Simon Perchik–Interview

  1. I write in a public space, a coffee shop most often. Sometimes the YWCA.
  2. I use a fountain pen, write by hand,.
  3. At 9 am I’m at the table and write till about 12. Sometimes later, depending on progress of the poem.
  4. I began writing in college, but when I retired in 1975, I began writing full time.
  5. I don’t think about who will read what I write. I just want something to be there that wasn’t there before.
  6. Great question. Especially since I have the answer. I have attached my essay dealing with this question (read it below). It also deals with how never to be blocked from writing.
  7. I read. I estimate I read 5 or 6 poetry books a month.
  8. My favorite part is when the poem is finished. The process is not enjoyable in any sense of the word. It’s brutal.
  9. My advice is not to take anyone’s advice. But read. You have to know what’s been done.

And to read more about Simon on Writing, check out the essay “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities.”


Where do writers get their ideas? Well, if they are writing prose, their ideas evolve one way. If, on the other hand, they are writing poetry, their ideas evolve another way. Perhaps some distinctions are in order. Distinguishing the difference between prose and poetry may not be all that simple. There are many definitions, all of which may be correct. For the purpose of this essay allow me to set forth one of the many:

It seems to me that there is available to writers a spectrum along which to proceed. At one end is prose, appropriate for essays, news, weather reports and the like. At the other end is poetry. Writers move back and forth along this spectrum when writing fiction.

Thus, prose is defined by its precise meaning that excludes ambiguity, surmise and misunderstanding. It never troubles the reader.  To define it another way, prose is faulty if it lacks a coherent thrust guided by rules of logic, grammar and syntax. It will not tolerate contradiction.  Poetry, on the other hand, is defined by its resistance to such rules. Poetry is ignited, brought to life by haunting, evasive, ambiguous, contradictory propositions.

This is not to say poetry is more or less useful than prose. Rather, they are two separate and distinct tools, much the same as a hammer and a saw. They are different tools designed for different jobs. If an essay is called for, the reader wants certainty; exactly what the words you are now reading are intended to give. If, on the other hand, consolation for some great loss is called for, the reader needs more: a text that lights up fields of reference nowhere alluded to on the page. This calls for magic, for illusion, not lecture. Thus, one of the many definitions of poetry might be: Poetry: words that inform the reader of that which cannot be articulated. To be made whole, to heal, the reader needs to undergo an improved change in mood, a change made more effective if the reader doesn’t know why he or she feels better. Exactly like music. That’s where poetry gets its power to repair; an invisible touch, ghost-like but as real as anything on earth. A reading of the masters, Neruda, Aleixandre, Celan…confirms that a text need not always have a meaning the reader can explicate. To that extent, it informs, as does music, without what we call meaning.  It’s just that it takes prose to tell you this.

This is because prose is a telling of what the writers already know. They have a preconceived idea of what to write about. With poetry it’s the opposite. The writers have no preconceived idea with which to begin a poem. They need to first force the idea out of the brain, to bring the idea to the surface, to consciousness. With poetry the writer needs a method to find that hidden idea. If the originating idea wasn’t hidden and unknown it isn’t likely to be an important one. Let’s face it: any idea that is easily accessible has already been picked over. It’s all but certain to be a cliché.

To uncover this hidden idea for a poem the writers each have their own unique method. As for me, the idea for the poem evolves when an idea from a photograph is confronted with an obviously unrelated, disparate idea from a text (mythology or science) till the two conflicting ideas are reconciled as a totally new, surprising and workable one. This method was easy for me to come by. As an attorney I was trained to reconcile disparate views, to do exactly what a metaphor does for a living. It’s not a mystery that so many practicing lawyers write poetry. Lawyer Poets And That World We Call Law, James R. Elkins, Editor (Pleasure Boat Studio Press. Also, Off the Record, An Anthology of Poetry by Lawyers, edited by James R. Elkins, Professor of Law, University of West Virginia.

The efficacy of this method for getting ideas is documented at length by Wayne Barker, MD. who, in his Brain Storms, A Study of Human Spontaneity, on page 15 writes:

If we can endure confrontation with the unthinkable, we may be able to fit together new patterns of awareness and action. We might, that is, have a fit of insight, inspiration, invention, or creation. The propensity for finding the answer, the lure of creating or discovering the new, no doubt has much to do with some people’s ability to endure tension until something new emerges from the contradictory and ambiguous situation.

Likewise, Douglas R. Hofstadter, in his Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid writes on page 26:

One of the major purposes of this book is to urge each reader to confront the apparent contradiction head on, to savor it, to turn it over, to take it apart, to wallow in it, so that in the end the reader might emerge with new insights into the seemingly unbreachable gulf between the formal and the informal, the animate and the inanimate, the flexible and the inflexible.

Moreover, the self-induced fit is standard operating procedure in the laboratory. Allow me to quote Lewis Thomas, who, in his The Lives of a Cell, on page 138. describes the difference between applied science and basic research. After pointing out how applied science deals only with the precise application of known facts, he writes:

In basic research, everything is just the opposite. What you need at the outset is a high degree of uncertainty; otherwise it isn’t likely to be an important problem. You start with an incomplete roster of facts, characterized by their ambiguity; often the problem consists of discovering the connections between unrelated pieces of information. You must plan experiments on the basis of probability, even bare possibility, rather than certainty.  If an experiment turns out precisely as predicted, this can be very nice, but it is only a great event if at the same time it is a surprise. You can measure the quality of the work by the intensity of astonishment. The surprise can be because it did turn out as predicted (in some lines of research, 1 per cent is accepted as a high yield), or it can be a confoundment because the prediction was wrong and something totally unexpected turned up, changing the look of the problem and requiring a new kind of protocol. Either way, you win…

Isn’t it reasonable to conclude that the defining distinction between applied science and basic research is the same as that between prose and poetry? Isn’t it likewise reasonable to conclude that the making of basic science is very much the same as the making of poetry?

In a real way I, too, work in a laboratory. Every day at 9 am I arrive at a table in the local coffee shop, open a dog-eared book of photographs, open a text, and begin mixing all my materials together to find something new.

For the famous Walker Evans photograph depicting a migrant’s wife, I began:

Walker Evans     Farmer’s wife

Tough life, mouth closed, no teeth?  Sorrow?

Not too bad looking. Plain dress

This description went on and on till I felt I had drained the photograph of all its ideas. I then read the chapter entitled On Various Words from The Lives of a Cell. Photograph still in view, I then wrote down ideas from Dr. Thomas’s text. I began:

Words –bricks and mortar

Writing is an art, compulsively adding to,

building the ant hill,

not sure if each ant knows what it will look like when finished

it’s too big. Like can’t tell what Earth looks like if you’re on it.

This too goes on and on with whatever comes to mind while I’m reading. But all the time, inside my brain, I’m trying to reconcile what a migrant’s wife has to do with the obviously unrelated ideas on biology suggested by Dr. Thomas. I try to solve the very problem I created. Of course my brain is stymied and jams, creating a self-induced fit similar to the epilepsy studied by the above mentioned Dr. Barker, M.D. But that was my intention from the beginning.

Sooner or later an idea from the photograph and an idea from the text will be resolved into a new idea and the poem takes hold.

No one is more surprised than I. Or exhausted. The conditions under which I write are brutal. My brain is deliberately jammed by conflicting impulses. Its neurons are overloaded, on the verge of shutting down. I can barely think. My eyes blur. The only thing that keeps me working is that sooner or later will come the rapture of discovery; that the differences once thought impossible to reconcile, become resolved; so and so, once thought  impossible of having anything to do with so and so, suddenly and surprisingly, has everything in the world to do with it. Or has nothing to do with it but can be reconciled with something else it triggered: one flash fire after another in the lightening storm taking place in my brain.

Getting the idea is one thing but the finished poem is a long way off. And to get there I abstract so my subconscious can talk to the reader’s subconscious, much the same as an artist abstracts the painting so the viewer’s subconscious can listen to the artist’s subconscious. There will be nothing anyone can point to and say, “That’s why”. Exactly like music, the most abstract of all the arts. Thus, for each poem its opening phrase is stolen shamelessly from Beethoven. He’s the master at breaking open bones and I might as well use him early on in the poem. Then I steal from Mahler whose music does its work where I want my poetry to do its work: the marrow.

Perhaps marrow is what it’s all about. Abstraction, since it contradicts the real world, is a striking form of confrontation which jams the brain till it shuts down confused. It befits the marrow to then do the work the reader’s brain cells would ordinarily do. And though what the marrow cells put together is nothing more than a “gut feeling”, with no rational footing, it is enough to refresh the human condition, to make marriages, restore great loses, rally careers.

Of course abstraction is just one of the ways writers arrive at the poem with their idea. But however they come they all leave for the reader poetry’s trademark: illusion. It is that illusion that builds for the over-burdened reader a way out.

Perhaps, as you may have already suspected, a poem, unlike a newspaper, is not a tool for everyday use by everyone; it’s just for those who need it, when they need it.

Check out Simon’s work in Volume 3, Issue 1, Volume 3, Issue 2, Volume 4, Issue 2, and Volume 5, Issue 1.

TJ Neathery–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?

I prefer local coffee shops (note the plural use of “shops”). I appreciate a change of scenery now and then. Right now I have about three or four coffee shops that I cycle through any given month. I just love the ambient noise and the little distractions that help energize my writing process.

What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?

Ideally, I like to write longhand in a college-rule notebook. I wrote my first novel manuscript on two notebooks. The ability to take notes is important to me. For example, I might think of a scene that should come ten pages later so I just write that idea in the margins. I can’t really do that as easily on a computer. I also love writing with Pilot G2 07 pens. Those are the best pens. End of discussion.

What is your routine for writing?

Waking up around 7:30 am and heading to a coffee shop. Granted, it depends on the project. Right now I’m writing a weekly local artist feature/interview. The routine for that is much different than, say, writing a novel or short story. Deadlines are a big difference. But the length is a factor, too. I can sit down after a long day of work and transcribe an interview just fine. It’s harder to do that with a novel. That’s why I like blocking out larger sections of time to write fiction.

How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?

I wrote my first stories as a kid—five or six years old. However, I started taking fiction writing seriously my junior year of college after taking my first workshop. A professor encouraged me to pursue my MFA and so I did.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?

Someone who’s honest about problems in the world and someone who still has hope despite that honestly. Someone who’s willing to engage in theology but, again, in an honest and vulnerable way.

What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?

Many of my stories were inspired by friends who wrote in different styles and genres than I did. I don’t really write sci-fi or fantasy. I lean more realistic or historical. But a friend in grad school challenged me to write a sci-fi story and it was fun being able to incorporate new themes into my writing. It also pushed me outside my writing comfort zone.

Personally, I’m inspired by faith. In almost all of my stories, I’m exploring how characters struggle with and are influenced by religious faith in some shape or form. My writing hero is Marilynne Robinson, and her book Gilead has been extremely important to my identity as a writer.

What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?

One of my hobbies is collecting tangible music. CD’s and vinyl mostly. I own about 350 CDs that I’ve amassed since high school. There’s just something about listening to a full album that relaxes me. Spotify is great, but sometimes I get tired with the scattered, never-ending playlists that I listen to. Records end and I have to make the conscious effort to flip the album over to the next side. That’s kind of crazy in today’s media environment. Plus, I love being able to pick up a keepsake whenever I go to a memorable live show. For those of you familiar with the Enneagram, I’m a type five. That explains the memento thing.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Having my work published. Just kidding. I love the moment when the story “clicks.” It’s the same with writing academic, argumentative essays. I often spend a lot of time doing research and creating outlines and writing bits and pieces to explore my characters. But there’s always a moment when I realize something. “Oh, that’s what the central conflict will be!” or “That’s the key motivation!” After that, the story just opens up and I can breathe for a second. It’s moments like these that keep me writing.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Find out what you can and can’t compromise on. If you decide to only write dark/horror novellas about train conductors told from the second person, then I wish you the best. But you might find it difficult to find homes for your work, and you might want to rethink your standards/requirements. Then again, if you’re championing a special cause, trying to love another human being through your work, or if you’re contributing a unique voice to the writing community, then by all means follow your passions and don’t compromise. Here’s an example from my life. I prefer reading and writing longer short stories (6000-7000 words). However, current publications tend to prefer 3000 word stories or even flash fiction. Of course, I’m trying to keep the integrity of my writing intact, but I’m currently pushing myself to work within these shorter restraints. And I’ll likely become a better writer for it. Crisp, efficient writing never hurt anybody.


Check out TJ’s work in Volume 4, Issue 2.

Michael Whelan–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?

My prime space is a sitting area in my bedroom, where I have a great rocking chair, which is where I do my writing on NOTES in my mini-pad.  I also like to write in the Starbucks right down the street from my condo.  In spaces like that I get a sense of creative energy from the people around me.


What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?

I write almost exclusively on my mini-pad, using the Apple NOTES app.  I revise constantly as I write and go back many times during the day to look and re-write again when I am onto creating a new poem that has promise.

What is your routine for writing?

Often, I write first thing in the morning — before breakfast and before looking at any emails or other business.  I find that time of day my mind is most open to exploring creatively and going in new directions.

How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?

Have been writing poetry as my main focus for about 10 years.  Have written all my life — professionally as a business journalist, corporate marketer, creator of a series of writing seminars that I taught to international financial executives (World Bank) in 30 countries.  In between I wrote creatively in both prose and poetry on occasion, including magazine and newspaper feature pieces.

Have mentors played a role in your writing?

Very much so — particularly in writing “After God,” my first published collections of poems, which took me four years to write.  It’s a memoir in verse, tracking my experience with the enigma of God from age four to the present.  At two points in the writing, I turned to different outstanding writers  mentors — both had been friends with me for many years before I asked their input as a mentor.  The first was Dermot Healy, one of Ireland’s leading poets, novelists and dramatists, and the second was Terence Winch, who is both poet and musician highly regarded in the Washington DC and US poetry world. I turned to them after I had written most of the text and their editing suggestions and other guidance were invaluable in boosting the quality of my final product.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?

I don’t have a specific audience, but I do write for people who are reflective and who enjoy play of language.  My style is deliberately accessible.  It seems to work because many people who like my writing tell me that they usually don’t usually read poetry but they like reading mine.

What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?

I am currently working on a new collection of poems on the philosophical — including awe and mystery — of quantum physics and relativity.  These will be poems designed specifically for people who give me a funny look when I tell them what I am doing.  There will be a lot of humor in the poems, and lots of play on metaphors springing out of science — by which I hope to make the poems accessible to non-science readers.

If I’m blocked I either write on free form without worry about wording or content — or I let the idea of the poem sit (for a few days or a few months) until it takes more shape in my mind.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Looking at the empty screen or the empty page — just at the moment when writing begins.  And not knowing where or how my piece will end.  And the creative discoveries I will find along the way.  And the ways I can and will play with sound, rhythm and all the fascinations of language.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Attend good-quality writing workshops to start. Early on, I attended an excellent  Getterysburg Review workshop and an Aspen workshop taught by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky. One-week workshops are ideal for in-depth learning and getting feedback from both peers and the expert writers who teach the courses.  Also, look for a good mentor to work with.  You need other eyes looking at your product, especially after you have done early drafts.

Check out Michael’s work in Volume 4, Issue 2.

Megan Miazgowicz–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?

I usually work at home at my desk, and am most productive at night after like 10 pm. The only other place I manage to be productive is coffee shops, because of all the other people around. I feel like I am obligated to get work done because they might be watching me? And I feel pressured to work.

What kind of materials do you use? What mediums do you work in?

I generally use a Wacom tablet and Photoshop for my digital work, but for traditional work I’m pretty simple—just mechanical pencils, Micron pens, and ballpoint pens. Sometimes I use watercolor if I’m feeling bold.

What is your routine for art? Do you always sketch first?

If I am using pens, I just draw and accept the mistakes I might make, which I think is kind of fun because it forces you to keep moving and not linger on what might be problem areas. When I do comics, I always do extensive thumbnails before blocking out the panels and then do sketches before inking. I’m a huge sketching person. When I work in Photoshop I usually have 3-4 sketch layers.

How long have you been making art? When did you start making art?

I’ve been making art since I was a small child, and have always created characters and drawn animals and been interested in art. I’ve been making art with the intention to have a career in it since high school.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you make art for?

A lot of my art, as far as characters, is made for myself, or for my friends who I know will also be excited about it. I also want to create art for people my age and in younger generations who are looking for more representation in the content that they read.

What inspires you to create? If you are blocked, what do you do?

I am really inspired by a lot of the content that I grew up watching and the content I continue to get involved in; Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, fantasy, dragons, etc. Reading a great deal and always having a passion to write original content has also helped me to create stories that I want to illustrate. Usually when blocked I take some time for myself to do something else, or I browse Pinterest to get some inspiration. Sometimes I also browse Instagram, where I follow a lot of artists I admire.

What other things do you do besides art? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?

Besides art, I spend a lot of time writing out stories about characters I have created, or about comics I want to work on. Even though I’m not sure I’m the best writer, writing is something I really enjoy and have always done a lot of. I also really like to watch movies and catch up on shows, especially while I am working on artwork. Though I’ve had less time to read since becoming a college student, I’m hoping I can go back to reading 24/7 now that I’ve graduated. For me, reading is a good way to get inspired, escape from your current situation, and learn more about the world all in one activity.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

My favorite part is always brainstorming. I love coming up with new ideas and characters, and then decided how all the characters interact, or how all the pieces fit together. I love brainstorming with other people for creative projects because of how fun it is to bounce ideas off of each other and come up with something amazing. Building off the enthusiasm of a creative partner is always so incredible.

What is your advice to aspiring artists?

It’s hard for me to give advice because I am still so new and still growing as an artist myself, but I guess one of the most important things to keep in mind is to remember how bad you want it; if you love art, and you really want to do it as a career, don’t do it because of the money. Do it because you can’t imagine doing anything else and being happy. Do it because it’s what you genuinely want for yourself. I think if you do that, your artwork will be more genuine, and will contain so much more of yourself, and in the end will make you so much more happy.

Check out Megan’s work in Volume 4, Issue 2.

GTimothy Gordon–Interview

  1. I try to write in the early AM (circa 5:00) simply because I’m up early (even earlier), but only if I’m moved by something I’m reading or looking at (like art, online), or the birds, or the Organs I see every day. I have a romantic impetus, trying never to force anything as I did when younger. I can write in crowds, open spaces, in cars, but I prefer a closed office room or library work-study room. But something has to hit me, an image or phrase, or piece of music. Unlike others, I do no due-diligence; if nothing comes, I’m busy with less esoteric enterprises. This old-school, romantic view of “work,” to be transported, is not for everyone. I try from an initial impulse to get a draft, hand written usually on flat, cheap napkins; I may add stuff in my old-school “notebook”/Steno pad from Walmart in basic red, blue, or green and white in barely legible handwriting. I then play with the draft on the computer, making small or large changes in succeeding drafts if I feel something is there, cutting, tightening, making more precise word choices, etc. I try to work the “literariness” out of it; if I can’t, what’s there can’t be resuscitated.
  2. I’ve sometimes had a love-not-so-loving affair with the muse; at some periods in my life I did no poetry, concentrating on academic writing which actually helped me put matters into perspective. I studied Philosophy & Comp. Langs. and Lits., and so I’m pretty well grounded. All good writers are invariably good readers and in love with what they’ve read copiously. I was always impressed by my poetic betters. Another outlet was going to non-academic readings of which there were many that left an indelible mark on me and others (Bly & Wright together, Josip Brodsky, Creeley going through almost a full pack of Marlboro Reds [please, kids, don’t do this at home], Levertov, Kinnell, Sexton, too many others to mention. Like anything else, going to a museum, ballgame, concert transcends the online or reading experience. That can always be done.
  3. I came to CW programs only after I had worked on my own and then published stuff. (I wrote lots of really embarrassing stuff; sometimes I read back over them and laugh.) The best programs involve incisive criticism, with colleagues who’ve actually read your stuff. Poets have glass jaws; we take things really to heart; fiction writers tend to accept workshops better; they want to see how things work structurally or whether a character really speaks like that or is developed or is just a ficelle.  I prefer not teaching undergrad and graduate CW courses, particularly with poets. It’s like walking barefoot on glass, both from the “instructor” and writer standpoint. For me, an hour-and-a-half or three-hour course is emotionally draining.  Angst is always in the air.
  4. I still try to work out almost every day, but mostly indoors now because the very abrasive SW and Asian suns and I don’t get along; treadmill, some weights, mountain hiking, but less so now.
  5. Like Picasso, the best thing about the writing process isn’t even finishing, but, as for him, the very next poem (or painting).
  6. Artists and writers have the same advice; you’re going to get rejections, be misunderstood, or are just not good enough— yet. If you’re serious, keep at it, grind away imitating, working at varying styles and structures, until (forgive the cliché), you find your voice(s) and you don’t have to try and sound like the best writer in your class or assimilate his or her subject matters. Cliché #2, write from your own experience, even if you don’t have much. We’ve all been there and what, for most, is essentially a lonely (and often, fruitless) vocation. “I love it,” iterates Hannibal Smith even in reruns, “when a plan comes together.”
  7. I believe in karma, luck (and I’ve had plenty). Don’t worry about being published so quickly. You’ll throw away lots of crap but in just writing it light sometimes turns up, as for The Dead, in “the strangest of places.”
  8. All of the things I’ve said have been said billions of times (and better, and more formally). There’s no panacea.  It depends, as with anything, whether you want it or not.  For me, I stand with Sidney in Astrophil and Stella, “Look in your heart and write.”

Check out GTimothy’s work in Volume 4, Issue 2.

Maryfrances Wagner–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?

I work at home.  I share an office with my husband, also a writer as well as a visual artist and drummer.  I sometimes wander off to other places to spread things out and get away from the interruptions of email.  I sometimes write when I take a walk or when I travel.  This is the time when I journal and jot down ideas and lines.  I always keep a small notebook in my purse for ideas and a notepad by my bed.  I like to mix things up a bit, but the revision stage always takes place at home.

What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?

I do both.  I usually start off writing in my journal.  Once a rough draft emerges, I like to see and feel how it works typed, the way it ends up.  I’ll tinker at the computer and then run off a copy to work on by hand again where I try to fine tune for style, sound, and detail.  Then back to the computer, and this can go on many times before I’m done.

What is your routine for writing?

I try to write some every day whether it’s brainstorming something new, working on a rough draft, revising, or compiling a book.  I also read every day and do research to be sure my details are right.  As an editor myself, I realize how important it is to read the magazines before I submit because so much depends on editorial taste.  I think many writers feel unnecessary rejection because they don’t do this first.

How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?

I have been writing all of my life.  As a child I started writing very bad poems.  My mother also wrote little poems for fun, so that’s probably what started me off, and then I found that I couldn’t stop.  I took creative writing classes to learn the craft, and my MA focused in creative writing poetry.  I still experiment with varying styles and keep finding new writers to read, so that I don’t always sound like the same song.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?

I try to write for a universal audience.  I want readers to be able to find themselves or relate to what I write about.  Of course, the hope of most poets is that we move the reader.  I always hope the reader will be moved in some way or think about what the lines mean beyond the literal.  My poetry is usually layered with meaning, but the reader does not have to understand every layer to understand the poem.

What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?

When I am blocked, I read my favorite writers—new material by them, and their work will often inspire me.  I read on subjects I’d like to turn into poems.  I take walks every morning on a trail with my dogs, and that’s reflective, good time to think and observe.  Sometimes I try an exercise to get me to put something on paper or journal on a topic for a few minutes.  I’ve taught workshops on Writers Block and have a variety of possible things the writer can do to help get going again.  Sometimes, though, it’s a matter of going out and living a little more so that you have new material.

What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?

Two other loves in my life are dogs and dancing.  I spend time with my dogs every day.  I also dance most days, but it’s no more than turning on some music and moving.  I also love and connect with nature.  If I hadn’t been an English major, I think I might have become a naturalist.  I have a number of nature poems.  I collage.  It’s also a good way to get my creative spirit going.  I have two journals full of collages.  Collaging is the opposite of writing poetry—I let the subconscious take over and don’t impose anything on the project.  I assemble jewelry to give as gifts.  I cook.  I feel as creative in a kitchen as I do at writing.  I view recipes as starts and think about ways to make the food taste better.  I also love to invent without any recipes.  I walk every day with my dogs, and I read.  I also co-edit I-70 Review and volunteer at The Writers Place, where I serve as the chair of the programming committee.  I teach writing workshops at all levels and ages, and I mentor writers and teachers.  I worked as a full-time teacher at both the high school and college level as well.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

The period where a rough draft starts shaping up into a better poem through revisions.  Watching it turn into something is exciting.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Read the best writers.  Decide who your favorites are and read their work.  Study what they do.  Read the magazines you aspire to publish in.  See what they publish.  Find a mentor or another writer who writes as well or better than you do and share your work.  Even better, find two or three of them.  When each is saying the same thing, you’ll know the problem of your work.  Take a good creative writing class or two at a university if you haven’t already.  Learn the craft.  Workshops here and there may give you support, useful information, and help you network, but they don’t necessarily make you a better writer because the time you get to spend is so limited.  A university class will force you to embrace writing for a long period of time on a daily basis.  That is very helpful.  I don’t think most writing groups work very well unless they are small and the members can stretch each other to better writing.  A random group of people results in conflicting feedback–although this can be useful in other ways too. You always want someone to help you grow, help you rethink how you see.  I also think that is true throughout a writer’s entire career.  We always need valued writers we trust who can help us grow and tell us the truth about a poem.

Check out Maryfrances’s work in Volume 4, Issue 2. Check out her latest book of poems, The Silence of Red Glass, and check out her website here.

Sarah A. Etlinger–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?

I work mostly in public spaces, my local coffee shop (which should be a national treasure!) and sometimes at home. But since I drive a lot for work, I often write in my head while I’m driving and use my voice recorder on my phone to record the ideas.

What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?

As I stated above, I sometimes use the voice recorder function on my phone to record ideas while driving. But if I’m not driving, I get ideas and jot them in the memo pad of my phone. Sometimes I will use a notebook or my laptop.

For the actual writing, I do tend to write on my laptop—but if I’m revising, or need to work something out, I will use pen and paper (often one of the pair of purple Moleskine notebooks I bought when I decided to take this poetry thing seriously!).  Occasionally I will write in the notebooks to start from, but it’s rarer and rarer these days.

My favorite writing utensil is, and has been since I was 16, Pilot Precise V5 Rolling ball extra fine liquid -ink pens in various colors. Second choice is PaperMate Flair marker pens. If I MUST I will use UniBall liquid ink, and if I am REALLY REALLY desperate, traditional ballpoint pens. But that has to be a dire writing emergency! Before you all start thinking I’ve lost my marbles—I like the feel that these pens have on the page and in my hands; I like the ease of writing with them, and I love color. 😊

What is your routine for writing?

My writing routine varies by the week or by the day, since I have a full-time, demanding professor job, a 3-year old at home, a husband, dog, and a home to run. But when I do write it takes one of two forms: writing (where I often look at what I’ve written in my notes, or getting out the laptop and clicking away), or revising. I sometimes revise on my own; sometimes in response to feedback. I have a few readers and I work with a coach/mentor on a regular basis.

The revising routine varies, of course, depending on my time and on the extent of the revisions, or even how I’m feeling! I never write with my own music on; being in the coffee shop, though, there’s always ambient music playing and conversations, which for some reason I can tune out there but never at home!

How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?

I’ve been writing almost as long as I can remember, though it has often come in fits and starts. But I’ve always been interested in, and “good at” language. I love turns of phrase, and I like sounds of letters and syllables; I love words. Love everything about them, and always have!

In 6th and 7th grade I wrote short stories and poetry almost constantly; in high school I did some. I even did a final project on fiction writing my senior year of college, and intended to minor in Creative Writing (along with a traditional English Lit major) in college. My alma mater, Skidmore College (which is the best school in the world and changed my life profoundly), phased out the major and minor, I think, when I got there, so though I took a couple classes, I couldn’t. I also decided, on the first day of 8th grade, I wanted a PhD in literature so I could teach English—which set my path more academically than creatively. (I’ve since earned the PhD in Rhetoric and Composition and absolutely love teaching first-year students how to write academic pieces).

The creative writing classes I took in college were lovely, but it ruined my ability to really write for a while, because –as is often the case with 20-year olds—I didn’t want to revise my work and I didn’t think poetry could be revised. So the feedback shut me off. It wasn’t until late college that I found my voice again.

However, since graduate school, I didn’t write at all. One poem on October 23, 2007, for a man I was dating’s birthday—and not a single (creative/poetic) word again until July of 2016, when my first poem in that time, now titled “Crossroads” (and can be found in the inaugural issue of Brine) came to me while driving through Elkhart, Indiana. The poem seemed to descend the heatwaves, and I chanted it in my head for the remaining 3.5 hours home. Then the floodgates opened and I couldn’t (can’t!) stop.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?

My ideal/ intended audience is anyone who likes rich imagistic poetry or who appreciates a real voice in poetry. I’m not an experimental poet, and I don’t do things just to do them. Sometimes, of course, I get lines/phrases/ideas/images out of thin air; or someone says things to me and I like them (moral of the story, folks: I might put what you say in my work. Watch out! 😉). I write for me, as is expected, but I’m increasingly writing for women, I think, who want a different view on what women’s poetry can be. I’m not afraid, anymore, of saying what needs to be said.

What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?

The world inspires me, though I have tended towards particular themes that have cropped up as I develop a body of work. I’m interested in male/female relationships and love; the interaction between nature and our emotions/experience; mythology, and, though I am an atheist, religious concerns from both my Jewish (secular, reform) background, and my mother’s Catholic roots. But, as I stated before, I sometimes just get phrases that clatter around in my head, or someone says something interesting. For instance, a dear friend of mine said, once, in a conversation about their favorite poets, “Neruda when I want to remember” and that struck me—so it wound up in my poem “The Timekeeper.” So, I never know what I’m going to discover; and I don’t write on assignment. I can’t—I need the muse.

If I’m blocked, I revise or put it away. I have to just let it percolate. Something always comes.

What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?

I cook, read, and teach, of course. I’m also about to have my fourth semester of piano lessons with a delightful and feisty, 81-year-old piano teacher. I spend time with my family, of course; going on excursions to fairs and zoos and museums and other kid-friendly adventures.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

My favorite part is getting inspired. Turning that inspiration into something, even if it’s not very good. Seeing the feeling or idea or image or thought turn into something else with live arms stretching into all kinds of nooks and crannies. And, of course, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love it when someone says they liked my work!

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Can I just write a book about this? Advice, from 15 years of teaching writing to undergraduates, and from my own, hard-won lessons:
1. Do it whenever you can. Sit and write. Don’t stop.
2. Don’t judge it—just let it be. It can always be shaped and changed and altered. But don’t let that stop you. Just write it down. No one has to see it.
3. That said, get readers. Good readers, whom you trust and love and respect. You can control the feedback, too—ask for specific things—but find readers who love you, and can provide support. Sometimes, don’t guide the feedback. Just get their thoughts. And sometimes take it, and sometimes don’t. Just get it from people who have your back—it’s YOUR work, and your voice. You won’t hone a voice if you’re always crowding it out.
4. It will take a bit to find your voice. And your voice will change. But let it come out anyway, and don’t let things get in the way.
5. Be brave. Be unafraid to say what you need to say, how you need to say it. It might change, but be brave. Say it.
6. Don’t throw anything out. Ever. Keep it.  (No, seriously. Don’t throw it out.)
7. You will have fallow periods—this was the hardest thing I had to learn, and I still get freaked out when nothing is coming. Enjoy the fallow periods. Embrace them.
8. Don’t throw anything out. Ever.

Check out Sarah’s work in Volume 4, Issue 2. Her poem, “Two Fools,” was nominated for a Pushcart. A review of her collection, Never One For Promises, is available in Volume 5, Issue 1.