Digital Book Tour: New Books by Kyla Houbolt, Sadiqa de Meijer, Matt Morton

Fam, times are weird—so many of us have to figure out new ways of doing old things. Book launches, an established feature of our wonderful community of writers, have been particularly hard hit, and we’d love to make room for authors to share their work with the world. Our limited Digital Book Tour series will serve that end! Today, we’re sharing excerpts and interviews from Kyla Houbolt’s Dawn’s Fool, Sadiqa de Meijer’s The Outer Wards, and Matt Morton’s Improvisation Without Accompaniment.


An Excerpt from Kyla Houbolt’s Dawn’s Fool

An unknown bird

bisects the sky

leaving behind

a fragile nest of twigs —

I want you to hear

these words from my mouth

 (from ‘Turtle Law’)


You can also listen to Kyla read her work here.


On What the Reader Will Walk Away With

Kyla Houbolt: Oh gosh, this one is big! I would first of all want the reader to feel (in this unusually fraught time) comforted — as some have said they are by this small collection. Beyond that, or beneath it, I hope to invoke a level of connection with non-human nature that can provide companionship and even joy during duress… and that, to my mind, is foundational to any kind of repair of our damaged ecosystems. And as I’ve said (and will repeat I’m sure!) these poems are love poems to the Earth, and to the reader. Always, I intend for my poems to stimulate some kind of awakening. For me, the sense of being a part — a member — of the communities of the Earth is a bulwark against despair. I hope to give this, or a strengthening of it if it is already your experience, through the voice and the words in this collection.


On What the Writer Walked Away With

Kyla Houbolt: These poems were all written at different times — the title poem ‘Dawn’s Fool’ is actually the oldest poem in the group, written in the mid 1990’s. As such, the surface experience of each was very different. ‘Dawn’s Fool’ is a poem that ended up speaking directly to me in a way that surprised me.  (“I watch her trying/ once again to build/ a nest where a nest/ won’t hold/ the way she does each year/ exactly as I do here.”) 

‘Tease’ and ‘The Gondolier’ are both ekphrastics, written as exercises at the time (early 2019). ‘Tease’ comes to be a strong poem for many readers and I am not sure why, really! I love the feeling of just being there, at the shoreline, hearing the sounds…. ‘The Gondolier’ was written months before the flooding in Venice and it began then to seem a bit prophetic. Now, with the sea life returning to the canals, it has another layer of resonance. Each poem is a different story in this way. ‘Turtle Law’ was the most difficult to write and has seen the most editing over the past year or so. It felt like I was picking up stray sticks and pieces of vine, and trying to weave them into a basket that would hold something.  I gave up on the poem more than once! and it’s good to see it alive and well in this book.


On The Book’s Biography

Kyla Houbolt: The book itself was pulled together to enter into a contest (which I did not win) that had a general environmental theme. Even though I was not chosen I did get a very encouraging message from the editors in question, saying that they felt the work was quite strong and should be published. Elsewise, I might not have pursued it. Later, Rob Kenter of Ice Floe was asking to see my work (which was, I believe, introduced to him by his now co-editor, Moira Saucer.) He had published three poems of mine in Burning House Press/The Arsonista during a month of guest editorship there. At some point he messaged me with an image of a painting and wanted to know if I liked it and, if I did, would I be okay with his publishing the Dawn’s Fool manuscript I’d sent him, and using his painting as a cover. I do love the image — his drawing of the creatures reminds me a lot of Kenneth Patchen’s line drawings which I adore. But of course Robert’s own style.

So we agreed to work together on a micro chap. Originally it was only 8 poems and he asked me for three additional pieces. He did some truly brilliant line edits on several of the poems and of course his delightful drawings inside. I can’t express how delighted I am with the final product.


On The Book’s Family of Support

Kyla Houbolt: I have to give a shout out to Matthew M.C. Smith, editor and founder of the online poetry journal, Black Bough Poems. His support of my work has been very strong and encouraging, getting me past many an episode of impostor syndrome. Ankh Spice, poet extraordinaire and good friend, did initial formatting, as did another fine poet friend Stuart Buck (in an earlier version.) As mentioned, I believe it was Moira Saucer who initially showed Robert my work. So many poet friends have supported including Heather Derr-Smith, Lee Potts, Jordan Davis, and Julia Beach all of whom were advance readers and are quoted on the back cover.


Kyla Houbolt has no academic credentials in poetry but grew up in a household saturated with poetry and music. This nourished her creativity and gave her a grounding in the Western canon as well as other flows and sources. She wrote poems early and often, rarely seeking publication until 2019 when she joined Twitter. She was nominated for both Pushcart and Best of the Net, and published in a large number of online journals. She also shares poetry as the Greenway Poet, in her local walking park, posting poems up on trees. This has become a mainstay for her and, she is told, for many of her neighbors. Dawn’s Fool is her debut chapbook.

Learn more about the work here.


An Excerpt from Sadiqa de Meijer’s The Outer Wards

How to Decline a Persistent Invitation

Yes, I’d love to, soon.
A question mark, a dial tone.
Her eyes are wide open, the midwife said –
that dark blue ink I drowned in.

Hang on, it won’t be long.
Rustles in the wall, lost stitch.
The eyes, witch hazel, trusting. They used to drift,
agape at sunlight in the canopy.

Maybe later, love.
Night winds, felled tree.
Once, I saw them studiously replicate my blinking.
Now they grow a bird’s transparent lids.

I can’t say when.
Scrutiny, flowering borage. Where there’s smoke.
They know the weather of my face,
the hole in my nightgown, the pill that’s rolled under the bed.


On What the Reader Will Walk Away With

Sadiqa de Meijer: When I was younger, I studied medicine—it was a fascinating education, and it also made me feel profoundly lost; I couldn’t reconcile what I was learning with the idea of being a healer (though I am grateful for doctors who do). Soon afterwards, I was at a teaching by Jan Kahehti:io Longboat, a very experienced Indigenous herbalist and visionary, and she said: you have to hold your medicines in reverence. I realized that pharmaceuticals would never occupy that space for me, but that art did. So I turned to writing, and that was a very fortunate shift. But I guess I retain the wish for my work to have a medicinal element—for the reader to feel that something, however small, was named or relieved or mended in their inner life. This feels even more true of a book that reflects on an illness experience, as The Outer Wards does.


On What the Writer Walked Away With

Sadiqa de Meijer: One thing I learned from this round was to trust the lines without overworking them. I started to distinguish between complicating the poems to legitimately enliven them, and doing so in order to have somewhere to hide.


On The Book’s Biography

Sadiqa de Meijer: I began this work while recovering from an injury. Both reading and writing were very difficult, and I just wrote down or voice-recorded short phrases when they came. Later I wrote poems around those phrases. As the theme of the work emerged—the struggle of parenting through a health crisis—I began to listen for similar or parallel stories out in the world, and they further informed the poetry.


On The Book’s Family of Support

Sadiqa de Meijer: My writing group, the Villanelles, has been meeting for ten years now. Their friendship and editorial feedback has been essential to my work. In the meantime, due to the injury, I also relied heavily on the practical support of family and friends, and I cannot thank them enough. I’m also really grateful to my editor, Carmine Starnino, who responded to the manuscript with genuine enthusiasm and an eye for what it still needed. In terms of literary godmothers, both Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Bishop hovered over this project, one with her sonically driven voice and fearless confessions, the other with her reticence and finely detailed observations.


Sadiqa de Meijer’s debut collection, Leaving Howe Island, was a nominee for the 2014 Governor General’s Award for English-language poetry and for the 2014 Pat Lowther Award. The Outer Wards is her second collection. She lives with her family in Kingston, Ontario.

Learn more about the work here.




An Excerpt from Matt Morton’s Improvisation Without Accompaniment


Quebec City

A kiss is a kind of breath: a form of breathing. And buried
beneath the desire, an idea: of permanence, of remainder.
It is how we have learned to navigate the rivers. The view
of the sea from the hilltop was limited in scope and
there is no other like it, will not be. Can’t go back there:
a haze like a curtain of fog, which obscured the boats,
the little boats that had gathered in the bay. But there are plenty
of cities to visit, cornucopias arranged on tables.
Why were we afraid to ask the tourist to take our photograph
on the wharf? Not a tidal wave, not even a bee sting.
An idea: of bronze statuary, of epitaph. It is how we have learned
to fall asleep. City as spin room, as whirlpool. Remember
the morning I bought you a red balloon at the foot of the castle.
A kiss, a curtain of mist: a certainty. “It does not satisfy me, or,
I am not satisfied.” Because it can’t be true. Because it can’t be true.


On What the Reader Will Walk Away With

Matt Morton: Many of these poems arose from the desire to answer the question, “Given the transience of our experience, what does it mean to live a good life?” The book doesn’t lay claim to any definitive answer, but I hope it can serve as an occasion for readers to ask that question for themselves. Many of these poems deal with the struggle to become one’s self in the face of mortality. I don’t see much use in thinking about death all the time, but I do find it helpful to be reminded that life is finite and should be taken seriously. I hope the book can serve as a memento mori for readers in this way.

More generally, I hope the poems remind readers of the importance of approaching life with a spirit of playfulness (even in a pandemic!). The value of openness, uncertainty, vulnerability. The possibility of approaching life as an adventure, an exploration of experience. “What is this place? Who am I? How should I live?”


On The Book’s Biography

Matt Morton: One of the most exciting things about writing poetry is that you end up revealing things to yourself—concerns, questions, assumptions, hopes, fears—that you didn’t realize were part of you.

I often write quickly, hoping to give my mind as much leeway as possible to explore, play, and move into uncharted psychological territory, so that when I read over a draft I can think, “I didn’t know I believed that.”

It’s also fascinating to re-read your own poems years later and discover the ways you’ve changed over time, and what the trajectory of that change is. One’s own poems often function as mnemonic devices, or time capsules: “Oh yeah, this is what I thought about free will when I lived in Baltimore.” “I wrote this poem after that important phone conversation with my brother.” I also found that some of the poems in the book have ended up being strangely prophetic, which again suggests that our minds know more about us than we realize.


On The Book’s Biography

Matt Morton: I wrote the earliest poem from the book—“Vardaman”—in August 2012, sitting at an outdoor café in Eastern Market in Washington, D.C., where I was living at the time. The majority of the poems in the collection were written while I was an MFA student at Johns Hopkins University and a PhD student at the University of North Texas. I finished the first draft of the book in May 2016. After two years of rejections from contests and open reading periods, I did a significant overhaul of the manuscript—adding and subtracting poems, changing the order, etc. It was at that time that I realized the “improvisation” poems were central to the book, and I re-structured (and re-titled) the manuscript accordingly. I sent out the revised manuscript in Fall 2018 and found out last April that Patricia Smith had selected it for the Poulin Prize.


On The Book’s Family of Support

Matt Morton: This book would not exist without my teachers. I have been truly fortunate to study with writers of widely varying aesthetics and approaches to teaching, and those relationships have been essential to the development of my writing and thinking. The book is dedicated to my first writing professor, Michael Adams, who initially encouraged me to write poetry after reading one of my (failed) short stories. (At the time, I was disappointed—I was 20 and wanted to write the Great American Novel. When I gave him a copy of my book last month, he said wryly, “I told you so.”)

More recently, I received essential feedback about the manuscript from Corey Marks and Jehanne Dubrow, in particular. I’m very grateful for Patricia Smith and everyone at BOA Editions—it’s delightful to work with them. Many of the poems were inspired by conversations with friends, students, and family members. And, of course, the work of other poets—John Ashbery, Sylvia Plath, Dean Young, Solmaz Sharif, and Margaret Ross, to name a few.


Matt Morton is the author of Improvisation Without Accompaniment, winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize, selected by Patricia Smith (BOA Editions 2020). His poems have appeared in AGNIGettysburg ReviewHarvard Review, the Los Angeles Review of BooksTin House Online, and elsewhere. He is the recipient of awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars, where he earned his MFA. He serves as associate editor for 32 Poems and is a Robert B. Toulouse Doctoral Fellow in English at the University of North Texas.

Learn more about the work here.



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