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Get to know your bears: Nikki Ummel


As you might have seen recently on our socials, Bear Review conducted a search for two new poetry editors to do the work of reading each packet of poems we receive with the care it deserves. And we needed to find two dynamic individuals, themselves poets with skin in the game, to do the work of maintaining the integrity of our journal’s goals of fostering online, interregional, and intercity communities for this beautiful, living art we practice and revere. For a week in late October, we received many CVs and sample poem explications from highly qualified candidates. And for two weeks in November, we conducted interviews with six of these candidates, each dynamic in different ways, and two of them really clicked with each of us: Nikki Ummel and Mason Wray.


Here we excitedly introduce you to Nikki Ummel, one of two poetry editors we’ve brought onboard to keep Bear Review (founded on December 29th, 2013) growing into its tenth year. A former associate editor of Bayou Magazine, currently Nikki is a professor at the University of New Orleans, a queer poet working on her first full-length poetry collection, and a moxie events-organizer lending a hand at building out a dynamic poetry community in New Orleans via her role as co-founder of the Lmnl Lit Reading Series. Author of the chapbooks Bayou Sonata (NOLA DNA, 2023) and HUSH (Belle Point Press, 2022), which has just been nominated for a CLMP Firecracker Award, Ummel’s work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Adroit, Bear Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, PANK, The Georgia Review, and other such journals. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in Poetry and twice awarded an Academy of American Poets Award. You can find her on the web at www.nikkiummel.com.


Below are responses Ummel gave recently to a few questions I was curious to hear from her about:


Marcus Myers: What are some current obsessions you feel comfortable giving our readers a glimpse of?


Nikki Ummel: Multimodal art and the ways that poetry can bend into other genres; branching creative communities both locally and nationally; learning how to knit (I bought myself a goblin knitting kit for Christmas and need them to be finished by our next dnd game!); and hatred of watching Yellowstone.


MM: What drew you to come edit at Bear Review?


NU: I have admired Bear Review for many years, so when I saw the call for a poetry editor I knew I wanted to apply but chose to sit with that feeling; I am impulsive, at times. I saw the call again on social media, and after several weeks and multiple run-ins with the post, I decided it was kismet. It’s an absolute honor to be a part of this wonderful journal and to work with such talented and kind poets.


MM: How would you describe your aesthetic as a poet?


NU: My aesthetics change constantly. My first chapbook is largely inspired by my own experiences, which felt very necessary, to get all of that on the page and out of the way so I can expand into the margins a bit, play with form, language, mediums. Lately I’ve been making poetry videos. I would say, though, that, through all of my change and process, my work is driven by authenticity, wonder, humor, and capital B Big Feeling.


MM: What other aesthetics do you appreciate, and what kinds of poems do you like to read most?


NU: I like to read poems that surprise me. If I am completely thrown off my horse by a poem, I consider it a success. I enjoy poems that embrace play, whether that’s in language, form, content, etc. And sincerity. If I am moved by a poem, forced to reconcile a piece of me, then, in my opinion, the poet is doing a damn fine job.