Archives for posts with tag: writer interviews



 Jennifer K. Sweeney’s second poetry collection, How to Live on Bread and Music, received the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of America Poets, the Perugia Press Prize, and was later nominated for the Poets’ Prize. Her first book, Salt Memory, won the Main Street Rag Poetry Award. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, the Elinor Benedict Poetry Award from Passages North, and two Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg awards. Her poems have been translated into Turkish, included in Oxford and Benchmark textbooks, and published widely in literary journals including American Poetry Review, Southern Review, Pleaides, and Poetry Daily.

To learn more about Jennifer K. Sweeney — one of our favorite poets — included below is an interview from 1/10/11 conducted by Simon A. Thalmann featured at

MLive: How did you begin writing poetry and why did you stick with it?

Jennifer K. Sweeney: I began writing poetry as a child and wrote through high school. It was more for self-expression then, but I think I was practicing how to be present and innovative with language. As an adult, poetry is the most natural way for me to engage with the world, to continue to see it, to dwell both in clarity and curiosity. I stick with it because the privilege of experiencing life from the poet’s eye is the gift. To be in communion with the natural world, open to the possibility of other, is a kind of intelligence that writers are able to tap into. I envision thought fused with the five senses as a kind of “body-thought” or “body-sense,” a sixth sense of poetry. This writing from and into the intelligence of the body is an intuitive state that can be a gift to the writer.

ML: Who or what are the major influences on your work?

JKS: A wide range of poetry and literature, nature, the body, music, memory, meditation, art, field guides, dailiness, relationships with my city, my family.

ML: What is your process for writing poetry like? Do your write
 fast or slow? Are you more of a stream-of-consciousness writer or are 
you more methodical?

JKS: Both. My process can include the careful tending of ideas and experience and guiding them toward a poem through multiple drafts and new perspectives, but it is also often a quick rush of moving through time via the subconscious. Poems don’t happen in one way, and that’s the wonder and mystique of writing them. They arrive whole, in fragments, over a period of years, in five minutes, methodically, painfully, casually, recklessly. I don’t think I write one kind of poem and each arrives with its own timing and boom. In general, the work is more limber, has more possibilities when any external goal about the creative process is relaxed. I think it’s important to observe the mystery of the process, to be present for what may arise, to know everything I know in my waking consciousness and then to forget that I know it.

ML: What kinds of poetic structure do you find common in your
 poetry and why do you think you gravitate toward those particular
 forms? Is it a conscious or unconscious decision to use them when you
 use them?

JKS: I appreciate formal variety, so I’m not sure I could pinpoint a representative form or structure. I love a lucid unfolding narrative poem, a distilled lyric that takes me a year to fully understand, a compressed prose block, a hybrid of fragment and image. I think content guides the form, but those are often unconscious decisions that are intuited in the writing process.

ML: What kinds of themes or images do you gravitate toward in your 
poetry? Why? Do you use them consciously or do they appear

JKS: For myself, each book or manuscript seems to have its own dialogue with themes and imagery. In my first book, Salt Memory, the sea serves as subject, metaphor, spirit guide, and there is a “yin” energy overall, many poems that address the female experience. In How to Live on Bread and Music, there is a sense of endurance underlying the work. I think that many poems in the book address time in some manner. There is the obsolescence of eras bygone (railroad, record album, glassblowing, Chinese ruins), music as an experience of time, the cyclical nature of the daily experience. Themes and imagery are more the work of the unconscious. This is the part of poetry where I step back and find larger connections, the part that is continually revealing something to me.

ML: What do you think is your best work and why?

JKS: My second book, How to Live on Bread and Music, is my most accomplished complete work. I was able to write those poems with a greater range of styles, and as a result the poems render their subject matter from different modes of consciousness. This flexibility of approach was something I admired in other writers and hoped to house in one collection.

ML: Which writers or books do you think people should be reading now?

JKS: I hope it’s not too pessimistic an answer to say that I think people should be reading period. Technology has changed so much so quickly that I think many of us are guilty of being preoccupied with our toys, our networks, the next do-it-all device. These are not bad things in small doses, but I worry about perspective, about how the art of attention will be affected.

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Novelist and short story writer T.C. Boyle (formerly known as T. Coraghessan Boyle) offered insights into his writing process in The Art of Fiction No. 161, featured in The Paris Review (Summer 2000), where he was interviewed by Elizabeth E. Adams. Excerpts from the interview are included below. (Read the entire interview at

INTERVIEWER: What is the difference in the composing of a short story and a novel? Is there a shifting of gears?

BOYLE: Yes, sure. But I do see everything I’m doing as a story, whether it’s five pages or five hundred. The essential difference is that with stories, or during a period of story writing, you’re never sure if you’re going to come up with the next one. Oh, you feel great on bringing a story to completion—what a rush!—but then, speaking of blocks, you go through a period of a week or so when you’ve become an utter failure, a bankrupt, a fraud. You’ll never work again. Of course, if you’re very, very lucky—and I have been lucky—the first stirrings of the next story come. With a novel, you’re locked-in, committed, and you sure do know what you’re going to be doing tomorrow morning.

INTERVIEWER: With a novel, do you see the thing as a whole when you start?

BOYLE: No, it’s an organic process. I have an idea and a first line—and that suggests the rest of it. I have little concept of what I’m going to say, or where it’s going. I have some idea of how long it’s going to be—but not what will happen or what the themes will be. That’s the intrigue of doing it—it’s a process of discovery. You get to discover what you’re going to say and what it’s going to mean.

INTERVIEWER: That’s interesting . . . the first line. Joe Heller [author of Catch-22] couldn’t write a word unless the first line popped into his mind, which unleashed a whole series of characters, scenes . . . Is that the way it works with you? What are some of the first lines?

BOYLE: Yes, I feel that too, but maybe not so thoroughly as Heller did. The first line isn’t unleashing much, but there’s certainly been a lot of thought and preparation for it, and certainly it suggests what’s to come—again, in the way of the first piece of a jigsaw puzzle. But you’re putting me on the spot with regard to first lines. World’s End starts like this: “On the day he lost his right foot, Walter Van Brunt had been haunted, however haphazardly, by ghosts of the past.” A Friend of the Earth begins: “I’m out feeding the hyena her kibble and chicken backs when the call comes through.” And, most famously, I suppose, the opening line of “Descent of Man”: “I was living with a woman who suddenly began to stink.” The first lines are provocative, I suppose, because they are meant not simply to provoke the reader but to provoke the writer—in this instance, me—to forge on.

INTERVIEWER: When you say that you have no idea where it is going to go, does that literally mean that you have no idea what is going to happen to the people about whom you’re writing?

BOYLE: You discover all this as you go along—of course, you may make leaps ahead, and discover where it’s going. Hemingway said that he never stopped a day’s work until he knew what was going to happen in tomorrow’s installment. I feel the same way. When I’m done for the day—dragged out, dumbed down, exhausted, beat, and depleted—I look over what I’ve done and make a mental leap into the immediate future of the work if I can. Sometimes, though, it’s just a mystery until you get there. In The Road to Wellville, for instance, I had no idea there would be a murder occurring at the end of that book—not that I mean to spoil it for you if you haven’t read it—but when I got there it seemed very logical (or maybe I mean “right”) that that was what was going to happen. I remember feeling great about that. I was up in the mountains at the time, trying to extract the juice from my brain. I remember walking around the lake, humping through the woods, exhilarated. I think I put off going to the bar till 4:05 that day. It was wonderful.


INTERVIEWER: So plot is more important than character. Would that be a safe thing to say?

BOYLE: The early stories were mainly idea stories that didn’t have much to do with character—I was much more interested in design then. I think I’ve learned to handle character through writing novels. My first novel, Water Music, was five hundred pages long and you just can’t go five hundred pages without inventing some characters. What I hope is that I’m now better able to integrate all the elements of a successful and original story without relying on one effect only.

Photo: T.C. Boyle photographed by Spencer Boyle.


This post was written by Ellaraine Lockie, author of the recent Silver Birch Press Release, COFFEE HOUSE CONFESSIONS, a poetry chapbook.


The illustrious Rose Auslander has tagged me [Ellaraine Lockie] to join The Next Best Thing, started by poet Elizabeth Scanlon.  It’s an ongoing network of interviews in which each writer with a book coming out tags another set of writers, and the interviews can then be posted on publishers’ and other writers’/poets’ blogs, etc.  Here’s mine:

Ellaraine Lockie’s Interview Tagged by Rose Auslander for The Next Big Thing.

 What is the working title of the book?


Where did the idea come from for the book? 

From coffee houses, and the people who frequent them, all over the world.

What genre does your book fall under?


What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

The lead could be Anjelica Huston, but the supporting cast would be so many that we couldn’t afford big names.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

The confessions in this book are disclosures of a culture in glimpses into both historical and present-day life, with its contradictions and quirks—all through the lens of coffee shops.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The poems were written over the past ten years.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Coffee shops, both nationally and internationally, when I write each morning wherever I happen to be. I go to them for the white noise, caffeine infusions, intoxicating smell of grinding coffee beans and the animation surrounding me.  All of this simulates my creative energy.

It was never my intention to write about the coffee houses themselves, though.  I go in order to work on other poems, but there’s a corner in my mind that absorbs what is happening around me . . . and that’s usually a lot.  Coffee shops are community hot spots—places where the full gamut of human behavior plays out daily.  Sitting in the middle of it is like living in a small town.  And if anything seems poetic, I jot it down on a list.  Sometimes that list turns into poems.  And here they are in COFFEE HOUSE CONFESSIONS.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Possibly some insight about people and events and maybe a few chuckles too.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It was released on February 3, 2013 by Silver Birch Press – and is available in Kindle and paperback formats at The chapbook can also be ordered from bookstores, using the book’s title and author or the ISBN number: 0615727670.

Cover photo: Nick Warzin, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED