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.
1. Who introduced you to poetry?
My father read to me, and encouraged me to read, when I was small. Lots of poems for children – Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. And Dr. Seuss, I loved him. When I was eight, a teacher told us to each write a poem about our favorite color. I chose red, and had so much fun writing it I then wrote a second one about orange. I liked thinking about rhyme and counting syllables, it made me feel clever; and I very much liked writing down what I thought. Pictures in words.
As a teenager, I wanted to write songs. I idolized all the rock star poets, from Pete Townshend to Laurie Anderson to Joni Mitchell to John Lennon and on and on. Unfortunately I’m not at all musical. But I could write.
2. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
Apart from my crushes on rock gods, I also fancied myself to be in love with Percy Shelley. This was ages 11-13. He was lyrical and rebellious with a strong belief in justice. My type! I have teenage journals filled with quotes from Shelley.
Then came the short sharp shocks of Emily Dickinson and William Carlos Williams; the spiritual embrace of Walt Whitman; the mad rush from Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, Di Prima. Then Sexton, Plath, Olds and Iriguaray broke my head open. In a good way. I’ve been lucky, I’ve had many wonderful teachers who have led me to great writing – starting with my dad.
3. What is your daily writing routine?
I do not write every day. Certain days are designated writing days (two or three/week during term, three or four when I’m not teaching). I get up early, meditate, journal and then cross over into whatever project I’m on. Sometimes at my desk, often on the bed. I hand write everything first. I try hard not to edit while writing. Writing is for the first half of the day, editing is late afternoon-evening. I write for as long as I’ve got. It could be ninety minutes, could be five hours. I’m quite stubborn once I get started and I have to remind myself to stop at some point and eat.
4. What motivates you to write?
In my life now: a meeting of my poetry group, or an email from my publisher asking when she can expect new work, motivates me to write poems. Teaching fiction motivates me to write fiction (otherwise I feel a fraud). My husband Kevin talking about his work motivates me to have work of my own to talk about. These are not deep motivations, but I think all writers need to build in these simple situational motivators too. A writing competition deadline, an assignment due for a class. We all need these.
On a deeper level…I write poetry to make sense of something. I write fiction because I’ve noticed a story no one is telling, because its main character is female or poor or dismissible for some other reason. Mostly I write to answer the question is it just me?
5. What is your work ethic?
Only to do everything to the best of my ability. Otherwise, why bother? And not to imitate anyone, including any of my former selves. To be brave and honest.
6. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I return to them often for inspiration. I read them and remember that initial excitement I felt about the dizzying power of language.
7. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
You know, I work with writers every day (my husband and I have run the Over the Edge readings series, in Galway, Ireland, for sixteen years). So I’d prefer not to single anyone out. I admire writers who are unafraid to be different, to create their own weird cool, follow their own obsessions. I love an original voice; they aren’t all that common. I also appreciate writers who help other, newer writers – by teaching, mentoring, organizing readings or editing magazines.
9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
Because I can’t play the guitar!
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Write. You can only learn by doing it. Read loads, all different kinds of stuff, and set yourself exercises of imitating the elements of style you like. Keep a journal, so you become used to expressing thoughts in written words. Look for some form of community support. A writers’ group, or a class, or open mic sessions, or conferences…anything that brings you into contact with others interested in writing. When you feel ready, start submitting work to magazines and websites. Accept feedback gracefully, while at the same time remembering that a rejection is not the final word on anything. Your secret weapon is your experiences, your voice; no other writer has these. So be yourself.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
Fiction: Cameos, a book of short stories (my third). Each story is written from the point of view of a peripheral female character from a well known Gothic novel. For example, in Irina, I’ve given the young female vampire in Dracula her own backstory (https://atticusreview.org/irina/ ). I love the idea of giving voiceless women characters a chance to speak. And I love Gothic; love, love monsters. Savoring work on this project.
Poetry: I’ve just published my fifth poetry collection, Naked: New and Selected Poems (https://www.salmonpoetry.com/details.php?ID=483&a=39). It contains eighty four poems, the highlights of twenty five years I’ve worked as a published poet. I recently had the great pleasure of launching the book at a Poetry Flash event in Berkeley, California; I got my MA at the University of San Francisco, so this was, in a sense, bringing those early poems back home. Now I’m setting up events for the book in Ireland (where I’ve lived for twenty one years) and elsewhere. The title refers to my policy of being brave and honest in my writing. I’m so proud of Naked.