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.

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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.

Claire Martin–Interview

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

If I’m sitting down to seriously edit and write, I’ve got to be alone in my home. I’m typically a highly social type, so I’ve learned that my best space for productivity is one where I’ve eliminated as many distractions as possible. Otherwise, my mind is quick to wander away from the page.

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

I like to kick off new stories with just a pen and paper. I know I’m ready to transition to writing on a keyboard when the story in my mind starts coming together faster than I can jot it in a notebook. Starting off by hand has always been a great place for me to play with scene before I really dig in.

What is your routine for writing?

I like to hunker down, especially if I’m writing through the night. I’ll turn off my phone and tidy up the space around whatever desk or table I’m posted at.

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

I recognized an excitement for storytelling in myself somewhere around age five, but didn’t actually begin writing creatively until I was fifteen. At nineteen, I finally started taking the work more seriously when I somewhat absentmindedly landed in a fiction writing undergraduate program. From there, it took off.

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

For me! I know I say this at risk of sounding cliché, but my work comes from a place of personal catharsis. I remember receiving positive responses to the first short story I wrote in college and thinking to myself, “wait, other people actually like this too?” During my editing process, I tend to take audience into consideration more than I do while writing. Ultimately, I hope to reach people who like to listen to their intuitions, emotions, and the dreams they have at night.

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

When I first moved to Chicago, I started taking long walks through the city to better get to know my area. I’ve heard that the French word dérive characterizes setting out on walks without a preset destination, just the intention of drifting. For my writing, the power of the dérive comes when the physical motion ignites my mental motion through actually walking, finding myself in surprising places, and observing others. It’s important to know when to step back from a piece and give it (and yourself) a little air.

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

If I hadn’t found writing when I did, I believe I would’ve gone into photography. I love collecting and restoring old cameras, and certain captured images can be excellent inspiration for story.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

The actual act of writing can be both freeing and agonizing for me, so the process itself is a bit of a challenge. But when a story takes on a life of its own and I can begin to feel it come together, the process gets euphoric. So when I’ve completed an early draft of something that’s ready to be shared, accept feedback, and evolve, the difficulty of the process that helped me build it feels worthwhile. That’s really the sweet spot for me. A fresh first draft.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Trust your voice. If you’ve got a story, only you can tell it to its fullest integrity.

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

Joan Colby–Interview

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

I work anywhere a poem strikes, which is occasionally dangerous if I’m driving. It’s important to capture a poem in the moment, like photographing a bird before it flies away.

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

I write first drafts longhand revising as I write so the end result may be rather a scribbled crossed out mess. I let that draft cool for a while—days, weeks, sometimes months—and do a final (maybe) revision when I type it into the computer. There may be other revisions, all of which I keep as versions 1, 2, 3, etc. As for a favorite utensil, I favor a ball point pen that is not about to run short of ink.

What is your routine for writing?

I can’t say I have a routine, as I write poetry on the fly. For stories, essays, reports, et al, I set aside a period of time where I won’t be disturbed. Again, first draft is in longhand, final revisions are typed.

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

I’ve been writing all my life from the time as a small child writing little stories (poetry came a bit later) so let’s say well over 50 years.

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

I don’t write for an audience when it comes to poetry or fiction. I write for myself with the objective of discovering something I didn’t previously know. That’s what makes the writing process exciting and compelling.

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

Inspiration might be a visual moment, something seen, or perhaps something remembered or heard, often something I have read. Generally poems pop into my head and writing them is akin to taking dictation. The best poems are not planned, but lead me on, sentence after sentence, or phrase after phrase. I don’t believe poems need to follow the grammatical rules that govern most prose. I never get blocked, rather I have too many ideas. I try not to overthink a vague idea as too much information can be death to the poem. When I taught creative writing, I often used prompts to help students get started and to thwart their tendency to focus solely on their own emotions. However, for myself I don’t think I’ve written many successful poems from a formal prompt, though sometimes I may pose a challenge to myself such as choosing at random five words from a dictionary and then using all five in every stanza of a five stanza poem.

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

Besides writing, I’m an omnivorous reader of all sorts of material: poetry, short stories, novels, essays, reviews, history, science, philosophy, nature, and so forth. I have had horses all my life and competed in horse shows and eventing. For years, I bred, raised, and trained Thoroughbred horses for the racetrack and as hunter-jumpers. Also, for nearly 40 years, I edited a monthly trade journal Illinois Racing News, which covered the breeders and trainers associations, racetracks, general equine information, and the political scene as it affected the industry. I also bred and trained German Shepherd Dogs, and currently have an 8 year old female GSD. I like camping, hiking, bird-watching, et al. As I live on a small farm, I have the opportunity to observe resident creatures such as deer, foxes, coyotes.

I would like to add that I feel it is important for writers to have interests beyond writing. Poems about poems can be insular and boring. Many of my poems feature horses, farming, nature, mythology, and so on. If your interest is baseball or knitting, use that in poems.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

My favorite part of the process is completing a poem and finding out what it tells me. I enjoy the challenge of form, particularly the sestina, which affords opportunity for punning and other types of word play. The music inherent in poetry is important to me, and I find that many of my poems are replete with slant rhymes or particular rhythms that my unconscious inserts. Craft is a significant factor in the making of a poem.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Read. For poets, read the classics, the canon, as well as contemporary poetry and don’t confine your reading to poetry, have a solid grounding in literature from Beowulf to Shakespeare to the latest acclaimed poet, like Ocean Vuong.

Write. Write a lot, it is the only way to discover your own authentic voice. Don’t be afraid to submit your work while you are learning to write. Every writer needs to master how to distance herself from her work so as to benefit from criticism, judge its value and handle rejection. It is helpful, in fact necessary, to join a community of writers either an in-person writers group on an on-line equivalent. Those in MFA programs are already in that position. Mentors can be helpful too, so having a professional connection with a writer you admire can be invaluable.  As a final tip: be sparing with adjectives and intensify verbs, which are the engines of language.

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