This is the final episode in my series of special episodes of Write, Publish, and Shine that take a deep dive into the creation of Room magazine issue 46.3, where I was lead editor of the issue.
Today it’s my delight to speak to another artist whose work we accepted for inside the issue.
Sarah Esmi (she/her) is an Iranian-American mother, writer, collage artist, producer, director and lawyer. She told me about her collage practice and how the artistic interpretation of her visual work differs from her poetry.
I loved her art so much, and to learn more about what went into the piece we published called “Insides” plus collage as an art practice.
All the notes for this episode are up at rachelthompson.co/87
OPEN NOW: LIT MAG LOVE! Get a big “YES” for your writing from literary journals you love in this five-week guided course. rachelthompson.co/litmaglove
Notes and Links from the Episode
- Sarah Esmi: sarahesmi.com (View Sarah’s collage “insides” midway down on this page: sarahesmi.com/collage-1)
- We talked about the figure on her collage called a “Whirling Dervish” so here is some information about Sufi Whirling.
- Sarah Esmi mentioned Monday.com as a tool she uses to help with deadlines.
- Sign up for my Writerly Love Letters, filled with support for your writing practice and sent every week
#87 Write, Publish, Shine Episode Transcript
TABLE OF CONTENTS
|Rachel’s introducing the guest “Sarah Esmi”
|Rachel’s interview with “Sarah Esmi”
|How does Sarah made her piece, “Insides”?
|Sarah’s experience submitting to Lit Mags
|Handling feedback, good or bad.
|Midroll Ad here
|Some of the things that writers have said about the Lit Mag course.
|The theme of reproduction
|How does Sarah choose the places to send her work to?
|Why does Sarah submit her work to Room?
|What is Sarah currently working on?
|Quick Lit Round by Rachel Thompson
|Interview Outro & Discussion
- Rachel Thompson
- Sarah Esmi
Rachel Thompson: 00:01
The Lit Mag Love course will help you get a big “Yes” for your writing from a literary journal. This five-week course starts on January 10th and runs until February 14. I am so excited to offer this session and to help you get published. If you have a plan to publish your writing in Lit Mags in 2024, and you want to get serious about it with lots of support and feedback to help you stay accountable, get on track and understand exactly how to publish in literary magazines. Starting with; why you want to publish in literary magazines and really getting deep into a practice that’s going to help you get that big “Yes.” I would love to have you join us.
You can learn more and sign up at rachelthompson.co/litmaglove.
Welcome luminous writers to the Write, Publish and Shine Podcast. I am your host, author and literary magazine editor Rachel Thompson. This podcast explores how to write and share your brilliant writing with the world. In each episode, we delve into specifics on how to polish and prepare your writing for publication, and the journey from emerging writer to published author.
Hi luminous writer, and welcome to this, the final episode in my series of special episodes of Write, Publish and Shine that take you on a deep dive into the creation of Room magazine issue 46.3, where if you’ve been listening all along, you know I was lead editor of the issue. The issue is still available up at roommagazine.com for purchase, if you’re interested after listening to this and seeing the art that we talk about, or reading any of the pieces from the authors that you’ve heard from in previous episodes.
In addition to accepting writing submissions in each issue, or in this issue of Room magazine, we also accepted art submissions. If you heard my most recent episode, that’s episode 86. I spoke with our cover artist Amy Friend about her photography and artistic practice.
Today it’s my delight to speak to another artist whose work we accepted for inside the issue, Sarah Esmi, is an Iranian-American mother, writer, collage artist, producer, director and lawyer. She told me about her collage practice and how the artistic interpretation of her visual work differs from her poetry.
Here is Sarah Esmi, on the work she published with us and themes of grief, motherhood and creativity.
I just want to start by welcoming you to the Write, Publish, and Shine podcast, Sarah Esmi. Thank you so much for being here.
Sarah Esmi: 02:52
Thanks for having me.
Rachel Thompson: 02:53
My pleasure. I’m excited to talk to you about a different aspect of a Lit Mag, because we focus so much on the writing, but in Room and in a lot of publications, we also publish art, digital art. So I thought I’d start by asking if you could describe your piece in your own words and tell us a bit about how you made it. I should say it’s called “Insides”. It’s an analog collage that you made last year.
Sarah Esmi: 03:21
Insides, I guess I would start by saying it’s a collage kind of framed by the image of a woman in boots. It’s an image of her legs, and her thighs are bare. She’s in boots, black boots from the knees down. We just see her from kind of the thighs down. She has a bouquet of I think, orange carnations hanging upside down between her legs, and out of the bouquet is a pendant hanging with a spinning dervish in the middle.
Rachel Thompson: 04:05
Yes, I love that you mentioned that detail, too. Of course you did. It was one that I overlooked, I think in my first few viewings, and then it was a cool kind of discovery of another layer to the collage. Thank you for describing it. I think actually, you’re reminding me that we really liked your visual. All of your submissions actually, submitted a few collages at one time. My assistant editor Ellen Chang Richardson and I, and we like that one in particular, Inside, so when we selected but at first I thought oh, I’m not sure how this connects to the theme of ghosts exactly. But I think between the Whirling Dervish somehow it seems spectrally I guess. Then also, we ended up accepting a lot of work that had this sort of organic kind of witchy vibe to it, I guess somehow and it felt like it really fit alongside those pieces of writing. So thank you so much for submitting it.
Sarah Esmi: 04:59
Thank you for accepting it. Obviously everyone can interpret it, however they want. This was created during a time in my own life. I’ve been thinking a lot about the postpartum period. I’m a new mom, I think I’m still a new mom, I have a two-year-old. So that’s still pretty new. So just kind of thinking about motherhood and the womb, ancestry, the uterus, and generally just womanhood and the Whirling Dervish kind of the peered randomly. I have a few cutouts of Dervishes, and this is the only one I’ve used so far. So it’s exciting.
Rachel Thompson: 05:44
Yeah, and it’s a bit like this portraits, I guess, it’s because it’s very much a cut out and not really, I am out of my depth in terms of speaking artistic language here. But it felt like it was like a silhouette, let’s say, of a whirling dervish. Adding, again, another layer to it. I don’t really have the language as you can see, to respond to visual art, but it’s more like the emotional response. Something about that was president for sure.
How did you pick those pieces? So you said you have a few of that particular type of image? But how did you pick the other images? It definitely comes across what you’re saying about motherhood and the body in some ways. As the vehicle of that, how did you make it?
Sarah Esmi: 06:24
I have a lot of magazines, I have like a desk in my bedroom that is just for collage. I am very fortunate to have friends who give me their old magazines that they don’t want anymore. I have just stacks of the magazines on my collage desk. When I have time, which is not often these days, but when I do have time, I will cut out images that speak to me, and I will collect them and put them in the particular pile. So I have images of smaller and more detailed images. Then I have a pile for backdrop images.
This woman is kind of up against I would say like a mossy rock. There are some vines in the background of this collage. So that’s an example of like a background image as opposed to like a detailed specific image such as the dervish for instance, or the bouquet of carnations.
Sometimes I only have time to do a couple of cutouts, and then kind of have to leave my desk. Other times, I am able to kind of play around with the images and see what works well. I don’t really start a collage with like an idea. I let the pieces kind of speak to me and play around a little bit before actually gluing things down. It’s more of a like, organic process, and I felt like these pieces just fit for what I’ve been thinking about.
Rachel Thompson: 08:10
I know you mentioned that this was your first visual art publication. But it’s not your first Lit Mag publication. So I’m just curious about how submitting art and publishing art compared to submitting writing, and publishing writing in Lit Mag’s for you?
Sarah Esmi: 08:25
I’ve got into a point in my life where I am comfortable submitting my writing. I just kind of know what goes into it. I have more practice, I guess I have more experience. I have been creating collages since I was 24, so 10 years ago. I’m 34 now, but it’s been such a private experience for me. It’s very personal, and it’s something that I’ve always considered a kind of hobby, something to do to keep my hands busy, almost like I imagined what knitting would be for some people or sewing.
Only recently have I kind of pushed myself or challenged myself to get them out there. My collages were always just like fun, as I mentioned, my collaging desk, and every now and then a friend will come over and they’ll say, Oh, that’s really pretty or Oh, that’s so like interesting. I have definitely given some like mini collages away to loved ones as a kind of like intimate gift. But me really submitting these to the public and trying to exhibit them even in like physical space it’s a new kind of stage in my life, and I am really, I’m trying. I’m trying to kind of like see what happens when I put them out into the world and I’m really interested in gauging what people’s responses are. So it’s an offering that has otherwise been very personal.
Rachel Thompson: 10:07
I want to ask you about how you choose the Lit Mag’s submit to and where you’re sending your work. But what you’re saying now makes me think about the thing when something switches from personal and something shared among friends to now being seen by the world. In this case, we published it in the magazine. It’s being seen by all of our readers, and I guess, viewers, I guess, thinking of the artists like reading the art, but they’re viewing the art.
How do you handle the feedback that comes with that? Because that’s sort of the dimension that changes both good and bad about your art. Is it different from feedback on your writing?
Sarah Esmi: 10:42
Yeah, I think that in terms of writing, I’m primarily a poet. I think generally, my poems, people know what I’m writing about. People know what I’m trying to say, or at least they grasp some element of what I’m trying to say. In terms of the collages, I think what’s been the most fun is hearing how people interpret the images and the juxtaposition of images, just listening to feelings that are evoked and what they think the piece is about. That has been the most fun part of putting my collages out into the world.
Rachel Thompson: 11:27
What I’m hearing you say is like, the poetry, it seems fairly concrete, or there’s more consensus between you and the reader, but what it’s about, but the art is more open to interpretation and moving in different directions.
Sarah Esmi: 11:42
Rachel Thompson: 11:43
I’m stepping away from this conversation with Sarah Esmi, to let you know how to get a big “YES” for your writing from literary journals you love. It is in my five-week guided course, which is now open for enrollment, it only opens twice per year, and this is one of the times. So you can learn how to submit your writing more effectively, and to kick start your writing career, while you find and connect with your readers.
This course is for you, if you’re not having much luck publishing in Lit Mags, maybe you feel overwhelmed about sending your writing to journals, maybe some of its been languishing in files for years. Maybe you submit to Lit Mags, but get frustrated with the long waits followed by the heartbreaking sting of rejection, and you ask yourself, what do editors want exactly?
Maybe you wish you could find a community of writers to support you in your dreams of getting published. Well, this is where my course comes in. This is why I created this course after Lit Mag Love, you will know the steps you must take to publish your work, and take those steps with lots of support. You’ll get a big “YES” for your writing from a dream journal, and then another and then another. You will have a warm community of writers at your fingertips with helpful advice and support when you need it.
I just want you to know that if you’re ready to set some big goals for your writing this year. I’m here to help you reach them, I should say for your writing next year because the course does start on January 10th 2024.
Some of the things that writers have kindly said about the course.
This is something that Deborah Johnstone, a Pushcart Prize Nominee said is;
“Lit Mag Love was the impetus I needed to get serious and motivated about my submissions.
Rachel was a luminous guide offering equal parts gentle prompts and discerning truths.”
Thank you, Deborah for saying that.
Another thing that a writer has said about my writing. This is Rowan McCandless, who was the finalist for the 2022 Governor General’s Award for her memoir for Persephone’s Children. Rowan was one of the earlier people who took the course with me before she wrote her memoir. This was part of her publishing process that helped her develop her craft.
“Being part of Lit Mag Love and working with Rachel Thompson transformed my writing by opening avenues to publications, developing community, and furthering my commitment to craft.
Rachel is a fantastic mentor and I highly recommend this course.”
Thank you for saying that Rowan.
If you are interested in learning more about Lit Mag Love, and signing up for our course session that starts in January. So you can set off 2024, you’ll start it off in a way that’s really going to nurture and support your writing and get you on that path toward publishing in your dream journals.
That said though, the theme of reproduction somehow felt like part of what you sent. So I’m feeling like we’re on the same page a little bit there. Some of the poetry that we put that beside was like, earthy and about the body I guess somehow too, so I feel like there’s still probably some themes that we can interpret, I hope anyway that are closer to your intentions.
Sarah Esmi: 15:08
Yeah. Also, just like, a quote really stood out to me, that I read, I think it’s by Anne Lamott. She says,
“Write the book that you wanted to read.”
Something like that. I’m probably butchering that, but like, write the thing that you want to read or that you wished was available to you. That really reframed I think, my art making. I come from a family and a culture that doesn’t really want us, as young women to share our experiences, or to be completely honest about our experiences. So reading that quote, by Anne Lamott, write the book, or, in other words, make the collage, send it out, was a way for me to kind of face my fears of putting my work out there and take a risk, and actually expose what is going on behind closed doors, or the various experiences of motherhood, like I said, the postpartum phase. So, I do feel like, generally, if it’s a poem, or a collage that would expose something about me, my life, what I’m going through, as scary as it might be, I think those are the pieces that I am actively trying now, to get out into the world, because chances are, somebody else needs it, too. If I needed it, chances are somebody else does.
Rachel Thompson: 16:46
I love that. I definitely know that to be true about writing, like, those are the pieces too that people respond to the most. So I imagine that’s the case with your art as well with your collage.
What other places have you sent work to? How do you choose the places that you send work to? How has it felt to send out those sort of personal vulnerable pieces?
Sarah Esmi: 17:08
I generally choose kind of like woman centered feminist publications to submit my work to. I find that there are less barriers in submitting to those kinds of journals, and publications. So those are the kinds of publications I generally submit to. I am really interested in the relationship between editor and contributor, I think that there is a lot of room for collaboration. I think it’s really rewarding as a writer, or as someone who’s submitting, to work with the editor, and to have a conversation about the piece and also just kind of figure out and talk about how the piece fits into the general issue and the theme. I think that’s not necessarily, it doesn’t happen a lot. But when it does happen, I find that to be really rewarding and really a gift, because so much of submitting work is impersonal, we just kind of fill out forms, attach our documents, send out a piece into the world, someone accepts it or somebody doesn’t. Then it appears like six months later on average. But those journals that really send their feedback, or break that wall between the administrator, an artist, I think those are the ones that I actively try to submit to.
Rachel Thompson: 18:43
Why did you choose to submit your work to Room? I think you’ve already answered that in part with your approach to women centered publications.
Sarah Esmi: 18:51
I really appreciate what Room is doing. I find that it’s inclusive, I think that was a really big thing that attracted me to Room. But as I mentioned, really, you have me at the oldest feminist literary journal in Canada. So the way I submit is, it’s a website called monday.com. You can put tasks as well as like, due dates. Every month I have a list of journals and their submission due dates right there. That’s my process. That’s how I know when to submit for work. I keep adding to that list. So if ever I read a piece of writing that I love in a journal, I’ll usually go and like research the journal, find out when they’re accepting submissions, and go ahead and plug it in.
Rachel Thompson: 19:44
It’s always welcome to share tools, and this sounds like a great one. To be clear, though, it’s a task tool. So you’re putting in the deadlines its not really specific to lit mags, but it’s how you’re organizing yourself. Am I understanding that right?
Sarah Esmi: 19:56
Rachel Thompson: 19:58
Okay, cool. I will find the link and put it in the show notes as well. So people can use that. That sounds great.
You talked a little bit about these themes that are haunting you. I’m using the word haunting, because of course, we’re on this ghost themed kick right now. But that, we’re part of the submission that you sent to us. Are those still the themes that are haunting you? Or what are you working on right now?
Sarah Esmi: 20:21
I think those are generally still the themes. I will say that there are, as I’m growing, I am becoming a little bit more picky, I guess, about how I spend my time. Some of that also has to do with people. I am becoming better at like, discerning kind of, like toxic influences in my life or influences that really don’t serve me what I’m going through. So I will say that a lot of my work right now is about shedding and shedding what isn’t serving me, and sometimes that includes a toxic person or an influence. I am just trying to be very intentional about who I am, surrounding myself with and what is surrounding me. I’ve become a little bit more sensitive. I’ve become way more sensitive, I should say about this, ever since I had my daughter, two years ago, something kind of switched, where I thought, not only do I need to protect myself, but I also need to protect my family. There were certainly some influences in my life at the time that I was kind of on the fence about, like, do I continue to keep this in my life? Or do I move on those influences? Those people, I should say. I was on the fence about it. I was on the fence about it, because I guess it was just me. I was like uncertain about what was going to happen and like, what would become of my life. Once I had my daughter, it became crystal clear. My priorities sort of shifted.
That being said, I would say, in relation to ghosts, I am still very much haunted by some of the things and some of the people that I have said goodbye to. I wouldn’t say that that is regret. But I would say that it’s kind of grief. So in some ways, “Grief is a ghost.”
Rachel Thompson: 22:37
Thank you. Yeah, I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment.
I usually end with, what I call a Quick Lit round, and I’ve kind of modified my questions around art. I’m sorry, they’re not questions, but they’re like, fill in the blanks. In this, I start the sentence and then ask you to finish it. Are you going to try this?
Sarah Esmi: 22:55
Yes, of course.
Rachel Thompson: 22:57
So the first is,
Being an artist is…
Sarah Esmi: 23:00
Rachel Thompson: 23:02
Literary Magazines are…
Sarah Esmi: 23:04
Rachel Thompson: 23:06
Then the next one, I have been tweaked as much as an editing requires, but I’m thinking maybe revision or just changes require…
Sarah Esmi: 23:12
Yeah, the inner critic.
Rachel Thompson: 23:14
Rejection for an artist means…
Sarah Esmi: 23:16
Rachel Thompson: 23:18
Artistic community is…
Sarah Esmi: 23:21
Rachel Thompson: 23:23
Wonderful. Well, thank you so much, Sarah, for sharing your time with me and your thoughts, and for submitting your work in the first place to our issue. I’m really happy that we selected it. It was really just kind of a beautiful addition to the issue as well. So thank you so much.
Sarah Esmi: 23:38
Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. Thank you for collaborating, and thank you for doing the work that you do.
Rachel Thompson: 23:48
So that was Sarah Esmi on her artistic and creative practice.
I loved her art so much and hearing more about what went into the piece we published called “insides”, was just, of course icing on the cake, as have been all of these conversations with our contributors. As I speak to each of them, I just find I have an affinity for how they approach craft and how they think about the themes in their work.
As I was putting together this episode, I reached out to Mridula Morgan, one of the writers in my course and membership community, and a dear person who contributes so much to our community and who is writing a beautiful family memoir.
I reached out to Mridula because she had started a collage practice this year, and I’m always curious about parallel artistic practices that support our writing. We have many writers working on for example, haiku as a daily practice on visual journaling. Some are working on collage like Mridula.
So I asked her if she would write something for me about how she got into collage and this is what she said.
“I turn to collage when I’m processing uncomfortable feelings, sitting in grief, and/or trying to capture joy on the page. Colours, images, textures help me to play what I’m trying to express. I absolutely LOVE collage as it gives me a sense of freedom that words don’t. As a writer I sometimes feel that I’m limited by language, the pressure of producing, and the competition to be published. With collage I feel free to express without those boundaries and judgement. Collage—like unwritten art—can be appreciated by everyone, not only those who’ve studied and familiar with the written word. My emotions, feelings, grief, rage, hope—almost anything has a different life in collage. I often feel that words aren’t enough. And maybe they’re meant to be just that: enough to a point.
I get excited when I think about where collage mixed with words could take me in my memoir as there are so many blanks, silences, gaps due to missing information. Using colour (or the absence of it) on the page is something I do consider.”
That was everything we’re Mridula said. But I really appreciate what Mridula said about her practice and how it helps her. In some ways, it sounds to me I’m interpreting care, but it sounds to me, like Mridula uses the practice of collage because there’s less pressure around it. And I definitely understand that feeling of pressure, I feel that myself, I’m one of the people who do visual journaling. I love drawing and doodling in my journal. But I don’t feel like I’m a visual artist, per se. So I am not feeling the pressure to make that perfect somehow. But of course, in my writing, I’m known as a writer and there is sort of this standard that I somehow hold that work up to. So it’s fun to play in another media.
I also really love what she says about trying to mix that other media in with her writing as well too to complement the work, and we’re seeing more and more exciting experimentations in form. In fact, in Room 46.3, we published a lot of work that was visual, there’s one piece, the text of a poem that’s literally shaped in this sort of very interesting kind of scratchy visual of a plant. It’s a poem about a plant, of course, it’s about grief, and ghosts and being kind of haunted by that plant. But there’s a lot of really interesting experimentation happening. I’m excited about what Mridula is saying about trying in her own writing, in terms of mixing genres.
Thank you so much for sharing those insights into collage as a practice that complements your writing and adds more layers. I wrote that before recording this and realized, oh, there’s a pun there, I didn’t intend. But I decided to keep it in if you’ve been listening to this series, as well, you know that we’ve had a lot of fun with the puns related to haunting and ghosts, etc. So why not with collage too? So we’re going to add more layers. Thank you again, Mridula!
Thanks again to collage-artist Sarah Esmi for speaking with me today in this our final ghosts-themed episode of the podcast, or at least ghosts issue themed because of course, I’m sure ghosts and haunting will come up again in future episodes.
I love what she said about shedding what isn’t working for her and being cautious about who and what surrounds her and the influences in her life. I’m sure a lot of us are feeling that these days in terms of, I guess, the polarization of what’s happening, the disinformation out there that we’re kind of getting in these intractable positions around what is reality? What is truth? I think I definitely support the idea of may be going, okay, well, I’m going to maybe miss some people in my life, but that she’s still very much haunted by some of the things and some of the people I have said goodbye to. In some ways, she put it, “Grief is a ghost.”
What a note to end this series on—the idea that grief itself is a ghost. If you listened to other episodes in this series, you’ll know that from my perspective, as I produced this issue, I was expanding on the very first issue I edited as part of the Room editorial collective that was on the theme of loss. So, ding-ding-ding
Yeah, “Grief is a ghost.” We’re going kind of full circle here, then.
So that was IT for this special “ghosts series” where we invited you to come haunt us with submissions. If you were one of the many brilliant writers and artists who published with us or part of the collective of amazing people at Room who had a hand in producing this issue, thank you, so much for this co-creation. It was a meaningful experience and one that I hold very close to my heart as a fairly haunted human (which might be all of us, when you think about grief as a ghost that haunts us).
My next episode of the Write, Publish and Shine podcast, so it will be a non-ghosts episode. It’ll also be the last one this year. It’s a book club conversation call. So I’ll remind you, it’s been a few episodes since I’ve mentioned that that we’re currently reading On Connection by Kae Tempest, it is a short book that has a lot of impact in it. So there’s still time if you wanted to pick up a copy, to read it. We’re going to delve into some of the questions from that book. But some of the questions that we start with too, is like, Who is this book for? How can it help your writing? So you don’t need to have read our book club book to listen in to our conversations about books. So that’s coming up.
Thank you so much for coming along on this series of dives into the production of the ghosts issue at Room. There’s so much more goodness happening over at roommagazine.com. You can check out other issues from my brilliant colleagues there.
The Write, Publish, and Shine podcast is brought to you by me, Rachel Thompson. Sound Editing by Adam Linder, transcripts by Diya Jaffery. Thanks also for production support for Meli Walker, who is also the community facilitator for all my writing courses, including the Lit Mag Love course that’s coming up.
The Lit Mag Love course is now open for registration. We only offer this two times per year and this is the first session of 2024 that registrations open for. We start on January 10. So hop into the course that will help you get a big YES for your writing and start of 2024 as a banner year for your writing.
If this episode encouraged you to collage perhaps, experiment with some other parallel forms of expression, or to think about ghosts and grief. I would love to hear all about it. You can always email me at email@example.com
And tell other luminous writers about this episode. You can do this by sending them to the podcast at rachelthompson.co/podcast or searching for Write, Publish, and Shine wherever they get their podcasts.
Thank you so much for listening—I encourage you to keep haunting lit mags with your luminous writing submissions.
Sarah Esmi spoke to me from Pasadena, CA, which is Tongva Land.
And I am a guest in South Sinai, Egypt, on lands historically and presently occupied by the el Muzzina Bedouin.
The Lit Mag Love course is starting on January 10. You can learn more and sign up at rachelthompson.co/litmaglove.