Interview: In Conversation with Stephanie Tom

by Art Editor, Carl Scharwath

Stephanie Tom is a contributor for Issue 7 and the winner of Minute Magazine’s Jenny Link Poetry Prize. Read her winning poem, “The Floor is Lava,” here

Q: Tell us a little about yourself first?
A: Hi there! I’m a Chinese-American poet and undergraduate student at Cornell University. I’ve been reading since I was four, writing since I was six, and in love with poetry since I was eight. Since then, my work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Luna Luna Magazine, Sine Theta Magazine, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Porkbelly Press, among other places, and my debut chapbook, Travel Log at the End of the World, is forthcoming from Ghost City Press this September. When I’m not writing, I like to explore the great outdoors, dabble in the performing arts, and drink a copious amount of caffeine.

Q: When did you first begin to write poetry?
A: I got introduced to poetry in the second grade, when my parents bought me a children’s treasury of classic poetry as my seventh birthday gift. I loved to re-read them every day after school, and that same year, we had a poetry unit in class where we learned about different forms and genres of poetry which culminated in a grade-wide collaborative poetry anthology. At the time I was more interested in reading poetry than I was in writing it because I was set on making my mark as a fiction writer (which hasn’t happened yet). I started writing poetry again in fifth grade on a whim when I started to abandon my fiction endeavors. I haven’t stopped since.

Q: Where do you get your ideas?
A: Everywhere. When I was younger, I would write directly observational poems about the weather, about school, about the books I was reading, or sometimes about the fantasy stories I abandoned mid-plot. As I got older, I started writing more confessional poetry, and more about experiences rather than tangible objects. I went through thematic phases — one year I wrote mostly space-themed poetry, and another it was mostly about philosophical and physical paradoxes. One year it was all about the pop culture I was consuming. I don’t usually try to stick to a theme when it comes to writing but sometimes it happens anyways.

Q: What was an early experience where you learned that language has power?
A: One of my earliest memories concerning language was probably from when I was around four, and was on a road trip with my older cousins. We got into an argument about something undoubtedly childish, and one of them called me ‘dumb.’ Naturally, I retaliated by using the strongest word I knew — ‘stupid’ — and said exactly that, which lead to my aunt having to pull over because my cousin started crying uncontrollably. It wasn’t a proud moment, but looking back, that was the moment I realized that words were powerful and that I had to learn to wield them carefully in order to express my thoughts the way I wanted people to receive them.

Q: What is your writing process like?
A: I try to write a little every day, and by ‘write’ I don’t strictly mean poetry. Writing anything — essays, to-do-lists, journaling, whatever it may be — helps my brain get into the zone for potential poetry. I also don’t try to force ideas out — opening a blank document and staring at it doesn’t help me brainstorm better, so I just let it come naturally. Whenever I do sit down to write properly, though, I don’t stop once I start and just keep typing or scribbling until I feel like the bulk of the poem has been properly transferred onto the page.

Q: Who is your favorite poet?
A: Oh gosh, this is going to be a long and non-exclusive list. I’ve read and loved so many poets over the year, many of which have become role models and are sources of inspiration who still influence my writing today. Right off the top of my head: Chen Chen, Franny Choi, Talin Tahajian, Emily Dickinson, Emily Jungmin Yoon. Kristin Chang, Hannah Cohen, Paige Lewis, Kaveh Akbar, Leila Chatti, Olivia Gatwood, and so many more I know I’m forgetting.

Q: What would the perfect poem look like to you?
I don’t really think the perfect poem exists yet, because what I’m looking for in a poem always changes. Every time I read or write a poem, I’m looking for something specific to my mood that day. But I suppose no matter what, to me, perfect poem would be a happy one — it’d be the poem equivalent of drinking your favorite soup, slip-sliding down your throat as you read it and slowly filling you with warmth and a sense of love and wonder for the world. And no matter how many times you return to it, you’ll always feel comforted by its words.

Q: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Don’t stress about writing every day and churning out so much content. There’s no need to rush to write a poem a day or get published in a new magazine every other month, and you don’t need to win awards to be a valid writer. There are definitely some people out there that are able to do all of this and they are incredible, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not equally as much of a poet. Your growth will happen and you’ll get better at this craft with time.

Q: What advice do you have for writers?
Be open-minded. Read as much as you can, in as many different mediums and styles as you can. Don’t force out words when you’re truly and 100% stuck with writer’s block. Leave the page or screen and return after a cup of tea or coffee. Breathe. Don’t stress about getting a perfect draft; do just aim to finish one draft at a time. Remember that writing is an art, and like every other form, takes time and practice to get to the level you want to be at. Write with a purpose, write for others, but always remember to write for yourself too.

Q: How will you celebrate with your 100 dollar winnings?
A: May is a season of many birthdays and celebrations in my family. Now that I’ve got my own money, I can finally use my winnings to get them the gifts they deserve while still keeping them a surprise!


Stephanie Tom is a Chinese-American poet and a student at Cornell University. Her poetry has appeared in Rising Phoenix Review, Hypertrophic Literary, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Luna Luna Magazine, among other places. In addition, she has previously been recognized by the national Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the International Torrance Legacy Creativity Awards, and the international Save the Earth Poetry Contest.

Carl Scharwath resides in Mount Dora, Florida. He has appeared globally with 100+ magazines selecting his poetry, short stories, essays or art photography. He won the National Poetry Contest award for Writers One Flight Up. His first poetry book is “Journey To Become Forgotten” (Kind of a Hurricane Press). Carl is a dedicated runner and 2nd-degree black belt.

Interview: In Conversation with Daginne Aignend

by Art Editor, Carl Scharwath 

Daginne Aignend is a contributor for Issue Three. 

What sparked your interest in poetry?

I always played with words—mostly little stories in my head. I started to write them down at the age of fourteen, but then suddenly it was a poem. I thought it was a creative way to ventilate my feelings.

When did you realize you were a writer?

Writing was and is for me a “fun project.” At some point, I thought it was a pity when my poems only were read by me. I wanted to share my words, so I started to write in English instead of Dutch. When a poet friend I met on Facebook encouraged me to submit my work— and it was accepted—I realized I must be a writer.

How do you begin a poem?

No rules. Sometimes a line pops up, sometimes it’s a few words, not in any particular order, and my mind starts to spin a poem.

Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poems?

Sure. In the beginning, I thought all poems should rhyme. When I found out that free verse existed, I could finally express myself in the way I wanted. Rhymed poetry can be a restriction but also a challenge; it isn’t so easy as it seems.

What type of poems do you find yourself writing most? Do you have a recurring theme?

Free verse and no special theme. I can write about the sweet fragrance of wildflowers and the next time about the pollution of plastic waste in the oceans.

Tell us about your process—how do you write?

Pen and paper beside my bed; if I have a strong idea, I must have the possibility to write it down immediately. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen so often because I can’t catch any sleep after these brilliant scribbles. I write on my computer with a grammar checker afterward because English isn’t my native language.

I know you are also a photographer. Can you describe how your photos compliment your poetry?

For me, it’s actually more the other way around. If I have written a poem, I see if one of my photos fits the poem. Sometimes the photo needs some photo editing. On my fun project website, I have a category called “Friends in Poetry” where I publish the poems of poet friends together with an image, which is often one of my photos.

What do you want the world to know about you?

I don’t think it is so important to share as many credits as possible, but a little about the writer or artist is appreciated by the reader. My bio tells enough in a few lines about me.

 


Daginne Aignend is a pseudonym for the Dutch writer, poetess, photographic artist Inge Wesdijk. She likes hard rock music, fantasy books, is a vegetarian who loves her animals. She’s the Poetry Editor of Whispers and has been published in many poetry journals, magazines and anthologies, in the ‘Tears’ Anthology of the NY Literary Magazine to name one. She has a fun project website www.daginne.com.

Carl Scharwath resides in Mount Dora, Florida. He has appeared globally with 100+ magazines selecting his poetry, short stories, essays or art photography. He won the National Poetry Contest award for Writers One Flight Up. His first poetry book is “Journey To Become Forgotten” (Kind of a Hurricane Press). Carl is a dedicated runner and 2nd-degree black belt.

Interview: In Conversation with Amanda Sinco

Our Art Editor, Carl Scharwath, recently interviewed Amanda Sinco, a fine arts photographer from Orlando, Florida. Read the conversation below, and stay tuned until the end of the post for some gorgeous samples of Amanda’s work!

A word from Carl: I wanted to share this interview I had with Amanda Sinco. She resides in Orlando, Florida and is a friend from our previous employment. When I first started to write, she provided my bio photo and two more photos for my first published short stories. Until now, she did not know that I was inspired by her work to begin my own journey into the beautiful world of art photography. Perhaps she will inspire you as well. Please visit her website: amandasinco.com.


What first sparked your interest in photography

Amanda: I was always interested in photography. My father was a photographer, and several people in my family are photographers, and we had a dark room at home. Growing up, I was exposed to the art but was never allowed to touch my father’s camera. He thought I might break his camera and told me it wasn’t a toy to play with. At the time, I’ve always composed a photograph in my mind when I look at the scenery or just different objects. I still do that a lot to this day, except now I have a real camera that I can use to take a picture. People who know me always hear me say this would be a good angle when I’m looking at something. It’s just how my mind works naturally.

What inspires you in general? 

A: Beautiful subjects like nature and sometimes even people and everyday life; the list goes on. I think nature is so beautiful and I would like to share that beauty with the world. I think a lot of people take nature and everything around them completely for granted. I also like to take pictures of buildings once in a while.  I am constantly experimenting with different subjects but nature is my favorite subject to photograph.

Which do you do more often: get an idea in your head then set out to get it, or go out trying to get ideas and then come across something you like?

A: I think I do a little of both. I go out to an area because I know the area is beautiful and I try to pick a time that would be ideal for the photograph I am trying to take. Then things just happen and I take the picture!

When you get this idea in your head for a photo, how do go about getting that shot? 

A: I look at the scenery and just take the picture that I think would look best. Then, I pick and choose from the pictures that I took.

How do you know when you get “the shot”? 

A: You just know when you take the photograph.

What type of camera and equipment do you use? How do you get such vibrant colors in your photos? 

A: I shoot with a Nikon D800 and use my 16-35mm wide-angle lens a lot.  I also have 18- 300mm zoom for close ups. I am not too fond of my tripod but I bring it with me in case I need it. On one occasion, I had to take over 200 exposures just to be able to capture lightning in the distance by propping my camera up with a windowsill. This was when I realized that the tripod is very important. For my photographs, I see the vibrant colors in my mind, so I make sure to make my photographs as vibrant as the way I see it. Then I enhance the photos through post-editing.

Any advice for first-time photographers? 

A: Experiment, experiment, experiment! I still experiment to this day and will never stop. Take the picture the way you want to take it, not because someone told you that this is the only way. I don’t believe in conforming to the standards of this or that. The only standard you should conform to should be the one you feel is best for you and your taste. There are several photography classes out there that one can certainly learn from; I would use that as a starting point. Art, after all, is anything you want it to be. As the saying goes: beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.


Samples of Amanda’s photography:

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To see more of Amanda’s work, visit her website amandasinco.com.