Eve F. W. Linn

“I write what I would describe as narrative lyrics. I truly believe in the power of storytelling, especially personal history, as redemptive.”

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Model Home (River Glass Books, New Orleans, LA, 2019

Could you tell us a bit about your growing up and your path to becoming a writer?

I was definitely an obsessive reader long before considering myself a writer. Oddly, I don’t recall reading or learning any poems. I was much more aware of fiction writers and biographers. The first book that had the first major impact on my life was D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths which was when I was about six years old or around the third grade. The second influential book was The Diary of Anne Frank, which I also read in elementary school. I had a very advanced vocabulary for a young reader, I read fast, and could remember complex plots with little trouble. English was a subject I excelled in, unlike math, so I felt empowered by my success, even though I was teased by other students. I was also mocked for being a poor speller (still true) and terrible at math. I also enjoyed learning to write cursive script and adored pens, paper, all things stationery, except for pencils, which I disliked because they were large and thick and left smudges of graphite on my hands. My mother read aloud to me almost every day, mostly children’s classics, like Little Women, the Five Little Peppers,and many biographies.  There was an orange cloth-bound series of girls’ lives in different periods of American history which were favorites. In my twenties, I discovered the Diary and Letters of Virginia Woolf, then her novels, essays and book reviews after I had immersed myself in her personal history. I was and remain compelled by the lives of women. I published my first poem in the school newspaper in sixth grade. I still remember my excitement at seeing my words in print and, of course, my name. That feeling has never diminished.

I grew up in a Manhattan apartment, the oldest of three sisters. I was very independent and traveled alone around the city. I especially loved the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was a huge influence on subjects I later wrote about. I always loved painting and art making, and majored in Studio Art in college. I also studied Art History and took many English courses.

How do you decorate your writing space?

My writing space or spaces must have windows. I like to be able to get up and walk around my space.  There are towering piles of printouts, drafts, and unshelved books. I prefer to write in silence, usually in mid-morning or late at night. I don’t have a particular writing routine, and have been struggling with a difficult period of writing very little. I sometimes wonder if having an organized space might contribute to greater productivity.

What is the relationship between your ethics and your aesthetics? How does your form, content, and style as a writer reflect how you are and are trying to be as a person?

This is a very complex and fascinating question. My ethics are pretty simple. Be kind, tell the truth, do not gossip, support causes you believe in, avoid too-quick judgments, listen intently, and work for compromise. I often write about artists and art, in a form called ekphrasis, which became the basis for my graduate seminar, a requirement in my MFA program. I also write about complex family dynamics, mental health, nature, sorrow, the aging process, and death. I write what I would describe as narrative lyrics. I truly believe in the power of storytelling, especially personal history, as redemptive. My poetic aesthetics tend to focus on extreme experiences, i.e. matricide, violent accidents, which may either be totally invented or fact-based.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

The primary obsession that led me to write Model Home was the impact that my childhood of secrets had on me. Not every poem enacts that obsession, but I think that was a primary motivation. I also believe I have a unique way of seeing the world: I dwell in details. Time and time again, people have commented on my powers of observation, and it is something I don’t even think about, it just is part of my brain and my artistic training. By focusing on the very small, I then tend to build the poem outward to include a larger circumference. (See re: what is your chapbook about.)

What’s your chapbook about?

My chapbook also deals with the aspect of powerlessness inherent in childhood.  This may not be overt, but it is a definite undercurrent. As children, it is very difficult to question decisions, especially of our parents and teachers or other authority figures.

 What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

The oldest poems in the chapbook are heavily revised from my MFA thesis written in 2012. They include “Ashfield, Massachusetts, 1890,”  “When I was Pregnant and Sucked Lemons,” and “Before You Leave.” The first one is spoken by a dead child, the others are in the voice of a mother. They are all related to the female experience of pregnancy, childbirth, connection and disjunction.

How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?

The chapbook had various titles before it was accepted with the current one, Model Home. This title seemed to encompass most of the major themes, as well as having several possible interpretations: Model as in the best, something to aspire to, Model as in a small version of a larger object, Model as in something impossible or difficult to obtain, such as the latest car or designer clothing. My long time poetry mentor helped with the arrangement of poems.

Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?

I would say that “Ballastis” is unlike most of the other poems. I wouldn’t say it’s a misfit, but it is an outlier in terms of syntax and voice. I would call it an entangled Ars Poetica, as is “I Hang My Dress From A Hole in the Sky.”

What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?

The final poem I wrote was the title poem. It was not included in the original submission to the press, but they felt it was a good fit. The first version was more conventional in form, but I decided the fragments were a better fit for the emotional context.

Do you have a favorite revision strategy? What is it?  

I don’t have a favorite revision strategy. Often if I am stuck, I will look at art and photography books, or go back and reread the original text that inspired the poem, or look at previous revisions and see if there is something in a prior draft that I can use to reenergize the poem, or draft it in another form.  I try removing all the articles and adjectives to tighten up the lines, or type the text in a block and re-lineate it without looking at the original. Or circle the strongest lines and copy and paste those in another document and revise. Or if I’m completely frustrated, I will put it aside and come back to it in a couple of weeks.

What has the editorial and production experience with your press been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

I had the most positive and collaborative experience with my press. I took the cover image for the book. That wasn’t planned, but I was very happy to be able to do it. I was less familiar with the demands of print and layout, so I was happy with the press taking charge of that aspect, but every decision was made as a team and via email which I think is amazing! It was a fantastic first experience, and I recommend going with a small press as long as you can get information about their prior books, either online or through a personal connection. Do not sign any legal document without getting either a lawyer or someone with publishing experience to review it. Make sure you understand the financials and copyright issues prior to signing.

What are you working on now?

Currently, I am trying to find a new project that may result in another chapbook, I have a full length collection that needs substantial revision, but I am concerned that the material may be too old. There may be some poems that can be incorporated into another project. Working to promote and design a book was much more demanding than I anticipated. It was difficult to write new work or think about what I would do after Model Home because I was completely invested in getting it out in the world as the best work I could do.

What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?

My advice to students interested in creative writing is to find a writing group. If you can’t find one, start one. Find a mentor, develop relationships with your faculty, attend readings when you can, read as much as possible.  Think about other ways you can use your writing skills. I found book reviewing was very rewarding. Study the writers of the past, poetry has a long history. Find a period or a poet that fascinates you and immerse yourself. Don’t forget about context. Poetry, like all other art forms, reflects cultural concerns.

What question would you like to ask future writers featured at Speaking of Marvels?

I read chapbooks from friends and press mates. As I have been thinking about chapbooks, I realized that the form’s readership is severely undermined by lack of accessibility. Chapbooks are rarely available in bookstores, even independent ones. A small run book that doesn’t provide much profit isn’t going to be stocked in large retailers. I think this is a real problem as the possibilities offered to both the reader and writer of chapbooks are so various. As you continue your study of chapbooks and the writing of poetry, maybe you could think about establishing an online Chapbook Clearing House, where people could have the opportunity to see what’s being written. I think this would be a great class project.

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Eve F.W. Linn received her B.A. cum laude from Smith College in Fine Art and her M.F.A. in Poetry from the Low Residency Program at Lesley University. She has attended the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, the Frost Place Conference on Poetry, and the Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference.  She is a published poet and book reviewer.  Her first chapbook is Model Home, published by River Glass Books, July 2019. Her favorite color is blue. She collects antique baby shoes, vintage textiles, and art pottery. She lives west of Boston with her family and one demanding feline.

https://riverglassbooks.com/product/model-home/

 

Anita Felicelli

“Perhaps the biggest challenge to continuing to write is realizing you are the only person who deeply cares if you keep writing.”

Love Songs

Love Songs for a Lost Continent (Stillhouse Press, 2018)

Of the stories in this book, do you have a favorite? 

I’m not someone who claims not to have favorites – of course I have them. I have three favorites: the title story, “Once Upon a Great Red Island,” and “Rampion.” The first because it allowed me to write about language and identity, which are an endless source of interest to me. I love “Once Upon a Great Red Island” because I’m interested in the rifts between people, people from the same and people from different cultural backgrounds, and all we’re unable to adequately communicate with each other (and more idiosyncratically, this story distills certain plot points of an earlier failed novel, and it allowed me to salvage what I found beautiful from that failure). “Rampion” I love because it’s absolutely, purely my own aesthetic that I didn’t need to change at all in order to publish – surrealism and my favorite childhood fairytale and deep tragedy all rolled together.  

In your interview with Sarah Luria for Medium, you explain that some of your stories “grew out of an autobiographical seed.” Could you say more about this? 

I pay close attention — often painfully close attention — to what’s around me. I’m often inspired by something I’ve witnessed, even if that’s only a sensory impression. Nothing I’ve put into the world as fiction so far could be fairly construed as autobiography, but at least one aspect of every short story grew out of something I’ve experienced, but imaginatively transformed. For example, I did visit Madagascar like my protagonist does in “Once Upon a Great Red Island,” and I’ve worked with finance guys. However, my travels weren’t linked to a vanilla farm, nor have I dated a hedge fund manager like Leon, as my character Tarini does in that story. 

Your characters are fascinating and dynamic, and their pursuits of what they desire can twist your stories in interesting ways. Do you have a favorite character in Love Songs for a Lost Continent? Which characters are most like you personally? Are there any characters you particularly dislike or struggled to write?

I most love Hema in “Hema and Kathy.” She’s vibrant and spirited, and when she makes a decision that might be a mistake, that everyone around her recognizes as a terrible mistake, she still goes full-force into that decision. She follows her heart even when her heart makes her an idiot. There’s something tragic and vulnerable in that, and yet also honorable. How many people truly follow their hearts? The older I get, the more I understand how rare that is, how often we contort what we truly want in order to better fit with what we think we want, or even more often, what society thinks we should want. I love Hema’s chutzpah, her unwillingness to let herself be defined by her upbringing, or the worldview her parents want her to have. 

I share certain, strangely opposite personality traits with both Komakal in the title story and Leda in “Swans and Other Lies.” Komakal’s an artist; she’s passionate to such an extreme degree, it’s hard for her to be among other people who care less. Leda in “Swans and Other Lies” is a shapeshifter without a sturdy identity. She’s able to mold herself to what a situation requires, and inclined to keep her feelings to herself. 

I had a little bit of discomfort with the character Devi in the story “Snow” and the character Maisie in “The Art of Losing,” but I’ve spent so much time with them, dislike doesn’t enter the equation. It did feel unfamiliar and challenging to put myself inside worldviews so different from my own, and to depict them in a way that I think is honest, rather than either sensationalistic or falsely conciliatory.

I imagine that a book like yours required grit and vulnerability, that you poured yourself into these stories. At what point did you know that you wanted to be a writer? Were you challenged in your pursuit of that dream and desire? 

Thank you for saying so. I did pour myself into these stories. I knew I wanted to be a writer at age five. I wasn’t as challenged as some writers in pursuing that dream because I developed a writing habit so young it wouldn’t occur to me not to write. I assume it’s more challenging to come to writing in middle age and develop a habit. I’ve never stopped writing, even when I had a day job that drained me emotionally and made my writing stiff and ugly, and I’m fairly certain that’s because I see writing as part of my identity, a bigger part of who I am than my cultural background or my gender. Perhaps the biggest challenge to continuing to write is realizing you are the only person who deeply cares if you keep writing. 

Are there any short story authors that have impacted your writing, or any you enjoy and would recommend? 

Early on in my writing life, I read Isaac Bashevis Singer, Flannery O’Connor, Franz Kafka, and Nikolai Gogol, and these authors almost certainly impacted how I write. Short story writers I love and recommend: Joy Williams, Robert Coover, Ben Marcus, Charles Yu, James Baldwin, Kelly Link, Denis Johnson, Laura van den Berg, Kelly Luce, Rajesh Parameswaran, Nina McConigley, Jamel Brinkley, Kali Fajardo-Anstine, and Rita Bullwinkel. 

How long did it take you to write Love Songs for a Lost Continent? Could you describe your writing process with this book? 

I wrote one of the stories in the collection, “Wild Things,” back in 1998 in a writing workshop. The others were written in the interim. In 2014, I noticed there were certain recurring themes in my stories — memory, identity, and reinvention. I started looking at how the stories with these themes might fit together, even if some had a surrealist bent, while others were odd in their observations, but could still fit within the realm of realism.

In your interview with Drunk on Ink’s Soniah Kamal, you mentioned the pain of rejection in the writing and publishing process. How did you push through to get your stories published? What advice would you give to fellow writers who are stuck on their third or fourth rejection letter?

Rejection is a constant of writing (and other arts) in a way that it is not in other vocations. Paraphrasing and interpreting Toni Morrison, you have to treat rejection with dispassion, as information about a particular reader’s affinity for your material, and tolerate the ambiguity of that. Unlike a law firm or corporate job, rejection in the arts might mean you’re doing something relatively new, or something editors don’t know how to read yet. Our lives are set up to favor those things that are clear, easily classified, and that conform to the existing structures and thinkers of the society in which we live. But brilliant writing may not conform the way other endeavors do. The only good reason to write is because it gives you something other endeavors don’t, and so you learn to keep going simply through the act of keeping on keeping on. 

In your experience, what is the role of emotion in writing? How do you see emotions at work in your own fiction?

The role of emotion in fiction varies depending on the story being told. Some stories mandate a hotter emotional temperature than others. As a reader, I privately note when a story makes me feel I’m being manipulated with a false or unearned sense of tragedy, and I hold that author’s work at arm’s length ever after, even if I like the style and subject. Being hit over the head with emotionality in writing tells me an author doesn’t trust me, and therefore might not be entirely trustworthy either. With every piece of fiction I write, I’m conscious of tailoring the degree of emotion revealed based on the personality of the main character. I read to be inside someone else, not necessarily or always to feel all the feels, so I want to transport the reader into a particular protagonist’s headspace, particularly when I’m writing in first person or close third. Sometimes restraint and allowing a reader to come to the emotions or even work towards emotions, rather than dragging him or her there, is a more inviting approach.

I used a cooler approach in “Love Songs” because of its first person narrator’s personality. The story centers a man caught between different worlds — the two different worlds of his parents’ different caste identities and the different worlds of South India and America. He has a hard time feeling anything, and part of that is his personality — cerebral, intellectual, analytical — but the other part is that he has to code-switch and recalibrate all the time due to traveling in between worlds, and that consumes so much mental space, he doesn’t have time to pay close attention to his emotions. The unnamed narrator in “Rampion” is much more attentive to her emotions, and her grief and anger drive her to do a terrible thing. In my novel, Chimerica, the narrator, Maya, is a trial attorney who mostly suppresses her emotions in all her interactions. Trials are battles, are violence, and attorneys absorb the violence for their clients, and so Maya, like other attorneys, usually doesn’t make herself vulnerable by showing her real feelings to the other characters — everything needs to be about performance, rather than authenticity. 

In the beginning of “Elephants in the Pink City,” Kai and his father bicker over anything and everything. However, by the end of the story, their relationship changes. Could you talk a bit about your interest in changing relationships? 

I’m fascinated by the moments that transform people. But, unlike some other writers, perhaps, I don’t see any individual as operating in a vacuum. We are made out of our relationships to other people, of how other people see us and treat us, our collective memories, our personal and cultural histories. Kai has a fraught relationship with his parents, especially his father. They don’t understand and support his decisions, not only because he’s gay and they’re socially conservative immigrants, but also because he’s American. His father is simply unable to make the imaginative leap necessary to understand him. Sometimes what feels uncanniest in the Freudian sense is someone or something that looks similar to something you can identify, and yet is somehow slightly different. It’s unnerving when a similarity or resemblance is clear, and yet there’s a difference. Kai is making decisions his parents can’t identify with even though he looks like a Tamil person, like them. So, it’s Kai who needs to undergo an experience and through that experience, understand this gap between himself and his father. He needs to reconcile himself to a basic irreconcilability in the relationship, to the possibility love might transcend the distance in experiences, the blindness we have to each other’s experiences. 

I’m fascinated by how the most transformative moments of our lives are often the ones that involve how we see another person or how they see us. Playing with the opening and narrowing of the many gaps and fissures between people is so interesting. How do we stand in right relationship to one another when change is constant? I’ll likely be wondering and writing about this for the rest of my life. 

Anita Felicelli is the author of Chimerica (WTAW Press) and Love Songs for a Lost Continent (Stillhouse Press). Her essays and criticism have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Review of Books, Slate, Salon, the New York Times (Modern Love) and elsewhere.

www.anitafelicelli.com

Susan Haldane

“We convince ourselves that all these other things are important–money, politics, our phones, the new TV series. But when birth and death come–when we face important milestones or crises–it’s not these things that we turn to for solace. It’s the natural world, the little things, the people around us.”

Susan pictures

Picking Stones (Gaspereau Press, 2018)

Emma Chase and Kendyl Wadley: I noticed in your blog piece for “My (small press) writing day” that you have “sheep, cattle and in summer a few pigs” on your farm. I did not, however, see any reference to cattle or pigs in Picking Stones, despite the frequent references to sheep. Is there a reason that you wrote as often as you did about sheep? Is there something about them that draws you to them more than the other animals?

I think there’s a practical answer to this question–we have raised sheep on our farm for longer than either cattle or pigs, so I’ve simply had more experience with sheep. But beyond that, the sheep require more hands-on management. We spend more time with the sheep than with the other animals, and we’re more likely to be with them at key moments. I wonder if what draws me is simply the sense of being needed.

Several of your poems (such as “Spring and Everything Turns,” “Instructions for Lambing,” and even “Farm Hands”) explore the idea of new life and new beginnings, while others (namely “Balm of Gilead,” “At the Stockyard,” and “Instructions for Lambing” again) consider the idea of death. How has your proximity to your animals’ seemingly brief cycles of life affected the way you view life and death? 

Many of us in North America today are quite isolated from the experience of birth and death. Livestock farming brings those realities into your daily life. You’re forced to find some balance between being overwhelmed and becoming hardened. I think you develop resilience, find ways to take births and deaths in stride, but they still affect you. We still celebrate every birth–albeit in a low-key way–and mourn each death. It would be impossible not to transpose that experience into my personal life. I admit I’m a little obsessed with death, but maybe all poets are. Or all humans?

Jonah’s encounters with the Ninevites, David’s life as a shepherd, and creation are probably the three most prominent biblical references in Picking Stones, and each one casts a fascinating light on their surrounding texts. What inspired you to include these references in your poems?

I grew up in a church-going family. I attended Sunday school and a couple of worship services every Sunday as a kid. I taught Sunday school myself. So these characters and stories are part of my DNA. For me as a writer, and I hope for a reader, these references provide a rich layering like an impasto of colour. I think there’s also maybe some questioning or challenging reflected in some of the mild sarcasm or irony in these poems–I think part of our job as poets is to challenge truths and traditions.

There seems to be a strong tension between the advancement of progress described in some of your poems and the almost stuck-in-time nature of rural life described in others. For example, the description of the rural landscape “[g]one / to concrete, gone to steel, gone / for streets, strip malls and houses, / houses, houses” in “Aerial Photographs” contrasts with the description of how a farmer’s life is unchanging––“We have been here forever; we will be here / forever waiting on the land / while the sun shines”––in “Making Hay” and other poems. How would you describe the way you feel this tension as a farmer and writer?

All the farmers I know are very much interested in new approaches, new technology, best practices. In contrast to that, though, we are working with (or against) elemental forces, and the work of raising food is so fundamental that it carries a huge weight of tradition. I think farming honours the generations of labourers who’ve come before, and I hope to do the same through my poems. But let’s face it, farming is under-appreciated in our urban society. People believe their food comes from Walmart, and land is valued much more as real estate than as garden and food source. When I have to go to the city, I find the urban sprawl thoroughly disheartening. We just can’t seem to stop ourselves. Does this sound like a rant?

One aspect of your poetry that I found highly moving was its descriptions of nature, especially those parts which so often go unnoticed. The chapbook’s evaluation of stones as pieces of pieces of “Creation” with unknowable histories (“Picking Stones”) and its vivid details in “Spring and Everything Turns” are two of my favorite examples of these descriptions. The poem “Starling Ballet” gives some insight into how to go about appreciating  nature with its declarations of “to hell / with science! And the damned inquiring mind” and “For once can we just / look.” Could you comment on your process for writing these descriptions and examining the world around you?

It’s another paradox of farm life that you’re surrounded by nature, but so often nature just looks like more work! Still, I feel incredibly fortunate and blessed to live in a place and in a way that’s so close to the pulse of the seasons, to the flora and fauna. I make a point of stopping to notice which wildflowers are in bloom, which birds have come back to the pasture, the way the snow drifts have scrolled around the fence posts. I think the reference to the “inquiring mind” in Starling Ballet is a note-to-self to remember to stop, observe, appreciate, breathe. It’s a reminder that I don’t always have to name, understand, and explain things.

Two of your poems, “Instructions for Lambing” and “How to Shear Sheep,” are written in the second person and resemble how-to instructions in a way that causes the reader to insert him- or herself into the drama of the poem. What was the motivation behind choosing this mode of writing?

Especially with “Instructions,” the how-to approach was a way for me to gain some distance from an emotional event. A writer named Nicole Breit talks about finding a “side door” into difficult material. The how-to was my side door.

In “Current,” you write about a group of boys who link hands and touch an electric fence. What inspired this poem? Is there some kind of story behind the boy named Charlie (perhaps a regretted personal experience or something you witnessed)?

Everyone on a livestock farm has accidentally touched an electric fence–not a pleasant experience. Charlie is a real kid, a friend of my son, and the poem came from a real event, when a bunch of the boys did exactly this. The kid touching the fence then doesn’t receive the shock, but the last one in the line gets a reduced jolt. I don’t know why they decided to do this–must be a boy thing…

I noticed that three different poems, “Balm of Gilead,” “Starling Ballet,” and “Villanella Borealis,” contain references to stars.  Are you partial to the night sky or astronomy? What do you think it is that draws your attention to it?

We can see the stars here. We’re so lucky! It’s hard for me to conceive that there are people who rarely get to see the constellations. I am in love with the night sky for all the clichéd reasons – so vast, so distant, so eternal… Again, my natural inclination is to name and understand and explain. My grasp of astrophysics is pretty rudimentary, but I do find it fascinating. I think it’s an area where science and religion don’t need to be mutually exclusive. The more we learn about cosmology, the more it suggests, to me, a brilliant creative force behind it all.

In “Spring and Everything Turns,” you vividly describe the change of the seasons from winter to spring. Which season would you say is your favorite to behold? Which season is your favorite to write about?

Spring is hard to resist–there’s nothing sweeter than baby animals and few things more rewarding than helping a newborn lamb or calf find its first sip of milk. But fall is likely my favourite season. I really appreciate the slowing pace of things after the hustle and heat of summer. I find myself writing often about November, which is probably the least obvious month if you were looking for poetic inspiration!

“Picking Stones” for a farmer refers to his/her responsibility of removing stones in order for new crops to come to life. It is the tedious and necessary task that no one is ever eager to do, but if it’s avoided, growth is stunted. In what ways does your title and this reference relate to what is required of life?

It’s true; there are many tasks in farming that are tedious and necessary! It’s a pretty boring philosophy of life, but I do believe in the value of showing up every day, doing the hard stuff. I don’t necessarily expect that hard work will be rewarded in any tangible way, but there are intrinsic rewards. “We choose to do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard.”

Throughout your chapbook, there is an emphasis on creation and the importance of acknowledging the world around us. For example, you open the chapbook with “we stub our toes on creation.” In “El Camino Trail,” you say, “It’s important to notice the little things.” Why is it important for you and your readers to be grounded in creation? How has raising sheep allowed you to do this, and in what ways does creation validate your faith? 

And really, what else is there, but creation and the world around us? We convince ourselves that all these other things are important–money, politics, our phones, the new TV series. But when birth and death come–when we face important milestones or crises–it’s not these things that we turn to for solace. It’s the natural world, the little things, the people around us. My faith is pretty simple, too–it’s very much based on caring for creation and caring for one another. On our farm we do our best to mimic the patterns and preferences that our animals have naturally. So raising sheep has allowed me to fulfill a call to stewardship.

I love the language in all of these poems, especially in “At the Stockyards”: “To the air: Always this gift—from sawdust hushing under the lambs’ hooves on the ramps and away down the alleys, the scent of beginnings until just now forgotten.” I found it the most challenging piece to read. The chapbook seems to focus on creation, life, and hardship. How does “At the Stockyards” fit in with these overall themes? 

You asked earlier about a favourite poem or one that was difficult to write. It’s interesting that you found this one challenging to read, because it was likely the most challenging to write. I’m committed to livestock agriculture, our role in caring for creation, and the part livestock farming plays in mitigating climate change. But when the time comes to say goodbye to our animals, I’m always torn. I’d been wanting to write about this for a long time but couldn’t find a way in. Finally I realized I needed to just capture some of the physical surroundings and write the experience in a minimalist way.

The last poem, “Current,” says, “The pacemaker in the barn ticks and the charge circulates, travelling its marathon patrol over the esker, through the creek’s floodplain, along the forest hem and finally home.” I appreciated that there was a resolution to the journey that this chapbook follows. What does returning home and this finality signify?

I’m not sure it’s resolution so much as resumption. Farming, of course, is a cycle as is the electricity that flows through the fence. For me the idea of home is at the centre of those cycles.

You’ve written, “Most of my writing happens in my head… I repeat and repeat a line or phrase in my head until I have a chance to write it down… I trust that it will still make sense when I come back to it later.”  Other than this, how do you approach the writing process?

I try to take time to write every day, but I miss a lot of days! When I do have time, it may be 15 or 30 minutes. I usually read a bit of poetry to focus and quiet my brain, then write. I do a lot of revision. My first couple of drafts are handwritten–that feels more creative for me than drafting on screen. I’ll write and rewrite, then eventually type it up and leave the poem to ripen for a few days or weeks (or months) before I come back to it to try to read it with fresh eyes.

Do you have any advice for emerging writers who are also trying to write or publish a chapbook? What advantages or disadvantages do you find in putting together a chapbook versus other types of publication? 

A chapbook is a lovely compromise–long enough to allow you to develop a focused theme but short enough to be within reach. I don’t feel qualified to offer advice, but things I’ve learned as I go would be to prune aggressively, revise repeatedly, proofread diligently, and detach from the brilliance of your first inspiration. And then at some point, you just have to decide it’s done and send it out there and try to get on with the rest of your life.

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Susan Haldane is a poet and works for a social services charity. She farms with her husband on the edge of Northern Ontario, Canada. Her work has been published in a number of literary journals in Canada, and in the anthology “Desperately Seeking Susans” from Oolichan books. In 2019 she won the Magpie Poetry Prize from Pulp Literature. Her chapbook “Picking Stones” is published by Gaspereau Press in Nova Scotia, Canada.  

 

 

Jen Stewart Fueston

“I think book or poem titles provide an opportunity to contemplate a word in all its possible dimensions, its richness, and how the same word can hold conflicting emotions in tension. Something that is ‘latched on’ is secure, but it is also something that can’t be escaped.”

jen and latch

Latch (River Glass Books, 2019)

Valeria Ramirez and Matthew Taylor: Your website mentions that you hold degrees in rhetoric, composition, and literature. How do rhetoric and poetry interplay in your work? 

Probably the most significant thing that my rhetoric training has brought to my poetry has been an awareness of writing to and for an audience. I don’t mean in a sense that poetry must always be performing to expectations, but understanding that what is happening on the page can be purposeful and aimed at connecting with a reader. Contemporary poetry can have a reputation for being opaque or impenetrable to readers outside of small academic circles. Rhetoric provides many tools for writers to make an impact on listeners/audiences, and I’ve found I’m much more conscious of using those tools for emotional connection in poetry than I once was.

VR and MT: You note that one of the poems in Latch, “To the Women Marching, from a Mother at Home,” was very timely, that you didn’t know if you had “ever felt the urgency of a poem at that level before.” How did you channel that sense of urgency into your work, and where else does it appear in Latch?

“To the Women…” is an occasional poem — one written intentionally to mark an occasion or date in time. It was an unusual activity for me to write that kind of poem, and even more unusual to share it as widely on social media as I immediately did (that kind of “unpublished” sharing of work being perceived as being slightly unprofessional). I have found myself writing more of these kinds of politically and socially charged poems in recent years, however, mainly because it feels like it would be shameful and oblivious to be living at this moment in time and not meaningfully engaging with it. My recently published poem, “Revised Common Liturgy,” was a direct response to the National Day of Prayer in 2018, and other poems in Latch, like “Common Loon” (a response to a news story about declining bird populations) and “Pablo C. Tiersten, 38, Kansas City” (an elegy for a man who took his life during an altercation with police), are tied directly to actual events.

I think poets have a unique and much-needed ability to speak about current events in language that goes beyond the factual, but which engages imaginatively and empathetically with those around us. Writing “Pablo C. Tiersten,” enabled me to enter, briefly, into imagining another person’s final moments and what grief and terror must have driven him to, an experience I found incredibly moving. Writing that poem became a sacred act of honoring someone I might never otherwise cross paths with. It can be overwhelming to try to process all the distressing news of each day, and the temptation to simply let it wash over me without feeling or grieving it is great. Writing these kinds of poems is a way in which I let my heart participate in the world’s sorrows, and that keeps me awake to life rather than numb to it.

VR and MT: “Desert Parable,” another poem in Latch, seems to lack an obvious connection to the chapbook’s central theme of motherhood. Could you talk about why you decided to include this poem?

I included “Desert Parable” because the early childhood years are, for many if not most mothers, a time of scarcity — scarcity of physical and mental energy, personal time, personal space, adequate rest, etc. etc. etc. The first months and years with a baby, it can feel (it felt for me) like a very solitary and precarious time when I was making due with very little relational or physical input. It was a desert, but one in which I had to “do much with little” as the poem says. There’s a child to feed and grow. There’s creative work asking to be given attention. There’s the tiniest glimmer of life in a given day which needs to be nurtured and attended to. The desert plants that grow slowly, in dry spaces, storing up whatever little water they get in order to survive until the next rain — they were a good parable for me at that time of my life with very young children.

VR and MT: The poems in Latch, from what I can tell, are selected from your output during the last few years. Do you write poems with a finished collection in mind, or do you piece together poems you’ve written in the past when assembling a collection?

Latch was different than my first chapbook, Visitations, because I did write the individual poems with a finished collection in mind. I intentionally wrote many of the Latch poems while I was still nursing my second son because I wanted to live deeply into that bodily experience and simultaneously connect it to creative work. There are poems in Latch that I wrote while lying on the floor of my son’s nursery in the middle of a night feed, and there are also some that were written before he was conceived while I was on medication for infertility. I suspect going forward in my writing, I will usually write with a collection or theme in mind, though there is always the individual poem that pops up and asks to be written. Knowing how to navigate between those two impulses is something I’m still learning how to do.

VR and MT: Your poem “Taking the Baby to See Rothko at the National Gallery” seems to be extremely specific. Did you actually take your baby to the national gallery? What sparked the idea for writing a poem about it?

“Taking the Baby to See Rothko” is a good example of a poem I wrote intentionally with the broader project of Latch in mind. During the time I was generating poems for the book, I took my 9-month-old on a short trip to Washington DC during the annual AWP conference, toting him around in Ubers with his car seat and strolling him through the giant book fair on the open-to-the-public Saturday. The rest of our time there, I took him to a few of the Smithsonian museums, but we liked the National Gallery best. The Rothko poem came out of that time with him there, as did the ekphrastic poem “Interior of Oude Kerk, Amsterdam,” which caught my attention because of the prominence of a nursing mother in the painting. Looking at art with a baby in tow caused me to filter my viewing through his reactions, and also to look at the images for women who reflected myself back to me — women who were doing the essential but unglamorous work of feeding, clothing and caring for children.

VR and MT: In many of the poems in Latch, you allude to Mother Mary in expected situations such as a church, but also in unexpected places, such as the mall. Why is Mary such a big theme in your chapbook and what do you hope readers take away when they run into her in the more unexpected places?

Though I am not Catholic, growing up in the Evangelical church the figure of Mary provided a model — often the only female model — of how to be a vessel available for God’s purposes. For many years and through many poems, I’ve held as a touchstone the moment that Mary responds to the angel saying, “Let it be to me as you have said. It’s an essential moment in the life of a disciple, a woman, and an artist. Mary’s yes is a moment of opening, of allowing her very body to become a co-creator with God and a conduit for the coming of grace into the world. Mary shows up in my poems and in unusual places because I think it’s worth considering how her example of receptivity to the Holy Spirit might play out in lives all around us, every day. My hope is that her presence in the book helps illustrate the complexities of the messages we receive about what it means to say yes to God, or to something larger than ourselves that demands our attention and energy, whether it’s bearing a child or participating in a political protest.

VR and MT: In the beginning of your chapbook, you include a page with all the different definitions of the word “latch.” How did you come up with the idea to do this, and which definition do you believe represents the chapbook as a whole the most?

The most obvious meaning of the word Latch for this book is the meaning used in breastfeeding when the infant has successfully latched on to the mother. That very intimate and vital connection was a fruitful image to contemplate as a central metaphor for the book. There are a lot of other resonances, however, when you think about a latch as something that opens or closes or fastens. Having a child closes certain doors, and opens new ones. I also really liked the specific linguistic use of the term “latching” as a communicative act in which one speaker begins an utterance and another speaker continues it. That struck me as a lovely parenting metaphor as well. I think book or poem titles provide an opportunity to contemplate a word in all its possible dimensions, its richness, and how the same word can hold conflicting emotions in tension. Something that is “latched on” is secure, but it is also something that can’t be escaped.

VR and MT: What other subject matters or themes do you wish to tackle in your future poems?

I’ve noticed that many of my poems over the past year have been wrestling with some of the short-sighted or misguided theologies I grew up with inside 20th century American Evangelicalism. I have been unpacking the repercussions of some of these teachings (e.g. so-called “purity culture,” Christian attitudes toward environmental issues, etc.) both for my own life and for broader society. I believe that theology manifests in behavior, so sometimes we can trace negative or harmful outcomes to flawed theologies. Likewise, beautiful and right beliefs flower into beautiful realities. This sounds a little esoteric, but hopefully my poems can pin down more concretely the ways our ideas about God, nature, and human relationships bear fruit for good or for ill.

Jen Stewart Fueston lives in Longmont, Colorado. Her poems have recently appeared in The Christian Century, Mom Egg Review, and Harpur Palate. Her first chapbook, Visitations, was published in 2015, and her second chapbook Latch was just released by River Glass Books. She has taught writing at the University of Colorado, Boulder, as well as internationally in Hungary, Turkey, and Lithuania.

Find more at jenstewartfueston.com

Amy Wright

“My mission began with the desire to change my own mind, and when that worked, I immediately wanted to change others’ minds too.”

amy wright

Think I’ll Go Eat a Worm (Iris Books, 2019)

Savannah Chorn and Georganna Jeter: Your essays explore entomophagy, or eating insects, through different lenses – from childhood memories, anecdotes, spiritual connections to nature, factual benefits of adding insects to the human diet, and so on. Is there a lens that you particularly enjoy?

I love writing about my family and growing up on a farm. I’m fortunate to have fond childhood memories of being surrounded by cow pastures, shoestring branches, and the Blue Ridge Mountains. I love to bring onto the page my experiences bottle-feeding calves and fishing for crawdads with my brother to forge connections with readers and the natural world.

Is there a particular approach you find most effective in erasing the stigma that Western culture has placed on eating insects?

Coming to entomophagy with a lot of reluctance and trepidation makes my perspective relatable, according to audiences I’ve spoken with. Like many westerners, I never intentionally ate insects until I learned that crickets, grasshoppers, honeypot ants, and other edible insects could be cultivated as an ecologically sustainable protein. Even then, fear nearly prevented me from taking my first bite. But I knew that fear was learned and cultural rather than beneficial. If I could unlearn my fear, I think anyone can.

The joy you receive from the adventures of eating insects is quite apparent and compelling. What is your favorite insect to eat, based solely on taste?

Although the name sounds unappetizing, wax moth larvae are quite delicious. They feast on raw honey with the sole goal of fattening up for the metamorphosis to come, so their popcorn-shrimp-sized bodies are sweet and creamy as a soft cheese. My partner and I like to sauté them with a dollop of maple syrup and add them to wild greens.

Your essays are simultaneously academically inclined, filled with data and interesting definitions throughout, and at the same time beautifully and poetically written. They ground the unknown of the experience of eating insects in the known and the recognizable. For example, I especially enjoyed your description of eating a cricket: “It conjures a flake of rainbow trout or butter bean that melts like an ice sliver away from its skin, disappearing faster than a crystal on a sorbet spoon.” In what ways has your experience in writing poetry influenced your essays?

Thank you so much. Your compliments make me think of something my Dad would say after I left home for college, which is that “You can take a girl out of the country, but you can’t the country out of the girl.” Beneath my Dad’s assurance, though, trembles an urgency of that country to be described by those who left it, like me, for jobs in cities. I’m always seeking to return to that landscape, in my mind, and words have become a route quicker than the six-hour drive to my parents’ farm. I’m grateful you find poetry in the descriptions, since they’re rooted in images of the fish, birds, trees, mountains, and waterways I long to preserve, from necessity as well as adoration.

How has your family encouraged you in starting your own mini-farm of mealys? Do you feel a connection with the generations of farmers in your family because of it?

Growing up on a farm, I witnessed the crucial relationship between the land, its stewards, animals, and their caretakers. That inheritance of respect and responsibility directly inspired me to start a mealy farm and to provide my own food sources as had generations of farmers in my family, but my family was pretty shocked by my choice of livestock! Of course, I couldn’t raise apples, beeves, or chickens in my one-bedroom apartment. My farming choices were limited by circumstance, but bugs were pests to be outwitted when my great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents came of age, not delicacies to be sautéed with garlic and onions. I can only imagine what my grandmother would say if she knew that I am rearing insects she would have thrown out if they got into a bag of her flour.

But, just in the time since my mother was a girl to now, the world population has more than tripled. Agriculture changed significantly, too, including the incorporation of more mechanized equipment and nitrogen fertilizers. I see insect cultivation as one more means of making food production more efficient and increasingly environmentally sustainable. In theory, my family supports this initiative, but they are much slower to welcome insects as a food source, except for fish and chickens. But, that’s how every generation builds on the one before.

You seem to have become part of a community that celebrates and practices entomophagy. Dr. Marcel Dicke influenced your essays and insect endeavors. And your mutual interest in entomophagy created a new bond between you and your partner Don that is enjoyable to watch deepen throughout your chapbook. Does it help to have such a vibrant community to work and collaborate with? Do you have any comments on this community in general and its impact on your writing?

I’m glad you recognize the need for community. I try to illustrate for my students the importance of conversing in real-time as well as on the page with like and unlike minds. Particularly with a counter-culture movement, like eating insects in the West, it helps to have a support network, but all writers need allies, guides, and cohorts. That a romance was born with my partner Don, who is an entomologist, by my joining the edible-insect food revolution has made it all the more rewarding. Romance may even be inherent in the belief that any risk or attempt to triumph over fear will pay off.

In an interview with Daniel Cross Turner, you say: “To write with intimacy requires knowing and—importantly, discovering qualities about contexts and cultures that you may not want to know.” Would you say that this applies to Think I’ll Go Eat a Worm as well? In your essays you encounter many other cultures, such as your first encounter with silkworm pupae from Southeast Asia in “Beondegi, canned” you access Dutch culture through Dr. Marcel Dicke. Would you say that knowing these cultures where consuming insects is already a norm, or is becoming one, helps you write about entomophagy with intimacy?

Definitely. Intimacy requires curiosity or appreciation for another’s context and culture, but with Think I’ll Go Eat a Worm it was knowledge that I sought with a great deal of eagerness. I was encouraged to try insects after learning that many other cultures had been eating insects for thousands of years and in fact that eating insects was likely foundational for our early human ancestors. (It’s even been said that our appetites for crunchy foods were inspired by insects!)

I might also note that although intimate cultural experiences often come with travel, increasingly in a world where flights yield high carbon emissions, it’s important to recognize that we can commune with other cultures locally by sharing food and other rituals. For instance, in one of the essays in this collection, I imagine a dinner table as a kind of secular temple, where we gather to share peace and gratitude, and to gain a new perspective on our differences.

Your reference to Thoreau’s Walden near the end of “Mǣl” particularly caught my attention, as I’m a literature major. Just out of curiosity, who are some of the authors that have most influenced Think I’ll Go Eat a Worm or your writing as a whole? 

Broadly, contemporary writers like Dorothy Allison, Eric LeMay, Joni Tevis, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Dinty W. Moore influence my writing. But Thoreau was one revolutionary that I resonated with while writing this book. I also find his example problematic, since social change is necessarily collective rather than isolationist, but to stand alone can be a useful metaphor for beginning to upset any cultural paradigm.

Do you have a dream publication you’d like to have your poetry or essays appear in? What publications do you most closely follow?

I got to fulfill several dreams by getting an essay published in Georgia Review this summer and having another forthcoming in Fourth Genre this fall. These followed the dream of appearing in Kenyon Review with “Mēl,” the first essay in Think I’ll Go Eat a Worm. I read all of these publications regularly and listen to the Kenyon Review podcast. I’m glad you understand the need to regularly read the journals you hope to contribute to because it means everything to value and understand the community conversation you are entering.

Your website says that you are the author of “two poetry books, one collaboration, and six chapbooks.” What made you choose to address the subject matter of Think I’ll Go Eat a Worm in prose rather than verse? Which form do you usually gravitate to when beginning a new piece?

When I was in college and graduate school, poetry seemed the most flexible genre for exploring new territory, but lately, essays have become the more expansive form for my work. I continue to read and write in both genres, but the books that have excited me the most in the last several years have been by essayists. I’m thinking of the wild possibilities evidenced by Amy Fusselman’s Idiophone, T Clutch Fleischmann’s Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through, and Wendy S. Walters’ Multiply/Divide.

Think I’ll Go Eat a Worm is a truly effective force in convincing Americans of the benefits (and even beauty) of consuming insects; I started looking up where to buy cricket protein bars after reading just the first essay. How long after you started incorporating insects into your diet did you begin to see the potential for your writing? Was it initially more of an artistic impulse or did you begin with a mission to affect change?

Thank you. I hope so. I know I attended some early meetings with other proponents of the edible-insect movement to discuss USDA food regulations for insects, consumer biases, marketing strategies, etc., so I got to see that growth and initiative first-hand. But I’m not sure I can separate my social motives from my artistic ones, since they rose together in concert, organically. I know there was really no time lag between eating bugs and writing about it, since the first dish I made was cricket mushroom risotto on what Don and I would later think of as our first date—after I reached out to interview him. My mission began with the desire to change my own mind, and when that worked, I immediately wanted to change others’ minds too.

You quote David Hinton in your essay “THIHACOIAAGT” as saying “until [people] come to understand [the connection between one’s mind, body, and nature] as a continuum—they’re not going to care” (26). What does this continuum mean to you? Outside of what you’ve written in this chapbook, how would you explain this continuum to someone who doesn’t care yet?

That continuum always meets us in the present moment, in our bodies, where we live. For those who do not recognize the connection between our minds, bodies, and nature, I hope that those who do can call attention to it. In the classroom, I often see a student’s eyes brighten during discussion when another student gives an example of being in nature. It is as if we wake each other with reminders of something we all know but forget. If nothing else is democratic, the body is, for inherent in our bodies is a system of checks and balances that binds us to the natural world.

As for those who do not care, I would call on Dr. Marcel Dicke, who believes that “it is just a matter of time” before we care, as food scarcity and the repercussions of traditional agriculture become untenable.

Finally, do you have any new favorite insect-centric recipes you’ve discovered since publishing Think I’ll Go Eat a Worm? Where can curious readers access safe mealys/crickets to begin their culinary adventures?

I began by modifying favorite family recipes to include insects, and these dishes remain some of mine and Don’s favorites. The key to trying most new things is to pair something familiar with the unfamiliar—whether it be sushi or chocolate-covered ants. I’m glad many restaurants and grocery stores in the U.S. have begun to make more edible-insect products available. I’ve been thrilled by the speed of the industry rising to meet consumer demands. There are now dozens of convenient, easy products for curious folks to try, such as Exo Bars, Chirps Chips, Chapul protein powder, Cricket Pasta from Bugsolutely. I would recommend that anyone interested in sampling insects start by ordering some of these products online if they are not available at a store near you.

But it’s important to know that not all insects are edible, and even those that are can prove problematic for folks who are allergic to shellfish–since insects are closely related species. But insects also provide a welcome alternative to common allergens like milk, soy, nuts, and gluten, so folks with those allergies can find their options expanding. We’re at the beginning of the cultivation of insects as a food source, and with almost one thousand edible species to choose from, there are some very exciting culinary prospects.

*

Amy Wright is the author of two poetry books, one poetry collaboration, and six chapbooks, including the nonfiction collection, Think I’ll Go Eat a Worm. Most recently, her essays won first place in two contests, sponsored by London Magazine and Quarterly West. Her essays and poetry appear in Brevity, Fourth Genre, Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. She is also is the Nonfiction Editor of Zone 3 journal and Zone 3 Press.

http://www.awrightawright.com

Sarah Carey

“I was genuinely unprepared for the memories that this storm brought up. It was almost like a fissure formed in my subconscious, freeing up memories I didn’t know I had, or had buried.”

carey

Accommodations (Concrete Wolf, 2019)

Alana Pearce and Matthew Aprea: “An Ordinary Life” compares your ancestors’ endurance to roots standing firm in soil during storms. Did you choose “An Ordinary Life” as the first poem to suggest that, during hardships, your ancestors give you hope?

I always felt strongly about this poem, and I wanted it to open the book, perhaps because it felt like a kind of identity statement — a stake I could plant, a lens through which readers of the overall work could perceive the poems that lay ahead.

Although all of the poems in this book underwent substantial revision at some point, “An Ordinary Life” went through more iterations than any other. When Atticus Review accepted it, the book manuscript was in the final editing stages. I offered AR the most recently revised book version, but they said, no thanks, we prefer the other one. Which was fine, but no one but me and a few people who worked with me on it knows how I pulled my hair out over that poem trying to get it right. I’m sure I could still find things to change in it, but your read is pretty accurate.

I also aimed to convey a sense of connectedness, not just with my ancestors, also with my environment. And it’s a bit of a privilege poem too, right? As I kept working on the poem, it felt like it took that tone: “here I am; I’ve wanted for nothing, I’ve never been forced to leave my home to find food, or sustenance… this is my ordinary life…etc.” But I went with that, because I wanted to convey that an “ordinary” life can be extraordinary — and I don’t just mean my life, I mean anyone’s life — because security, however we define it, as lifestyle, domestic abode, whatever, can be so fragile. And I think ultimately one has to make meaning out of whatever one comes from.

Ancestral stories do anchor me personally in hard times, and to the extent I can listen better to those stories, as well as to the environment that feeds me, the stronger and more hopeful I become about the world in general, and my place in it. Maybe it’s also a poem that asserts the speaker’s desire to feel her life makes a difference.

Why did you choose the title Accommodations? Is it a metaphor for your family?

I liked the different meanings of the word “Accommodations”, how it encompasses the concept of places we live in long-term or fleetingly — physically and emotionally — as well as the idea of compromise or adjustment. The book deals a lot with relationships, with family and marital dynamics unfolding in a variety of physical spaces, so I felt it was just the right title.

In an interview with Split Rock Reviewyou discuss ordering the poems for your chapbook The Heart Contracts: “I didn’t really think of my first chapbook, The Heart Contracts, as having an arc. I did have some editorial help… but most of the decisions of what to put where were based on some sense of what felt right and organic to me.” Did you use your instincts for Accommodations? Could you explain your process for ordering its poems?

It’s a bit complicated, in that Accommodations was originally going to be a full-length book, and a professional editor I was working with had given me her view as to how the poems should be ordered in what was at the time about a 45-page manuscript. Despite my intention of not entering any more chapbook competitions while I focused on the full-length, I went ahead and entered the Concrete Wolf chapbook competition, because I’d been a finalist the previous year, and I kind of went, what the heck. I extrapolated from the order I’d come up with for the full-length to cut it down to chapbook length, but I felt the movement and story highlights were the same, just condensed.

The manuscript I submitted to Concrete contained 24 poems I felt were among the most finished, and I just felt that taken together, they told a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, and that the poems themselves were interwoven enough in terms of theme for me to be comfortable with the book as a whole.

Is Accommodations an autobiography of a chapter of your life? How does writing influence your healing process?

I think it’s fair to say that this work does largely center on certain key life events that took place over a fairly intense period of time, about three to four years. My father’s worsening health and subsequent death, along with my father-in-law’s death and the family dynamics that surrounded my husband and me as we worked through these major losses, was a big focus during that period. So was the surreal way that the rest of life continues to go on; I’d never had that awareness in quite this way before.

I found that I was writing more consistently and often than is my norm, and the reason had to do with being mindful that this was an unprecedented period in my life. I felt a strong need to capture the specific events, ruminations, inner conflicts and so forth, that emerged as I was navigating through all that was happening. I absolutely believe that the writing of poetry can be a healing thing, and for me, it often is. But writing poetry can also force you to wrestle with the things that arise from your subconscious, which might or not be things you can ever really heal from. For me, poetry provides a way to better understand myself and others, whether it’s through the writing process, which requires a lot of patience and reflection, or through the reading of other writers who inspire or motivate me.

Your choice of words is just outstanding. The diction in these poems gives them life, and fantastic imagery, and rich detail about what is going on. “Personal Effects” and “Personal Cure for Consumption” are great to read. The words in those poems are powerful. How do you come up with the words for poems like these?

Gosh, this is such a terrific compliment. Thank you so much! Very seldom does anyone comment specifically about aspects of my poems that they enjoy, so when anyone does, I’m amazed and totally humbled. And grateful.

To answer your question…I write my initial drafts in my own pretty basic words, just getting something going and out there, then work toward heightening the vocabulary, as well as other aspects such as metaphor, music, etc., in subsequent drafts. “Personal Cure for Consumption” was in a stuck phase for a long time, until the editor of South Florida Poetry Journal, Lenny DellaRoca, emailed previous contributors with a writing prompt, saying he would publish those he liked that made use of the prompt and arrived in his inbox within a very tight time frame. The prompt was “the woman with medicine in her voice,” and as you could see, I managed to take that and place my mother in the poem in a different way.

 In your interview with Frontier Poetry, you stated, “I have to have balance in my life, and enough rest, or nothing flows the way it’s supposed to.” How long does it usually take to write one poem? Also, what is your writing schedule? Do you have days when you just write randomly?

My process varies, but what’s consistent is that overall I try to keep writing and poetry in my life in some way, all the time. Right now, I’m going on about six weeks where I haven’t written anything new or seriously revised anything; that’s a long time for me, but I’ve been traveling, busy at work, or otherwise distracted with life things. It’s always a bit disconcerting when I go through a period like this, but when I can’t write, I try to submit, or to focus on reading work by other poets.

I always believe the poems will come back, and they always do. I also recognize that while sometimes it’s hard for me to relax, the truth is that I’m a happier person if I can just let go of the need to produce something, even for just a day or two, and live more in the moment with my family. When I can do that, and get proper rest, I see things more clearly and my writing reflects that, I think.

I went years without seriously writing and sending out my poems, and still managed to get my first chapbook published, after maybe 12 years of sending it out. I was 58! At the same time, I started really re-focusing my writing efforts after that book came out, and the results I’ve seen in terms of publications definitely reflect a more disciplined practice and recommitment to the process.

“Seasonal Affective” comments on the fading Christmas season and your father’s worsening health: “Weren’t we past this, we ask? Always no, we say, and the chill extends to our bones.” How does writing help you process fear and trauma?

There’s no doubt that, in cases where I’m writing about situations or events that involve fear, anxiety or trauma, writing is for me a way to recreate those situations or events through language as a way to better come to terms with them. I happen to be one who avoids confrontation and conflict in real life as much as possible, but of course I carry emotional stuff around with me all the time.

With respect to specific subjects that involve difficulty or conflict, poetry allows me to unpack and articulate the issues I struggle with. At the same time, by taking a situation from my head to the page, I’m able to lessen some of the personal pain of the emotions involved by detaching from them through the attempt of making art.

When I begin viewing the emotions at stake in a poem through the lens of poetics, i.e. music, metaphor, broader literary context, etc. — things I think of when working on a poem — I’m often surprised at the reprieve I feel. Poetry also gives me the ability to create a new take on old emotions, and to create new endings instead of predictable ones.

In “Personal Cure for Consumption,” you process the death of your great-uncle, Marshall Parsons: “Take this history morning, bedtime, or as needed, with a grain of salt. You are more than DNA.” How does your poetry reflect on your family’s influence?

Thank you for this question. In this poem, I combine stories my mother told me about her late uncle, my great-uncle, with historical archives I was able to locate online. I added to that some echoes of my personal history with alcohol and depression, which is not something I really talk about much. When I say echoes, I mean there are parts of this poem that are not literally true, but felt true enough, to work with. I interwove some different truths in this poem, for the sake of the poem.

This poem tries to draw out the ways in which the stories we’re told or otherwise learn about our ancestors, can mirror our own, yet can also be a “smoke and mirrors” phenomenon: memories and stories change, depending on who’s recounting their specific truth. My truth may not be my mother’s truth; the truth about causes of death and depression varies depending on who you talk to. What really did happen to my great uncle Marshall? Did he really drink himself to death, as I always kind of surmised? Did he sleepwalk himself over a hotel ledge, as his death certificate says, or was his tragic death in his mid-30s a function of his alcoholism or even PTSD? We’ll never know.

My mom would say, “people didn’t talk about these things back then.” After my book came out, and my mother read it, I could tell she was distressed about how I interpreted some events and people who were part of her life and mine by extension. With this particular poem, she kind of walked back some of her previous comments, reiterating the unknowns about Marshall’s death and said again, “people didn’t speak of those things”, meaning mental illness and alcoholism. Specifically, her own mother wouldn’t talk about Marshall’s death, except very vaguely. Marshall died before my mom was born, so she never knew her only maternal uncle, other than anecdotally. But I’ve always been intrigued by his story, and this poem is my effort to re-imagine and acknowledge him, and what I still believe is a tragic story of a life lost too soon, and family secrets.

The poem “We Gather in Florida to Celebrate My Father’s Life” ends with beautiful imagery: “Flowers from each state he lived in flank the pulpit, bloom today in all of them, in all of you: dogwood, peony, forget-me-not.” I noticed that at the conclusion of poems that describe grief, loss, and Hurricane Irma, you end with hope or a symbol of a celebration of life, like the flowers, or like the handkerchief that is passed down in your family. Why is it important for you to end poems hopefully?

While I’m not necessarily of the fatalistic view that things happen for a reason, I do think that to continue on in the face of loss, we must find elements of memory or affirmation that we can treasure and hold close, in order to be able to continue doing whatever good we may be capable of, in a world filled increasingly with humanitarian, environmental, and existential challenges, not to mention challenges associated with aging. If we don’t find some things to be hopeful about or thankful for — for ourselves and those we’re accountable to, or are in relationship with, who depend on us —we run the risk of being consumed by negativity and overwhelming sadness.

 In Accommodations, plants play an important role. For instance, in “Changed Landscape,” magnolias have been “Programmed… to bloom in the cold,” adding beauty to a season of hardship. In “Royal Palms Defend Their Place in the Condo Universe,” palm trees argue their right to exist in Florida amidst housing developments: “We impede some views, it’s true, but the association knew, or should have known, our nature when we went to ground.” The palm trees fiercely desire to stay in Florida where they have existed for decades. Do you often use plants as symbols in your poetry?

I’m so pleased you noticed this and asked about it. I have definitely become more aware of the environment in relation to situations I am writing about, and have made a conscious effort to be more observant about nature in general, particularly in recent years. Probably because of that, I find that the plants and trees that have surrounded me all my life in the South pop up more and more frequently in my poems. They seem to represent a sort of shadow presence, weighing in on my witness and experience.

“Royal Palms” is a persona poem that came about as part of an exercise in the Southeast Review Regimens program I participated in a couple of years ago. There was a different writing prompt every day in that program, and I happened to be at the beach on the day that prompt appeared. So, I kind of let loose, and chose the tree that was right in front of me to serve as the vehicle for an almost stream-of-consciousness conversation between the palm trees and the condo association’s regulatory universe. I haven’t written many persona poems, but I loved experimenting with that form, and found that doing so allowed me to be creative in fresh ways.

“Changed Landscape” started with me dissecting a photograph of my father in a courtyard on the Agnes Scott Campus, a beautiful setting with lots of gorgeous magnolia trees, in Decatur, Georgia. Everything in that photo seemed frozen in time, and there was that odd contrast between the cold weather and the blooming magnolia, which seemed to me to be an interesting detail to include in the poem, as it’s true of life in general that we live in a world of paradoxes, and a memory such as a photograph captures can bring that truth into sharper relief. In this poem, I’m in my air-conditioned office, in another place and time from when the photo was taken, reflecting on my father who no longer exists except in memory. Yet the memory itself is a kind of bloom.

Interspersed in Accommodations are poems about domestic chores like “Questions for the Plumber During Remodeling” and poems about mourning your father and the hurricane. Did grief make everyday challenges, like remodeling a house, more difficult?

One of the things I learned in navigating the loss of my father and the loss of my father-in-law within six months of each other was that for the rest of the world, as for me and my family—even in a time of such upheaval, life goes on. That seems so obvious, and yet all of a sudden, things like keeping mundane appointments, like preparing for a hurricane, like making decisions on new cabinetry and appliances, on a deadline someone else had set but we had bought into, were suddenly more difficult and consuming than I could have imagined.

I included the remodeling poems, which were also, of course, poems about my marriage at that point in time, as well as with my home in its “before and after” iterations — my physical accommodations — to provide a more multi-dimensional perspective on how grief can affect every aspect of life in ways we can’t anticipate.

 In “Before Landfall” there is an interesting juxtaposition between Hurricane Irma and grief: “I watched him track my tears, a salt river, smelling of seaweed and grief. His good eye would have seen me through just one more storm.” Could you discuss the contrast of the incoming eye of Hurricane Irma with memories of your father?

When Hurricane Irma began bearing down on Florida in September 2017, it was predicted to be devastating to pretty much all parts of the state. There was bad flooding not far from us, but we were mostly fine in Gainesville. I wanted to capture what that event was like, before, during and after the storm, and the more I read about Irma’s characteristics, the more I thought about my father’s physical condition as it had deteriorated toward the end of his life. He had died only six months before, so a lot of the details surrounding his health were still fresh in my mind.

My dad was blind in his right eye, and at some point, I thought about how his good eye tracked my movements whenever I was with him. His eye and the fluid nature of life, and his specific life, became sort of metaphors how I was experiencing the storm.

The poem “The Block House at Mexico Beach” recalled your step-father as the “family evacuee.” It states how your family reminisced about him during hurricane season: “We relived his stay-or-leave dilemmas and their hold on us, when we found the house shuttering his everlasting secrets.” Could you discuss how seasons and weather awaken memories?

This poem was written in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, which devastated much of North Florida, including the town of Mexico Beach, where my step-father, whose name was also John, like my dad’s, had fixed up an old duplex he and my mom owned for about 20 years.

Although she sold the place when he died in 2011, it still held memories. After the storm, I was obsessed with finding out if the house still stood, and managed to verify that it did — although like everyplace else, there’d been flooding, and “still standing,” wasn’t a complete picture. The place looked very different from the last time I saw it, which was right after John died; my husband, sisters and I drove from Tallahassee to clean and sort through his things, so my mother wouldn’t have to.

I was genuinely unprepared for the memories that this storm brought up. It was almost like a fissure formed in my subconscious, freeing up memories I didn’t know I had, or had buried. My step-dad’s story was complex, and a bit messy. He dealt all his life with issues of abandonment and alcoholism, and harbored a lot of guilt having to do with his first family, which he basically left for my mother. Those years were long ago, and there was some healing, but this hurricane stirred up a lot of past hurts and family dramas. As I wrote this poem, I found myself reliving John’s story, as well as, by extension, my own story, and my relationship to those affected places: the house he built and the town he claimed as his own. And here’s the hopeful piece: the house survived, and I did, too.

What were some of the most important writing lessons you learned as a college student? How did they shape your writing style?

I’ll never forget my major professor, Van Brock, telling me at the end of my master’s program, that I needed to “revise, revise, revise.” He was actually quite frustrated with me at the time, and made me completely redo my thesis, which he felt I just hadn’t thought through carefully enough. After crying my eyes out, I did that, passed my program, got my degree and kept writing poems in the years that followed. But the longer I write, the longer it takes me to finish a poem, I’ll work on a poem for months, even years, typically, although there’s the occasional poem that seems to sort of write itself in a shorter period.

In general, I think much more clearly when I can slow my thought process down, and allow transformations within and outside of the poem — meaning within me as the writer/speaker — to take place as the poem evolves toward completion.

Another thing I’ve recommended to quite a few people is to read the Poets & Writers Classifieds for tips on where to submit. My former professor, David Kirby recommended this during my graduate program, and I found it very valuable advice. In fact, my first poem was published in the Florida Review, which I sent work to after reading that they were seeking submissions. I have also used P & W a few times to seek out editorial help.

As a student, I had the opportunity to briefly serve as one of several poetry readers for the Florida State University literary publication, then called Sundog. This was well before the advent of electronic submissions, so we were passing a lot of paper around. This experience gave me an appreciation of what literary editors go through in making decisions about what to publish, as well as to better appreciate the work literary journal editors put into making a journal successful.

“Paris Voices” examines the threat of terrorism in Paris. It stands out in Accommodations, which has poems mainly about loss in your family. Why did you include this poem in the chapbook?

That’s a great question, and one I’m not sure I know the answer to. It was a bit of an outlier, for sure. You’re correct, in that it was written after the Paris attacks and doesn’t neatly fit the other subjects in the book. The short answer would be that I liked the work, but questioned whether to include it until a reader/editor I trusted to give me very honest feedback, did not say “cut it.” So, I figured it must belong, and left it in.

A lot goes on in that poem; there’s the awareness of a terrorist attack, and the way the news amplifies this, such that we internalize a sense of fear and dread while we go about our normal routines; there’s also the juxtaposition of safety/security/normalcy with vulnerability and a sense of impending doom. These aren’t just emotions I’m talking about here, but rather states-of-being. Those avenues where tragedy occurs might as well be in our own neighborhoods, because they make us question what our reality is, and how to process what’s going on within us, with what’s going on outside of us, and outside of our control.

I could say “Paris Voices” relates to the other work in Accommodations because this poem extends the concept of occupancy, in the sense of places where we reside, spaces we inhabit in our immediate environment, to a broader, more global set of circumstances. We’re not just navigating the loss of a parent in this poem; we’re contemplating the loss of one’s own life and examining the surreal way in which we keep on living in the midst of tragedy, reenacting our routines, imagining they are the same as they always were, but knowing they are not.

“At Rhine Falls” brings Accommodations full circle with its theme of finding strength in family: “An origin, tectonic shifts, cracked bedrock, a flow of water an earthquake changed.” The poem suggests that breaking tectonic plates can form a waterfall, that beauty can come from destruction. Did you end with “At Rhine Falls” because it links to the first poem?

I always knew I wanted to end with this poem, but not because it linked to the first one — although they do bookend nicely, I think. The book opens with An Ordinary Life establishing who I am in relation to my environment and my ancestors, anchored by my home and original family, and ends with me far away from home in Switzerland, with my second family — my husband, his son and my step-grandson – at Rhine Falls, a devastatingly beautiful place with a fascinating history.

Experiencing this gorgeous and dramatic spot, which has lured artists, royalty and countless people for many years, with my step-grandson, my step-son, his wife and my husband, was a special memory. Placing “At Rhine Falls” as the last poem of the book was a way to end with a reminder of the cycle of life; it was a way to bring family, in its many dimensions, along with the book itself, full circle.

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Sarah Carey was the winner of the 2018 Concrete Wolf Chapbook Award for her book, Accommodations. She is also the author of another poetry chapbook, The Heart Contracts, (2016, Finishing Line Press). A graduate of the Florida State University creative writing program, Sarah’s work has appeared in numerous literary journals, including Frontier Poetry, Grist, Carolina Quarterly, Potomac Review, Barrow Street, Atticus Review and elsewhere. She lives in Gainesville, Florida, where she works as a communications specialist. Visit her at SarahKCarey.com or on Twitter @SayCarey1.

https://sarahkcarey.com/

 

Melissa Reeser Poulin

“I feel like I’m in a phase of creative darkness. Not darkness as in sadness or depression, but darkness like the wisdom of a new moon.”

AIQ picture

 Rupture, Light (Finishing Line Press, 2019) 

Gray Bennett and Danielle Petty: You blend your life as a writer with your life as a mother. What surprised you about this lifestyle, and why? Do you think that the commitments are mutually beneficial, and in what way? 

I do think that parenting and writing are mutually beneficial—and sometimes antagonistic, too. For me, being a mom requires a level of presence that is similar to writing poetry. Kids are really good at being in the present, and they also have many needs. They’re so vulnerable to us and dependent on us, as parents, for just about everything, from their sense of worth and value to their morning cereal and bedtime stories. Every day my kids ask me to step more fully into the present moment, and it’s in those moments—whether I’m parenting or doing anything else—where poetry has most often found me. I don’t always accept the invitation, of course, because I’m human and some days I want to hide from responsibility. Mothering is also an incredibly vulnerable experience. I didn’t know my heart had such a capacity to love until I had my children, and with that love I have felt a corresponding level of fear. I would do anything for my children, and if I lost them it’s hard to imagine how I would survive. The weight of that love can be crushing, so it has been and continues to be a lesson in loving unconditionally and letting go, moment by moment. It has made me more permeable to others’ emotions, and to the significance of our choices as human beings. I am much more socially, politically, and ecologically aware than I was before I became a mother, and more able to see these spheres as deeply interwoven and inextricable from our individual and collective health. All of the ways in which motherhood has expanded me as a person have naturally expanded my capacities as a writer.

And then of course, there’s a big part of motherhood that challenges writing: having the time and energy to write. Mothers especially face a great deal of pressure. There’s this unreasonable burden to respond as individuals to issues that are historical, systemic and oppressive, and that I believe we can only impact and change as  a community. Mothers are disproportionately expected to balance the bulk of caregiving, household, and emotional labor in their homes. This labor is uncompensated and mostly unacknowledged, though I do see signs of things starting to shift. There’s the problem of economics in the U.S., where childcare often costs more than what many women are able to bring home, given continued inequality in earning power between men and women dollar for dollar. So for many women in two-parent homes, myself included, we can’t “afford” to work when our children are small, and that can take a toll on emotional health and creative energy. When I think of the single mothers who manage to work, provide for their children, AND produce creative work, I am just in awe.

So this is all very real and present when I think about how writing has changed as I’ve become a mom. I try to practice lowering my expectations during these years before my kids are school-age, and looking at all of the factors that are impacting the time and energy I have available for writing. I think mothers who write can sometimes feel they are personally to blame, that they have failed in some way, when they struggle to write while raising very young children. I do what I can with what I have, and I trust that the poems will be there when I sit down to write, whether that’s 20 minutes tomorrow or a longer period of time, more frequently, further on down the road when my kids are older. I’ve heard from other writers who are mothers with older children that there will be a season when the writing life once again resembles the way it was before children. I’m trying to embrace what is, for now.

DP: You must have a very busy life. How do you balance writing, motherhood, and all the other things you do? What would you suggest for writers who struggle to balance writing with the rest of their lives?  

I’ve come to see balance as dynamic, in constant movement and flux. When I catch myself thinking or acting as if balance is a fixed point to achieve, some imaginary perfection, then I feel stressed and pulled out of the present moment. It seems so obvious, but it has taken me a long time to understand that it’s not possible to do everything I want to do, at the same time, all the time—and I no longer think of that as something desirable. Maybe it’s our consumer culture that pushes us to think we need to “maximize” our time and that whatever we do should be “productive.”

What does that all mean in more realistic terms? Right now I am beginning a three-year program in community acupuncture. So there is a lot changing in my family as we figure out how to take care of ourselves so I can get licensed and go to work when my kids are in school. “Balance” means letting the scale zoom out and in, if that makes sense. Looking at time in terms of minutes on some days, and in terms of years on other days. It means I can go weeks or months without sitting down to write. It means I sometimes feel disappointed in the level of attention I’m able to bring to my studies. It means our kitchen floor hasn’t had more than a hasty spot-clean in at least two months. It means my four-year-old sometimes watches back-to-back episodes of Daniel Tiger or ABC Monsters so my 2-year-old can have a nap and I can bang out an article for the parenting magazine I write for, so that I can earn money for acupuncture school tuition. Whew. I’m learning to live life messy, to “do it anyway,” in spite of the ideals I might have in my head for any of these spheres. I can enjoy slices of each ideal in turn—making a leaf bouquet with my kids in the fall, being able to immediately respond to a line of poetry popping into my head and draft a poem, having two hours of uninterrupted quiet at a clean desk to study channels and point locations—but I will never live a life of perfectly interlocking ideals. And what kind of human would I be if I could? Would I be able to relate and connect to other humans in the same way? None of us are perfect. My advice to other writers seeking balance is to seek imperfection instead. At the indie bookstore where I worked during college, one of the owners had this little cartoon taped to her computer. It featured a woman trying to knit, and holding up a sweater with three sleeves. The caption read, “An imperfect something is better than a perfect nothing.” That pretty much sums up where I’m at with balance these days.

DP: In a recent interview with Renee Long, you discussed your writing community. You suggest to new writers, “Find your community of writers. Find other writers who are writing the kind of stuff that you want to write and talk to them and learn from them and share with them what you’re writing.” In what ways did this help you when you started writing? Also, have you found any negatives to having a writing community?

Renee is a wonderful friend and a truly gifted teacher. She’s a great resource for new and experienced writers. I learn a lot just by reading her blog and watching her artist interviews. I’m fortunate to have met Renee here in Portland when I was just starting to put together a writing group. My oldest child was a year old, and I was ready to start returning to writing. The experience of carrying a child, giving birth, and figuring out how to parent was such a huge transition for me, in part because there was also miscarriage and the trauma of a car accident all in the same time span. I needed companions as I tried to learn how to write again. It really felt like starting over, for me, in many ways. I am still in awe of the way this group of women came together, and how our personalities and writing styles have complemented one other. I think that’s a rare thing, and it has been a gift. I’ve tried at other times in my life to join or start writing groups, but never really felt at home in quite this way. I can’t think of any negatives to having a writing community that is rooted in love, mutual respect, and a genuine desire to see each other grow and succeed.

It takes time to grow that community. These were women I knew from having published in magazines, from teaching English to speakers of other languages, from teaching creative writing at a high school summer camp, and from my MFA program. All of us can probably relate to that feeling when you meet someone and instantly feel like you’ve known them for a long time, people you can just launch into an easy conversation with. That’s what I mean when I say find your community of writers. It might or might not immediately be a cohesive group. It might be a friendship here, a work relationship there, but when you find someone you connect with through writing, trust that and nurture the friendship.

GB: How have you grown as a writer since the publication of Rupture, Light? What kind of work can your readers expect from you in the future?

This chapbook contains poems from as far back as 2011. I wanted to publish them, in part, because I felt like I wouldn’t be able to write new poems until I had done so. When I began writing again after my daughter was born, in 2015, I only wanted to write essays, and that’s mostly what I’ve written and published in the past few years. Rupture, Light was accepted for publication right after my son was born, in January 2018, and released in January 2019. I started writing a new series of poems on January 7 that year, on my birthday. It was a flood of poems that just started pouring out. I worked on it for about five months and then it stopped just as abruptly. It seems to be a series. I am still working with it, trying to just let the poems come and put them away again when they’re not flowing easily. I don’t feel attached to an outcome or even a need to publish them. 

The thing that seems to be growing in me right now is this question of, What do I really want to do with my writing? When do I feel most alive with poetry and sharing poetry? Where does publication come in, if at all? I don’t have a lot of answers yet, but I do know that I feel like I’m in a phase of creative darkness. Not darkness as in sadness or depression, but darkness like the wisdom of a new moon. Just trying to be in a receptive, hidden place where poems can come to me. I will say that these poems feel much more fragmented, associative, breath-oriented, and yet still narrative. They have a particular voice. I’m excited about them but it would also be okay if they end up just being for me, not something for publication.

Readers can expect to find more mischief and fun from me. I hope so, anyway! I’m looking for ways to share writing more freely, and to be in connection with other writers. I’m no longer on social media. I write a blog post every few months and send out an occasional newsletter, and that’s where I’d like to find some kind of writing exchange. I’ve started to leave my chapbook in little free libraries around town, and I want to find more surprising, joy-filled ways of sharing my poems with people. What good is a book if it just sits in a box in my closet? I feel like I need to add that I am privileged here in some ways, in that I have never depended on my creative work for a living. I’ve worked a lot of different jobs over the years. It’s different if you have managed to build an audience for your writing, and you rely on your work to live. I have great respect for that. It hasn’t been possible for me, and I feel like my writing shuts down when I place that expectation on it. So all of the goals and questions I mention here come from this perspective.

GB: In your blog post “First Book, First Reading,” you mention the task of finalizing cover art for Rupture, Light. What made you choose the earthy, abstract imagery for the cover?

What an amazing gift, to get to choose the cover art for my first book. Not every press does this and I am grateful for the way Finishing Line leaves so much creative authority in the hands of the writers they publish. I had a completely different concept for the cover at first, and my sister, who is a talented visual artist, actually drew up quite a few sketches for me, which was very generous of her. Ultimately, though, what I thought I wanted didn’t seem right after all. The painting “Glow Through the Trees” was painted by my friend Yared Nigussu, a Vancouver, BC-based artist I met in 2007, when I was living in St. Malo, France. I was past deadline for the cover art, and one day I was browsing through Yared’s portfolio and was captivated by the painting. He was gracious enough to grant permission to use the image on the book cover. I feel like it expresses this sense of light breaking through darkness, that ended up being at the core of Rupture, Light. The painting makes me feel like I am alone in a dense, dark forest, and yet there is a hint of light in the distance, at the edges. For me, that has been part of my experience as a person of faith moving through periods of loss and grief. How can faith be expressed even when God feels absent? How is the light of faith present in our darkest moments, even wrapped up in anguished questions like Why? or Where are you?

GB: How did you decide on the order of the poems in your book?  For other poets working on a poetry collection, what advice would you give them about the process of ordering?

My dear friends Caitlin and Jill, both poets, helped me order the poems. For me, this was essential and really eye-opening. I struggled to bring the poems together in a cohesive way, and I wonder if it’s even possible to do that, for a collection that wasn’t conceived as a whole. I understand that there are poets who work on that scale, for whom order is a part of the drafting process from the start. And maybe that will be the case for the series I am working on now. Because Rupture, Light collects poems from as far back as 2011, there were disjointed moments that I couldn’t quite “fit” into the order I originally constructed.

My friends pointed out poems that seemed weaker or that didn’t fit, and helped me find the narrative through-line in my strongest poems. I had initially assembled them virtually chronologically, because that was the way I saw my own story developing. They helped me see a different chronology, having to do with learning to persist in a place of unknowing. When I think about it, I see that’s true of the way poetry instructs me. Poems have come along at different times in my life to teach me the same handful of lessons. So my advice would be, once again, community—connection, respect, listening to different perspectives. Community is everything.

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Melissa Reeser Poulin’s poetry and essays explore creativity, faith, justice, parenting, and sustainability. Her work appears in basalt, Catamaran Literary Reader, Coffee + Crumbs, Entropy Magazine, Hip Mama, Relief Journal, Ruminate, The Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art, Water~Stone Review, and Writers Resist, among other publications. She is the author of the chapbook Rupture, Light and co-editor of Winged: New Writing on Bees. She is currently a student at POCA Tech, learning the art of acupuncture to be part of the movement to provide affordable and accessible acupuncture for all.

melissareeserpoulin.com