Meet the Writer: Tracy Lander-Garrett

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I want to thank Tracey Lander-Garrett for answering my questions! Tracey is a fellow TOO MUCH contributor. Check out more of Tracey’s work, including “Sprinter”, “My Father and Mount St. Helens”, and “Zapada Alba”.
What kinds of writing do you do? What kinds of writing do you wish you did more of?

I pretty much dabble in everything: poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction.  More specifically, my poetry varies from narrative to lyrical, from form to free verse and nonsensical rhyme; while with fiction I tend toward writing about ghosts, vampires, and the supernatural; and my creative non-fiction is more memoir-based, stories from my childhood, dating, etc.  I’ve also written some erotica.

I wish I just did more writing in general.  I find my time for writing is restricted by my working/teaching life.  Keeping a roof overhead takes priority these days.

In what ways has academia shaped your writing?

I never wrote nonsense poetry until I went to grad school and read James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.  After that I really started playing around with language.  I admit to being a little afraid of going after a PhD, though; one friend stopped enjoying reading once she’d been in a doctoral program for a couple of years. I’d hate to have that happen.

Teaching poetry has also forced me to look at my own more closely, to think more about word choice even more carefully than before.  Right now I’m focusing on words with multiple meanings, like “object,” “engage,” and “execute,” trying to use them in a villanelle I’m working on to create additional layers of meaning.

In what ways has life outside of academia shaped your writing?

In more ways than I can count, probably. I’ll say this: when I was a child, my parents were very dysfunctional–it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke: an alcoholic and a manic-depressive walk into a bar… two years later they are married, raising an only daughter, and co-dependently into domestic abuse… insert hilarious punchline here.  So as I got older, reading became a refuge for me, a way to escape the shouting and the crying and the fighting.

Then as I learned that expressing my own emotions wasn’t acceptable (one parent too overwhelmed, the other completely unprepared), I began to express myself in metaphor, in poetry.  At age thirteen, I couldn’t say I wasn’t happy.  That meant there was something wrong with me, and the fallout did anything but make me feel better.  But then, writing a poem about a dying rose–that was okay–I was creating art and I was praised for it, and I began to feel better for having expressed myself.  Thus began my love affair with writing and healing.


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In what ways does playing Dungeons & Dragons affect your writing, and vice versa?
Playing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) and other roleplaying games has allowed me to inhabit as many roles as a career actor–to really climb inside the heads of sneak thieves, sorcerers, and barbarians; to play at being suave, naive, or brash; to use my imagination in countless ways.  One character I played became the protagonist in a several book series I’ve begun working on.When I ran games of D&D, I had to describe the landscape, the other characters, the worlds the players encountered. It was excellent training for writing setting, character sketches, and world-building.

Hmm.  Has my writing influenced my playing D&D?  I’ve used character sketch guidelines that were meant as a creative writing exercise to flesh out D&D characters on a few occasions, or played a character who wrote poetry, from time to time, but other than that, I’d like to think that my being a writer showed up in elaborate (yet fitting–I hope!) descriptions when I ran games for others.

Do you believe the meaning of poems need to be accessible to the reader?

I suppose that depends on what you mean by “meaning”!  I think it’s important that a reader get something out of a poem. Must it be whatever meaning the poet originally intended?  I don’t think so.  Because academia teaches us that there are many ways of reading any given work, from a feminist standpoint to using historical or psychoanalytical or even Marxist theories, it also tells us that a poem’s meaning largely lies with its reader.

Granted, if you are reading Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and claiming that the poem is discussing a dog’s journey to the moon, representing… oh, say, man’s dominance or something like that, then that’s a problem, since no canines nor lunar objects appear in Marvell’s lines (the male dominance thing is open to interpretation, ha). There can be wrong answers when a reader sees something that just isn’t there, that isn’t suggested by anything there.

And certainly some poems carry more intent and meaning just as they obscure the same–so how important was it for the poet to be understood?  I find different meaning in different poems as I come to them again and again–the really good ones, anyway.  So some parts of the poem were not accessible to me when I was younger, or less educated, or simply hadn’t pondered them enough.  They still had value to me then, and even more value now.

So, yes, I think “an” accessible meaning is important, but then again, as someone who has taught Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” (which contains many nonsense words of Carroll’s invention) over and over again, and as a writer of nonsense, I think the most important thing about poetry is to enjoy it.

How do your friends and family tend to respond to your writing?

The overall response to the knowledge of my writing and publishing is generally positive, but seems to carry a lack of specific interest.  I don’t have many friends who have read a lot of my writing–well, maybe that’s untrue, since several of my online friends are those who I met when I was writing a blog under the pseudonym Pop Goes the Girl back in the heyday of Myspace.  If I had a blog again, I imagine those same friends would read it.

But my family and other friends don’t really ask about my writing very often–maybe it doesn’t occur to them, or maybe they aren’t interested?  I’m not sure.  Maybe they’re afraid they won’t like it and won’t know what to say.  Or maybe I don’t talk about it enough because I’m not doing it enough!

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About Grab the Lapels

I'm a graduate of the MFA fiction writing program at the University of Notre Dame. I also have a MA and BS from Central Michigan University. I teach composition, creative writing, and literature, which has inspired me to follow along with trends in teaching, publishing, and reviewing.

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