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Exploring Confessional Poetry with Nicole Tallman at the Flapper Press Poetry Café

Updated: 6 days ago

By Annie Newcomer:


Cover design by Laurie Marshall

The Flapper Press Poetry Café features the work from poets from around the globe. It is an honor to share their work and learn more about their lives, influences, and love of poetry.


This week, we feature the work of Nicole Tallman.                                

Nicole Tallman, Photo by Jackie Taylor


Nicole Tallman is the author of three collections: Something KindredPoems for the People, and FERSACEShe serves as the official Poetry Ambassador for Miami-Dade County (Florida), Poetry and Interviews Editor for The Blue Mountain Review, and Editor of Redacted Books. She is also the creator and host of ELJ Editions/Redacted Books’ Be Well Reading Series and the Lunchtime Poetry & Jazz Series at Miami-Dade County’s Main Library. Her debut collaborative horror novel, Julie, or Sylvia, is forthcoming from Thirty West Publishing this summer. Find her on social media @natallman and at nicoleatallman.com.



We reached out to Nicole to talk about her poetry, passions, and what it means to be a "confessional poet."


Please Meet Nicole Tallman!



Annie Newcomer: Welcome, Nicole. The Poetry Foundation shares that confessional poetry was first labelled as such in the late 1950s. Some of the renowned poets of the time ran away from the term, but I see you running to it. Might you explain to our readers what confessional poetry means to you and why you associate yourself with it? How has this form changed over the decades to the present time? Or has it?


Nicole Tallman: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me, Annie, and especially about poetry, which is one of my favorite topics. Being a confessional poet, in my mind, is something to be proud of it. Two of my all-time favorite poets, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, were confessional poets, and I find that the modern poets I gravitate to now (for example, Alex Dimitrov, Richie Hofmann, Victoria Chang, Eduardo Corral, Jericho Brown, Marie Howe, and Maureen Seaton) write in a confessional way as well. By confessional, I see little separation between the poet and the speaker of the poems. The “I” is front and center, and there is no hiding behind a persona.


I find it an act of bravery to embody the confessional, and that is my lineage.

Now, of course, being a confessional poet doesn’t always mean that I will write only confessional poems. My first three books were very confessional, but the manuscript I am shopping around mixes the confessional with the surreal. In the surreal section, the speaker gets a bit lost, and it’s not always clear who is talking and what is real and what is imaginary. And, of course, as poets we can take some liberties with both. 


AN: Congratulations on your appointment as Poetry Ambassador for Miami-Dade County in Florida. Explain the difference between a "poet laureate" and a "poet ambassador" for our readers. What are the pluses and minuses of each position?


NT: Thank you so much for your kind words, Annie. The poet laureate is appointed by the mayor of Miami-Dade County, in consultation with the poetry ambassador, and the appointment is a one-year term with an option to renew for a second term. The poet laureate is not an employee of Miami-Dade County government like the poetry ambassador is. I suppose you could say the poetry ambassador serves as the liaison between the Mayor’s Office and the poet laureate. As poetry ambassador, I work very closely with the poet laureate to elevate and celebrate local poets and poetry. I also help the current poet laureate with the community project they must complete as part of their contract. Our current poet laureate, Richard Blanco, is working on a Miami’s Favorite Poems Project. I am helping him with the poem archive he is building for our community and the videos he is recording for the project, as well as attending events with him to encourage participation. As poetry ambassador, I have my own local projects as well. I have written two collaborative Heroic Sonnet Crowns for the mayor and residents of Miami-Dade County, and I host a monthly lunchtime poetry and jazz series at the library. I also attend a lot of poetry readings and other artistic events in the community.


AN: Might you share the links to some of your poetry projects as poetry ambassador?


NT: Regarding my poems as poetry ambassador, I worked on two collaborative projects, and the links are here: 



AN: As Interviews Editor for The Blue Mountain Review, please share how you select poets for interviews and what you love about this position. Have you ever had a poet who was so introverted that the process was difficult? How did you draw them out? Has a famous poet ever completely surprised you and, if yes, in what way? Is there a poet who you long to interview, and why?


NT: My work for the The Blue Mountain Review is a complete act of love. The poets I choose to interview are ones whose work I absolutely love and people I want to learn more about and from. I have had the honor of interviewing Diane Seuss, Richard Blanco, Dorothea Lasky, Elisa Gabbert, Faylita Hicks, Chen Chen, Jose Hernandez-Diaz, Joseph Fasano, Jared Beloff, Gabrielle Bates, Michael Chang, and so many more. I also try to choose poets who have new books out so that I can help them with promotions. The interviews that I conduct are by email, and I have not had a difficult time drawing content out of anyone I interview. I think it’s because I approach the interview like a partnership and give poets permission to skip any questions that they are not comfortable answering and the opportunity to tell me if there’s anything I didn’t ask that they would like to talk about. I find that if you ask good questions, you usually get good answers. 


I have been surprised by a famous poet, and it was in a good way: in how generous they were with their responses. I have also been surprised in bad ways, but I’d rather focus on the positive. 


As for a poet I long to interview, I would love to interview Marie Howe because, as you know, she is an absolute delight. I would also love to interview all of the favorites I mentioned earlier. I have actually interviewed Victoria Chang, but it was for a different journal. 


AN: Yes, Marie is a delight. We were both so fortunate to participate in Marie Howe's generative workshop in Key West, Florida, this past January. Why do you think it is important for poets to participate in workshops?


NT:

Continuing to develop one’s craft if an important part of evolving as a poet. Workshops afford an opportunity to do this, along with sharing space with likeminded people, and giving and getting feedback on poems—seeing what lands and what doesn’t. 



AN: Among all the many things we learned in Marie's workshop, name one exercise that really stood out for you.


NT: I loved learning more about how Marie approaches lines and line breaks. There was a point in the class when she talked to us about syllables, in particular. She asked us to write a poem and to pay attention to making each line somewhere between 8–10 syllables per line and to listen to how that sounds and feels. We also did this with 10–12 syllables per line, and the exercise has stuck with me because as much as counting syllables may seem cumbersome to some poets, I found it to create much more music than when ignoring the counts.  


AN: How does being embedded in the Literary world to the degree that you are influence your own writing? 


NT: I think that almost everything I do influences my writing in some way, but I often find myself influenced more by what happens outside of the literary world. I draw a lot of inspiration from the everyday, and also from reading, and less so from specific interactions with other poets. 


AN: Does the dynamic change when the roles are changed and you are the subject of an interview? What question do you hope that I don't forget to ask you? Now ask and answer.


NT: I love interviews and being on both sides of them. I feel comfortable enough to answer the questions I want to and to skip over something if I don’t feel like answering. There are some things that are off the table for most interviewees, and it’s important to establish boundaries. Fortunately, most literary interviews I have been the subject of have been positive experiences. I think you have done a great job of formulating questions and haven’t neglected to ask anything I would like to discuss. 


AN: What are the strengths of a full interview, and what are the strengths of a flash interview?


NT: I enjoy both long and short interviews, but I think a lot of the strength in the interview comes from the subject's willingness to engage. You can learn a lot about a subject in a short space if the right questions are asked and the interviewee is feeling generous with their responses. I love reading interviews in The Paris Review, for example, which tend to run on the longer side but pack a lot of punch. An interview of just a few questions can pack a punch, too, especially if both parties are into it. 


I often think about the trend toward longer books of poetry and how I keep resisting writing long books. I like my books to be tight and thematically focused. If I have more to say, I'll certainly add it, but I don't like the pressure for a book (or an interview) to be a particular length. Sometimes it can be a disservice to the final product because there is a risk of inserting fluff or filler to meet a word or page count. 


AN: Please share the ways that your life is enriched by poetry.


NT:

Poetry is in my head all the time. It enriches me from the moment I wake up until the time I go to sleep and, sometimes, even in my dreams. I hardly remember a time when I wasn’t reading or writing poems. 

AN: Where do you see yourself in 10 years in the literary world? 


NT: This is difficult to answer because the literary world is very unpredictable. If I’m putting big energy out there, I would love to be published by a large publisher, get poems published in top-tier journals, land an agent and a publicist, and win some prestigious awards. The most important thing, of course, being the poems. I am starting to publish fiction as well, so that may take me in a different direction. I also hope that I am inspiring others to write and continuing to build my community, along with continuing to give back through editorial work, hosting reading series, and being a good literary citizen. 


AN: Nicole, thank you so much for stopping by our Flapper Press Poetry Café. I loved having this chance to interview you after hearing your beautiful poetry in Florida. Now it is time to share your three poems—The Velvet Room, When I Was Straight, and Dolce Vita—and their backstories with our readers. 


NT: Thank you again for taking the time to do this interview, Annie. I hope our paths cross in person again soon!


 


The Velvet Room


In fifth grade, I carried a grape

Scratch ‘n Sniff Sticker in my pants pocket 

wherever I went.


I also carried a copy of a heavy, 

faded book the school librarian

reserved especially for me.


Mrs. Woodward reminded me 

of a mouse being chased

by an owl. 


Someone said something

about her living

with another woman.


We weren’t supposed

to speak of it,

although no one ever told me that directly.


My sticker 

became my bookmark.

By winter, my book smelled like an old vineyard. 


Even now, if I close my eyes, 

the curtained room 

velvets and purples.


From FERSACE (ELJ Editions, November 2023) and first published in Cultural Daily


 

About this poem:

The title of this poem comes from one of my favorite childhood books, The Velvet Room, and this poem not only pays tribute to that book and to the memory of that time in my life when I read it but also to the school librarian who recommended the book to me. If I close my eyes, I can still smell that grape sticker, so I suppose this poem is also a tribute to that sticker and to the scents that fuel our memories. 


 



When I Was Straight

— After and For Maureen Seaton


I hung the posters of hunks

in my locker and bedroom

alongside red-headed heroines

to avoid questions, to avoid

the truth: I worshipped women.

I hid my lust like a leprous limb.

It greened. I buried it.

A priest detected my stench,

handed me a psalm. It greened.

I buried it in a dusty dresser drawer.

I hung onto hope like my mother,

who said she’d rather I had cancer

than be that way. She couldn’t bring

herself to say the word gay.

Before my mother died of cancer,

she told me she was proud

of me. I still ask myself:

Does dying bring us closer to acceptance?


Forthcoming in the chapbook anthology When I Was Straight: A Maureen Seaton Tribute, edited by Dustin Brookshire for Harbor Editions. 


 

About this poem:

This poem was written after Maureen Seaton’s poem of the same name, and this poem is dedicated to her. Maureen was a dear friend and poetry mentor of mine who unfortunately passed away from cancer last year. She was also an award-winning LGBTQ poet and fierce advocate for LGBTQ rights. This poem is sadly autobiographical in its story and in its reflection of the struggle for acceptance many members of the LGBTQ community experience. 


 



Dolce Vita


I finish The Lover and we walk

to the new food court that just opened.

The sunset sends us

to the other side of the street.

We pass by a building with a balcony

bleeding bougainvillea.

The old city peeks through the reconstruction—

an ad for perfume, leather, a liquor long ago expired.

People pack the lobby like vultures on a deer carcass.

A girl takes a selfie next to the bar in the center.

Everything is silver, blue, and glass.

The smell of roasted tomatoes leads us to Cichetti.

We order prosecco and tapas served on small wooden plates.

I like watching the man at the oven who makes our food.

How he moves like pleasure is his only concern.


From Dolce Vita (currently unpublished manuscript) and first published in Cultural Daily


 

About this poem:

This poem is part of my new poetry manuscript, Dolce Vita, which I would describe as an intimate lyrical diary, revealing 15-line flashes of queer life over the course of a year in the post-pandemic digital age. Inspired by the autofiction of Tove Ditlevsen, Marguerite Duras, and Marcel Proust, and the poetry of Richie Hofmann, Jean-Baptiste Pedini, and Diane Seuss, "Dolce Vita" juxtaposes a life of digital dependency with a life of dying physical desire, presented in the form of a confessional of the quotidian. 

 

Annie Newcomer

Annie Klier Newcomer founded a not-for-profit, Kansas City Spirit, that served children in metropolitan Kansas for a decade. Annie volunteers in chess and poetry after-school programs in Kansas City, Missouri. She and her husband, David, and the staff of the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens are working to develop The Emily Dickinson Garden in hopes of bringing art and poetry educational programs to their community. Annie helms the Flapper Press Poetry Café—dedicated to celebrating poets from around the world and to encouraging everyone to both read and write poetry!


If you enjoyed this Flash Poet interview, we invite you to explore more here! 



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