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.
Julene Tripp Weaver
is a psychotherapist and writer in Seattle. She has three poetry books: truth be bold—Serenading Life & Death in the Age of AIDS, No Father Can Save Her, and a chapbook, Case Walking: An AIDS Case Manager Wails Her Blues.
She is widely published in journals and anthologies. A few online sites where her work can be found include: Riverbabble, River & South Review, The Seattle Review of Books, HIV Here & Now, Mad Swirl, Anti-Heroin Chic, Writing in a Woman’s Voice and in the Stonewall Legacy Anthology.
Find her online at http://www.julenetrippweaver.com/
or Twitter @trippweavepoet.
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
After my father’s death, before I turned twelve, I started to record my dreams and write in a journal. Writing helped during this difficult time, I was bereft. In my fantasy life poets were cool and I longed to be around people who were different. After my mother moved us to the city, I signed up for an evening poetry class at a local college in Queens. I was barely a teenager, and had to depend on my uncle to drive me. He had a bias against poets, the whole way there he yelled about beatniks sitting on floors, saying he worked hard to provide chairs for his family to sit on. I had a poem in my pocket and was terrified. The adult poets talked about poets I didn’t know. I felt like an outsider and realized I needed to understand more. Because of the lack of support, I didn’t go back to that group. Getting back to poetry took a long time, I had to move away from my family and become financially independent.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
When I was finally living on my own, I started investigating the writing world. Living in Manhattan I found classes at the Y and signed up. I read Peter Elbow’s books on writing. Finding other writers was helpful, I joined a group of women poets for feedback. Then I joined a local chapter of the Feminist Writers’ Guild; we brought in May Sarton to read, and they sponsored me to travel to a conference in Chicago where I gave my first public reading. Judy Grahn’s poetry inspired me, I wanted to write feminist poetry to change the world. Audre Lorde was well known and I learned she taught at Hunter College. I applied to CUNY so I could study with her and got a Bachelor degree with a double major of Creative Writing and Women’s Studies. I’d say Judy Grahn’s book, The Work of a Common Woman, had the most influence, she was such a strong lesbian feminist and I was in that community.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
When I started my journey as a poet I was unaware of the cannon. Audre started us out with an e.e. cummings poem, but she didn’t teach the older poets. She had us writing and workshopping our poems, reading and going to readings and journaling our impressions. I’ve done much catch-up. A few of the older male poets I admire include William Carlos Williams, William Stafford, Charles Simic, James Tate, Russell Edison, Richard Hugo. A generation in between when poetry was already moving away from rhyme to free verse. And with some of these it is their books about writing poetry that I love. I’ve read Gerard Manley Hopkins, Shakespeare sonnets, and some of the older poets, but I’m not drawn to their work.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I do not have a routine. Writing means a lot of things; writing new work, editing work, sending out work, composing collections, writing about the work (as in this interview), taking time to do nothing, applying to programs, residencies, grants. There is so much it’s overwhelming. And I easily get overwhelmed. So I’ve learned to be not too hard on myself for what I could be doing at any given moment. I spend far too much time on social media. But I keep a journal that I then cull work from. Plus, I write other genres: memoir and essays, for a few years I wrote articles for a health corner column in a newsletter.
5. What motivates you to write?
It’s a drive to the page, there were periods I did not have that drive and I just existed, lived life, worked and had fun with friends or a partner. Then there are periods where my writing ramps up: I take a class, begin to focus on a particular project, get excited about a call or networking. The newest thing I’ve done with a friend is to start a reading series at a local café once a month. It’s been more stressful than I anticipated. When my last poetry book was published I dedicated over three years to promote it.
6. What is your work ethic?
My first career as a laboratory technician lasted fourteen years; I worked at one lab for over eight years. Then I went back to school and had odd jobs that included my own business cleaning apartments in New York City. After that I did secretarial work, moved to Seattle and went back to school for a Masters in counselling. With that degree I worked for twenty-one years in AIDS services, eighteen of those years for the same agency in different capacities. I work hard and steady. I write hard, too, when I write. Semi-retired now, I have a small private therapy practice and my goal is to devote more time to writing, but I’m also the president of my condo Board. Responsibility and service are a big part of my work ethic, as is doing work from love, which I did working in AIDS services for twenty-one years. When I worked where they had a union I was a rep, and I’ve been part of two union negotiations.
7. How did the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
This is impossible to answer because I’m not sure how the books I loved as a child influenced my writing today. I read Heidi eight times, and all the Nancy Drew mystery novels.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
There are so many excellent authors! I have to say two I’ve worked with:
Louise DeSalvo, I found her when I started Hunter College. She taught a different literature class each semester and I took every class of hers I could. She was a brilliant Virginia Wolf scholar with a PhD in the Deconstruction of Literature. Generous and supportive of her students she bestowed confidence. She constantly had new books coming out in different genres. Two of her books I keep ready at my fingertips: Writing as a Way of Healing : How Telling Our Stories Transforms our Lives, and The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity. She also has several memoirs, academic books, fiction and an anthology she edited of Italian American women. She died in October 2018.
The other writer is Tom Spanbauer, he trademarked Dangerous Writing. I love his book The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon, so when I heard he was in Portland teaching Dangerous Writing workshops I wanted to study with him. For a year I went back and forth to Portland for several workshops and love his way of teaching. He is open and vulnerable, providing a safe space to write dangerous things that are hard to get onto the page. I’ve read each of his novels, and from him learned even though I am not a fiction writer, what I write has value.
There are many other excellent poets and writers I admire.
9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
Well I consider myself an artist, and have called myself a health artist. Of all the arts, writing is what I’ve spent the most time to develop. I’ve taken art classes and I practice movement work. I discovered Continuum in 1988 and it has changed my life several times. For ten years, from 1997 to 2007, I ran workshops that combined Continuum movement and writing after taking Emilie Conrad and Rebecca Mark’s Poetry in Motion Intensive. Emilie was the founder of Continuum Movement, she died in 2014. In my workshop we experimented with breath, audible breath and movement that perturbed our interior world, then listened and allowed hand-to-page exploration. From my first Poetry in Motion I started what became a large body of writing about my work in HIV/AIDS.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
The best advice is to read a lot of poetry. There is so much good poetry available and you learn by the process of reading a wide range. Also, take classes and find a group where you get together and read your work out loud, then exchange feedback. Or find a group where you use a prompt, write for a timed period then go around and read what was written, either with no feedback or only positive. You’ll begin to get more fluid putting pen to page. It’s best to read it right away without worrying or thinking about it too much. If you have good mentors along the way and the right support I don’t think an MFA is so important.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’m working on a hybrid memoir and searching for publishers that will answer directly to an author as a first step. As a hybrid form it includes journal excerpts and dreams. I hope to have a my early health essays included in an addendum.
On my to-do list is to develop my next poetry manuscript and start sending it out. But first I need to form an arc from my many poems written in the past several years. Each book birth takes a lot of energy and my last book promotion has been slowly winding down; although I will be on a panel at AWP2020 in San Antonio related to that book reading my poetry.