Cameron Gearen's book of poems, Some Perfect Year, came out in 2016 (Shearsman). Her essays have appeared in The Washington Post, Dame Magazine and elsewhere. She lives in Chicago.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? My first chapbook was selected blind by Robert Pinsky. The prize and publication didn't practically change my life, but I was very encouraged that such an accomplished author liked my work. It also made me believe in blind contests since I had no connection to Pinsky. How does your most recent work compare to your previous? Over the many years I wrote poems, I became more and more interested in aural aspects poetry . I love poets who do that well--GM Hopkins, CD Wright, Larissa Szporluk, to name a few. How does it feel different? I'm currently writing memoir. So--prose vs. lines. But I still care a lot about sound, as well as meaning.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction? Poetry was in my house. My mom, who is a Yeats scholar, knows a lot of poems by heart and, in my house, we grew up reading poems and talking about poetry and going to readings. That's what we did instead of TV.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? After a big project, I have a hiatus where I have to let things sift, to see what my next idea is. Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes? It's very organic, how things I see, think, remember and read feed into my work. I notice there's a lag of maybe 5 or more years between a significant event and when I'm writing about it. I definitely need the distance and perspective. Writing is a long game, I find. I do much revision--the first version is never very close to the final.
4 - Where does a poem or work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning? I'm more of a "book" person. I like having a big frame and then working to fill it in.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings? I absolutely love attending readings. In the past, I have been part of a working group that read interesting poetry and often had a chance to invite the poet to come and speak about process. These days, I'm usually home with my daughters in the evening, but I hope to attend more readings once they are away at college in three years. And yes, I love giving readings whenever I have the chance. I'm an extrovert so I always find those sort of live connections to be fun and fertile.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are? I'm very interested in what gets said, what is allowed to be said, what is not said and by whom, what those unspoken rules are--and also in who gets to say things, and who has to fight harder to say things. I'm also interested in ontological concerns: how we know things we think we know, what we might "know" that we don't know consciously.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be? I have lived some places in my life, such as mainland China, where the arts were muted or censored or curtailed. Believe me: we do not want to live in that society. We all need each other to make a rich fabric. Scientists need visual artists. Musicians need lawyers. Every sensibility comes together to weave a whole, and there is no such thing as too much diversity. I like the idea of the public intellectual and how that person might interact with people and champion/curate/create art in society.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)? I'm experienced enough now that I will write, edit, revise and submit work on my own, usually with no one else reading it. But when it hits the editor's desk--say, of a magazine--I'm always interested in their perspective and feedback and appreciate--and take--their suggestions. Occasionally I have felt that an editor didn't "get" what I was trying to do, but usually they are spot on and, for example, help me trim 300 words and truly improve the piece.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)? It's kind of a joke I guess, but I actually think that "You do you," is good advice. The writing world can sometimes seem glutted and full of competition. It might be tempting to try to sound a certain way, to cultivate a tone or subject matter that one imagines might sell. It never pays off. I've had success only when I have been brave enough to be my most authentic on the page.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal? I actually think there are a lot of folks out there who are poets and memoirists. It somehow seems like a similar energy to me. I do also write fiction but haven't yet had as much luck placing it in journals as I have with the other two genres.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin? I tend to do a lot of my writing in the evening and on weekends when I'm free of other work and family commitments. I don't have a set routine--I'll grab a half an hour whenever I can find one. I once drafted a sonnet while proctoring recess when I was teaching middle school.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration? I always read a ton. That's the main place where I get inspiration. I also keep lots of unfinished things and files in my computer and, when I'm stuck, I will open one of them and start working on it. I also step away when I'm stuck--and might get the next line when I'm on the treadmill or walking my dog.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home? The smell of my dog! (That sounds bad, but it's a nice smell to me. I bathe her often.)
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art? Like many others, I write about my obsessions. Why are my concerns important to me? There are so many answers, and even I don't know some of the answers. But I know that my obsessions keep me interested and that they have a hold of me, for better or worse.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work? I read voraciously and in many genres. I especially love short fiction like William Trevor's and novels like Elizabeth Strout's and memoirs like Alligator Candy by David Kushner. Reading is one of my favorite things in life and one of my most enduring pleasures and hobbies.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done? I would love to have a residency, maybe the length of a semester, somewhere in Europe. Raising my daughters has been the richest adventure of my life, but also has meant that I've been occupied with the daily stuff of mothering them, making lunches. When they are gone to college, I will miss them and miss the daily routine, but it might open up some space for longer chunks of writing time.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer? Well, the writer hat I wear is not what I would consider my profession hat. I was a teacher for over 20 years and now I work in marketing and college consulting. If I could start over, I'd maybe get a Ph.D. in psychology because I'm very interested in how the brain works.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else? This sounds silly but I was very serious about my writing at the age of 8 or 9. We lived in a condo complex then, and I used to write plays and coopt my friends to perform them and "invite" grownups to watch them in the basement, near the laundry room. I don't think I could have chosen to become something else.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film? Book: I'm Supposed to Protect You from All This by Nadja Spiegelman. Movie: Moonlight.
20 - What are you currently working on? I am working on a memoir, working title Rotten. I've been writing and also publishing chapters and excerpts in different magazines and newspapers this past year.
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