A women's magazine interviewed me almost eighteen months ago about being a writer. While the interview never was published, I think it offers insight into my love for words. I will publish it here in two parts.
1. Could you tell us a little about yourself and what you write.
Raised on Sand Mountain at the Appalachian end in North Alabama, I grew up with a love-hate relationship to the place especially during the sixties. Family and friendships were warm and turbulent, loving and violent. If you weren’t a white, Christian, conventional heterosexual, you were a misfit, what many Southern folks called “funny.” My desire was to escape my birthplace, though not the South particularly, as I moved from Alabama to Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina and back to Alabama. In 2002 I finally migrated west with a partner and two cats and returned to writing poetry in May 2003. Much of the poetry in my chapbook, _Southern Girl Gone Wrong_, emerges from my past, examining the contradictions of family and relationship and recalling the Gothic strain that runs through Southern writing from William Faulkner to Dorothy Allison.
2. How long have you been writing? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I remember first writing poetry in the eighth grade when Mrs. Smothers asked the class to write about a creepy experience. My poem talked about being caught outside in a lightening storm with nowhere to go. While she didn’t read it aloud as she did Mary’s, I was hooked and wrote poetry for about ten consecutive years sporadically.
3. Has what you write changed much since you first started? Tell us about some of the changes.
Oh, yes. Age and experience put me in a very different emotional and mental place for my poetry today. When much younger, I focused on angst, mostly mine, often in abstract language that I thought sounded impressive. While much of that anxiety still exists, I try to use concrete images and down-to-earth language to convey feelings. I’ve always loved how Marianne Moore describes poetry: “an imaginary garden full of real toads.”
4. When you were a very young girl, do you remember what you wanted to be? Would the woman she has become surprise that little girl? Why or why not?
Born in the fifties in a provincial area, my models were housewives defined by husbands. Early I rejected that role, knowing that I wanted to determine my identity on my own and thought I wanted to be a lawyer, working to rectify injustices. While in college, however, I determined that law wasn’t for me and veered toward writing. Maybe the poet/teacher I’ve become would surprise the girl with lawyerly hopes but not the girl who loved books and writing.
5. What is your educational background? Has your education had any impact on your writing, either positive or negative? Has it influenced what you write about? Has it made being published any easier?
With a Ph.D. in British and American literature from the University of South Carolina, I think it has had mixed effects with the balance being positive. I’ve read a wide range of good poetry and fiction that provides a deep sense of how words work and studied for a year under a wonderful teacher/poet, James Dickey. The negative effect is that, as a younger writer, I felt that if I couldn’t be great, I shouldn’t write. Consequently, I abandoned poetry for about twenty years and disavowed a significant part of who I am. When I returned to it in 2003, I felt as if I’d come home. Concerning the influence of my education on what I write, I think it has given me the confidence to feel comfortable with almost any topic or form I choose whether autobiography or politics, free verse or a pantoum. While I think that a Ph.D. has not made it easier to publish poetry, I do think that the academic habit of sending out articles for publication gave me a certain kind of work ethic that makes me more aggressive toward publication, researching journals and sending out work on a regular basis.
6. Have you always wanted to be a published author?
In my early twenties, I wasn’t as keen about being published as I currently am though now, as then, I mostly enjoy the process of writing poetry and where it goes imaginatively. For me the most pleasurable publication is sharing work with friends and in readings, and I’m pleased that I’ve had several readings since returning to poetry. But I’m also pleased to see my work in journals as one kind of professional validation.