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 three options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger, or an interview about their latest book, or a combination of these.
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.
Amanda Stovicek D’Alessandro
is a poet and teaching artist from Cleveland, Ohio.
Her recent poems have appeared in Barnhouse Journal, Nice Cage, Noble/Gas Qtrly, and others. Her debut micro-chapbook, SPACE SPECTACULAR, was published by Ghost City Press in their 2018 Summer Micro-Chapbook Series.
D’Alessandro has taught for seven years, leading creative writing workshops in the community, and teaching college English at various academic institutions. She holds an MFA in Poetry and Creative Writing from the Northeast Ohio MFA Program, and an MA in English Language and Literature from Kent State.
D’Alessandro’s poem “Last Note Slipped Under the Mattress” in Gordon Square Review (published as Amanda Stovicek) was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2018. Her poem “Blueshift” was selected as the winner of the 2017 Academy of American Poets University Prize. She was named the Graduate Fellow for the Wick Poetry Center for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 academic years.
- When and why did you start writing poetry?
I started writing poetry in my undergraduate Intro to Creative Writing class at Heidelberg University. I’d probably written something similar to poetry before this, but my focus was mainly on fiction writing and comic books. I thought serious poetry was for elitists because my main exposure to it was the works of Robert Frost and Shakespeare (nothing against them, as I appreciate their works now, but at the time, this was not what I wanted to read). The only kind of poetry I liked prior to this was narrative poetry like “The Highwayman” and the works of Edgar Allen Poe.
- Who introduced you to poetry?
I guess two people. My dad used to read me limericks and narrative poems when I was young. I liked the way he intoned the meter of the poems, especially when he read me “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes. But my awakening to poetry happened my sophomore year of college when my Intro to Creative Writing professor, Bob Reyer, introduced me to poets like Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and Wendy Cope. We read a lot of different poems in that class, and emulated the work of the poets, but these three in particular still stick in my memory. Wendy Cope’s poem “The Orange” was the one that made me realize that poetry doesn’t have to be lofty or use flowery language. Sometimes a poem can just speak about sharing an orange.
- How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?
The canon of poetry really affected my perception of what poetry was and who it was for. I never thought of myself as a poet, even after I started writing poetry, until I was able to break free of the “purple prose “of a lot of canon poetry. I am grateful for contemporary writers because they’ve helped me discover new ways of rending language and image in poetry–something that has helped me grow as a writer on my own. Some contemporary poets might be criticised for being too gimmicky, but I find that each new way of looking at writing poetry can be valuable to someone, even if it’s not me. The popularity of poetry on Instagram is also something that I am aware of– poets who write a few lines and put a line-drawn image next to it. I am grateful to these poets too, because they open the world of poetry up for people who might otherwise not consider reading it.
- What is your daily writing routine?
I don’t have a routine. I wish I wrote daily, but I find my writing comes like a growth spurt–sometimes an idea enters my mind and it’s incredibly ferocious and I must write it down. Usually this comes before I am meeting with my small poetry group, or after I’ve spent the day grading papers and I need a creative outlet. I know some writers argue you cannot be successful if you don’t write every day. But I disagree. I think everyone’s approach to creative work is different, and if the act of creating is what one values, then there is no wrong way to write.
- What subjects motivate you to write?
Space! It’s vast, dark, empty, unknown. I love casually reading wikipedia pages about astrophysics and stories behind star names and stellar phenomena. I’m also inspired by womanhood. It’s hard to separate my gender from my writing; there’s a sense of urgency in the expression of my experiences. I don’t ever set out to write about being a woman, but it creeps its way in. I am in love with gothic imagery and decay, and the way the natural world takes over after we’ve gone.
- What is your work ethic?
I don’t really know how to answer this question! I definitely procrastinate, even though I tell my students not to–it’s some psychological flaw, perhaps. But I always work with a sense of urgency. I find when writing poetry that my best approach is to write as much as I can, then read it out loud. If I’m working on a manuscript, it has to be printed so I can physically arrange the pieces and understand how they work together.
- How do the writers you read when you were young influence your work today?
I am constantly influenced by Anne Sexton. Her poem “The Starry Night” is what started me on this journey to explore space in my writing. I love the trudge of her language and the way she rendered feeling so deeply with just a few words. I cannot help but go back to reading her work when I have writer’s block, because I’ll inevitably find a poem that sparks something in me.
- Whom of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
So many! But I can name a couple whose recent books have given me much inspiration. Emily Skaja and her text Brute is incredible. I love the way she tells a story across the collection, but each poem too can stand on its own. The vulnerability and simultaneous armor of the poems within the collection are incredible. I also admire Terrance Hayes, who I was fortunate enough to meet when he visited Kent State University in Ohio back in 2016. His recent book of American Sonnets is striking and magical. The dives that his writing takes in each piece inspires me to leap in my own poetry.
- Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
I want to create. Though I don’t write everyday, there is this urgency inside of me to create. And words have always been a vehicle for me to express myself. I want to make beautiful and strange language with my work. I want to use nouns as verbs and write into being images of humanity. I cannot imagine being anything other than a poet. And though I’ve dabbled in other creative pursuits and enjoyed them, I always come back to the poem as a form. I think the restriction of saying something in the white space of a page is what drives me towards creation. And for me, that something must have music and sound that rises off the page. A poem must be spoken.
- What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
I had something I wanted to say and I wrote it down. I was inspired by a friend to tell a story, and that story led to another, and another. It helped that I loved reading and immersed myself in a variety of narratives since I could read on my own.
- Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’m dabbling in a lot of prompt work; I especially like taking a list of five random words and making a poem using them. These poems are adding up, but they’re also an incredible exercise for writer’s block. There’s also a digital project in the pipeline that brings together contemporary and classic poetry with works inspired by them– I’m working on that with a small group of poets and we will hopefully have information coming out about that by the end of the year. I am also polishing and submitting my first full-length manuscript, which features poems about space and human connection. I hope it finds a home soon!