Sunday, November 27, 2005

Being a Writer: Part II

7. If you met a young or new writer, is there any advice you would give her?
First, I’d say, Write. No matter where or what. Letters, journals, email, chat rooms. And read everything you can get your hands on from poetry and novels to newspapers and magazines. Second, believe in yourself and what you have to say. Every voice is unique and worth hearing. Third, be careful with whom you share your work. Try to be sure of your reader’s reliability as a safe reader. There are too many critics jealous of creators and hence undermine their work. Fourth, when you find safe and close readers, listen to their response. As it is important for the writer to have a developed voice, it is equally important for her to be open to solid criticism.

8. Every job has its ups and downs, things that are the best and worst of doing that job. What is, for you personally, the very best thing about what you do? The very worst?
The best thing about writing poetry is writing poetry: the imaginative journey and play with language. Once I realized that not every poem has to be “the best,” I started to have fun. The worst thing about writing poetry? If one chooses to publish, rejections can devastate a poet. My rule of thumb is to keep a number of poems circulating to journals so that rejection becomes part of acceptance. A very sort of Zen approach.

9. Was there a moment in your life when you knew for certain this was exactly what you wanted to do? If so, was it some pivotal person or event that you can tell our readers about?
My desire to write poetry has wavered between devotion and abandonment. But, as I mentioned somewhere above, my eighth grade teacher first hooked me on poetry. In later years Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Allison compelled me to want to write.

10. How do you think your writing, in general, impacts on today’s woman? Or does it? What about tomorrow’s woman?
I am committed to writing from my body, telling the shifting truths about sexuality and abuse from a female perspective. I’ve written several poems about going through puberty, a topic often ignored in poetry. I’m enchanted by the poetic power of words like “labia” and ‘vagina” and think it’s important for them to be heard aloud in poetry’s hallowed and respected domain. At readings, women my age and younger say that it’s empowering to hear work that addresses the female body in joy and grief.

11. Do you believe being a woman affects how you write? Explain.
Definitely. You can tell from my role models and my concerns with the female body that my voice is shaped by being female.

12. Have there been women in your life who challenged or altered the way you view(ed) yourself? Your work? Your world?
Oh, yes. You know my literary models—Woolf and Allison. Women from very different times and locations who share a love for writing from the body and depicting the woman-centered life. Other influences include my best friend’s mother, who was an unconventional thinker in a small, rural Southern town in the sixties. She taught me that reading and tolerance were key to a fuller life. Another woman with a strong impact was a colleague who showed me that the love for women awakens us to our potential as thinkers, creators, spiritualists and professionals.

13. If there were no boundaries of time, money, distance or anything else and you could spend one hour with any woman at all, whom would you choose and why?
I would choose to spend the time with Dorothy Allison. In her essays, novels, and poetry, she reflects knowledge, wit, wisdom, and understanding for the human condition plus she’s from the rural South and knows the deep ambivalence of such tangled roots of love and violence.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Being a Writer: Part I

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.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


During the summer, I was gung-ho about my blog. I remember how excited I was to be linked at other blogs and still am. But September came and school started with classes to attend to. And I do love teaching. In the process, however, I've neglected Gravity and Light, stepping in now and then to post a poem and say I'm here. I have no holiday poem though I shall post a poem written about two years ago in honor of my father and recalls a time when my experience was still fairly unmarked by life's passing. So I dedicate "Blackbirds" to our memories.


Like a canopy of darkness
they shadow the ground for miles
on currents that lift them
back to their roosts.

Years later I ask my father
if he gathered us
to watch thousands
swoop down on trees
sit wing to wing
until morning branches cracked
under their weight.

At daybreak did they leave the oaks

He says we never saw them abandon the hollow
catch a new wind to an unharvested south

but often would pile into the car to see their return
black streaks on the upward drift
of a September afternoon.