is: does my poem work for you?  Does it speak to you?  Is it any good?  The older I get, the less I care to talk about poetry.  What I do is in my poems.  What I think is in my poems.  It’s there for you to see, to read, to make sense of, to come to your own conclusions about what my personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line might be. 

2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?
Another question I don’t think I’ve ever given any thought to, and find myself wondering: of all the things one might ask me, why this?  The only part of my body that I have given any conscious thought to is that I have always composed poems by hand, hand-writing drafts until the poem is well along.  I can’t compose poetry on a keyboard.  There is something about connecting my brain to the paper by way of my arm and hand and pen that doesn’t translate to a keyboard, whether typewriter or computer.  Increasingly, as I’ve gotten older, when I’m writing prose, I tend to move back and forth between pen/paper and keyboard, more a function of laziness and hands that get tired quicker than they used to.  But poetry I still draft longhand until the poem is well along to completion, at least of a first draft.

3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?

Well, yeh, I don’t make any money writing poetry.  I wish more people would read poetry and actually buy poetry.  I wish I could fill Madison Square Garden with 20,000 paying fans screaming to hear my poetry.  I’m still working fulltime at the age of 68.  Being a poet has not put me in a position to buy a seaside home in Bermuda and enjoy the sunsets.
Other than that, though, I don’t really have any complaints.  I like being a poet.  I get a good feeling when I write a poem that I like.  I get an even better feeling when I write a poem somebody else likes.  One could do a whole lot worse in this world, and a lot of people do.
            The Amish Boys on Sunday
Amish country.  January
afternoon.  Crackling crisp and clear.
Families in their winter buggies:
boxes, black, on wheels, each buggy
with a single easygoing horse
unperturbed by cars, trucks, traffic
lights, the smell of gasoline exhaust.
A two-lane highway, buggies
on their way to worship, or,
service over, coming home,
in no particular hurry, the very
Amish attitude toward progress.
Around a bend and up ahead,
three Amish boys are walking
toward me on the shoulder.
Two maybe twelve, the other ten,
all dressed in Sunday best:
black pants and coats, white shirts
and broad-brimmed flat black hats.
I’m driving slow, and as I pass,
all three doff their hats in unison
and bow like gallant cavaliers,
grinning like they’ve got a secret
wouldn’t I like to know.

W. D. Ehrhart is author or editor of 21 books of prose and poetry, most recently The Bodies Beneath the Table (poetry) and Dead on a High Hill (essays). A Marine Corps veteran of the American War in Vietnam, he has received an Excellence in the Arts Award from Vietnam Veterans of America, the President’s Medal from Veterans for Peace, and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. His work has appeared in hundreds of publications including American Poetry Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, North American Review, and the Washington Post Magazine. Ehrhart holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wales at Swansea, UK, and currently teaches English and history at the Haverford School, where he also coaches Winter Track and sponsors the Poetry Club.