Daniela Olszewska [photo credit: R. Scott Pfledderer] is the author of three full-length collections of poetry: cloudfang : : cakedirt (Horse Less Press, 2012), True Confessions of An Escapee From The Capra Facility For Wayward Girls (Spittoon Press, 2013), and Citizen J (Artifice Books, 2013). With Carol Guess, she is the co-author of How To Feel Confident With Your Special Talents (Black Lawrence Press, 2014) and Human-Ghost Hybrid Project (Black Lawrence Press, forthcoming 2017).
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book had little to no impact on my life. I think this was a good thing. If my life had changed, I suspect it would have negatively affected my writing processes. My experience is that all the writing I’ve ever done feels the same, but it probably doesn’t look that way from the outside.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I have always been interested in poetry, but I started out really wanting to be a fiction writer. I enrolled in “Fiction Writing Workshop I” as an undergraduate, but I almost flunked out because I couldn’t produce the 20 plus pages a week required by the program. I would work all week, but I was sloth-slow. I would bring in a two paragraph lyrical description of, like, a bat flying across a winter city skyline ib and everyone was like, “Um, this is pretty, but it’s not really a story…” During a midterm review, my fiction workshop instructor politely suggested I sign up for a poetry class next semester because my grade in the fiction workshop was not going to be high enough to allow me to move on to the “Fiction Writing Workshop II.”
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? 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?
I usually start a new project as soon as I’ve finished the previous one. Almost always, I start with a definitive project in mind. Almost always, about ⅓ of the way into the process, the writing announces to me that it is going to be something different from what I had intended.
Usually, the first and final drafts are kilometers apart, formatting-wise. Usually, the first and final drafts are only meters apart, content-wise.
Throughout the day, I’ll record lines or phrases in my notebook or smartphone. Ideally, at the end of the day, I go home and incorporate those lines or phrases into my work. Often, the line that was brilliant at 9 am on the CTA doesn’t still feel brilliant at 10 pm post-work and chores. I try not to erase any of my notes, just in case.
4 - Where does a poem 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 usually start out writing smaller pieces, but my intention is almost always to eventually make a book or chapbook. I don’t like having “loose” poems. I definitely prefer for all of them to have friends and family. Also, I received a BA and an MFA in creative writing, so I have been trained to think and write in terms of book-length projects (which, I don’t think, is a bad thing....).
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
For the first, um, eight or so years of my writing life, I loathed doing readings because, like many writers, I am kind of shy and awkward. Also, like many writers, I felt that my writing worked better on the page than in voice. However, over the past few years, I’ve (finally) developed more of a sense of performance and I have (finally) learned how to read in a manner that is relatively entertaining. This is another way of saying that I (finally) learned to take up about ½-¾ of my allotted time, to not spend more than one sentence “setting up” a poem, and to recognize that a live audience usually wants to hear the poems that include references to sex, drugs, or cats.
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 like and respect lit theory and political theory and most kinds of theory. My hope is that this like and respect bleeds into my writing. I think my work deals with a variety of concerns that could be called political, but should really just be called human... My guess is that my work doesn’t answer any questions. My guess is that my work, at best, adds addendums to the questions that are already being asked.
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?
The role of the writer in the larger culture is just to be a person who writes (duh). I think it’s good that we currently have D-list celebrity writers and professor writers and punk rock writers and recluse writers and all of that. It’s a good thing that there seems to be, like, forty different options, currently, for how to be a writer. I think it is important for everyone in the US to do what they can to resist the current administration, but I don’t think the onus is on writers to resist any more than anyone else.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
The process of working with an editor or “just” a reader giving feedback has always been essential to me. I find that outside perspectives are necessary for any type of writing I am planning on sharing with people other than myself. Much thanks to everyone who has ever consented to edit or give feedback on my work.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
“Do whatever you want.”
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to collaboration)? What do you see as the appeal?
For the first few years of my poetry life, I was a purist (fascist). Now, it is easier for me to write in different 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 have never had a routine, even when I was in school and had writing deadlines. Sometimes, I write for hours a day. Sometimes, I go a couple weeks without writing. This works for me, but I also know many, many people who have benefited immensely from keeping to a strict writing schedule.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
The writers that are really keeping me excited about writing rn are (in alphabetical order by last name): Aase Berg, Jessica Comola, Olivia Cronk, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Khadijah Queen, and Danielle Pafunda.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Juniper and benign neglect.
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?
I’m influenced by riot grrl and Soviet Era propaganda posters and my darling Freshman Composition students.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
See No. 12.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Lead a protest/strike.
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?
Proprietress of a ‘90s-themed book, CD, and clothing store.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I am not good at anything else.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
20 - What are you currently working on?
I am trying to write a novel (ha ha ha). It is supposed to be a post-apocalyptic tale of ex-Soviet Bloc figure skaters turned CIA agents. I hope it will turn out as a comedic work.