Thursday, October 21, 2010

Q&A with poet & publisher Tonja Bagwell

Today’s Q&A is with poet Tonja Bagwell. She is the curator for Poetic Travelers, a reading series hosted at Lawrence Street Gallery in Ferndale MI. Tonja is also the publisher of Jafansta, which you can read more about here.

How long have you been coordinating the Poetic Travelers reading series? What have been some of the highlights over the years?
In January 2009, I founded a poetry series that was named Poetic Tea Sippers because we met at a teashop in Ferndale. In April, I changed the name to Poetic Wine Sippers when I moved to a wine shop in Northville. In May, I moved back to Ferndale to Lawrence Street Gallery (LSG) under the new name of Poetic Travelers. As I pondered my travels and thought about how amusing (yet confusing) it was to tell features and followers that I had changed names and venues -- again, I was inspired to choose an appropriate name that would suffice in any city at any venue. Thus, Poetic Travelers was born and a new sense of adventure was instilled in poet friends who were excited by the thought of being a traveling poet.

Fortunately, LSG is a fabulous venue that gives the feel of traveling to a new venue. Each month the gallery showcases different art exhibits by its various members. A few of the artists at LSG have embraced Poetic Travelers by joining Open Mic, helping with marketing and set up, as well as hosting. The beauty of art combined with poetry makes Poetic Travelers and LSG a good match.

Poetic Travelers features poets and musicians who travel from various places throughout the southeast Michigan area. Open mic performers and guests have traveled from various counties in Michigan and from out-of-state. For two months last year and three months this year, I became the celebrated Poetic Traveler who gave significance to the name when I traveled eight hours by car to host Poetic Travelers.

Poetic Travelers welcomes and appreciates lyrical talents and creativity. If you have a unique and interesting way of expressing yourself through words or music, contact me. I don’t focus on how many books you have published, how many awards you have won, or how many venues you have been invited to read at when selecting features. During the same month, one feature may be a confident veteran who has done a multitude of readings and the other feature may be a nervous novice making their debut. I am pleased to say that the novice poets who began their poetry-reading career with Poetic Travelers have been traveling to some notable venues and have made a name for themselves.

During a few of my absences from hosting, a few select poet friends have graciously hosted Poetic Travelers. I am forever grateful and elated to have poet friends who are just as passionate as I am when it comes to making sure Poetic Travelers is a series where everyone can come and feel the joy of a compassionate host and supportive poetry family.

Who's on the Poetic Travelers schedule this fall/winter?
Earlier in October, we had John Jeffire, poet and author of Stone+Fist+Brick+Bone as a feature. Joining him was Monica Condiff, a fresh writer from Ohio, who made her performance debut with Poetic Travelers. John Smolinski, poet and author of We Fight to Remember (Jafansta, Inc., 2010) hosted.

In November, John Smolinski will host an interesting trio: Mark C. Durfee, poet and author of Stink: Poetry and Prose of Detroit; James R. Tomlinson, poet and author of Adopted Behaviors and Michelle Brooks, poet and author of the soon-to-be released collection, Make Yourself Small.

In December, Poetic Travelers is honored to feature award winning poet, musician and author of Moonwalking, David "Blair" Blair. Raven "CagedBird" Martin is the other featured poet and Laura Bodary, poet and author of Flock, Feed, Fly will host.

Poetic Travelers will begin its third year in 2011 and the schedule is TBA.

What's happening in the publishing world at Jafansta, Inc? Are there any new titles soon to make a debut?
Jafansta, Inc published We Fight to Remember  this year and next in line is i awoke... and fallen leaves to be released soon. There are other titles in the works, including a memoir and a self-help guide.

Can you tell us about the calls for submissions for the upcoming anthologies? What sort of work are you looking for? When will these anthologies be published?
Jafansta is accepting submissions of poetry, prose, essays, letters, songs, quotes, creative non-fiction, short narratives, and all forms of written creative expressions from the following populations: Substance Users/Abusers; Incarcerated (current & former); Homeless (current & former); and LGBT. All are welcome to submit if they are familiar with or have connections with members of these populations. The submissions are for an anthology series that will be entitled Step Into My Shoes. The purpose of the anthologies will be to provide a voice for misunderstood and ostracized populations in society. Their written word will convey a message to others with hopes that they will better understand the thoughts, feelings, and life from the perspective of a member of the selected population. Expressions can be serious or humorous. There is no fee and submissions are accepted from anywhere in the world. Each anthology will be published separately, so the release dates will vary. At this time, I can only estimate sometime in 2011. You may submit your work via e-mail and please write “poetry submission” in the subject line or via regular mail at Jafansta, Inc., 47448 Pontiac Trail, Ste. 144, Wixom, MI 48393. Please visit for more details.

What about your own poetry? Are you working on anything new?
Due to the fact that I wear the hats of mom, mental health counselor, writer, publisher, editor, massage therapist, and founder of a new online organization, Feminine Unity, I don't dedicate as much time to writing poetry as I would like to. However, I am continuously writing new poems whenever I can take advantage of inspirational moments. I have categorized many of my poems and I’m planning to publish them into four different collections. The questions I ask myself are: 1) when will I put the finishing touches on at least one collection? 2) which book will I publish first? and 3) whom will I consult with about publishing my books? I have never done a small chapbook, so I have been thinking of self-publishing one.


For more info about Jafansta and the calls for submissions, visit

Come back next week for a Q&A with David Poyer, author of Ghosting.

1 comment :

  1. I went to my first Poetic Travelers reading this month. John Jeffire's short story called "Steps," the part that he read, just blew me away. Also, Monica Condiff's land-lady story cracked me up. Theirs is a tough act to follow. Even the open mic readers did a fantastic job. I'm gathering some material for next month's performance. BTW, you can call me JR, or James (but not "Jim" because there's another writer of the same name), and my cousin's name is "John." Loved the interview though. Perhaps one day I'll get to meet Tonja.