Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Cathryn Shea

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers 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.


Cathryn Shea, 

Cathryn Shea’s poetry has been widely published and was nominated for Sundress Publication’s Best of the Net. Her third chapbook, “The Secrets Hidden in a Pear Tree” is forthcoming from dancing girl press in early 2019. Her second chapbook, “It’s Raining Lullabies” is also from dancing girl press (November 2017). Cathryn’s poetry has appeared recently in New Orleans Review (web feature), TypishlyAfter the PauseburntdistrictPermafrostTar River Poetry, and elsewhere.

Her first chapbook, “Snap Bean,” was released in 2014 by CC.Marimbo of Berkeley. She was a merit finalist for the Atlanta Review 2013 International Poetry Competition and in 2004, she received the Marjorie J. Wilson Award judged by Charles Simic. Cathryn is included in the 2012 anthology “Open to Interpretation: Intimate Landscape” and she has poems in 2017 anthologies, including “Luminous Echos” by Into The Void, and “The New English Verse” by Cyberwit.net(India).  Follow her on Twitter: @cathy_shea.



The Interview

  1. What inspired you to write poetry?

When I was little, my father had the complete works of Robert Burns, which he cherished and read from. That made a big impression on me and made me feel from an early age that poetry is important. We also loved Edgar Allen Poe and Walt Whitman. I discovered a few other poets like e. e. cummings and Emily Dickenson in high school, after my love affair with everything Steinbeck. I kept notebooks from a very early age, full of scribblings, observations, and drawings. I attempted poetry with the result that I was good at doggerel. But that didn’t stop me.

  1. Who introduced you to poetry?

Although my father had a big part in instilling in me the importance of poetry, I feel that finally when I was in college, my professors really got me going on poetry. Also, my cadre of friends that I hung out with. They introduced me to a disparate array of poets like Auden, Neruda, Rilke, Roethke, Plath, Bishop. The list is much longer now that I think of it; too long to list here. It’s interesting to me that the list really did not contain the most current poets. I was an English Literature major with Fine Art minor, so I as lucky to be immersed in reading and analysing and the attendant deadlines for papers and creative work of my own.

  1. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I would say that I was very aware since, like I say, I was an English Lit. major. Therefore, I studied Chaucer, Milton, Dunne, the old English poets, and Shakespeare. I also studied some Classics, but not as much as I would have liked since my main focus was English origins of poetry and literature. I also loved Russian literature and read widely (in English, of course).

  1. What is your daily writing routine?

On a daily basis, I take my cup of coffee into a small room furnished with a couch (that folds out to a Queen bed, which I can use for guests), a TV tray for balancing books and paper on, a chair for our 20 lb. Main Coon cat, and my desktop computer and monitor. I bring my iPad and sit on the couch with a cup of strong coffee, first thing. I handwrite in a notebook; go over previous notes and freewrites; read over my manuscripts; choose poems to revise. If I am not inspired to write, then I read from an ever-present stack of poetry books. When I want to do serious work revising, I work on my desktop computer, not my iPad. I really never write using my iPad; that is just for looking things up and going to online poetry sites. I also use Duotrope almost daily to track my work and submissions, find places to check out and submit to.

I also belong to several writing groups and one poetry book study group. I belong to Marin Poetry Center, which has a reading series where we hear poets from all over. MPC also has an annual traveling show where its members read in local venues. My groups are invaluable for workshopping my poems. I meet with five or six poets every two weeks in San Francisco; up to ten poets once a month in a group led my Tom Centolella (an excellent poet and teacher); once per month with four poets; and once per month with a poetry book group. I almost forgot: I also participate in a fun freewriting group of women, typically six or so, who meet quarterly on the solstices. We each bring a poem to read aloud and a writing prompt.

I feel like working with or on poetry is a great part of my daily routine. After working many years in the computer industry as a product manager and finally as a technical writer, I now have much more time to devote to poetry. My two children are adults and my long-time marriage is humming along, for which I am grateful. I’m glad that many years ago poetry and art were ingrained in me so that as I age, I can rely especially on poetry for solace and camaraderie.

  1. What motivates you to write?

My motivations for writing have always been the expression of personal joys, sorrows, loves, grieving, along with a smidgen of sarcasm and anger. Writing has always provided me with a wonderful outlet, even if I tear up old rants. I now share a lot of what I write because it is much more polished and I seem to write much more for sharing with others.

  1. What is your work ethic?

Probably because of all my years in the workplace with severe deadlines and a heavy workload, I have a strong sense of what I set up as my own projects. I worked so much with milestones and progress reports that although I am not that hard on myself, I do have a sense of due dates that I set, and then I am also always preparing for my poetry groups and workshops. That keeps me busy. It takes some discipline and I cannot just be willy-nilly with what I want to accomplish.

  1. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I’ve always loved Grimm’s Fairy Tales and folklore, and loved being scared to death as a child. The stories and imagery were so inspiring. Language is very important to me. The roots and history of language is fascinating. I do enjoy studying and knowing about formal poetics, various forms, and all the technical stuff, even though I write mostly in free verse. I have a good collection of how-to poetry books and reference books like The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics and Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, to name a few.

  1. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

This is a tough question because I always have a big stack of books and I also download best sellers and books from the library to my Kindle. My list of writers seems to morph with what I find through my friends and even on Facebook and Twitter. I follow a lot of poets on social media. I also go into Duotrope and click around to find new publications that lead me to new writers. Here is a partial list of people I have laying round my table right now:

Thomas Centolella (Almost Human, Tupelo Press)

Patricia Lockwood (Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, Penguin Poets)

Maggie Smith (Good Bones, Tupelo Press)

Tony Hoagland (Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God, Graywolf Press)

Kristy Bowen (Salvage, Black Lawrence Press)

Wesley McNair (Lovers of the Lost, David R. Godine, Publisher)

Jack Gilbert (Refusing Heaven, Alfred A. Knopf)

George Oppen (New Collected Poems, A New Directions Book)

Kaveh Akbar (Calling a Wolf a Wolf, Alice James Books)

I admire the books of my poetry friends too: Connie Post, Francesca Bell, Kate Peper, Ann Robinson, Yvonne Canon, Rebecca Foust, Yvonne Postelle, Joe Zaccardi, Donna Emerson, Ricky Ray, Mare Leonard, Barbara Brauer and Roy Mash; this is just a partial list. I am blessed to have many poet friends in a community of poets in my vicinity and online.

  1. Why do you write?

Writing provides a tremendous force for my wellbeing and imagination. Writing connects me with a diverse community of other writers, which if I were not writing I would totally miss out on. Reading helps too, but the creative energy I put into writing really links me to other people while also nourishing my soul.

  1. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

I would say that keeping little notebooks around and jotting down thoughts and impressions is a good way to start. Just write stream of consciousness and do not be concerned with grammar or punctuation (at first anyway). Just let it flow. I do believe that reading broadly and educating yourself is extremely helpful. I cannot imagine just trying to write without also reading a wide range of authors, whether poetry or fiction. Reading book reviews and essays on writing is also a good way to get into the writing mode.

  1. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

Currently, I’m waiting for the galley for my latest chapbook, “The Secrets Hidden in a Pear Tree,” which is due out in early 2019 by dancing girl press of Chicago. I’ve just submitted a full-length poetry manuscript (approx. 80 pages) for an evaluation to a publisher in Portland OR. I paid extra for feedback. This is a manuscript I’ve been working on in earnest for the past year. I’m hoping to find a publisher, of course. I’ve already been rejected several times and I expect to go through more submitting and rejections before it, hopefully, lands with a home. It’s quite a process getting a book accepted. I may have to work on it for another year. Who knows. Meanwhile, I have yet another poetry chapbook that I’ve put together and torn apart and put back together. It got rejected by a few places and I suspect it will morph over the next few months to a year as well. I submit regularly to what I consider to be somewhat “underground” journals. That is, I typically do not submit to the top-tier most well-known places, but to lesser-known, newer, and experimental journals that encourage a variety of nascent and well-established poets.





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