Sunday, December 07, 2014

Flashback to 2009: An Interview from Southeast Review

Five years ago, Samuel Lloyd, then a B.A. candidate in English/Creative Writing at Florida State University, interviewed me for The Southeast Review. The page has since been deleted from their archives (WAH!), so I thought I would reprint it again here.
What happened when I tried to follow the link. Bummer.
Since then, it appears that young Samuel has completed a master's degree in English education and is pursuing a second one, in Instructional Systems. He currently works at FSU as a Senior College Life Coach, which sounds like a really cool way of saying "career counselor," but perhaps means much more.
I'm still jealous of Brendan Constantine, but for different reasons. :-)
1) Where do you like to be when you write?
As a single working mother with a very hectic schedule I’ve had to learn to write wherever and whenever I can. Nowadays, that is usually either on the subway while I’m commuting (when I can get a seat) or in class, during a journal exercise with my students. My all-time favorite place to write was a “workspace for writers” in Manhattan called Paragraph. During a sabbatical in the fall of 2007 I became a member and was able to take advantage of their “quiet space,” which has a variety of relatively private carrels for members to use. There was something about writing in a space where others are also working that I found especially motivating and inspiring. Other favorite spots are a rock in Central Park (I have several I go to when I can), my gym (they have a table and chairs in one area, but a bench in the locker room will do in a pinch), and my bed (propped up by pillows).

2) How do you usually begin/end a piece you're working on?
Most pieces, prose and poetry, start in one of my notebooks—either the rambling “morning pages” cheap spiral-bound, or if I’m feeling ambitious, the hardbacked composition books I use for drafting. Very occasionally, a poem or prose piece will start out as a blog entry. At some point I will type it up then usually I print it out and make markings on the page.  Ending? I’m not sure if you mean the process—which is really never over, even when a piece is published—or an individual piece. Endings can take awhile, in either case, and it has sometimes taken me years to feel that final “snap” and know something is finished, or close enough.

3) If you like to listen to music while you write (by the way, I saw the Decemberists reference on your blog , isn't "The Crane Wife" great?) what kind of music helps the most?

As I have written elsewhere, music is my life. I was equally interested in music and literature all the way through graduate school—I played violin in a contra dance band and for a community production of Carousel while getting my degrees in creative writing. And I usually have music on while I’m working—when I need to concentrate, Glenn Gould’s recordings of Bach do the trick—but for writing poems I don’t usually listen to anything in particular, unless the poem itself is connected to a musical piece (such as “Fantasy for Cello and Orchestra”). But I can be inspired by a piece to write—either in the moment or later.

The following can be answered in a word, a phrase, a sentence . . .

1) Name a writer who is currently making you jealous.
Brendan Constantine. I’ve been reading his collection Letters to Guns and have been ranting about it to everyone who will listen. What he does with voice, with humor, with pathos, with the sheer music and drama of the poem, is flabbergasting. And the way he reads his work—well, it’s just not fair.

2) What kind of child were you?
Sensitive. Tough. Silly. Serious. Lazy. Ambitious. Sheltered. Curious. Wise. Foolish. Scared. Relentless.

3) What is your relationship with rejection like?
Probably as bumpy as anyone else’s. Who likes rejection of any kind? And is it really possible to become so thick-skinned that you really don’t mind all those fat envelopes (or standardized emails) returning one after another? It helps, sometimes, to hear well-known writers like Kim Addonizio talk about their rejections—in her book Ordinary Genius she actually reprints some of the rejection letters she has received from the finest publications in North America. There was a point at which I stopped sending blind submissions and only submitted work to places where I had some sort of “connection,” however tangential. For years I spent so much time, energy, and money sending out my book and chapbook manuscripts that I just couldn’t send to magazines. As a result, I went into submission frenzy when the manuscripts were accepted, trying to get the previously unpublished poems out there before the chapbook or book came out! I did manage to place a couple more, but I wish I had been more diligent earlier on.

4) What book did you suffer for the most, and why?
Well, since Saint Nobody is my first full-length collection, this is a no-brainer. I like to tell everyone that this has been eighteen years in the making (dating back to 1990, when I started graduate school), it really has taken my whole life up to this point. There is a quote attributed to Elvis Costello (and several other rock musicians), something like, “You get your whole life to make your first record, and two weeks to make your second.” I’m taking a little longer than that for the next one, but it does feel strange to be generating new work for a developing collection, rather than continually winnowing out and using most new pieces to fill an existing one.

5) What was the greatest surprise for you in your most recent writing?
I wrote a poem in two days for the blog Starting Today, co-edited by Rachel Zucker and Arielle Greenberg, which resulted in a book published by University of Iowa Press. One hundred poets were each assigned a day to write a poem, one for each of the first hundred days of the Obama administration. Mine was day 61, March 21st, and I had conveniently forgotten that I would be traveling to Ohio that weekend for my sister’s wedding. Between work, taking care of my kids, packing, picking up the rental car, driving, etc….I knew that the only way I could accomplish this was to give myself a sort of exercise. I came up with the idea of an acrostic, using the phrase “HOPING FOR CHANGE.” I called it “Audacious: An Acrostic,” and I literally finished it an hour before I had to send it to Rachel, on the computer in my dad’s office, which doubles as a guest room. My niece Mary was reading one of Kipling’s Just-So Stories to my daughter and her cousin. The phrase “Best beloved” ended up in the last line of my poem.
6) What writerly habit would you most like to break?
Procrastination, procrastination, procrastination. Although is it really procrastination when you literally have no time? Hm.

Lastly . . . (one random fact to top it off)

7) What did you have for lunch today?

Today was Sunday, and not only did I go to church but it was my confirmation. (I recently became a member of a wonderful liberal Episcopalian church, St. Bart’s on Park Avenue.) They had a little reception for us after the service, and I had two pieces of this delicious lemon cake with yellow candy butterflies. Then I got a falafel pita and a diet Boylan’s root beer and headed to my office to look over my creative writing students’ manuscripts! So much for a day of rest.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"I CAN'T!" Notes on resistance in life and writing...

Resisting the paparazzi. July 4, 2014
My darling daughter, Stella, is twelve and a half now, prone to the vagaries of tween moods and whims, with a little extra spice from the "typical" stubbornness commonly exhibited by people (especially adolescents) with Down syndrome. When she is asked to do something and doesn't want to, which happens with alarming frequency, she has taken to protesting, "I CAN'T!" in a voice harsh with impatience.

I know how Stella feels. There are so many things I "should" do--or even "want" to do--that provoke serious resistance in me. Whether it's exercise, or eating right, or the proverbial cleaning my room, I feel like I'm twelve and a half and find myself having to be my own parent--or, worse, just giving in to the "can'ts" and not doing anything.

Writing, unfortunately, is one of these things. Although I identify as a "writer" and a "teacher of writing," and there is nothing like the feeling of being lost in language and in the flow of creation, I admit that I do not always see putting words on the page as a fun and exciting activity.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Ah, Summer! Taking the Virtual Blog Tour...

Summer is half over already (or something like that), and all of the "real work" I was gonna do has yet to be done. Instead, I have been teaching (2 online classes in June), parenting (more on that later), and plunging into a healthy new lifestyle of plant-based food and regular exercise. Oh, and recovering from one heck of an academic year, both for myself and my kids. As I have learned many times over the years, I really need a deadline, and a metaphorical cattle prod, to get words down on the page and out in the world.

So I was delighted to be invited by a dear and long-time friend, April Lindner, to participate in a "virtual blog tour," aimed at giving more exposure to blogs that readers may not have seen before. It's been quite awhile since I've posted (yikes!), so I figured this would be a perfect opportunity to get Saint Nobody up and running again--in hopes of revving up my own writing. This is the first in a series on various subjects I've saved up since my last post--time to put it out there.

First, meet April, the author of two poetry collections, This Bed Our Bodies Shaped from Able Muse Press and Skin from Texas Tech University Press.  She also has written three young adult novels—JaneCatherine, and the forthcoming Love, Lucy, all published by Poppy. With R. S. Gwynn, she co-edited Contemporary American Poetry, in Longman’s Penguin Academics series.  A professor of English at Saint Joseph’s University, she lives in Havertown, Pennsylvania.

April and I were classmates in the PhD program in Creative Writing at the University of Cincinnati many moons ago. We read drafts of each others' poems in workshops, were roomies at my first-ever AWP Conference (Pittsburgh '95), and walked together for our doctoral hooding ceremony in 1998. It's been wonderful to see April from time to time at AWP and the West Chester Poetry Conference near her home in the Philly area. I've been a fan of her poetry for years, and have watched her career as a YA novelist with admiration ever since my niece, Mary, devoured the signed copy of Jane I gave her in 2012. I'll be posting a poem of April's, which I've used often in my classes, later in the week.

The next component of the blog tour meme is a quick "self-interview." Because this post is already fairly long, I will answer briefly here, and elaborate a bit in future posts.

1. What am I currently working on?