I want to thank Heather for answering my questions. You can read more about her on her blog. Heather is also one of the contributors to the new anthology TOO MUCH: TALES OF EXCESS. You can find a story from yours truly called “Fat Women Socializing” and SEVENTEEN awesome poems from Heather!
Could you describe the first poem you remember writing?
When I was very young I would get into trouble and my mom would make me go to my room and close my door. I couldn’t stand being left in there, alone, to think about how wrong I’d been for asking for something in the grocery when I’d promised not to ask for anything in the grocery. I would sit on the floor by my door and yell “Mom” over and over again. Just “Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom…”
After a while, I simply couldn’t stop. I knew she was going to spank me. I could sometimes hear her coming up the stairs, but it was beyond my control. My mouth persisted. And the more I said the word, the stranger it became to me.
“Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom…”
It didn’t even sound like the same word anymore or any word. It was something between word and music. It was completely new to me. That was my first poem.
Do you tend to work with a certain form or forms in your poetry, or you are freestyle? Why?
My style tends to be narrative free verse but I have written a range. I also do a lot of prose poems, collage, and creative non-fiction. I’d say that the poem (or writing) dictates the form. I don’t think it’s productive or easy to shove, say, a narrative poem into a different form. That’s just my opinion. I have nothing but a felt sense in my own work to support this though.
Unlike some other writing in the world, creative writing allows me the chance to figure out what I need (or want) to say and then find the form that does that best. Generally I have to send an email to co-workers, even if I want to make them happy, which is a shame because I’d much rather surprise them with a song: “The meeting has been changed to one! What fun, I say what fun! You can go for your run!!”
Do you feel it’s important that the meaning of the poem be accessible to the reader? Why or why not?
I don’t want to read poems that I don’t understand. What’s the point? It’s frustrating and I could have been learning more about bees! Time is precious when you have every channel in the world and 31 flavors of ice cream!
The thing is, I truly believe in writing to heal. Writing has primarily been therapy for me. I love publishing, and I love reading, and connecting with others is the strongest high, but I wrote before any of that and I would write without it. However, I don’t send my journal writings to be published. Nobody knows who Aunt Kendra is and why I want her to get the house with the porch that has windows (because she never had anything her own that wasn’t a man’s as well) and nobody will care unless I craft it into a poem so they will.
And this is where I see the difference between personal and private. Private is something we can’t understand.
There are other styles of poetry that are not too private, but are still inaccessible to the common reader or to most readers. If someone felt they were that kind of poet, I guess I would say you have to be really good and most of you aren’t. I guess I’m bitchy today. Oh well. If you can get someone else to buy it – good for you! I’ll buy ya a beer to celebrate.
In what ways did an academic environment shape the way you write poems?
(Heather did not provide an answer)
In what ways did non-academic environments shape the way you write poems?
These answers are intertwined. I grew up really poor. Not only has this shaped the topics I write about but I believe how I write. This also shaped my desire to get an education and all the shit that entails. When I was an undergraduate, my mentor pulled me aside after a few workshop rounds and showed me the subtext in my poems, the enjambment, and the way my words worked tone. He showed me what I had been using. I didn’t go to the best schools. I barely knew anything, but this was something I had learned — maybe from reading, maybe from movies or TV, maybe from watching life spend our last food stamp again and I was using it, without realizing. Once I knew it was there, I set to learning how to use it.
Tools are obviously more powerful when you know how to use them. My son can tell you this is true because I just crouch down and wait for the shooting to stop when we play Halo together.
That’s kind of how I got through undergrad too: crouching and waiting. Workshops were hell. I hated them. Even when I knew someone’s feedback was shit and I didn’t respect it, I knew I would be nursing a jug of wine later that night. But I started to figure out who I trusted. And then who I trusted who could give me the bad news as gently as possible. My mentor’s wife and a few other students started meeting to workshop our pieces. Working with other poets during my PhD has also been immeasurably helpful in my development as a poet. They all write poems I am jealous to have not written.
Being in academe versus my upbringing brings with it a fair amount of tension as well. I sometimes feel a bit left out. I vacillate between not knowing what to say and being all too loud for anyone’s tastes. Everyone knows many things I don’t. They know how to pronounce “Foucault” and “duvet cover.” I say it wrong at first and so everyone knows I’m a fraud. I make too much money to say “I’m poor” now, but I don’t understand any of the people who live on my block.
How do your friends and family tend to respond to your poetry?
I think they like it? I’m very critical of myself, so all of my failures are my own fault and all of the successes came from luck and the kindness of others. I tend to think they are being kind.