Tell us about your poems.
For me, the question of style is eminently maddening! I’ve been told that, broadly, from poem to poem, it would be difficult to tell that they were all by me if my name were to be stripped away. That said, I think that I can discern stylistic currents amongst certain of my most frequent subjects. For instance, many of my more confessional pieces tend to deal with memories from my tomboy childhood in rural Pennsylvania or memories of my family in general. The voice in these pieces is (I was once memorably told) a strange combination of lyrical, frank, and unnerving.
I also tend to draw on my academic interests for inspiration; you’ll often find me making allusions to medieval poetry or the matter of handling old, fragile books and manuscripts. Folktales, myths, and music also figure prominently in my more speculative and fantastical pieces. I’m fond of rescuing and recasting lost stories, and you’ll frequently find me taking on ‘non-traditional’ sexuality and gender issues. Lost books and lost voices often go hand in hand. I traffic in archetypes, but with a twist.
How long have you been writing?
Compared do most of my writer-colleagues, I seem to have started quite late. Where you’ll hear many writers say that they’ve been at it ever since they first learned to string letters together into words, and words into sentences, I’ve only been at it since the age of 13 or 14 (I learned to read and write around the age of 3 or 4). For the longest time, I seemed to think that the visual arts were my calling in life; I drew and painted competently. However, when I reached my early teens, I realized that my art wasn’t really improving or progressing. So, I thought, well - what’s left to me? I’ve always had a good voice, and I loved singing, but I needed an outlet through which I could create raw content (I’m no virtuoso pianist or composer). Writing it was. And, in the long run, my love of writing was the reason I dropped out of music school to major in English instead. A career in academia with writing on the side is what I’ve chosen, but if the writing should ever take center stage, I won’t complain!
Do you have any publications to your name? What’s the next stage for your work?
Quite a number, although I should stress that this doesn’t mean I’m famous. I’ve been in quite a few magazines in both the U.S. and the U.K.; a full list of my credits is available online, for the truly bored or curious. My e-chapbook through Gold Wake Press, Dead Zones, is also available on the web, and my first print chapbook, Devil’s Road Down, is currently available from Maverick Duck Press. My first full collection, Lost Books, will be available from Flipped Eye Publishing in April 2010. 2009 has been an incredibly good year. “Snap,” one of the poems from Dead Zones, is up for the Pushcart Prize anthology, and I’ve been nominated for Sundress Publications’ Best of the Net awards.
What do you think is your biggest poetic achievement to date?
Although I’m thrilled about Lost Books, which I mentioned above, I’m actually more proud of one of my single-poem publications in a U.S. magazine earlier this year. Mythic Delirium is regarded as one of the best speculative/SF/F publications out there, and a year and a half after submitting, I was told by the editor, Mike Allen, that he’d be accepting my poem, “Journeying,” for the special tenth-anniversary issue (#20, which came out in May). I was thrilled about this for two reasons:
1) I had written “Journeying” in late 2004, as a sort of creative place-holder for the novel I one day intend to write. At the time, I was still an undergraduate at Wellesley, and I’d been accepted by Frank Bidart to take his 300-level poetry course, which at the time I thought was a big deal. Since “Journeying” had been through a few drafts before I ever took it to class, I thought it’d work well in my final-project portfolio. As it turned out, Frank praised every piece in my portfolio except for this one - he called it pseudo-medieval something-or-other, which, at the time, really stung. I was proud of the piece, and, back when I was young[er] and [more] rash, there was nothing like telling me I’ve been a bad judge of my own writing to make me determined to prove that all the work I put in was worth it.
2) Mythic Delirium is a well-respected publication, Mike Allen is an absolutely fantastic editor, and a new poem from Neil Gaiman also appeared in Issue 20. A geeky writer’s dream, really!
What’s the best thing about writing poetry? And the worst?
The best thing about writing poetry is the incredible people you meet. In my experience, poetry draws like minds to like. It can also draw opposing minds together, which is great, too - debate is right and necessary. A colleague recently sent me a bumper sticker that says POETRY SAVES LIVES. In either case, I agree with that statement; it probably saved mine. During the years I was primarily writing to and for myself, I was able to hold off the barrage of uncertainties and maintain a sense of self.
The worst thing about writing poetry is the inevitable down-time, the blank spaces between poems. However, it’s from those spaces that we carve new work, so how can it be all bad?
Got any suggestions for young, upcoming poets?
Be bold. Ask questions. Read insatiably. Know who you are.
(And if you don’t know who you are just yet, you’ll discover it in the writing.)
Who/what influences your poetry?
William Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, and Louise Glück were the first poets to make me really sit up and pay attention to verse, although I wouldn’t say my style has been directly influenced by any one of them in particular. I’ve been told my work stylistically resembles Carol Ann Duffy’s, which I find sort of amusing, because my style was pretty set by the time I discovered her work (only two years ago). Jorie Graham, James Nash, and Mark Doty are also on my list of favorites. Sharon Olds. The Gawain-Poet. Any poet whose work reflects a profound sense of wonder and discovery even in the face of loss.
All of my work, whether fiction or poetry, is ultimately indebted to the stories my grandmother told me. Without the wealth of her words, my creative world would have been a poorer place.
Turn the tables or the corner. Smoke rises
from my upturned hands and stings my eyes
with this beginning, for I cannot learn
from what was. So I will chase them through
the Shadows of the Valley of Death, these lies
resembling love, and then I will find them
though all Hell should rise to meet me
in the trying. Read in these pages the blue
of the evening. I have left it behind me,
and the stars be my diamonds now, distant
cold pulses of flame in an instant
and the tables burned.
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