*please note, this interview was edited slightly for reading purposes.
...On Poetic Inspiration, Female Empowerment, and Catharsis
Hometown: Ames, Iowa
Favorite Poet(s): Richard Siken, Sharon Olds, Clementine von Radics, Susan Elbe, Bob Hicok, Sylvia Plath, Ocean Vuong, Shinji Moon, etc.
Proudest Accomplishment: Winning national medals for my writing in the 2013 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards!
Song that describes your life right now: Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) by Arcade Fire
If you could be an animal... A pug!
My interest in Greek mythology stemmed from reading a poem about Persephone, written by Tara Mae Mulroy. It was “Persephone Writes to Her Mother,” in which Persephone writes to Demeter about her life with Hades. I had never really been interested in Greek mythology before that, even though we’d read some in high school English classes. I started researching all these other powerful female figures in mythology, and became enamored with their diverse narratives and how empowering they were. That’s when I started writing dozens of poems about these female figures and goddesses, and I continue to do so because I think it’s a great way of empowering women through time and history.
2. The themes of family and familial relationships really struck us in your two poems that we published. Did your family play a significant role in your development as a poet, and how did that shape you into the writer you are today?
It’s honestly difficult for me to describe my family’s role in my development as a poet. I do think they played a significant role, though not in the usual way. I’m a pretty private person, even with those close to me, and I don’t like sharing my feelings, especially about difficult personal issues or traumas, and that has frustrated me for a long time. I was upset with myself for having trouble opening up to my family, and I think that’s one of the main reasons I continue to write poetry, because I’m able to write what I can’t say. My family’s role in my poetry has really helped my writing become more evocative and provocative, and I’m able to write about controversial subjects much more easily now. It’s a fascinating dynamic.
3. What would you say would be your biggest “catalyst” in terms of really introducing you to the world of poetry?
My biggest catalyst in terms of introducing me to poetry would probably be one of my high school English teachers, Mr. Brekke. He used to have us free-write each class, and gave us a list of writing rules to follow; if I remember correctly one of them was a quote by Natalie Goldberg from her book Writing Down the Bones: “Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.” That rule has always stuck with me and has been one of my guiding writing principles ever since he taught it to us. He was a great teacher and so supportive, and my poetry and accomplishments would not be the same without him.
4. On your tumblr (forgive our stalking), you mention that you must have written about 500 poems by now. 500 poems in 3 years is seriously impressive! How do you find the inspiration, the time, and the mindset to write so much? Do you have any advice for writers who are attempting to do the same?
Thank you! I always try to write in the evening, when I’ve found that I’m more creative and less tired, and I get most of my inspiration from other poets, as well as the themes of love, survival, healing, and lessons passed down through familial generations. My mindset normally revolves around trying to write poems daily, even when it’s hard. I kind of coax myself into writing something new each day, and a lot of my poems center around empowering women, so that makes it much easier to write so much, and also more enjoyable. As far as advice goes, I would suggest playing around with times of day when writing in order to figure out what time you’re most creative, and doing the same thing with subject matter. I also find that reading a lot of poems before sitting down to write my own helps a lot as well, along with experimenting with different places to write.
5. Similarly, what does the writing process of a poem look like to you?
Before I start writing a poem, I read other poems by some of my favorite authors for inspiration, and take note of phrases or words I admire in their works and want to incorporate into my own. Then I sit down and write my entire poem at once. I’ve tried writing in pieces before, or by starting a poem and coming back to it later to finish, but for some reason that has never worked well for me. Then I just proofread the poem and I’m done!
6. Your poetry is focused a lot on female empowerment, and combating sexual abuse, sexism, etc. something that we find really inspiring. Could you talk a little bit about where these recurring themes and motifs come from, and how poetry comes into play?
Thank you, I am glad! I was raped about a year ago and it affected my emotional well-being and most aspects of my life in profound and traumatic ways. I had written poetry about female empowerment often before that traumatic event, but after it I began writing more and more poems about the topic because of my own experience. I felt a lot of kinship with other survivors, and began reaching out to them and they to me in return; as I began exploring the aftermath of my trauma I also began writing more poems about it, both for myself and other survivors. I suppose out of a terrible thing came something good, though of course I wish it had never happened. Poetry is really cathartic for me in relation to this trauma, and allows me to deal with it and express it in healthy ways that also help others in similar situations.
7. You have released two poetry books so far, Survival Songs and Healing Old Wounds With New Stitches, as well as a third upcoming poetry book. Could you talk a little bit about these first two books, the inspiration behind them, and where we could purchase them? Any advice for young poets seeking to publish their own books?
Survival Songs is no longer available for purchase for the time being, but as the title shows, it was themed around surviving a variety of issues such as eating disorders, sexual assault, depression, suicide, and more. It was a collection of poems I had already written, curated to depict survival in its many forms. I was inspired to put together the collection by talking with some of my friends who had gone through difficult things. Healing Old Wounds With New Stitches was inspired by the death of an uncle from cancer and how my family dealt with the grief, which is why the book was split into two sections, grief and recovery, where the poems in each section centered around those themes. The poems discussed various topics that could lead to grief such as sexual assault, death of a loved one, trauma, etc, followed by hopeful poems about recovering from these issues. It can be purchased on our website as a print copy here, an ebook here, and on Amazon here.
My advice for young poets seeking to publish their own books can be found here!
9. Lastly, we would love if you talked a little bit about Persephone’s Daughters, the idea behind the literary journal, and what your goals for it are . . . anything you would like our audience to know?
Persephone’s Daughters is a literary and arts journal dedicated specifically to empowering women who have experienced various forms of abuse and degradation. We accept prose pieces, poems, articles, essays, rants, and all forms of artwork, as long as they are based around the dedication theme! The idea behind the literary journal is to create a safe haven for survivors, with art and writing they can relate to, and also to be a place for survivors to submit their own work as a cathartic experience. I also started the journal because there’s a dearth of lit magazines devoted to women, especially abused women. My goals for it are basically to have it help even just one survivor, and to reach readers worldwide.
I would love your audience to submit to us! More info can be found at our website.
Many thanks to Meggie Royer for agreeing to and participating in this interview.