Intermittent Visitors: Wendy Vardaman

  Co-editor and webmaster of Verse Wisconsin and co-founder/editor and webmaster of Cowfeather Press, Wendy Vardaman‘s poems, reviews, and interviews have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals, including Antiphon, Interrobang?!, The Mom Egg, Poemeleon, Prime Number, qarrtsiluni, Whale Sound, and in audio at The Knox Writers’ House Recording Project. The author of Obstructed View (Fireweed Press, 2009), she has been nominated for numerous Pushcart Prizes, as well as a Best of the Net Award, and was runner-up in 2004 for the Council for Wisconsin Writers’ Lorine Niedecker Award. In 2012, she was appointed, with Sarah Busse, Poet Laureate of Madison, a volunteer post overseen by the Madison Arts Commission.


1. What is your writing process?

I try to keep regular appointments with myself to draft new work. That was especially important to me during the years that I had young children…Now that they’re mostly grown, I ought to have more free time, but other commitments always creep in and impinge on the writing time… I find scheduled writing time to be more important than ever these days.

I keep a spiral to journal in, start poems, take notes at lectures and conferences, and generally collect ideas and scraps of stuff that seems important, including lists of plays, movies, and books I see or read. When I fill up a notebook I read through and type up anything I’m interested in working on and revising. Some work goes out and gets published quickly; some poems I’m actively cycling through for years and laboring over; some work gets a lot of attention from me but never interests an editor.

Since becoming poet laureate of Madison, Wisconsin, I also regularly receive assignments from people who either want me to write to a particular theme or an occasion. I find I do a lot more research for these pieces, and work on concertedly for days/weeks or more–it’s a change in my normal process because it removes the thinking/ not writing time that normally goes into a poem for me between drafts and revisions.


2. What’s some writing advice you’ve received, that works for you?

The best writing advice I’ve gotten is to figure out a way to give back to others through my writing, to support both other poets and poetry in general. I’ve found that anything and everything–from book reviewing to doing a prison workshop to editing and interviewing–has a positive effect on my own work, gives me new ideas, and makes me feel less isolated as a writer.


3. Can you say a little bit about the genesis of Obstructed View?

My book Obstructed View (2009) goes back to poems I began as a newish parent fifteen years earlier… I write a lot but have been slow to publish work, especially as books. I have a couple of manuscripts circulating now, but have trouble justifying putting another single-author collection into the world when there are so many, many good poets writing and doing wonderful work.


4. Have you had to sacrifice anything in the rest of your life to write?

Well, paying work hasn’t been easy to find or sustain. I taught for some years after getting a PhD, then quit because I couldn’t do creative writing and teach and parent all at the same time. After a stint as a part-time arts administrator, I’ve recently gone back to teaching writing workshops and am working on an online class for the fall. But I’m proceeding cautiously–I’m never quite sure where the line is between being able to maintain my poetry and being able to do other kinds of work.


5. Do you think writing helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a writer more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?

I don’t know if I’d know anything if I didn’t write it down first. It’s how I think. Maybe that’s why teaching–which is really talking, and finding out what you know through talking–used to feel so difficult. I had to write everything down ahead of time to figure out what I wanted to say. Some writing work is communicative, of course, but that’s more what I do on, say, social media or email or my website, and less how I work through a poem or an essay or even a book review.


This interview is part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.

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