Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Amy Alexander

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.

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Amy Alexander

is a poet, visual artist, and mother living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, not far from the Mississippi River, which is very far from her hometown on the Colorado River, but still familiar, because of moving water. Her work has appeared most recently in The Coil, Cease, Cows, Anti-Heroin Chic, the Mojave Heart Review, Mooky Chick, The Remembered Arts, and RKVRY. Follow her on Twitter @iriemom.

The Interview

  1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I grew up in Colorado, right between Aspen and Vail, and the breathtaking beauty, extreme cold, long winters, short days, odd folklore, and vibration of that place on earth was my first experience of poetry. When I was in sixth grade, we were given an assignment to write a poem. I wrote twelve, and felt like I was at home in that medium. It is definitely a medium that one has to grow into, though, and so, for many years, I considered myself much more a musician, dancer, and artist before I thought of myself as any kind of writer.

  1. Who introduced you to poetry?

My mother had a way with language and always encouraged us to express ourselves. She used to record us telling stories and she read a lot of poetry to us. When I went to college at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, I had the opportunity to study with two poets who were disciples of James Dickey, who taught down the road at the University of South Carolina, in Columbia. I love the notion of poetic inheritance, and I do feel like I was gifted with some of Dickey’s ear and wisdom by Susan Ludvigson and Dorothy Perry Thompson.

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

I was taught to venerate Wordsworth, Shelley, Robinson Jeffers, and the like, but many of my teachers were also keen on introducing us to poets who were living alongside us. So I got the chance to attend readings by Charles Simic, for example. After college, I moved to Tucson, Arizona, where I sought out older poets and spent a lot of time loafing at The Poetry Center and volunteering to make posters for them. As a result, I got to go to a lot of readings.

  1. What is your daily writing routine?

I am a mom, first, so I get my kids off to school, attend to whatever household tasks I need to, and then I settle in for a few moments of time to read and write. I often write for several weeks at a time, fervently, and then take a season off. Last year, I tried to make that more consistent, to write every day, and found myself very unmoored, emotionally. I think I need time to rest between poetic sparks, so I am allowing that to take place this year.

  1. What motivates you to write?

It is either utter anguish or a really cool thing that I can research. I find that if I am not in a state of needing to really hash something out on the page, usually about my birth family, then I can go to the library or read, and often will find out something new that leads to questions, questions, and more questions that turn into poems. I’ve been a journalist for more than twenty years alongside being a poet, so research and writing feel like parts of the same process, to me.

  1. What is your work ethic?

I’m descended from Mormon pioneers, but live in Louisiana, married to a Cajun. So It’s kind of work really intently and then fly off and have a really good time dressed in costumes and then return, contrite, for a Lenten fast and more hard work, all the while looking out the window and wondering what’s for supper. Yeah, that pretty much sums it up (laugh).

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

I was lucky enough to grow up in a home with a lot of books. We were always reading and talking about books, and my mother was very committed to reading to us out loud. As a result, I think I fell in love with illustrators as much as writers, and particularly authors who both wrote and made art. I think that is why my latest book features colorful art. It is kind of like a children’s book for adults.

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

Joy Harjo, because her writing feels familiar to me, somehow, in how it’s put together. It’s like going home. Naomi Shihab Nye, because, in a workshop with her, I learned that you can and should, as a poet, travel through time and space. She is the one who articulated that for me. Lately, I’ve been reading Tiana Clark, because she reminds me not to hide, and I am trying to put down the things that really scare me to say out loud. I really love the work of Cheryl St. Germain, because she is from Louisiana and does a good job of pairing the ragged, haunted interior life with small, external, trivial seeming details. Elisabeth Horan is my collaborator, co-editor, and friend. I get to read a lot of her work before anyone else, and it pushes me to climb outside of the narrative constraints that I cling to, maybe too much, as a journalist.

  1. Why do you write?

Probably because it does not require a lot of equipment, and I am a very practical gal. It is one of few art forms that you can take with you anywhere. It requires no expensive instruments, no mess, and not a lot of space. The down–or up?–side is that you have to be willing to give it the very fiber of your being in order for it to ring true. Getting older helps it, too, so patience is essential.

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

That one is pretty simple. Sit down. Write. Repeat. Don’t worry about publishing. If you write a lot, the publishing will follow, naturally. You’ll have more nerve and more material to put out in the world. So just start writing. Also, find a mentor. Not a fancy university or institution with a big name, but someone you love and who loves you. I had a wonderful teacher, Barrie Ryan, I found after college who taught at Pima Community College, in Tucson. There were high school graduates looking for an easy A, many of whom became wonderful poets, almost by accident, alongside a whole bunch of serious, older poets who knew that Barrie would create a space that allowed our poems to grow. She did that beautifully.

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

I have a few. One is like therapy, so I do not work on it daily. It is shaping up to be some kind of a desert song. You can read some pieces from that sequence in the Mojave He[art] Review. Another, a set of sonnets about Typhoid Mary. And a third, a set of poems about the old pioneer cemetery on the mountain above where I grew up. I am researching each person who is buried there and writing poems about them that are both historical and personal. You can read some of those poems in Twist in Time Literary Magazine.

My book, The Legend of the Kettle Daughter, is coming out in April and you can find out more about that at www.kettledaughter.com.

One thought on “Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Amy Alexander

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