What were you trying to achieve with your book? Tell us about the world you were trying to create, and who lives in it.
I didn’t set out to write this book, but was obsessed with writing poems as I was grieving over the loss of my 30-year marriage. I continued to write poems through all the stages of grief and recovery. My husband, his girlfriend, me and (spoiler alert) my new guy all live in it, as well as humor, anger and forgiveness.
At some point, I realized I had more than enough poems for a book. Suddenly, that seemed to change the face of my traumatic experience – something useful (I hoped) had emerged. Perhaps it would help people who’d gone through a similar situation.
Can you describe your writing practice or process for this collection? Do you have a favorite revision strategy?
As I mentioned, I wrote most of these poems as the story was happening to me. Many whole poems or seeds of poems were jotted into my journal in the middle of the night. But I am a reviser, so lots of the poems were workshopped with my trusted local group. Some were workshopped with famous poets like Tom Lux, Dorianne Laux, Joseph Millar and Carole Anne Duffy. (I know, lucky me). Respected poet friends reviewed the book as a whole and helped me edit it. I guess my favorite revision strategy is going back fresh to remove/replace ineffective words and to make sure I’ve been as clear and precise as possible. I love it when I can cut.
How did you order the poems in the collection? Do you have a specific method for arranging your poems or is it sort of haphazard, like you lay the pages out on the floor and see what order you pick them back up in?
I felt this book had to be in chronological order, because it reads almost like a memoir.
What do you love to find in a poem you read, or love to craft into a poem you’re writing?
A connection, an emotion, an aha. I love a poem that makes me laugh or cry or both. Shivers are good too.
Can you share an excerpt from your book? And tell us why you chose this poem for us to read – did it galvanize the writing of the rest of the collection? Is it your book’s heart? Is it the first or last poem you wrote for the book?
Help Interpret the Symbolism in Mrs. Why’s True Story
She stares at a pile of her husband’s dirty laundry
while he spends a trial weekend with “Mrs. X.”
The wife has suddenly become “Mrs. Why.”
There can be a fine line between doing the noble thing
and being a push-over. Does she take this heap
of obvious symbolism, wash it, dry it, leave it
in a neat little pile for his return?
He believes Mrs. Why is a good woman.
That’s why he’s loved her for 31 years.
Now, she has bowed aside for this tryst, hoping
fervor will burn out. He believes it might,
but he’s not sure. X, by the way,
was Mrs. Why’s trusted friend until last week.
Mrs. Why feels a hurricane pounding her.
Knowing she should care for herself,
she blends a protein shake,
anger whirs on high as she tries to forgive.
Last night she dreamed of him with X:
He’s paying for a hotel, $500 a day.
Suddenly, Mrs. Why is on the toilet, but X demands,
Get up! It’s my turn. The bathroom fills with people;
Mrs. Why asks, Am I on Candid Camera?
Yes! And you’ve won fabulous prizes!
Months later, Mr. and Mrs. Why continue to receive
bags of onions they won. The promised cash
never comes. Of course, there’s allegory here,
but what do the onions mean?
An old and useful ingredient?
A taste that stays on the tongue?
This was the first poem I wrote in my shock of finding out about my husband’s affair. I was literally sitting at home, knowing he was on a trial weekend with his new girlfriend, and it was killing me. My only moments of peace were while I was writing the poem, which includes a funny dream I actually had. The dream turned out to be pretty much prophetic too, interestingly enough.
For you, what is it to be a poet? What scares you most about being a writer? Gives you the most pleasure?
It’s a drive. I couldn’t give up being a poet if I wanted to. I think most writers say they do it because they need to, and that’s me to a tee. It’s scary when I compare myself to other poets, especially ones I greatly admire – it seems like such a long haul to get to that level of skill, if ever, especially because I started getting serious about poetry relatively late in life. Maybe I don’t even have the talent/creativity/whatever. But that drive makes me surge forward anyway!
I take much pleasure in writing a new poem when it’s really flowing. I can lose myself, and I believe that kind of creativity is coming from a larger Self with a capital S. There’s nothing better than being in the “zone.” I actually like the challenge of revising too, but sometimes it gets overwhelming, and I have to ditch the poem for a while.
Are there other types of writing (dictionaries, romance novels, comics, science textbooks, etc.) that help you to write poetry?
Google, Wikipedia and the dictionary/thesaurus help me with accuracy (fact checking) and word choice. Reading other poets helps me most though.
What book are you reading that we should also be reading?
I love David Kirby’s The Biscuit Joint, and I want everyone to read it for the sheer pleasure of his humor and intelligence, but also to further the cause of “chatty” poems because that’s what I like reading and writing most.
Purchase Untying the Knot from Aldrich Press.
Nicole Rollender is a poet, editor and seeker.