Welcome to the Tea Interviews.
I devised this feature to edify fellow artists and to share that edification with you readers/participants. I've seldom met an artist, particularly a writer, who didn't tend to gab or spill opinions or offer musings on his/her own work and worldview. Therefore I'm tapping into this common tendency.
(Most of the questions are tailored toward the featured interviewee.)
Tea Interview with Lynne Bronstein
Lynne, your latest book, Border Crossings, has recently been released.
Please start by sharing the inspiration, intention, and preparation for
had not published a book since Thirsty In The Ocean in 1980! I decided
that I wanted to collect poems that had appeared in magazines between 1982 and
the present. Every poem in Border Crossings was previously published in
either a print or online magazine.
had done Thirsty In The Ocean by paste-up on the floor - but now computers
have simplified the process - and also made it more challenging in a different
way. I learned about Instant Publisher from Rick Lupert who had used it for
several of his books. I typeset the entire manuscript on Microsoft Word - which
is a bit slippery - every time you make a correction, the pagination changes. I
sent it off to Instant Publisher and about three weeks later I received the
books. And miracle of miracles-they looked fine.
designed the cover myself - and I have received a few compliments on the rather
stark art work.
D: Why did you choose self-publishing? Please relate your views on the growing surge in worthy self-publishing, as a counter to rigid, profit-based presses and/or as a more direct control for authors.
main thing is, if I sent the manuscript around to small press publishers,
I'd still be waiting for someone to bite. There are more poets and serious
fiction writers trying to get published than there are readers of literature.
Small presses are swamped with submissions. And since major presses are very
limited in what they can publish, I think writers have no other recourse but to
self-publish, at least to get started.
have hope that eventually I may get a book published by someone else or get one
of my books reprinted by a larger publisher. It's the same situation as with
the music industry - where musicians are putting out their own CDs and it's a
struggle but eventually some of them get picked up by distributors and then by
labels with major label ties. But
everyone wants the creative freedom and the chance to be out there in the
marketplace while not having to answer to corporate policy.
isn't corporate at all. There's a difference between serious music artists
and shallow, contrived non-singers
whom you hear on Top 40 radio but
there are virtually no "pop" poets - unless you count greeting cards. The
"mainstream" for poetry is the academic circuit. It's kind of closed off
too in some ways. So the best thing is to self-publish - but it's not a way to
make money and it's a tough place to be in as far as being able to get reviews
and be taken seriously. It has to be seen as either
a means to a larger end or in itself a way to communicate to a small group of
In Border Crossing's opening piece, "The Great Whore As Mortal
Incarnation Within Me Shouts This Through Loudspeakers Into Ice Cubes That Float
In Men's Drinks In Bars", you present a sometimes playful list of demands
for men, such as: "I want to see them at my feet/Kissing the hem of my blue
jeans" and "To pave the ground with their naked/Shiny bodies for me."
Do you think such a poem in reverse, about women as suppliants and servants to men, could be viewed in the same humor?
here we go! Of course this is role-reversal as agitprop. It's something I like
to do. But it's also a genuine expression of how I feel.
I don't think anyone should put anyone else in a subservient role in sexual
relations. But our world is so full of women as sex objects - nobody has let up at
all on this - you see billboards, ads, everywhere, to sell everything. I'm
really bored with it. If I were oriented toward women sexually I wouldn't even
find a lot of these ads sexy.
interested in genuine erotic expression - which has nothing to do with selling
products. But I'm also interested in exploring how underdogs feel if they get
a chance to be in a position of power. That's what this poem is about. It's
an examination of what it would feel like for a woman to be the Queen of The
Universe, She Who Must Be Obeyed - the matriarchy.
people know very little about matriarchy and they fear the very idea of it. It
gets explored only in negative fantasies, sci-fi stories about Amazons on other
planets. I just mentioned She Who Must Be Obeyed-that's from the book and
movie She which was a movie in the 1930s with Helen Gahagan (who was
defamed by Nixon when she ran for Congress) as She. And her portrayal of She, a
queen who rules men was said have inspired the Wicked Queen in Disney's Snow
White. Because people are
afraid of the female as all-powerful
- as a surrogate of God. People think it's blasphemous to refer to God as a
Do you think contemporary, often snide, assertion of females has the tendency to flip-flop the former abuses by men toward women -- similar to the double standard of male crotch accidents in films and "America's Funniest Videos" being accepted as hilarious while such seriously painful impact/injuries of females would surely be considered appaling and in poor taste?
(Mind you, I think if folks fostered braver senses of humor then such PC violations wouldn't be so damned "offensive".)
is very subjective but the gender roles in humor are all related to the power
issue. What I've heard too much of is that "women-and of course feminists -
"have no sense of humor," meaning that if we don't laugh at jokes about
ourselves we have no sense of humor - but if we laugh at men, it's not their
lack of humor that makes them angry - it's because we are not respecting them,
because they are made in God's image and we're not, according to that
mentality of power.
think that when people know that respect for others as whatever they happen to
be - black, female, gay etc. - lies beneath the humor, then no offense can be taken.
But at this time in history, too many people are struggling to gain respect.
Humor seems to target certain groups and is used by the mainstream to negate
their struggles for dignity. Humor aimed at the class still in power can chip
away at that power. So it depends on who is perpetrating the humor and to what
purpose. Were the Farrelly Brothers in There's Something About Mary chipping
away at the male power structure with the zipper joke and other such jokes? I
think in a way they were-but audiences interpreted it as humor that men can
identify with-because, hey a lot of men have been through that. Yet had the film
been made by a woman, the same jokes might have come across as you know - the
angry castrating woman. And we can make jokes about menstruation - but it seems
like bad taste if men do - hell, men often don't want to be reminded about
menstruation at all.
I've thought a lot about gender-based humor. I think we need to become more sensitive to the issue of respect while basing our humor on the fundamental fact that as humans, we can all be fallible.
Your favorite author(s) and book(s) and why.
always get a little stumped because there are so many books and
authors to list. But I'll try to list a few: Anais Nin - everything
she wrote but I always liked her roman fleuve Cities of The
Interior and her erotic stories (Delta of Venus). Her use
of language is poetic and her ideas are often quite wild.
Nathanael West - all of his novels. Surreal, disquieting, and
yet sensitive. The
Alexandria Quartet by Laurence Durrell. It's an adventure, a
literary experiment in multiple viewpoints,
it's poetry, it's a collection of characters a lot more
interesting than Friends.
by Thomas Pynchon. Again, I feel like some of the characters in this
book are my friends. I can't really explain what happens in the book
- nobody can. You either love it or you don't.
Ulysses by James Joyce. It's fun to read out loud.
Woman on The Edge Of Time by Marge Piercy. A blueprint
for an ideal society and a socially conscious thriller too.
The poetry of Ovid, Edna St.Vincent Millay, (I don't care
what anyone thinks!) Shelley, Ginsberg, Rilke, and Yeats.
Dorothy Parker-for her stories and humorous poems. Her dark sense of humor was ahead of its time. I also like a lot of anonymous folklore, fairy tales. legends, including Celtic, and Yiddish folklore and such Yiddish writers as Sholem Alecheim and the Singers (I.B. and I.J.) And one of my favorite short stories is Bontshe Shweig by I.L. Peretz - it's a story about a man who dies after having lived the most unfortunate life and how he can't believe he's really been accepted in heaven.
D: I always say that starting online magazines is like spitting into a rainstorm. Over the last several years, online 'zines and journals have flourished. Some suck; some are excellent. When approaching such internet sites one must relish the honey and spit out the bees, so to speak.
Online magazines, I think, are revolutionary. They counteract the cabalistic snobbery of many print publications -- and if they are held to worthy standards, they compete with merit and ingenuity. This seems to anger many established presses, so vast aspersion toward online publications occurs (unless sites are merely online extensions of established, profit-based presses like The Atlantic or The New Yorker.)
views on this subject in general?
think online magazines are a great idea. They can be just as good or bad as
print magazines. I think the prejudice is there because the Internet is a
relatively new form of communication. The newest forms are always denigrated at
first. We already have awards for the best web sites so it's only a matter of
time before online publications will have their day.
think that if a literary web site publishes high-quality material, it should be
held in the same esteem as a print magazine.
Author Robert Heinlein wrote: "...the draft is involuntary servitude,
immoral, and unconstitutional no matter what the Supreme Court says."
you agree with conscription, the State being able to decide a man's fate with
threat of imprisonment? Or do you
regard it as Heinlein - and I - do?
never been pro-draft. I would like to see some form of non-military, non-violent
service to the country as an option for young people. It should be worked out
according to one's life plans and availability and beliefs. No one should be
threatened with punishment for acting on their beliefs in regard to military
course, if a person volunteers for
service and then does not show up or skips out - and then thirty years later,
holds the highest office in the land and sends soldiers to die for a half-baked
theory and also smears the service record of his opponent, that person should at
least be made to go to bed without
Your poem, "Call It Like You Want To Be", addresses the social label fads of
the past decades, such as the use of "colored"
finally giving way to the current "African-American" or "Chicano"
to "Hispanic", and so on. This
is a very cool, poetic presentation of the whole issue.
write of yourself: "I'm white but my skin/Looks pink-tan to me./The
statisticians call me Anglo/But my relatives died in concentration/camps./Call
me a Diaspora-American/Jewish American/Just Jew will do."
poem's overall message seems to be: pick the name that the respective groups
prefer and go with it. Is this
accurate? More thoughts on social
labels, groups, etc.?
I was spoofing the confusion over which labels are correct for
the groups that they refer to. There was a book called "The Politically
Correct Handbook" which mentioned that pets were being called "animal
companions" and house plants
"botanical companions" by some activists. But you see, the animals and
plants don't ask to be called anything! I really think it is important what
people are known as. The wishes of each group to be called by a dignified name
should be respected. Yes, that name may change over the years and in some cases,
there isn't collusion about what name is best to use. But we have to try.
some slurs are not less harmful than other slurs. I consulted a friend about the
issue of actually using some slur words in that poem. I put the slur words in
italics so nobody would think these words were just being used casually. But
what I mean is that slur words for races are regarded as taboo in polite company
whereas slur words for women and gays are brushed off as less insulting. As I
said, there is less cohesiveness amongst gender activists and women and gays in
general about what words to use. There are women who don't mind "chick"
and "broad" and who are militant about being called Mrs. if they're
married. So society is still confused about the "official" terminology. If
someone volunteers the information that they don't like certain words and do
like others, that person's wishes should be respected and not made fun of.
D: Do you agree with me that a vast anti-Semitism, specifically in regard to Israel, is reviving -- or, as a former interviewee aptly suggested, continuing as it constantly has - these days?
always been with us - but it's more disguised nowadays.
I used to have arguments with college classmates about anti-Semitism on
the Left. They maintained that the Left was anti-Zionist and that was different.
But if I read the alternative papers, I would often find "Zionist" being
used to describe public figures who were merely Jewish. Zionism, by the way, is
a perfectly decent political concept in and of itself - it's in the actual
situation in the Middle East that the concept breaks down. I'd like to see
both sides come to an accord and I don't know when if ever we will see that.
But one's opinion of the Middle East situation is no excuse to hate Jews in
Jewish in America is mostly not seen as "sexy." It's okay to be the clown
- Jews are always involved in humor - but I'm bothered that the numerous
Jews in the music business don't write songs about their Jewish identity
except for humorous novelty songs. It bothers me that Jewishness as a subject in
film or novels means either the Holocaust or something humorous. We are still
seen as outsiders to many Americans.
In AGAMEMNON by Aeschylus, my favorite Greek writer (changed from Euripides
quite recently), Cassandra wails (as translated by Philip Vellacott, 1956):
"Alas for human destiny! Man's
happiest hours/Are pictures drawn in shadow.
Then ill fortune comes,/And with two strokes the wet sponge wipes the
are your thoughts on this statement which is at the subjective core of most
I'm not that pessimistic. It's not hip to be a "cockeyed
optimist" but I can't survive any other way.
think we don't know - and can't know in this lifetime - what higher powers
there may be. It's arrogant to claim that one knows absolutely what God is.
That's not to say that we can't find personal beliefs that will guide us but
it is morally wrong to impose one's personal concept of God upon the whole
I also find it impossible to believe in a concept of God as an all-powerful
punisher or as a cynical manipulator of humans for the fun of it. Whatever is
ruling us, we seem to have free will. There are things we can and can't do
about our fate.
D: Much of your poetry is barbed. I like that. Do you think that too many folks are thin-skinned when it comes to speaking forthrightly or expressing strong opinions?
Wasn't it great that Teresa Heinz Kerry noted in her DNC
speech that women who are informed and who think about issues are labeled
"opinionated?" There is a
double standard in terms of gender when we express opinions. And yes, people in
general are timid about speaking their minds - and telling the truth.
writing style has been criticized as "aggressive," "strident," and yes,
"strong." As if being strong was a liability. My writing has even been
called masculine. It's as if I were using tools sacred only to the male
gender. People have wanted me to write poetry with more subtlety - well that's
the name of this magazine, isn't it? But
we don't live in subtle times. These times call for opinions that can be heard
loud and clear.
D: I've noted that you once mentored a writer in the Jewish Vocational Service Wo-Mentoring Program. Please tell us about this program.
was asked to help another woman who was a burgeoning writer. Actually, she had
the ability, she just didn't have the motivation. It's difficult to motivate
someone. And then it turned out that she was struggling with clinical depression
and trying to get used to her medication.
hope I helped her. I gave her feedback and suggested ways she could market her
short fiction. Most of the women in the Wo-Mentoring program were in business
and were mentoring young women who wanted business careers. I was the only one
mentoring someone in writing and I wasn't sure I had accomplished much as far
as helping this woman to have a viable - that is, money-earning profession. In
the end, they had a ceremony and gave diplomas to all the mentees and
certificates to the mentors. I told the supervisor I felt I hadn't been able
to make much headway with my mentee but she assured me that I had helped. So
who knows-maybe someday this woman will begin to share her writing with
we mentor people without knowing it. We may just know someone who admires us and
is inspired to write because of us. Writers can positively affect each other -
when they're not being each other's rivals and complete pests.
D: By the way, Lynne, the above-mentioned poem, "Call It Like You Want To Be", caused me to "GRR." You called a woman a "Womb-Man". Until reading your poem I had believed I was unique in dreaming that clever term up (in an old poem I wrote)! Thanks a LOT! Haha! Seriously, I think it is quite fitting for the piece.
I think "Womb-Man" is older than both of us. Some
linguists think that's the origin of the word - a man with a womb.
I appreciate your writing very much, especially for its vim and vinegar. I wish you blessings on your path.
closing comments for readers/fans?
Please try to read a book every now and then - and not a
best-selling piece of movie-fodder if you can help it. Please try to read more
poetry and tell a friend. Also please vote this year and don't think you
can't make a difference.
To order BORDER CROSSINGS click HERE or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit Lynne's official website.
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