Author Interview: Christopher Grillo

Six Fold

Recently, Zoetic Press was pleased to premier Christopher E. Grillo’s newest poetry collection, The Six- Fold Radial Symmetry of Snow. Christopher is an education professional and recent graduate of Southern Connecticut State University’s MFA program, his poetry having been featured in Extracts, Up the River, Young Raven’s Literary Review, Drunk Monkeys, Noctua Review, Lunch Ticket Press, Referential, The Elm City Review, and more. Christopher is Noctua Review’s Connecticut State University’s Poetry Prize Winner and the Elm City Review’s editor’s choice award winner. He moonlights as a high school football coach at his alma mater, North Haven.

Christopher spoke to Kolleen Carney about The Six-Fold Radial Symmetry of Snow, his writing process, sports themed poetry, and what’s important to have an adult.

KC: The Six-Fold Radial Symmetry of Snow is a narrative collection; did you draw any of these poems from your own life? Is there any aspect of confessional writing in these poems?

CG: Absolutely. I don’t believe a poet can effectively convey a message through subject matter he or she knows nothing about. I was a small town kid and an athlete. Many of the poems are some of the most distinct memories I have of my adolescence. That is not to say that they aren’t embellished and altered in a lot of ways, and certainly there are “moments” implanted for continuity’s sake. Those moments, the ones that are more fabricated, in my opinion, are the weaker poems in the collection.

KC: In these poems the speaker is almost haunted by memories of his youth. I think this is a theme most of us struggle with; the wish to still be young, the wish of having done more (or differently), the reality of being older with our glory days behind us. Any thoughts on this aspect of your book?

CG: Yeah. I think for me it is less of a reflection for remembrance’s sake and more of a comment on growing up and losing some of the “innocence” (though I wouldn’t describe any of the characters as innocent) of those adolescent years.

When I frame it that way it sounds depressing. But I would like to think the book actually has a hopeful ring to it. That Frankie’s dreams, and the speaker’s dreams for Frankie, and his idealism, kind of crumble is totally gut wrenching. But the characters persist and learn to lean on each other more than ever.

That’s what it’s all about when the smoke clears. In adulthood, they have loyalty and friendship, and while it seems a small victory, it is much more meaningful than the fantasies of their youth.

KC: The poems are a beautiful blend of athleticism and masculinity paired with introspection. I will admit I have not read a lot of sports- themed poetry. Was this a difficult balance to achieve? Were you afraid of it not being well received?

CG: Thank you! I’ve been asked this many times in one form or another, and I think for a while I was defensive to what I felt the implication was, the old meathead trope. I recognize now that I am one of a very small sample size living in the overlap on the sports/literature Venn diagram, and so I am more understanding of the questions raised by the phenomenon. To answer directly: no it was not difficult, because I am myself an introspective AND physical person. For me, as a football player, the game helped me to become more introspective. I was an overachieving athlete, a wannabe hanging on at a level of play far above my physical capacity. By their very nature, athletics test a person’s physicality, but the mind and the body are so interconnected and so you are constantly examining your strengths and self-inflations versus your weaknesses and self-doubts. If you are not honest about whom you really are you will be exposed. What’s worse, you will let people down. I think that is true of life as well.

KC: I understand this book connects with another work by you. Could you tell us about that? What made you focus on this particular narrative?

CG: Sure. So this collection is one half of what was my MFA thesis and is now a full-length collection called Heroes’ Tunnel (Anaphora Literary Press.) The poems in the full length alternate in focus from the speaker’s relationship with Frankie to the speaker’s relationship with his love interest, Charlene. During my thesis defense a reader praised the work for its braided narratives. I tried my best to look as though that was the intention, but it really wasn’t. I left the defense and blew up the order of the poems so that there was a Frankie section and a Charlene section, and it became clear that I really had three books. The Charlene section was published early last year under the title When Rain Fills the Chasm, by Finishing Line Press.

KC: What is your writing process like? I am always fascinated with how writers, you know, write.

CG: For me it usually starts with a phrase or a piece of description that the world around me offers up. From there, the poem starts to take shape and I get a basic idea of what I would like the reader to take away. The revision process is when I tighten the language and the extended metaphor so that my intent is clear. This is the most natural way to write, I think. I have written with a collection concept in mind, as with Heroes’ Tunnel, and it is a really tough process. I think this is why you see a lot of poetry collections out there that are loosely held together by abstraction. I don’t think this devalues the writing in any way. A good poem is a good poem, but I personally feel like I am wasting my time if I am not writing towards a clear narrative collection. That’s just me. I must have been a novelist in my past life. In my current incarnation though, my ADD is too aggressive for prose.

KC: Tell us about the title, which is beautiful. Amidst all the sports imagery, this snow is a gorgeous stand- out.

CG: I really struggle with titling. In the early drafts the majority of the poems had titles like “Driving with Frankie, Winter.” A lot of the feedback I received was focused there, so I went on a titling binge. Towards the end I was really losing steam. The poem the collection is named for features Frankie and the speaker driving home from the bar in a snow storm. I Googled “snow”, “snowflakes”, etc. One of the first things that popped up was that phrase, six-fold radial symmetry. I don’t know how it contributes to the collection, but I’m sure if you brought it to an AP lang class somebody could figure out the connection. If I’m being honest, I just think it sounds awesome.

KC: What do you do when you are not writing?

CG: I am a middle school teacher in New Haven, so that is usually the thing that pulls me away from writing (in the most positive way possible). I love my students and the work I do on the achievement gap. They are my heroes. At this point in my life, being a teacher is so much more central to my identity than being a writer.

I am also an assistant high school football coach at my alma mater, which is so much fun. I like to work out though I’m not super outdoorsy. I’m more of a gym/free weights guy. I’ve recently started golfing a bit. I play with my old man who is retired and plays like twice a week. It’s one of those full circle experiences. He’s helping me with the mechanics through the guise of trash talk. It’s like little league baseball all over again. I love it.

* * *

The Six- Fold Radial Symmetry of Snow is available through the Zoetic Press website.

Kolleen Carney is a poet and Associate Editor for Zoetic Press. 

Lise Quintana on WritersCast

Today, instead of my prattling to you about whatever’s rattling about in my brain, I’m instead giving you my interview with David Wilk of WritersCast. I hope you enjoy it!


lise-quintanaLise Quintana is the publisher behind Zoetic Press. She is capable of prattling on at great length about things she feels passionately about – nonlinear literature, her dog, and Harry Van Arsdale, Jr. 

Interview: Angele Ellis

This week, Poetry Business Manager (providing personal attention for all of your editing and submission needs) named NonBinary Review contributor Angele Ellis’s Shakespearean “Sonnet For Mrs. Scalia” as 2nd place/runner-up in its 1st Annual Scalia Dissents Formal Poetry Contest. First place went to Chloé Cunha’s “Ghazal of a One Night Stand”– for more on the contest and Poetry Business Manager, click here. For this contest, submitters had to use a minimum of five phrases from Scalia’s dissents in their poems. After this week’s Rhizomatic Ideas blog post about why awards matter, we thought the timing was ideal to catch up with Angele and ask her a few questions.

Zoetic Press: So, do you like writing sonnets? Or was this prompt just too interesting to pass up?
Angele Ellis: I love writing sonnets! And I can’t help following politics–I’m a longtime community activist, with seven arrests for civil disobedience to my credit (or debit). My first book, a supplemental curriculum and educational guide called Dealing With Differences: Taking Action on Race, Class, Gender and Disability (Corwin Press), came out of collaborative work in peace education.

ZP: Tell us about the prompt, and how your poem came into being. Was it difficult to write in form, or are you comfortable with formal poetry? Were the phrases flexible, or was the text you were working with restrictive? Did you have fun?
AE: I was immediately intrigued by the prompt. When I read the text of Scalia’s dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, which made marriage equality the law of the land, I was even more fired up. Scalia is terribly cynical and misogynistic about the institution–“traditional marriage”–that his dissent is supposed to be defending. I thought, “His poor wife!” and so my poem was born. 
I’ve written poems in a number of forms–including haiku, tanka, haibun, ghazal, and pantoum–but the Shakespearean sonnet is my favorite. I started immersing myself in Shakespeare when I was nine years old, memorizing parts of the plays and the sonnets, using my father’s college edition of The Collected Works of William Shakespeare. Because of this early exposure, writing a sonnet is almost as natural to me as writing free verse.
Scalia’s prose is both plummy and wacky–he obviously thinks of himself as a wit and a literary gentleman–and it was fun to work phrases such as Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded, Hubris is sometimes defined as o’erweening pride; and Ask the nearest hippie into my sonnet. The opening couplet is pure ScaliaI just broke his phrase into two lines.
ZP: Tell us a little bit about the piece you have coming out with us in the next issue. How does it fit in with your body of work?
AE: “A Pardoning” is an adaptation of a chapter of my novel in progress, “Desert Storms,” which takes place–with some flashbacks–around  the funeral of the matriarch of a Lebanese American family. I thought it would be interesting to have some contemporary Arab Americans in the 1001 Arabian Nights issue. (I say contemporary, although my story is set in 1991, which makes it historical.)
Aside from Dealing With Differences, I’m known–if  I’m known at all–as a poet (and one who has written about being Arab American). However, I’ve published a number of short stories, flash fictions, and book reviews. In college, I studied journalism and nonfiction writing along with English literature, and was a writer and editor for my college newspaper. I spent five years as a technical and business writer, and have done freelance writing and editing for a variety of clients. So writing a semi-autobiographical novel represents both a return and a new direction for me.
ZP: How does it feel to be recognized with this honor? Do you think it’s going to change anything for you, or is it just one of those great, much-needed reminders that you’re doing the right thing?
AE: It’s wonderful to win a prize–I’ve won several–but I was brought back to earth on the same day by yet another rejection of the new full-length poetry manuscript I’ve been circulating. It was a kind rejection, but still… I give my “The Price Is Right” yell every time I receive an acceptance, because my rejections are more numerous. (I live alone, so there’s no one to scare by screaming.) For me, writing is an absorbing compulsion on which I’ve imposed a degree of discipline. I think I’m proof that If you keep on writing and rewriting, if you participate in workshops and seminars, if you develop working friendships with other writers, and if youare persistent in submitting your work, you will have success–however modest.  
ZP: What’s on the horizon for you? Any upcoming events, publications or projects that you’re particularly excited about? 
AE: In September, I’m participating for the sixth year in “I Don’t Know What I’d Do If I Couldn’t Speak My Mind,” an all-day reading involving over thirty writers. It’s sponsored by City of Asylum, an organization that has done amazing work in Pittsburgh, including providing housing and other opportunities for writers who’ve faced persecution in their own countries. In October, I’m reading at Classic Lines, one of the new independent bookstores in Pittsburgh, with two writers who went to the same Catholic high school as I did–Dean Focareta and Bob Walicki. I’ll be reading somepieces written for the occasion. And I really hope that your readers like “A Pardoning, because I keep saying that I’m finishing this novel, and I’m nowhere near done!

alliebattsAllie Marini is the managing editor of Zoetic Press. She is the author of the forthcoming poetry collections This Is How It Ends (Bitterzoet Magazine/Bon Bon Chapbook), Southern Cryptozoology: A Field Guide to Beasts of the Southern Wild (Hyacinth Girl Press), Cliffdiving and And She Tasted of Knowledge, Her Eyes Opened (both from Nomadic Press), and Here Comes Hell (Dancing Girl Press & Studio).