Thanks to a tag from fellow writer Tania Pryputniewicz, whose poetry collection, November Butterfly, is forthcoming from Saddle Road Press in November, I’m participating in The Virtual Blog Tour this week! I first met Tania at A Room Of Her Own Foundation‘s Women Writer’s Retreat in 2011 and have admired her commitment to the work of words ever since. I’ve even been fortunate enough to be interviewed by her back in 2012 (read it here).
AROHO was such a wonderful experience for me as a young woman…it made me believe that maybe I could actually be a writer after all following a particularly difficult two years where I tried and failed to love teaching Spanish in an urban environment. It was amazing to work, read, and listen alongside some truly inspirational, powerful women writers at various stages of their careers (keynote my first summer there was none other than Marilynne Robinson). That I was welcomed and treated with respect/taken seriously meant so much to me at that time of uncertainty and doubt and ultimately led me to pursue my MFA and a career as a writer and teacher of writing.
On to the questions that comprise the “tour!” Thank you for reading–and thanks again to Tania for her work and her encouragement.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently at work on my first poetry collection, yet to be titled, that will serve as my thesis for my in-progress MFA at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (to be completed Spring 2016). I wrote a draft of it last year, my first year, wherein I focused on the overall question of how silence can be just as powerful as communication as words can in poetry that is more personal as well as through a historical/persona driven lens. Some poems from it have been published in the first and second editions of the Bread Loaf School of English Literary Journal and one of which won the Robert Haiduke Poetry Prize this summer.
I got the idea from another research project I completed this summer that I did for an Independent Reading Project credit for my in-progress MA from the Bread Loaf School of English. In that year-long project, I took a two-pronged approach to answering the critical question: how does writing about silence as place help us better understand the dangers and opportunities inherent in all types of communication, but especially those at work in poetry? Overall, I posit silence not just as a rhetorical stance, but as an ecotone: a place of transition between two ecosystems, rife with both danger and opportunity. I first analyzed three poems that particularly dealt with silence as a place, both thematically and in their crafting of the poem through the use of end-stopped lines and strategic white space, written by Tracy K. Smith, Janice Gould, and Robin Becker. My close reading/rhetorical analysis of how silence functions in their poetry about silence served as my main methodology for understanding how silence serves a communicative purpose, not just in poetry, but all attempts to relate to each other and the outside world. I then took what I learned and crafted drafts of my own poetry about silence as place, which served as one of my main methods for answering my research question.
Given the nature of these projects/interests, I’m currently revising the book length draft of poetry as well as writing a smaller series of poems about the loss of a recent romantic relationship that may or may not figure into that larger project. I’m currently in workshop entitled “Gazing in, Gazing Out” where we are all trying to craft poems that speak to more political issues, or where we allow our gaze to wander out from our personal stories to those that have more of a social consciousness, so a lot of my focus has been more global of late.
I also have non-fiction and fiction ideas that are but still in brainstorm/back of my mind modes, which is great, because my MFA requires cross-genre writing workshops. The ideas range from a personal collection of essays about my struggle to understand my mother’s mental illness (which has been thankfully “in remission” for many years now; she is my model of strength and grace and generosity under pressure) to a fictional account of teaching in Philadelphia during the height of the fight between private charter schools and the public school district.
I also am tightening the writing of the critical essay on silence as place and find publication for it. I’m currently submitting it to a few academic conferences to find an audience.
Finally, starting in January, I will be writing bi-monthly for Ploughshares, creating posts for their Literary Round Down, analyzing current trends in the literary community.
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I’m not sure it’s totally different from what other poets are doing, but I tend to write with an ear for sound, which has been really interesting given my recent obsession with silence and research into the field of silence and meaning making. Curiously, and fruitful for my projects, most writers and philosophers realize that silence and sound are not divorced from one another, but rather, very intimately intertwined. Additionally, I take a rather philosophical approach to my poetry, which can sometimes shoot me in the foot (a fellow writer recently pointed out in workshop that a lot of my earlier poems try to “tell the reader what the poem is about” and wander into abstractions). I’m trying right now to refine my style such that I let the image speak for me, and where I let the reader fill in the white space/silence, rather than intrude in with my blundering, elephant-footed “poet voice.”
Why do you write what you do?
I write to discover. To soothe. To manage. To play. To pull. To push. To test. To testify. To transform. To re-center. To remember. To let go.
How does your writing process work?
As this blog demonstrates, I’m still figuring out how to make the writing process work for me in a more habitual sense given my class/teaching responsibilities. Though my availability tends to change semester to semester, I tend to write poetry on Sundays for about 3 hours, and blog on Saturdays, though I’m trying to get better at writing poetry every day. I do journal daily (for the most part, barring illness or vacation when I sometimes fall out of the habit). The idea came from reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and her theory about 750 words a day helping writers get out of their own way. Sometimes a poem comes from that process, though often it functions as a place I can dump and then shut the cover to my quotidian worries and fears.
I write as stream of consciousness long-hand in these beautiful, slim Her Words journals by a company called Live Inspired. They are the perfect size and have these barely seen lines to keep me from scrawling all over and upside down but aren’t so dark they feel constricting. They have gorgeous, inspiring covers with earth tones that just make me happy.
On mornings I get up at 7 instead of slapping snooze angrily, I write three pages a morning, usually right after I get up, stretch, meditate for 10-15 minutes, feed the cat, have breakfast, and can take my mug of steaming Red Rose tea with a splash of almond milk to my little writer desk. Sometimes I run before hitting up my journal because of the heat down south, but often I hit the gym after completing my morning writing rituals and then spend the afternoon reading, grading, or otherwise fulfilling my personal and academic responsibilities. I find that if I don’t work out AND write in the morning, I will not do either later on. I also find that I feel more at ease/balanced given I am participating in a three-year MFA, rather than a two-year one. That I have that extra time to complete my book makes me feel less anxious about having a social and/or personal life on top of writing. I also feel more likely to explore/experiment, both in my writing and with related enterprises, such as AROHO and Bread Loaf.
Before or after my morning pages, I also write a list of at least five things I’m grateful for each morning in my leather-bound, hand crafted journal from Estonia that I have treasured for years but been too afraid to write my typical boy troubles and anxiety about my life direction because it’s so pretty. I got the idea to make it a gratitude journal this summer, and feel relatively happy about my progress in my attempts to live life more positively. There are some mornings I am so grumpy the only things I can think of being grateful for are running hot water, but, like exercising, I’m always glad I did it even if I grumble/want to forget about it upon waking.
I tend though to type my first drafts of poems. A habit I got into in college. I just really enjoy the ease of editing as I write, easily able to swap positions of lines and stanzas. I tend to write with a line or phrase in mind and then I craft the poem around it such that the line pays off/makes sense/is grounded in unified imagery.
Up next: I liked to direct readers to my good friend and running buddy Chrissy Hennessey and her beautifully done blog, where she has already participated in answering these questions from earlier this summer, as well as to tag other friends, Marie Sweetman and Bethany Tap. Marie is a graduate student at Emerson College pursuing a publishing and writing degree, and Bethany is a fiction writer in my year at UNCW.