Category Archives: Poetry

Intermittent Visitors: Kasey Jueds

  Kasey Jueds’s poetry has appeared in numerous publications, including Crab Orchard Review, Barrow Street, 5 A.M. and Verse Daily. She has been awarded residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Soapstone, and the Ucross Foundation. A native of Coral Gables, Florida, she lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her debut collection, Keeper, is from the Pitt Poetry Series.

 

What is your writing process?

For such a long time, it’s been the same, or at least very similar. I write meandering sorts of notes in longhand, in my journal, and write them over and over again until (maybe) lines start to emerge, music, something that feels like a poem. And then I write that over and over again, sifting and revising and moving things around. I try to keep whatever it is (I don’t even call things “poems” until I’ve worked with them for ages) open for as long as possible—open in the sense of being still malleable and pliable and able to be entered. I don’t type things up until I start to have a stronger sense of the poem being, in some essential way, the way it wants to be. (I’m weirdly superstitious about the typing part—once I do that, the poem starts to feel more fixed!) And once I’ve put a poem into a word doc I still type it over and over, although at that stage I’m mostly fiddling at the level of words and line breaks and not making big radical changes.

That process (long drawn-out, rather serious) has taught me so much, and it’s how I’ve worked ever since I’ve started to make poems. But now that the book is done, and almost published, I’m realizing I would love to experience more play in my process of writing. I don’t want to abandon that older, more familiar (yet still always strange and new and surprising) way of making; most of the poems that feel most alive to me have involved time and patience and a certain amount of mental/emotional pressure. And at the same time, I know I can be way, way too serious. I can press so hard I squeeze the life out of poems. I would love to open the door to more light-heartedness, more joy (because there is joy in writing as well as tremendous anxiety and fear and discouragement and all the rest). More play. I was recently so moved by this interview with Sarah Arvio: her process sounds so intuitive, so open and trusting. If I could shift even a little bit in that direction, I would be very happy.

Oh, and since I love hearing this sort of detail from other writers, I write with a fountain pen (I have two cheap ones and a more expensive version, and they—and the bottles of gorgeous ink—are among my favorite possessions), and in a notebook (Moleskines are beautiful but I can’t use them because their paper doesn’t work with fountain pen ink… so I have a variety of other types, some with graph-paper-like pages and some with lines and some blank), and then on a MacBook Pro (which I love very dearly, as well).

I also write aided by many cups of tea.

 

Can you say a little bit about the genesis of your most recent book?

My most recent book is my only book… and I think I wrote it in a very old-fashioned way. I worked on it for a long time (ten years? maybe longer—it’s hard to say exactly when it started to be a “book” or at least a book-in-progress). I tried to look at it periodically as a whole, and periodically I took out old poems that didn’t seem to be working any more, and added newer ones. I shifted poems around (though the first and last poems have been where they are for a long time). I looked at images and how the images in one poem seemed to speak to those in the poem that followed, and how each poem looks on the page, the form it takes, and how that might speak to the shape of the next poem. I didn’t have any sort of conscious idea or theme around which I was trying to shape a manuscript. So many of the books I love and admire are made that way: they seem to have grown up organically, with a mixture of conscious and unconscious work, around a particular something: a topic, a subject. They feel of-one-piece. But my book is much more hodge-podge (that’s largely what I meant by “old-fashioned”), which is why I have such a hard time describing what it’s about when people ask. But I need to get better about this! It’s kind when people ask, and it’s also a very normal sort of question. So I guess it’s about my obsessions, which are not especially unusual ones: intimacy and relationship (with people, yes, but also with animals, landscape, the natural world) and mystery and longing.

 

What are your marketing and promotion habits?

I want to say I don’t have any, but that’s not true anymore! I have been trying very hard, very consciously, to develop these—because my natural tendency is to want to hide in my apartment and pretend nothing is happening, when it comes to things like promoting the book. But I have been lucky in having a very generous friend who is helping me with publicity. She’s encouraging and supportive and working with her has made me focus on this in a way that feels like it’s helping me to grow. She’s helping me find places to read, and I’m working on that myself, too. Another kind friend helped design a website for me. I use Twitter. I’m also lucky in that the publicity department at the University of Pittsburgh Press is amazing. It’s all important. I would never have found some of the books that are most dear to me (many of which are not published by big presses) if they hadn’t been publicized and promoted. And I’m so grateful for the presence of those books in my life. So: this matters. Definitely.

 

Which writers inspire you?

Emily Dickinson, George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins. Rilke.

Jane Hirshfield, Jane Kenyon, Linda Gregg.

They are all long-time companions, people whose work I go to again and again. But I’m also inspired by so many contemporary poets. One of my teachers in graduate school, Suzanne Gardinier, told us that there are times to read in a tightly focused way, to read favorite writers over and over. And then there are times to “cast your net widely,” to read anything and everything—and to read against the grain, read things you wouldn’t normally gravitate towards. When I am in that second, more expansive place, I can feel inspired by many, many writers, and it seems to me there is so much work out there to love. I am inspired by the fact that so many people are writing, when so much in our culture works against it.

I am inspired by my friends who write, who make art—by the beauty and the intelligence of their work, and by the fact of their working, their dedication and courage.

 

Why do you write?

I love this question! And I think my answer is pretty unoriginal: on some level, I do feel that I write because I have to. I have been through periods of not-writing, for various reasons, and while not-writing is, in some ways, easier, it also makes me feel less alive. Making poems feels like making containers for the many feelings and experiences that, if it weren’t for the poem, would have nowhere to go, nowhere to be. All the emotions that are nameless and formless and messy and huge, that seem to ask for something to hold them, to give them a structure, a home. I think I need to make poems because I need to make homes for those things that would otherwise be homeless.

 

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

How to Live on Other Planets and other news

Since my last update, the whirlwind has continued:

I got to spend an amazing eight days in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia, two of them with my sister and four of them at a work conference (one of the doctors I admin assist was President of the national organization holding the conference – nothing at all to do with writing but a fabulous experience nonetheless).

 

At the Southern Festival of Books this year, I got to see Monica Drake, Chelsea Cain, and (most excitingly for me) Chuck Palahniuk. They gave us beach balls to blow up and glowsticks to insert into them, and then they turned the lights off and played the Bossanova and we all threw balls at each other. Totally what every literary reading needs.

 

I’m in this! The website hasn’t been updated but the Tennessee volume is out now and contains work by me, Corey Mesler, Jeff Hardin and many others.

 

Also, I am editing an anthology, How to Live on Other Planets: A Handbook for Aspiring Aliens; go here for the open call for reprint submissions.

Intermittent Visitors: David M. Harris

  David M. Harris spent twenty-five years working in publishing in New York, then threw it all over to go to graduate school and become a teacher. He got an MFA in fiction, then threw it all over to write poetry. After living in and around New York City all his life, he threw it all over to move to Tennessee to get married. Now he has a wife and child, a varying number of dogs, cats, fish, and chickens, and a 1972 MGB roadster. Along the way, he picked up some work in film production and some credits as a writer: a published novel, two produced screenplays, a weekly column that ran for about a year and a half in the local daily newspaper, a few short stories, a collection of essays, and a few dozen poems published in places like The Pedestal, Labletter, Pirene’s Fountain, and the anthology 140 And Counting.

 

What is your writing process?

My writing process has evolved considerably over time. When I was writing my first novel, I set my alarm an hour earlier, and devoted that extra hour to writing every weekday on my computer. I also wrote when I got home from work, but most of the good stuff, it seemed to me, came in the morning, when I was fresh and hadn’t already spent the day working on other people’s novels (I was, at the time, an editor for a book production outfit, Byron Preiss Visual Publications, who had also commissioned the novel I was writing). Since then I’ve gotten an MFA (and, curiously, an MGB), switched my emphasis to poetry, and shifted to writing by hand. I do most of my drafts with a fountain pen in a small notebook (they vary, but about 4″x6″), and wherever I happen to be with enough time to write. I carry a portable office in a plastic clipbox, or sometimes just the pen and notebook. I would probably get a lot more done if I had a particular time for writing every day, but I am lazy and undisciplined by nature. Once I’ve got a draft I like enough, I type it into the computer, and edit on printouts. Then, for poetry, my writing groups are an essential step for me so I can do final (there may be several rounds of “final”) revisions.

 

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

Sarah Schulman, who was my advisor for two semesters at Goddard, once said in a letter, “If it doesn’t hurt, you aren’t doing it right.” Oddly enough, I got the same advice from my friend Carter Stevens, former publisher of the S&M News. But Sarah was talking about finding the difficult emotional truths of each scene; don’t stop until you’re reaching something that part of you doesn’t want to reveal, and then reveal that.

 

Can you say a little bit about the genesis of your most recent book?

My wife kept noodging me to put a book together, and a woman out in Cookeville (TN) posted a call for submissions for a new press, St. Murgen’s press, specializing in chapbooks by Tennessee authors. So I put together a small manuscript and sent it out, and she accepted it. Unfortunately, she almost immediately ran into various problems and shut down the operation after one book. My book would have been her second. At any rate, I then had the manuscript ready when Unsolicited Press posted its call for manuscripts on the Speakeasy, and they also accepted it to be their second book. There’s no particular theme to the book, though; it’s just a bunch of stuff I’ve written, with a fairly broad range of subjects and styles.

 

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’ve always been pretty glib. Good sentences have never been my problem. Working in publishing (which I did for about 25 years), I always saw writing as something that almost everyone did. So I started doing it. Most of what I wrote (other than cover copy and suchlike) was pretty awful because, even though the sentences were good, there wasn’t any heart; blood on the page, as I’ve come to call it. Writing was a mechanical process, aimed at getting published rather than at learning anything. It wasn’t until after I left the business and went to Goddard that I learned about putting real heart into my good sentences, and that’s what I’ve been working on ever since. When I write non-fiction, as I still do sometimes (I published a chapbook essay collection some years ago: Democracy and Other Problems), I’m trying to understand some aspect of the world outside me. My poetry is sometimes external, but even when I’m writing about, say, the 9/11 attacks, it’s to understand my own relationship with that subject. Of course, since I’m also trying to universalize my feelings, I hope it will speak to others and their connections with each other and the world, but if I don’t get my own blood on the page (there’s that phrase again!), I won’t touch anyone else. None of this applies to light verse, of course.

 

Which writers inspire you?

Over the years a lot of writers have inspired me in different ways. In 1976 I rather unexpectedly found myself as the agent for the estate of P. G. Wodehouse, and decided I ought to get familiar with his work. I’ve been reading him regularly since then (many books more than once), and I’ve tried to catch some of his pure joy in language. He’s a good balance for the pretentiousness of a lot of my other answers here, too (or the rest of this one). I read a lot of Anthony Trollope, too, from whom I get an understanding that (despite my professional background in science fiction) real life, real people, are really the only subject worth writing about. Even if you set a story on Mars or write a poem (as I have done) about Disney princesses, everything has to be grounded in real life to say anything interesting. Even Wodehouse is, ultimately, grounded in real life. Among poets, Donald Hall currently inspires me most directly. I read his poems and make notes for poems that I want to write. From Auden I learned about using everyday language. And I learn something just about every week from the poets I read on my radio program (Difficult Listening, WRFN, www.radiofreenashville.org, Sundays, 10 to noon Central Time). I read someone new every week, and learn something from most of them. I also learned a lot about poetry from Tom Disch, whose use of forms helped convince me that formal poetry is not dead, and whose friendship gave me a lot of confidence as a writer. Let’s include Damon Knight and Jane Yolen, too, as friends who had faith in me even when I had considerable doubt.

 

Why do you write?

I’m not at all sure why I write. Oh, I suppose I have something to say that no one else is saying, although I’m not sure that’s enough of a reason to write and try to get published. And I do write, at least in part, to try to get published. It’s still some small thrill to see my work out there where people can see it, a validation and a massage for my ego. And, of course, it was what all my friends did when I was in publishing. Now it’s what many of my friends do in the world of poetry. After all these years, it’s nice to find something I’m reasonably good at (I was a pretty decent editor, too, though), and at which I can get better with some work. But I don’t have that drive that sends me to the desk every single day. I don’t feel incomplete if I haven’t put words on paper each day. I do keep getting ideas for poems, though, so I might as well keep writing them.

My mother was a dancer. She studied with Martha Graham and performed professionally with a couple of other moderately well-known companies. She also played the piano. My father painted as an amateur (he studied at the Art Students League in New York, where he met Sammy, later Zero, Mostel) and worked as a photographer for the Associated Press. By the time I was born he had given up playing the mandolin, although he still owned one. My sister took piano and guitar lessons and studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse, eventually winning awards for her work with community theater. I was no good at music (lousy voice, no gift for piano, clarinet, guitar, or recorder, all of which I studied at some point), couldn’t draw worth a damn, and couldn’t remember my lines when I acted. So I had to become a writer. Fortunately, I’m better at writing than I am at all the other stuff.

 

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

Intermittent Visitors: Shane Rhodes

  Shane Rhodes is the author of six collections of poetry, including X, which was just released; The Wireless Room, which won the Alberta Book Award for poetry; Holding Pattern, which won the Archibald Lampman Award; and The Bindery, which won the Lampman-Scott Award. His poetry has also appeared in a number of Canadian poetry anthologies including Seminal: The Anthology of Canada’s Gay Male Poets. His work is available online at Lemon Hound, Numéro Cinq and Rattle. Rhodes lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

 

1. What is your writing process?

I sleep. I wake. I eat. I sit. I think. I drink a cup of matcha. I turn on the radio. I listen. I turn off the radio. I sit. I turn on the computer. I look at the computer screen. I read email. I search the internet for a 15th century papal bull. I read. I write. I erase. I sit. I exhibit common avoidance procedures. I stare out the window. I try not to look at the computer screen; I pretend it isn’t there. I search the OED for the etymology of “kench.” I read the Wikipedia page on “paprika” and then “grey seals” and then “matcha” and then “match” and then “phosphorus sesquisulfide” and then “phossy jaw” and then “the London matchgirls’ strike of 1888.” I get a hold of myself. Seriously, I get back to writing. I write. Seriously, I write. I sit. I erase. Seriously. I don’t look out the window; I pretend it isn’t there. I write quickly. I erase quickly. I work. I read email. I talk. I listen. I come home. I sit. I write. I erase. I write. I read. I write. I sleep.

 

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

While traveling in Mexico for a year, I met a Texan who passed on this advice (it was advice, he told me, that was passed on to him by his grandfather): “There are three things you really need to know in life: how to drink, how to dance, and some names to call the stars.” It seems just a pertinent now as it did then.

 

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

X, which is my sixth book and available with Nightwood Editions, is largely made up of poems based on Canada’s post-confederation treaties, on contemporary and historical “Indian” law and policy, and on the current discourse around treaty rights and First Nations protests in Canada. X came from my desire to better understand how colonization, settlement and anti-Indigenousness (for racism is too general a term for the particular types of discrimination we have engineered in relation to Aboriginal people in Canada) functioned historically and continues to function in the present.

Conducted by the Government of Canada over a 50-year period, Canada’s post-confederation treaties (commonly called the numbered treaties, numbers one through eleven) represent the “legal” basis for one of the largest systematic, colonial land appropriations in the world. Daunting for the history and future they carry and their impenetrable legal diction, these texts represent the foundational logic of Canadian colonization and of ongoing settler, First Nations, Inuit and Métis relations. The post-confederation treaties, and their interpretation and implementation, ceded vast territories across Canada regardless of tens of thousands of years of First Nations’ history and placed Indians (it was a point of law that Indians be called Indians and not persons) on reserves smaller, in proportion, than the generous land grants being given to newly arrived settlers from Europe.

X uses the treaties’ own strategies of finding, one-sided negotiating, erasure, obfuscation and overstatement to take the documents themselves apart. At the same time, the constraints placed upon the project (to restrict my vocabulary to the source material) seemed a fitting strategy (indeed, it seemed to me the only ethical strategy that could work), given that the documents themselves are so much about the creation of new constraints (constraints that would only grow with the establishment of the Indian Act and its many precursors) for a frontier territory and its peoples to feed the growth of the British Dominion and its domination.

 

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

I have tried sacrifice but have found it is an inconsistent way to please the gods. I sacrifice no longer.

 

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 write poetry to understand the world around me. I write myself into the parts of the world that I don’t understand.

There is a story that I tell in my second book, holding pattern, about how, in an ancient land, a King would let a horse wander for a year followed by a band of soldiers. If the horse was impeded in any way, the soldiers would fight to make sure the horse could wander freely. At the end of the year, the horse was slaughtered and the land over which it had wandered became the King’s territory.

My poetry: I let it wander.

 

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

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.

Intermittent Visitors: Daniel McGinn

  Southern California poet Daniel McGinn is the author of 1000 Black Umbrellas. His work has appeared in Litnivorous, Poetry Super Highway, Radius and Beyond the Valley of the Contemporary Poets 1998. He has been a journalist for the East Whittier Review, the OC Weekly and Next Magazine, and has performed at The Bowery Poetry Club in NYC and The Fuse in Philadelphia. He has had five chapbooks included in the Laguna Poets Series.

 

1. What is your writing process?

Here is my process today: I write the first draft with a pen and composition book. I rarely write the first draft with line breaks. I write quickly and try not to think too much. I try not to correct myself while I am sketching out the initial draft of a poem. It is difficult for me not to cross out and correct myself while I am in this first stage but I have learned to just keep writing. I often rewrite, or correct those same sections later, but not in the draft stage. Once in a while, words or phrases that sound odd to me in the first draft become my favorite parts of a poem. I try not to worry about what a poem is doing, or where it is going; I just want to allow it to happen. I like to set the draft aside for about a week before I make changes to it. I think this waiting period helps to give me a little more objective view of the piece.
Writing on a computer is an entirely different process; when I start creating a piece it already looks like a finished product. Writing on a computer isn’t like writing on a typewriter; it will underline every misspelling and grammatical aberration in red and green. I can’t help but look, and in doing so, I interrupt the writing process. I am aware of the spatial relationship of the poem to the digital page and can’t help but write in line breaks. It is so easy to cut and paste that I edit the poem while it is in process. When I write on a computer there is no first draft. I often complete a poem in one sitting. I used to write on a computer a lot but I don’t want to do that at this time.

 

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

Ralph Angel suggested I record my poems on the iPhone and listen to my speech patterns to determine where to place line breaks. That has worked well for me. I hear more than line breaks when I play back these recordings. I will often make changes to a poem based on how it sounds; sound is of critical importance in poetry.

 

3. Can you say a little bit about the genesis of your most recent book?

It took years to write. It has all of the elements of a memoir but because it’s a book of poetry I can take a lot of poetic license.

 

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

No. I’ve always been writing something.

 

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 think it does help me know more about what is going on inside and outside of myself but that has never been the goal of writing poetry. The goal is to concentrate, let go of myself and enter the world of the poem.

 

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

Intermittent Visitors: Judy Jordan

  Judy Jordan is the author of Carolina Ghost Woods, which won the 1999 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, the 2000 National Book Critics Circle Award, the Utah Book of the Year Award, the OAY Award from the Poetry Council of North Carolina, and the Thomas Wolfe Literary Award. Her second book was Sixty-Cent Coffee and a Quarter to Dance. She has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, and her poetry has appeared at the Academy of American Poets, and in Prime Mincer, and Apocalypse Now: Poems and Prose from the End of Days.

 

1. What is your writing process?

Slow and labored and one of accretion. I have no self-esteem whatsoever and hate my own writing so much of writing for me is forcing myself to sit at my desk and then battling with the “shit committee” in my head which constantly tells me my writing sucks and I need to go back to delivering pizzas. So my writing is a few scrawled lines then those same lines rescrawled slightly changed then some criticisms from the ‘shit committee’ over and over so that by the time I have something like a first draft it’s a page, front and back, scrawled all over, upside down, in the margins, with lines and arrows pointing to scribbles off in the corners, plus various stabs at similes scattered here and there. I then rewrite that onto a clean page, scratch out lines, add lines, scrawl things in spare spaces with lines and arrows, until the page is nearly impossible to read then I start again on a fresh page. A few drafts in I type up the poem then edit the typed copy and continue to do that for a few drafts. This whole process usually takes one or two weeks by the end of which I’m exhausted and hate the poem passionately. At that point I put it away and come back weeks, even months later and look at it with fresh eyes and objectively and see that despite what the ‘shit committee’ has to say, it isn’t all that bad.

 

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

I can’t remember any writing advice I’ve been given but I do remember once when I was bad mouthing my long, sprawling poems, wishing I could write much shorter and cleaner poems, Gregg Orr quoted some Keats to me: I leaped headlong into the sea and there by have become better acquainted with soundings, the quicksand, and the rocks than if I had stayed upon the green shore and piped a silly pipe and took tea and comfortable advice.

And also this from Charles Wright from “Halflife”: All the well-made, passionless, wooden little poems one sees everywhere nowadays, panting like tongues in the books and magazines. But poetry is not a tongue. Poetry is the dark beast with its mouth open, and you’ve got to walk down that tongue and into the windy mouth. And you’ve got to sing while you walk.

 

3. 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?

For me, I think it is the former. I spent most of my childhood confused. It was a childhood in which I was witness to racism, sexism, classism, and great amounts of violence. And I understood none of it. It was also a childhood in which people were taken from me. Most importantly my mother who died when I was seven. But other people died also and other people just disappeared (perhaps because they no longer came to visit my mother.) It was a childhood of silences. The whole thing about southerners being storytellers is a great myth (at least in my family) so my entire childhood is a puzzle piece of silences and glances and cleared throats and people answering “I can’t speak bad of the dead.” when asked direct questions. So all my life I’ve tried to piece together this puzzle. Tried to find a narrative thread in a broken story, tried to find reasons for why this man committed suicide, why this child was beaten, and this other child died, this child shot, this man shot, this man jailed, this man destroyed by drugs and alcohol. So all of my writing is about trying to figure out the world, at least my small part of it.

 

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

Intermittent Visitors: Jeannine Hall Gailey

  Jeannine Hall Gailey is the Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington and the author of three books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, and most recently, Unexplained Fevers. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Her poems have appeared in The Adirondack Review, The American Poetry Review, The Pedestal Magazine, poemeleon and Prairie Schooner. She volunteers for Crab Creek Review and is a Seattle 2013 Jack Straw Writer. Her web site is www.webbish6.com.

 

1. What is your writing process?

I write a poem or two every week, sometimes more, sometimes less. They are usually inspired, not planned—they happen after reading poetry or fiction, viewing an inspiring art exhibit, even after reading news stories or watching a particularly good movie or television show. They usually happen in patterns and in clusters—a group of poems about radioactive elements, or a group of poems on supervillains, that kind of thing.

 

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

Let your language and cadences be the most “you” possible. Each of us has our own particular vocabulary, shaped by where we grew up, what we read, the music we listen to, etc. Don’t try to imitate somebody else’s idea of what a poem must be or sound like, don’t try to write a poemy-poem, just be yourself. (I know, I hated it when it was my mother’s dating advice, but it truly is the best idea when you’re writing poetry.)

 

3. Can you say a little bit about the genesis of Unexplained Fevers?

Unexplained Fevers grew out of some of the reading I was doing for research on my second book, She Returns to the Floating World. I happened to read two books—Blue Bamboo by Osamu Dazai, which contains a series of retellings of “Rapunzel,” and Haruki Murakami’s After Dark, which is a series of short stories which have two characters that could be related to the sisters, Snow White and Rose Red. I thought about the fairy tale characters I had left out of “Becoming the Villainess,” because I thought they were too passive: The Princess and the Pea, Rapunzel, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty, and thought up some new ways that they might escape their various traps. During the time that I wrote Unexplained Fevers, I was going through some fairly serious autoimmune and other health issues, and those were reflected in the poems as well. It’s not hard to imagine Sleeping Beauty as a drug addict, or Snow White as someone with chronic fatigue syndrome, when you’re spending a lot of time in hospitals.

 

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

Money is probably the biggest thing that springs to mind. You just don’t make as much writing poetry as you do writing technical manuals. But I don’t regret the switch. Probably also a certain amount of domestic house work remains undone most of the time, as well. I spent the last year working as Redmond, Washington’s Poet Laureate, and that job gave me the chance to see just how important it is to try to make space for poetry in our own back yards, so to speak—libraries, schools, community arts centers, etc. It’s as important to cultivate reading as it is to cultivate writing.

 

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?

Yes, I think that anyone that goes into writing poetry thinking they know exactly what they’re writing about is fooling themselves. I often discover the themes of my book after I write them. This third book explores some similar terrain as my first book, Becoming the Villainess, but the tone is very different—maybe more funny, more cynical, a tad more, dare I say, mature? That’s what happens when you have a decade happen in between books, I guess. You do a little growing up, and that ends up in the poems.

 

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

Intermittent Visitors: Brynn Saito

  Brynn Saito is the author of The Palace of Contemplating Departure, winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award from Red Hen Press (2013). She co-authored, with Traci Brimhall, Bright Power, Dark Peace. Brynn was born and raised in the Central Valley of California to a Korean American mother and a Japanese American father. Brynn is the recipient of a Kundiman Asian American Poetry Fellowship, the Poets 11 award from the San Francisco Public Library, and the Key West Literary Seminar’s Scotti Merrill Memorial Award. Her poetry has been anthologized by Helen Vendler and Ishmael Reed, and has appeared in Drunken Boat, Muzzle, Verse Daily, Virginia Quarterly Review and Waccamaw.

 

1. What is your writing process?

“Writing” without writing anything down is liberating, so sometimes I write poems in my mind while wandering a city street or while riding a train, listening to music. Other times, I’m good about waking and first thing making my way to the desk to record my dreams and see what follows. Mostly, I try to do a little writing everyday—journaling, free-writing—to “keep the portal open,” as the writer Julia Whitty once advised writers to do. In the end, a lot of my process is tied to community: I get the writing done when there’s a friend, or writing group, or editor holding me to some sort of deadline. Deadlines, I’ve heard it said, are a writer’s greatest inspiration.

 

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

I love what Annie Dillard said in her book The Writing Life: “Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?” I probably haven’t succeeded at avoiding the trivial, but Dillard’s questions help me to get at the urgency of what I’m trying to communicate in a piece of prose or poetry.

 

3. Can you say a little bit about the genesis of The Palace of Contemplating Departure?

The book is a compilation of about eight years worth of writing and revising poetry. I was doing a lot of departing, arriving, coming, and going during that period of my life and the poems in the book write into—and out of—that tension and momentum. I didn’t understand that “departure” was one of the main threads woven throughout the book until my editor, Kate Gale at Red Hen Press, suggested calling it “The Palace of Contemplating Departure” (which is the title of one of the poems in the collection). Suddenly the book revealed itself to me, anew.

 

4. 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?

The best writing converts wonder to more wonder. Live the questions, said Rilke. I believe writing begins in inquiry, in deeply questioning the things of this world. In marveling at them, in rebelling against them—with words, emotions, and ideas. Every poem or piece of prose is, for me, rooted in a question that is alive for me at that given moment. It seeks resolution, but resolution is never possible, so the world remains wondrous and the writing, inexhaustible. My poems teach me things I would not know otherwise. They know more than I do: they reveal to me my hidden desires and obsessions, they show me who I am.

 

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

Intermittent Visitors: Mary Alexandra Agner

  Mary Alexandra Agner is the author of the poetry collections The Scientific Method (Parallel Press, 2011) and The Doors of the Body (Mayapple Press, 2009), as well as Olivia & the Experiments, short stories funded by her Kickstarter backers to subvert scientist stereotypes with LEGO fanfic.

Her work has appeared in Astropoetica, Eye to the Telescope, Goblin Fruit, inkscrawl, poemeleon, Stone Telling, Strange Horizons and other magazines too numerous to name (a complete list is here).

Her advanced degrees include Earth & planetary science and creative writing. She is a freelance science writer working with Under the Microscope, Argonne National Laboratory, and other markets.

1. What is your writing process?

Idea descends, put words on paper, revise until better.

Getting ideas does really feel like walking through a mess of insects while I’m in web mode: they just come from the air. I usually can’t start on one until I have a phrase or a voice saying something; it’s always the sound of the words that gives me the energy to break into writing.

It takes a lot of practice to keep writing once the voice or sound have spun themselves out, but if I know that the piece isn’t done, I just switch into writing down what *should* be going on, questions if I’ve got nothing else. And when I say a lot of practice, I mean years of it. This is the disheartening part because it’s like the Muse, should you believe in her, has glanced out the window, taking her gaze off of me, training wheels all gone, and wouldn’t it be easier just to fall off?

I rely entirely on my ear to tell me when a piece has been sufficiently revised: I read and re-read listening for unpleasant jangles. And then re-fashion the sound of the jangles.

 

2. Can you say a little bit about the genesis of your most recent book?

Olivia & the Experiments has two sources, a personal one and a public one.

I was intrigued by the new LEGO line of blocks “for girls” because one of the characters has an inventor’s workshop and I desperately wanted her to be the kind of girl who did real science with it while wearing pastels and hair ribbons.

The public source are my Kickstarter backers, who funded me to write four stories about Olivia doing real science showcasing that many traits typically considered feminine are a strength in science, such as communication and collaboration.

Additionally, the backers dictated the science in the stories as well as who made cameo appearances. Olivia has a run-in with an NMRI machine, gets up close and personal with an onion nuclear membrane, resurrects Dorothy Hodgkin’s Nobel-prize winning work, and solves a puzzle with a only a telescope and clear seeing.

 

3. 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 have learned the hard way that “no surprise in the writer no surprise in the reader” is true. I often think of interesting things to say but I have found that while they may feel like conclusions, I need to write *from* them into I know-not-what. Into the surprise. Writing clarifies things for the writer—not necessarily the things it communicates to the reader!—but the writer must learn from that act, not just regurgitate.

 

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