How do you begin a poem? To you begin with the end in mind, or do you let your thoughts lead you? At what point do you say "That's it, I'm done!"?
A large majority of my poetry is based off of my life, therefore I begin a poem by having experienced something that I believe has left a resounding impact either on my life, or my overall mindset. I normally have an idea of how I might end a poem, however, I definitely still let my thoughts guide the way to the most organic closing possible. To be quite honest, some of the poems that I have published thus far are still incomplete to me! I pride myself in being a perfectionist so I always want the best version of a poem to exist upon the page, but sometimes even after I submit a poem I pull it back up and debate and play around with different lines. To me, everything will always be a work in progress, even after it’s published, I care so much about my poems and my specific word choice, so I don’t think I’ll ever be entirely content, there is always more to do, and a better way to do it.
What role should a title play in a poem? What's the most important thing to keep in mind when titling a poem?
Titles are incredibly important to a poem. It’s the first thing the reader sees, so it must pull them in with questions in mind, longing to be answered. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you believe, as the poet, that it is the most suitable way to introduce your poem. If you are confident in that then you have a proper title on your hands!
On your site you post prose and poetry. Does the process differ for you between these two forms? Is there anything poetry has taught you that helps your prose, or vice versa?
The process doesn’t differ to me, it’s all how I choose to represent my concepts. Poetry has taught me that word choice is key. Word choice is arguably the most important process in writing both poetry and prose.
Your "quality of life" series, "Cardiovascular Division, Room 7", "Sincerely Yours, A Liar", and excerpts of other pieces on your Instagram and site are incredibly powerful. How would you describe the role of poetry/prose in helping us reach a new level of understanding?
First off, thank you very much for the compliment, I sincerely appreciate it. I believe that perspective is the greatest gift poetry and prose can grant us. One can never truly ever understand another person’s afflictions and troubles, however, poetry and prose allows us access into a writer’s mind, and their experiences. I love the ability to craft a world of events into my writing then sharing it with the world. However, nothing makes me happier than when I share something and a reader informs me that they have shared similar experiences to that of my own. Poetry and prose grants perspective, and in turn allows us a greater understanding of our own life.
According to your bio you're currently earning your MFA in Creative Writing after completing your BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing. What do you find most useful in refining your craft? What was least useful?
Education is so important to honing any particular craft, but for me the most useful aspect of my MFA thus far is the workshopping process. Hearing my cohort’s opinions on my poetry allows me their take on what can be altered to be improved. To be quite frank, I have yet to find an aspect that was void of use.
As an adjunct professor in creative writing, what's the best advice you give students--what's the biggest takeaway you hope they go home with?
The biggest thing that I hope is that they embrace who they are and let their writing reflect them.
I see you're coming out with a poetry collection, Ashes and Embers, which you started on Kickstarter. Can you describe your experience of putting your collection together and releasing your chapbook?
I had worked on that collection for the better part of my undergrad experience so it took almost three years to actually come together, but I am quite happy with the result. Releasing it was great! I was able to successfully fund it and have distributed a lot more copies post-Kickstarter as well.
How do you feel about ebooks vs print books and alternative vs conventional publishing? How do you think this will impact the future of reading/writing?
I love the actual feeling of a book in my hands, so I find myself privy to print books. I find that both alternative and conventional publishing have their own merits and disadvantages, so I see the merit in both. I feel as if we are trending to more ebooks, however I do not think we will ever be done away with print!
Is there anything else you'd like readers to know?
I hope that everyone enjoys the poetry I have out currently and to know that I have a lot of big stuff in the process, hopefully coming soon!
(All photos provided by Sean William Dever at instagram.com/seanwilliamdever/)
What are you working on right now?
I plan on releasing my second collection of poetry in early 2019; I'm also currently working on a concept for a YA novel.
How would you describe your style?
My style is...sad. Haha. I've always joked that I'm not very good at writing about things that make me happy.
What do you think the most well-written poems have in common? The least?
The most well-written poems are made with passion. You don't need to break out a thesaurus. Just write from the heart, about things that make you feel something. I guarantee there are others that feel the same way.
Faulkner is often attributed with saying that in writing you must “kill your darlings.” Do you find that to be sound writing advice, especially when you craft a line or stanza that you love?
I certainly have a problem with that. My co-writer often suggests I scrap phrases and lines that I get attached to, but it is necessary sometimes. Just because YOU like it, doesn't mean it's good.
Do you think the reader should have to work hard to “translate” a poem, or do you think meaning should be more matter-of-fact? What are your thoughts on accessibility of meaning?
Sometimes. I like to put a lot of double meanings in my work. One is typically easy to detect, where the other might take some work. I think it's fun to give something extra to those who look deeper.
Are there poets who influence you? Any poems or lines that have had an impact on you as a poet?
I am constantly encouraged by our current generation of poets, such as Neil Hilborn, Savannah Brown, and Rudy Francisco. Several of their poems offer a very real representation of mental illness, adolescence, and sexism--topics I tend to hit on myself.
I see you published Pencil Shavings – And Other Things From My Garbage Can with Lulu.com. What qualities are you looking for in a publisher?
LuLu has been wonderful. I discovered them when I was in high school, and used them to print a personal project I was working on. As I began to enter my local poetry scene, I remembered them as I was looking to release my debut collection. They walked me through everything I needed to do to publish. Great company.
This is more of a procedure question, but how did you go about arranging your poems in your collection? By theme? By arc? What was your proces in deciding how you wanted to lead readers through your book?
I think "An Open Letter" was always going to be the opening piece of the book. It sets the tone so well, expressing the pain that is still felt, but the decision to carry on without it. Beyind, is a book of reminiscence.
Your biography says you are an activist for mental health and anti-rape culture. How would you describe the impact of poetry/literature on activism?
Locally, I'm known for my spoken word performances. I try to articulate feelings that people typically keep inside, such as things regarding their mental health, or abuse that has happened to them. For me personally, nothing hurts worse than not being able to explain it. I aim to be the voice shouts it from rooftops, until people understand.
Do you have any advice for aspiring poets and writers?
You are your own worst critic, but you also know yourself best. If you aren't happy with your work, fix it. If you ARE happy with your work, don't doubt it.
Is there additional you'd like readers to know?
So many readers have sent me photos of their books, and given me lovely feedback. I love knowing this book meant something to you. Thank you to everyone who has picked it up.