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I am late, which is not surprising. My dear friend, Natalia Trevino, invited me, along with the brilliant BH James, to participate in this cool blog tour, and I promised I’d have it done on Monday. As usual, I am devastatingly late. Thanks to the lovely Natalia for including me on this ride.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Hmmmm… I’m not sure how the actual work differs, I mean, as poets, I think we are always seeking new ways to talk about the same human truths, so maybe the difference is in the way I am seeking my truth, and that is always, always changing. Right now, I am exploring some grim and complex subject matter in my current manuscript, and to do this effectively, I am trying to cage it in structure. I have a whole section of sonnets written to a prostitute in the voices of her clients, and the poems that don’t quite fit in the traditional form are still subjected to tight lines and insistent breaks. I’ve been hovering and obsessive with this project, which is both fun and a pain in the ass. As an editor, I like to see creativity and innovation in a manuscript, but I also want to know that a writer spent many painful hours with it until every word, every line, becomes measured and deliberate. I try to abide by this method with my own writing. I appreciate when a poet has looked at a collection from every angle. It shows value, professionalism, and craft.

What am I working on? Why do I write what I do?

I tend to write about human connection and control. I am also intrigued by our complicated and cruel need for belonging and validation. Lately, I’m writing a lot about gender roles and emotional control, particularly when defined by patriarchy. I was raised in a very liberal household that promoted feminist values, yet my parents maintained a very traditional male centric marriage. This confused the hell out of me. I grew up thinking that to be a contemporary woman, I needed to own both ideals. I needed to be smart, successful, powerful, but also feminine, nurturing, motherly, and because of these self inflicted needs, I felt like I was constantly compromising myself. If I didn’t have a career, I was a failure, but if I didn’t stay home and raise my children, I was a failure. Part of this was my place in the development of gender equality and the struggle for balance, but I also think the father/mother relationship is an incredibly powerful force in a child’s understanding of self and of influence. My manuscript is following a woman speaker who suffers because of her gender. She struggles with identity and worth in an environment where a woman has no voice and no value outside of her sexuality, and she is ultimately sold into prostitution to support her family, which she accepts willingly because she has no choice. Although her story is set in a developing country, I think her struggle is still every woman’s struggle. The threat of losing control over our bodies and our voices is felt in varying degrees across the globe.

I often find myself writing about issues related to women because, well, I am a woman, and these issues are important to me. My literature students will often argue that until we stop drawing up lines in the form of feminism, we will never truly be absolved from the barriers of inequality, but I disagree. I don’t think we can ever stop. We can never stop talking about or pointing out situations of human oppression. When we stop talking, we stop evolving, not just as women but as people. That is why I write what I do, to keep the conversation going.

How does your writing process work?

It’s very messy and very unpredictable and constantly evolving. I tend to go in fits and starts, but I’m trying really hard to get out of that habit. This recent collection has me working steadily, and I think it’s helping to define something in me as a writer. This is the first time in several years that I’ve been able to get on a schedule (if what I do can even be organized in such terms). I’ve been writing a little bit everyday, sometimes for several hours, sometimes for 10 minutes, but either way, I feel like I’m making progress. Unfortunately, I cannot write when my family is around, so the weekends are out. Because of this, Monday becomes a sort of stretching out day, a reintroduction to what I was working through the week before, but this is good. It gives me some time away from my work, and when I come back to it, I’m fresh, and I can see what I couldn’t see when I was in it. In other words, Mondays are slashing days. Come Monday, I am a wonderful editor.

Another thing that has been very important to me in terms of process is reading. When I am working on a collection, I can get bored and restless when something isn’t quite working. It’s easy for me to get distracted and push my work aside. It has become essential to keep myself surrounded by poetry. I try not to read anything else. I have to stay in the music, in the images, in the rhythm. It helps me stay inspired and helps me maintain a momentum with the voices in the manuscript. Plus, it gives me a great excuse to buy all those shiny new books.

Watch for upcoming posts by two poets I love and admire, Liz Kay and Francesca Bell

A founding editor of Spark Wheel Press and the journal burntdistrict, Liz Kay holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska, where she was the recipient of both an Academy of American Poets Prize and the Wendy Fort Foundation Prize for exemplary work in poetry. In 2008, she was awarded a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize for excellence in lyric poetry. Her poems have appeared in such journals as Beloit Poetry Journal, Nimrod, The New York Quarterly, RHINO, Iron Horse Literary Review, Redactions, and Sugar House Review. Her chapbook, Something to Help Me Sleep, was published by {dancing girl press} in 2012.

Francesca Bell’s poems have appeared in many journals, including Rattle, burntdistrict, North American Review, Passages North, Poetry Northwest, and The Sun. New work is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Crab Creek Review, Flycatcher, River Styx, and Tar River Poetry. She has been nominated six times for the Pushcart Prize. Her manuscript was a finalist in the Poetry Foundation’s 2012 Emily Dickinson First Book Award competition, a semi-finalist for the 2012 and 2013 Philip Levine Poetry Prize, a finalist for the May Swenson Poetry Award, and a finalist in the Carnegie Mellon 2013 open submission period. Also to her credit are three luminous and eccentric children.