Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Marisa Silva-Dunbar

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.

Marisa

Marisa Silva-Dunbar

is a Pushcart nominated poet. Her work has been published in Angelical Ravings, The Same, work to a calm poetry zine, Amaryllis, Manzano Mountain Review, Bone & Ink Press, Pussy Magic, Midnight-Lane Boutique, The Ginger Collect, Barren Magazine, Chantarelle’s Notebook, Sixfold, Constellate Literary Journal, Rose Quartz Journal, Awkward Mermaid, Spider Mirror Journal, Mojave He[art] Review, Anti-Heroin Chic Magazine, Poetry WTF?!, Better than Starbucks Magazine, Redheaded Stepchild, Words Dance Magazine and Gargoyle Magazine. She graduated from the University of East Anglia with her MA in poetry, and has been shortlisted twice for the Eyewear Publishing Fortnight Poetry Prize. Marisa is a contributing writer at Pussy Magic. She has work forthcoming in Dark Marrow, Feminine Collective, Constellate Literary Journal, The Charles River Journal, and Apathy Press. Marisa is the founder and EIC of Neon Mariposa Magazine.

https://marisasilvadunbar.com/

The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

I wrote poetry for myself in middle and high school. When I started uni (at the University of New Mexico), I took a creative writing course. My instructor encouraged me to take more classes, and eventually helped me change my major. At 18 I started writing seriously. I liked the challenge of creating snapshots, and narratives that other people connected with. I wanted to share my stories, to not feel alone.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My sixth grade English teacher read [in Just-] by  e.e. Cummings, and we had an assignment where we had to write a poem in a similar style, but about a different season. I chose summer.  Years after, I would think about the line/image from his poem “when the world is mud-/luscious…” That was the first time a poem stuck with me.

2.1. Why did it stick with you?

I think it was the first poem that I read/heard that wasn’t a rhyming couplet. It had a lot of rich imagery, and “mudluscious” isn’t a word heard often. It makes me think of being a child, and making mud pies in the backyard—that’s a pretty magical time.

3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

Even when I was writing in high school, the presence of traditional poets loomed over me. We weren’t really presented with work by contemporary poets, and I feel that’s why I thought it was easier to write. I didn’t realize how much went into writing a poem—imagery, word choice, where to break a line and why, formatting, or even the purpose of the poem. My biggest concern in those days was whether it rhymed or not.

When I became familiar with contemporary poetry, there was an acute awareness of the importance and power of the older poets within the community. I found poets whose work I really connected with—Sandra Cisneros, Amiri Baraka, Belle Waring, and Anne Sexton. I was introduced to these poets by my mentor at the time, Sarah Azizi. I loved the imagery in her work as well.

3.1. Which poets stayed with you, and why?

Belle Waring, Sandra Cisneros, Clementine Von Radics, and Amber Tamblyn.  Their poetry resonates, and I think at times can be cinematic. The first three women’s poems that stick with me, are ones about heartache, but they feel fresh and relatable. I love Amber Tambly’s Dark Sparkler. The subject matter is rich and I think takes a look at what is demanded of women as a whole.

3.2. What connected you with the poetry of Sandra Cisneros, Amiri Baraka, Belle Waring, and Anne Sexton?

With Sandra Cisneros, I think there was more of a cultural connection with her use of language and imagery. I grew up with her short stories and reading House on Mango Street, so I think in a way, reading her poetry was like getting to know someone who’s been in your life– on a deeper level. Amiri Baraka and Belle Waring, were fresh voices that I hadn’t heard during my years at school. Their styles and subject matter are different, but they both showed me what poetry could be, that it didn’t fit neatly into this box that I thought it had to. I had always heard about Anne Sexton in connection with Sylvia Plath–they were friends, but Plath was a feature in our high school textbooks, while Sexton was not. Sexton dgaf when it came to subject matter, so her poems can be quite shocking.

3.3. What was this “box” that you thought poetry should “fit neatly into”?

I thought it had to rhyme and be about love (usually heartbreak) or nature. Most of the poems we read in school were by white men, occasionally a friend would have a copy of some clichéd poem about breaking up with a boyfriend that they found on the internet. And don’t get me wrong there are some amazing poems about heartbreak, but we weren’t aware of them, nor were we trying to write them.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I like to write in the evenings when I get home from work. In the spring and summer, I try to go to coffee shops and write there–people watching can be very helpful. Sometimes, I can be consumed with a project and try to fit writing in as often as I can. When I was working on the poems for my Allison Mack chap, I would write during lunch or whatever breaks I could. I’d look at pieces in the morning and stay up late trying to get something down.

5. What motivates you to write?

A lot of the time it’s catharsis; I can’t always say what I need to people, or they don’t really listen. Writing helps me make sense, and yeah, there’s the chance those people still won’t read the work or hear me, but it’s out there. Other times it’s just to capture a memory, or a thought that sticks with me.

5.1. How can “people watching” be helpful?

Sometimes it’s overhearing bits of a conversation, and having that inspire a piece or observing how people are interacting. Sometimes it’s trying to imagine what life that person might have outside of that very moment.

6. What is your work ethic?

I think it shifts with the time of year. Sometimes I can afford to give writing more attention and other times, it unfortunately takes a back seat to my day job. I do enjoy my day job, but it can require a lot of time and energy depending on the day or even the season.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence your work today?

It’s like going home. If I feel lost or unsure I will pick up Sandra Cisneros’s “Loose Woman,” read Francesca Lia Block for inspiration. I like the way FLB writes poems about people, specifically women. And Sandra’s imagery is so potent.

I didn’t mention her earlier because it wasn’t only her poetry that influenced me, but the dreamy feel of Francesca Lia Block’s writing has definitely been something that stays with me. She’s a very strong magical realism writer, I love her imagery and word choice. And especially early on as a poet, there were certain ideas and feelings I wanted to emulate.

When it comes to the writers that I read when I was younger, I think their influence has become broader as I’ve grown as a writer. I definitely feel like I have more of my own style and voice, and because of this I don’t want to be tied to another. I look to their writing as a guide for what subject matter I can attempt to take on; it’s more of a challenge to be brave and try something new.

7.1. If a reader wanted to read Francesca Lia Block what would you recommend as a good starting point?

I’d recommend “Girl Goddess #9.” It’s a collection of short stories, so it’s kind of like a tasting menu of her writing. I also think Echo is a great coming of age story, and the one that started it all for me Violet & Claire, which is a platonic love story.

7.2. What ideas and feelings of hers did you want to emulate?

I really loved her imagery and the sense that anything was possible. It was like having a spell cast on you as reader. I know there were times I wanted to jump into a scene, even if it wasn’t being driven by action, because the description was so magical.

7.3. “magical”?

There are scenes from her short stories and novels that stick with me, but the example that’s been on my mind is the excerpt from her novel Echo “Eva believed the place was enchanted, not realizing that she was the enchantment. She picked oranges and avocados when she was hungry and she floated in the water all day until her ivory skin turned to gold and her hair grew even longer, down to her knees.” And that’s just getting us into the chapter. There’s something about her work that is so satisfying.

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

Tianna G. Hansen, Vanessa Maki, Kathryn Merwin, and Melissa Lozada-Oliva. I remember reading Kathryn Merwin’s work during a period of time when I hadn’t written for months and was at a crossroads with my reading. Her work was so beautiful that it inspired me to keep writing, and that was the first time I really looked at myself and said if I want to be a writer, I need to be working a helluva lot harder. Vanessa’s work is experimental and she is really creative. I’m currently looking over her chapbook “Chosen One” about Buffy the vampire slayer. Tianna is just an all around badass; she runs her own press, and magazines, she’s writing some really beautiful wolf poems. Melissa creates powerful poems from the personal to, political, to an analysis of pop culture.

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

I would say, read as much as you can. Figure out the things you like as a reader, and see how you could apply similar techniques to your own work. Don’t plagiarize.

Be prepared to get lots of rejections. Write, edit, rewrite. One of the best pieces of advice an instructor gave to me was, “you’re rarely going to write a great poem in ten minutes. You’re going to have a few drafts before you get a piece right.” Sometimes you have to let work sit for awhile before it’s ready. There was a poem I wrote years ago that I knew needed a partner, and it took me five years before that happened.

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

I’m currently working on a couple of chaps/micro chaps. One is about my first year living in England, and the three women I formed a friendship with that year. The other is a chap based around untranslatable words.

I’m still writing for Pussy Magic and hope to compile my goddess poems into a chap within the next year or two. I’m slowly reorganizing my full length manuscript and hope to have that finished by the end of the year.

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