Wombwell Rainbow Interviews
I am honoured and privileged that the following poets, local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.
According to Califragile “Wren Tuatha was previously Artist-in-Residence at Heathcote Community and co-founded Baltimore’s Sunday Salon. She received grants from Towson University’s Women’s Center and Office of Diversity to perform her slam play, This Is How She Steps on Snakes, and other productions. She won a Young Authors Award for Poetry. Her chapbook, Thistle and Brilliant, is upcoming from Finishing Line Press.
Wren studied education at University of Louisville, and film and poetry at Towson University, where she minored in Gay and Lesbian Studies.
Wren’s poetry has appeared in The Cafe Review, Canary, Poetry Pacific, Peacock Journal, Coachella Review, Arsenic Lobster, Baltimore Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Loch Raven Review, Clover, Lavender Review, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, and Bangalore Review, among others. Yes, she is a Best of the Net nominee; Thanks for asking! Wren and her partner, author/activist C.T. Lawrence Butler, herd skeptical goats on a mountain in California.”
1. What were the circumstances under which you began to write poetry?
Must have been between first and second grade. That summer, I took a writing or poetry class at my neighborhood community center. I sat on a lawn and wrote something with words I could spell, like sky, trees, grass. I remember feeling transdemensional, as if I had healed all diseases by extolling the beauty of sky, trees and grass.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
In terms of adult poetry, my much older sister gave me a well-creased, dogeared anthology. I remember landing on Robert Duncan’s Song of the Borderguard. I had no idea what it was all about, but it reminded me of Jimi Hendrix’ version of All Along the Watchtower, or what I knew of that song at eleven or so. I was hooked. I wanted to write mysterious things.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
If you mean an Old Guard that sets poetic standards from dusty armchairs, I feel the dominating presence of male poets. I’m currently spending time in a couple of online poetry groups, and it’s just like the former Poetry Circle where I met you, Paul—The ratio of posts and responses is anywhere from four to ten men for every woman. When I founded Califragile and put out the first call for submission, I got eight offerings from men to every one woman submitter. I put out special calls for women and discovered some amazing poets. I do witness class and race divides in the literary world, as well.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
If I have a writing routine, it’s a slow motion one that is more monthly or yearlong. I do have a daily editing routine for Califragile, promoting the day’s posted poem on social media and having a first look at new submissions. I prune my own works in progress between editing and tending goats. I’ll revise a particular poem for months or years.
I’m just getting back to writing after an illness of many years. My best practice has been to always, always have pen and paper with me. Writing before my infirmary, I used to have a deep commitment to being ready, stopping whatever I was doing, when the deep muse would give me something interesting. It was usually a phrase in the noise of my inner chatter. Often I would bury an idea there and only be ready to write it six months or a year later. But I would pull over in traffic, turn my stove off, whatever, to let the first draft finally come. I’ve never been a journaler or had a daily practice of exercises or prompts. I’m sure those are powerful, too.
5. What motivates you to write?
I’m not sure I’ve decided to write! I want to have some answer like the desire for justice or the urgency to shine a light on truths we must face these days. I think those are honest. But I am also a pessimist about the world. I certainly have my own selfish reasons—Words are music and art to me. I love creating and reading well crafted poetry, just as I love a painting or song.
All these questions have a before answer and an after one. About six years ago, chronic health conditions I had lived with for most of my life got much worse. My language center was effected. I had trouble forming sentences and keeping up in conversation. I stopped writing poetry, too. Not a line for five years. When I signed up for critiquing on Poetry Circle a couple of years ago, I wanted to shape up my old poems with the hope of getting just a single volume of poems published. My health was so poor I realized I wouldn’t continue the activism and teaching my partner and I had dedicated our lives to. I thought that book of poems could be my little-read legacy. With much effort, I was able to start writing again. Critiquing, editing, reading and writing are great therapy for my brain and I’ve healed quite a bit. I just got a two book offer from Finishing Line Press—One for a book of those old poems, and the other is all new poetry I’ve written recently! That feels like a personal victory.
6. What is your work ethic?
I’m a project person. I’ve been self employed for decades, going from one long term vision to the next. I have to be hyper-focused and able to work all my waking hours on my current project, whether or not I’m being paid or certain that money will come.
I have to say that, living here in America, I see the question of work ethic used as a weapon against poor folks and non-White people. My experience is I’ve met a legion of struggling people, not sure I’ve observed truly lazy people. Then again, our current president has enough time to watch Fox News all day…
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Yoko Ono. Not her writing but her performance art. She taught me that the audience is the canvas. This has informed everything I do in art and education. My goal becomes to get my audience to notice themselves being hypocritical, selfish, human as they interface with my work.
I wanted to be a singer/songwriter. So my formative poets were rock songwriters—Pete Townshend, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Chrissy Hynde, Elvis Costello, Cris Williamson, James Taylor, Joan Armatrading, David Byrne, and so on. They still influence me because I hear the music of language, sonics in images. I dig words for their psychedelic impact—haiku and didgeridoos; glossary, tidbit, figment, sing song, crinkle/crackle, dayglo ipswitch, Scooby Do didgeridoo, hullabaloo, Baloo. Leeloo. Irredescent hobnobbit.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Eileen Miles! Fearless. Allison Joseph, Amy King, Jericho Brown…They’re rooted in their individual truths while holding us all accountable to injustice.
Barbara Henning. She’s putting out a book of what she calls digigrams, lots of dashes between finely sliced images and scenes that are urgently personal and universal. She has distilled poetry down to its very DNA. It’s the poetic lovechild of Emily Dickinson and Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. Yes, I’m auditioning for her back cover!
9. Why do you write?
I write because no one wants to hear me sing/I can’t play guitar/crazy shit happens around me perpetually/I’m right but no one listens/I don’t have plane fare to DC for protesting/I meet people/I’m human/the computer’s already fired up, so…/if I didn’t I’d have to run for office, and no one wants that.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
This is a pregnant question! Sorry, but I’m just not going to stop at, “Write, write, write!” I flash to authors in Feminist Wicca who advise, “Say, ‘I’m a witch!’ three times, and you are one,” the idea being that you have the authority to label yourself without needing outside endorsement. I believe this works for writers, too. If you write, you’re a writer, more so now with the internet. There are venues for all types of work. This sounds like a great equalizer. But of course, we all know that’s not the end of the story.
More deeply, I believe the answer is tied to your goals as a writer. Maybe you’ve been writing a blog for friends, slam for the local open mic, or a newsletter for your club. The bar is low in terms of style, content and quality of craft there. If you now want to see your poetry in Prairie Schooner or Rattle, it needs to conform to what those editors love. Nothing wrong with that, in my opinion. It’s their sandbox. Or you might decide to be true to a different vision and submit elsewhere. Is it your goal to have an independent press publish your book, or do you want to self publish? The answer to “How do you become a writer,” is different for each decision. A writer with big dreams needs to have a high humility level, curiosity and discipline. These come from within. They also need available time. Life/outside forces like to play with us here.
Here’s a morsel I learned in the editing trenches: Don’t put Best of the Net nominations in your bio. This causes an editor eye-roll like you would not believe. When you win, put it in.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I just got a two chapbook deal from Finishing Line Press. We’re working on my collection Thistle and Brilliant first. It’s about relationships and attraction in motion, from my bi/poly perspective. Then we’ll publish Skeptical Goats, about my experiences as an East Coaster transplanted to way-too-sunny-California. My long term poetry project in a book length cycle about “a sense of place,” as a way to explore our relationship to ecology and the planet, and the ways that relationship needs to change if we’re to survive. I’m also chipping away at two memoirs, Twelve if You Count the Peacock, about our small goat rescue ranch, and Vinegar, A Memoir, through the lens of housecleaning. Of course, my daily project is Califragile. We’re wrapping up our #Immigration and #Mountains themes and seeking a publisher for our #MeToo anthology.