Shayla Lawson

“Whatever you are meant to write will find you.”shayla

PANTONE (MIEL Books, 2016)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?

Who are the Tribes by Terrance Hayes, The Only Dark Spot in the Sky by Rita Dove and Lace & Pyrite by Ross Gay and Aimee Nezhukumatathil.

What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

I think I was definitely influenced by the combination of text in image in Hayes’ work, as well as the epistle format of Lace & Pyrite, but the references only show up as subtle nods in my work.

What’s your chapbook about?

What would happen if colors could speak to you.

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 piece in the chapbook is the collection’s first poem: PANTONE 427 U.  I looked up at the sky one day in Indiana.  I noticed this gray with a little bit of yellow looming on its edges. I felt both heightened and eased by the danger present in the color.  I wrote the poems first line: Sometimes, I hope something terrible happens to me…

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

The title was a big part of the nature of the project. No two people perceive color the same way.  PANTONE is about taking the subjective experience of seeing and processing it through the universal ordering system inherent in the Pantone™ system for organizing color. The poems in PANTONE are arranged so as to weave between the stories collected within these poems to arrive at a sense of how a life in color feels.

To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

The incredible thing about having MIEL Books as a publishing house is that Éireann Lorsung is both a shrew editor and designer.  Lorsung understood how three-dimensional tactility played a factor in the sensory experience of the poems. We both agreed that we wanted the feel of the chapbook to be reminiscent of shuffling through a stack of Pantone™ color swatches.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on two collections right now. I Think I’m Ready to See Frank Ocean, a collection of poems based on the music of songwriter Frank Ocean, which will be published by Saturnalia Books in 2018, and Ti Ador(n)o, a collection of largely graphic memoir poems based in Venice, Italy, that will premiere at Poetry Press Week in Portland this June.

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

Try everything else. Whatever you are meant to write will find you.

What music do you listen to as you work and write?

Frank Ocean

What was the last book you read that made you stop reading, just for a moment even, because you didn’t want it to be over?

The Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson

If you wrote about one year from your life as a chapbook subject, which year would you pick? Why?

2006. I lost my voice to an unusual medical condition. Poetry was all I had.

Without stopping to think, who are ten poets whose work you would tattoo on your body, or at least your clothing, to take with you at all times?

Richard Siken, Ilya Kaminsky, Carl Sandburg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Warsan Shire, May Swenson, Ai, Audre Lorde, James Baker Hall, Shayla Lawson (because I actually do make t-shirts out of my own poetry phrases).

If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?

I spend a lot of time taking dance breaks when I compose my poetry, often sing when I perform, and compose poems beside paintings.  I don’t think they’re separate paths.  We just choose to walk them differently.

Who do you most hope will read your chapbook (either an individual or a particular group of people)?

I want this chapbook to find people who would normally not be interested in poetry. I’ve collaborated with my editors and other artists to fill PANTONE with component parts: a playlist and a fragrance. I feel this chapbook is a lot like me going out into the world hoping that someone will buy me a drink just because I’m pretty. Come for the cute, stay for the heavily engaged discourse on social discourse and the phenomenology of perception.

What do you wish you had been told as a writer? What wisdom have you arrived at?

Don’t worry.  You will find a place to write.

Don’t worry.  You will find a place to write.


Shayla Lawson is a recreational acrobat, former architect, & poet.   Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Witness, Hobart, The Offing, Guernica, Colorado Review, Barrelhouse and various other journals.  She is the former Nonfiction Editor of Indiana Review, the inaugural winner of Sou’Wester’s Robbins Award in Poetry, a member of the Affrilachian Poets, & author of three poetry collections: A Speed Education in Human Being (Sawyer House Press, 2013), the chapbook PANTONE (MIEL Books, 2016), & the forthcoming I Think I’m Ready to See Frank Ocean (Saturnalia Books, 2018).  Author photo by Erica J. Mitchell.




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