Monthly Archives: November 2014

Martin Elwell Bonus Three by Five


VAH: Let’s talk writing community – what writing or author organizations do you belong to and what are your go to sites online for community, online conversing, networking or commiserating?

ME: Twitter is my go-to place for writing community. I have a small local network of friends who write, but the majority of people I’ve connected with in the writing universe I’ve met online. I think making friends online is more natural for people in the generations behind mine, but I’ve been surprised by the quality of folks I’ve encountered in the online space.

The writing universe is cliquey. I’ve also found exclusion to be the power of choice for those looking to build up their own clout. Ultimately, staying positive, being supportive of other’s pursuits and saying yes to opportunities has been how I’ve built community.

VAH: Traditional or independent publishing? What choices have you made and why did you go the way you have?

ME: Definitely both. For publishing single pieces, I prefer to submit to literary magazines (online or in-print). For collections, finding the right home is difficult. You can spend a lot of money submitting to contests with little or no result, or you can be fortunate enough to win and have your book or chapbook published. The problem is that many contests produce limited print runs with limited exposure. Most of the time you can duplicate the exposure and the volume by self-publishing. Relying on contests or blind submissions for a collection can be a frustrating and expensive process. If you can find publishers where you think your work will fit, traditional publishing is a good option. If not, self-publishing may be the way to go. You have to let go of the work at some point, either through publication or moving it to the dreaded archive file. I am planning to self-publish a chapbook in 2014, and I have one coming out from a small press as well.

VAH: What is your  best bit of advice to save another writer some anxiety or heartache?

ME: Rejection isn’t personal. It might mean your work needs revision, it might mean they published something similar last month, it might mean that your work is a poor fit for the publisher. If you’re doing your research, reading the publications to which you’re submitting and being honest with yourself by only sending out your best work, just keep submitting and acceptance will come.

VAH: Good words of advice from Martin Elwell. Thank you Marty for a great discussion of your writing life.

Thanks for stopping in on your journey across the information highway. Surf on over in December for more of the writing life with urban fantasy author J. M. Gregoire.


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Martin Elwell Part 3

elwell readingThree by Five spends a little more time with Poet Martin Elwell, a New Hampshire based poet and editor. His poems have appeared in Extract(s), The Found Poetry Review, Empty Mirror Magazine of the Arts and other places. He co-edited Bearers of Distance, an anthology of poems by runners from Eastern Point Press, and he is News & Resources Editor for The Found Poetry Review.

VAH: We’ve explored a little about your writing and writing life, how about sharing a little known fact about you will amaze or amuse Three by Five’s readers?

ME: My college friends call me The Wall. The nick name came out of an overweight teenager’s inspiring performance on the intramural soccer field. That’s all you need to know.

VAH: Ahh, fortunate for you, no camera phones! How about a favorite, inspiring quote and why it works for you?

ME: I don’t know who said it first, but I’ve seen it used in reference to a lot of modern, postmodern and contemporary art. When someone says, “I could have done that,” in response to a piece of art in a gallery, a poem on a page, a book on the shelf or whatever it may be, the response is, “yeah…but you didn’t.” I think that response is representative of the art world that we live in today. If you’re waiting to make the perfect piece, waiting to make something totally new or waiting for someone to pluck you out of obscurity, you’re going to be waiting a long time. The only way to bring ideas to fruition is to do it yourself. The only way to get positive energy back from the world is to put positive energy into it. Get out there, create stuff, appropriate and change stuff, make connections, take risks…then no one can tell you that you didn’t.

VAH: And who hasn’t said, or thought, “Oh, I could have done that!” Actually creating and taking risks, that’s the hard step forward so many just don’t take.

What are three random non writing related facts about you?

ME: I can juggle. I run marathons. I was once president of the chess club.

VAH: I’m in awe of juggling. I am a horrible juggler. So, imagine for whatever reason, you are about to have your last meal. What would you have?

ME: This is a tough one. I’m a peanut butter addict, but it’s more of a guilty pleasure than a last meal sort of food. I’ve been on a veggie Pad Thai kick lately, so that comes to mind. I love cheese, though, so maybe a nice flatbread pizza with an IPA.

…now I’m hungry.

I grew up in Massachusetts, so my last meal would probably be brought about by an unfortunate situation related to my excellent driving skills.

VAH: Hmmm, let’s not go there. Back to books. Are you a finish the book once you’ve started kind of reader or leave it for another if don’t like the book sort of reader?

ME: I’m a slow reader. I read mostly poetry, philosophy and non-fiction, and many of the books I read require a lot of my focus and attention to fully grasp what is being presented by the author. Also, I tend to read several books at a time. For example, I like to read a book of poetry while reading a prose book. I like the variety of varying genres, and I also like to have the option to read something lighter or heavier depending on my mood. It could take me two years to finish a book by Nietzsche, or two hours to finish a small anthology of erasure poetry. I don’t finish every book I start, but there is a long separation process before I put a book down for good.

VAH: “A long separation process…” If you return to a book put down long ago, was it left or just delayed? A point to ponder.

Martin, thanks for joining us with Three by Five. We’ll finish up the conversation at the end of the month on the 30th.

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Poet Martin Elwell – Three by Five Interview Part 2

elwell 2Today Three by Five welcomes back Martin Elwell.

VAH: What’s your full time job – writing, or something else that sustains you so you can write?

ME: I worked in the insurance industry for 13 years before recently leaving to start my own business as a fitness and wellness coach. While I was working in insurance, I had a lot of professional success juxtaposed with a lot of personal unhappiness. The most fulfilling part of my job was watching my employees succeed. The least fulfilling part of my job was the amount of time and creative energy required to do it well and navigate the politics. The pay was nice, but I found myself in an endless cycle of earning and consuming. I hit bottom at a depressed 320 pounds in September of 2009.

Between 2009 and 2011, I embarked on a weight loss journey that totally flipped my life upside-down. I started running and strength training, I moved back to New Hampshire from Illinois, I got divorced and I lost half of my body-weight. 160 pounds later, I was still working in Insurance leading a team of analysts in Portsmouth, NH, but I had my eye on a new life.

I married my wife, Jenn, in May of 2011, and we downsized and simplified our lives to make room for the things we wanted most. In 2012, I left my insurance career. After a lot of travel and exploration, Jenn and I founded Destination Fitness ( Our goal is to make a modest living by helping others find fitness, prioritize themselves and their health and enjoy life a little bit more.

VAH: Thanks for sharing your story of transformation. Stories like that give hope that life can be so much more than drudgery of work.

One of my least favorite aspects of the work of writing is when I can’t get the words out to the page. When the blank page stares back at you, what gets you past writer’s block?

ME:   In my experience, the best way to get past writer’s block is to give up on quality for a little while. For me, writer’s block comes out of the desire to write something excellent on the first pass. Obsessing over the words will only slow down and possibly hinder your writing. Good or bad, you can always change, improve or delete a passage later. I think it’s best to just let yourself free-write without judgment. There’s usually some gem to be mined through that process.

VAH: Brass tacks of the writing life – what do you do so you can keep up with what you send out and results of your submissions?

ME: Two words – Microsoft Excel. Once an analyst, always an analyst. It’s actually a pretty simple document. I have a tab for open submissions, a tab for accepted submissions and a tab for rejected submissions. If I really wanted to geek-out and chart my progress, I would put them all on the same tab so that I could pivot the data, but it’s really not that complex. I submit sporadically. Sometimes I have a good feeling about a press or magazine where my work will fit well, and sometimes I shoot for the moon. So far, shooting for the moon typically means rejection. When I’ve gotten lucky, it’s come in the form of serendipitous timing and saying ‘yes’ to a chance opportunity.

VAH: That’s a pretty simple question on the surface but it’s become interesting to me the variety of methods writers use to keep track of what they send out.

Let’s talk a moment about what you’re your favorites. Do you have a favorite poem or story?

ME:  I think I’d have to go with The Sunflower Sutra by Allen Ginsberg. I have an audio track of him reading it, and it is a poem that elevates me beyond whatever troubles or worries may be going on in my day-to-day life. I especially love the last stanza, the “sermon.” You can read the entire poem at the poetry foundation’s site.

VAH: Do you have a favorite author and why?

ME: Definitely Jack Kerouac. I love to travel, and I love road trips. I also love the way that Kerouac saw the world around him, digested it and put it down into words. I don’t love everything Kerouac has ever done. I can do without his drunken ramblings and the posthumous pieces dug out of the attic by someone looking to take advantage of his persistent fame. I’ll take the lost, introspective, self-conscious, Buddhist Kerouac of The Dharma Bums any day.

Thanks Martin! The conclusion to a conversation with Martin Elwell on Three by Five will post on November 23rd. Until then, enjoy this poem by Martin Elwell – Excel Poem.

Martin Elwell’s Twitter.

Blog: Words Per Gallon.

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3 x 5 Hosts Martin Elwell Part I

Welcome Martin Elwell, a New Hampshire based poet and editor to November’s edition of Three by Five.martin elwell headshot

VAH:  Martin, what would you say has been the biggest influence on your development as a writer?

ME: I’ve had a few people who really helped me develop, and I’ve read several books that put me on a new or improved path in writing, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Twitter was the number one influence on my development as a writer. By connecting with a variety of writers, literary magazines and institutions on Twitter, I’ve seen more of what my peers are doing in the art world. I’ve been challenged to think about where I fit in, and I’ve been pushed to participate in a more active way. Every day, someone shares a blog post, article, poem or image that spins my wheels in a new direction. For example, just following someone like Don Share on Twitter for a week is an educational experience. More tangibly, I learned about The Found Poetry Review on Twitter. They published one of my poems, I participated in their Pulitzer Remix project for National Poetry Month in 2013, and now I’m their News & Resources editor. You don’t need to live in New York City to get in touch with people doing exciting things in poetry. Twitter is the new New York City for poets.

VAH: That’s an interesting way to think about Twitter. Making it so much more than a social media keep in touch tool.

Martin, as a writer, when did you know that was you?

ME: I spent a lot of time trying to make up short stories as a child. Fortunately, I didn’t save any of them. When I got to college, I took a class titled 16th Century Verse, and I started writing formal poetry from there. After a class on the Beat Generation my senior year, I started writing more personal poetry. After graduation, poetry stuck with me, and I found myself writing fairly regularly. I realized that it would be a lifelong pursuit in my early 20s when I started looking forward to getting home from work so that I could write.

VAH:  What is your best advice for emerging writers?

ME: Build relationships with people doing things that you like, admire, envy, enjoy, can relate to, etc. The writing world is crowded, and everybody wants a bit of success. You can learn a lot from how others navigate their own projects, publications, readings, etc. On top of being crowded, the writing world can be lonely. Having a community whether online or local, will keep you engaged, motivated and fueled to move your own work forward.

VAH: In reference to moving your work forward – what are your thoughts on studying writing? How has a MFA contributed to your progress or development? Do you recommend the MFA as worthwhile?

ME: I have an MFA in from Lesley University. My experience was slightly different, in that the Lesley program is low-residency, and I worked full time throughout the program. Outside of the residency period, the majority of work is done on your own with a mentor. I had three different mentors at Lesley: Thomas Sayers Ellis, Don Share and Janet Sylvester. If you know any of these folks, you may know that they are vastly different from each other in craft and teaching style. My experiences at Lesley pushed me out of my comfort zone and into new and different territories based on each of my mentor’s personalities, likes, dislikes, beliefs and assignments. I didn’t learn a formula for writing, as some believe the MFA experience provides. Instead, I was challenged to define myself as a writer among the different priorities of my mentors.

Most importantly, at Lesley, I learned how to think about my writing critically. Before getting my MFA, I was finished with a poem when I stopped writing the first or second draft. I had very little understanding of the potential for poems beyond the initial stages. I learned how to build upon and bring forward the best moments in my work, while cutting away the unnecessary material surrounding those moments. Poems that I would have previously discarded found themselves at the top of the pile once I honed my approach to revision. I believe revision is the hardest part of writing, and learning new approaches to critiquing and refining your own work is a huge benefit of the MFA environment.

Do you need an MFA to succeed? No. Did it help me improve? Absolutely.

VAH: Your comment on revision is an excellent metric for the difference between someone that writes poetry and one that is a poet. I think when emerging writers understand the value of revision and its necessity, they’ve turned an important corner in the development of their writing careers.

You mentioned writing can be lonely, do you have a favorite writing conference, retreat, or seminar?

ME: I’m a bit of an introvert, so the idea of large seminars or conferences is a somewhat stressful for me. I’ve been to the Mass Poetry Festival once and AWP once, and I enjoyed both. My favorite parts are the readings and the book fairs. I get a lot of energy to write when I read and hear what others have done. My favorite retreats and seminars are small workshops with friends where the environment is casual and the candor is high.

Thank you Martin Elwell for your participation in Three by Five. More from Martin on days that end in three in November. Enjoy a few of his poems in the online journal Convergence. Follow Martin on twitter.

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In November – Poet Martin Elwell

elwell 3In November, Three by Five will host New Hampshire based Poet and Editor Martin Elwell. His poems have appeared in Extract(s), The Found Poetry Review, Empty Mirror Magazine of the Arts and other places. He co-edited Bearers of Distance, an anthology of poems by runners from Eastern Point Press, and he is News & Resources Editor for The Found Poetry Review.

Enjoy a sampling of his work to whet your poetry whistle at Empty Mirror.

Find Martin on Twitter @MartyElwell.

Read more of his work and  follow his travels at Words Per Gallon.

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