Esmeralda Declines an Interview: why I don’t interview for writers writing Gypsy characters

Sometimes I get requests from people to do interviews because they’re writing a Romani (Gypsy) character and want to use the life of a real live Gypsy girl to write her, and I always feel uncomfortable about the idea of divulging my life story for another writer’s creative gain. My friend, Misha Rai, urged me to turn those feelings into an essay, and because Misha’s advice is always brilliant, I did it. And now I’m honored and stunned to have “Esmeralda Declines an Interview” in The Missouri Review blog.

KickingNo offense intended to anyone who has asked me to interview with them as research for their book. It’s wonderful that you want to write well-rounded Romani characters, and I’m flattered that you thought of me. If you are struggling to include Romani characters in your work, then my advice to you is this: “If you want to be inclusive, then read and support the writers you want to include. Don’t ask to take our lives for your own gain.” I’m sure your intentions aren’t nefarious and I applaud your efforts to write mindfully. Just be mindful in your research too.

A good resource for you to find Romani writers is ‘ list of Romani Authors. I also have a list of “20 Gypsy Women You Should Be Reading” at VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. There are many more places to look, but this is a good start.

Happy reading! And thank you to The Missouri Review and Misha Rai– I love you to bits.

P.S. Check out “Housewives, Mothers” by Misha in The Indiana Review– it’s one of my favorite stories.

Support the New Wanderers: a nomadic poetry collective

“A dog who wanders finds a bone.” –Romani Proverb

They want to fund poets to travel and write, and they have 2 weeks to get their non-profit off the ground– let’s make it happen! Check out the New Wanderers Collective mission and kickstarter here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/newwanderers/new-wanderers-a-nomadic-poetry-collective

Baxtalo Ederlezi!

Image by Judy Paris

Image by Judy Paris

Ederlezi, the Romani (Gypsy) Spring Festival, is one of my very favorite holidays. It’s celebrated with dancing, eating, singing a hauntingly beautiful folk song, and literally throwing flowers everywhere. Flowers in your house, flowers on your lawn, flowers in the river, flowers in the sea…. How could anyone not love this?

My favorite rendition of the Ederlezi folksong is performed by Tatiana Eva Marie of the Avalon Jazz Band. I was lucky enough to conduct an interview with the very smart and talented Tatiana in Quail Bell Magazine.

Another exciting Quail Bell surprise just in time for the holiday– Rita Banjerjee’s mistranslation poems were just released, including one poem inspired by my lackluster performance of Ederlezi at our last Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Writing & Yoga Retreat in France. Speaking of which, the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop summer retreat deadlines for both Paris and Granada have been extended to May 25th. So Baxtalo Ederlezi! Have a beautiful and fortune-blessed Spring– hope to see you this summer!

Apply Now!

Apply Now!

Apply now!

Apply now!

Writing & Yoga Retreat in Newport, RI: I’ll be the fortune teller

Can’t say how excited I am about The Great Gatsby-esque Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Newport, RI Writing and Yoga Retreat on April 2-5, 2015. Not able to make the whole weekend? Partial attendance is fine, too. Special tuition rates may also be available to students. Kathleen Spivack, Stephen Aubrey, Diana Norma Szokolyai, and Rita Banerjee will be teaching writing classes, and Elissa Lewis will be teaching yoga. I’ll be telling fortunes and offering energy healing (Reiki) sessions because that’s the kind of girl I am.

The deadline for admittance into this AMAZING retreat is February 20, 2015. There are limited seats, so apply early!

Check out the CWW Facebook page or go to http://cww.nyc for more information.

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Click to apply!

Excerpts from novel-in-progress, Zenith, & poems in The The Poetry Blog

A late post, yes, but a few weeks ago an excerpt of my novel-in-progress, Zenith, and some poems came out in The Infoxicated Corner of The The Poetry Blog, curated by Fox Frazier-Foley, author of Exodus in X Minor. The poem “Mina the Lotus” is also from Zenith, a love poem written in the voice of the Mina, the main character Coco’s mother, to the Romani (Gypsy) goddess of Fate, Sara la Kali. Mina’s character is a poet in some ways fashioned after Papusza. The other poems, “First Exorcism” and “The Gargoyle Back Scratcher” are not part of Zenith, but they were born out of The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop 2014 Yoga and Writing Retreat in Verderonne. Keep an eye out for this year’s upcoming retreats in New York City; Newport, Rhode Island; Paris; and Granada. I can’t express how exciting and terrifying it is to debut the first few pages of the novel, and how much it feels like I’m tempting hubris. Much of my writing has been delayed by enormous life changes and helping to care for my Aunt and other, who are both terminally ill– but in the face of the illnesses of my loved ones and the comparatively small turbulence of my personal life, I am reminded that art and love (and all of that what makes life worth living, et al.), are the only truly present things. So I am writing through it, perhaps more slowly than I hoped, but I am writing. And I am very honored and appreciative for the space and support that The The Poetry Blog has given me. Thank you, Infoxicated Corner! Please forgive my delay– a snow storm took down the farm’s internet for quite some time, and I live in the middle of nowhere, which I actually quite like.

Dancing in the castle at the CWW Verderonne yoga and writing retreat

Dancing in the castle at the CWW Verderonne yoga and writing retreat

Trauma poetry in Luna Luna Magazine

I’ve been honored to have three poems about childhood sexual trauma appear in Luna Luna Magazine, a favorite ezine of mine (and sister publication to Quail Bell Magazine). These poems are the first to be published from a series on trauma that I’ve been working on for many years. I’m putting together the manuscript alongside the novel I’m working on about Coco, a half-Romani (Gypsy) dancer and fortune teller at a Parisian circus who becomes a Nazi hunter. Coincidentally, the novel will contain a few poems. I’m so motivated to finish both projects within the next year. A large part of that is due to the warm reception that these poems have gotten– I couldn’t be more grateful or more touched. Many thanks. And a big thank you to Lisa A. Flowers, founder of Vulgar Marsala Press and author of diotomhero, who solicited me. I also got a lot of good advice about writing trauma poetry from Erin Belieu, Florida State University professor and co-founder of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, and I so appreciate her help and encouragement. Check out Erin’s latest book Slant Six, and its starred review in Publisher’s Weekly.

You may know Luna Luna for their powerful feminist content, their fierce leader Lisa Marie Basile (Apocryphal), their cutting edge poetry and fiction, and their articles and features on alternative spirituality, the occult, and beautiful cultural practices from all over the world. One of my new favorite things is their Poescopes, that is, poetic horoscopes by Fox Foley-Frazier (Exodus in X Minor), curator of The Infoxicated Corner of The The Poetry Blog. P.S. I have some poems about Romani rights and mythology in the Infoxicated Corner as part of the Political Punch series. 

So here’s the link for “In the Oven,” “Night and Night,” “Gulls Calling Over Corcaigh” in Luna Luna Magazinehttp://lunalunamag.com/2014/11/03/poems-jessica-reidy/

Thank you for reading, readers. I feel fearsome and strong, and I’m writing like a demon. I was a demon for Halloween, by the way.

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Click the demon to read the poems, I dare you.

On being a ‘Gypsy’ Witch

Fox-Frazier Foley, writer and curator of The Infoxicated Corner of The The Poetry Blog, solicited an essay about Romani poetics and language, and immediately I knew I would write about Luminiţa Mihai Cioabă’s poem “The Apparition of Choxani,” from the anthology The Roads of The Roma: a PEN Anthology of Gypsy Writers. Fox has mixed Romani heritage too, so the project felt like a gorgeous act of unity and cultural collaboration.

For me to better understand “The Apparition of Choxani,” and write what became my article, The Magic Word:
‘Gypsy’ Witchcraft, Love, and Breaking Tradition in Luminiţa Mihai Cioabă’s Poem “The Apparition of Choxani,” I had to look at my Romani family’s history as well as our traditions—not those that endured, but rather those that were extinguished.

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With a headband that my lovely Romani friend, writer Norma Szokolyai, gave me when we taught in France together on the CWW Yoga & Writing Retreat

My entire Romani identity is invested in my grandmother and what she taught me, and her identity springs from what her family could pass on to her while simultaneously obscuring their ethnicity and shedding their culture, attempting to avoid the gas chambers or a bullet in a ditch. They had a unique opportunity to do this, namely that some of the Romani family had already married gadjé and assimilated for love, and my beautiful and resourceful great-grandmother decided to re-marry a cruel-but-useful gadjo (non-Roma) and bring her three children with her to his farm in the countryside. There are whispers that her papers were forged and documents were signed by Hitler, but the details were lost a long time ago. This saved our line but left holes in our Romanipen (The Romani Way)—we lost parts of our Roma soul. I never learned Rromanès, because my grandmother wasn’t allowed to speak it—how could they explain to the suspicious Nazi officers who burst-in from time to time why their children spoke Gypsy-tongue? Most Romani families affected by the Holocaust did not break and bury their traditions. Fate tossed my great-grandmother a bone and she took it, but most Roma in WWII Europe knew that they could not assimilate and would not be allowed to. They spoke Rromanès and Romani women wore dikhle (traditional head coverings), even in the concentration camps. In the camps, there are accounts of Roma singing traditional songs and even dancing to keep their spirits and their dignity. What else is there to do in the face of utter hatred and persecution but dance? Recently, a Belgian village hired a DJ tried to try to (illegally) oust Roma from their camps with loud music, and the Roma danced then too.

My grandmother taught me our family trades, dancing and drabaripé (fortune telling, and healing magic), and although I didn’t learn about Choxani until I began researching my more about my cultural heritage as a young woman, she taught me about a different kind of witch— the drabarni, or healer or adviser. Usually the drabarni is a woman in the Romani community who uses prayer, amulets, herbs, and energy work to heal physical, emotional, and spiritual illness. Some of these practices survived in my family because far down the line there was a drabarni in my grandmother’s family. Romani magic is quite real within the culture, but it looks nothing like the “Gypsy Witchcraft” books you can get at B&N. Even though our family assimilated and we lost so much, even though I went to school with gadjé children where I didn’t learn anything about the history of my people, not even the fact that Americans enslaved Roma alongside African Americans in the Old South, I was still different. I was still stoned till I bled on the playground after I leaked the truth about my family roots when I was six years old and too proud of my grandmother for my own good, despite her many warnings to stay quiet. I was still given detention by my fifth grade teacher for being a “Gypsy witch.” I started wearing the epithet like a mantle. I proudly practiced my family trades when I was a teen, through college, and whenever I was in a tight spot. But it was still nothing like the fantasy Gypsies in story books– it was real, gritty, and sometimes heartbreaking. It was an identity that I claimed with such mixed feelings that, for years at a time, I would refuse to crack open my deck of cards because I couldn’t be a Gypsy freak-show for one more day. And other times, I felt like I was making my ancestors proud, that I was my grandmother’s blood, and I was grateful for my beautiful and complex culture.

In short, it matters when the word “Gypsy” is appropriated and redefined by outsiders. It’s our heritage, it’s our genocide, it’s our right to reclaim the ethnic slur used against us. If we are witches, it is because we have not been understood by outsiders–we are not magical, but we have a powerful culture. So be it.

Beat the block Southeast Review style

I like to do these little posts about beating writer’s block because writer’s block is bullshit. Right? Just write. But, it’s also a thing, and a thing I struggle with a lot, even though I supposedly love writing and have worked my ass off to do this whole writing professionally business, and it’s basically all I think about. That and puppies, and smoothies, and magic.

Here are some of my favorite ways to beat writer’s block, SER edition:

1. Visual art! The Surrealists did it, and before them the Romantics, and before them frickin’ everyone did it. Go to a museum, surf the web, make some art yourself, and check out The Southeast Review Vol 32.2 because we have two killer-great artists– Lita Cabellut and Dmitry Borshch. Both artists completely astound and inspire me. Cabellut is something of a personal hero– she’s a Romani (Gypsy) painter from Spain and her work haunts my dreams in a good way. And Borshch is one of the most striking and unusual illustrators I’ve come across in some time– his designs spring from Russian stories and some great place of blue ink creation. We’re proud to feature interviews with both artists.

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2. Read other people’s work! One of the best ways to find out what’s new and exciting in the literary world is to read more literary journals. You can drink your fill of art for free on ezines and electronic journals, but don’t forget to show your print journals some love, too. When you subscribe or order an issue, it keeps the art and the industry alive.

3. Writing prompts! The Southeast Review does these Writing Regimen packets a few times a year, and it’s a fantastic writer’s block cure, full of prompts, craft tips, and inspirational tidbits to keep your mind spinning, inspiration flowing, and words coming. All the good gerunds. The next round starts OCTOBER 1ST! Yes!

The Southeast Review Writing Regimen is for poets, essayists, and fiction writers who want to produce a body of work by introducing structure to their writing life, and, at the same time, finding new and innovative ways to approach their craft.

Sign up for The Southeast Review Writing Regimen and you will get the following:

  • daily writing prompts, applicable for any genre, emailed directly to you for 30DAYS! Use these to write a poem a day for 30 days, to create 30 short-short stories, or to give flesh to stories, personal essays, novels, and memoirs
  • a daily reading-writing exercise, where we inspire you with a short passage from the books we’re reading and get you started writing something of your own
  • A Riff Word of the Day, a Podcast of the Day from an editor, writer, or poet, and a Quote of the Day from a famous writer on writing

  • Flashback Bonus Craft Talks, where, as a little something extra, we repeat an earlier regimen’s craft talks from more writing heavyweights

  • weekly messages from established poets and writers—including tips and warnings on both the craft and the business of writing

  • a FREE copy of a current or classic back issue of The Southeast Review, featuring interviews, poetry, nonfiction, and fiction that will knock your socks off!

  • a chance to have your work published on our site.  Read the winning entry from our most recent Writer’s Regimen contest in June, “Vaquera” by Kim Henderson

  • access to our online literary companion—www.southeastreview.org—for interviews with up-and-coming and established poets, fiction writers, and memoirists, podcasts of readings from the Warehouse Reading Series, including such writers as Ann Patchett, Jennifer Knox, Matthew Zapruder, Barry Hannah, . . . as well as essays on the reading life of writers, book picks, web picks, and much more . . .”

So that’s all pretty great, and all are SER inspired to celebrate the birth of Vol. 32.2. I couldn’t be more excited.

Keep writing, friends.

Posing with a book of Shelley many years ago at Hollins University, my alma mater

Posing with a book of Shelley many years ago at Hollins University, my alma mater

Scrivner is %50 off– go write your book!

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/scrivener/id418889511?mt=12

I don’t usually promote corporations, but Scrivner has been so useful to me in writing and organizing my novel.To each her own, of course, but I really love this and can’t imagine writing my novel without it. Just wanted to give everyone a head’s up on the %50 deal. It’s worth a try!

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