Courtney Semoff

Why Start NYWCompendium?

If your favorite author isn’t mentioned; leave their name in the comments!!

UPDATE: NY Writer’s Compendium merged with Albany Poets in September 2019. Courtney Galligan is now Courtney Semoff and is the Internship Coordinator in the newly merged organization.

Kevin Factor: Good Evening and welcome to Foraging Ahead my name is Kevin Factor and with me in the studio today is Courtney Galligan! Courtney is the founder and Managing Editor of the NY Writer’s Compendium. I’m going to be talking a little bit about NY Writer’s Compendium: how they came about, what it is they do, and a little bit about herself. Courtney why don’t you just explain a little bit about what NY Writer’s Compendium is.

Courtney Galligan: It is a website that I started to help authors advertise and promote themselves for free, because I know how difficult that can be. Especially for authors that are just starting out. Studying at UAlbany and trying to get my own work published, I wondered, “What can I do to help this scene?”

KF: Why, when, how did this get started?

CG: It started almost exactly two years ago. My grandmother was dying, and I was taking care of her so I did not sign up for summer classes. I assumed I would be taking care of her, they had given her six months to a year, but she died the week of finals.

KF: Oh boy.

CG: So, I did not have anything to do for the summer. I contacted one of my professors at UAlbany Jil Hanifan, and asked her if she knew of any programs in the area that I could go to or do during the summer and she gave me some websites and told me about different groups and then said that there was not a “central hub” to find these things. She said that if I was willing to make one she would sponsor the project as an internship in the fall.

KF: Really, so this just got started with basically a conversation between you and Professor Jil Hanifan right?

CG: Yep.

KF: So, you’re at SUNY Albany but you’re not a twenty-something?

CG: No, I’m thirty-one, married and just had a baby.

KF: How old is the baby?

CG: She will be three months old next week.

KF: Oh wow, wow.

CG: Yeah, little baby.

KF: How do you manage classes, and writing?

CG: I was actually in a position where I only needed one more class to graduate in May. I am doing an independent study from home, and writing an extensive piece of poetry on being pregnant.

KF: How was it?

CG: It was rough; I did not have a pleasant experience with any part of it. But, I wanted the baby and she’s amazing and I regret no part of it, but I will not be doing it again.

KF: Oh really? This is one and done.

CG: Yeah.

KF: Ah, very interesting. So, tell me… you are a senior English major at SUNY Albany, but you are in your early thirties and you have a family. What happened between high school and getting into SUNY Albany?

CG: I had a rough home life. I moved out before I graduated highschool and I started drinking pretty heavily. I worked in sales and I drank. My writing fell off very quickly as my drinking started to increase because it was just like I had no… I had no soul left actually. It got harder to work, to maintain relationships. I knew I would burn out quick if I didn’t change something.

KF: What was the catalyst for that?

CG: Just after I turned twenty-five, my younger brother was turning twenty-one and me and my sister went out with him for his birthday. I got embarrassingly drunk in front of my younger siblings. That’s when I realized, “I’m not being a good big sister. I’m not being a role model.” They had never seen me like that before.

KF: Oh really, so you kept it hidden?

CG: I lived in a different state at that point so nobody really knew what was going on. Our parent’s generation isn’t close anyway so no big get-togethers. Having my siblings actually see me like that.. I felt like I’d betrayed them. I made a decision the next day to not drink again. I have had not had a drink since that day and I will have six years sober on June 3rd.

KF: Wow, well congratulations.

CG: Thank you.

KF: What made you decide you needed to go back to school? Or start writing? Did you start writing once you quit drinking?

CG: Yeah, it was part of a program that I did. I did a lot of writing. About the years that I had been drinking and that really made me start it again. It took a few years to get my head on straight. But then, I went back to community college. I needed to get my grades up from high school before I could apply to a 4 year. I was on the Dean’s list every semester and took every English class that they possibly had to offer and then I transferred to UAlbany.

KF: Then you started this, and who else did you enlist in putting together New York Writer’s Compendium?

CG: The first semester was fall of 2017. That semester it was an internship for just myself and the entire semester I sat and I researched local authors and writing organizations and publications. I did as much research as I could, networked with the contacts I found to see if the project was something that would be of interest to the community and compiled all this information. The next semester we took that information to the N.Y.S. Writer’s Institute. I talked to them about what I wanted to make, which was the website, to have this compendium of where to find everything literary.

KF: I left the Albany scene 30 years ago, but we know a lot of the same people right? Mary Panza who was a dynamite firecracker of a young poet.

CG: She’s a dynamite firecracker of a poet still.

KF: She is, I would love to get her and then Dan Wilcox. Who was sorta the…

CG: Mayor of poetry?

KF: Well, no, there was another mayor before Dan, there was, I forget his name… just a beautiful human being it will come to me as soon as the show ends. [Tom Nattell]

CG: They do a memoriam for him still every year right?

KF: Right, but he walked the walk, he talked the talk,

CG: He was one of the three guys of Albany right? It was Dan, him, and Charlie Rossiter.

KF: Wow! I remember Charlie Rossiter and Don Levy who was just hilarious.

CG: He just read at Readings Against the End of the World last weekend.

KF: And there was loads and loads and loads of other people, and yeah it was a really neat vibrant scene, and it’s amazing and wonderful that it’s still continued, and grown. So, talk a little about what’s going on. You don’t just do poets right?

CG: No, we do all kinds of writing.

KF: Why don’t you give the address of the site?

CG: The address of the site is and it is not just me now; the interns help a lot at this point. So, after that first semester we basically pitched what I wanted to do to the N.Y.S. Writer’s Institute.

KF: And for those people who don’t know what New York Writer’s Institute is why don’t you say a little bit about that.

CG: New York Writer’s Institute is based at UAlbany and it was founded by William Kennedy who has written many, many, books himself and is still a big part of the Writer’s Institute. Paul Grondahl is the Director there and they work really hard to bring in all different kinds of authors from all over the country. I recently saw Pamela Paul of the New York Times Book Review section and that was amazing. I’d like to start doing book reviews for Compendium just to offer that to authors.

KF: What’s coming up for the month of May, or the future, what are you excited about?

CG: Let me take a look because right now my focus, while I love Compendium and it is my pet project, my focus is on graduation. I am graduating next month, and I am just finishing up the work I need to do for that. But I know that my interns have kept up with the calendar so let’s see what we have on here.

KF: While you’re looking at the calendar here I was thinking of doing a poetry show today even though there is already an excellent poetry show on WGXC. It’s springtime and I know its national poetry month and these things just keep popping up all over the place. I have an imaginary conversation by Linda Pastan and I just loved it, so I’ll read that while you look. “You tell me to live each day as if it were my last. This is in the kitchen where before coffee I complain of the day ahead—that obstacle race of minutes and hours, grocery stores and doctors. But why the last? I ask. Why not live each day as if it were the first—all raw astonishment, Eve rubbing her eyes awake that first morning, the sun coming up like an ingénue in the east? You grind the coffee with the small roar of a mind trying to clear itself. I set the table, glance out the window where dew has baptized every living surface”.

CG: That’s beautiful.

KF: Yeah I love it. Live every day like it’s your last and no. It keeps people’s ears a little bit open. So, what have we got?

CG: Well the first weekend is a busy one we have May the Fourth Star Wars story time at the Saratoga book store North Shire.  In honor of May the Fourth and children’s book week join book seller Lee for a very special Star Wars story time. Lee will share her favorite Star Wars story picture book for the very young. Then that same day the New York State writer’s Institute they’re doing a Selected Shorts reader’s and writer’s program. This event has a reader’s and writer’s theme with a suite of stories celebrating writer’s and their readers. And I know that we got one of our interns a spot in that event. So, there will be a review of that event coming up soon on our website.

KF: Oh wonderful.

CG: The Not Spring Literally Festival Comedy show which is in Ithaca that same day. And, you can find many, many, events like that every single day all over the state. On the Sunday is Christine Sora- Beyond Onomatopoeia at the North Shire Book Store in Saratoga. They host a lot of events, as well as, the Book House in Albany. They host a lot of authors, poets, and we’ve had quite a few reviews of them this semester too. I know Dawn Marar just did an event there. She’s a poet, also.

KF: Cool, anything closer to our listening audiences’ .

CG: Hudson Valley Writer’s Guild was running a poetry contest all month. I guess that is actually continuing through May 25th.

KF: Very nice.

CG: We have some events in Kingston, how far is Kingston from here?

KF: Not far at all, Kingston is an up and coming city and is soon gonna rival Hudson I think in creative energy.

CG: There’s an amazing book store there called Rough Draft Bar and Books. It gives authors a chance to sit and collaborate and have a space to work together which is really nice cause writing can be really isolating sometimes.

KF: How so?

CG: I find I like to write alone.

KF: How do you not write alone?

CG: In an environment like that you’re writing alone among a lot of other writers. So, you’re working individually but you’re not alone.

KF: So, for you college kids, network now, grab the people you want to collaborate with.

CG: Yeah absolutely. Nancy Klespch and Dan Wilcox run a second Sunday poetry group in Troy, New York. I’ve been to that and its great.

KF: Oh, are those things well attended? Are more and more people coming to these events?

CG: They are and in part, our advertising has helped that. It’s definitely not on a large scale but, people are seeing more events and commenting, “Thank you for posting this.” So, I know that’s been helpful and the authors in the community I’ve met have been very encouraging and appreciative of the advertising help because that’s part of the problem.

KF: It used to be the alt weeklies where you would find listings. I’ve looked but it’s hard to find a central hub where you can really see what’s happening. So, hopefully this is filling that niche.

CG: That is the goal of Compendium. I try to keep it as active and up to date as possible so that people don’t show up and no one is there.

KF: That’s good it takes a lot of work. Do you get paid?

CG: I do not.

KF: What do you envision in the future? I notice you have interviews. Have you interviewed any of them? Who’s been your favorite?

CG: I have had my interns do all of the interviews so far because I’m in the background running the website and managing them and ya know… having a baby and stuff.

KF: You have been busy.

CG: But, I really enjoy Danielle Colin’s interview.

KF: Who is Danielle Colin?

CG: She is a poet in Troy and she’s very active in the poetry scene. She does a weekly open-mic at Troy Kitchen; she runs different writing workshops for kids and adults, she’s very active. I really enjoyed her interview. Authors have really great stories. Hex’m J’ai told a story, while he was talking about writing with my intern, about how he got hit by a car one day and just kind of like rolled off the car and kept walking. I wanna hear about the writing but I also wanna hear about the author’s life and what inspires them. Sometimes that’s getting hit by a car I guess.

KF: I guess trauma is often inspiring, right?

CG: I’d have to agree that trauma is an inspiration.

KF: You can be honest with a piece of paper in a way that is sometimes difficult to be with other human beings. I had an experience not too long ago where I was unpacking some storage bins and there was all this old writing from high school.

CG: Wow.

KF: And I don’t know if you are familiar with dungeons and dragons?

CG: yes.

KF: I had a feeling you would be. And I had all these old notebooks filled with these adventures I had written as a dungeon master and my son at the time was kinda into it. He started looking through one of the adventures I had written, and they were dense. Pages and pages of description and narrative and he just read two or three pages and he started laughing and he’s like this is boring, boring, boring. This is like reading a history book! But, it was wild hearing my sixteen, seventeen-year-old self. Especially your early attempts at therapy ya know when you have to speak out, you have to get stuff down, and you discover that you have something to say, or think that you have something to say.

CG: I remember when I was younger, and wrote that I was told by my high school teachers it was good writing but there wasn’t any “happy” in it. But even though I’m still writing about trauma, I am happy now. I’m happy with my life, I’m happy with my baby. Even though I’m writing about this trauma there’s like this little bit of light in each one of the pieces anyway. Which I really like. It’s been a neat difference in my writing.

KF: Was there a day where all of a sudden you just realized you were happy? Because it’s a strange feeling sometimes. If you’re not used to it.

CG: I don’t remember the day exactly, sometime, shortly after I stopped drinking… I remember where I was. I was just standing outside just looking at the sky. It wasn’t even that I recognized it as happiness I just knew that I wasn’t sad and didn’t feel like the ground was just going to fall out from beneath me.

KF: So, happiness was the absence of sort of misery and agony.

CG: At first.

KF: I’ll take that. So, it sounds like you are writing this epic piece on your traumatic pregnancy. Do you have anything you want to read from it?

CG: I actually have a piece that’s part of it, its called Petite Sincerity.

Under a tree of pure sanctimony

I dropped a single seed.

A great purple orb bubbled

or fluttered

above and beyond the soil’s surface as rain fell in cold sheets.

But the ground heaved and sighed and committed

To die under the weight of terminal lies.

The rush and swish and push and pull of the storm’s

Breath seized stem after stem

Of leaf after leaf

On this branching icon of false virtue.

As the thunder raged and leaves were ripped from their home of deceit,

The gentler drops of necessity were able to sneak, slink, and slide

Between the twisted branches and gaps where the leaves of lies once prospered.

Later, in the light, I went to grieve another dead seed

And instead found an orb of royal purple

protruding from the hole I once dug. I saw the sun’s

rays break through the storm-made gaps and as it fell on the orb

I saw the sprout within.

I picked up the rusty, rotting ax that had leaned on the tree

of affected piety all this time and began cleaving again.

KF: Very nice and where does that come from?

CG: Interestingly, the purple orb was my stomach actually. I looked down at my stomach one day when I was pregnant and happened to be wearing a purple shirt and that just came out.

KF: There ya go. It’s funny how that works. You just have a notion or make a little observation, hold on to that and develop something out of it. I think that’s why so many people don’t write poetry. Because it requires staying in that moment and pulling apart what it is that you just discovered.

CG: Yeah it is difficult sometimes. Just to sit with those feelings for that long.

KF: How are you at reading rhymed metered poetry? Wanna give some Gerard Manley Hopkins a shot?

CG: Sure.

KF: Courtney’s gonna read us out with a poem for Spring.

CG: Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –

When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;

Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring

The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;

The glassy pear tree leaves and blooms, they brush

The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush

With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?

A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning

In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,

Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,

Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,

Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

KF: What is all this juice and joy? One of my favorite lines of all time. He’s an interesting poet, very religious but a different sort of theology that he subscribed too and yeah, some killer lines. So, this has been Forging ahead on WGXC 90.7 FM and thank you so much. This is a listener supported radio for open ears.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.