“I think I’ve always been becoming a writer.”
Anemochory (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2016)
Could you tell us a bit about your growing up and your path to becoming a writer?
I have always loved writing in all of its forms. I grew up in a small town in western Montana making books out of scrap paper with my best friend. We tried to sell them along with “magic” potions we made from household items like toothpaste, cinnamon, and her dad’s aftershave at the end of her long, dirt-road driveway. I wrote Choose Your Own Adventure novels for my elementary school friends and serial e-mail novellas for my friends in high school about whatever drama was happening at the time, titled Rifle’s Creek, after Dawson’s Creek, which was popular then, and after the name of a creek that actually happened to run through the town in Colorado which I attended high school. I didn’t actually start writing poetry until later – after college – but I think I’ve always been becoming a writer and, I hope, still becoming a better writer today.
How do you decorate your writing space?
I work as a yacht Chief Stewardess and live aboard the vessel, so I don’t have a dedicated writing space. This being the case, I’ve learned to write wherever I happen to be, whether that’s in the ship’s wheelhouse or at a café in one of our ports of call, or even on my phone as I’m walking into town on my way to provision.
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?
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced you?
Nicole Sealey’s The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named, Fox Frazier-Foley’s Like Ash in the Air After Something has Burned, Tiana Nobile’s The Spirit of the Staircase, Traci Brimhall and Brynn Saito’s Bright Power, Dark Peace, Michelle Peñaloza’s landscape/ heartbreak.
Which poem in your chapbook has the most meaningful back story to you? What’s the back story?
I began to write “Aubade with Storm” while we were taking shelter in Beaufort, North Carolina, just before Hurricane Sandy was about to strike the East Coast. We tied up a day before the storm and spent a calm, sunny, beautiful afternoon on the beach. As evening was coming on, my husband turned to me and said, “Can you feel that? The wind’s shifted.” I hadn’t felt it. My husband was able to read coastal weather patterns fluently having grown up sailing around the world, but reading such patterns was very new to me then, having grown up very far inland. In this and other poems in the chapbook, I was interested in exploring the natural world’s apparent indifference as it continues on before and after human tragedy — and, at the same time, the ways the natural world also speaks to us and offers us warning signs. At times we read these signs and at other times, we fail to read them; what are the consequences of not being fluent in, and responsive to, the ways the natural world speaks to us?
Do you have a favorite revision strategy? What is it?
I think of it as a curio-shop approach. On my computer, I keep a long document of phrases, images, evocative words and facts that have yet to find a home or that I’ve had to revise out of other poems, and when I get stuck, I go in and look around to see if I can find anything that will generate a new pathway for the poem. The document is also not organized in any way, so I never know what I’m going to encounter.
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 collaborated on the design of the book with Hyacinth Girl Press’s founding editor, Margaret Bashaar, and the design editor, Sarah Reck, who are both amazing. The image on the cover is a print of a lithograph, “Prairie Ikebana,” from Yoonmi Nam’s “Arranged Flowers” series. On her website, she says about this about the series: “[The flowers] will quickly wither and die, but before they do, they are elegantly and elaborately arranged, as if time will stand still for them. The containers that hold them are disposable objects, such as a yogurt cup, a Styrofoam take-out box, and an instant noodle bowl. These throwaway objects and cut flowers engage in a dialogue that speaks about impermanence and persistence.” When I saw “Prairie Ikebana,” I immediately felt it was perfect for the cover. The image was an interesting visual representation of the way I understand elegies, which figure prominently in the chapbook. For me, the elegy, like the arranged flowers in Yoonmi’s series, is an effort to hold onto the last pulses of life even though we know we can’t, and a way to make sense of loss in the commonplace surroundings of daily lives that continue to go on, despite the agony of our grief.
What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?
I would say, as many other writers say, to read widely. I’d also say to write widely. In addition to poetry, I honed my ear for language through journalism, academic writing, business writing, copyediting and PR writing, and yeah, probably even writing those high school serial dramas.
Born in South Korea and raised in Montana and Colorado, Leah Silvieus now travels between Florida and New York as a yacht chief stewardess. She is the author of Anemochory (Hyacinth Girl Press 2016) and has a second chapbook forthcoming from Bull City Press in 2018. She holds an MFA from the University of Miami and is Books Editor for Hyphen magazine.