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In Conversation with Patty Paine
A Pirene's Fountain Interview with Ami Kaye

Our guest for this interview is Patty Paine, author of The Sounding Machine (Accents Publishing), Feral (Imaginary Friend Press), and Elegy & Collapse (Finishing Line Press). She is also co-editor of Gathering the Tide: An Anthology of Contemporary Arabian Gulf Poetry (Garnet Publishing & Ithaca Press) and The Donkey Lady and Other Tales From the Gulf (Berkshire Academic Press). Patty is the founding editor of diode poetry journal and Diode Editions. She is an Assistant Professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar where she teaches writing and literature, and serves as Assistant Director of Liberal Arts & Sciences.

I read your first book with almost a sense of shock—it is that beautiful. Usually, I tend to savor poems one at a time, reading deeply and slowly, but once I started, I could not let go of The Sounding Machine; I finished it in one reading. It absorbed me with its powerful language and the force of its courage and pain. Can you share your journey as a poet which ultimately led you to write The Sounding Machine.

Thank you so much for your kind words, it always startles and humbles me when something I’ve written resonates with someone else. The Sounding Machine was born from urgency—those poems were the poems that needed to be written at the time. They also emanated from the need to refract some of the events from my early life through the prism of poetry, where metaphor and compression created, I hope, something approaching the possibility for solace. It certainly did for me, and I hope it does for readers as well. As I moved through the manuscript, the act of writing these poems became less about telling my story, and more about interrogating memory, and the idea of transforming loss and pain into something that I hoped might approach beauty.

The Sounding Machine deserves all the accolades it has received, and most of all, it is particularly satisfying seeing your work recognized when you have always generously championed writing professionals. Did you have the feeling this collection would grab the hearts and senses of readers and judges alike, or was it a surprise?  As an editor and publisher, is it possible to assess your own writing the way you would someone else’s?

I think I will always be surprised, and grateful, when something I write connects with someone else.

Being an editor has helped hone my ability to be self-critical, and it has helped create more space between my work and my assessing eye. I find that I revise much more quickly, and that I kill my darlings with much less remorse. It has also made it easier to accept rejection. I know that I have to turn away many wonderful poems for reasons outside the poems: already having accepted poems along similar themes, wanting to create balance and cohesion throughout any given issue, or something as simple as reaching a point where I feel the issue is full.

As an Indian born in France, raised in the U.S., and again in India, I know firsthand the paradox of not quite fitting in either culture, yet belonging everywhere. I have always been taken with Far Eastern cultures and especially love the languages, so I fully related to the lines about the lure of a forbidden tongue from the poem “Half-Korean “ in The Sounding Machine:

English staggered from their throats,
but Korean burst open
like ripe fruit.

At some point, did you eventually learn to speak /write Korean? Have you traveled to Korea?

Regretfully, I never learned Korean. My mother came to the US when my sister was 4, and my sister had a difficult time in school at first because she didn’t speak English very well. My mother wanted to spare me this difficulty, so she didn’t teach me Korean. I very much wish I could speak Korean, or any other language, for that matter. I haven’t yet travelled to Korea, but I plan to this summer. It has become such a mystical place in my mind, more conjured than real, so I am somewhat apprehensive about actually going.

Tell us about Diode… I think you started roughly the same time as PF. We have seen Diode skyrocket from a small online webzine to a beautifully edited, widely read journal with some amazing poetry! How did you think of the name? And do you have anyone helping you with the journal?

Diode has definitely exceeded my expectations in all ways. I had originally wanted to call it Iodine; I was drawn to the idea that poetry, like iodine, had the capacity to sting as it healed, but there is already a print journal called Iodine. Diode was close to an anagram of iodine, and I liked the scientific-ness of the name, and also its Greek roots: di (from δί), meaning "two", and ode (from ὁδός), meaning "path".

I read submissions, and promote Diode, and Jeff Lodge designed the site, and puts each issue online.

How often do you publish the journal and post submission calls? What kind of material do you publish? What should our readers know if they would like to submit work for consideration?

Diode publishes three times a year, and I read all year long. I generally respond within 30 days. I try to make Diode as eclectic as possible, and am open to poems all across the poetic spectrum, from formal to experimental. I’ve become increasingly fascinated by collaborative poems. Anyone who submits should know that I very much appreciate the opportunity to read their work, and that I thank them for reading Diode.

And on to the next big thing—Diode Editions! Please share with our readers how this came about and what your goals are for the press.

Though I love that Diode lives online, and that being online gives the journal a lot of freedom and flexibility, I love books as objects, and wanted to create something hold-able. I also wanted to be able to offer collections of work, so Diode Editions launched about a year ago. Our first chapbook contest yielded two remarkable collections: Bright Power, Dark Peace by Traci Brimhall & Brynn Saito, and A Concordance of Leaves by Philip Metres. Our first full-length collection, Glow, by Gregory Sherl, will be launched at AWP, and we have three chapbooks coming out for AWP as well: Urn, by T.R. Hummer, The Scenery of Farewell (and Hello Again) by Joshua Poteat, and an as yet unnamed chapbook by Bob Hicok. We’ll be launching our 2nd chapbook contest soon.

How did you land up in Qatar? Tell us how you adapted to life there, and how much does place influence your writing, if at all? How often do you travel to the States and other countries?

I came to Qatar in 2005 to teach at Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar, a school of arts and design. It’s an incredible honor and privilege to work at a school of arts and design. I love the creative, frenetic, sometimes chaotic dynamic of VCUQ. I love being able to walk through the building and see the work of my students and colleagues. This drive to create, the teeming energy it takes to make and communicate through art and design, fills me with awe, and fuels my own creativity, both as a teacher, and as writer.

It’s hard to calibrate how much influence Qatar is having on my work. I’m sure the experience of living here, and of being an expat, is percolating in all kinds of ways under the surface.

I travel back to the States for AWP every year, and I generally get back for a good, long visit every other year, or so. Qatar is ideally located for travel to Asia and Europe, and I’ve done a lot of travelling since I’ve been here. I generally get to travel to 2 or 3 countries a year for conferences, and pleasure.

You recently discovered a case of plagiarism within the poetry community, and have been instrumental in helping various journals editors discover and take down the plagiarized work. Tell us how you uncovered this case, and what are your thoughts on this matter? Is there anything journal editors can do to protect themselves and their authors?

The discovery was completely random. I received a submission that I rejected, and the poet wrote back and said something to the effect of “no matter, a better journal accepted them for publication.” The original submission was pasted into the reply, and as I read them again, I had the feeling that I had read one poem in particular in a piece of fiction. I cut and pasted the poem into Google, and found the short story it was stolen from, pretty much word for word. The only changes were the addition of line breaks. I spent about an hour checking other poems this person published and discovered that probably 99.9% of what was published was plagiarized. I contacted editors and poets I could find. It then took on a life of its own, and the story was released to the press.

This essay by Charles Hartman, one of the poets who was plagiarized, captures what happened, and why it’s important to ferret out plagiarists:

Due to the sheer volume of poems editors receive, I think it’s impossible to protect against plagiarism. Also, editors generally edit for the sheer pleasure of reading and promoting poetry, and to have to assume some sort of policing role robs the experience of editing of its joy. Fortunately, I think plagiarism is relatively rare.

How do you juggle your own writing with the demands of academic life, and managing the journal and press? Do you go through dry spells, and if so, what do you do to start the ink flowing again?

It’s very difficult at times to keep so many balls in the air, so to speak. I try to have set time for set things, writing time, editing time, grading time, etc., but by mid-semester my carefully planned schedule generally crumbles, and I find myself reacting to whatever is most pressing.

I do have dry spells, though I try to keep the ink flowing if not through poetry, through journaling or prose writing, and even just free writing when I’m really stuck. The thing that most reliably gets my pen flowing is reading tons and tons of poetry.

Lastly Patty, your undeniable talent, work ethic, sense of fun and compassion for others is evident both as a writer and editor. You have done wonders with your own writing, Diode Journal, Diode Editions, and as a teacher. What is the next on the agenda for Patty Paine?

Thank you so much. I hardly recognize this person you described! I’m currently working on fine tuning a full-length manuscript, getting books ready for Diode Editions, and in the near future, I’d like to start working on a second volume of illustrated folk tales from the Arabian Gulf.