chapbook

Nicole Borello on inspiration, editing, and writing chapbooks

In the February 2016 issue of The Writer’s Chronicle, in her essay “How to Give a Killer Reading” Christine Vines discusses great readings and suggests timing yourself, possibly preparing two different selections. Vines notes the importance of inflection during the delivery, making eye contact, and speaking “into—right into—the microphone”. I know you recently gave a book launch for the anthology you edited, Remembering the Days that Breathed Pink (Quaci Press, 2016). Talk about the launch. What do you do prepare and give good readings for such an event? What memorable readings have you attended and what made them memorable?

It all depends on what kind of reading I am preparing for. In regards to the launch, I wanted to explain the background of the title. I do this at every reading because I usually have some kind of photograph or artwork that deserves an introduction. The cover of Remembering the Days that Breathed Pink, was a photograph my husband took in the 1970’s of an elderly woman in a small mountain town in southern Italy. She was dressed in all black, obviously a widow, and she looked like she was in despair. He took the picture without her knowledge and really captured her pain. I thought it fit the title well. She looked like she was remembering the days that breathed pink. I like to give background stories like that, take the listener through the journey of the making of the book as well. I also put together all the other girls’ bios as I was introducing them. If it’s a book from my own press, I like to give a brief introduction to what Quaci Press is all about. Many of my poems are taken from historical events, so I will give a brief description of the event in time. At the end of the reading, I like to bring all of the poets up to the front and ask the audience if they have any questions for the whole group or any individual poet. It helps engage the audience and make them part of the reading.

The most memorable reading I had was one I did in 2014 in Pittsburgh at The Big Idea Bookstore with poets Karen Lillis and Renee Alberts. It was more for personal reasons. It was the town I was born in. I had cousins come see me that I had never met before. That night was the last time I saw one of my good friends before she passed away, and I was able to experience a poetry reading outside of the California poetry scene.

You mentioned that your poems draw inspiration from historical events. Anais Nin wrote, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection…We write to be able to transcend our life, to reach beyond it. We write to teach ourselves to speak with others, to record the journey into the labyrinth.” Talk about your impulse to write and what inspires the process.

My inspiration is sporadic. I try to recreate historical events by getting into the head of the person I may be writing about. Sometimes I can get so emotionally involved I can’t shake the experience for days. I try to get the reader to feel the incredible grief these individuals went through. There are certain poems that I can’t even read at a reading because I will become too emotional. Not all my poems are historical though, there is one called “Bleeding on Telegraph,” where I write about a woman who I saw walking down Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley, Ca, when I was a child in the 70’s, and her pants were covered in blood and she was walking like she was in pain, and I still remember that vividly. I tried to explain what was going on with her on the inside, and why she may have been bleeding on the outside. It may not have been what she was really going through, but it’s what I felt in my gut what she was going through, and then I just wrote about it. I guess you could say people’s pain inspires me to write, especially those who never got to express themselves.

You are the author of the chapbook Fried Fish and Breastmilk (Dancing Girl Press, 2013). Talk about what brought you to write this collection.

I have a fascination with the early 1900’s, especially the 1920’s. So I was reading some old newspaper articles and advice columns from The Oakland Tribune, as well as some other newspapers one day, and found some very interesting material. The advice columns were full of women insulting each other, (nothing has changed in 100 years!). They were calling each other prostitutes and all kinds of messy names. One woman was concerned about her daughter’s irregular menstrual periods and not only gave her name in the advice column, but included a photo of the girl! There were some stories that people had never heard of. One of the things I learned, was that in 1916, a judge refused to grant divorces to great-grandmothers. Who knew that? So, I love writing about the little unknown facts, subjects that aren’t overly written about. I thought, wouldn’t this make an interesting little collection? I also write about Ma Rainey, (Mother of the Blues), Lucille Bogan, Clara Bow and Thelma Todd, as well as ancient midwives and nuns who physically tortured themselves. Fried Fish and Breast Milk is about the female experience. As women, it seems we are both fried at times, but also the breast milk that feeds and nourishes everyone. When lactation begins, our eyes follow the spotted breast that leads us into misery. As a side note, I was doing a reading one night, reading from this particular chapbook in a bookstore in Oakland, Ca, and it was right across the street from the old Oakland Tribune building. While I was reading some of these poems, The Tribune, where many of them were inspired from, also happened to be the backdrop of the event. Perfect.

You are the editor of Quaci Press, a newer press that’s published chapbooks, books, and the anthology, Remembering the Days that Breathed Pink. Talk about your commitment as an editor. What’s the most enjoyable aspects of this work?

As an editor, I try to cut and trim and make sure the chapbook or full-length book is the best it can be. Of course, there are times when I have to ask, “Is this supposed to be like this? Did you do this purposely?” Sometimes I am not sure of the author’s intent. I’m such a perfectionist. I will go over line after line after line until my eyes are burning, and I’ll still find something. But luckily I’ve had some amazing poets submit work to me, and I’ve rarely had to change anything or do too much editing. I’m pretty much a one-woman show. I have my two nieces who assist me with the press. Anna Borello, does most of the graphics and Lorena Borello, who looks at the Spanish/Italian submissions. We are a multilingual press, and we accept submissions in English, Spanish and Italian. One of the chapbooks that we published, What the Sea Earns for a Living, written by Karen An-hwei-Lee, was beautifully written in English, Spanish, and Nahuatl. I love reading work that mixes languages and different cultures. I love editing work that is fresh, dramatic and moving. Like I said, it’s pretty much just me and I can get overwhelmed at times, but I love being able to publish new and also established poets.

How do you define chapbook? Condensed emotions all stapled into a booklet.

What makes a good chapbook? A great theme and covert art. I have purchased chapbooks just because I was intrigued by the cover and I was not disappointed.

What chapbooks are inspiring you these days? Anything from dancing girl press.

What do you look for when you put together a chapbook? Like I said as to what makes a good chapbook, I look for a great theme and try to create or convey to my graphic artist, an image that brings that theme alive.

How are you trying to get better as a chapbook poet? Lots of reading and observing and finding things in this world that most people won’t say out loud. Those are things that help me become a better writer.

What’s next for you? I am currently working on a new chapbook entitled: One Night with Charles Spencer Chaplin. I also have in the works, a full length poetry book entitled: Serra! Serra! It is about a small mountain town in southern Italy that I have spent time in. Also, a novel that is a spin-off from one of my first poetry books. Oh, and did I mention I’m on my 5th draft of a screenplay? So, yeah, pretty busy.

Number of chapbooks you own: About 25

Number of chapbooks you’ve read: About 25

Talk about your commitment to the chapbook writing community. I try to promote the whole chapbook concept as much as I can. Most people I’ve known never even knew what one was, now they are buying them.

Ways you promote and serve other chapbook poets: Social media, blogs, readings, publishing them.

Your chapbook credo: To give a voice to those untold stories.

Where you spend your chapbook earnings: If I’m lucky I can take my son out for gelato. Two scoops if I’m really lucky!

Your chapbook wish: To have a chapbook cafe. Free coffee for every chapbook you buy. Chapbook readings every night. I can dream can’t I?

Residence: San Francisco Bay Area

Job: A workhorse in Silicon Valley and editor of Quaci Press.

Chapbook Bio: Nicole Borello is the author of the chapbook Fried Fish and Breast Milk (dancing girl press) and is the founder and editor of Quaci Press.

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