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Wil Gibson just can’t quit…

…being phenomenal.

Of course, such a grand sweeping word as phenomenal fails to do Wil Gibson’s work, in his most recent published collection, any justice whatsoever. It’s my belief that a simpler word might better suffice, if only for the phenomenal simplicity of what Wil’s words make you feel. An oxymoronic statement, maybe, but it’s just that — the beautiful simplicity — which Wil brings to both written and performance poetry.

It’s his most recent publication with Swimming With Elephants Publications, Quitting smoking falling in and out of love, and other thoughts about death that draws close that beautiful simplicity. As life-changing as an arrival to a safe haven, or a departure from the only place you’ve ever known, reading this book was like coming home, wherever home may be. With a broad array of landscapes and cities throughout the United States mentioned, I felt a strong sense of connection to place in reading. It was, undoubtedly, a journey; more than that, it was a pilgrimage.

For that reason, this book needs to be savoured (like a cigarette, if you will, or five after you’ve quit for the umpteenth time). Not to say I didn’t have the urge to rush through each part and eat it all up, but I found it most enjoyed as a slow read, taking the time to dog-ear pages and underline phrases that struck me (and as I say to many writers: sorrynotsorry for dog-earring books, for lack of post-its to use as markholders, and for marking up your books — this, to me, is a testament of love for the work put in, as I find connection to it).

The contrast and connection between each section was so well-constructed, from a writing and editing standpoint, I could certainly see the love that was put into this book, too. From the numbered poems and the slow stream of falling in love over and over again in the first part, The part where I fall in love and a bunch of people I love die to the numbered days in the second part, The part where I quit smoking and more people I love die that are almost comical at times in their display (days 16-18, especially; any smoker or former smoke can certainly relate to the feeling of fuck you that Wil puts so adequately on the page), a conversational tone carries throughout.

Thinking back to when I first heard Wil perform, it’s that conversational tone that holds him as one of my most highly recommended poets for anybody first entering the slam/performance poetry scene; I believe there’s something unique in drawing your audience in without the grandeur of the typical “slam voice.” Instead, Wil’s poetry has always offered this drift back to something reminiscent of the “original” spoken word artists of the Beatnik movement. But there’s that modern touch of artistry in his work, too.

It’s in The part where I fall out of love and more people I love die where Wil’s artistry as a written poet really shines. With unexpected construct like the poem titled simply as Purple, to the constant self-recognition of using cliches to his best ability (and the simple notion of the necessity of cliches), there’s a heartwrenchingly beautiful notion presented in the level of vulnerability that Wil provides in the third and closing part of his collection. Here is vulnerability as a lover, as a smoker, as a writer, as a human. And isn’t that what writing really needs to be? Vulnerable conversations, the shared recognition that we’re all cliches, we’re all just quitting something to start again, that we’re all falling in and out of love with ourselves constantly; Wil’s poetry reminded me that we’re all on a phenomenal pilgrimage through life, and we’ll get there whenever we damn well please (and maybe quit smoking, eventually).

In parting, I would tell anybody skeptical not to be swayed by the ominous title of Wil’s most recent book; instead, let it be an offering that allows you to feel absolutely, phenomenally, simply… human.

You can find Wil’s book on Amazon and Goodreads, along with other books in the Swimming With Elephants Publications family. And don’t forget to keep up with him on his website and Instagram as he continues to tour and scatter his words across the country.


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SwEP Author Spotlight: July’s author spotlight is Kevin Barger

July’s author spotlight is Kevin Barger

SwEP is spotlighting an author each month to find out what they are working on now and in the near future. Interviews are written and conducted by SwEP author, Gina Marselle. Ms. Marselle was lucky enough to catch up with Mr. Kevin Barger, as he was preparing to leave on tour from Asheville, N.C. to Washington, D.C. from July 6 to 12, 2017.

Kevin’s book, Observable Acts, is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and by contacting the author.


This interview was conducted by phone on July 3, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. eastern time.


Greetings all,

Our first SwEP author spotlight is Performance Poet, Kevin Barger, who is currently on tour with a Poetry Cabaret in Washington, D.C. from July 6 through July 12, 2017 (for more information or for tickets: https://www.capitalfringe.org/events/1135-poetry-cabaret).

Barger is the author of Observable Acts: A Collection of Poetry published by SwEP in 2015. Barger’s works can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Observable-Acts-Kevin-Barger/dp/0692404554 or through SwEP or by contacting the author in person or through Facebook.


Tell us a little about your background in slam and performance poetry?

I met Spoken-Word and Visual Artist, Moody Black around 2008ish and was interested in his work. Black can be seen on All Def Poetry [see Black perform In The Field: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hU0zGh9aSQs&t=49s]. He hosted the first slam I competed in. Slam in Asheville, N.C. use to be a big thing before I got involved. In Asheville, when slam first started, it flourished but then it died. It went through a few cycles of popularity.  It may have kept dying because Asheville is an artsy and nonjudgmental city and slam is judgmental—I mean we compete for scores and placement. People aren’t as interested in that. When I took over the slam in Asheville the Slammaster was on his way out and he left the slam responsibilities to me. I created a board of people to help run it and our slam became pretty popular, but then it began to take over my life. I was no longer concentrating on my own writing and performance. I was always promoting other poets and the slam scene in Asheville. Slam was my life from 2008 to 2011 [a number of Barger’s poems are on YouTube from this time period]. Eventually, a boyfriend brought it to my attention that I was no longer writing for self. I was like an addict, slam had become my addiction—my boyfriend encouraged me to stop and write for myself, to share my work for me and not for points. It made sense. Now, I concentrate on performance poetry, for the most part.


What were you like in school?

I was the really shy, fat kid that every one would pick on. Writing would allow me to escape. Once, in third grade, I wrote a book for a school assignment—a mystery, maybe about a lost shoe. It wasn’t very good but it was epic, and the shoe was eventually found at the dump. It was a hardbound book put together with duct tape. You know, I don’t ever remember not writing. In middle school, I entered a contest to have a poem published. It was a scam. I realize that now, but it was published on a plaque and the company wanted to sell my family a bunch of stuff along with the plaque. It was obviously a scam, eventually the sent my parents back the check they wrote the company. My parents still have the plaque and they appreciate it, but it really was a horrible poem. Mostly, I avoided school. I would eat lunch in the library. In high school, I was writing poetry—I came out in high school as bisexual my senior year. I dated a girl in high school and after for seven years, actually. But in high school, we would write poems to each other, as notes to hand off during homeroom class or in the halls. We didn’t pay too much attention in class, as we were writing these notes back in forth to each other. She stopped writing eventually, and I didn’t. When our relationship ended, I started writing more professionally. She stopped writing after high school, she just didn’t write—it wasn’t her thing—it was mine, and now, here I am.

Why do you write?

I write for catharsis, to empty myself. Once it is out of me and on a page, it is no longer mine—if someone else can connect to it then that is valuable as well, but at the end of the day, I am writing for catharsis.

Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?

I use to have a leather bound journal and wrote with a pencil to edit as I wrote. Probably shouldn’t have done that, but I did it anyway—now I type on the computer. I can’t keep a new poem in my head—I have to write it down.

What are your ambitions for your writing career?

I am a serious writer. I don’t completely think of myself as a professional writer, but I do take it more seriously than most who write as a hobby. Any art you do for catharsis is really, really valuable. Once you start to make a name for yourself, the level changes and it becomes serious and important. Writing isn’t my whole life, I’m like the guy who comes and mows your lawn and sometimes I get paid—I might earn $10 bucks selling a book or really, I’m more likely to give you a book. Now, Neil Gaimen, author of American Gods, basically says you have to write all the time to be a writer, you can’t wait to be inspired—you have to write—I am not that strict of a writer.

When did you decide to become a writer?

I never really made a decision to become a “writer,” as I’ve always written.  It is just a label that helps to make up me. I also make pottery sometimes, which makes me a “potter,” or I go hiking which makes me a “hiker.” It’s just a label that describes something I do sometimes.  I think I am in the minority here by not buying into the mystique surrounding the term “writer.” I write poetry. I perform poetry.  It is a label, but it doesn’t define me. I am gay, but that also doesn’t define me. Since I was in a relationship with a woman for seven years—there are things we do that fall outside the labels we adopt.  There are a lot of labels to define us, but they should never confine us. We should celebrate all the things we do instead of just clinging to one.

Which writers inspire you?

So when I first started performance poetry I was really intrigued by Patricia Smith, Taylor Mali, Moody Black, and Rives. Rives is an amazing poet, he is godly. I recommend his TEDtalk Mockingbirds Remix2006 to everyone [it can me found: https://www.ted.com/talks/rives_remixes_ted2006/transcript?language=enn]. I am also inspired by Dorothy Parker (she wrote gossipy poetry) and Langston Hughes; I love writers from the 1920s, not sure why—I just do.

What are you working on at this minute?

Right now I am really excited about the Poetry Cabaret Collective that I will be performing with in D.C. It is a mish mash of music, poets, dancers, even a fire-eater—It is a fun show! My ambition is to discover fun ways to get my voice out there. I am a performance poet and I enjoy that aspect of my work right now. With the Poetry Cabaret I can do this. We did a lot of fundraising for this tour from a Zombie festival to a kickstarter. Now we are all traveling together—15 of us to D.C. We will perform in D.C. from the 6th through the 12th at The Capital Fringe Festival: https://www.capitalfringe.org/. Eventually, our hopes are to take this show on the road.

Note: The show is made up of the following artists (taken from Facebook events page):

Chief Creative and Director: Caleb Beissert

Music Director: Aaron Price

Poets: Kevin Evans, Justin William Evans, Justin Blackburn, Kevin Barger, Michael Coyle, Caleb Beissert

Dance Artists: Hester Prynncess, Union J, Tom Scheve

Musicians: Aaron Price, Polly Panic, Max Melner


How did you get involved with the Poetry Cabaret?

Caleb Beissert invited me. I met him through the slam poetry scene.  He hosted an open mic I would go to recruit poets for the slam.

I consider myself a page poet, doing what you do is admirable—performing for crowds of people and participating in slams, festivals, and now this Poetry Cabaret show. I certainly admire stage poets. Even though, I don’t like to say (or label) stage verses page poet, but there is a difference. As a performance poet, how do you differentiate a stage poet from say a page poet like myself?

I agree there is a difference between stage and page poetry and spoken word and slam and performance, really. I think page writers worry about grammar and form—whereas stage, we worry more about sound of words and how powerful we can get something across. I don’t call myself a slam poet anymore, I love slam, will perform it, it was just detrimental to my writing. But, I don’t perform for points anymore—it was a competition and a strategy was always needed—in slam we are trying to one up the person who came before us. When I performed slam, I was not writing for myself, I was writing to score points. Don’t get me wrong, I love slam. The Slam community has a big family and slam helped become the person I am today. Going through that fire—is amazing. But years doing it can be difficult; there is so much work involved from the competition itself to the work in putting together shows—it is life consuming. On the other hand, performance poetry allows me to write for myself and perform on the stage. I have a lot of freedom to take risks because I’m not being scored. Really, say, if someone gives you a six, your soul is crushed…and then you second-guess yourself and your ability. The first slam I remember performing in I won, and it gave me an ego boost—I didn’t always win, but I did that time. Then I performed more and made a name for myself. I performed in festivals and people recognized my work and it was awesome when people came up afterward saying they loved my work…yet, with slam there is self-doubt, but at the end of the day it is really a love fest. One thing about stage poetry is after performing a poem there is immediate validation for who you are as a writer and performer. If you are in classroom setting or in a workshop editing a page poem then a lot of times people become critical and offer ways to improve your writing, grammar issues, etc. In the classes, I only saw my mistakes. Really, in thinking about it, poetry, at one point was something that could only be understood by academia and it killed the art form. Now, this is something that we poets are working on is that poetry needs to be for everyone so we all can read, write, and share. Poetry connects us through emotions—that is me talking as a stage poet. I don’t limit myself to form, but if I just want to get everything out on a page then I do, but ultimately, it is going to be performed.

What genre are your book(s)?

Poetry. I only have the one book.

What draws you to this genre?

I love poetry; it feels like something I have always done. The short form suits me. I like writing essays, too. I love reading fiction, however, my poems can be confessional. It can be dangerous because it can turn into your diary—it needs to be topic based. As the writer, we want empathy not sympathy from sharing our poetry. At first, I was a very political poet and shared poems about gay rights and issues. Lately, I’ve moved away from that to write more emotional things. I don’t box myself in.

How much research do you do?

Not a lot. It is more about how I feel in a moment.  If I am making a reference…I may research about that topic enough to make sure I get a specific line or thought right. My poem “Little Brother” is about the shooting of Lawrence King, and I really had to learn that story in order to make a larger point.  Mostly, though, I have an outpouring of words that I have to immediately write it down. Writing for me is kind of like trying to catch air.  I’ll lose a piece if I’m unable to get it on paper as soon as the thought occurs.  I don’t want to lose it so later I will go back to edit.

How do you edit your work?

I really have a difficult time finishing a poem. As far as editing, I show it to different people, and get feedback—then I edit. I will read it out loud and feel the words in my mouth and make sure that they sound like they belong together.  I don’t edit per se for grammar and such. I may write a poem and have a need to share it at a show. I just tell the audience, I just wrote this. Let me know what you think. Some poems I don’t share at all.

Tell us about the cover/s and how it/they came about.

Kat had a graphic designer for my book. I helped to decide the final look for the cover with feed back from others.

Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?

I market myself by performing. I take my books with me. I am trying to figure out how to market myself better. I like to make sure my book is in my bio when being introduced. It is hard to market. I tried advertising online, but it wasn’t successful. Performing poems and having books available is the best way for me. I love the connection made when I hand a book over or sign a book to someone. Love having a book out, and selling a book, I am just as an apt to give a copy of my book away as I am at selling it.

Which social network works best for you? How can people connect with you?

Facebook is really the best way.

How many shows a year?

I maybe perform in three to four big shows each year—I’d like to do more. I try to show up at open mics, too, when I can.  There’s one hosted by Caleb, the host of the Poetry Cabaret, every Wednesday in Asheville that I get to sometimes.


If you would like to find more about Kevin Barger then please connect through SwEP or contact the author directly through Facebook or Facebook Messenger. Samples of his work are in his most current manuscript; Observable Acts: A Collection of Poetry (SwEP, 2015) https://swimmingwithelephants.com/ or you may find a sampling of his slam poetry online. Here is Kevin Barger performing “Lullabye” at the Asheville Poetry Slam at The Magnetic Field (January 2010): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xu47N3zXhTs.





Interview Conducted By the Always Brilliant Gina Marselle

Gina Marselle, M.A.Ed, is a New Mexico educator who lives in Albuquerque with her husband and children. She has published poetic work with The Sunday Poem Online Series, in the Alibi, the Rag, SIC3, Adobe Walls: An Anthology of New Mexico Poetry, Catching Calliope, Fix and Free Poetry Anthology I and II, and La Palabra Anthology I and II. Aside from poetry, she is an accomplished photographer. Her photos of New Mexico poets have been featured in the Santa Fe Magazine, Trend (March, 2011). She also photographed the cover of Jessica Helen Lopez’ poetry book, Always Messing With Them Boys (West End Press, 2011), and has her photography featured in September: traces of letting go a poetry book by Katrina K Guarascio (Swimming With Elephants Publications, 2014). Finally, A Fire of Prayer: A Collection of Poetry and Photography is her first full-length manuscript (Swimming With Elephants Publications, 2015).


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May 2017 Featured Writer: Elisabeth J. Ferrell-Horan “Wellbutrin in my Brain”

Wellbutrin in my Brain

There is Wellbutrin in my brain,
and I’d like to get it out.

It has stayed far too long –
the formidable clout
of its club fisted edges,

That pried out my eyes
and deftly snipped stitches
from my brain –

In dreams my teeth
have mostly fallen out.

“And I wonder”,
I whisper aloud – too loudly:
where I was, what I did?
yesterday in a cloud….

Where’s my phone or my wallet,
my mind, my disguise?

Who took them?
Was it you or that stealthy NDRI?

Eating all my grey matter
with tea like Mad Hatter.

I’m fat and puffy yet endlessly hungry,
my hair in my hands and
my back to the wall of a cliff;
then falling, falling
into a Dali sea –

Rife and roiling with
lunatics like me.

All I did was try;
but life at times proves hard –
With little sleep, little babies, little men.
Or maybe a Leprechaun did it to me –

While megalomaniacs
with their perky careers,
nod their heads,
dot their i’s
then turn a deaf ear.

I am dying in here.
I can’t seem get out,
from the weight of the pain
and horrendous gout –

Like the snout of a ghastly Frisco seal –
I’m snorting smoke signals
in a hopeless appeal –
Could I make this up?
God saw me not –
Nor heard me screaming:
“I forgot!”

How to go on? And go on I must,
for there is nothing
in the skies you see –
At least nothing that’s just:

No Angels, no demons,
nor circles with Dante;
No pearly white gates
nor red horns on Satan;

Not even your naughty Minotaur –
with its head of you, man
and the flesh of my breast –

No matter how much you want there to be.

Only worms and dirt,
coffins and me –
our own little babies and the
endless sea.

I rose adrift on a raft of twigs
a sinking hull with whipstitch lashings,
a remnant of what I learned while falling;
no sail, no compass –
nets endlessly trawling.

In a storm for the ages
I’ve washed up on shore
battered and broken yet
drowning no more.

Begging for water;
fresh – not salt laden,
I’ve enough in my well
of the tears now abated.

So what will become of
my huge frontal lobe?

Of my life, of my heart –
both woefully splayed,
spread eagle on rocks –

Seagulls ripping away
the entrails and innards
of my body’s own pockets –
Paired with once fragrant wine
gone awry in my crotch.

They pick clean the memories
of you, sad man, and me –

Remember us once and our glassy eyed stares?
Glowering back from the page –
now, no one’s there.

I alighted the rooftop
couldn’t leave, couldn’t jump
so I held on and prayed
I had nipples to pump –

Cough me up, spit me out!
I leave in my wake
deep oceans of grief,
waves cresting with guilt.

The Painful divide
of perceived demise.

I’m alive and I know
there’s no place to go back to.
Our pain is only as deep
as we practice.

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April 2017 Featured Writer: Melissa Rose “Demeter Speaks to Persephone After Her Rape”

Demeter Speaks to Persephone After Her Rape:

Daughter, the end of summer will always be a signal. You will never forget when spring was taken from your skin. Only the smokey smell of the season’s changing. The chill of the place his hands found. It is amazing how the body remembers. Like the trees after a forest fire, you will ache from a wound you place at the back of your mind. I also know what it’s like to feel empty. I can still remember the hollow absence of you in my womb. When I birthed you into the sun a girl. This was my mistake. I should have known how girls are plucked so easily from the Earth. How they are placed in vases. How their beauty is seen only as something to be owned. Even goddesses are not safe from assault. Every winter, I remember too. How we danced. How we bloomed. How I held you in my arms and whispered “sweet girl” “sweet sweet girl” You most of all should never know how the world only holds you close enough to stab you. How any day may be the day you lose your limbs. How soon enough you will face yourself in the mirror and not recognize who you are. How can I prepare you for that? When you stumble back to me with stories of how his touch reminded you of death. How every year you feel like dying. How the sunlight no longer gives you warmth. How they will make a myth out of you and he will still sit on a throne. There is a reason they call me Mother. I am good at watching the things I love suffer. Holding a place for tears is not easy but I would gladly trade your’s for my own. Anything to let go of watching the journey of my children as they stand painful in abandoned fields like stalks of withered corn. When you walked back from Hades and its darkness I made sure the sun would show you that hiding your pain from the light only kills you slowly. And I will tell you, Daughter that everything dies but it is never the end. Do not forget you are a goddess. That the sun is shining for you. Your skin is not a fruit he sunk his teeth into, it is an orchard. Your body is not a withered stem, it is a rosebush. Every year may remind you, but never forget that above all else, you were made from this Earth. You are not a victim of it. You are the fertile soil. Ready to grow. I will mourn with you. I will show them all how to bend to your pain. How they will share your grief every time you are forced back into his bed. I will plant seeds, naming each one after you, kissing them like children, letting them sleep and dream of your return. And there, in the dark, you will find yourself yourself again. Hands in the dirt, feeling the flesh of your fruitfulness not as something to be stolen, but savored. Sweet girl, you are a survivor. You were made for greater things than the Queen of Death. And you will find them here. In the Spring.

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March 2017 Featured Author: Hilary Krzywkowski: Manifest Destiny

Manifest Destiny

magical-childwhile waiting for my son to come out of his OT appointment at Akron Children’s
medical technicians micro manage the unfolding petals of childhood,
Ph.D.’d brains unanimously decide it should be called “development”
a forcibly renamed life cycle, diluted with the new age sorcery of
mechanical blossoming, socio-genetic programming out all signs of life
and a headmistress calls this convoluted structure of civilization: brain function.
in prostration to the wires of curriculum pasted on a state-licensed forehead
we learnt the lessons
read the writing in censored books like it was 1984 all over again
and no talk with hands, instead
hands collapsed around a pencil
must draw carefully metered forms
education specialists cannot handle a child’s life force
they call it dysfunction and disorder, its antidote: special Ed.
real “development” disables long valued, yet rotting social structures
founded by fathers who raped the children themselves, by the sweat of their brow,
before pulling a plow through the tender loam of the womb,
slipping the pistol into mother’s mouth
they’d blow away their own reflection
mirror shrapnel, intellectual entanglement
no words can suit the meaning of life, its
shoes too small, too large, too pointy and too wide, too expensive.
everyone wears shoes that do not belong to—
not every human can afford ignorance and must go out into the world
straight out of the womb in most cases,
to a brick hut where inside the teats are fashioned from petroleum by-products
and excrete the milk of printed paper or numbered plastic
sworn by the wealth and affluence of the conquistadors
who took captive shamans and bent them over bibles
and cut off their hair
and forced pure and tender places open to the self-righteous excrement of white devils.
i know all this, yet we are all here today participating in the great tradition of Progress,
and i wait
while my innocent little boy is alone in a room with another woman
who will pretend to be his friend, trick him with a treatise for peace
while tapping his brain for its natural resources.
i will take this boat as far as the fork
and then all unexpected-like,
we will close our eyes together, each from our respective positions in space,
and materialize a bend sending us along a new course far away from here.
we shall disappear to the place of my boy’s choosing
because only his imagination is safe.
deep into the core of substance are we going. deep into the spirit of things.