“I chose the title poem… as a metaphor for our experience of not belonging.”
Gas & Food, No Lodging (Finishing Line Press, 2017)
Could you tell us a bit about your growing up and your path to becoming a writer?
I was born and raised in Chapel Hill, NC. I’ve been writing poems since I was 9. I always thought I’d be some kind of writer or/ and artist. I was a journalist for many years – and had to give up daily newspaper journalism when my children came along. In 2010, my family was racially targeted and I lost the majority of my work. So I had to start over – and I’ve definitely realized that I’m a poet who writes novels and shoots photographs and paints.
How do you decorate your writing space?
With books! And postcards and a giant post-it with a mind-map of the latest novella I’m working on.
Could you share with us a poem (or excerpt) from your chapbook? Perhaps one that introduces the work of the chapbook, or that invites the reader into the world of the chapbook?
From “Longitude” – the opening poem in the book:
…how we begin
to choose the moment of our emancipation
the first time we ride without training wheels,
without a daddy’s hand or a whistle happy coach
nearby, when all that stands before us are oak-lined
roads, passing cars and sweet meadows, a valley
that dips its shoulder into a sea, windblown
hair and our bravado.
Why did you choose this excerpt?
Because this poem sets the tone of the book: it’s all about taking the training wheels off and using bravado to keep going….
What are some of your favorite chapbooks?
I love Ocean Vuong’s early work.
What might these chapbooks suggest about your writing?
It encourages me to be more fearless.
Does the chapbook form impact the politics of the poems that appear inside it?
Yes, because it’s a shorter form, everything inside must be thematically connected.
What’s your chapbook about?
It’s about living in exile in your own country, and not being accepted.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook?
The oldest piece in this book is “Raga.”
Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
The poem that catalyzed the book was “Second Language.” I remember that my stomach hurt as I wrote it.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?
My family and I had to leave Georgia – so I chose the title poem and the surrounding poems as a metaphor for our experience of not belonging.
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?
I wrote “Unanswered, Untranslatable” and I knew I had the final poem in this set, and although that poem does not appear last, it is the thematic bookend to the title poem.
What has the editorial and production experience with your press been like?
Finishing Line Press is a dream. They are the nicest people and have given me so much say in my cover and my order of poems.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
They were so lovely to work with, they allowed me complete control.
If you have written more than one chapbook or novella, could you describe each of them in chronological order?
Gas & Food, No Lodging is first and Finishing Line is publishing Anastasia Maps in January 2018.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just completed an experimental novel, When the Dolls Leave the Dollhouse, which is a cross between Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street.
If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?
I have chosen it. I’m a photographer and an artist and I have posted my art as part of an #artaday project for the past six years.
What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?
Write every day, for at least 15 minutes. It doesn’t have to be good. It is a practice, so you must practice every day for a few minutes.
Devi S. Laskar is a poet, writer, artist, photographer, soccer mom, former reporter, OpEdProject and VONA/Voices alumna, Tar Heel basketball disciple, and now, California resident.
joylaskarstory.com (website that chronicles the legal struggle of Laskar’s family)