A curated literary guide

Week #52 / 25th – 31st December, 2017

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Five Things with Natasha Oladokun

1. The last thing that made you smile.

An immaculate GIF of Prince wearing a fur jacket and gold chain, shaking his head in utter disappointment. I imagine that, on occasion, he looks down on me from heaven like this.

2. A secret.

In college I once gave an entire oral presentation—and led a group discussion—on a play I hadn’t read. To this very day I’m still ashamed.

3. The last thing you wrote.

I never know how to define what counts as “writing”! The last thing I wrote by hand is a fragment from a Lucille Clifton poem: just the phrase, “all goodbye ain’t gone.” I’m not even sure what it means or why I wrote it down. But I dig it. The last thing I wrote digitally was a tweet about how much I hate the Christmas carol “Little Drummer Boy.” That song is nauseating. Everything about it—its awkward rhythm, saccharine sentimentality, even its rhyme scheme—all of it makes me want to walk into the sea and drown. The last poem I wrote is a short one titled “Essay on Eros,” though I wouldn’t characterize it as an overtly sexy poem. But maybe it is? I don’t know. Sexiness is strange and unpredictable.

4. Favourite city.

I haven’t lived long enough, in enough cities to have a favorite yet. But I love visiting London. My dad was born there, and many of my relatives on both sides of the family live in London or close enough to it. As a child I would go with my parents and brother every couple of years or so, but the last time I visited was for a few weeks in 2013, when I was still an undergrad. So it’s been several years. I think I fell in love with the way I felt in London that time around, as much as I fell for aspects of the city itself: its busyness, color, ambient noise, and the newfound independence I discovered, navigating it all. I loved walking around by myself, particularly on the South Bank by the Thames, which is a truly disgusting river. But the breadth of architecture surrounding it all is pretty gorgeous to me. There was something deeply peaceful about those walks—everyone doing their own thing, but together. It was there that I realized for the first time that I feel most alive and most like myself in large cities. So I think I’ll always carry London with me, not unlike the way one never really forgets a first love.

5. What you’d place in a time capsule.

A laminated printout of the extensive arsenal of saved reaction memes on my phone, with no context or explanation. Just to mess with my great-great grandkids. I intend to have fun even after I’m dead.


Natasha Oladokun is a Cave Canem fellow, poet, and essayist. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the American Poetry Review, Pleiades, IMAGE, The RS 500, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. She is Assistant Poetry Editor at storySouth, and is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Hollins University, her MFA alma mater.

Five Things with Henri Cole

1. The last thing that made you smile.

Dancing with some new friends last night.

2. A secret.

I wish I could sing and fly, at the same time.

3. The last thing you wrote.

A recipe for pasta sauce.

4. Favourite city.

Paris is my Seroquel.

5. What you’d place in a time capsule.

My BlackBerry.


Henri Cole was born in Fukuoka, Japan and raised in Virginia. He has published nine collections of poetry and received many awards for his work, including the Jackson Poetry Prize, the Kingsley Tufts Award, the Rome Prize, the Berlin Prize, the Ambassador Book Award, the Lenore Marshall Award, and the Medal in Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His most recent collection is Nothing to Declare (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015). From 2010 to 2014, he was poetry editor of The New Republic. He teaches at Claremont McKenna College and lives in Boston.

Five Things with Pascale Petit

1. The last thing that made you smile.

Seeing the Simmental bull eating one of my hedge plants, from tip to nub, as he passed on his way with his cows from the dairy to the field the other side of our garden. Our garden is surrounded by Cornish hedges and the lower one, which I call the butterfly garden, I planted from scratch, transforming it from a piece of scrubland with bare Cornish hedges, to a butterfly and bee haven. I asked him to stop and made shooing noises but he ignored me. The hedge is quite low, ‘hedge’ meaning an ancient mound of earth and stones, weeds, nettles and ferns, with foxgloves and primroses in spring, so he was very close to me, and he is a huge caramel-and-cream coloured beast with curly brow and nose ring! The herd passes four times a day and I dart out of my garden den to watch them. The lane is a quagmire of cow muck and my plants are a snack bar to them, but it’s worth it for the spectacle, and the marvel of how pure white the milk is from them despite their trudge through the mud. I don’t smile so much about the whole dairy business, but at least this small herd of 30 are free roaming and cared for.

2. A secret.

I have every known phobia except snakes. I am terrified of the sea. Despite my terror of large spiders I have four times travelled in the Amazon rainforest. On the first ‘night walk’ with my guide recently in the Peruvian jungle I did not tell him this. He took us to a deep clay bank and asked us to close our eyes then shone his torch on the eyes of wolf spiders. That night, a wolf spider was in my room next to the bed. After that I always shook out my slippers and put them on before walking on the floor. I can just about look at chicken spiders emerging from their burrows in tree roots because they are so big they are more like animals than insects.

3. The last thing you wrote.

The last book I wrote is Mama Amazonica (published by Bloodaxe), which is why I twice went to the Peruvian Amazon, for research. Since I finished that I have started some new poems, but they are still unset and secret.

4. Favourite city.

I don’t like cities but there are exceptions. I don’t like London, although I lived there for most of my life. I love Paris but hated it as a child. I love Puerto Maldonado, the jungle capital of Peru, but only because it’s the gateway to deep wilderness. Similarly, I love Caracas, because from there I could get a few planes and end up in the Lost World, its table mountains and Angel Falls. Manhattan is intriguing, I love the food, and it’s calmer than London. I have never been to Venice and Florence but hope to go one day. I love Lodève in the Languedoc of France, though it’s just a small town with a medieval cathedral, because it’s also the gateway to the stupendous limestone plateaus and the drive through and up the Pas de l’Escalette above it is so exhilarating I like to do that over and over again.

5. What you’d place in a time capsule.

I’d put a photo of the jaguar I’ve seen on the banks of the Tambopata river in Peru. But really, what I’d like to place in a time capsule is the Amazon rainforest, for safekeeping. That would be a big capsule!


Pascale Petit’s seventh collection, Mama Amazonica (Bloodaxe, 2017), was a Poetry Book Society Choice and draws on her travels in the Amazon rainforest. Her sixth, Fauverie, was her fourth to be shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and five poems from it won the Manchester Poetry Prize. She has had three collections selected as Books of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement, Independent and Observer. Her books have been translated into Spanish (in Mexico), Chinese, French and Serbian.

Five Things with Victoria Chang

1. The last thing that made you smile.

My two wiener dogs, Mustard and Ketchup, lying in the same position in a block of sun.

2. A secret.

I have lots of secrets. Don’t we all? The older we get, the more secrets we all have. I was secretly in love with Mr. Darcy (cliché, I know), but my new book gives that all away anyway.

3. The last thing you wrote.

Creatively, I wrote a manuscript of prose poems called OBIT in a frenzied period of two weeks. And since then, I have been working on the manuscript pretty regularly.

4. Favourite city.

My favorite city is always the one that I’m not living in at the moment. I seem to get tired of every city that I have ever lived in after a few years. I think by nature I just get bored—of the environment, of the people, of the air, of the color of the trees. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with moving to LA proper. It’s close enough that I can taste it but traffic can make my commute up there a pain, although people who live in LA-proper say traffic is horrible too.

5. What you’d place in a time capsule.

I would place some Chinese preserved fruit snacks (anything with olives or haw fruit in them) in a time capsule. Because they are made of ingredients that give them a shelf life in perpetuity and because they taste so good.


Victoria Chang’s fourth book of poems, Barbie Chang, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in 2017. The Boss (McSweeney’s) won a PEN Center USA Literary Award and a California Book Award. Other books are Salvinia Molesta and Circle. In 2017, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her picture book, Is Mommy?, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster) was named a New York Times Notable Book. She lives in Southern California and teaches at Chapman University and Orange County School of the Arts.

Connie Wolf, the Lady Balloonist from Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, Confesses

a poem from Sunni Brown Wilkinson​

Sunni Brown Wilkinson’s poem is the ideal way to wrap up 2017. Her plain-spoken narrator, based on the real-life adventurer Connie Wolf, has a unique and wonderful perspective from her hot air balloon. The views of the land must be epic from her perch in the sky, but for Connie it’s the sounds, rising up through the clear sky, that tether her to the human and the mundane:

Not rumors

of laughter but the laugh itself
rising up, Danke between neighbors,
crisp closing of a door, the cracked falsetto
of a boy milking cows.

In the isolation of her basket, with the longing for connection, Connie builds a narrative from the noises of living—finding enough emotional sustenance to last her the long days of her trip. Perhaps, as we move into the new year, we can be like Connie Wolf, willing to find a different angle to take in the world, attuned to the simple pleasures of being human, and grateful, even as it may sometimes ache, for the chance to experience it all.

Visit Small Orange to read the poem.

Contributing Editor / Reneé Bibby