9 entries have been tagged with Swarm.

Interview – Introducing Swarm Fiction Editor Brandi Wells!

Swarm is thrilled to have Brandi Wells on staff as our newest editor! Brandi is the author of Please Don’t Be upset (Tiny Hardcore Press) and the forthcoming This Boring Apocalypse (Civil Coping Mechanisms). She is one of our two fiction editors, and her first selection was K. Jane Child’s “Cake,” included in our Summer 2014 issue. Poetry editor Brandon Amico sat down with Brandi to ask her a few questions about her writing life and literature tastes, so enjoy this glimpse at our newest member of the staff, and help us welcome her!

Brandon: What writer do you wish you had found much earlier in your life? What writer do you wish you had avoided altogether?

Brandi: I’ve just started reading Angela Carter. What the fuck was wrong with me? Why didn’t I get to this sooner? I think I looked at Carter when I was younger and the sentences felt “hard” so I moved on. But maybe it’s nice that it’s all so new and fresh to me now.

I don’t think the Chuck Palahniuk books I read when I was younger did me any great service.


What’s the story that has most impacted your writing?

That’s almost impossible to answer, but I can name the story that has impacted the stuff I’m working on lately and that’s the title story from George Saunders’s Pastoralia. The tone/voice of the whole thing really gets me going.


Tell me about the first submission you’ve ever sent to a journal. We all had to have a first submission, and there’s almost always something regrettable about it, so spill.

I have no idea what my first submission was. I was doing a lot of stuff wrong. I think some professor told me to submit in new courier font, so I was doing that. I was also writing really awkward cover letters where I lied and referenced work from their publication that I hadn’t actually read. I was such an embarrassment. Maybe in five years I’ll think what I’m doing now is embarrassing. It’s all fine.


What grabs your attention when you’re reading a story—what do you look for, what do you run screaming at the sight of?

I guess I like something that’s interesting right off. A story that begins in medias res.

I pretty much never want to read a story about a guy trying to pick up a girl at a bar. But I see those here (and in other slush piles). Dudes, please quit writing boring stories about the girls you did or didn’t sleep with. I don’t want to read writing about your girlfriend or your ex-girlfriend’s body.


Enough of those softballs, here’s the question everyone wants to know: What are your five (5) favorite fruits?

I think my favorite fruits, beginning with my most favorite, are: Watermelon, Pluot, Plum, Blackcherry, and Grapefruit. Close behind are Blackberries, Honeydew Melon, Peach, Nectarine, and Banana.

I take issue with anyone who says their favorite fruit is strawberry.


What the crap is a pluot?

It’s a hybrid plum-apricot. Most grocery stores have 3-4 different kinds of pluots.

If you have miraculously lived this long without eating a pluot, I recommend you correct this gross oversight.


Will do. By the way, can I keep this whole exchange as part of the last question?

If you’re comfortable admitting you are an adult who hasn’t heard of a pluot.


Pushcart Prize Nominees

We’re thrilled to announce Swarm‘s nominees for the Pushcart Prize. Check out these great pieces in our current issue and archive:

In poetry:

The Horse” by Michael Bazzett

One way to be a person is to reach an understanding” by Roberto Montes

Homunculus” by Karen Skolfield

In fiction:

Who Are You Supposed to Be?” by Elise Burke

The Cowboys of Fukushima” by Christopher Linforth

Dead Reckoning” by Vincent Scarpa


Fall 2013 Issue of Swarm is Here

And with it comes new fiction from Elise Burke and Leonard Kress, and fresh poetry from Michael Bazzett and Mike Young.

Fall 2013 issue of Swarm is right here, so jump on in and stay awhile.

Summer 2013 issue of Swarm — it lives!

The Summer 2013 issue of Swarm is live! We’re thrilled to bring you some stunning new work: fiction by Christopher Linforth, plus poetry by Roberto Montes and Eleanor Paynter. We hope you’ll check it out and love it as much as we do: http://swarmlit.com/current-issue/

As always, a new issue being released means Swarm is also open to submissions again. So after this new issue has soaked in, head to our submissions page and send us your finest poetry or prose. Submissions stay open until October 31st for the Fall issue.

Thanks for reading!

Brandon, Peter, Ian and Dillon

Interview with Amorak Huey

Amorak Huey is a former newspaper journalist who teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. His poems can be found in The Best American Poetry 2012, The Southern Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Collagist, Linebreak, Rattle, and other print and online journals. Follow him on Twitter: @amorak.

Dillon Welch: In your poem “The Lion Tamer Resolves to Start Telling the Truth,” you hit on some pretty powerful details about an unfortunate career and how it affects both the speaker and those around him. Obviously a lion tamer is a fairly unusual example of a job that would have a whole host of social repercussions. Do you feel that this poem rings true for other, more conventional careers as well?

Amorak Huey: In this poem, I was thinking about public faces and private fears. About performance. How we have to go out in the world and put on a show no matter what’s going on inside. This is true for all of us but would be exacerbated, seems to me, in any show-biz kind of career, including the circus. Is this a kind of dishonesty? What happens if we stop lying to people around us? If we stop lying to ourselves? Is this even possible? I’m guessing probably not. Anyway, those are things I was thinking about when I was writing this one.


Before you sent “The Lion Tamer Resolves to Start Telling the Truth” to Swarm, I read another one of your poems in Bluestem, titled “The Tight Rope Walker Gets High.” Do you intend on coming out with a circus-themed collection at some point? If so, is there a tentative title you had in mind?

In fact, Hyacinth Girl Press recently accepted my chapbook The Insomniac Circus, which includes “Lion Tamer” and “Tight Rope Walker” and a bunch of other circus-performer poems with punny titles. It will be out sometime in 2014.


You’ve mentioned previously that you had a 15-year stint working for a newspaper. What was it that made you decide to leave?

I was lucky enough to leave on my own terms because I was in the right place at the right time to be offered a teaching job. I pretty much feel like newspaper business left me before I left it, though. The job was changing so much, and the things I loved about the work were vanishing, the decisions increasingly being taken out of the hands of local editors and writers and given to SEO consultants hired by the corporations.


Do you think your time with the newspaper gave you a perspective that other writers may not possess?

Plenty of writers bring a clear-eyed perspective on the world to their work, so I don’t claim anything particular that others don’t have. I think and hope I have a journalist’s sense of connection and story, but how that manifests itself in my poetry is probably for others to judge. I think all those years working for newspapers did give me a deeply felt sense of compression, clarity and communication. They also made me view the Oxford comma as an unnecessary extravagance.


If I dig hard enough, will I find an old article or two written by a younger Mr. Huey?

They’re out there. In Tallahassee, I covered a handful of random sports events: Florida State baseball, the MEAC basketball tournament, a Nike Tour golf event. In Kentucky, I covered health care and county government as a beat writer for the newspaper in Elizabethtown. After that, I worked mostly as an editor, with fewer bylines beyond smaller pieces and a column here or there. A good Lexis-Nexis search will get you to some of those articles, I’m sure, though I’m not sure the reward would be worth the effort.


Amorak’s poem, ““The Lion Tamer Resolves to Start Telling the Truth”,” appeared in Swarm’s Spring 2013 issue.

Interview with Mary Lou Buschi

Mary Lou Buschi’s chapbook, “The Spell of Coming (or Going),” was selected as the winner of The NYC Siren Series and was published by Patasola Press (2013). Her poems have appeared or are appearing in Willow Springs, Cream City Review, RHINO, Tar River Poetry, The Laurel Review, and Indiana Review, among others. She is a special education teacher in the Bronx.

Brandon Amico: What was the germ that brought “Scouts” on, the little thing that set the writing of this poem in motion? And is the final product a combination of memory and imagination, or does it sit solely in one of those camps (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun)?

Mary Lou Buschi: In truth, I was never a Girl Scout.  I only made it as far as the Brownies. The girls were mean and I hate uniforms and groups that follow rules or recite pledges or prayers, so even as a little kid I knew it wasn’t for me.  The penultimate moment, when Helen puts the corsage in her mouth, was a moment of absolute disgust told to me by a friend who did make it into the Girl Scouts.  I found her disgust really interesting so I followed the instinct to write the poem.  I also felt that her fear/disgust was closely linked to the speaker of “In the Waiting Room” by Elizabeth Bishop.  Although the speaker in “Scouts” denies any likeness to Helen, she remains “other,” safe in her 8 year old self.  So, to answer your question the poem is imagined.


Interesting. I don’t get the sense of “absolute disgust” in the speaker’s tone when it comes to Helen, though. I feel more of…a disconnect, a confusion at Helen when her task isn’t tidily completed the way she expected it to be. Though, the opening images definitely carry traces of disgust, albeit at the distance of a child’s imagination.  What was it about your friend’s disgust when telling the story that interested you enough to spark this poem?  

I found her disgust humorous.  Maybe it was her facial expression, but I thought of Bishop immediately; that awakening into the inevitable decline our bodies.  I suppose that is where the images at the beginning of the poem came from.  The poem has been edited quite a bit from the initial impulse.  There was more of the child’s imagination at play in the first few drafts but the images were not serving the poem.


I like the parallel you drew to the speaker in Bishop’s “In the Waiting Room.” It’s intriguing to me that in both your poem and Bishop’s, the events are presented as memory: the adult consciously looking back and relating what they felt as a child. I’m interested in your thoughts about writing, as an adult, from the viewpoint of a child. Is it fun or challenging? Is the knowledge of everything that happens after the events of the poem a help or a hindrance? The desire to wink at events and issues of the present when writing from the past is tempting, but you seem to have resisted that well.

Obviously, writing in the past tense offers the gift of reflection.  However, I usually have no idea where I am going when I write.  I let the poem find its way.  It’s atypical that I know an ending before I begin.  This was one of those rare times when I knew that the old woman would eat the corsage and the speaker would dig her heels in and “get back to herself.”  In that way, this poem was a bit scary for me to write because it’s not my usual process or style.  It’s a narrative poem and I have a difficult time with narrative poems because my tendency is to leap from image to image rather than recount from memory.


Switching gears here: you did a reading at AWP this past March that centered on what is called “magical realism” and “slipstream” writing. What do you think those modes have to offer in the crafting and reading—the experience—of a poem?

The reading and panel discussion was for A Cappella Zoo, a literary magazine, as described by the editor, as one that focuses on “overlapping styles, including absurdist, uncanny, fabulist, cross-genre… For [their] purposes, the combined terms MAGIC REALISM & SLIPSTREAM illustrate the range.”  I believe I was invited as an example of “slipstream.”  My poem “Beauty School” was awarded most notable contribution for their Spring 2012 issue.  The speaker in the poem is experiencing a heightened consciousness about hairdressing. Each act becomes more and more dangerous ending with the speaker handling an extremely sharp instrument.

After the reading an audience member asked the panel the very same question you are asking.  I’m afraid I still don’t have a great answer other than “Fantastic” or Magically Real/Slipstream is how my mind works.  I don’t set out to write in any certain style.

As David Young points out in his Magical Realist Anthology, MR is the collision of 2 different realities that are left unresolved in terms of a logical explanation.  For example, Marquez (I can’t talk about Magic Realism and not mention Gabriel Garcia Marquez) in his story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” an entire village is experiencing the same “hallucination.”  If so, than what they are seeing is real.  Or when Gregor Samsa wakes up from a night of anxious dreams to find that he is a gigantic bug and he states, “It was no dream.”  The fantastic and the real are coexisting.  I won’t go into the political or religious reasons why writers may employ these styles.  That is for a different discussion.

I must say, as a reader, I am drawn to this genre so I am sure that my fascination informs the writing in some unconscious way.  I also think that many poets who employ or depend on leaps of imagination through imagery may find themselves labeled as someone who writes in said styles.  I’ve never put myself in any one camp or style.  I find it interesting when editors align me with a certain way of writing.  But I do think that allowing the absence of logic makes for a more interesting writing experience.


“Scouts” does not appear to be a poem of magical realism or the fantastic; it does seem quite grounded in reality, or at least the possible. But there are touches that largely remind me of magical realism, moments where something happens that is unexpected—like Helen taking the flowers into her mouth (though now I know that this is actually true)—that are represented matter-of-factly, a hallmark of magical realism poems and stories. Do you use this approach in your, let’s say, more “realistic” poems consciously, or is this measured, level-headed way of presenting the poems’ more “fantastic” moments just something that happens on its own?

I hadn’t thought about the moment where Helen puts the corsage in her mouth as magical or fantastic, but now that you mention it I probably would never have written the poem if I wasn’t drawn to that image for that very reason.  And the way that the image lands is unresolved, which again works with the collision of two realities.  I hadn’t thought about that.


What’s next for your writing? Any projects you’re working on or big news to share with us?

I have a full length manuscript making the rounds (which may have some good news soon) and a new chapbook that I am working on.  I am just starting to hear the voices of the new speakers.  They’re interesting in that they are naive yet persistent.  I have to spend more time with them.


Lightning round: Murakami or Marquez?

AHHH, such a hard choice.  If I were being shipped off to an island and I had to choose just one I would choose Marquez.


What’s the creature you’d least like to wake up and find yourself metamorphosed into?

A snake.  The thought of not having any arms or legs terrifies me.


Who is the first poet you can remember reading whose work struck some chord in you and gave you that feeling that you wanted to write poetry too?   

The first poet that really struck a chord with me was Rimbaud and Andre Breton was a close second.  Specifically these two lines from Rimbaud made me choose to write: “The green faded dresses of girls / make willows, out of which hop unbridled birds.”  I think it is the way the image unfolds so slowly through the syntax that grips me even now.  I wanted to make these magical images.


Mary Lou’s poem, “Scouts,” appeared in Swarm’s Spring 2013 issue.

Swarm’s second issue is upon us

Run for your lives! The new issue of Swarm is here! Egad!

This also means that submissions are open again, so send us your best work. We’ll be reading until July 31st.

We’re very excited about our second issue, and we hope you enjoy it. As always, thanks for stopping by!

Brandon, Dillon, Ian and Peter

Swarm’s First Issue Has Arrived

We’re proud to present to you the Winter 2013 Inaugural issue of Swarm. Click “Current Issue” in the ribbon of insects above to see the table of contents.

We are open for submissions until April 30th, so after seeing what we like in the current issue, please do send your best work our way!

Enjoy the issue!

Brandon, Dillon, Ian and Peter

Interview with Karen Skolfield

Karen Skolfield’s manuscript, Frost in the Low Areas, won the First Book Award for Poetry from Zone 3 Press and will be published fall 2013. She is a contributing editor at the literary magazine Stirring and her poems have appeared in 2011 Best of the Net Anthology, Cave Wall, Memorious, Rattle, Tar River Poetry, Verse Daily, West Branch, and others. She earned her MFA in writing from the University of Massachusetts in the year (mumble mumble mumble) and remains in Massachusetts with her husband and two small children who would take umbrage at learning she calls them small. When not concocting her next set of New Year’s resolutions, she teaches travel writing and technical writing at UMass Amherst. Visit her online at http://www.karenskolfield.blogspot.com/

One of Karen Skolfield’s 2012 New Year’s resolutions included having four literary guys come up with an idea for a new lit journal, find funding for it, wrangle over the details and design, write mission statements and an “about” page, give it a cool name, commit some unfathomable number of future years to it, lose sleep over it, and then, when the first wave of hard work is done, ask her to be included in their inaugural issue, thus passing a gigantic chunk of the glory on to her. Her other New Year’s resolution was to go to the gym twice a week, every week. Guess which one got done.

Brandon: Are there any unique rituals that accompany your writing process, or conditions in your surroundings that you like to keep a certain way to help you write (I’m thinking an album/artist you listen to ad nauseam, or writing in a certain corner of the house facing a certain direction, maybe wearing a lucky hat)?

Karen: Brandon, you saw me wearing my giant sombrero? Have you been peeking in my window?

Sadly, I’m kidding. There’s no sombrero or chupalla, no pith helmet, no toque (but thank you for prompting me to Google “types of hats”). In fact, there’s little that’s magical or informative about my writing process. I do love writing on the computer, though I sometimes start poems by hand: think little notes crammed onto little dog ears of paper. Once I’m deeper into the writing, I need either absolute quiet – no music, ever – or lots of white noise, like at a café. Preferably a café without music. I’m amazed when I hear that other writers write with earbuds in. They are probably smarter than I am. I need all of my brain cells focused on the words.

When I’m home, I do have a favorite place to write – at my dining room table, with a dog at my feet. Bonus: there’s coffee in the coffee pot.

B: You served seven years in the Army. Not counting subject material, how has your military experience affected the way you write or approach writing?

K: It’s probably worthwhile mentioning that right out of high school I was an Army photojournalist, so this was the first writing with adult meaning and adult power for me. I was sent to a photojournalism school in Fort Benjamin Harrison (DINFOS for all you military folk) where we worked extensively on journalism writing and PR writing. I got to blow things up in basic training. Not your average teenager job, but I really, honestly loved it. I was a good soldier and I loved carving a path that took me away from my family.

I think the Army continues to inform and affect a lot of what I do, even though I’ve been out for almost 20 years (that was hard to write!). I have a disciplined head and disciplined habits. If I’m not writing, I’m pretty good about accepting the responsibility for it, which I think is another trait gifted to me by the military.

B: You’ve said that you “thrive on humor.” I think it would be difficult to refute that humor has an important place in life, but across the literary landscape there appears to be varied levels of enthusiasm as to its prevalence in poetry. In some places it appears celebrated and encouraged while in others it’s conspicuously absent or muted. What do you feel is the role of humor in poetry—yours, or in general?

K: Well, isn’t it great the range of poetry out in the world? I have a list of journals where I will never publish because my work doesn’t fit – I’m not experimental enough, I’m too narrative, my poems are too long, etc. But there’s a much longer list of journals that either have liked or might like my writing, and I try to be aware of the leanings of a journal and whether they’d be receptive to the more humorous pieces or the more serious pieces.

Like so many people, I’ll admit that humor occasionally serves to approach topics that I couldn’t otherwise approach because they’re painful or otherwise emotional – all that messy stuff. Humor in my life and in my writing gives me distance, which sometimes works and sometimes does not. That’s when someone else’s opinion – for me, it’s my writing group – is especially helpful.

B: Family is a common theme or subject in your work.  “Rumors of Her Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated” immediately comes to mind as a very powerful example of family’s importance in your poetry. Certainly moments like that one are focused on the subject from the start when you’re writing, but in other instances do you actively look to tackle moments and experiences of family life in your writing, or do they find their way in when you’re trying to write about other topics?

K: I try not to write about my family constantly, which I realize isn’t obvious when you look at a body of my work. But I’m always thinking who in the world wants to read about my kids, my family life, my… yawn… what were we talking about? They’re not boring to me, but I do try to write about a range of things and hopefully appeal to a wider reading audience. That said, my family is constantly handing me good lines, some of which turn into poems about them and many that do not. Recently my daughter left a plastic, bloodied finger on the counter – a Halloween trinket, filled with bubbles – how weird and wonderful. She’s not in that poem at all, but the finger! The poem would not exist except for my daughter.

Occasionally my husband Dennis or my kids weasel their ways into poems when I’m not expecting it, but rarely. It seems that once a poem has its trajectory, it’s either about my immediate family or not. I’m a pretty linear thinker and writer, so that makes sense.

Dennis and I have an oft-repeated comedy routine. Whenever I get a poem accepted for publication, he says “Send it to me! Am I in it?” If I tell him he’s not in it, he says “Never mind, don’t bother sending it.” He’s kidding. Well, I think he’s kidding. Hold on, let me ask. [Checks] He wants to know if he’s in this interview.

B: On a similar note, when you’re writing (about your family or not), does the thought ever pop into your head about how your husband or your children will view the work in the future? In other words, is there a family-concerned filter in your writing process somewhere, or does what serves the art best win out in the end? (Largely I’m thinking of “Rumors,” but also “Frost in the Low Areas.” Both feel highly intimate, like the reader is being given a very personal glimpse into those moments.) 

K: This is a question every writer has to grapple with, often many times and in many different ways. You’ll find in some of my writing – about my father, for instance – that I am brutally clear about his behavior. It is his shame, not mine. About my husband and kids, though, it’s important that I don’t publish anything that might overly hurt or embarrass them. I have a poem about trying to catch a plane to Hawaii and my husband running on ahead to hold the plane for us, with me lagging with our two small kids – and the tension in that poem is that husbands do sometimes leave, fathers do sometimes abandon their children. He eventually teased me enough about this that I pulled it from the publishing rounds and the manuscript. I mean, I get it, he is über-fabulous and I think that one hurt his über a little. So now, instead of publishing that poem, I get to dissect it in an interview.

You raise a good point that art is not always served with this type of filter, to which I must say, art seems to be doing just fine. These are the three people that matter most to me, and it’s hard to imagine I have some stunning set of poems out there about hard-core subjects on my three that I’m suppressing. There’s so much great writing in the world; it would be the height of ego to think that a few poems that are hurtful to Dennis and my kids could ever add much to the world of writing. On balance, my devotion is to my immediate family.

About poems written before they were around – you know, those old boyfriend/girlfriend poems – well, that’s the past. Adults have histories, and my husband has his own history even if it’s not embodied in poetry.

B: When not occupied with things related to poetry (copious amounts of writing, reading, editing, &c.),  what other interests do you indulge in?

K: Ice skating. And we’re talking hockey style, not some graceful figure skating. I’m not graceful. But I am fast and aggressive on the ice. If only I could find the over-40 women’s hockey league that doesn’t mind that I have no stick skills… well, that would be sweet.

Backpacking, hiking, cooking and canning. Gardening. Cross country skiing (let it snow!). Lots of time with my husband and kids and all of their activities. We’re a fabulous traveling family and try to spend about a month in a tent per year.

B: What are some of the biggest influences on your writing?

K: Last night I woke up thinking: I’m a crow. As a writer I’m interested in the next shiny thing, the bit of tin foil or soda tab, the ripe strawberry or the unripe, the dead squirrel in the road, and I can’t help it, I even enjoy the sound of my own raucous voice. I puzzle over things, I set my beady eye there. I sit in the slenderest of treetops and feel darkly royal.

To wit: the biggest influences are the smallest things that transport me elsewhere. Thus, the homunculus.

B: Quick—The Beatles or The Stones?

K: Hahaha – The Stones, but I have at least one friend who will be horrified at this answer. I’ve tried hard, and I’m just not a Beatles fan. Hey, you’re not putting this on the Internet or anything, are you?

B: Whitman or Frost?

K: Whitman. He’s definitely one of my dead-guy crushes. Now, I hope your next question isn’t about hot chocolate versus apple cider.

B: Hot chocolate or apple cider?

K: What did I just say? *sigh* But since you asked, and I’m a reborn New Englander, I will have to go with apple cider from a local orchard – I’m lucky to be surrounded by great orchards. If you ever come to my house, Brandon, we’re going to offer you the choice of homemade blueberry pie or strawberry rhubarb crisp and watch you squirm. Take that.

Karen’s poem, “Homunculus,” will appear in Swarm’s Winter 2013 inaugural issue.

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