BOOK AWARD for POETRY
Work by Bloodlight
(Cider Press Review)
Have you always wanted to be a poet?
I’ve been interested in language and in stories for as long as I can remember, was the weirdo kid who kept a copy of Dante’s Inferno in my locker, but I think the deal was sealed when I was in the third grade. A family friend and poet volunteered at my school as a poetry teacher. Once a week she met with any students who wanted to participate and taught us poetry. We read Blake, Hopkins, Yeats, Dickinson, Frost, Keats. We wrote our own poems. I wanted to end each of my poems with the word “eternity.” She convinced me, kindly but persistently, to give this up, and eventually I did. That was when I first committed to the necessities of revision, so I guess it marks the moment I committed to becoming a poet.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start writing poetry?
Keep writing. Read as widely and as much as you possibly can. Don’t be afraid to experiment, take risks, make mistakes. Make some poetry friends who can give you a second set of eyes on a poem, suggest books you wouldn’t have thought of reading on your own, and offer you moral support when it comes to submitting your work and weathering the inevitable rejection. Know that writing poetry is deeply lonely and difficult work. It’s deeply rewarding work too. Build a rich life for yourself to help counter the hardship. If you’re writing well, it should hurt a little. And don’t give up even when you aren’t writing well—we all go through it. Don’t give in to self-loathing or fear. Keep practicing, keep learning, stay humble, stay curious. You’ll always be a student. Poetry is lifework. Know that the world needs you.
What’s it like to be a farmer and a writer? How does farming influence your writing, and vice versa?
Farming is quite literally grounding. With my fists buried in the earth planting seeds, with my hands gaumed up with smashed potato bugs and juice from the tomato vines, with my arms full of firewood, I have a direct connection to the world around me. When you raise animals, you experience life and death firsthand. You remember that we’re all just animals in the end. The work of farming is directly tied to the work of living. This helps me remember what matters and keeps me tethered in the world so I can let my head go, my mind wander in search of language, which furthers my desire to work—what Wendell Berry means in The Mad Farmer Poems when he writes that “thought passes along the row ends like a mole.” I’ve developed an intimate relationship with my land which now shows up in nearly everything I write. I’ve come to think of poems as places within places—topographies and terrains built simultaneously through the work of the hands and the work of the heart.
BOOK AWARD for NONFICTION
(Simon & Schuster)
As a journalist, what was the most compelling story you followed?
My first answer must be the Vietnam War. However, that’s very broad. If you’re asking for one discreet story, I think it would be my attempt to winkle out the truth about the Rajneeshi sect in Oregon. (There’s a documentary about it now called “Wild, Wild Country.”)
If you could live in any time in American history, when would it be?
I would like to have lived in the Progressive period at the beginning of the 20th century, when Teddy Roosevelt and others were redressing the ills of the late 19th century, and it seemed that anything was possible.
SHORT WORKS COMPETITION for NONFICTION
Dogs! I’ve loved and lived with dogs my whole life. Eight of them—a black Lab, two golden retrievers, a West Highland white terrier, a Scottie, and three small mixed breeds. Rumi, my current dog, a cockapoo, takes his job as artist’s/writer’s muse seriously. He’d quite happily spend every waking and sleeping minute of his life amusing me. I’ve also spent the last 20 years drawing pen-&-ink dog portraits. This is not to say that I don’t love other furry, feathered, and finned creatures. Most of my writing and art is animal centric.
Do you find a relationship between your visual and literary art?
My pen-and-ink drawings are detailed and realistic. I suppose my writing is too. However, I also practice relief printmaking and it’s much more unpredictable, playful, and suggestive. I hope this practice influences my writing as well. Recently I’ve been writing a lot of poems about animals and I don’t have to dig deep to find the artwork to go with them.
Do you have any writing or artistic rituals?
I don’t have rituals so much as compulsions. ASD: Attention Surplus Disorder. While I’m working on a piece of art or writing, I’m lost to it. I’ve always loved Willa Cather’s definition of happiness: “. . . to be dissolved into something complete and great.” I dissolve into making marks on paper–drawing, printmaking, writing. When I get an idea, it’s full steam ahead, without looking left or right. This has its drawbacks. I’ve let tea kettles boil dry, wood stoves grow cold, and my neck muscles twist into knots. This is where Rumi, my dog/muse, comes in. He has rituals if I don’t, and they demand that the two of us get out of the studio/study and into the exciting world of racy smells–the park, the beach, the Harbor Walk, the Rail Trail, even just around the block. He checks his pee-mail and I find the right words for a troublesome poem or the solution to a tricky printing problem. So, back to the question: dog walking is my creative ritual.
BOOK AWARD for MEMOIR
Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores
As someone who previously wrote kid lit, what was the biggest challenge in writing a memoir?
Curiously, having attended children’s writing workshops and writing a yet-to- be published middle-grade novel helped me find the structure, description, character development and dialogue to write my memoir. The same III Act Structure with its triggering events, turning points and resolution that helped me shape my novel, helped me shape my memoir. On some levels, I am a slow learner. So the simpler I can make something, the better I understand it. That’s one reason I write for children! The biggest challenge in writing memoir, however, was deciding which parts of Ruth’s story to leave in and which to leave out. Because I’d lived it, what was important to me wasn’t always the same as what was important to the story. Thankfully, I had a great local writers group for support and feedback!
As you were drafting Redeeming Ruth, what did you learn about Ruth, your family, yourself?
That we are not exempt from pain and loss. I grew up in a Christian home and church that encouraged us to live lives motivated by love and service. Somewhere along the line, I grew to believe that if we did, we could avoid suffering—as if God would give us a “Get out of Jail Free” card for good behavior. Instead, what I discovered, particularly while writing Ruth’s story, was that the greater you love and the more you serve, the higher the likelihood that you will suffer. But as I wrote Ruth’s story—and saw the impossible situations that she and we had overcome—I also discovered that God is faithful and desires to walk through the pain and loss with us.
Where is your favorite place to write?
Anywhere with my door closed. We live in a small house with five kids, ages 21 to 5—another reason I write for children! My current office is our laundry room. If I save our laundry (something else we have a lot of) for when I sit down to write, the whoosh and whirrr of the washer and dryer blocks out all the noise and chaos.