Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Habitual Poet: Janice D. Soderling

Installment #9

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The Habitual Poet is an ongoing series of contributor interviews. If you are a Poemeleon contributor and would like to participate copy & paste the Q's from below and e-mail your answers to: editor@poemeleon.org.

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Q: Where do you prefer to get your books?

I prefer to buy them from independent bookshops, and always end up with an armload when I am in a city. But I live in the outer boondocks and truth to tell, my buying of both new and used books is mostly via the internet.

Q: How many poetry books do you think you own, and what percentage of these have you actually read?

A quick look at my book shelves says way over a thousand, but I have been buying them for more years than you are old. And most poetry books, unless they are collected works or selected works, are not very fat. I have read most of them. I read and re-read daily.

Q: When, where and how do you usually read? (i.e. at bedtime under the covers, cover to cover, etc.)

Actually I read off and on throughout the day every day. I usually take a book of poetry to the breakfast table. It gets me going.

Q: What books of poetry have you read this month?

The little stack of books where I eat breakfast yielded the following: The Collected Poems of John Donne, Look We Have Coming to Dover (Daljit Nagra), Native Guard (Natasha Trethewey), Archaic Smile (A.E.Stallings), Jazz Funeral (Julie Kane), The Poem and the Journey: 60 Poems for the Journey of Life (ed. Ruth Padel), Collected Poems by Eugenio Montale (translator Jonathan Galassi), Beyond the Walls; Selected Poems (Nazim Hikmet), Lucky Life (Gerald Stern), Sixty Women Poets (ed. Linda France) First World War Poems (ed. Andrew Motion), Selected Poems (Wislawa Szymborska in Swedish translation by Anders BodegÄrd), Double (John Hartley Williams), French Symbolist Poetry (translators Houston & Houston). There are more but that will do.

Q: What other books/magazines/backs of cereal boxes have you read recently?

Today I got stuck in The Paris Review as soon as it arrived, because of a wonderful story by Damon Galgut. During the past week or ten days I've read (though not cover to cover in every instance) Poetry (August issue), the New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly, Glimmer Train Stories. I am currently reading "The Classical World" by Robin Lane Fox and a book in Swedish about the history of Finland.

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Q: When, where, how do you write, and why?(i.e. at dusk on a dock, longhand in a notebook, because...)

Every day. In my office. If you write for a living, you just don't say to a client, "I will write your text as soon as I feel inspired." Believe me, there is a faucet inside everyone and you can learn how to turn it on. You say to the Muse, "Get your butt in here, NOW, and help me write this or my children will starve."

I write 99 % on the computer. I am almost in retirement mode, so nowadays I write mostly for pleasure. Sometimes for only a few hours (poems), sometimes for hours on end (fiction). When I was young and an employee and a solo mom I wrote while waiting for the bus, on my lunch hour, while stirring the gravy. Why? Because I cannot help it.

Q: How many first drafts do you think you complete in a week? A month?

I try to write a poem a day. It isn't always brilliant, but usually (ha, ha). If I am working on fiction, I work non-stop, nap a little and start again as soon as I wake up. I am the prototype for the unwashed and starving writer when I get into these stretches. I really don't know where the borderline is between first draft and succeeding drafts. I just keep at it until it is done.

Q: How long do you wait before revising a poem?

Usually I revise until it is finished. I double check the following day.

Q: When do you know a poem is “done”?

You just know it. Sometimes you know it several times.

Q: Have you ever given up an invitation so you could stay home and write?

Not that I recall. I know how to turn on the faucet, remember? But I have often lost track of time and missed doing things I was supposed to do.

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Q: What is your system for sending out work?

I keep a cross-index of my submissions by titles and by sites/journals as well as a little book where I enter submissions in chronological order.

Q: What have you more recently received: a rejection notice or an acceptance? Was it what you expected?

My little book shows that this month, of which three weeks have passed, I have made 14 submissions. I've had one 1-day acceptance and one 1-day rejection. I have also had two acceptances and some rejections from earlier submissions.

Q: Where do you generally publish: online, in print, or a mix, and do you have a preference?

Both. Actually I love seeing my stuff on paper, I really, really do. But because I live in a non-English-speaking country, online is the most convenient way to submit and that usually means online publishing also.

Q: What is the worst (or weirdest, or best) experience you’ve had with a journal/magazine/press & its editor(s)? (No names, please!)

The best experiences have got to be when I was a young know-nothing (even dumber than now) and some wonderful editors took the time to jot down a few encouraging lines on the rejection slip. Also today I bow to the excellent editors who suggest a change to make a piece publishable. I hope God gives them a room with a nice view in Editor Heaven.

Q: Have you ever received any fan (or hate) mail? If so, what was that like?

Not for my work in English, but when I was writing in Swedish I got a few letters from strangers saying that they liked my work and did I have any book published? I didn't.

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Practical considerations:

Q: What is your day job, and how does it affect your writing?

My day job has always been commercial writing/translating. I learned to write on demand.

Q: How does your significant other’s occupation affect your writing life?

I don't have an S.O.

Q: Have there been periods in your life when you couldn't write?


Q: Do you have a “poetry budget”?

What is a budget? Is that when you have more money than days on the 25th of each month?

Q: Have you ever suffered (or made someone else suffer) in the name of your art? (i.e. picked up your kids late from school so you could finish a poem, forgone lunch to buy a book, left a relationship because the other person just didn't understand, etc.)

I have skipped many lunches to buy books in younger days.

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Random nonsense:

Q: Do you have any superhuman abilities? (i.e. can you tie a cherry stem in a knot with your tongue, or write a double sestina with both hands tied behind your back?)

Oh yes. Dictionaries automatically open themselves for me at exactly the word I am looking for.

Q: You write a scathing poem about your mother and she learns about it. You:

a.) Move to South America and leave no forwarding address
b.) Delete the poem and insist it never existed
c.) Show it to her (she’s already written you out of the will anyway)
d.) Do none of the above; instead you: _____

Oh, I would develop it into a story, what have I got to lose?

Q: If the best medical specialists in the world told you that if you didn’t give up your poetry habit today you would die in six months, would you get your affairs in order or would you leave that up to your family?

Oh, man, I have been trying to get my affairs in order for years.

Q: If you could be a vowel, which one would you be and why?

I think "O" would personify the real me. I have spent most of my life saying "Oh".

Q: Finally write a couplet for a collaborative ghazal using the following kaafiyaa and radif: “said the poet”.

Come, let us reconstruct our broken past, resurrect its road kills.
Though we die daily, we can write ourselves alive, said the poet.


Janice D. Soderling is an award-winning writer and translator whose credits include Acumen, the Beloit Poetry Journal, Event, Fiddlehead, Glimmer Train, Malahat Review, Other Poetry and Tipton Poetry Journal. Her work is represented in anthologies and can be read online at 42opus, Our Stories, Babel Fruit, The Chimaera, Innisfree Poetry Journal, Lucid Rhythms, Loch Raven Review, Right Hand Pointing and Umbrella. Forthcoming work at Anon, Blue Unicorn, Centrifugal Eye, Literary Mama, and Mezzo Cammin. Janice was born in the United States, but lives in Sweden.

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