Manuscript Consultation Program Alum: Rasma Haidri

Rasma Haidri says that participating in our Manuscript Consultation Program brought (her) book out of a stagnating slump.” That book, Blue Like Apples, is now in print with Rebel Satori Press. In this interview with Rasma, we discuss autobiographical poems, the decades that she put into her book, the revision process, and her experience with her publisher.

Black Lawrence Press: Tell us about the title of your collection, Blue Like Apples. Where does it come from?

Rasma Haidri: The title is taken from a line in the last poem, “Currents”. It relates to a confluence of two childhood wonderments: one was my mother telling me scientists were attempting to find a truly blue flower; the second was my pondering if my sensory experience of the world was uniquely mine, that my taste of an apple may not be what others tasted. It was an awed awareness of self, like Elizabeth Bishop in the dentist’s waiting room. In this poem, and the book, it’s about the awed awareness of love and life brought on by this new relationship.

BLP: Blue Like Apples is described as a narrative collection of poems that tells a story of coming-out, through love for another woman. It is a coming of age in mid-life, after having never really discovered herself before during her long heterosexual marriage. Would you describe this collection as both poetry and memoir? What was it like to publish an autobiographical collection of poems?

RH: I have indeed described this poetry collection as a memoir to my writing students. It’s important for writers to know that a lived experience is not identical with the poem that language turned it into. A reader may have the impression of reading literally what happened, but art has taken over. Memory is a storyteller, and an autobiographical poem is a rendering of fact controlled by the speaker of the poem. Facts are easy. Giving voice to the poem’s speaker is hard, and demands brutal honesty. When discussing these poems, it is unnatural for me to refer to myself in the first person. The speaker is Rasma on the page, who Rasma the author has handed the experience over to. It’s not an invented character. Vivian Gornick calls it a narrative persona. When it works, it’s invisible to the reader, and the poem becomes universal. What I have seen of readers’ responses to this book is how moved they are to think of their own lives, loves, relationships. One heterosexual male reader exclaimed, “It’s not about gay love, it’s about love!” and I thought, okay, it worked. I did not write autobiographical poems to tell readers about me, but to stir their awareness of what it means to be in this temporary state we call life. I would agree that the book is a tale of coming-out and coming-of-age, but I did not set out to write that. I think we only know what we’re writing about after it’s written. 

BLP: What made you decide to submit your book to Rebel Satori Press? And how was your experience working with them?

RH: I made a final revision, with the help of my readers, in July 2022 and decided the book had reached its final form. I’d send it out until it got published. I looked on Submittable and Duotrope for publishers who were accepting manuscripts at that time. Rebel Satori happened to have a deadline that day for their “Queer Mojo” imprint. I was impressed with Rebel Satori’s list and longevity as a small press. I wasn’t sure if the poems had “queer mojo” (in fact, I was looking to publish it with a mainstream publisher) so getting their acceptance the same day was a surprise. I was not given an exact publishing date, but in April they started working on the book with the goal of having it out for Pride Month. I made suggestions for the cover and some final revisions after I saw the galley layout. I think they did a beautiful job with the book. The press is celebrating its twenty-fifth year in 2023 and I’m proud to be one of its authors.

BLP: How long did it take you to complete your book–from first draft to publication?

RH: It took me the distance of fifteen years from the first drafts of the poems to putting the book together in 2018. Four years of periodic revising and fifty rejections later it was accepted. Another year before publication. So it was twenty years in the making.

David Rigsbee

BLP: How did your work with David Rigsbee shape or inform Blue Like Apples?

RH: David’s read was going to be interesting to me because he was my first male reader and it is a book about two women. He pointed out places where the language confused him, in particular the way dialogue was formatted and integrated into the speaker’s voice. He pointed out lines he had particularly loved, which helped me see some poems I’d grown tired of with fresh eyes. One comment about how I had ended a poem revealed the darling I had been clinging onto, and I changed the poem as he suggested. His feedback came right as my three thousand mile move to a new home coincided with the pandemic. I was without literary roots or a cohort, so that made it especially nice to have someone far away connect to my work. It brought the book out of a stagnating slump.

BLP: What are you working on now?

RH:  I just finished the umpteenth draft of a full-length prose memoir about my mother, and delivered it to a developmental editor. The memoir is about what happens when I find a box of her writing, poems and letters hidden in her closet, after her unexpected death.

BLP: What is your favorite time of day to write?

RH: I need solitude, and an open period of several hours if I am going to actually write on one project and not just poke at my many irons in the fire. I usually find that solitude in the daytime in my room with no view.  

Interested in participating in our manuscript consultation program?

Learn about this month’s consultants right here.


Selections from Blue Like Apples


Art History


I haven’t heard of Frida Kahlo,

but you say it will be an arty film,

so I don’t bother to bring my husband.


We slouch in the front row

as smoky, androgynous Frida

fills the screen, leading a woman

in a pivoting, riveting tango—

when she kisses her we both

gasp—you hand me your bag

of sugar-coated feet.


Afterwards, at Cafe Kafka,

I offer more than once the space

beside me on the couch,

but you don’t look up from rummaging

in your backpack,

mumble that your wing chair is fine.


The lukewarm latte

is also disappointing.


Three months later, you will tell me

it was on this night

you decided not to move

from Bodø to Kristiansand,

just finish your degree there,

and return.


I will smile.

I will not ask why.






When the Parisian Gay Pride parade

pauses outside Hotel Lyon,

I rush to join,

waving my 35 mm SLR in one hand,

notebook in the other,


hoping the beige macramé skirt-set

you mended with an ivory remnant,

passes as journalist attire,

because I’m not one of them:

these pink-tutu prancing men,

pipe-smoking women in lumberjack shirts

and steel-toed boots.


I break through the crowd, Excusez-moi!

snapping faux photos of clouds,

then fall in line toward La Bastille.


When Florence, the woman on my right,

asks if I do this each year, I dissemble: 

je suis touriste,

tell her I’m from north of the Arctic Circle

where no pride parades exist,


though I don’t know if that’s true,

only I wouldn’t be caught dead in one,

what would people think? I’d lose my job,

be put in jail, get stoned on the street.


Even here, I fear the parade will make The New York Times,

center me in a front-page photo,

arresting the hearts of my Wisconsin aunts.


Florence says she’s seen Oslo Pride on TV,

says Scandinavians are known for sexual liberation.

I say I only live there, I’m American.


On Rue des Trois Soeurs, she asks if I’m gay,

and I tell her I have you, ma petite amie, unsure what word 

describes you in any language.

My husband’s fine with it, I lie,

as if we three have worked it out, and you and I know love 

the way this woman surely does.


At Place de la Concorde,

I tell her what’s true: my husband understands

you are impossible not to love.


She smiles, and I know I belong

in this harlequin parade.

People should see a woman like me,

of no certain age, a housewife, 

teacher, neighbor, just an ordinary woman 

clad in beige, in love with a woman,



The tide sweeps me further from the curb,

from any ground,

as my camera prop dangles,

notebook forgotten,

I turn to face clamoring reporters,

telling myself—don’t be afraid.



The Gift


What was your gift, today?

you write in a letter.

Mine was a little boy

walking one foot on the curb,

one in the gutter,

for a city block.


Your expectation of daily gifts,

as simple as a child walking unfazed

in two worlds at once, balancing

on unequal terrain, not a worry to spare

for impossibility,

is my gift.



Rasma Haidri grew up in Tennessee with a Wisconsin-born Norwegian-American mother and India-born South Asian father. Baffled by what “being from somewhere” meant, she turned to writing. Her work has appeared most recently in Prairie Schooner and River Teeth, and is forthcoming in Rattle. Visit to learn more about her books, As If Anything Can Happen and Blue Like Apples, other poems, courses, and writing prompts.