Interview with Beth Kephart, author of Handling the Truth, & Giveaway

It has been several weeks since I posted my review of Beth Kephart’s August release, Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about those wise words.  My review of the book heaped on the praise, and I think that I’ve merely joined a widening group of reviewers who are in love with this writing reference/memoir — from other bloggers like Florinda and Patty to her former student, Stephanie Trott, the New York Journal of Books, and Booklist.  And let’s not forget the elite list the book landed on in O Magazine, alongside another of my favorites, Stephen King.

Kephart is on the touring circuit for her book and she’s made a splash with the launch event at the Free Library of Philadelphia to a discussion on WHYY; both of which you can listen to via podcast.

In addition to all of this talk about her book and her extremely busy schedule, she took a few minutes between the end of her corporate work and her dinner to answer some interview questions about her book and about writing memoir. I’m forever grateful.  Please give her a warm welcome:

Do you recommend changing friend/family names in memoir? By the same token, should an author consider a pen name when writing memoir? Why or why not?

Although I try never to say never, I advocate against changing names. It is a slippery slope. A name changes, a detail changes, a scene changes, a year changes, and then…we have fiction. Yes, I recognize the importance of protecting others. But if the story is so dicey that people will be upset if their real names are used, should you be telling the story? For truly, at the end of the day—name changed or not changed—the person who is being written about is going to recognize herself/himself. And so, most likely, will the neighbor.

In the book, you talk about asking your students to take photos and then write about something in the background, rather than the foreground. Should students apply this to their own memoir writing by not writing about the first most obvious memory or issue they think of and seek the memories or ideas just at the periphery?

A great question. I believe that we often write our very best when we don’t take the straight on path toward a story. Approach the memoir from multiple angles. Value the oblique. Dwell in the unexpected tangent. See what happens.

As a follow-up to that question, how would you advise a student who also dabbles in photography, but prefers to fill the frame with their chosen subject (i.e. a niece’s face, a tree, et. al.) so that nothing, if just a bit of sky is visible in the background?

Well, there you go. Another great question. But, Serena, even with a macro lens there is something just beyond the image’s true focus. There is something unintentional, in other words. What is it? Why is it there?

When you began your writing of memoirs, what types of fears did you suppress in order to send out that first manuscript? Did you think it was polished enough and how did you know? Was it a different type of fear because it was memoir and more personal, rather than separateness that fiction affords sometimes or do you find that the anxieties are similar?

I was a completely naïve first-time writer, with no connections, no expectations, no real sense of the writing life. Remember, this was the pre-blogging era. This was me—a full-time mother and freelance business writer with no writing friends, no book groups, no teacher until I went to Spoleto on a family vacation and met Rosellen Brown and Reginald Gibbons. I did not know what I was in for, and so I meandered toward dangers I did not even foresee. I believed I’d written a story that only a handful of friends might read. When Television came knocking, Radio, Prizes, Off Broadway (I capitalize, for I grew to fear these things), I was both unprepared and anxious (and to most things I also said no). I’ve written history, poetry, fable, and young adult literature since. There are anxieties bound up in every genre.

What vulnerabilities do you see showcased in memoir that are not observed in poetry or fiction?

The best memoirs are born of absolute vulnerability. It is the writer saying not, This happened to me, but, This happened to me and I need to know what it means. The search for meaning is the human being at her most vulnerable. We search for meaning in fiction and poetry, too. All good writing comes from this raw place.

What poets/poems or fiction have taught you techniques or styles that would work well in memoir? Please feel free to share any examples.

I could go on and on in answer to this question. But, simply: Gerald Stern, the poet, teaches what the conversational sounds like, even within the space of a monologuing poem. Michael Ondaatje and Alice McDermott teach the power of honesty, no matter the form. I never think about technique. I think about impact.

Finally, what would you have done for a career had you not taught and written books?

Well, I smile, for I guess I am living that career. I’ve had my own business since I was twenty-five, writing annual reports, histories, books, and employee magazines/newsletters for companies and not-for-profits. It consumes upwards of eighty hours each week. Writing and teaching are what I do on the side.

What are your thoughts on memoirs — the writing and reading of them?

If you want to learn more, there’s also this great interview Kephart does with herself. And this interview with Priscilla Gilman and another chance to win the book.

For one lucky reader interested in writing memoir or otherwise, please comment about what your memoir would be and why.

You’ll be entered to win a copy of Beth Kephart’s Handling the Truth.

This giveaway is international. Deadline to enter is Aug. 30, 2013 at 11:59 PM EST.

Interview with Poet Kathryn Kirkpatrick

I reviewed Our Held Animal Breath by Kathryn Kirkpatrick back in June and found that the book stayed with me long afterward, forcing me to revisit some particularly resonant pieces, like “Millennium” and “At the Turkey Farm,” that question the loneliness we feel when what we should see and feel is that connection we have with the animals and world around us.  There is so much to discuss in the collection, that it would make an interesting book club discussion.  I was intrigued enough to pose my own questions to the poet, and today, I share with you her answers.

Please give Kathryn Kirkpatrick a warm welcome.

Our Held Animal Breath seems to refer to the connections between ourselves and the wider animal kingdom; what is your view of humanity’s place in the animal kingdom and nature?

I’ve always felt myself to be what would now be called bio-centric or eco-centric.  That means our species doesn’t have any greater right to the planet than any other; we should be sharing it with all the other creatures.  I can remember as a sophomore in college giving an impassioned report to my biology class on endangered species.  That was back in the early 1970s when it was becoming widely known how human activities were depriving so many species of their habitats.  As a poet, I am increasingly working to develop my already strong empathy for animals.

How hard is it to change perceptions about how humans should treat animals and the environment and how important is it that we do so, in your opinion?

I think it’s critical that we change because our anthropomorphic beliefs and behaviors have already created what Bill McKibben has called Eaarth; he’s changed the spelling of earth to denote the radical shifts that have already happened to our atmosphere and our oceans such that the severe effects of climate change are now here and coming.  I find it heartbreaking that this wasn’t inevitable; the scientists have been warning us for decades.

But perhaps what the scientists missed was that at the root of this environmental crisis is the human assumption that nature is here exclusively for our use, and we can see this everywhere in the U.S., most especially in our attitudes toward and our treatment of animals.  We value those animals who serve a function for us–as companions, as workers; we encroach on the habitats of wild animals; and, we warehouse animals for food in the most appalling conditions.  But animals are subjects of their own lives, and if we believed that we would respect their habitats and see that ultimately treating the earth with respect and gratitude is good for both us and all the others.

Most people actually love animals, and it takes a lot of work by the dominant culture to get them to ignore the suffering of animals.  So when I can evoke feelings in a poem for other creatures, I can remind readers of the empathy they have always had.  That might be some small step toward changing behaviors.

Ecofeminist ideas seem to make their way into your poems as well, have you studied the philosophy and its principles or stumbled upon them?

I’ve had my thinking transformed by the great eco-feminist thinkers of the last decades—Carol Adams, Val Plumwood, Vandana Shiva, Karen Warren, Greta Gaard.  They make the crucial connections between oppressions of women, other marginalized peoples, and nature.  It’s the most compelling philosophy we’ve come up with as a species, and if I were to have one hope for the 21st century, it’s that we’d act on those insights.

As a poet, do you find it difficult to build readership in today’s Internet driven world or is it easier?

The Internet, assuming we can keep it free, is a wonderful tool, and I think it’s brought poetry to a great many more people than ever before.  A poem in a good online magazine reaches far more people than it does in a print journal.  That doesn’t mean I think we should get rid of print journals—there’s a place for all of it.  The monolithic thinking that says we’re all digital is the same kind of thinking that has brought us monocultures in all their limiting forms—in our food, our languages, our mindsets.

Finally, what are some of your favorite poems/poets who you’d like to see gain a wider audience?

I’d include in any list of my favorite poets Adrienne Rich, Seamus Heaney, Eavan Boland, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Paula Meehan, Gary Snyder, William Butler Yeats, and Carolyn Kizer.  I have written a number of essays in the last ten years on the work of the Dublin poet, Paula Meehan.  There is no one working today that I know of whose craft and vision interest me more.

Thanks, Kathryn, for sharing your views on nature, poetry, and behavior with us today.

Giveaway and Interview with Pam Jenoff, Author of The Ambassador’s Daughter

The Ambassador’s Daughter by Pam Jenoff is set in Paris in 1919, a time when the world’s leaders are attempting to rebuild after the Great War, WWI.  Margot Rosenthal comes with her father, a German diplomat, to a peace conference, but soon finds herself trapped and contemplating a return to Berlin and her wounded fiancé, Stefan, rather than endure the lingering anger against Germans in the City of Light.  Check out some sample chapters.

Jenoff has crafted a number of novels in the past about WWII and WWI, international intrigue and espionage, and romance.  You can check out my review of Almost Home.

Today, I’ve got a treat for my readers as a prelude my review of her latest novel, The Ambassador’s Daughter — an interview with Pam Jenoff and a giveaway.

1. What book has impacted you the most?

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. She combines her practice of Zen Buddhism with creative writing that just broke me wide open. Her approach really got me writing in the mid-nineties, which paved the way to my career as a novelist.

2. What are you currently reading?

With three small children, I’m usually reading something that rhymes or has lots of pictures. For myself, I read in spurts, lots at once, then not much when I’m researching. I’m actually between books at the moment, but I just placed a huge order of books and am eager to receive it.

3. Any advice to aspiring writers?

I would tell aspiring writers three things. First, you have to be tenacious. For a long time it didn’t look as if The Kommandant’s Girl was going to get picked up. But with the help of my agent, I developed the attitude that if this one doesn’t sell, the next one will. You just have to keep on knocking at the door until it opens.

Second, you have to be disciplined. Writing takes a lot of time, and I’m not just talking about the first draft. There are the revisions, and then there’s the business marketing side of it. You have to make choices in order to consistently carve out the time for your writing, if it is going to be important to you.

Finally, the single biggest skill that has helped me as a writer is having the ability to revise. My books have gone through dozens of rewrites from first draft to publication. Many times I had to take broad, conceptual suggestions from my agent or editor and incorporate them into the work. Often I wasn’t sure if I liked or agreed with the changes. Sometimes I would take the leap of faith and see if the changes worked (they almost always did). Other times I would go back to whoever was making the suggestion and say, “Whoa, let’s slow down here and revisit” in order to negotiate changes that made the story better without destroying my gut-level instinct about the spirit of the book. But ultimately, I truly believe my ability to integrate those changes made all the difference.

4. If you could pen any previously printed work as your own it would be —-fill in the blank—-because—-fill in the blank.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. When I was in college, someone read the whole thing aloud to me, bit by bit in the evenings and it was magical.

5. Did you base any of your characters on any real people in your life?

I try not to base my work on real life. I think that real life makes for great setting, but terrible plot. That said, a few characters might remind me of people I know or physically resemble them. And I once had the distinct pleasure of seeing an ex-boyfriend after many years and telling him, “I’m killing you off in my next book. What would you like your name to be?”

Thanks, Pam, for joining us today and sharing your thoughts on books and writing.

To enter to win The Ambassador’s Daughter by Pam Jenoff, you must be a US/Canada resident and leave a comment on this post by Feb. 16, 2013.

Interview with Erica Bauermeister

The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister was one of my favorite books from last year and continues where The School of Essential Ingredients left off.  I said in my review of The Lost Art of Mixing, “Bauermeister has created another set of deep characters with nuanced personalities and places them in unusual situations that are all at once odd and plausible, and readers will be swept up in the relationships within these pages and how the characters mingle and mesh with one another in different ways.”

Today, I’ve got a giveaway and a great interview for you.  Without further ado, here’s my interview with Ms. Bauermeister:

The role of food as a way to connect people to one another and their memories is strong in both The School of Essential Ingredients and The Lost Art of Mixing. What is your relationship with cooking and is there someone in your life that sparked your interest in the culinary arts?

My relationship with cooking is similar to Lillian’s. I am far less intuitive when it comes to matching people and food – but I do love playing with ingredients. Interestingly, the spark came from a place more than a person. I was brought up in a recipe-oriented household, and it was language I was never really comfortable with. In 1997, my husband was relocated to Italy and we took our children and lived there for two years. No one I met there used recipes – they cooked with their five senses. That approach was felt as natural as breathing. I haven’t looked back.

Lillian has a pretty good head on her shoulders when it comes to connecting people in her cooking classes to others and themselves but when it comes to her own life, she seems adrift. How did you come to create her as a character and what elements of her personality were strongest to you when you started writing her?

I think many of us know someone who has taken a gift or talent and hidden inside its beauty. We’re so in awe of the magic, we forget to look inside.

When it came to Lillian, I started with two images in The School of Essential Ingredients – a woman wise beyond her years, and a child who had been abandoned and had turned to cooking for solace. In The Lost Art of Mixing I wanted the chance to go deeper into her character, to explore Lillian as the flawed and wonderful human being that she is. Her strength becomes more complicated in Mixing, and that makes her even more interesting to me.

In terms of cooking, would you consider yourself a follower of recipes or someone who experiments in the kitchen with just a few guiding principles. Name one successful dish you’ve created and one that didn’t work as well.

If I am learning a new cuisine –Thai or Indian, for example – I’ll need to use recipes for a while to learn those guiding principles. But once I understand the basic grammar, I want to go play.

One of my favorite things to do is to open the refrigerator and see what I have left over, and then turn those ingredients into something new. One of my favorites was a butternut squash, pancetta, garlic, cream, and truffle oil sauce served over penne pasta. It tasted like autumn, but in a completely seductive way.

Less successful? I was trying to see just how little flour I could put in cookies. I went from one batch that was light and crispy and wonderful to a complete mess in the next. Yes, there is a tipping point.

The Lost Art of Mixing deals a lot less with the creation of food and there is less food imagery than the first book, but the title still calls to readers’ minds the idea of cooking. Why the absence of strong food imagery and elements in this book?

One of my main goals in writing is to get my readers to slow down and pay attention. Cooking provides a wonderful opportunity to do that, but it isn’t the only way. In my second novel, Joy For Beginners, I branched out into gardening and perfume and books and travel and pottery – all of them activities that are more rewarding when you slow down and use your five senses. In The Lost Art of Mixing I wanted to remind readers to pay attention to those around them.

So why the title? In my mind, the “mixing” refers to the characters and the situations they get themselves into. There are four pairs of characters in this novel, each pair in the midst of misunderstanding. My job was to present those conflicts from the viewpoint of each of the characters involved – allowing the reader to stand in the middle and become immersed in both sides of an argument, to mix, as it were. I think empathy is one of the most valuable qualities a human being can possess.

Finally, what are some of the best poems/poets you’ve read recently and do you prefer contemporary or classic poetry? Why or why not?

The creating of rhythms and the making of images are two of my favorite parts of writing. I probably spend more time on that than anything. And yet, I could never write poetry, and I am in awe of those who do.

Some of my favorite poets are those who take ordinary parts of a day and shine a new light on them. I love the way Billy Collins can be writing about losing your memories in a way that feels comfortable and familiar, until the last two lines, when the poem suddenly surges into beauty. Mary Oliver does the same thing with the natural world, observing closely and then making us see something new and brilliant. They cause me to slow down and pay attention to the day around me, and in doing so give it meaning.

Thanks, Erica Bauermeister for writing such great books with wonderful characters.

Giveaway is open to US/Canada readers through Jan. 11, 2013. To enter for a copy of The Lost Art of Mixing, please leave a comment with one of your favorite recipes.

Interview with Jill Mansell

As everyone knows, my go-to author for hilarious fun in the Britain is Jill Mansell.  Her books never fail to make me laugh, cry, or just have a great time as her heroines go on adventures that change their lives — whether its a new career, like in Rumor Has It, or finding the Mr. Right, like in Take a Chance on Me.  Her characters are always fresh and quirky, generally naive about themselves and where they are going, and always fun to have at a party.

Her latest U.S. release is A Walk in the Park, in which Lara Carson returns home to Bath after leaving her boyfriend Flynn and her family 18 years ago without a word.  You can bet their will be secrets to uncover and blundering around, making Lara’s return a little less smooth than she might expect.  There is a reason that I am a self-proclaimed Mansell junkie, and these story lines are just one reason.  To find out more about why I adore this author and her books, check out the interview:

If there were one genre that you would write other than your current women’s fiction, what would it be and why?  Have you ever tried to write in it before?  How did it go?

Do you know, I never have tried any other genre. Sometimes we just have an instinct for what we’re good at and it seems to make sense to stick to it. When I first started writing I did try category romance (Harlequin) because I thought they might be easy. Needless to say, they weren’t! I sent off a few and the reasons for rejection were always that there was too much humour in them and not enough sustained emotional depth. In the end I gave up and wrote the kind of books I would like to read myself…and that’s how I got my first publishing contract. The term chicklit hadn’t been invented back then!

You’re forthcoming release in the United States is A Walk in the Park.  How does the publishing process in the U.S. differ from others?  How did you go about getting books published in other countries?  What’s the lag time between when a book comes out in England to when it comes out elsewhere?

The time lag varies according to the publisher but Sourcebooks is aiming to catch up with the UK next year and also bring out another of my older books in the US. It’s always entertaining, receiving a long list of British words from my editor that need to be ‘translated’ into American before the book can go to press. We definitely speak a different language! Getting published in other countries is all down to my agent and her sub-agents around the world. It’s brilliant going along to the London Book Fair each year and meeting some of the other agents and publishers from all over.

Who are some up-and-coming writers that readers should be on the look out for?

I’m not reading much fiction, but two books this year by writers new to me have absolutely blown me away.

John Green is a YA author, but this is a book for everyone — The Fault in Our Stars. Astonishing and emotional.

I adored this one too, Wonder by RJ Palacio. Just an amazing, incredible book.

I also loved The Runaway Princess by Hester Browne, which is great fun and a real feel-good read. I always love Hester Browne’s books.

Many writers these days are being told to market their own books through Websites and social media. What’s been your experience? Do you have any tips for others?

Well, it’s entirely my UK publisher’s fault that I’m on Twitter – they asked me to give it a try and I told them I would HATE it. But they insisted, so I gave it a go and within a couple of days I was hooked. I love it so much I’d far rather chat away on Twitter than write my books, which probably wasn’t what they had in mind…

But I think the reason it is working for me is because I do enjoy it and I’m not just endlessly plugging my own work. I very rarely do, in fact. I find relentless self-promotion from others a huge turn-off and it actually makes me LESS inclined to try a new author’s work. I would far rather think for myself how interesting/fun/nice they are, then quietly buy their book.

So the moral of the story is…just have fun and enjoy yourself. The ability to cyber-meet people all over the world is such a magical gift, why spoil it?

Just for fun, what television shows or music are you enjoying or find inspirational?

Well, inspiration can come from anywhere so I feel it’s my duty to watch lots of TV, all in the name of research. I’m getting into Strictly Come Dancing – our version of Dancing With the Stars. Still watching American Idol and UK’s X Factor but maybe starting to get a teeny bit bored with them now. The revelation this year for us in the UK has been the Olympics followed by the even more amazing Paralympics. We had masses of TV coverage and beforehand many people wondered if the Paralympics would be able to match up. Well, I know there was very little coverage of it in the US but let me tell you, it was BRILLIANT, completely life-enhancing and even MORE enthralling and inspirational than the Olympics. It has genuinely changed the view of the nation with regard to physical disability. The paralympic athletes have become superstars and we love every last one of them – our Superhumans. Inspiration-wise, who could ask for more?

Thanks, Jill, for answering my questions.  Your books are always a blast.

Past reviews:

If you’d like to win a copy of A Walk in the Park by Jill Mansell, please leave a comment here.  Deadline is Nov. 20, 2012 at 11:59PM EST  (US/Canada residents Only)

Interview with Emma Eden Ramos

Emma Eden Ramos is a relatively new-to-me voice in poetry and short fiction, but she’s got such a unique perspective on her stories that make it fresh and memorable.  Her poetry, particularly in Three Women that I reviewed last year, offers well drawn voices and perspectives, and her poems are memorable in the images that they create.  It is no wonder that she brings these same talents to her fiction, including the recently published The Realm of the Lost, which I reviewed earlier this week.

Today, she’s agreed to answer a few questions about her middle-grade fantasy novella, The Realm of the Lost.

1.  The Realm of the Lost is a novella for middle grade readers, and you’ve published poetry in a collection, Three Women.  How was the writing process different for these two genres?  Did one take longer than the other? Was there more editing involved with the novella versus the poetry collection, etc.?

Because Three Women: A Poetic Triptych is prose-like and tells a story, I approached it and The Realm of the Lost in much the same way. When I began writing Three Woman, however, I gave myself permission to be reckless and experimental. While the idea for The Realm of the Lost cycled through my head for about a year before I was able to go anywhere with it, Three Women took two months from start to finish.

Initially, with Three Women, I found myself saying, “This could be a giant failure, but so what? Why not try it out? Be messy!” That frame of mind turned out to be crucial because, while it shifted once I got deep into the writing, it gave me the starting point I needed. I consider myself more prose-writer than poet, so I was reserved about letting go and playing with The Realm of the Lost. Once I allowed myself room to be adventurous (and perhaps even silly at times), The Realm of the Lost began to take shape.

The Realm of the Lost certainly required more editing than Three Women. Whether that has more to do with genre or length (The Realm of the Lost being four times as long as Three Women), I don’t know. I do know that, in both cases, giving myself ample space to experiment helped the story morph into something tangible and, hopefully, soulful.

2.  Mikey, the eight-year-old boy in Realm of the Lost, is exuberant and often acts without thinking, like most little brothers.  Do you have any siblings?  If not, where did the inspiration for Mikey come from? And are their plans to write his own story?

While I do have a younger sibling (a sister), she wasn’t the inspiration for Mikey. Let’s just say that she isn’t the one known for being “overly exuberant” and acting thoughtlessly.

When I first met Mikey, I thought of him as a cross between Dickey from Dickens’ Oliver Twist and the little brother from the 1944 film National Velvet, whose signature line, “I was sick all night!” seemed to fit in with Mikey’s usual impishness.

There will be another Realm story. I can’t say for sure if it will center around Mikey. He is, nevertheless, bound to make an appearance.

3.  Rosario is a mysterious character, but she sort of takes on a big sisterly role with Kat, which is a bit of a role reversal for the protagonist.  Was this intentional and what do you think this relationship teaches Kat about her own life?

While Kat sees herself as “the patient one, the one who takes care of everyone,” she has a tendency to be quick-tempered and judgmental. As is true of many first children, Kat views her younger siblings–her sister Ellie in particular–as a burden. She is too preoccupied with being the bossy grown-up to give herself space to be a kid. When Rosario steps in and not only chastises Kat for being unkind to Mikey but takes on the role of Big Sister, Kat begins to have experiences that allow her to identify with the people she has been so quick to snub.

4.  Tell us a little bit about your process in finding a publisher for your poetry and short stories.  Do you have an organized method? How do you find the right publishers or do you have a network of writers that offer their advice?

Finding the right publisher for one’s work can be a bit like finding the right college. There is an enormous amount of research involved. With Three Women, I was asked by the editor to write a poetry chapbook, so I didn’t end up doing the research that is typically required. With The Realm of the Lost, I kept an eye out for different publishers the moment I had the idea. Stories for Children Magazine, a journal for children’s literature that published one of my stories, had a monthly newsletter that included publishing houses accepting middle grade and juvenile fiction. MuseItUp Publishing was on that list.

There are some fantastic resources out there for writers. Many genre-specific journals have a newsletter or an affiliations page on their website. It is always a good idea to search through names and visit different publishing houses’ websites. I have a list on my computer that I revisit regularly.

5.  Will your next project be middle grade readers, poetry, or something else?  Care to share some tidbits or a title to whet readers’ appetites?

My next book will be for middle grade readers. If I had a title, I’d happily share it. That is still in the works. This book, however, will be a full-length novel. I love novellas and read them regularly, and I plan to continue writing them. But yes, a novel is on its way, so please stay tuned.

Thanks, Emma, for sharing your thoughts with us about your novella, your characters, and the writing and publishing process.

About the Author:

Emma Eden Ramos is a writer and student from New York City. Her short stories have appeared in Stories for Children Magazine, The Storyteller Tymes, BlazeVOX Journal, and others. Emma’s novelette, Where the Children Play, is included in Resilience: Stories, Poems, Essays, Words for LGBT Teens, edited by Eric Nguyen. Three Women: A Poetic Triptych and Selected Poems (Heavy Hands Ink, 2011), Ramos’ first poetry chapbook, was shortlisted for the 2011 Independent Literary Award in Poetry. Emma studies psychology at Marymount Manhattan College.

BBAW: Profile of Poetry Blogger Everything Distils Into Reading

BBAW has bled over into the weekend for me for several reasons:

  1. I waited too long to send out my interview questions to poetry bloggers I wanted to profile.
  2. I have a crazy life with a 1 year old.
  3. I remembered at the last minute that it was BBAW and already had a review scheduled for the week.

However, that does not mean that you can’t have fun reading my profile interviews of poetry bloggers.  It’s good to highlight these daring bloggers and to see how they view poetry.  Plus, I hope they will convince you to give poetry a try.

Today, I’ve got a great interview with Gautami of Everything Distils into Reading, who also writes her own poetry, which you can view at Rooted.

As a reader of poetry, what is it that poetry can provide that you think other genres do not or what makes poetry unique? Why do you read it?

Poetry is spirituality for me, the writing of it, the reading of it. Poetry encapsulates so much in so little. I consider myself a poet first and foremost. It is a way of life for me. Take away my poetry and I am merely existing.

Thinking about new readers of poetry, what are some of the mistakes you think they make when approaching a poem? What are some tips that can improve their enjoyment of the genre?

Poetry is seldom literal. One has to look for depth. Many times, the reader interprets differently from what a poet wishes to convey. That is good too, because the poet too learns about what the reader thinks. My advice is to keep on reading poetry and the rest will fall into place.

About how many books of poems do you review each year on average? Do you have an established goal of how many or is it a more organic process?

I used to review 12 poetry books a year. Lately, I have not been able to do so. However, that has not stopped me from reading poetry. I read it all the time, in print form and/or on the net!

As someone who lives outside of the United States, do you find that poetry is more popular, less popular, or about the same as it is in American or other cultures? What kinds of poetry books do you find yourself recommending?

Poetry is not popular at all. No one wants to read it. It requires deep understanding and patience and no one seems to have any time.  I recommend that one should start from reading contemporary poets and go slowly back to classics.  Structured poetry is also a good starting point. I did the other way round. I started with classics and now I read contemporary poetry.

What are you reading now? How do you view the world of poetry and its future?

I am reading Carl Sandburg and loving it.  And I do think poetry has a great future. It is not going to die any time soon. Or maybe never. As long as I live, I will keep on writing poetry.

Thanks, Gautami, for answering my interview questions. And for participating in my BBAW profile experiment.  We are kindred spirits in that without poetry we would merely be existing.

BBAW: Profile of Poetry Blogger Read Handed

As a last profile in honor of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, I sent over a few interview questions to Julie at Read Handed.  Her blog has a bit of everything, from poetry to nonfiction and literary fiction, and she’s a librarian who tells her readers that you’ll probably see books on her blog that aren’t what everyone else is talking about.

Please check out what she had to say about poetry and blogging.

As a reader of poetry, what is it that poetry can provide that you think other genres do not or what makes poetry unique? Why do you read it?

Poetry to me is largely about the words – their sounds, their forms, and (lesser so) their meanings. In poetry, every word is deliberate. In a novel, or even a short story, one word, or even an entire sentence, can be ineffective without lessening the overall work too much. Not so in poetry. That is why it fascinates me so much. Poets are masters of language, knowing when words can be cut to make the feeling more immediate, but also knowing which words are essential to the poem.

Thinking about new readers of poetry, what are some of the mistakes you think they make when approaching a poem? What are some tips that can improve their enjoyment of the genre?

The biggest mistake readers make when they approach poetry for the first time is assuming there is some secret code – some one singular meaning that must be derived. Then, if they don’t “get” that intended meaning, they feel like they failed at reading the poem. This is not true.

Yes, most poets have a “meaning” in mind when they craft a poem, but it is not our job as readers to figure out that meaning. And sometimes, poets leave the meaning intentionally ambiguous. Poetry is what you make of it. Whether it’s a phrase in the poem that just works and stays with you for the beauty of how it sounds, or an image that resonates with you, or a meaning you derived that speaks to you – these things all make for a successful poetry reading.

My main advice would be to stop trying to figure out what the “experts” think the poem means, or even what the poet intended the poem to mean. Instead, simply enjoy the poem. Read it aloud, roll the words on your tongue, and delight at how they fit together.

About how many books of poems do you review each year on average? Do you have an established goal of how many or is it a more organic process?

I review probably 2-3 books of poems a year. It’s really an organic process, though this year I did have a set goal of 2 for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge. In general, I tend to not read books of poems cover to cover, though that is a great way to get to know a poet. Instead, I read poems randomly, pulling from several books at once. For me, reading poetry is more about the individual poems than the collections.

As a librarian, how often do you recommend books of poetry to patrons? Do you find yourself recommending poetry books to friends/family? If so, which ones do you recommend mostly?

Well, I work in an academic health sciences library, so poetry does not come up often (i.e. at all) with my patrons. But I do recommend poets to my friends and family. Again, I tend to concentrate more on the individual poem than the collection, and poets in general more than a specific volume. Some poets that I love recommending are Liz Robbins, Gerald Stern, Sara Teasdale, and Lisel Mueller.

What are you reading now? How do you view the world of poetry and its future?

Not reading too much poetry right now, unfortunately. I’m actually reading an information literacy instruction handbook for work. I have been meaning to read more in my Seamus Heaney collection, so maybe that will be next.

I think poetry will continue to be a sort of niche genre. The proliferation of the Internet has both helped and hurt poetry in that regard – it has exposed more people to poetry, but it has also let anyone “publish” their bad poetry. Either way, I don’t think poetry is going anywhere, but I also think that most poets will continue to have a hard time making a living on poetry alone.

Thanks, Julie, for answering these questions and participating.

BBAW: Profile of Poetry Book Blogger The Written World

So for my final Book Blogger Appreciation Week (BBAW) profile of poetry book bloggers this week, I’m going with a relatively new reader of poetry, Kelly of The Written World.  She’s also the other half of The Poetry Project.

As a relatively new reader of poetry, how would you describe your experiences so far? What poems or poets have you loved and which have you disliked?

I describe my experiences as a tad bit overly paranoid. I am always worrying that I am not getting the idea behind the poems. As a result I overthink and then miss things entirely. It is a problem I have long had with poetry sadly. I still haven’t read a lot of poetry, but I did enjoy my time with Robert Frost last month. I had read his poetry before, but not in such a quantity. It was basically a poem here and there in school. In the end I read two collections.

Because you’re a new reader of poetry, was there a particular catalyst that started your journey to read more poetry? And why had you not read poetry before?

A conversation on Twitter lead to the Poetry Project. First, there was just a list of poems to read and then it grew into something more wide-spread. I think it is working having a poetry fan and a not so poetry fan reading together. Leslie says “look at all these wonderful poems” and I slowly explore them and decide it is not so bad. I hadn’t really read poetry before because I don’t get the appeal. I am a novel fan over the shorter types of writing. I also don’t read a lot of short story collections. I am trying to get beyond that, though.

As the “other half” of The Poetry Project with Regular Rumination, what are your goals for the project and how did you come up with the monthly themes? Was there a slew of ideas and a particular process of elimination or was it easily agreed upon?

The idea of The Poetry Project is to read more poetry. Now that others are joining in, it is basically to get people reading and talking about poetry more. The themes came about because people felt overwhelmed deciding on what to read. This way they can either read in the themes or still have a chance to explore whatever they want to read. As to the themes, Leslie and I both chose 6 and then rotated months. Some of them are decided for the seasons, holidays, events, etc. that happen during that month. Others were random choices. If we successfully get near the end of a year, we plan to get participants to pick the next 12 themes.

Do you read full books of poetry or do you just read individual poems?  Have you been reviewing books of poetry on your blog, The Written World?

In the beginning, I was just reading a poem here and there. In August, though, the theme was ‘Pulitzer Winners’.  I went back to some of the early award-winners and found their collections in the public domain.  As a result, I read poetry collections in August. Very impressive for me! Every Wednesday one of us says something poetry related. I just say a few short lines about the poems. I sometimes include favourite lines. I wouldn’t call them reviews, though.

What are you reading now? How do you view the world of poetry and its future in your reading life?

The theme for September is classics. I have been trying to decide what to read. There is a lot that would fit into that category. One of the few poetry books I owe is a collected works of Emily Dickinson, so I was thinking maybe I would hunt that down. As to the future, I am hoping that I will become comfortable enough with poetry that even without the Poetry Project I will explore something poetry-related each month. There is so much out there that I haven’t tried. It’s a slow process, but I have made big changes so far this year. I would like to think, anyway!

Thanks, Kelly, for answering my questions, and I can’t wait to see what the Poetry Project has in store in 2013 and what you discover in poetry.

BBAW: Profile of Poetry Book Blogger Regular Rumination

I was honored to win the poetry blogger award for BBAW in the past, but I also thought that any blog featuring poetry should be recognized since there are so few of us.  As part of that process, I looked to my network of blogs that I read and love, and thought it would be great fun to profile at least one poetry blogger this week in honor of Book Blogger Appreciation Week.

To that end, I sent over a few interview questions to one of my blogging and Indie Lit Award judging buddies, Lu from Regular Rumination.  She’s one of the first bloggers I noticed posting about poetry, so I think it’s appropriate that she’s the one I profile today.

When did you first read poetry and what drew you to it? Or if you were initially put off by poetry, what changed your mind?

I think I first read poetry seriously my freshman year of high school. My teacher passed out copies of Pablo Neruda’s “I could write the saddest lines” and I immediately fell in love. I remember inhaling poetry from then on, but my love for poetry also came from wanting to write it and wanting to write it well. In college, I took as many poetry workshops as I could and now I miss it.

I don’t know that I was ever put off by poetry, but I’m not sure I would have fallen in love with poetry if we didn’t have to focus on it in high school. We also were required to write it, which was when I discovered that I really enjoyed it. For me, I often don’t learn to appreciate something until I’ve tried to do it myself. After that project ended, I joined an old AOL message board called My Poetry and Writing, and not only continued to write poetry, but also found my first online community. Now that I’m older and write poetry a lot less than I would like, I read poetry because it is important to me. It is less about learning how to write and more about seeing the world in new, exciting, and beautiful ways.

About how many books of poems do you review each year on average? Do you have an established goal of how many you will read and/or review each year? Or is the process more organic?

My blog has slowly moved away from reviewing books and I often find myself discussing specific poems over specific books of poetry. I have reviewed several collections over the years, but I rarely have established goals of any sort for my blog. I find that makes me avoid doing them; really, if there’s anything I don’t want to do for my blog, I should just say I’m going to do it. I like my reading to be more organic. I have made a conscious effort, though, to read more poetry every week, whether it is an entire collection, the monthly issue of Poetry Magazine or the daily email from Poets.org.

Tell us a little bit about the Read More/Blog More Poetry project (click on the image to learn more) that you started at Regular Rumination and what inspired you to start it and how has participation been? What are some upcoming events associated with the project?

What started out as the Read More/Blog More Poetry event has turned into The Poetry Project, which was started by myself and Kelly, from The Written World. It all started as a request on Twitter from a few bloggers for a list of poems. I wrote a list of my favorite contemporary poems and Jason from Moored At Sea made a list of classic poems. Kelly and I started talking about wanting to share the lists and also to convince more people to blog about poetry. Kelly is a new reader of poetry and I think that’s what makes us a good team: we have two very different experiences with poetry, but we both want to read more of it. The Project isn’t really about reading a specific poem or posting at a certain time, though we do have monthly optional themes, it’s really just about getting your feet wet with poetry and with blogging about poetry, if you’re new to poetry, and about making poetry a more visible part of your blog if you’re already a regular poetry reader.

What I think has been most successful about The Poetry Project is that anyone can participate, whether you’ve just started reading and blogging about poetry or you’re a seasoned poetry reviewer. It’s turned into a small community of people who are blogging about poetry and how they relate to it. The only real requirement is that you blog about poetry and link back to the post. Kelly and I are committed to including a roundup of each participants posts at the end of the month, so there’s one place where everyone can go back and look to see what we’ve all read and talked about. Participants are even contributing original poetry! It’s been really amazing.

Recommend some poets for beginners. Recommend some poetry translations or poetry for those who’ve read more poetry than others.

If you’re new to reading poetry, I think Edna St. Vincent Millay, for an older poet, and Natasha Trethewey, for someone more contemporary, are excellent places to start.

If you’re looking for something that’s a bit of a challenge, I really recommend Derek Walcott and, in translation, Neruda’s Residence on Earth. In the US and around the world, Neruda is famous for his love poetry, but the poems in this book are a love poem of a different sort. They focus on the earth and our relationship with our physical surroundings. They are beautiful and sensual and sometimes difficult.

What are you reading now? How do you view the world of poetry and its future?

Right now, I am still reading some of the collections I have out from the library for last month’s Poetry Project theme of Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry, including Marianne Moore’s collected poems. I am also always reading the Poets.org Poem-A-Day emails.

As for the future of poetry… I’m not sure. I think there are enough dedicated readers of poetry in this world to keep it an active and thriving community, even if it is a very small one. I hope that there will be enough English teachers like mine who help foster young people’s passions about poetry.

About Regular Rumination from Lu:

Regular Rumination is my own corner of the web where I talk about books, poetry, crafts, and whatever else is on my mind. I started it back in 2008, while I was home from college on winter break, looking for a great book to check out from the library. My life has changed a lot since then, but my blog has been the constant.

Thanks so much, Lu, for participating in this week’s BBAW profile of poetry bloggers.

BBAW: Interview with Lit and Life

Welcome to day two of Book Blogger Appreciation Week (BBAW). Today is the interview swap with another blogger, which is always my favorite part. Lit and Life is a blog that I’ve read off and on, though not always commented on, for several years. She’s one of the participants in the WWI Reading Challenge this year at War Through the Generations, and she’s got some fun features.

Let’s get to the interview, shall we:

1. Lit and Life is your piece of the Internet where you talk about books and life. What have been some of your most popular blog posts? Which books have generated the most discussion? What life posts?

For my first year of blogging, I was obsessed with my stats. Then I came to realize that as long as I didn’t monetize my blog, I didn’t really care how many people read my blog each day since, first and foremost, I’m blogging for me. Along the way, I’m happy that other people do check in and comment but I can’t really tell you which posts were the most popular. I do always notice that I get a lot more discussion when I review non-fiction books and my Sunday Salon posts always seem to get some discussion going.

2. It says on the about me page that you love flea markets (me too!). Do you just go to browse or do you have specific lists of items you are looking for? What is the most unusual thing you’ve found at a flea market that you just love and why?

I always have some things I’m keeping an eye out for when I go to flea markets, “antique” malls and stores and auctions. Old children’s books, pieces of pressed glass that match the ones I collect, frames and architectural elements are always on my radar. But I love to just browse and keep my mind open to interesting new things. Twenty-five years ago, my husband and I found an old kitchen table at an auction that we picked up for five dollars. We refinished it but it’s a table that clearly has a history and I love that about it. I think it tells people a lot about the kind of household we have.

3. If I were to give you a book of poetry, would you read it? Why or why not? If you’ve read poetry in the past, which book or poet have you read and would recommend to others?

Absolutely I’d read it although I might have to check back in with you frequently to have you explain it. It’s probably cliche to say it but I do love Emily Dickinson. I must admit that I struggle to read some poetry – I’ve tried to read “Leave of Grass” several times but Whitman really makes you think and I can only read about one of his poems a day. That makes getting through the book endless and I usually end up setting it aside since it’s so long. I did read my kids a lot of poetry when they were growing up – Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky were big favorites and we often did art projects based on their poems.

4. Fairy Tale Fridays is a unique part of your blog. Do you prefer new or old fairy tales? What draws you to these stories and which would you recommend as must reads?

I’m a sucker for the old fairy tales but I do love to read the new takes on them. I think the history and the darkness of fairy tales is what really draws me to them. I’m also fascinated by trying to figure out what it is about a tale that made it something that people passed on and how so many of the core stories are found in countries all over the world. There are a lot of great collections of fairy tales, although it is hard to find books that encompass tales from more than one source. There are some great books for children based on fairy tales including Rapunzel Illustrated by Paul Zelinsky and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka. Check out Goodreads list of the best fairy tales and retellings for some great adult and children’s books.

5. What are your top 3 go-to book blogs for recommendations and why?

It’s funny that my top book blogs have changed over the past three years. In the beginning, I really stuck with the big bloggers, but over the years, I’ve found the blogs that bring me opinions on the kinds of books I like but also expose me to books I might otherwise pass by. Three blogs that are my go-to’s right now are: Book Chatter, Rhapsody In Books Weblog, and Life In The Thumb. But, let’s be honest – after clearing my reader, I still have 75 blogs that I read and enjoy on a regular basis.

If you’re interested in the interview she did with me, check it out.

BBAW: Profile of Poetry Blogger Necromancy Never Pays

This year, I’m taking a different perspective with Book Blogger Appreciation Week (BBAW) in that I’ll be profiling some poetry book bloggers this year, in addition to my traditional participation in a blogger interview on Tuesday, Sept. 11.

For today’s post, I’m featuring Jeanne at Necromancy Never Pays, which is the home of Trivial Pursuit for Book Bloggers.  Jeanne has helped judge the inaugural Indie Lit Awards for Poetry winners last year, and I always look forward to her reviews of poetry/poetry collections.  She takes a nuanced approach to these reviews, often pulling out a favorite poem from a collection to discuss in depth.

Without further ado, please check out my interview with her and stop over at her blog for her BBAW posts this week.

When did you first read poetry and what drew you to it? Or if you were initially put off by poetry, what changed your mind?

My parents, especially my mother, read poetry out loud to me. I remember particularly hearing the poems from A Child’s Garden of Verses, Alice in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass out loud. She read Dr. Seuss’ Happy Birthday to You out loud every year (she and my brother and I all still recite it–being tall, I’ve always taken particular delight in “the tallest of all-est”). When I got older, she read me poems by Robert Service. Before I learned to think much about the sense of the words, she taught me to delight in the sound of the rhymes.

About how many books of poems do you review each year on average? Do you have an established goal of how many you will read and/or review each year? Or is the process more organic?

The process is organic. Sometimes I wake up with a certain poem going through my mind. Sometimes I look one up, because I know I’ve “felt” something like this before. Occasionally I look for a poem just because it will give me something to carry around in my head all day.

Recommend some poets for beginners. Recommend some poetry translations or poetry for those who’ve read more poetry than others.

I think narrative poems are great for beginners. Robert Service tells funny stories. C.S. Lewis tells good stories, too. Some of the Romantic and Victorian poets wrote narrative verse–The Lady of Shalott has always been a favorite of mine.

For people who already read poetry and want to branch out, I’d recommend comparing translations of something like Rilke’s Duino Elegies. I’ve done this all my life, searching for the one that first made me love them, and still haven’t found it. But I’ve found a lot of good phrases along the way. Who knows, at this point maybe I wouldn’t be as fond of that original translation as I was at the age of 14 or so.

I also recommend browsing. I have the luck to work in a college library, so each month I go and flip through the new volumes of poetry to see what I might like.

In terms of favorite and perhaps less-read poets, I think everybody should try more poems by Wallace Stevens.

Necromancy Never Pays is not strictly about poetry, but as someone who is in the academic world, how important do you think talking about poetry online is and why?

I am “of” the academic world, but not so much “in.” I think people in a liminal position notice more about their surroundings, and that’s part of what poetry does; it offers new perspectives.

Talking about poetry online is as essential as anything I’ve ever done in my life. Most people need more poetry, but they don’t often know it. Blogging about poems used to be an extension of teaching about them, for me, but now that I’m not teaching poetry in the classroom anymore, I’m re-discovering some of those poems in a more personal way, which I think is the only way to share a love of poetry. It works on emotions, so showing why you love it involves feelings.

What are you reading now? How do you view the world of poetry and its future?

I’m thinking about a way to make a John Donne poem accessible to readers of my blog (probably The Flea), still re-reading Todd Davis, sampling Katrina Vandenberg’s Atlas (this was a recommendation from another blogger), and making my way through Maureen McLane’s My Poets.

The world of poetry and its future? People will always be reading and writing poetry. I hope that my contribution to this world will be to help open it up and remind people of how to experience it for themselves. So many times when poetry is served up at the table, people push back and say, “I’m full already” when what they mean is more like the British sometimes describe their reaction to being offered a French gateau for dessert: “that’s much too rich for me.” A taste for poetry is as basic as a child’s longing for sweets. The trick is to keep developing your tastes, so you can appreciate the more subtle flavors.

Thanks for continuing to keep those of us who love poetry organized a bit, Serena. You’re always creating more community and enthusiasm.

You’re welcome, Jeanne, and thank you for answering these questions at the last minute.