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Doorways Interview w/Deborah P Kolodji


                            Deborah P Kolodji and Stephen M. Wilson
                            Fort Mason, San Francisco, CA
                           September 30, 2007


Deborah P Kolodji is the president of the Science Fiction Poetry Association and a member of the Haiku Society of America.  Her poetry has been widely published in a variety of magazines and journals including MODERN HAIKU, STRANGE HORIZONS, DREAMS AND NIGHTMARES, FROGPOND, SIMPLY HAIKU, THE MAINICHI DAILY NEWS (Japan), ASAHI HAIKUIST NETWORK (Japan), STAR*LINE, TALES OF THE TALISMAN, TALES OF THE UNANTICIPATED, THE MAGAZINE OF SPECULATIVE POETRY, ST. ANTHONY MESSENGER MAGAZINE, POETPOURRI, PEARL, POETIC DIVERSITY, ECLECTICA, GIN BENDER POETRY REVIEW, and many other places.

Gravitating to short form poetry, she is the editor and co-founder of AMAZE:  THE CINQUAIN JOURNAL. 


Kolodji has published four chapbooks of poetry, two of speculative poetry.  SEASIDE MOON by Saki Press, her chapbook of mainstream haiku, was one of the winners of the 2004-2005 Virgil Hutton Haiku Memorial Award.  UNFINISHED BOOK, a chapbook of mainstream cinquains, haiku, and other short poetry was published by Shadows Ink Publications in February, 2006.  SYMPHONY OF THE UNIVERSE by Sam’s Dot Publishing, April 2006 was her first chapbook of speculative poetry and RED PLANET DUST, Gromagon Press, July 2006 and illustrated by Malcolm Deeley, was her first chapbook of speculative haiku.

Stephen M. Wilson: How did you go from writing, editing, and publishing mainstream poetry to being president of the Science Fiction Poetry Association?

Deborah P Kolodji: My roots are in speculative poetry.  In high school, I wrote some Star Trek poetry.  After college, I didn’t write poetry for about ten years, concentrating my energies on my IT career, my marriage and my children.  When I divorced in 1992, I started writing again – those first poems were about geological cataclysms – earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, calderas, etc, and they were almost all about divorce and/or failed relationships.  I sold one of those poems to Star*Line in the early 1990’s – it was called “Cal Tech Divorce Study.”


Some of the geological poems ended up in speculative venues – others ended up in mainstream journals.   I’ve always written and published a mix of speculative and mainstream poetry.

I don’t see my speculative poetry and my mainstream poetry as separate entities.  I think that some poets pigeonhole themselves into being a “speculative poet” or a “mainstream poet.” 


I consider myself simply a poet. 


I write mainstream poetry, haiku and tanka, science fiction poetry, fantasy poetry, horror poetry, science poetry, technology-based poetry, and any other type of poetry that the particular poem I’m trying to write needs to be.  I participate in more than one poetry community.  I’m a member of the Haiku Society of America (http://www.hsa-haiku.org) and the leader of our local haiku group, the Southern California Haiku Study Group (http://www.socalhaiku.org). 

Recently, Samantha Henderson and I have launched a local quarterly workshop group of mostly SFPA members called the Southland Poets of the Fantastic (http://spf-news.blogspot.com).  I’m also a regular at “Monday Night Poetry” http://home.earthlink.net/~mondaynightpoetry/) - a local poetry reading which meets twice a month at a branch of the Pasadena Public Library.   The host, Don Kingfisher Campbell, launched an annual science fiction and fantasy poetry reading last year. 


This year, he’s producing an anthology to coincide with the reading.   The contributors include well known names from the speculative poetry community as well as familiar names on the local Los Angeles poetry reading circuit.  I spoke with one of those poets from the latter group at the last Monday night reading, who felt challenged by the idea and was thrilled that she had written her first “fantasy” poem.  Unfortunately, I did not see her list on the final list of contributors.

One of my goals as president of the Science Fiction Poetry Association is to attempt to break down some of the walls between these separate poetry communities.  There is richness in each poetry community and things we can all learn from each other.

Wilson: What do you think can be expressed in spec and horror poetry that cannot in mainstream poetry?

Kolodji: Science fiction, fantasy, and horror poetry allows us to express our most fantastical thoughts, our deepest fears, and our wildest dreams and speculations.  It opens the door beyond merely writing about what IS to exploring our thoughts about what could be.


It also allows us to tackle more controversial subjects by constructing modern fables to draw attention to a problem by drawing the mind first in a different direction, a different look at the problem.


Wilson: What was the first poem of yours published and in what publication?

Kolodji: Several of my teenage “Star Trek” poems appeared in Star Trek fanzines and newsletters during the 1970’s under my maiden name. 

The first poem I ever published outside of the fanzine world was a humorous rhymed poem about the gasoline shortage.  This appeared in two newspapers – the Long Beach Press Telegram and the Daily Trojan (at USC) in 1978.  The Press Telegram wrote a column around my poem.  The Daily Trojan published it as a letter to the editor. 

It was 1992 before I really started marketing and selling my work.  My first sale was to “Our Family,” a Canadian Catholic family magazine. 

My first genre sale was a poem which came out of my information technology career.  “Lament of the Beta Tester” was published in Figment #15 in September 1993.  “Ship Stowaway,” my first appearance in Star*Line (Nov/Dec 1993) was my first Rhysling Award nomination.


Wilson: Do you write everyday (a haiku at breakfast; a cinquain before bed)?


Kolodji: I have a little haiku notebook that I carry with me everywhere.    I try to write in it every day.

Lately, I’ve been on a mission to learn the names of things – the names of birds, of plants, of constellations.   I don’t want to write a haiku about the bird on the bare branch, I want to write about the mockingbird on the bare cottonwood.   So, I’ve been doing a lot of nature hikes at local Los Angeles gardens and bird walks by the local Audubon society.  I’ve made several trips to the recently reopened and refurbished Griffith Observatory.  The haiku notebook always goes, too.


Wilson: When writing in forms, does the final work always turn out in the form you intended?


Kolodji: I don’t deliberately set out to write in forms.  In other words, I don’t say, “I want to write a sonnet today” and then struggle to fit something in iambic pentameter.  Instead, I brainstorm ideas on the page and if they seem to be of a certain form, I write in that form.


Except for haiku I often write “in the wild” so to speak, I compose much of my work directly on the computer. 


I’m a firm believer that the form should fit the poem, versus trying to force a poem into a form.   One of my pet beefs as the editor of a cinquain journal is receiving submissions of cinquains which really shouldn’t be cinquains, where the poet has just forced something into a 2-4-6-8-2 form and it shows.


On the other hand, I think it’s good to practice forms so that if a poem comes to you that might fit a certain form, it’s easier to write it in that form.


Cinquains and haiku come very naturally to me.  I tend to “think” in those forms without really concentrating very much.   Sometimes a cinquain will turn into a tanka.  Sometimes a tanka will turn into a cinquain.


Wilson: You are responsible for helping create a new award for sf/f/h poetry (The Dwarf Stars Award). How did this come about?

Kolodji: I enjoy very, very short poetry, write often in Asian forms and Asian inspired forms (like the cinquain), and believe that a person reads a short poem differently than he/she reads a long poem.


At least, I do.  When I read a haiku, I tend to savor it and let the juxtaposition of the two images expand in my mind.  To truly experience a good haiku involves far more than what is written on the page.


When I read a very long poem with complicated imagery, I need to break the poem down to understand it better.  I end up charting a mental trail through its images and journey through the poem slowly as a means of understanding.  It is an entirely different process.


It had been bothering me for several years that very short poems were not being recognized in the Rhysling Award process.   At some point I started a discussion on SFPANet, the Science Fiction Poetry Association listserv.   At first people said that not enough very short poetry was being published, but then Ruth Berman and I did some studies of publications and found that, in fact, far more poems of 10 lines are less are published than poems of over 50 lines, which has its own Rhysling category.  


I began to push for a third Rhysling category and made a motion to that effect.  As part of my campaign, I published the first Dwarf Stars anthology as a demonstration.   Some members were saying that the reason very short poems are never nominated was because they weren’t “good enough.”  So, I found 30 poems of less than 10 lines which I thought were exceptional from the previous year, which had not been nominated for a Rhysling Award.    I produced the anthology out of my own money and mailed it to the entire SFPA membership at my own expense.


The vote for the third Rhysling category ended up with a far greater participation than usual but ended up in a tie.  So, there was some talk of having a re-vote.  Then, Mike Allen, president of the SFPA at that time, approached me with the idea of having a Dwarf Stars Award. 


It seemed a fair compromise.  Obviously, many SFPA members felt there should be a way of acknowledging excellence in very short poetry but an equal number of them did not want to change the existing award system.


So, the Dwarf Stars Award was born.


Wilson: Are any of your children involved in artistic endeavors?

Kolodji: My oldest son loves classical music and sings in a chorus.  My younger son is an excellent writer but is not currently writing.  My daughter enjoys theatre, but hasn’t had much time for it since she left high school.  (She works in a DNA lab at UC Santa Cruz and is a science major).


Wilson: Blood-stained cacao pods and rare legs aside, can you recommend some good restaurants in Temple City?

Kolodji: My favorite local restaurant is the Din Tai Fung Dumpling House in Arcadia which has the most unbelievably good juicy pork dumplings.  For Mexican food, I usually go to Margaritas, in east Pasadena.


Wilson: Thank you for being a DOORWAYS MAGAZINE 'featured poet'.

Kolodji: It’s my pleasure!

DOORWAYS MAGAZINE is available to purchase at: http://www.doorwaysmagazine.com/news.php

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