Voices of Bettering American Poetry Volume 2 — Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello

What have you been reading, watching, or listening to lately? What new or emerging writer do you want the world to know about? Who would you love to collaborate with?

Recently, I finished Pachinko, Min Jin Lee’s multi-generational of a Korean family that starts in Japanese-occupied Korea and sweeps through America and back, tackling Korea’s often-forgotten history of constant occupation and displacement. As part of my personal research, I also read the devastating memoir, In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park, a North Korean defector and activist.

Two writers in particular have given me courage to write difficult things: E. J. Koh, whose debut collection, A Lesser Love, won the 2016 Pleiades Press Editors Prize for Poetry and is well worth the wait. Tiana Nobile’s chapbook, The Spirit of the Staircase, is a fiercely beautiful collaboration with the artist Brigid Conroy that speaks to me strongly as an Asian American woman.

Who would you have nominated for this anthology? Is there a poem you have in mind that you could link to?

Everyone should read E. J. Koh’s “Testimony Over Tape Recorder and Tiana Nobile’s “Microagressions.”

How do you practice self-care when writing about difficult subject matter? What brings you joy?

I seek out the company of friends and mentors, even if it’s just reading their poems by myself. Sleep. A pot of tea. Time, distance and a deep breath before diving hard into the labor.

What advice do you have for young and emerging writers, particularly of marginalized identities? What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Everyone suffers. Everyone has more and less privilege than someone else. Suffering is not a competition to be capitalized upon in your art, but rather a selfhood to be shared in building community. Your work is important, but so is the work of many other writers. Self-righteousness is a poor look on anyone. Integrity, kindness, and respect for the labor others do is as necessary as your own. Do not tear down those who receive the accolades you yourself work for. Instead, lift up one another. There is enough in this world trying to crush us without us tearing down each other. Toi Derricotte famously said, “Joy is an act of resistance.” Remember that, when you get discouraged. Be wise about it, but give room for those outside your community to become your allies.

Do you differentiate between poetry/art and “political” poetry/art? If so, how do you make that distinction?

Certainly not. Art is inherently political because it is made by people who believe in something. Everyone believes their own morals are right, or they wouldn’t believe in them. Not all art must be consciously “political,” but artists should be aware that, especially now, their poetry will be taken as such. To be unwilling to admit one’s own biases present in the work is to disrespect the power of poetry. Even silence is political. There are no excuses for willful ignorance or avoidance.

Do you have any cool selfies or pictures of your pets? Can I see them?

They’re both rescue dogs, and following my husband, the loves of my life. Tigger and Eeyore, Mutt and Jeff, Pinky and the Brain. You can guess which is which.


MARCI CALABRETTA CANCIO-BELLO is the author of Hour of the Ox (University of Pittsburgh, 2016), which won the 2015 AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry and the 2016 Florida Book Award bronze medal for poetry. She has received poetry fellowships from Kundiman and the Knight Foundation, and her work has appeared in Best New Poets 2015, The Georgia Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, and more. She serves as a program coordinator for Miami Book Fair.


This interview series is conducted with authors from the anthology, Bettering American Poetry Volume 2. As Bettering’s editors wrote in their call for nominations, “Our efforts will intentionally shift favor so that the literary landscape within this anthology reflects a ranging plurality of voices in American poetry and illuminates the possibilities of sharing space … This anthology represents just one concerted effort to better American poetry, but it is one that we hope will resonate.”

Bettering has sought to delve deeper with the poets selected for these anthologies. These questions are composed collectively by the editors, with the belief that the literary community needs a polyphony not only of poems but of poets’ voices.