Democracy in Action

by Cassie Selleck

I am a Southerner by birth, a descendant of a long line of European ancestors who arrived on the shores of the Carolinas and Georgia in the 1700’s. I cannot extricate myself from my Southern identity; it follows me wherever I go and makes itself known the second I open my mouth. My accent is not the only thing that gives me away, though. You can tell I’m Southern by the way I cook - cheese grits, sausage gravy and biscuits, tomato sandwiches, fried chicken and collard greens are staples in my home. 

You can tell where I’m from by the way I wave at passing cars, speak to almost everyone near me, and by the way I say “Yes Ma’am” and “No Ma’am” as a sign of respect. I may venture off to other parts of the country, but I always find my way back to our lush landscapes with palm trees, Spanish moss, and ‘gator-filled lakes. 

I am proud of our heritage, but not necessarily our history. Some of my forefathers fought and died in the American Civil War and, though I realize the courage it must have taken to go to war, I cannot take pride in the principles for which they fought. Nor will our genetic link cause me to rationalize or defend the fact that some of them owned slaves and sought to secede from the United States. It was wrong then, and it would be wrong to glorify it now. 

On the other hand, some of my ancestors spoke out against slavery, some were active in women’s suffrage, and some, like my mother, were vocal advocates for civil rights laws in the 50s and 60s. That is the heritage I value, the family members who called for change, the parents who raised me to think beyond myself and champion the causes of those who are suffering at the hands of the unjust.

I was recently in Columbia, South Carolina when a group of citizens scheduled a rally to protest the Confederate flag that still hangs in the courtyard of the state house, among other Civil War monuments. I confess I was surprised it still hung there. I have rarely seen the flag flown in the South for any reason other than to express bigoted and racist viewpoints, usually in an attempt to intimidate people of color. 

The Confederate flag is not a symbol of Southern pride. It is a symbol of a time when the Southern government tried to gain power, acquire land, and secure privilege and prosperity for white people, on the backs of people of color. It was a time of cruel disregard for human life. It is a symbol of a dark time in our history, NOT a symbol of our heritage.

I am politically active, and race relations have always been important to me, but I have been discouraged lately. I keep thinking the divide is too great, the wounds too deep, and the wealthy whites in power too influential to make any real progress.

So, I went to the rally in Columbia expecting to see a handful of folks demanding the flag be removed, and another handful protesting the removal. What I saw when I got there was nothing like I imagined. There were thousands of people in attendance, all peacefully and exuberantly making their values known. There were people of many cultures and ethnicities, meeting each other with the common goal of making a difference, speaking up, and participating in the democratic process that demands government of the people, by the people and for the people. 

What I saw was democracy in action. I saw politicians being reminded that government must represent all of the people, not just the ones in power. History has shown that a government based on suppression of ideas, oppression of minorities, and majority control will eventually fail. Civil unrest leads to civil disobedience and eventually civil war. 

In the days since the protest I have hovered between relief and elation at the outpouring of support across the country. Not only does it look like the flag will be removed from the state house, but huge retailers are pulling Confederate merchandise across the United States. But there are other emotions just below the surface of my satisfaction. They are boiling up in response to the deaths in Charleston, the unarmed black men and women assaulted and killed by law enforcement officers, the hatefulness expressed by white people who cling to their despicable need to feel superior, validated, powerful. 

I am sad and angry. I am tired and disgusted. I am ashamed and fearful. I am afraid we are never going to get where we need to be. I am afraid we have crossed lines and evaded responsibility for so long that we cannot recover. I am afraid for every parent who must teach their children how to be safe in their own skin. I am afraid for every young man who has been drained of hope, and who must still look at the historical monuments of his own government and know that it has not conspired for his welfare, nor supported his dreams. 

We are poised for significant change in the current and coming years, but there is no simple fix and no one right answer. If we are to change in meaningful, stable and permanent ways, we must be willing to speak up and to listen. Our battles should never be against each other, but in support of all. Democracy depends on diversity and inclusion, and works when people raise their voices and know that they will be heard. 

photo by Cassie Selleck

Over It: One Editor's Brush With Ignorance

by Catherine Chambers

“That's what is always fascinating about racism - how it is allowed, if not encouraged, to flourish freely in public spaces, the way racism and bigotry are so often unquestioned.” – Roxane Gay

Like any self-respecting literary type, I do a great deal of my work in coffee shops. It gets me out of the house, shakes up my scenery, and I can stay steadily caffeinated until whatever I’m working on is finished. On a recent trip home to Texas, I was working in one such establishment when an elderly man asked me what I was working on, typing away like that.

I love this part of conversations. I love telling people about Duende’s mission, about the act of handing a literary microphone to those who may not normally get one, about the hard work of the volunteer editing staff to diversify the literary landscape. If you saw me or any other Duende staff member at AWP, you can attest to how excited we are about the work we are doing. It never occurred to me that someone might not be excited about the prospect of diversity.

When I explained Duende’s mission to this man, an older white man whom we will call Bob, he frowned at me. “So you wouldn’t publish my writing,” he said curtly.

“Not necessarily,” I said, still feeling good-natured. In the past, Duende has published some amazing work from cisgendered straight white males.  “We publish quality work, always, but we are working towards diversifying indie lit. There are lots of other places you could have your work published. For some people, like incarcerated writers or undergraduates, it might be much harder."

It was as if Bob didn't hear me. “So if I was a dyke,” he barreled on, now having exited my good graces, “And I sent in a shit poem, you’d publish it.”

I took a deep breath. “That’s not what I said.”

“You’re discriminating me,” he said, louder now, pointing a finger at me from the armchair where he sat.

“Excuse me?” I asked, my heart rate picking up. I have self-diagnosed white knight syndrome combined with a temper, but I was trying to maintain my calm. Maybe he just didn’t understand. Hadn’t he seen the VIDA count?! Did he really think that he, as a white male, was being harmed by my publication choosing to address the work of underrepresented writers?

“Sweetheart, you’re very pretty, but you’re a bigot and a racist,” Bob informed me.

I realized this man couldn’t be reasoned with, so I simply shut my laptop and packed up my bag without another word to him. I stormed out to choruses of, Oh sweetheart, don’t be like that, and I was only kidding. I made it to my car before I burst into tears. 

I am a bi-racial female with skin privilege, so people sometimes raise an eyebrow when I tell them how important diversifying the literary world is to me. I am also a woman of small stature with big eyes and long hair. Men, especially older men, will write off my opinions, especially if they are strong. I am constantly called sweetheart, beautiful, darlin’, by men I don’t know.

You know what? I am over it. Like the people we are trying to give a voice with Duende, I am often unheard even though I am smart and I work hard. The world has cut me breaks, and it has not cut me breaks. So, Bob, you will not be getting one from me. What I will be doing is spreading our message no matter what you think, and continuing to work hard alongside a talented staff of editors to make Issue 3 a megaphone for writers from all over the world, writers of color, LGBTQ writers, student writers, incarcerated writers, and anyone else who gets as angry as I do that the world cuts men like Bob a break. 

Poetry & The Hidden Present

by Jay Sheets

I’ve taken on a pretty exhausting, yet exhilarating challenge this semester: to demystify the creative process by examining not only the psychology of poetry, but the link between poetic inspiration and ritual across cultures and oral histories.

Poets and psychologists could argue all day about what the meaning of ‘inspiration’ is. The etymological definition is ‘the picture to oneself,’ but the overall consensus I’ve found so far is that poetic inspiration is a call to create, derived from image (mnemonic, archetypal, literal), derived from ritual. I’ve never met a poet who didn’t have a ritual, an act to call a poem forth by placing themselves in a necessary space (physically, emotionally, a balance of both) to charge their creative batteries, and connect to the ever-mysterious stream of creative consciousness. Whether it is sitting down with a coffee and a blank computer screen with headphones on, performing an ancient shamanic dance, or experiencing a walking meditation through the woods, it’s all a form of poetic ritual. This, hopefully, results in a story and a feeling of freedom from creating something new, from experiencing something new, that’s always seemed to be present.

In Poetry and Prophecy by N.K. Chadwick, the author speaks to a ‘hidden present’ in relation to inspiration and knowledge which I, as a poet, find absolutely fascinating. Chadwick states, “The association of inspiration and knowledge of whatever kind acquired by supernatural means is ancient and widespread. Inspiration, in fact, relates to revealed knowledge. Revelation covers the whole field of human consciousness. It includes knowledge of the past and the hidden present, as well as the future.” These supernatural means Chadwick is speaking to are the rituals throughout history which result in poetic utterance, or simply, poetry.

I’d always been called to write, but it wasn’t until I recently began to deconstruct my creative processes that I saw what my writing was asking of me, and why the act of writing spoke to me when nothing and no one else ever could. When looking at ritual, imagery (or imagination, if you prefer), and finished literary works from a phenomenological point of view, in my relation to memories and physical and emotional environments throughout my life, it became evident that writing poetry, had been an act of recognizing and reconstructing, or ‘remembering,’ my personal mythology. We all have our own mythologies; the untold stories swirling deep inside that tell of our childhood traumas, current fears, loves, wonders and wants. Poetry has been the literary tool I’ve needed in order to look back through the present to look forward.

As you may be able to tell by now, I’m still deep in these studies. I invite you to take a closer look at your writerly ritual, how you use your imagination (or how your imagination uses you), and what inspiration does for you on an internal level. Since the advent of language, words have been known to carry power. Isn’t ‘spelling’ considered to be a form of casting a spell, on either ourselves or our readers? We want to evoke emotion, so I think it’s safe to say yes. Poets and writers are alchemists of language, carefully transforming images of the ‘hidden present’ as words see fit.

So, when an image pops into mind, in that ‘ah-hah!’ moment in our writerly heads where divine inspiration seems all too real, I invite you to ask what that image is asking of you in terms of your own personal mythology. Are we poets really our own psychotherapists? It seems like a reasonable theory; even Jung couldn’t satisfactorily define the poetic process.

Aren’t the simplest explanations often the right ones? When we look deeper into the spaces in which our work calls to us, we often find answers to questions we’ve not yet learned how to ask. We find out how amazing is it to have been given the gift of word, the power of language, and to help answer the questions of our ‘hidden present.’

Pegasus Reading Series

by Catherine Chambers

My little brother just turned twenty, which warranted a surprise visit to see my family. I have temporarily traded the cold rains of Denver for the warm, muggy rains of my hometown: Dallas, Texas. Over the past few years, my beloved Dallas has been experiencing an artistic facelift. Once a strictly business town, Dallas is now home to things like backyard Shakespeare, a huge burlesque population, Deep Vellum Publishing, and (luckily for me) a blossoming community of writers which includes organizations like WordSpace.

From their website: WordSpace is a non-profit literary organization that supports education and writers, connecting Dallas with the best of world literature. Founded in 1994, the organization hosts authors, readings, student workshops, concerts and salons to promote established and emerging artists who use imaginative language in traditional and experimental forms. Through diverse, multi-cultural programs, WordSpace enhances the development of language artists of all ages, facilitates communication throughout the literary community, and contributes to expanding the Dallas literary scene to the widest possible audience.

WordSpace has partnered with Kettle Arts, a Deep Ellum gallery, to create the Pegasus Reading Series. The reading I attended last night featured poets Tim Cloward, Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick, and Jenny Molberg, along with fiction writer Merritt Tierce. The art gallery was brightly lit but somehow intimate. All four authors were starkly different from each other, and yet with each one I found myself making that “mmph” sound of approval that those of us who have been to a few readings are familiar with. The work was engaging and heartfelt, and it made for a very pleasant evening. 

This reading series occurs monthly and includes and open mic after the featured readings. If you should ever find yourself in Dallas and in need of poetry and free wine, I would definitely recommend this event. 

Hosts/curators Robert Torres & Sebastian H. Paramo, with poetry editor Catherine Chambers

Hosts/curators Robert Torres & Sebastian H. Paramo, with poetry editor Catherine Chambers

Double Nickels: My Journey Into Self-Publishing

By Cassie Selleck

Double nickels. Fifty-five. That’s the age I was when I quit my full-time job marketing for a bridge access equipment company, and enrolled in Goddard College’s low-residency undergraduate program. It’s also the age I was when I could, for the first time in the more than half a century I have been alive, list my profession as “Writer” on legal forms. And speaking of nickels, if I had one of those coins for every time I was told I should not go into writing if I expected to make a living at it…well, let’s just say I’d have more nickels than that particular advice was worth.

I’m a writer, the author of a book that is barely a novel, but that has created a passive income more than twice what I’ve made in any of my other careers. If you ask my eighty-year-old mother, she’d say, “It’s about damn time.” She’s like that: blunt, sassy, irreverent. The persimmon didn’t fall far from that tree.

Some people say my success is a fluke. Who self-publishes and makes a living at it? Others have actually said, “Don’t be disappointed if you don’t have the same results with your next novel.” Okay, I won’t. I had no expectations for The Pecan Man, so it would have been hard to be disappointed. I was surprised by its success, in fact, and I continue to be delighted by sales that grow exponentially, but my question is this: Was it a fluke, or was it just an opportunity not wasted?

But this blog is not about me. It’s about you. Yes, you. I want to tell you a secret that some people don’t want you to know. Ready?

It. Is. Possible.

Oh, wait, here’s another one:

It isn’t too late.

I’m on a roll.

It doesn’t cost a fortune, and you don’t have to settle for royalties that net you less than 15% of your list price while other folks make three times that much on your work.  

There has never been a better time, nor a more legitimate opportunity to earn a living as a writer. There are many affordable, some virtually free, self-publishing services that offer user-friendly tools to independently publish digital books, or print-on-demand services for paperback books. Are you guaranteed to make big bucks? Nope. But guess how much you’ll make on your novel, your memoir, your poetry if they are naught but files in your computer’s ever-expanding belly?

I had just two items on my bucket list a few years back. Who had time for a bucket list when I had been raising children since 1976 and had just sent my youngest off to college? I barely had time to breathe, much less dream about things I wanted to do before I kicked the proverbial bucket. So, when my husband and I talked about what we would do if we ever won the lottery he plays faithfully every week, my answer would always be:

1. Finish my college degree.
2. Publish a novel.

I’d been working on both for over ten years. I know, I’m a little slow. Slow like the tortoise who beat the hare.

I published The Pecan Man in January of 2012. And by March 2014, #2 had made #1 possible. I cannot imagine being where I am today without the success of my self-published novel. I am well on my way to completing Goddard’s BFA in Creative Writing program – the only low-residency program of its kind in the U.S., I am a co-editor of fiction for Goddard’s outstanding online literary journal DUENDE, and I get up each day and walk to my desk to write. I have an agent who found me, not the other way around. I have speaking engagements on my calendar, and have met astounding people I might never have come across if not for a shared love of reading and writing. I am living a writer’s life, something I dreamed of since I was a child.

I wish this success on all artists and writers. I hope we all make it. I hope we stop telling each other we must starve for our art. It’s not true; we must work for it. We must make it available in one or more of the many ways possible in today’s market. With countless online outlets and the rapid popularity of social media, consumers have grown incredibly savvy and have the skills necessary to find the material they want to read. If you take the time to write, edit and publish good poetry and prose, there is an audience out there waiting to find you.

Is self-publishing the only way? No. Is it the best way? Not always. Does it spell doom for local bookstores? I don’t think so. But it is one way of getting your foot in the door, of finding an audience, of having a large pool of beta-readers, of attracting an agent if you want one. It can even increase your chance of becoming traditionally published if that’s what your heart has always desired. For me, it wasn’t about having a big name on the spine of my book. It was about writing a story that bound hearts, and discovering a world where my voice was welcome and appreciated.

So, what are you waiting for? Go find your audience.

You can purchase Cassie's book, The Pecan Man, here.

Discovering Oulipo and The Freedom of Constrained Writing

By Raphael Krasnow

The beauty of being a creative person is that many of us are inspired to learn new things, and engage with new concepts on the daily. I am currently in the midst of an eye-opening literary and poetic exploration. This enlightenment is due mostly to the power of a French writing collective formed in the middle of the 20th century called, Oulipo. Oulipo, in French, stands for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, which roughly translates into workshop of potential literature. Founded by Raymond Queneau and Francois Le Lionnais, the primary goal of this group of poets, mathematicians, and writers of all types, was (and still is) to explore and create something called, constrained writing.

To me, the idea behind constrained writing was meant to create literary beauty through the lens of certain parameters, or *drum roll, please*…constraints. Constraints are very common in the world of poetry. For example, sonnets, haiku, and sestinas are some of the more common forms of constrained poetry. While they are fascinating techniques, and can provide far more interesting results than one might expect, what really intrigued me was the realization that there were so many more options, with dare I say, potentially wacky results.

As a lover of free-verse, my poetry is meant to be performed or slammed, so the idea that using constraint could liberate my process as a writer, at first, seemed laughable. That is, until my exploration of Oulipo led me to univocalic poetry. The essence of a univocal poem is that the writer may use only one vowel throughout their piece, essentially making the poem a lipogram by restricting the use of all other vowels. While this may seem incredibly restricting and tortuous, the beauty and aural delicacies of the univocal poem, proved to be perfect for my style of writing. When you can only use one vowel, and therefore only the sounds that that one vowel can make, you are offered up a feast of potential assonance and rhyme: two of my favorite elements of writing.

I’ve grown to appreciate the freedom that practicing within these constraints can grant. I realize that many other writers might have the same fear or apprehension about constraints that I once had, and that's exactly why I wanted to share what I've learned. Maybe it might help you tap into a well of discovery.

So, I'm offering up a challenge to any reader that is inclined: try writing univocalic poetry. You needn’t share it with anyone if you don’t want to; it can be your own private exercise of form. I assure you that if you give it time and patience, “restricting” yourself just might open your writing to new horizons. You can choose A, E, I, O, U, and if you are very daring, Y. After attempting to use A, E, I, and O, I found working with E helped me most.

For your reading pleasure or proof that it is doable, here is my most recent univocal poem using the letter E.


Grew restless.

The recent tense end embedded embers,





Grew restless.


stressed tresses, sent lewd letters.

Even wrestled gender-bent sex dresses.

Her chest shed,


                                    Been restless.

                                    Been restless.

                                    Been restless.


He best get the fret wet.

She bled, let her dead wed,

led bed wetters,

entrenched betters

he bred her free trend setters.


                                    Been restless.


Pet-less nests get less pests

Best get me the rest, see,


Been restless.


Enter the center

Mend her fender

Then end her.

Then end here.

Then send beer,

Get me here.



                                                                       Be restless.


Surrounded by the Love of the Literary: My First AWP Experience

By Jørn Otte

As the dust settles, the books are shelved, the business cards sorted through (who was that again?), and the jet lag lazily lingers, I sit and ponder over my first Association of Writers and Writing Publishers conference in Minneapolis, and what can be said of this unique literary experience.

Writers, readers, MFA programs, publishers, literary magazines, drag queens, booksellers, activists, panelists, recovering alcoholics, dog lovers, trendsetters, translation enthusiasts, poets, playwrights, prison writing publishers, Duendians, Goddardites, and thousands of other categories of people and uncategorizeable people attended this three-day-long event, and the positive energy in the rooms was palpable and contagious.

What did I learn? Plenty. Let’s start with my college and literary magazine.

Goddard College has a wider influence than I realized, and it was wonderful to meet alumni and former faculty who have gone on to great things – from people like Mark Doty, a Goddard alum and renowned poet and memoirist who won the National Book Award in 2008, to Doug Van Gundy, a Goddard alum and fellow West Virginia native who now at the low residency MFA program at West Virginia Wesleyan, and was also a contestant on ABC’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Alumni and former professors stopped by the Goddard table every day, recalling fond memories, sharing enthusiasm about our programs, and encouraging others to attend.

Perhaps one of my favorite parts of the AWP experience was the fact that many contributors to Duende stopped by our table to thank us for publishing them and to share their love of all things literary. From Harrison Candelaria Fletcher to Bianca Spriggs to Seema Reza and so many others, meeting our contributors face to face and sharing in mutual love of the written word was truly a wonderful experience. It was also nice to build an even deeper camaraderie with my fellow Duendians Amy Sterne and Catherine Chambers, as we represented our school and magazine.

Meeting famous authors is always a treat, and it was distinct pleasure to be able to sit down and talk with people like Nick Flynn and Karen Russell, both of whom, like so many other attendees, were gracious with their time and thoroughly engaging.

Being courted by MFA programs does a little something to stroke the ego as well, and while I won’t call out any names, I can say with complete sincerity that the fact that half-a-dozen graduate writing programs expressed a genuine interest in both my writing and in me as a person made me feel that this whole experience was equally surreal and grounding.

Panels of noted authors and publishers were also an integral part of the AWP experience, and none was more engaging that the Writers Write No Matter What panel, conducted by four wonderful writers: Wendy Call, Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Anastacia Tolbert and Sejal Shah.  This panel was actually workshop, and the productive writing that occurred in this space was unlike anything else I saw at AWP, and hearing from other attendees and panelists, I can confirm that this was a unique and engaging experience that ranked up there with the best panels AWP has ever had.

What more can be said? Being around 15,000 like-minded people – people who care about the written word, about publishing, education, poetry and prose – it is both an awe-inspiring and humbling experience. I am proud to be one of the managing co-editors of Duende, and I am honored to be a student of Goddard College. As a literary magazine and as an institution, we are setting a high standard of excellence, and it was evident at AWP in Minneapolis, just as it will be when I see all of you at AWP in Los Angeles in 2016!

Celebrating National Poetry Month

By Catherine Chambers

“If there were no poetry on any day in the world, poetry would be invented that day. For there would be an intolerable hunger.”

– Muriel Rukeyser

As tempted as I was to write a blog post for April Fool’s Day, I decided against it in favor of another celebration starting today: National Poetry Month. Founded in April of 1996 by the Academy of American poets, National Poetry Month aims to:

  • highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets,
  • encourage the reading of poems,
  • assist teachers in bringing poetry into their classrooms,
  • increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media,
  • encourage increased publication and distribution of poetry books, and encourage support for poets and poetry. (

I had the privilege, along with Kris Castiglia, of being a co-poetry editor for the latest issue of this amazing journal. We received an overwhelming amount of work from all over the world, from every walk of life, and I want to thank submitters who entrusted us with their creations. Make sure to take a look at the incredible work in both Duende Issue 1 and Issue 2. If you haven’t by now, it's alright by me if you jump ship on this blog post. Really, go. Enjoy the Duende!

To kick off the month of celebration, fellow Duendian Amy Sterne and I will be attending a poetry reading featuring Goddard BFA Program Director Janet Sylvester, along with Goddard BFA faculty members Wendy Call, Michael Vizsolyi, and Arisa White in Montpelier, Vermont tomorrow night. To get in the spirit you could also attend a reading in your hometown, or buy a book of poetry at your local independent bookstore, or (if you’re me) curl up with the 1989 film Dead Poet’s Society and cry into a pint of ice cream over the “o Captain, my Captain” scene. Poetry is for everyone and can be celebrated in just about any and every way.

In honor of National Poetry Month, I have assembled a list of the Duende Issue 3 staff’s favorite poems. Check them out! We'd love for you to share your favorite poems with us, too! Tweet us  @DuendeLiterary #SharetheDuende.

Catherine Chambers: “Twenty-One Love Poems (II)” by Adrienne Rich
Raphael Krasnow: “A Lower East Side Poem” by Miguel Pinero
Ah-Keisha McCants: “Nikki Rosa” by Nikki Giovanni
Jorn Otte: “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver
Cassie Selleck: “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou
Jay Sheets: “Caracol (Seashell)” by Rubén Darío
Amy Sterne: “Her Kind” by Anne Sexton
Tyler Woodsmall: “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg

Happy Reading!