Interviewed by Christopher Linforth
Congratulations of the publication of your first book of poems. The Tulip-Flame has been getting luminous reviews. Tell us about the collection, its origins and development.
Thanks so much. The poems in The Tulip-Flame were written between 2006 and 2013. Early on, three central subject matters emerged: ballet, my mother’s suicide, and failed love. I allowed myself to follow my obsessions. In drawing upon personal experience, I heeded Yusef Komunyakaa’s advice: “Don’t write what you know. Write what you are willing to discover.”
When did you start becoming interested in poetry? What sorts of books were in your house when you were growing up?
Books played an important role in my childhood home. My mother, my sister, and I all read voraciously. My mother loved Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, and Norman Rush. My tastes were not so refined. I read The Baby-sitters Club books by the truckload. The important thing was that I learned early that I could turn to books.
When I was sixteen, my favorite uncle gave me The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson. I was immediately rapt.
Who would you cite as your influences?
There are so many. Sometimes a single poem will have a deep effect on my writing. The following poets have been very important to me: Emily Dickinson, Franz Wright, Lucille Clifton, Louise Glück, Sylvia Plath, Henri Cole.
Who are the contemporary poets we should be looking out for?
I love the work of Richie Hoffman, Corrie Williamson, Lisa Fay Coutley, and Malachi Black, all of whom have first books coming out soon.
Can you lead us through the steps of your writing process?
It varies from poem to poem, but I’ll share a couple of things that changed my writing. The first is that I started free writing. When I sit down to write poetry, the first thing I do is fill at least three notebook pages with whatever comes. This practice is not about trying to write anything “good.” In fact, a lot of it is incoherent. I free write as a way to clear the lint from my head. Get the dusty words out. Start fresh. Now and again, though, I’ll touch on a line or an image that will eventually make its way into a poem.
The second thing is that I started experimenting with my writing schedule. I go through phases in which I wake at 3:00 or 4:00am, write for a few hours, and go back to bed. There’s something special about the space between sleep and wakefulness. I find the dark and the quiet—the sleep on either side of the work—very helpful.