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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Q: Where do you prefer to get your books?
Used bookstores and local bookstores.
Q: How many poetry books do you think you own, and what percentage of these have you actually read?
100 or more; I’ve read all or part of most of them.
Q: When, where and how do you usually read? (i.e. at bedtime under the covers, cover to cover, etc.)
When: all times of the day/night; where: In bed, at the playground, at the kitchen table, on the couch; how: sometimes front to back, sometimes based on the title (scan the t of c and read the ones that sound good).
Q: What books of poetry have you read this month?
July is a bad month to ask. I don’t read much poetry during summer vacation. During the school year I am always reading poetry—mostly from lit magazines, but also books.
Q: What other books/magazines/backs of cereal boxes have you read recently?
I am reading Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally. Before that I read The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. I read the NY Times whenever I can get my hands on it. When I’m home I also read The New Yorker, and bits and pieces of Harper’s and The Atlantic Monthly. I love reading short stories. While I was reading the above, I also was reading Charles Baxter’s Into the Safety Net.
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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...)
When: whenever I have a free moment; Where: no requirements (in Kinko’s waiting for my passport photos to be processed, sitting on the curb waiting for my son’s bus to pull up, at the zoo, etc.) Why: I have no choice in the matter.
Q: How many first drafts do you think you complete in a week? A month?
It depends. This past winter spring I was writing about four new drafts a month. In the last month I’ve begun ONE poem (hey, it’s summer!).
Q: How long do you wait before revising a poem?
Again, it depends. Sometimes I set right in on revising. Other poems I have to let sit for at least a month before it becomes apparent what needs to be added, deleted, clarified, etc.
Q: When do you know a poem is “done”?
HA! Does anyone ever know? I keep revising until there are no parts that bug me—when all the line breaks create some sort of suspense, when the ending is working, when I’ve cut away all the extraneous, when I read the poem aloud and don’t cringe or stumble.
Q: Have you ever given up an invitation so you could stay home and write?
Yes, indeed. Confession: I used to unplug my phone even when I’d made tentative plans to go out with someone.
Q: What is your system for sending out work?
I send to magazines I would be proud to be in. I have a list of favorites, places where they publish poetry that I like and relate to, and I send to those frequently, plus I’ll often step out of my comfort zone and submit to places I’m not sure I belong in. My system? I keep track by making photocopies of dated cover letters and keeping them in a “pending acceptances” file (I have another file for rejections).
Q: What have you more recently received: a rejection notice or an acceptance? Was it what you expected?
Recently it’s been more rejection than acceptance—a string of rejections, in fact. But just before that I received three acceptances, one each for three days. On the fourth day I was a little let down (!).
Q: Where do you generally publish: online, in print, or a mix, and do you have a preference?
I have published more in print than online, but I am generally fine with online if I like the graphics/layout and it’s a magazine I respect.
Q: What is the worst (or weirdest, or best) experience you’ve had with a journal/magazine/press & its editor(s)? (No names, please!)
My favorite story has to do with an editor rejecting a revised version of a poem he’d initially accepted, and then that poem going on to be pubbed in a fine magazine, featured on Poetry Daily and anthologized in two books.
Q: Have you ever received any fan (or hate) mail? If so, what was that like?
No, no hate mail yet. Fan mail: yes. The best fan mail I ever received came from an admirer whom I started emailing with. Fast forward six years: she is my most trusted reader, and a dear friend to boot.
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Q: What is your day job, and how does it affect your writing?
I teach English full-time at Bellevue College, near my home in Seattle, Washington. My job, while time consuming, allows me to write throughout the school year. The flexibility of teaching both grounded and online courses allows me to go on short (3-day) writing retreats 3-4 times a year. The contact with students and faculty gets my creative juices flowing. I am not a write-from-the-ivory-tower sort of gal. I need a balance of social time and isolation. I do not think I would be any more productive if I stopped teaching and found a part time job.
Q: How does your significant other’s occupation affect your writing life?
My significant other is also a writer (mostly creative non-fiction); in other words, we understand each other—what it means to be blocked, insecure, working on a revision, etc. This understanding positively affects my writing; so does the fact that he’s a superb editor.
Q: Have there been periods in your life when you couldn't write?
When I first stated writing, I would often get blocked after I wrote a line or two. Endings have always been difficult for me, but in this case I didn’t even get to the middle. This was before I figured out that the first draft is supposed to be terrible.
Q: Do you have a “poetry budget”?
Not sure what you mean by this. Do you mean I budget how much I am allowed to write poetry? No, I don’t.
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 left a long-term boyfriend because he, among other things, was not a writer; I often keep my daughter in preschool till the last second so I can draft a poem in the car outside her school before walking in and picking her up. Sometimes I would rather write than parent, so my husband takes the kids to the movies, the park, etc. But they need and like time with their dad, so I don’t think this is suffering, exactly.
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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?)
Nothing superhuman, although I have been known to work on poems while driving a car.
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: _____
Apologize and tell her it was written in the name of art, that I stretched the truth in service of the poem, that it’s not really about her.
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?
I would die if I didn’t give up poetry? I would give up poetry.
Q: If you could be a vowel, which one would you be and why?
This is hard. I like all the vowels, but I think I would like to be A best: alphabet, apple, apricot, April, ancient, ancestor, abracadabra . . .
Q: Finally write a couplet for a collaborative ghazal using the following kaafiyaa and radif: “said the poet”.
Sorry, but I don’t do ghazals on vacation.
Martha Silano is the author of two book-length poetry collections, Blue Positive (Steel Toe Books 2006) and What the Truth Tastes Like (Nightshade Press 1999). Her poems have appeared in such places as Paris Review, Green Mountains Review, TriQuarterly, and Beloit Poetry Journal; new work is forthcoming in 32 Poems, AGNI, Crab Orchard Review, and Prairie Schooner. Martha is the recipient of grants from Washington State Artist Trust and the Seattle Arts Commission, and she’s been a writing fellow at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, the Millay Colony for the Arts, and the Whiteley Center, among others. Her work has been anthologized in over a dozen collections, including Not for Mother’s Only (Fence Books 2007) and American Poetry: the Next Generation (Carnegie Mellon University Press 2000). Martha teaches at Bellevue College, near Seattle, WA, where she lives with her two children and her forager/essayist husband, Langdon Cook.