I was tagged by Pittsburgh poet Angele Ellis in this linked blog tour of questions about the writing process. Angele has two collections out: Arab on Radar, and Spared. She is a great friend and support for me. You can check out her responses to the WPBT questions here.
1) What am I working on?
Currently I have three things going at the same time. I have a full length ms that I'm shopping around to publishers. I've become at sixes and sevens with this ms because I've been writing / revising it over four years and have handed it off to a number of readers. The resulting book, well, some days it looks great and I am proud. Some days it looks like I took out my nightmares on it with a machete. Why are these poems in this order? Why did I take out that one and leave that one in? This will be my first full-length publication, and I don't yet feel comfortable at juggling so many ideas. I'm not sure, however, if the process of organizing a full-length ms ever becomes comfortable. Hopefully I will have the chance to find out.
Chapbooks, to me, are easier. They are focused. They have a defined arc. In my full-length ms, voices and motifs spiral and weave, and after four years, I don't feel in control any more. So.... I've recently hired an editor. This is a Big Deal for me, a major act of trust and surprisingly intimate. However, I feel confident placing my work in her hands. She's already helped a great deal by asking some good questions and helping me focus my ideas. I'm excited to find out what her fresh viewpoint has to offer, and to learn vicariously how better to construct a book.
The second project is a chapbook which I have working-titled "the dead mommy poems" to the horror of my husband and therapist. To me, it is darkly hilarious. And sometimes, the way to cope with a devastating loss involves humor. My mom chose to end her life on September 21, 2012. I spent the next year-and-several-months trapped in a little sphere of agoraphobia and wordless grief, and beyond structured visits to various mental health professionals, did not get out much. Year two, for me, is about learning how to be a poet again. Now I have energy. I can give more. I'm pushing myself to participate, show up, really be there for others and myself---now that I can go unaccompanied to the grocery store like a champ.
This chapbook happened because, after about a year, I started having recurring dreams in which my mother (both in her living and dead forms) made scary cameos. So I started poem-ing them. But I didn't want the poems to be overtly like... "last night I dreamt…" So. I've been pushing into the territory of magic realism for a few years now, and that's what these poems are. To me this makes complete sense. The whole circumstance surrounding my mother's death was incredibly surreal... it utterly defied the logic of any rational or irrational situation I've been put into already in my life, and my life to that point had not been free of weird and traumatic stuff. So I'm really taking chances / having adventures with language and voice in these poems, and they give me a great sense of accomplishment. I recently did seven of these poems at a reading to a very strong reception.
The third thing is another chapbook -- of centos. As a hobby, I am a mixed-media artist. About fifteen years ago, I started out working with paper and glue. I cut out these small fragile details to make a whirl of color and shape that both invited and challenged the eye to interpret it. Later I moved on to include more media and then into the digital realm, but the pieces I'm most proud of are the ones that take only one type of material to create something complex. I had been interested in centos, for years, but from a distance. However during the last NaNoWriMo, I did a poem a day instead of doing 50K words. In my scribbling-typing-web-crawling frenzy I discovered these poems by Australian poet Kate Fagan. I just fell in love with the form and decided I had to pursue it. There's more to say about this chap, but I want to keep it under wraps for now.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My knee-jerk response is "read it and see!" It's very hard for me to conceive of poetry as "one genre." There are so many subgenres.
J. Allyn Rosser once said of my work, "[it] moves between the real and surreal without bothering to compartmentalize."
My poetry is more grounded in the body. It engages the senses. There is usually a subtle or not-subtle threat involved.
I would say it is not cerebral or meditative. I do not "think on the page." I am emotionally involved in every poem, and I intend for the reader to be emotionally involved as well.
I don't write pastorals. Sometimes I wish I did. Because it seems easy. And sometimes I will throw myself a pity party to the tune of every journal is publishing work about the natural world and nobody likes my stuff because I don't meditate on the beauty of the majestic forest etc. But that's only when I'm frustrated or have just received an inordinate amount of rejections in a week.
I am increasingly taking risks with language and imagistic leaps----seeing how far I can go before (I feel like I) alienate my reader by making the poem impenetrable, and then pulling back a little. That's fun.
3) Why do I write what I do?
If I didn't, I'd go crazy.
4) How does your writing process work?
This question is hard to approach in generalities, so I will make it specific. For the dead mommy poems I wait until my unconscious presents me with a bit of a dream or a memory and I treat that as impetus for a new poem. From there it's like... I breathe deeply, close my eyes, and allow myself to go to that surreal and terrifying place. And then write what comes out of it.
The centos are much more methodical, which is fun in its own way. The sources I'm using have digitized versions. I can sit for hours immersed in a book, combing through for evocative words and phrases. Then I sift through the pile of scraps and see what emerges. It's interesting... these centos are not meant to recount the sources that they borrow from. In fact, I wanted just the opposite to happen. I wanted readers to think, "how did that poem come from that source?" But because there is a pattern of diction and language in the source material, the tone of the source remains in the poem.
As for revision, I get up early on the weekend while my husband is sleeping, feed the cats and pay them some attention so they are content and leave me to go do cat-things, and that's when I do my best revising. I like silence, or ambient noise that I can tune out. Drafting for some reason, tends to happen in the evening. I do all my work on the computer because without the speed of typing I could never keep up with my flying thoughts.