Amy Lauren authored Prodigal (Bottlecap Press, 2017) and God With Us (Headmistress Press, 2017), receiving Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations in 2017. Her poetry appears in Sinister Wisdom, Cordite Poetry Review, New Orleans Review, and elsewhere. Drop her a line at amylaurenwrites.com.
1 - How did your first chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
The majority of my first chapbook was written in an undergraduate creative writing class, and it marked my first poetry that I actually expected anyone to read. Writing suddenly carried much more meaning and fulfillment than ever before. My more recent work definitely presents more happy and lighthearted snapshots of life in Mississippi.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
It took me years to really comprehend much of the poetry I read, but it always tugged at me even when I knew I was too young to understand C.K. Williams or Kevin DeYoung. The form’s brevity attracts me with its practicality and power, as a single excellent stanza can change my perception of the world.
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?
Initially, I jot down ideas very quickly, and maturity has calmed my inner editor so that I can simply focus on sketching thoughts. Over the next months, I arrange those thoughts, sharpen images, and quicken energy. I don’t feel totally content with almost any poem’s final shape, but improve it to the best I know.
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?
In both my published and unpublished collections, I intended to group those poems together from the outset. It’s uncommon for me to write a poem that doesn’t fit into any current project or body of work, even if I don’t intend that collection for publication.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Reading publicly a lot of vulnerability, but that’s a wonderful practice. I love and do it as much as possible.
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?
To me, it’s not a question of whether good writing can change minds, but I’m very concerned with whether my writing can successfully evoke compassion. Lesbians already belong to a minority publishing poetry in the first place, and I live in the Deep South, practicing religion, and so forth. Can I help someone understand what it’s like to walk in my sandals on Yazoo clay? And if not, how can I improve my writing to better communicate, and more effectively humanize women like myself to unfamiliar readers?
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?
As with the last question, this is something I consider often. I’d certainly say the writer has a great role to play in larger culture, shaping the minds of their subjects in readers’ eyes. Whatever perspectives we present and images we describe will (hopefully) linger with readers, sometimes strangers we don’t even know. So I want to help people understand stories and lives unlike their own, but also offer solidarity to those who do share experiences similar to mine.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
In the beginning, it offered a more mature perspective for my writing, and eventually I grew more confident in my own work. But no matter how much I develop, it’s still so helpful to hear an outside viewpoint. If I follow their advice, it likely improved my piece; if I don’t follow their guidance, I’ve learned more about why I wrote my original words.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
“Do what you can, and no more.“ As a young writer feeling the need to jump at every opportunity and aspire to lofty goals, that aphorism from a music professor in my freshman year of college has translated well to writing.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical essays)? What do you see as the appeal?
It stretches me to think outside my comfort zone, and I believe it’s necessary. Some topics simply suit essays and articles more than poems, and I can say more if I have more than one way to speak.
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?
My regular jobs certainly influence my writing routine, but a typical period for me begins when I’m home from work (or on a day off) and sitting down with a hot chocolate at the local coffee shop. If weather permits, I’ll sit under a tree or down by the river.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
After the publication of my first chapbook, a high school girl I’d never met found my poetry page just to write me about how much my collection met to her. She’d picked it up at a sale and read it all in one afternoon, and told me it helped her feel less alone. That’s all I need.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
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?
Primarily I spend my days working with music, both at church and local schools. I’m constantly listening to music and it shapes the way I form phrases, the words I choose, the images in my mind.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Without Mary Oliver, Adrienne Rich, Alison Bechdel and Andrea Dworkin, I wouldn’t be the same. Essentially, the great lesbian writers encouraged and lit the way for me. For non-poetry, Dworkin’s essays have helped better understand of the world around me.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’m excited to have finished my first full-length poetry manuscript, and I’d love to publish that soon.
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?
At five years old, I wrote crayon books and lived in a fairytale world with my sister, and I’ve no idea what else I would’ve done. When I ask myself what I’d do if bills and work didn’t exist, writing poetry full-time is always right at the top of my answers.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
As a child, I received a laptop with no Internet connection and just a few games. When you’re bored and have an imagination, it’s just there. At some point people began to encourage me further, and I began to see it as more than just a personal pastime.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The last great book I read was Shelly Rambo’s Spirit and Trauma, and it really changed the way I view spirituality as well as psychology. Love Simon was also a major event for LGBT people in Jackson. The theater was filled with old gay couples, teary-eyed and holding hands. None of us knew each other, but there was a connection and trust between us that really moved me.
20 - What are you currently working on?
Recently, I’ve begun a new chapbook recasting Cajun-French folk tales in a modern-day light. I’m very excited to show you all the results!