How does your role as a professor/teacher interact with your work as a literary artist? Does it help/hinder? Do the two “worlds” ever interact?
My roles as teacher and writer interact all the time—especially when I’m teaching literature and creative writing. In literature classes, where I often teach contemporary authors, I get to experience each text anew each time I teach it. Students will often open up a text to me, noticing something I haven’t (the beauty of a rich text is that there’s always something new to notice); this happens especially with students who are new to reading literature. Because they don’t know what they should be reading for—they find original readings, ask strange questions that occasion a new way to look at a text.
In creative writing classes, I often complete the exercises along with my students. Recently we’ve been working on poems of place, playing with form, and trying out weird prompts: these exercises draw me back to my own work, time and time again. Teaching makes me a better and more engaged writer. Writing makes me a better and more engaged teacher (I hope).
Can you talk a bit about your writing process? How do you prepare to write? Is there a consistent environment you like to write in, or do you prefer to utilize spur of the moment inspiration?
I wish I had a clear process, a writing studio with big windows and lots of light. But I find myself finding time to write between teaching tasks during the semester, which means I often find myself writing on my laptop, sandwiched between stacks of papers, lecture notes and open textbooks. This shows in my work, which often includes bits of found material, excerpted text, and switching points of view.
I’m lucky that as a poet I can often find a few spare moments to jot down ideas and lines, and return to them later. For larger projects, like a short story, or plotting a novel, I reserve the summer or winter breaks. Even when I think, “OK, I’m going to take a break from writing for a while and work on this other project . . .” something calls to me that wants to be written. I try to be aware of that call and answer it.
In your opinion, how does your most recent work compare with your favorite past work? What’s changed? What’s remained the same?
My first chapbook, A Lovely Box, was mostly long and multilayered poems that used a lot of excerpted text. In publishing that, there were some issues with fair use of text, and I also had more trouble finding homes for longer poems. Since then, I’ve tried to think of longer texts in sequences – often I think of versions of poems. There might be a version of a poem for publication in a magazine or journal, and a version that will be refashioned for eventual inclusion in a book. It seems strange to say “I think about the market” when it comes to poetry… but I do.
My work has also naturally moved from more autobiographical work to work that speaks to and is inclusive of larger contexts. This also makes sense, I think, for a lot of writers—we start with our own stories, the ones inside of us that were the first impetus to write; then, we look beyond our own stories, and think about how we can use our voices to foreground and highlight stories that need to be told, that maybe aren’t. There’s often still a connection to the self, but the self is decentered.
What remains the same in my work is an interest in destabilizing forms and voices. In my education as a writer, I was drawn to writers who wrestled with an overpowering tradition (think Plath and Sexton) that could be overwhelming. In my work, I try to enact that wrestling on the page by writing poems that undo themselves. If there’s a strong authorial presence in the speaker’s voice, I try to complicate it in a number of ways: interrupt it with the voices and language of others; undercut it with formal interruptions; mock it with humor or irony. The Poet should always be interrogated. Whatever the Poet thinks she knows should always be challenged.
Do you choose to share some or all of your work with your close friends and family? If so, what opinions do they have about it?
I do. Mostly they are kind—my parents read my work and do what parents who aren’t literary types do. They tell me they are proud of me and love me, even if/especially if they have no idea what’s going on.
Poetry is easier than prose in this way. Poets have a smaller readership, and our style of communicating is more elliptical. Misreading and intentional misreading, provides shelter and solace. As I’ve begun writing prose (and using bits and pieces of real people’s lives) this is all getting much trickier… some of my loved ones whose stories I’ve stolen and adapted have said they feel honored and loved to see themselves in my work; some have said nothing (which I think is a kindness to me). And some I know I’ll need to give a heads-up to very soon… we’ll see. We’ll see.