“‘What we really want to do is serve happiness’: A Conversation with Brian Teare,” curated by Victoria Chang

A 2015 Pew Fellow in the Arts, Brian Teare is the recipient of poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, the Headlands Center for the Arts, the Fund for Poetry, the Vermont Studio Center, and the American Antiquarian Society. He is the author of five critically acclaimed books, most recently Companion Grasses, which was a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Award, and The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven, a Library Journal Best Indie Poetry pick. An Associate Professor at Temple University, he lives in South Philadelphia, where he makes books by hand for his micropress, Albion Books. Our Senior Poetry Editor, Victoria Chang, recently had a chance to ask Brian a few questions about his work.
Victoria Chang: I love your newest book, The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven, published by Ahsahta Press in 2015. It’s probably my favorite book I’ve read all year. The book refers to Agnes Martin, the artist’s writing and artwork as a kind of lens to view and ruminate on the speaker’s mysterious illness and suffering. The book seems to go well beyond ekphrasis and I hesitate to even use such a base term to describe what you are doing. Can you talk about the influence of Agnes on this book and on the speaker at the time of the writing of the book?

Brian Teare: Thanks so much! I’m glad you think of the book as something that goes a bit beyond the usual terms of ekphrasis. As with a lot of the Abstract Expressionist painters she counted as her colleagues, Martin’s stance on making art and her thoughts on living the artist’s life tend to efface the usual boundaries between art and life. Though it must be noted that she carefully controlled her public image, and refused to divulge much biographical detail beyond her twin commitments to rigorous solitude and art-making, she nonetheless practiced what she preached.

During the second half of her very long life as a working artist, she lived alone in the desert of New Mexico and designed a life that facilitated mental clarity, equanimity, and painting. Her philosophies of art and of living the artist’s life are recorded in her Writings. Though most of those talks, poems, and essays date from the 60s and 70s, she would go on to reiterate many of their central tenets and metaphysics throughout interviews for the rest of her life. “What we really want to do,” she claims in “The Current of the River of Life Moves Us,” “is serve happiness.” And so, it seems, she did.

When I began writing into the space that would become that book, Martin served as the kind of wisdom figure her writings and her reputation as desert hermit set her up to be. I was seriously ill, in a lot of pain, and, as someone both uninsured and low-income before Obamacare, I had limited access to western healthcare and VIP access to precarity. Martin’s rhetorical certainty appealed to me—and her metaphysics of happiness, mindfulness, beauty, and transcendence of suffering. But I also genuinely loved her works on paper and her paintings, and I experienced her love of the grid as a visual analogue to the lyric poem.

In those early days, I mined her Writings for their wisdom and advice, and I researched the 50s and 60s NY art scenes her work emerged from. Over time, I also dove into research about the influence of Zen and Ch’an Buddhism on her and on other artists of her time, such as John Cage. Throughout the process of writing the book, I experienced her repeated return to the grid to be a meditative practice much like the metaphysical poems of Emily Dickinson or, say, Jean Valentine or Carl Phillips. What appears at first to be an obsessive return to formal and/or thematic tropes is instead a kind of ritual, akin to prayer or zazen: though the formal parameters of meditation remain unchanged, and the outward pose of the meditator might look similar, the inward work being done remains ever surprising, always singular.

VC: The book has a trajectory and at the end, there seems to be a kind of separation or evolution away from Martin. Can you talk more about that?

BT: Absolutely. I worked on the book for six years, and my relationship to Martin definitely changed over time. The book plots the trajectory from her being a figure external to me to being a figure I’ve internalized—from being Agnes Martin the painter to the teacher Agnes. And, as you point out, the book ends after I take a step back from Agnes as a teacher figure, whose metaphysics is based on an apolitical asceticism that I found to be useful for an Agnes but not so useful for me. I’m a firm believer in Wittgenstein’s claim that “The world is everything that is the case,” and I’m pretty suspicious of belief systems that only function after you cut out a whole bunch of the world.

And though I never quarreled with or took leave of Agnes the artist, for whose work and work ethic I have nothing but admiration, the third section of the book indeed details my journey away from being a student of her metaphysics. Why? My guess is it’s partly temperamental—I’m not a particularly obedient person—and partly impatience with someone else’s metaphysical system—I left the Christian church when I was 15 and I’ve never entirely cottoned to another metaphysics in its entirety—and partly generational—as a queer and a feminist born after the Liberation movements of the 60s, I prize gender and sexual politics far more than she did as a woman born in 1912—and partly situational—living a life of chronic illness, a life without health insurance or enough money for continuous health care, meant that I could ill-afford a metaphysics that eschews the economic and political realities of embodiment.

But despite how much I might now bristle against some of what I find in her Writings, she was for many years a singularly inspiring and exacting teacher.

VC: The speaker in this book feels isolated from the world and Martin seems to be the only presence in the book, short of a ghostly lover who barely appears. Can you talk about this?

BT: I know what you mean about the seeming isolation of the speaker. Though there are other figures who appear—the western doctors of section one, and, more crucially “the healer” introduced in section two—I have no doubt they might seem to readers just as ghostly as the lover figure. An illness of such an extended duration meant that I was extremely isolated from the world. Chronically fatigued, I was working three or four adjunct jobs and barely getting by; my friendships and intimacies were filtered through my limitations in terms of time, energy, physical pain, and cognitive fog. The longer I was ill without diagnosis, the less I was able to explain or “justify” my symptoms, and the less able I was, period. The people I had been most intimate with often began to feel like distant presences.

As for the lover: I was partnered and cohabitating at the time, but he asked me not to write about him. This was a constraint I largely accepted, since it was the ethical thing to do. It was also a constraint similar to another one I had already imposed upon myself. Because Agnes abhorred the use of biographical details to “explain” artwork, I decided early on I would obey the boundaries she set up for her critics and interviewers when she was alive. Of course the book would have been very different had I been able to write in detail about how chronic illness affected my relationship, or about Agnes’ biography, but the narrative constraints pushed me to think about ekphrasis differently, to connect with Agnes as a maker. Ultimately these constraints facilitated a space for me to experiment with the grid as a lyric form.

VC: This book seems like a book-length project, and I hate to use that phrase because I supposedly write book-length projects but while writing, I’m not consciously thinking about this. How did you think about this book while writing it and did you think about the challenges of sustaining energy in a book like this?

BT: This is a great question. I’m not naturally a “project” sort of poet, but you’re right that this is a book-length poem. It came about the way all of my books do: from the marriage of experience and accident. In the summer of 2009, some months after I entered the worst of the illness, I began writing fragments in my notebook, then transferring the successful lines into a file on the computer. Slowly I began shaping the fragments into short lyrics about illness. After I read these first poems publically, the generous editors of Beauty Is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability got in touch with me and asked me to submit work to the anthology. My immediate internal response was: “I can’t do that. I’m not disabled.” When I told my partner about it, he remained uncharacteristically silent. Then I asked him: “Do you think of me as disabled?” And without hesitation, he said, “Yes,” and then listed all the things I had stopped being able to do.

Though I’ve come to think my subject position as a chronically ill person is neither stable nor necessarily disabled, these two events gave me permission to continue to write into the experiences and intersections of illness and disability. Discovering Agnes’ Writings, which then led me to her visual art, gave me a kind of frame that helped shape the work. Because my experience of illness had a lot to do with porousness, suspension, lack of agency, and a constantly shifting sense of self, I needed borders and boundaries to get this work done. The grid allowed me a highly controlled formal vocabulary, and an extended conversation with Agnes allowed me an interlocutor who helped me to define who I was in relation to her.

From 2009 to the summer of 2014, I did not yet think of it as a book. For me, each book is a particular kind of energy that I channel. I don’t know what allows me access to that energy, and I don’t know why it arrives or how I know it is meant to produce a particular kind of work, but I channel it for however long it remains open to me. Given all the demands life makes of the working artist, it’s always a challenge to find the time to take advantage of that energetic connection. During the final year of composition, however, I had a deadline to meet, so I actively began to put that energy toward shaping a book. Though I’d long been writing through and with Agnes’ essays and artwork, it was then that I began to more actively theorize what I was doing and to make formal choices that would help integrate the discrete poems into a book.

VC: I love how the poems appear on the page—you can read them vertically, sometimes horizontally, etc. What’s the relationship of physical form to the poems?

BT: I’m really glad you loved this aspect of the book! It was a real experiment for me. I’d like to sketch out a couple of ways I thought my way in to the grid. First of all: after a long time spent looking at Agnes’ paintings and drawings, I had an insight born of my training as a typesetter. Which is that the digitally typeset page is traditionally a grid—a rather implicitly rigid one, at that. Lines stack on lines; letter follows letter; the carefully calibrated math of the horizontal and vertical axes is determinately linked. This led me to another insight. Which is that the traditional sonnet is also a grid: fourteen lines of ten or so stressed and unstressed syllables laid out and stacked on top of one another so that the stresses can be read as both horizontal and vertical axes, not unlike the warp and weft of woven cloth. These insights provide the formal conceits of the book: all the sections are framed by sonnet-grids (though the final sonnet of the book is moved up and integrated into section three), and within that frame I treat each page as a grid on which I hang the various stanzas of each poem.

Second: why do this? I was interested in complicating the analogy between the way we read the body of a poem and the way we read bodies. Often our culture posits a tacit analogy between the body of the poet and the body of the poem, with the lyric especially “performing” the experience of the poet. The conventions of reading and the conventions of the genre of poetry aid and abet this analogy. With poems, we read the lines and stanzas according to the tropes of literacy in English (from left to right, top to bottom). We are taught that each poem is a whole, and all its parts are unitary and deftly coordinated. The poem is supposed to offer a more-or-less reliable surface beneath which resides meaning we’ve been promised access to. In this mode of reading, the poem’s body is usually assumed to function “ably” according to cultural conventions. Given all this, I wondered if I could make lyrics that would offer a different experience of the analogy between the body of the lyric and the body of the poet, one that would complicate concepts of formal wholeness, unity, legibility, meaning, and access.

Treating the page as grid allowed me a visual field that makes the claim that the page is a single poem. But it also allowed me a visual field that would unify apparently disparate stanzas without over-determining how they make meaning together. As you note, you can read some of the pages in a number of ways, and not one of those readings is the “right” one—all of them are, especially when considered together. Given that my own body felt simultaneously whole and illegible, given that the western doctors who could not diagnose my body were like frustrated readers who couldn’t easily access the meaning of a poem (and thus blamed my body instead of their relationship to reading and/or to meaning making), I wanted to fashion a poem that could offer a meaningful indeterminacy, even if it pained my readers as much as my body pained me. The poem that claims “I don’t know/how to read this” quotes one of the early readers of the manuscript—that comment paradoxically let me know I was on the right track!

VC: The titles are from Martin’s writing and artwork—did they serve as a “trigger” or entry point to the poems? How would you articulate that relationship?

BT: Each of the six sonnets is directly ekphrastic in that I chose one specific piece of Martin’s art (usually a drawing), and wrote into it. Excepting the final one, the titles of the sonnets are verbatim transcriptions of the media with which Martin made the drawing or painting I chose to write into. I wanted to emphasize the materials with which she made the work much in the way I was emphasizing the materiality of the poem by framing it with the marks she made to “true” the grids she was drawing—she famously made her grids by hand, with a ruler and tapes and pencil. Given the level of abstraction her work achieves, and given her own very metaphysical reading of her work, these six poems are the most literal ekphrasis I could manage.

For the rest of the poems, I kept a long list of sentences from Martin’s Writings as well as from interviews and documentaries. They were all sentences that triggered something in me ranging from happiness to insight to rage, but I kept the relationship of the titles to the poems variable. As I have said, I often work from a notebook or a file in which I keep lines. So mostly I would bring one of Martin’s sentences to the top of a page and see what kind of language from my notebook or file it drew toward it. Sometimes the title and the first line would have a fairly one-to-one relationship, and the poem developed directly out of the title. Sometimes the relationship would be way more associative, or I would cut a more literal beginning and allow the poem to leap into action. Sometimes the poem would be in a deliberately perverse relationship to the title—as some of what she says strikes me as inadvertently funny or absurd, and irreverence is a part of my relation to her as a wisdom figure.

VC: Can you talk more about your evolution as a poet? This is your 5th book, right? How has your work evolved over time?

BT: I’m an autobiographical writer. Even at my most abstract and lyric, I’m a narrative writer. I’m obsessed with embodiment and its relationship to language, and with the political and philosophical problems intrinsic to that relationship. I’m obsessed with the metaphysical systems we have used to interpret our relationship to matter—to our own and others’ bodies—and to the larger world that is both visible and invisible. I’m obsessed with the histories of these systems and how other writers and artists have struggled with and made use of them. I’m obsessed with poetic form in its broadest sense and how form articulates, extends, reveals, complicates, deforms, and creates content. So in many ways, my work has remained quite constant, and it’s unlikely I will ever outgrow these obsessions.

But I’m aware that how my work embodies and engages with these obsessions has changed a lot since my first book, The Room Where I Was Born I (2003), which was a heavily revised version of my MFA thesis and bears all the traces of my early reading and my training in the creative writing classroom. My second book Pleasure (it was published third, in 2010) is a transitional book that forms a bridge between that early training and the poet I became without having to answer to the classroom. My more “mature” poetics—from Sight Map (2009) to The Empty Form (2015)—grew out of an increasing involvement with and investment in the Bay Area experimental poetry scene from 2000-2011 as well as my self-directed reading in the histories of feminist, queer, and environmental politics and poetries.

In literary critical terms, you could say that my work evolved from a pretty straightforward post-Confessional poetics into what my late friend Reginald Shepherd called “lyric postmodernism,” and that would be an accurate description of its surface effects. But I’d argue that this evolution was as much a response to my changing environment (in all senses of that word) as it was an internal drive toward change. Across all of my books, the work of intellect tends to be as much a response to embodied experience as it is a satiation of conceptual curiosity and imaginative pleasure.

VC: I love your work for its intelligence. Who are the other poets that influence you or who you admire?

BT: That’s kind of you to say. Whenever I get asked a question about influence, my first impulse is to make a very long list, though I am a bit dubious about the usefulness of such lists. Fact: I am a voracious reader. Fact: I own a lot of books and dedicate at least one hour every day to reading. Fact: a lot of poets and writers (including activists, critics, and philosophers) have influenced me. And when I think about it, there are probably three strands of influence for me: the dead elders, the living elders, and my contemporaries. I am most influenced by poets whose work is both lyric and syncretic, merging multiple traditions, genres, disciplines, political commitments, and/or cultures into something like song. Drawing on a mix of living and dead elders, I’d argue that Basho, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Robin Blaser, Kamau Brathwaite, H. D., Emily Dickinson, Robert Duncan, Kathleen Fraser, Jorie Graham, Brenda Hillman, June Jordan, Myung Mi Kim, Nathaniel Mackey, Marianne Moore, Lorine Niedecker, Alice Notley, Adrienne Rich, Reginald Shepherd, Sei Shonagon, Aaron Shurin, Arthur Sze, Jean Valentine, Cecilia Vicuña, Wang Wei, and C. D. Wright have all had deep and lasting impacts on my poems for that reason.

VC: I noticed that your books are published by several different presses, Wisconsin, California Poetry Series, Ahsahta, Omnidawn, and then back to Ahsahta. Being a poet that has published four books with four different presses, tell me about this and your thoughts on this. I know poets who have stayed with one press with all their books and many have jumped around.

BT: Jumping around has not been by choice. The Room Where I Was Born won the Brittingham Prize; at the time, Wisconsin did not publish books outside of its contest winners, and then once it did, my work was no longer a good fit for the press. I could not get Pleasure accepted for publication for at least four years after it was finished—I submitted it to contests, to publishers who had asked after my second book (some of whom took as long as a year to get back to me), and had no luck. Sending it to Ahsahta’s open reading period felt like my last chance. But I had meanwhile gotten so frustrated with sitting on my third book, Sight Map, that I sent it to Cal’s open reading period before I had heard back from Ahsahta about Pleasure. Weirdly, I heard from them both within a few weeks of each other in 2007, and nearly fell over with joy. I loved publishing with both presses, but Cal’s poetry series was discontinued right when I was ready to submit Companion Grasses, and at the time, Ahsahta had a huge backlog to get through before they could publish another book of mine. Omnidawn had already expressed interest in it, and given the manuscript is largely set in Northern California, a Bay Area press felt like the natural place to send it; I was gratified that Rusty Morrison took it with such enthusiasm and supported its publication with such generosity. As for The Empty Form—Janet Holmes, the editor of Ahsahta, had heard me read from a very early version of the manuscript in 2010 I think, and she said that she would hold a place open for the book many years down the road, and that knowledge provided the perfect space in which to write the book.

One benefit of all this jumping around between university presses and independent presses is that I’ve gotten a very good sense of how a variety of presses run, what kinds of support different types of presses can offer in terms of book production and publicity, and what kinds of support I need as an author and what kinds of demands my work tends to make on book design and production. At this point in my career, I do feel like I’d like to find a more permanent home for my work so that I won’t have to shop my books around. But this seems like a common problem for many mid-career experimental poets, given that the “product” that they offer is so unpredictable (not to mention not very lucrative), and that each book demands that critics and readers think hard about and rethink what it is they’re up to. I’m sometimes envious of poets who have and can maintain a recognizable “brand,” but such a gesture is pretty antithetical to how I work, so I have to settle for mild envy.

VC: You’re not on social media, are you? Why not? Social media seems to play an increasing role in the world of poetry—the dissemination of it/sharing of it, the community, and the expansion of readers, etc. The flipside is that there’s a lot of noise in social media and sometimes I find that noise disruptive to a life of serious writing and reading. What do you think?

BT: Speaking as a sporadic lurker but not as a user, I love a lot of the changes that social media seems to have brought to poetry. It feels like it has instigated a quick and radical cultural shift, particularly because it has created a powerful sense of coalition amongst a broad sector of women, queers, and writers of color of all ages. To my eye, publishing has already begun responding to this shift, and so have book awards, and, though they are moving more slowly, so have literary institutions. I also love how fluid and immediate the communication is, how fiercely it can hold people and institutions accountable, and how coalition and solidarity can build into readership as well. Speaking from the position of someone who came of age before the internet, I can’t understate how amazing it is to witness such profound cultural change in such a short period of time.

But you’re right that I have never so much as had a Facebook account. Why? I’m slow. I write slowly, and I feel like I must think slowly. Distraction and high emotions are anathema to my ability to focus and get work done. Some of this has to do with the daily reality of chronic illness, and some of this must just be that my internal machinery takes its own sweet time. As I said, I grew up pre-internet and in a very rural area; internet became a widespread reality right around my 20th birthday; I didn’t move to an urban area until I was 26. There’s a part of me that thinks my circadian rhythms never really caught up to either event. I can barely handle email. I prefer trees; they’re more my speed. And to push this further—unlike a social media account, a tree doesn’t require that I invent a digital avatar version of myself. I prefer the phenomenological qualities and exchanges that inhere in relating to material things and to the non-man-made.

I hesitate to criticize phenomena in which I have taken no active part. Obviously, I can’t help but worry on my own behalf that having little gift or energy for social media means that younger writers won’t read or seek out my work. I’d hate for that to be true, but it could be part of this new reality. I also worry that social media tends to create network blindness, by which I mean that anything or anyone outside of a given social network barely exists to those inside it, thus creating a kind of hegemony. I worry about this in terms of intergenerational dialogue in particular, given our culture’s penchant for erasing elders and effacing their achievements. Obviously we have public figures like Margaret Atwood who absolutely slay on Twitter, but I’m thinking more of the ways in which intergenerational dialogue and collaboration outside of the academy have been crucial to my sense of how poetry community functions on a local level.

VC: What are your biggest anxieties about your own writing, your writing life, and anything else?

BT: I’m writing this the morning after Trump pardoned the convicted criminal and racist Joe Arpaio. Last night the White House also issued guidance to the military on how to implement Trump’s ban on transgender service members. And while Trump tweeted these updates, Hurricane Harvey was about to hit the Texas coast; it is predicted to create record flooding that will strain a National Flood Insurance fund already way over budget because of the ever-increasing number of hurricanes and superstorms. And last week Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke recommended that we shrink many national monuments and open them up to the energy industry. All this not even two weeks after white supremacists marched on Charlottesville and one of their members killed activist Heather Heyer with his f*cking car. The expansion of the Trumpire into the Oval Office has produced one long anxious vigil as we watch civil rights erode, immigrant rights implode, women’s reproductive health vanish, institutional racism flourish, climate change accelerate, the mention of climate change vanish from government websites and correspondence, and so on. It’s not that personal anxieties over health, money, love, and career vanish in this context, but, to use a vernacular from my upbringing—these here are some Endtimes signs.

VC: Do you ever think about the reception of your books? Do you read your reviews?

BT: I probably feel the reception of a book more than I think about it. I do read my reviews, and I’m definitely interested in whether or not a book gets reviewed and in which venues—and I’ve read some hugely gratifying responses to my work and only a few truly dispiriting ones. But it seems to me that reviews had more cache and perhaps greater ripple effect before social media networks. Now I think a high-wattage social media presence, a savvy advert campaign, and a high visibility book award probably have a far greater effect on whether or not a good book makes it to readers. And there’s also whether or not a book hooks into a current zeitgeist—Companion Grasses, for instance, came out when there was a lot of buzz around ecopoetics, and I speculate it got a modest boost from that without its having a huge social media presence, posh advertising, or a book award.

There is a metaphor I think about a lot when it comes to publishing a book of poetry. When I was at Stanford, Eavan Boland said something to the effect that a book of poetry lives an alley cat life. It leaves you and goes out into the world and you have no idea the adventures it has. When it comes back to you, you have no idea who it has visited, who it has scrapped with, or who fed it for a night or two. I really love that metaphor and have long been grateful to Eavan for the gift of it. So though I do love a thoughtful review, what I treasure most are emails or notes from readers I’ve never met who let me know the work has meant something to them—it means my little alley cat has legs! And that a stranger has taken the time to care for it. And an interview like this is another way of letting me know someone has taken such care. So thank you!

VC: You also make books; can you talk about that and how it relates to your making of poems?

BT: Interesting question. Maybe because I’ve been making poems since the 90s and only making books since 2008, this is not always clear to me when I’m in the middle of writing. After all, I’ve only written two books in the wake of training as a typesetter, letterpress printer, and bookbinder. In the case of Companion Grasses, which I started writing in 2005 and finished in 2011, I was aware mostly of what demands the poems would make on a typesetter and book designer. I don’t think most of the poems were actually influenced by my training except in the sense that they occupy the page with a heightened visual awareness that I think of largely as indebted to Charles Olson’s essay “Projective Verse,” but which is no doubt in part a product of time in the print shop.

In the case of The Empty Form, though, the use of the grid came directly from my experience as a typesetter, and I found deep visual pleasure in designing those poems. Additionally, I was aware that few presses would choose to undertake a book whose poems demand such a large trim size and whose text would require very attentive typesetting—they certainly offered challenges to some of the generous journals who published them! But because Janet is a seriously expert typesetter and she has always designed her books around the demands of the poems, I knew that book would end up in the best possible hands—that knowledge allowed me full permission to push the poems in the visual direction they demanded. I can’t understate how crucial it was to writing the book, knowing Janet would receive it with all her intelligence and expertise.

VC: What are you working on now? Can you tell us about your new project(s)?

BT: I’m finishing up a new book of poems called Doomstead Days. I started it during the summer of 2011, just before I left California; six years seems about the amount of time it takes me to write a book during this period of my life. In some ways, DD is a continuation of the ecopoetics of Companion Grasses. The poems were written on foot and record bioregional details, incorporate natural history research, and respond to my own embodied experience of encounters with place and human and nonhuman others. But the focus of this new book is often less on encounter itself and more on placing such encounters in the context of what scientists are calling the Anthropocene, the geological era in which human activity influences the fossil record, activity that has massively accelerated since WWII. Oil spills, plastics, toxins, genetic modification, invasive species, extinction, climate change—I’ve tried to weave all of these facts into the fabric of the book the way they are woven into our daily lives, both subtly and overtly, intimately and violently. And yet the book doesn’t give up on the primacy of encounter to our sense of self, the pleasures of embodiment, or our interdependence with biospheric processes whose oxygen plumps our lungs and whose water flows through us. If anything, the growing toxic burden of being alive emphasizes the need for us to be present for and pay greater attention to our encounters with what surrounds us.
Victoria Chang’s fourth book of poems, Barbie Chang, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in 2017. Her third, The Boss, won the PEN Center USA Literary Award and a California Book Award. Her other books are Salvinia Molesta and Circle. She also writes children’s books and Is Mommy? (Simon & Schuster), illustrated by Marla Frazee was named a New York Times Notable Book. She lives in Southern California and teaches at Chapman University and Orange County School of the Arts. You can find her at www.victoriachangpoet.com.