I’m not a writer who meditates on quotes too often—my walls are too covered in sticky notes with plot points or stray lines or phrases that I haven’t got anywhere to hang them! But whenever I am feeling listless in my writing, I imagine Tim Gunn of Project Runway standing over my desk. He tells me either “make it work,” “edit, edit, edit,” “talk to me,” or “it looks like pterodactyl from a gay Jurassic Park.” Okay, maybe not the last one, but I always find his simple, straightforward advice useful. What better inspiration is there than being told to get your butt in gear, to turn a disastrous project around, or to better communicate a concept that just isn’t working? I also think it’s a good idea not to take ourselves too seriously as writers, and who can help but have a good chuckle when thinking of oneself being scolded by Tim Gunn in a tasteful suit?
I think the best way to describe my road to publication would be to say I’ve been on a slow but continually upward climb. I haven’t taken many detours in my writing career; I’ve pretty much always known writing is what I wanted to do with my life.
But I credit the steady, upward progression of that road to taking the path of literary citizenship—of putting time and energy into the literary world before trying to take any benefit back out. There are likely hundreds of first poetry collections out there that are stronger than mine, and that are worthy of publication. The fact that my collection was accepted by a fantastic press like Red Hen is due, I really believe, to the fact that I’ve invested myself in the literary world by giving what I can as an editor and a promoter of other writers. Being a good poet is not enough to build a career in poetry; one has to be an invested, active member of one’s community.
If I can give any advice to other poets out there, it’s this: make service to the literary community a priority. Show up to arts events. Buy books. Support organizations that need your talent, your manual labor, or your time. Share what you know with others by teaching or mentoring, or by reviewing and interviewing. You’ll strengthen the arts community and build rapport and connection in the literary world. Only good things can come of it.
I’d give myself this advice: don’t just read a lot, read around. As an aspiring writer in undergrad, I had my nose stuck in T.S. Eliot full-time. Because I wasn’t reading anything contemporary, I was limiting my understanding of what poetry sounded like, talked about, or even looked like on the page. I made an old man of myself in many ways. Now I realize the value of reading many different kinds of poems; even reading poems I dislike is not a waste of time. I can learn as much about the craft from poems I hate as I can from poems I love.
Spiderman, definitely. Speed, agility, spider-sense, strength—all attributes I sorely lack in my real life! I’m one clumsy lady. It’s a good thing writing doesn’t involve a lot of wall-scaling and quick reflex.
I’m a big believer in powering through the slush-brained parts of the writing life by getting words on paper without an end product in mind. Telling myself “I don’t need to write my magnum opus today, I just need to write something” can be very freeing. Sometimes I produce some great ideas when I just throw material out onto the page. Sometimes I write a lot of tripe. But at least I’ve done something—I try never to allow myself to give into being blocked.
I also take a lot of inspiration from other art forms. I love to watch dance and listen to music, and I’m a huge sucker for an art film (I took a great deal of inspiration for my current novel in poems, Jacob Wrestling, from watching David Lynch movies). Seeing and hearing others working at the top of their games replenishes my enthusiasm for my own work; I’m like the little kid watching her big brother do a backdive, saying “I want to do that, too!”
I had a rather unusual, isolated upbringing, not having attended school until I was a teenager. My young personality was a product of the extremely conservative religious culture in which I grew up without benefit of peers, community, or classmates. When I left my home and my roots, I oscillated quite wildly between trying to establish my own beliefs, views, and opinions and my old life, still feeling a great deal of guilt and a tug toward the way in which I was raised.
Burn This House is, in many ways, about looking at the world from the perspective of being a free-swinging pendulum. It’s about being pulled in opposing directions, and about identifying what’s sad, joyous, threatening, and often quite funny about our being-in-the-world.
Writing a collection of what I suppose are metaphysical poems was never really my intention. I embarked on the project of the book by simply writing poems that flowed one to another. But we all have our own inescapable obsessions, and they have a pernicious way of working themselves onto the page, whatever our designs may be.
Earnest. It may sound silly, but in any project I undertake, I’m wholehearted in my approach. I don’t take my teaching, my editing, my writing, or my relationships lightly; whatever I’m doing at any given moment is the most important thing in the world.