Interview: Nancy Austin

Where do you draw the most inspiration for your writing?

Inspiration comes from all kinds of sources: observing and listening to people, a phrase or idea that pops into the head, feeling fired up, trying to make sense of something, or just hearing someone utter word candy like a pier up here, or edited it out. My husband is an endless source of comedic material. I also love the outdoors and use nature conceits or extended metaphors to parallel human behavior.

What challenges do you face when writing a poem?

Sometimes life is so busy. When I feel a poem coming on I’m unable to get away to write it. A little notebook helps.

Have you ever found yourself stuck on a piece of your work? If so what methods help you get around this?

It’s funny how some poems come easily—floodgates open, they write themselves. More often than not they require more effort. When my muse is unavailable I write everything down that I want to say in prose form, then prune unnecessary phrases/words until a poetic form comes to light. I naturally go overboard on alliteration so I have a little laugh at myself, then tone that down. I whittle away and whittle away at the words—less is better if it says what it needs to. Then I romance the language. Shop for synonyms. Funny how swapping words out for slightly different ones can change the tone of a poem. I read it aloud and tweak anything that sounds like it doesn’t belong. When it seems the poem is finished I put it away for hours, or a day, then come back to it. I’m guaranteed to find it still needs work. So, rinse and repeat. I benefit from reading it to someone else to get their take on it.

What made you first want to start writing poetry?

A teacher in fifth grade assigned a poetry journal and provided some positive feedback. I was off and running, with much to learn. I’m still learning/evolving.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in writing poetry (maybe something you didn’t know when you started but now know)?

Here is the most useful advice given to me: read, read, read other’s poetry. A universe of words will open itself to you. Join a writing group to get and give feedback. Take workshops and utilize the best tidbit or two from each one. Write, write, write. Sometimes it takes the crafting of ten poems to yield one really good one. Save the ones that never made it off the runway; go back and salvage the parts.

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