Wilda Morris–Interview

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

I write sitting on a bench in the wetlands, a museum, or a Mexican park; at an outside table at the Morton Arboretum; on a pew in an Italian church, or a stump in the woods; standing in front of a painting at the Art Institute; and riding the commuter train into Chicago. I do a lot of my writing at Panera (alone or with friends), where I can fill my mug with Hazelnut coffee as often as I wish, and I don’t hear my landline phone ring.

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

Inspiration seems to flow most readily though pencils into spiral notebooks. I prefer pencils to pens because I lose good pens, and the disposable ones bad for the environment. Most of my editing is done on the computer. I often make changes as I type the first draft.

What is your routine for writing?

I wish I had one.

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

I wrote poetry when I was young. Having had great instruction in English at Iowa City High School, I passed a placement test which fulfilled the English requirement at American U. I made the mistake of not taking any English classes, and not writing poetry. When I was first married, I published a few poems, but while we were raising five active children, I didn’t make time for writing. Two things contributed to my becoming a serious poet. One was that my oldest grandchild had a painful, degenerative genetic disease and died shortly before her seventh birthday. I needed some way to express my feelings. The happy coincidence was that I was asked to volunteer as a curriculum counselor at the Green Lake Conference Center for about three weeks each summer for a number of years. The program director wanted me to attend conferences while I was there, including the writer’s conference. Those conferences helped me to hone my skills in poetry.

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

I find the inspiration to write in many places: a painting or sculpture, a news event, a childhood memory, poetry by others. Flipping through the pages of a family photo album can also spark a poem or two. Perhaps my most dependable source of inspiration when I feel blocked is a book of good poetry; I find a poem to respond to, or a line to write from.

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

My favorite activity, besides spending time with family members, is travel. I also like to walk in the woods or wetlands, on the beach or the river walk. I take continuing education classes at The Newberry Library in Chicago—and use what I learn there (or what I read for class)—as inspiration for poems. I teach an adult Sunday School class, and sometimes write a poem inspired by what we discuss there.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

I prefer the writing to submitting and keeping records, but that is probably true of all poets (a secretary and filing clerk would make my life easier!). The best time is when the poem takes charge and leads me in an unexpected direction. That is one reason I experiment with different forms. The rules often take me somewhere I had not intended to go, and would not have gone had I been writing free verse.

The camaraderie of small groups where we write together, and critique each other respectfully, is nurturing and fulfilling.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Read, read, read. Write in different genres and forms. Consider spending time writing rhymed and metered poems before you write a lot of free verse. It gives you practice in cadence and musicality. When I first tried writing sonnets, the results were terrible. I decided to read sonnets (and only sonnets) every day for several weeks. That got the meter of the sonnet in my head. My next attempts didn’t read like Shakespeare, but they were not unmitigated disasters, either.

I strongly advise aspiring writers to find or create a small group composed of people you trust and respect, people who will give you honest feedback and encouragement, and applaud your successes (and not be jealous), and for whom you can do the same. You can write together or meet regularly to critique and encourage each other.

 

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

Tim Philippart–Interview

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

I usually work in my office but cameo appearances are made from the recliner using my IPad, the public library and Shuler’s bookstore.

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

My hand writing is so poor, I must type.  However, the my typing is so bad I need to print. I am very conflicted.

What is your routine for writing?  

I think therefore I write—no routine.

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

I have been writing a little over two years although, an argument could be made that I have not yet started.

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

I like to write for people with short attention spans, who look, first, for humor and then are shocked when they discover I have written something serious for a change.

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

There is always something to write about and, occasionally, I write about something when I should have realized I was blocked.

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

I like to snap pictures, read and figure out how to keep the White House from calling me.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

I love arriving at an unexpected destination, with characters I hadn’t imagined, doing things that completely surprise me.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?  

I consider myself an aspiring writer.  Don’t worry about whether you can write. Don’t worry if the piece you just finished is any good.  Whatever you decide, there is always someone who will tell you that you have come to the wrong conclusion.

Check out Tim’s work in Volume 3, Issue 2.

Vivi Davis–Interview

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

I prefer to work in large, modern, public spaces when there’s no one else around.  There’s something about social emptiness in a place that’s supposed to be filled with people that helps me open up.  I also don’t have any nice furniture in my apartment.

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

I’ve always been typing.  Being able to immortalize words at the speed that they enter my head allows me to bring larger amounts of creative freedom from my headspace into writing.

What is your routine for writing?

I’d probably be a technically better writer if I had a routine.

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

I started writing four years ago in my senior year of high school, where of course, something happened.  Now my writing has broadened and deepened to other topics, but the underlying theme in all my work started growing right at that moment, and for better, or for worse (or for nothing at all), it’s never stopped.

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

I think the best part of communication (artistic and otherwise) is that I can make something completely personal for a specific person, and somehow it can still affect others, sometimes in ways I didn’t intend.  While I’m aware that my actual audience is larger than my intended audience, that never factors into the way that I write.  I write my best when I’m speaking to that person.

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

A lot of the silly, little things that are easy to take for granted: grocery stores, small patches of sunshine, or the paint that peels off the walls of a community tennis court.  To me, it’s very easy to find love, hate, and their variations in these small things.  Also, Ariana Grande and Hilary Hahn are wonderful musicians that can help spark my process.

Ever since I started writing, I don’t remember ever feeling blocked.  I have someone that gives me endless inspiration, so even if I’m not writing about them directly, thinking about them gives me the emotional charge to produce words and send them out of my fingertips.  It’s hard to get blocked up when you’re holding back an ocean at the very end of spring.

Writing is never effortless for me, but it helps that I always aim to say what I want to say, even if I have to mask it.

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

I’m a scientist first, a musician second, and a writer third.  However, second really is the best.  I play viola, which has been a large part of my life.  Classical music lets me keep close people who are important to me.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Choosing the right title.  The title is the story in its most concise form, and discovering a great abbreviation is really satisfying.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

That all writers are aspiring writers.

Check out Vivi’s work in Volume 3, Issue 2.

Thomas Maurstad–Interview

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

I work at home. The proposition of writing as theater, or performance art, or even some spontaneous public practice is nails-on-a-chalkboard to me. I guess I’m old-school, or just plain old.

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

I’ve always written on a keyboard. I sometimes jot notes and fragments on whatever is handy, but that’s not writing, that’s me leaving a trail of breadcrumbs I can later follow (or not).

What is your routine for writing?

I am a creature of routine. My ideal state as a writer would be to have the same day, every day. I sit down at my laptop in the morning, go through email and peruse the usual sites for 30-40 minutes and then I am sitting and staring and, eventually, turning words into sentences into paragraphs.

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

My sophomore year of college I wandered into the arts and entertainment office of the college newspaper. There were Roger Corman and French New Wave movie posters everywhere, The Jam was blasting out of a graffiti-covered boombox and a bunch of strange people were laughing and screaming at each other. I was hooked. I worked as a critic and writer for newspapers for the next 25 years. I was released back into the wild in 2011, and have since endeavored to make the jump from fake news to real fiction.

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

Anybody who believes thinking and feeling are the highest kind of fun.

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

I write because I need to and want to. If I’m blocked, I just keep sitting and staring. I know if I do, the words will come.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Whether writing or reading, there is nothing better than being solidly into a book, a story, a character or a situation that has you hooked.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Your inner-critic isn’t the part of you that helps you write. It’s the part of you that keeps you from writing.

Check out Thomas’s work in Volume 3, Issue 2.

Wendy DeGroat–Interview

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

All of the above. A comfy chair reupholstered in dusky plum is my usual spot in the lifting dark of early morning (often with a solar Luci Candle or a real candle flickering) but I also write in the living room, in the car, outdoors, and on-the-go. I carry a small notebook with me nearly all the time (something poet Claribel Alegría calls a “seed book”) so I can jot down images, ideas, phrases, and metaphors—and if words begin to flow, I stand in the current with my nets open as long as I can regardless of where I am.

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

I write on paper and revise on a laptop. On the go, I prefer a Moleskine or Shinola notebook with blank pages. At home, I’m partial to a large spiral-bound sketchbook with a hard cover and thick blank pages. My favorite pens are Pilot P-500 extra fine black pens.

What is your routine for writing?

Writing is how I begin most weekdays and some weekend days—preferably with pen to paper before I’m fully awake. Coffee can wait. I revise in the afternoon or evening.

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

I started writing when I was a kid, maybe seven or eight, and wrote off and on for years. However, it was when I attended a workshop with Holly Near in 2009 about the arts and social change that I committed to become a better poet. I read, studied, and practiced for a few years, then when I sensed I had plateaued, I started working with mentors.

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

I write for everyday people: cooks, waitresses, teachers, gardeners, insurance underwriters. I want to write poems that people carry with them. My granddad carried a poem tucked in his wallet for years, one he’d cut out of the newspaper. I remember watching his slender fingers gently coax its tattered edges open each time he’d pull it out to read it to me.

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

Our marvelous, terrible, joyful, difficult world inspires me, as does the amazing work of other poets and writers. When I’m blocked, it’s usually because I’ve been indoors too long, so I get outside and walk, preferably alone in the woods.

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

I’m a librarian too, so other than the word-nerd answers of reading and research (online and in dusty archives), I enjoy meandering conversations with my wife and our friends, walking, hiking, flatwater kayaking, and dabbling in visual arts like nature journaling and linocut.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Although I rejoice in those times when poems arrive unbidden and flow from my pen, I also revel in the challenge of revision and find great satisfaction in those a-ha moments when you cut or rearrange or restructure and suddenly the poem springs from the page.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

For poets in particular, read contemporary poets. You may adore Dickinson or Neruda, but read the work of poets you could still share a coffee or beer with, even if you don’t think you’ll ever get that opportunity.

Check out Wendy’s work in Volume 3, Issue 2.

Simon Perchik–Interview

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

I write in the local coffee shops, almost never at home. Too lonely.

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

A fountain pen. I write on the back of “scrap paper.”

What is your routine for writing?

Wake up, catch the 8:30 bus to town and write in a coffee shop till 1 or 2 pm than take the bus home.

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

Began in public school but mostly since I retired from law practice in 1980

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

I don’t think along that line. My hope is everyone will read what I’ve written.

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

I use photographs.

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

I’m retired and spend all my time writing.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

The rapture of discovery when I reconcile two conflicting ideas or images, exactly what a metaphor does for a living.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

To read at least 50 poems before 1 he or she writes.

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

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

 

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.

SIMON PERCHIK

Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review,The Nation, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. His most recent collection is Almost Rain, published by River Otter Press (2013).  For more information, including free e-books, please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.

Stephanie Maldonado–Interview

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

My creative space has everything to do with sound. In a chaotic setting, my mind automatically becomes dramatic. I can imagine the most that can possibly happen at that very moment. Intensifying every “what if” that enters my brain. However, with soft music, my feelings are tapped into. My deepest works have been created in the calmest of spaces.

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

Growing up my father would literally rip up whatever homework I completed with sloppy hand writing. He didn’t want me to have the same chicken scratch he and my siblings shared. Needless to say, penmanship is everything to me. I can always be found with a pen and some sort of paper. I have written full stories of post-its at work simply because inspiration hit. My work would probably not be the same in intensity had it been typed.

What is your routine for writing?

I wouldn’t say that I have a writing “routine” per say. I carry a journal and have a notes section in my phone where I jot down lines and ideas that pop into my head throughout the day. When I go back to reread them, I scan them to see if anything flows with something or if a new piece is ready.

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

I’ve been physically writing since around the second or third grade. Before writing, I was always making up songs and reading everything I could. Being a chubby kid, words were always kinder to me than my peers. Creativity was my coping mechanism of an escape.

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

Anything that I have ever written is for anyone who feels alone. My writing is meant to heal and be relatable. Often times isolation is stressful. People need to feel that they aren’t alone in order to understand that it will get better. Or that you aren’t a weirdo just because you’re a little different. I hope my writing to be timeless. Offering what is needed to all who read it.

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

Inspiration is befuddling. I can go weeks without a single entry only to follow with a spree of new writings. I’ve been inspired by anything from a song to the weather to a setting. Inspiration is both everywhere and nowhere.

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

My hobbies include traveling, going on adventures, anything music related. I also happen to be an introverted party girl. There’s a lot going on with my personality and the various activities I partake in.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Advice to aspiring writers. I cannot stress this enough: Not everyone is going to understand nor even like your writing. You may never find an author similar in style. That’s the beauty. Always continue your journey as a writer. Grow. Have fun and be true to yourself. ​

Check out Stephanie’s work in Volume 3, Issue 2.