Heather Author Photo 2_edited_edited.jpg

Heather Bartel


Founder and Editor of The Champagne Room 

What are you reading these days? Do you love/hate/feel neutral about it, and why?


I usually read between 5-10 books at a time, different texts depending on mood. I’ll spend an evening in my reading chair and read each book for 15 minutes and more on to the next one, so here’s what my current stack looks like:

  1. I’m always in the middle of a novel because fiction is my favorite escape. Currently I’m reading Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki, a queer sci-fi book that I’m enjoying immensely, and not just because donuts seem to be a plot point. The novel I most recently finished was Akwaeke Emezi’s You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty, which I really loved. It’s summer, so I tend to go for warm, somewhat lighter books; I’m usually ready something heavy and Russian in winter.

  2. I’m usually in the middle of several poetry books at once:

    • I’ve been really interested in visual poetry for the last five years, and am really enjoying The Book of Penteract, a gorgeously printed anthology from an excellent press that’s already caused me to order several authors’ books from the library, including Crystallography by Christian Bök.

    • I just finished and immediately began rereading Constellations by Astra Papachristodoulou a favorite visual poet. I ordered it directly from her along with a few other chapbooks that I’m excited to tuck into next.

    • Dear God. Dear Bones. Dear Yellow. by Noor Hindi is a debut collection that I’ve been really looking forward to. She beautifully interrogates what it means to witness, how to approach that in an active, way instead of passive.

    • Natalie Diaz's debut collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec is feeling hitting home right now in unexpected ways.

  3. I’m usually in the middle of several reference books, which I take a long time to finish because I rotate through them depending on mood and current interest:

  4. Even though I don’t really cook I’m usually reading at least one cookbook, right now two:


Could you provide for us a passage of writing that deeply shifts something inside you? 


I guess it would be Ruth Stone’s poem “Train Ride.” I’ve read it a lot in perhaps the last seven years, but especially in recent months; I read it at my father’s funeral service in July. I find it comforting.

Train Ride

by Ruth Stone


All things come to an end;
small calves in Arkansas,
the bend of the muddy river.
Do all things come to an end?
No, they go on forever.
They go on forever, the swamp,
the vine-choked cypress, the oaks
rattling last year's leaves,
the thump of the rails, the kite,
the still white stilted heron.
All things come to an end.
The red clay bank, the spread hawk,
the bodies riding this train,
the stalled truck, pale sunlight, the talk;
the talk goes on forever,
the wide dry field of geese,
a man stopped near his porch
to watch. Release, release;
between cold death and a fever,
send what you will, I will listen.
All things come to an end.
No, they go on forever.


[Need to work up citation for this: https://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php%3Fdate=2014%252F03%252F30.html]

When you are working on a piece, what inspirations do you draw from?


Oh wow, that depends on the piece! I guess it’s usually somewhat environmental or temporally relevant: some glimmery thing catches my attention, a physical object becomes a vehicle for swirling emotions, that sort of thing. If I’m really into a particular poet’s work, entrenched a book and really digging it, their voice might tinge whatever I’m working on; sometimes I’ll even imitate a form or trick I think is cool, though I don’t send those poems out for submission, as that can be an ethically grey area. However, it’s fun to play and do whatever I want when I promise myself no one will see it. Most things I write are just for me, not the world.


What craft elements are you most interested in/attached to within your writing?


My poems usually begin as couplets by default, I just find them comfortable, though in the last six years or so I’ve gotten a bit weirder, experimenting with unexpected formats. I never got an MFA but spent the last 25 years taking craft and generative workshops at various writing centers (hi, Lighthouse!) and have tried all sorts of formal structures. It’s fun to learn shapes and then shatter them, reassemble the shards.

Recently I’ve gotten really curious about visual poetry. I’ve been interested in how image and text can be integrated since I got my first digital camera in 2000. The, when I lived in Denver for six years and began making poemboxes, which are sculptural interpretations of my poems (heavily influenced by Joseph Cornell), I began wondering how other people were combining words and visual elements. It’s so exciting!


Who (or what) are some of your writing obsessions, and why?


I use Scrivener to edit poems (after I handwrite the first draft in an unlined horizontally oriented notebook). It has customizable metadata you can tag individual pieces with, so when I look at those tags I can see the recurring themes in my work. Lately there are a lot of mouths/broken jaws, sex and messy bodies in general, shards and glass, meditations on the limitations of language, escape/the void, interrogating memory as ghosts, geometry and geology, the gap between pictorial representation and reality, and a bunch of trees since I live in a 4th floor apartment with a massive tree out my front window.


What are some ways in which you remain productive/find time to be a writer? 


It’s taken me decades to establish a consistent writing practice. I’ve been working full-time since I was 21, so if I don’t make time for my creative practices they won’t happen. I view it as something nice I do for myself: get up earlier and spend 45 minutes before my day job working on poems or whatever. It helps that I’ve been working from home, fully remote, since 2013. I usually try and set aside a weekend morning for a block of several hours, too, type up everything that’s been scribbled in my notebook that week.


What are some ways in which you get through a block in your creative work?


It helps to remember that nothing is forever. Most things in nature happen in cycles, so if I’m in a fallow period, so what? When you repot a plant or make a cutting, you don’t see much visible growth for a while because the plant is spending energy establishing a root system, so I just try not to sweat it. Anxiety will just amplify itself. Instead, I try to focus on more poetry administrative stuff, like editing older pieces, submitting to lit mags, etc. When all else fails, I go to a museum or work out/take a walk. Art and moving the body are powerful medicines.


How do you navigate the experience of submissions/rejections/acceptances?

I use a spreadsheet to track submissions, it goes back to 2002 and has about 540 submission entries so far (oh my god!) so yeah, I like to be organized. I used to take rejections personally but working as an editor for Inverted Syntax annihilated that. As an editor, I see so much amazing work that we can’t publish for one reason or another; it’s never personal. When I look back at poems that got declined 20, even five years ago, I’m quite grateful to the editors for the rejections; I’ve submitted so many cringey, weak, or private poems that I’m so glad they don’t live in public view now.

About five years ago I did that “aim for 100 rejections in one year” thing – I think I succeeded but haven’t attempted that pace since then. I tend to forget about submissions once I send them, that way acceptances are a pleasant surprise. The work, to craft poems I love is the goal, not publication.


Regarding your pieces in Issue 02, what do they mean for/to you?

I have three pieces in Issue 02, and wow I am so honored to be included in this gorgeous publication! 

-- “Lake House as Hourglass” was written during a really difficult phase of getting divorced, having to improvise in a new environment, unable to see what comes next.
-- “Seeds” came out almost in one piece. Usually my poems go through at least a dozen drafts but this one didn’t seem to want much tweaking.
-- “Gun Control” also emerged close to fully formed, but I sat on it for a few years. I even asked my mom: do I really want a poem about my vagina out there in the world? Turns out that yes, I do. 

Do you have any recent publications and/or projects? 


I haven’t published a book in a couple decades, so I’d like to thank the amazing editors of The Champagne Room for being incredibly supportive good people. I have to shout Inverted Syntax, a lit mag I help to edit, because Nawal Nader-French is a wonderful, skilled editor and thoughtful friend. I have a new (OK, four years old) poembox coming out in Cutbow Quarterly, and am so psyched to see what else is in the debut issue. I also have new poems coming out at some point in Heavy Feather Review and The Jupiter Review. I think Collective Aporia / *apo-press is awesome, they published one of my visual poems in their first issue, and their workshops are always fun and inspiring, a lovely community.


Is there anything else you would like to share with other writers?

Writing is a verb, not just a noun. It’s not content, it’s your work, and while capitalism has devalued literature it’s still urgent and necessary, but also something you have to want to do for yourself. Forget about anyone else reading it and just start writing, that’s when the interesting stuff comes out. Establish a practice and stick to it, even if it’s just 15 minutes before work or an hour on a Saturday. Consistency can be its own reward, but even moreso when the right word or crystalline phrase bubbles up to the surface. Those moments of awe, when I finish reading or writing a poem that make me go WOW!!, those are the reward. Whoops, I didn’t mean to give advice but here we are. Keep writing.

Jesica Davis (she/her) is a poet and software technical writer from Chicago who has lived in various places including Champaign-Urbana, Sydney, Minneapolis, Berlin, Brooklyn, Denver, Miami, and Michigan. She’s an Associate Editor for Inverted Syntax whose work has appeared in Dream Pop, Storm Cellar, streetcake magazine, The Laurel Review, Kissing Dynamite, and other places. Jesica studied poetry at the University of Illinois (as well as The New School, NYU, and Poets House), was the final Alice Maxine Bowie Fellow at Lighthouse Writers Workshop (2016-2017), and won the Tarantula Prize for Poetry (Pilgrimage Press, 2018). Sometimes she makes poemboxes, which are sculptural interpretations of her poems. See j3s.net for more.


Website: https://j3s.net/

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